Howard's growing bike path connections [Commentary]

As someone who bikes frequently, I know how uneasy it can be to take a trip to work, the park or the store. Sharing today’s roads with faster cars and distracted drivers can make anyone second-guess choosing to get around by bike.

This is why BikeHoward Express, the latest measure to provide better transportation options for our community, will be a game-changer. BikeHoward Express, a plan announced by County Executive Allan Kittleman [last] week, will complete a nearly 48-mile bicycle network in the central parts of Howard County over the next three years.

BikeHoward Express accelerates portions of the Howard County Bicycle Master Plan (BikeHoward) adopted by the County Council in 2016.

While the Bicycle Master Plan takes a 30-year outlook, BikeHoward Express will advance BikeHoward’s most critical elements in a focused, coordinated manner. In just three years it will complete a network facilitating short, local, as well as longer bike trips within and through the densest and most populous parts of our county; Columbia, Elkridge, Ellicott City and Laurel/Savage.

The public has told us that many more people in Howard County would use a bicycle for short trips if it was convenient and if they felt safe. The goal of BikeHoward Express is to create a connected network of safe biking routes between key destinations. More than half of county residents live within one mile of the BikeHoward Express network. The network will help them get to schools, workplaces, parks, shopping, and entertainment without having to drive. Biking to the local coffee shop, to school, to visit friends and to the local park will become safe and easy, and will also promote health and wellness.

In the last few years, we’ve heard from hundreds of residents who want the county to develop a core bike network in a short time frame. I believe that BikeHoward Express will deliver this core network in a cost-effective and pragmatic manner. It will include off-road shared-use pathways that will benefit walkers as well as bicyclists, on-road bicycle lanes, and shared roadway features such as sharrows (shared lane markings) and directional signs. We will work closely with local communities for each individual piece of the plan to help determine the final details of the improvements.

BikeHoward Express complements the county’s ongoing efforts towards multimodal transportation options to serve people that drive, walk, take transit or bike. Multimodal options that spread trips across multiple modes benefit everyone by helping to reduce traffic congestion, parking demand, and the need for expensive roadway expansion projects. Simply stated, if we plan and design 100 percent for the automobile, transportation only works for some. If we plan and design for all modes, transportation works well for everybody.

Major ongoing roadway projects include widening Route 29 and Route 32 to alleviate immediate congestion and safety issues. To improve walking, we have added over 25 miles of sidewalks since 2014, and we are updating WalkHoward, the county’s Pedestrian Master Plan. To improve transit, we have added 18 new buses to our fleet since July 2017, with six more buses due to arrive in the fall. We are proposing a major restructuring of our bus routes to begin in 2019.

In 2017, under BikeHoward, more miles of bike lanes were installed on roads in Howard County than in any previous year. Other notable improvements for biking in 2017 included the renovation of the bicycle-pedestrian bridge over Route 29 between downtown Columbia and Oakland Mills and a pilot bikeshare program in Downtown Columbia, soon to be expanded to Ellicott City.

BikeHoward Express will greatly expand multimodal options in the heart of Howard County where the need is greatest and the benefits will be highest. BikeHoward Express is a pragmatic, achievable and affordable plan that will make a significant difference in a short period of time.

Clive Graham is administrator of the Howard County Office of Transportation.

Copyright © 2018, Columbia Flier, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad