For new bike lanes in College Park, there’s good news and bad news

By Jeff Lemieux and Patrick Wojahn. Cross posted at Greater Greater Washington

New drawings are out for bike lanes along Route 1 in College Park, between the University of Maryland and Greenbelt Road. The State Highway Administration is now proposing buffered bike lanes on the main street through College Park, but community leaders want a protected bike lane, or at least a bigger buffer.

Photo by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious on Flickr.

The new bike lanes that the Maryland SHA is proposing are about one foot wider than the original design, which was too narrow to be next to heavy traffic. But there still aren’t any “vertical” safety features to put a physical barrier between cars and bikes, like curbs, flexible posts, and rumble strips.

When members of the College Park City Council asked whether that would change, SHA said it would not. The issue, apparently, wasn’t about cost, but rather maintenance and road space.

Bike lane dimensions for Route 1 in College Park. Image from the State Highway Administration

Route 1 is notorious for its safety problems. It has seen several fatalities—of both people on foot and in cars—along the route in recent years, and in just one weekend last October, turning drivers struck pedestrians in crosswalks two times.

The new bike lane width of six feet is certainly more bike-friendly than the prior design, but it remains one foot short of the seven foot total width that the highway administration’s own guidelines recommend for curb-protected bike lanes.

If Route 1 were a bit narrower, there’d be an extra foot for bike lanes.

Wider car lanes vs better bike lanes

The new design for Route 1 in College Park widens the road’s main driving lanes to 11 feet, which Maryland Department of Transportation secretary Pete Rahn says will make it easier for large vehicles like trucks and buses to turn.

Wider lanes, however, also encourage drivers to speed and carry with them a greater risk for crashes at corners. 10-foot lanes would calm traffic and leave more space for bike lanes and sidewalks.

It may make sense that high-speed roads in rural areas would prioritize higher speeds and looser turning radii. But College Park is a rapidly urbanizing area, and to make things safe, buses, trucks and cars will need to slow down.

Also, making biking and walking safer and more convenient (as well as continuing to improve transit) will help cut traffic volumes and travel times by taking cars off the road.

The decision whether to prioritize turning convenience for bus and truck drivers vs. pedestrian and bike safety is a question not of engineering, but of politics and values.

Route 1 at Paint Branch Parkway with a relaxed turning radius for higher-speed turns. Image from Google maps.

Fortunately, there is a potential compromise. The Route 1 master plan calls for 11-foot outside lanes and 10-foot inside lanes. A wider 11-foot lane on the right side would give more space for turning trucks and buses, and there could still be a narrower, calmer 10-foot passing lane on the left. That extra foot of road space would allow a wider buffer zone between the bike lanes and traffic. It would also leave space for a protected bike lane to go in later.

Given the history of fatalities and injuries all along the route, College Park needs traffic calming features like protected bike lanes and narrow travel lanes, not features intended to encourage drivers to speed through the area or make higher-speed turns. A complete