Bicyclists, government, CA working on making county more bike-friendly

It's not just the bicyclists who are lobbying for their causes – Howard County government and Columbia Association officials are also gearing up to make the area more welcoming to bike riders.

Bicyclists, advocates and others met Monday, Oct. 17, at the Johns Hopkins University Applies Physics Laboratory in Laurel for the 2nd annual Howard County Bicycle Forum. More than 60 people heard how the county and state can become more friendly to bicyclists

"We'd all like to see bike routes on every major road in the county, the paths in Columbia well-lot, well-marked and made 20-feet wide," Jack Guarneri, president of Bicycling Advocates of Howard County, said to the group. "But what we try to do instead is figure out where we can make changes and then be persistent in pushing for those changes."

Guarneri stressed that bicyclists need to be heard in order to bring about improvements. Carol Silldorf, executive director of Bike Maryland, then spoke about how her organization has been working to change laws

Drivers who are passing bicyclists now need to give riders at least three feet of space. Also, the penalties have been heightened for drivers who collide with and kill a bicyclist due to negligence.

County officials then spoke of programs designed to make the area more ridable.

The county government has $220,000 for developing a bicycle master plan that focuses on recreation, transportation, connectivity and safety, said Ben Pickar, acting division chief of transportation for the county's department of planning and zoning. The government will be hiring a consultant by early 2012, Pickar said.

And Mark DeLuca, deputy director of the county's department of public works, presented a map of Columbia roads he described as an inventory of streets that are legal and safe for riding. There were numerous gaps on the map.

"We don't have any kind of local network we can knit together," he said. "We need to be able to establish routes … that get us from the west to the east, from the north to the south, in more of a grid pattern for cyclists."

With the county looking at roads and bike lanes, Columbia Association and Howard Hughes Corp. is focusing on pathways for bicyclists and walkers.

"Not everybody's going to feel comfortable riding on the street, so we need places where people of all different skill levels can ride bikes," said Jennifer O'Toole, who is working with Howard Hughes to design a trail between Howard County General Hospital and Howard Community College in west Columbia and Blandair Park on the east side of town.

"It's going to be quite a significant trail," she said.

Columbia Association is developing what it calls an "active transportation action agenda" promoting connectivity and fitness, said Jane Dembner, CA's director of community planning.

Taking Columbia's 94 miles of pathways into the 21st century could include adding signs "so you know where you're going, which right now can be a challenge," Dembner said. "If you don't have a mental map, you get lost or you don't feel comfortable."

"The desire is to have our system be more friendly and easy to use, so not only the fearless can use it or venture out on their bicycles," she said. "It's a long process, though. This is one small step."

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