Cyclists against bike lanes proposal

Plan would make Norfolk Avenue dangerous, some say

Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005

Instead of making it safer for cyclists, adding bike lanes could actually make Norfolk Avenue more dangerous, representatives of cyclist groups said at a hearing on Thursday.

The bike lanes are part of a proposed plan to make pedestrian and cyclist improvements at the intersection of Woodmont and Bethesda avenues and along Norfolk Avenue between Rugby and Woodmont avenues. A public hearing on the plan was held on Thursday at the Executive Office Building in Rockville.

‘‘We oppose the use of bike lanes next to parallel parking,” said Jack Cochrane, a representative of Montgomery Bicycle Advocates.

Putting a bike lane next to parallel parking creates a hazardous situation for bikers who could get hit or have to swerve into traffic when drivers open their car doors, he said.

‘‘If bike lanes must be installed next to parallel parking, there must be 14 feet between the curb and the edge of the bike lane,” he said.

The current plan provides for an eight-foot-wide parallel parking bay, a five-foot-wide bike lane and an 11-foot-wide travel lane, a situation endorsed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation, which creates guidelines used by governments in planning streets, said Aruna Miller, project manager.

Cochrane’s suggestion of leaving 14 feet between the curb and the bike lane is not feasible because it would require tearing out the curb and making the sidewalk narrower, Miller said.

‘‘We have a situation there now where there is no bike lane and by providing one, we think we are making it safer,” she said.

Adding the bike lane is just one part of a plan to improve intersections in downtown Bethesda to make them safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

In addition to the adding the bike lane to Norfolk Avenue, the plan also includes bumping out sidewalks at intersections along Norfolk Avenue between Rugby and Woodmont avenues to shorten the distance pedestrians must walk to cross streets. It also calls for installing pedestrian countdown timers at those intersections.

Improvements to the intersection at Woodmont and Bethesda avenues include eliminating the right-turn channel from southbound Woodmont Avenue onto westbound Bethesda Avenue. In its place, the sidewalk area near the fountain outside of Barnes and Noble would be extended from 1,730 square feet to 2,890 square feet. The plan also calls for bumping out the sidewalk on the northwest side of the intersection near the movie theater, expanding crosswalks from 12 to 16 feet wide and expanding handicap ramps from four to six feet wide.

‘‘The purpose is to facilitate the high volume of pedestrians and cyclists,” Miller said.

Community members attending the hearing generally supported the improvements to the intersection, however, some also voiced concerns.

Anne Martin, chairwoman elect of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, asked that the size and material used for the extended sidewalk area in front of Barnes and Noble be considered so that it would look attractive and also be a manageable turn for the Bethesda 8 Trolley.

It could take the hearing examiner six to eight weeks to make a decision on whether to recommend authorizing the project. If authorized, construction could begin as early as spring 2006 and could take about six months to complete, Miller said.

The project is estimated to cost $768,000 and funds have already been set aside for it in the capital improvements budget, Miller said.