Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bike Routes and Bike Infrastructure

Yesterday I talked about the new bike signs on Colesville Road and University Boulevard.  Today I'll talk more about the broader cycling situation in Four Corners.

Four Corners actually has a few signed Bike Routes.  I say "actually" because many people are unaware they exist.  They run along various roads in the area, such as Dennis Avenue, Southwood Avenue, Franklin Avenue, and Brunett Avenue.  I did some research on the bike routes, and I discovered that there's not much information on them.  The most helpful thing I found was this map which shows bike routes and trails across the county.  Everyone knows about the trails, such as Sligo Creek, Rock Creek, and the Capital Crescent/Georgetown Branch.  All of these trails are well publicized, and there's lots of information online about them.  However, the bike routes that connect to these trails are barely mentioned anywhere.

Bike Route sign at Eastwood Avenue and Southwood Avenue.  Photo by the author.

I assume the reason for this lack of information on bike routes is that they're not that useful in their current state.    Most of the bike routes on the map have no bicycle infrastructure whatsoever.  The routes are mostly just residential streets that someone labeled as a bike route.  It's almost impossible to tell which roads are bike routes and which aren't.  However, maybe if these routes were publicized better, more people would start to plan their bike journeys around them.

Some of the existing bike routes are along roads that are hostile to cyclists.  Colesville Road is labeled as a bike route from Lockwood Drive to Sligo Creek Parkway, and as I previously mentioned, it is one of the most unfriendly cycling environments imaginable.  Another route is along Eastwood Avenue from Southwood to Dennis.  This route goes up a long hill on an 8-10% grade, which does not seem that steep in a car, but it is difficult on a bike.  Hills are unavoidable in an area like ours, but some are smaller than others, and those are the ones that should be used as bike routes.

The only road in Four Corners that has some form of bicycle infrastructure is Forest Glen Road.  The road was repaved two years ago, and bike lanes were added to certain parts.  This made Forest Glen the most bike friendly road in Four Corners.  In parts were bikes lanes weren't added due to lack of space, markings known as sharrows were installed.  These markings are similar to the "Bikes May Use Full Lane" signs I addressed in yesterdays post.  They remind motorists that cyclists are allowed on the road too, and they also show cyclists which part of the road to ride on (or at least they're supposed to).  

Sharrow on Forest Glen Road.  Photo by author.
Sharrows are nice, and like the "Bikes May Use Full Lane" signs, they demonstrate good intent on behalf of MCDOT and the SHA.  Sometimes sharrows are "gateway drug" to better bike infrastructure.  Unfortunately, it is more common for signs and sharrows to be used as a cop-out form of bike infrastructure.  They are not particularly useful, as they do not give cyclists and motorists their own space on the road like bike lanes do.  This means both cyclists and motorists get a bad deal.  Drivers have to deal with slow moving bikes, and cyclists are put in an intimidating situation.

The best way to encourage bicycling is to give cyclists a safe, convenient, and direct place to ride, weather it is on a road or a trail.  Safe, because no one want to ride in an unsafe or intimidating situation.  Convenient, because bicycle facilities should not be far from most residents and they should not be difficult to access.  And finally, direct, because bike lanes and trails should go to places that are already big destinations, such as Downtown Silver Spring.  These facilities should not take meandering routes through neighborhoods if there is a more direct way possible.  For example; the Sligo Creek Trail is great facility for recreation and leisure rides, but it does little to help cyclists commuting from Four Corners to Downtown Silver Spring because it parallels both communities instead of connecting them.

The problem with the current bicycling infrastructure in Four Corners is that it lacks those three things.  It is not safe or convenient to bike on the major roads that lead to the places Four Corners residents want to go to.  Because of this, cyclists must take circuitous, indirect routes to their destinations.  These factors greatly hamper the cycling experience.

In a future post I'll put forth some of my ideas for improving the cycling experience in and around Four Corners.  


  1. Sean, I just bought a house off of Dennis and I wanted to say thanks for the blog. I notice you don't get a lot of comments but I really appreciate this site as a way to learn about my new neighborhood and I felt I should de lurk to tell you so. I am a huge supporter of transit and better walk and bikeability (I have participated in some coalition for smart growth activities). I hope to see some better transit such as BRT come to the area and I'd also like to see more walking friendly retail developed along University Ave (long term I know). I also hope to bike more now that I'm closer to the Sligo creek trail and a father walk from shops and metro than my last home, in downtown Silver Spring. If I have one critique about your posts it's that they are a bit depressing for me. Yes things could be improved in many ways, but there are also ways that things are better than in other parts of MoCo and American suburbia in general. At least we have bike route signage! And it's much easier too bike here than in dtss. Wish the Safeway and Woodmoor had bike racks though.

    1. Hi, thanks for reading, and welcome to Four Corners! Nice to hear that you're a supporter of transit and walkability. I would like to see Four Corners become as bike/pedestrian/transit friendly as possible, but not at the sacrifice of local businesses or private property.

      Interesting that you find some of the posts a bit depressing, I appreciate this kind of feedback. I try to be realistic and honest about the way things are, and I think I have been so far. I love Four Corners (I wouldn't have started this blog if I didn't) and I want to see it become a better place. If something seems negative or depressing (unclear bike routes, infrequent RideOn service, etc), we should work with our elected officials to improve it. However; your concerns are noted, and I will try to make more posts about the good things in our community.

      Also, adding bike racks at local businesses is a great idea, and I think it would be a great step towards making Four Corners even more bike friendly. It's an easy and inexpensive thing that gives residents another option for short trips that don't require a car. Bike racks could also free up a few parking spaces for those who live too far away to bike or cannot bike.

      If you have an idea for a post, or something you would like to hear more about, let me know. Thanks for the feedback.

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