Group ride

As Howard County looks to develop its first bicycle master plan, a group ride, sponsored by HoCoCyclists, takes to the roads of the western part of the county. (Photo for The Baltimore Sun by Doug Kapustin / September 1, 2012)

Howard County planners are developing a new bicycle master plan to guide road projects and connections to create a bike transportation network.

The extensive plan is being developed over a year and will address bicycling capabilities on 300 roadways. It will also look at off-road paths and determine the need for bike racks, more bicycle commuting and a proposed shared bike system.

In order to target specific locations that need improvement, the county is turning to interactive technology. It plans to "crowd source" information by posting an online map and asking residents to mark where they think improvements should be made.

"You're leveraging everybody's information that's in their head and getting it in one place," said David Cookson, project leader for the master plan and a planning specialist in the Howard County Office of Planning and Zoning.

Planners will hold six outreach meetings over the next three months, at which they will present information on bike planning, then ask residents to work one-on-one with consultants to provide their thoughts.

"What we're doing is trying to get information about the conditions on the ground from people that experience it more directly, because they're out there every day," Cookson said.

They also hope to identify people's priorities, such as children riding bikes to school, adults biking on paths for recreation or residents hoping to run quick errands on their bicycles.

Consultant Toole Design Group is helping the county create the plan, with guidance from a technical advisory panel that includes representatives from the departments of Recreation and Parks, and Public Works; and from the county school system and the Police Department, among others.

A grant from the Baltimore Metropolitan Council is funding 80 percent of the approximate $160,000 needed to complete the master plan.

According to Toole Design, 50 percent to 60 percent of residents in any given American community want to bicycle more but are concerned about safety on roads and trails. The goal of the plan is to make the roads and paths more accessible.

"What the bike plan is trying to get to is the big middle," Cookson said. "There's about 60 percent of people that are interested and enthusiastic about it, if they felt a little safer, if [roads and paths] took them places where they want to go."

Bicycle advocate Chris Tsien said that should be the goal of any bike infrastructure improvements.

He logged more than 3,500 miles on his bicycle this past year, but he's more focused on making the community bicycle-friendly for everyone.

"The goal is where getting on a bicycle to do the 11/2-mile errand is second nature — it just happens because you can do it, the facilities are there and it's safe to do," Tsien said.

Tsien is on the board of Bicycle Advocates of Howard County, which represents hundreds of county cyclists, and serves on the technical advisory group for the county's master plan development. He also represents bicyclists on a board creating the Columbia Active Transportation Agenda, which will be included in the county's master plan.

Before moving to Columbia in 1985, Tsien lived in Baltimore City without a car — relying on his bicycle and public transportation. Urban areas like the city are ideal for bicycling, he said, but suburban Howard County will have areas that become more urban in the future. It makes sense to plan for those changes now and anticipate the need for future connections for a more walkable and bikeable community, he said.

"The real goal of the master plan is to establish a set of priorities for the county to implement, a set of projects to go to work on — and I'm patient, Tsien said. "I don't expect to be alive when everything is implemented, but I do hope that the plans we make today start to come together and yield results in about five years."

Tsien said he hopes for the creation of a transportation corridor running through the Doughoregan Manor property near Ellicott City. Columbia to the south would meet up with Route 144, then an area near Manor Lane could provide a biking corridor up to Route 99, one of the county's primary east-west biking routes.

He knows that is a big wish, though, since the manor property is privately owned.