The county also is home to at least 15 cycling-related events, including the Columbia Association’s BikeAbout tour (scheduled for Sept. 21), the Columbia Triathlon and Iron Girl Columbia at Centennial Park, the Maryland Olympic Duathlon in western Howard County, cyclocross races and mountain bike camps at Rockburn Branch Park and a time trial on Ilchester Road in Ellicott City.
And within Columbia, cyclists have access to more than 90 miles of off-street paved paths. That’s more than most major cities in the United States.
But to create a more bikeable environment, residents and county leaders need to work together to “connect the dots,” says County Executive Ken Ulman. The county needs more pathways and bike lanes that link homes to workplaces, as well as shopping and recreation centers, he says.
“We have a great infrastructure, and so many of the pieces are there,” Ulman says. “The challenge is finding the most cost-effective way to make it happen.”
Planning for the future
Recognizing bicycling’s growing popularity and transportation value, the county and Columbia are in the midst of implementing pedestrian and bicycle plans.
In September 2012, Columbia Association completed its “Connecting Columbia” plan, officially known as the Active Transportation Action Agenda, to aid pedestrians and bicyclists. The plan has three main objectives: Increase connections and reduce missing links; enhance CA pathways; and inspire bikers and walkers to use the paths.
“(The plan) will extend the reach of Columbia’s pathways for the 21st century,” says Jane Dembner, director of community building and sustainability for CA.
While some of the projects are long-term, others have already started. Currently, most paths measure 5 to 8 feet wide. The plan recommends, when high-traffic paths are repaved or expanded or new paths are built, they measure 10 feet wide. This allows for more comfortable passing and two-way flows, Dembner says. CA recently implemented the 10-foot pathway standard when it replaced the path around Lake Kittamaqundi near the Kennedy Gardens.
In addition, CA is testing new directional and mileage signs on the 1.5-mile “Lake to Lake” route that would connect Wilde Lake and Lake Kittamaqundi.
Also in 2012, the county government began working on its own bicycle transportation master plan. Like Columbia, the county held a series of public workshops and surveys to guide the plan, which -- among other goals -- will encourage cycling education in public schools.
“I have been really surprised at the number of regular citizens, moms and dads and seniors, who have come out and said, ‘I want to be able to bike from my house to the grocery store for a short trip. It seems like I shouldn’t have to drive,’ ” says Jennifer Toole, a Columbia resident and president of Toole Design Group, a consultant company hired by both the Columbia Association and the county to develop their respective plans.
Both Toole and David Cookson, planning specialist with the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning, say having a plan in place won’t solve all cycling-related issues. Changes also won’t happen overnight, as the county and Columbia need to secure funding for projects. But, they say, a plan is a good place to start.
“There are some people who will do it, and there are some people who won’t,” Cookson says. “This plan will address that middle … the broadest group of people who would be interested in cycling if the conditions on the ground are improved and more comfortable.”
You don’t have to go far to buy a bicycle or bike gear in Howard County. Multiple stores offer just what you need to hit the road on two wheels.
• Bella Bikes - 8450 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City. bellabikes.com
• Ben’s Performance Bicycles - 2878 Daisy Road, Woodbine. bensperformancebicycles.com
• Dick’s Sporting Goods - 6621 Columbia Crossing Circle, Columbia. dickssportinggoods.com
• Performance Bicycle - 6455 Dobbin Road, Columbia. performancebike.com
• Princeton Sports - 10730 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. princetonsports.com
• Race Pace - 6925 Oakland Mills Road, Columbia, and 8450 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City. racepacebicycles.com
• REI - 6100 Dobbin Road, Columbia. rei.com
• Sports Authority SA Elite - 10300 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. saelite.com
• Twenty20 Cycling - 8600 Foundry St., Savage. twenty20cycling.com
Want to ride your bike but don’t want to do it alone? Check out the following Howard County bike clubs:
• Explore Columbia - Family bike club and adult walking club that explores Columbia paths and Howard County trails. All walks and bike rides are guided. explorecolumbia.org
• Cycle2Health - Noncompetitive, peer-led club for adults of all skill levels includes weekday daytime rides. Organized by the county’s Office on Aging. howardcountymd.gov
• Glenelg Gang - Recreational cycling group that meets twice a week for road rides. groups.yahoo.com/group/GlenelgGang
• Howard County Cycling Club - Recreational cycling group that meets weekly for road rides. sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/HoCoCyclists
• Mid Maryland Triathlon Club - Group that helps area triathletes train. midmdtriclub.org
• Princeton Sports and Race Pace - Bicycle shops that offer regular group rides. princetonsports.com and racepacebicycles.com
• The Morning Ride - A recreational and social bike group that rides early in the morning. themorningride.com
• Westside Worlds - Fast-paced road bike training club that meets regularly for group rides. adventuresforthecure.com/rides.php
Several bicycling-related measures are under way or have been recently completed by the Columbia Association or Howard County, including:
• Workshop conducted by the Department of Planning and Zoning to help local businesses support employees biking to work.
• Adding 3,000 feet of 8-foot-wide asphalt path along Broken Land Parkway near Snowden River Parkway. Pedestrian signals and two bus shelters will also be installed.
• Studying a new pathway to connect the county’s Patuxent Branch Trail to downtown Columbia.
• Developing a wayfinding smartphone app for paths in Columbia.
• Adding bike lanes and sharrows (shared lane markings) to Great Star Drive in Columbia.
• Expanding shoulders on Guilford Road in Columbia.
• Incorporating cycling-related laws into county police officer training.
To learn more about Connecting Columbia, visit ColumbiaAssociation.org/ConnectingColumbia and https://vimeo.com/44251225. To learn more about the county’s bicycle master plan, visit bikehoward.com.