A pilot project with bike lanes on University Boulevard from Amherst Avenue to Arcola Avenue ended in December. Advocates hope it will eventually become permanent and be extended east and/or west along the highway. Credit: From MDOT SHA

In recent weeks, state Del. Emily Shetty has seen emails fill her inbox about one specific issue in her district, which covers parts of Chevy Chase, Kensington and Wheaton — a pilot project for new bike lanes along University Boulevard.

The pilot project was for lanes both west and east along a 1.35-mile stretch of Md. 193, from Amherst Avenue to Arcola Avenue. The lanes opened in June, and the pilot ended in December.

Shetty (D-Kensington) said in an interview there’s been a lot of interest in the project. She has heard from residents who support the increased accessibility of the bike lanes and those concerned it would lead to more traffic and the lanes weren’t being used during colder months.

The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) hosted an online survey through mid-December to solicit feedback about the pilot project.

Shantee Felix, a spokeswoman for SHA, wrote in an email that a public meeting will be held this month to brief those interested on traffic data collected during the pilot and to gauge interest on whether the pilot lanes should be made permanent.

That latter issue is a multi-step process, Felix added. A “purpose and need statement” would need to be drafted for the project, and a local stakeholder meeting with residents and other interested parties would be held, she wrote.

“MDOT SHA would need to review the design from all aspects including environmental, maintenance, construction and highway design. As with all projects, funding would need to be acquired as well,” Felix wrote.

Shetty said that the pilot showed that these types of projects could slow traffic down, which is important for the county’s pedestrian and vehicle safety goals. Advocates want to see if the pilot project could be extended and connect other communities, such as from Kensington to College Park. 

She’s also heard from residents who would want to see similar pilots tried in other parts of the county — not only because of the infrastructure for bicyclists, but also because of the positive impact on sidewalk accessibility. 

Shetty is hopeful that the pilot project shows that SHA officials will look at all forms of transportation on major roadways. She said they’ve taken road safety issues seriously recently. One example outside the pilot project is a quicker turnaround time for speed camera requests and installations, she said.

“I do think they’re much more open to the philosophy that their mission is not solely about moving vehicles safely, but it’s about moving people safely from point A to point B,” Shetty said.

Del. Jared Solomon (D-Chevy Chase), who also represents District 18, agreed that the pilot project has been a hot topic among constituents, and that there have been both supporters and opponents.

Solomon said in an interview that the pilot project is just one way of improving pedestrian and traffic safety.

In more than half a dozen times he observed traffic along the pilot route, he said, he never saw cars backed up, and they often appeared to be traveling at slower speeds.

He’s interested to see the data that SHA shares this month, and believes the pilot could be an example for other similar projects in the future.

He agreed with supporters that extending the length of the pilot route could incentivize use, something that opponents have been quick to point out when few bicycles or pedestrians are using the lanes.

“It’s only a mile-and-a-half, so there’s going to be limited usage. … If you’re going to try to get to the Wheaton Metro on a bike, then it’s hard if it doesn’t connect all the way there,” Solomon said.

Alison Gillespie, an advocate for the project and co-founder of the Open Streets Montgomery Coalition, said she would appreciate SHA officials taking a serious look at not only making the pilot lanes permanent, but also extending them. 

Some have complained that usage has been low in colder months, but Gillespie said that cities elsewhere — including Washington, D.C. — have figured out ways to “winterize” bike lanes like those in the University Boulevard pilot project.

Overall, the pilot lanes were beneficial to not only bicyclists, but also those who use wheelchairs and those with strollers as they used either the lanes or free space on the sidewalk, she said.

“We need better infrastructure, so that people have better alternatives to cars. … When we looked at it, we didn’t know what it would be like to ride a bike [on those lanes]. … I was surprised at how enjoyable it was to ride in them,” Gillespie said. 

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com 

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com