County seeks to improve bike lanes and walkability

County seeks to improve bike lanes and walkability
Sean Murphy brings a bike to a waiting customer at Race Pace Bicycles in Owings Mills, March 29. (Photo by Jacob deNobel , Carroll County Times)

Cyclists and pedestrians in Baltimore County will have the opportunity to submit their ideas for local improvements that would make their commutes safer and more convenient at the Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan Citizen Input Meeting April 16.

Members of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Committee are looking for low-cost options to encourage more people to ride their bikes and walk to their destinations throughout the county.

Possible improvements range in complexity from the creation of bicycle routes, which consist solely of signage designating roadways as such, to widening roads. The plan focuses on the cheaper alternatives such as narrowing traffic lanes or re-striping existing shoulders for bicycle usage.

Sean Murphy of Race Pace Bicycles in Owings Mills said he would gladly welcome improvements to the roads he currently travels.

"The roads here are awful," Murphy said. "I don't like feeling all the bumps and cracks and potholes everywhere on the road."

Kathy Schlabach, of the Department of Planning, said the meeting is intended to gauge citizens' interest so the county can prioritize their projects as they begin to apply for grants.

"We want to improve access to on-road bicycling," Schlabach said. "There are places where it's feasible. We just want to give residents more options for travel than just necessarily always using their car."

The meeting is a component of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan. The plan is divided into three phases. The eastern and western phases focus on the urban communities surrounding Baltimore City and are being worked on simultaneously. Following the implementation of the ideas from those phases, they will begin to gather information in the northern portion of the county to work on the Rural Access Plan.

The access committee was formed in response to a resolution by Councilmen David Marks and Tom Quirk. Marks said this was the first bill he sponsored as a councilman and he feels passionately about coming up with a system.

"I thought it would be a good panel to have in Baltimore County," Marks said. "We have a great road system here, but we don't have the most intricate plan of trails and things of that nature."

Sean Fitchett, of Race Pace, said he would welcome improvements, but would really prefer to see increased educational efforts.

"I just feel like it's important to get more knowledge out there," Fitchett said. "There's a lot of drivers, as well as cyclists, who don't necessarily know the rules they're supposed to be abiding by, so I think everybody needs to be educated on what the actual laws are."

The western plan includes improvements in Reisterstown, Owings Mills and Glyndon. High priority suggested improvements include work on Reisterstown Road, Stevenson Road, Butler Road and others. Schlabach said the improvements were prioritized based on ease of completion, potential for high level of usage and linkage to other routes to create a network.

Committee Chairman Sheldon Epstein said he was invited to participate in the committee because he rides his bike to work on occasion. He said the program will positively affect the county in a number of ways.

"It's a good thing to get out and exercise," Epstein said. "It's good to reduce traffic, and it's also good to reduce pollution. There's really no downside to this project."

Marks said the program, if utilized, will help ease traffic congestion.

"We need to have bike lanes," Marks said. "The fact is that we're running out of places to put more cars, and we need to encourage people to start riding their bikes."

Schlabach said the effort is largely focused on encouraging people to consider utilizing these alternative modes of transportation.

"It's about creating a comfort zone for them," Schlabach said. "It might make someone who is a little uneasy on the road feel more comfortable riding next to cars."