Bike Lanes and Road Diets

Bike Lanes and Road Diets Are Not the Way to Go

By Amy Waychoff

Most of us have probably experienced — or at least heard about — the dramatically increased traffic along a .6 mile stretch of Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda and North Bethesda. This busy six-lane state highway (route 187) was reduced by one lane in each direction in the fall of 2022. The remaining lanes were narrowed, and a bike lane separated by flex posts was installed.

The History. In June of 2022, a University of Maryland student, Enzo Alvarenga, was fatally struck by a van near Cheshire Drive, not far from where another teen bicyclist had been killed in 2019. On September 9, 2022, local politicians, residents, and State Highway Administration (SHA) representatives held a “walk along” to discuss what could be done to prevent another tragedy from occurring. However, the SHA had already decided to make the changes described above (MoCo360, December 27, 2022).

Local outrage about the changes was immediate. A Nextdoor post by one nearby resident elicited nearly 900 comments. Many complained that commute times had increased by 20-30 minutes.

One member of the community started a petition, which you can sign below: old-georgetown-road-in-bethesda-md?signed=true

You can also email the SHA: [email protected] (with subject line “MD 187 Feedback”).

Here are some talking points for your emails:

  • This new design interferes with the safety of those who are trying to get to Suburban Hospital, which is located on Old Georgetown People who need to get to the hospital cannot wait for a bus, they cannot walk and they certainly cannot ride a bike to get to their treatment.
  • Imagine the problems caused for ambulances trying to reach the hospital in time to save the lives of their passengers. Imagine the delays in putting out fires when fire trucks from the BCC Rescue Squad cannot reach their destinations in a timely manner.
  • With Old Georgetown Road already in gridlock, imagine it covered in snow and ice in January and February. What will the snow removal trucks do with the accumulated snow with only two lanes each way for vehicles? What roads will emergency vehicles use to get to their destinations?
  • The increased gridlock means that cars are idling for long periods of time, which increases air pollution.
  • This non-stop traffic has resulted in cars trying to avoid the gridlock by cutting through quiet residential side streets where children play.
  • The bike lanes will not make it safer for the bicyclists: the flex posts that have been installed will not protect a biker from a wayward vehicle. Perhaps that explains why so few bikers are using these bike lines.
  • To truly make it safer for bike riders, why not build a totally protected, totally separate, two-way bike lane on the north side of the road? I am not talking about taking away a car lane. You would have to spend some money on this more commercial side of the roadway, but the previous Governor left the state with a surplus so I think a small project such as this would be affordable.

While SHA says that the new configuration is a “permanent solution,” there are signs that at least one local politician has discovered the downside to unsafe bike lanes. Delegate Marc Korman (District 16) was initially in favor of the bike lanes, but more recently has said that “I think the traffic projections and the reality of the impact on traffic are mismatched.” Calling for “balance” between the needs for bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists, Korman has asked SHA for a “post- installation study to see the project’s impact on traffic times, pollution, and car crashes” (MoCo360, December 27, 2022).

Old Georgetown is not the only road in the county that will be losing driving lanes. Back in October, County Council member Andrew Friedson (District 1) called for a “road diet” for Tuckerman Lane between Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road (Bulletin from his office, October 7, 2022). The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) announced in February that a one-year pilot road diet for Tuckerman would begin this fall. The comment period for the project is over, and a final decision on whether to go forward with the pilot will be made by MCDOT by March 31 ( Traffic/Studies/TuckermanLane.html).

With your timely advocacy, perhaps these road diets will be a “fad” that does not last.

Montgomery County Republican Party