Cyclists and residents alike have praised Howard County's first Bicycle Master Plan, BikeHoward, as the Office of Transportation's bicycle and pedestrian team, Chris Eatough and David Cookson, continue to involve the community in the initiative's planning stages.
As a section of PlanHoward 2030, the county's general plan, BikeHoward promotes bicycling as a safe and environmentally friendly method of transportation, with pathways connecting commercial and residential areas.
During Thursday evening's planning board meeting in Ellicott City, Eatough, the project's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, shared the master plan with board members, ending with a unanimous agreement to send BikeHoward before the County Council for approval.
However, not all residents wholeheartedly agree with some of the plan's proposed pathways throughout certain residential areas. Columbia resident Ted Markle said one proposed pathway in the master plan "is not needed because there is already a path" and would actually be dangerous due to flooding issues in the area.
According to proposal, Markle said, the path would run along the Little Patuxent River, connecting Downtown Columbia to Savage, and into protected wetlands.
"One hundred and sixty Allview [neighborhood] residents have signed a petition opposing this path," Markle said. "The Little Patuxent River drains into Columbia, including the mall area, resulting in a huge amount of runoff during storms. …The [Route 29] bridge underpass is the most dangerous part of the path because the width of the land area is only about 18 feet."
Markle showed the board a picture of flooding behind his home in 2014, saying that the area under the bridge can flood with only a half an inch of rain, with the river rising 6 to 8 feet during flash floods.
"People who are using this path may not be aware there is a problem until it is too late," he said. "I'm not against bike paths. I ride all the time. But, we have 90-something paths."
Despite Markle's objections, 75-year-old resident Bill Kelly said the overall plan is what's best for the county as well as its families.
"I'm a retired Washington, D.C. firefighter. I've been biking my whole life and I've never stopped riding," Kelly said, a father of four and grandfather of nine. "A bicycle is a vehicle in all 50 states. It has a right to be on the road."
Kelly told the board that he also serves on the Maryland Bicycle Advisory Committee and highlighted that the master plan has been eight years in the making.
"I would like to lay a lot of your fears to rest," Kelly said. "If you build it, [people] will use it. I want to see some of this in my lifetime."
Eatough added that the specific routes within the plan are only suggested and may be altered, pending design plans, public input and funding availability.
So far, he said, public support has flourished during the Office of Transportation's six workshops, where more than 750 people provided input and recommendations to the master plan. An additional 494 people provided their thoughts and suggestions through BikeHoward's online map.
"This plan is not necessarily for the strong, brave, courageous bikers that we may see in Howard County," Eatough said. "It's about a broader slice of the population, younger and older people, creating a network that is really safe and really connected so that people are comfortable getting around by bike."