Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008

Falls Road hiker⁄biker path could move forward for approval

Four-mile trail would be ‘missing link’ between Rockville and Potomac

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A proposed new hiker⁄biker path for Falls Road could be ready to move ahead if approved by the County Council.

The four-mile proposed path would run along the east side of Falls Road from River Road to Dunster Road and provide pedestrian access to sites along Falls Road, such as the Potomac Community Center, the Bullis School and shopping centers in Potomac Village.

The project is part of a proposed capital budget recommended in January by County Executive Isiah Leggett. The council is holding public hearings on the recommendations and will amend the budget before adopting it in late May. If the project is approved, the county would be able to move forward with acquiring land for the path.

The path would act as a ‘‘missing link” between existing bike paths in Rockville and Potomac, and increase walkability and pedestrian safety in the county, according to county spokeswoman Esther Bowring.

‘‘This is a missing segment of a much larger network of hiker⁄biker paths,” Bowring said. ‘‘This is located on a fairly dangerous road where there are really not a lot of safe places for pedestrians to walk.”

Bowring said the path is called for in the Potomac Master Plan and would help fulfill the county executive’s Pedestrian Safety Initiative, an $8.5 million plan announced in early December.

If included in the capital improvements budget, the project would receive nearly $5 million to move forward in finalizing design and acquiring land for the project. The construction budget wouldn’t be allocated until fiscal year 2011, Bowring said, in order to more accurately detail future costs.

‘‘A shared use path is sorely needed there,” said Jack Cochrane, a member of the Montgomery County Bicycle Advocates, a group that encourages cycling in the county. ‘‘It will be extremely useful for people in that neighborhood trying to get to churches and the community center.”

The path would affect about 100 properties along Falls Road, Bowring said.

Some residents who live along the road say that the path wouldn’t be used in the way the county envisions.

‘‘Bikers who bike in groups of 15 or 20 are still going to cycle in high speeds along the main road,” said Peter Calomeris, a Potomac resident who lives along Falls Road.

Calomeris said that pedestrians and bikers who would use the path would still be at risk because of cars driving at high speeds along Falls Road. ‘‘Where I live, people are constantly running off the road and hitting my fence,” Calomeris said.

Potomac resident Andrea Whiteway, who lives close to Falls Road, agreed. Whiteway also said she would rather have the path on the west side of the road, where the county would need to acquire less land from homeowners.

‘‘There is much more public land on the other side of the street and without any real explanation the decision was made to put the path on the east side,” Whiteway said.

According to Bowring, the proposed path’s east side location would allow pedestrians more access to sites like the Potomac Community Center and the Bullis School. The existing bike paths on either side of the four-mile stretch are also on the east side, and the county opted to fill in the gap on the same side to maintain continuity and eliminate the need for bikers to cross the street, Bowring said. Properties on the east side are also farther away from the street, according to Bowring.

‘‘They’ve done a lot to try to minimize how much land they’ve taken from residents,” Bowring said.