While the serious cyclists who flock to Potomac every weekend may be content riding in the roadway, most novice bikers and families consider it to be a death-defying act.
Casual riders tend to prefer the comforts of a ride along the Capital Crescent Trail, the C&O Canal towpath, or another one of the area’s multi-use paths. But the appeal of a ride on one of those trails is often lost when accessing it requires loading bicycles onto a car rack, driving, parking, unloading the bicycles, and repeating the process on the way back.
Avoiding the drive-to-bike scenario is one of the major objectives of a proposed county project to build a bicycle path along Falls Road between Potomac Village and Dunster Road, near the border of Rockville.
The proposed eight-foot bike path would run on the east side of Falls — passing the frontages of the Bullis School, the Potomac Community Center and dozens of homes on its way to Rockville. It would not cross Falls road as the existing Falls Road path does between the Village and MacArthur Boulevard, but would instead run solely along one side of the road.
The Department of Public Works and Transportation has long contemplated the Potomac-to-Rockville path, but so far it has remained in the unfunded pages of long-range master plans.
Now the project is in phase II planning, with contractors drawing up a partial design and Public Works and Transportation officials working to negotiate land and right-of-way acquisitions with affected homeowners.
NEXT WEEK the plan will draw closer to construction, when Public Works and Transportation planners hold a public meeting to discuss the proposed path and take community input on the plan.
The meeting “will allow the county executive and the County Council to really have a pretty good understanding to have a pretty good idea of what the project consists of, how the community feels about it and what it’s going to cost,” said Tom Pogue, community outreach manager for Public Works and Transportation.
Following the meeting, DPWT expects to submit a “35 percent design” to the county in late summer and move through the Park and Planning Commission’s mandatory referral process, which evaluates development projects by public agencies.
It would then be set to move into the county’s Capital Improvements Plan when major changes to the plan are considered next year.
So far, only the planning phase of the project is funded and official cost estimates are not available, but the 3.8-mile path could cost $1 million per mile or more.
COST IS ONE of several issues opponents of the path may cite at Monday’s meeting.
Carol Embrey, who has spent more than 15 years advocating for a sidewalk on River Road near the U.S. Post office there, said she doesn’t think the hiker-biker path makes sense.
She cited the large number of side streets that the path would cross, creating possible pedestrian safety issues and conflicts with traffic turning from Falls.
And although keeping the path to one side of the road eliminates some larger crossings, it also limits the access points for people coming from the west side of Falls.
“Only where there are lights can someone cross from the other side,” Embrey said. “How are those folks going to access it?”
The county also must negotiate right-of-ways with affected property owners, some of whose houses are close to the road.
“We certainly have some issues there to work with. There’s one house [where] the front door is 15 feet from the edge of Falls Road,” Pogue said. “A year or so ago that property owner was still willing to work with us on this project, which is to his credit since this project will be literally in his front yard.”
BUT FOR BICYCLING advocates, the hiker-biker trial’s progress is good news.
“The main reason we’re supporting the path is to provide connectivity for the neighborhoods along Falls Road,” said Jack Cochrane, chairman of Montgomery County Bicycle Advocates.
Residents of those neighborhoods would have an off-road route to Potomac Village and the C&O Canal towpath. On the north side, the path would link up with Rockville Millennium Trail
But Cochrane said that most of his group’s cyclists still ride in the roadway, and MOBIKE advocates strongly for dual bikeways, where a portion of the roadway is striped or signed for bicycle use in addition to having a parallel path.
“An equal priority is getting the on-road bikeway as well,” he said. “As long as the path doesn’t interfere with that we support [it]. I probably will never use the path myself — because I ride in the road — but I think those paths have a definite purpose.”
Still, riders like Cochrane are likely the minority.
Alan Cohen lives on Eldwick Way, which meets Falls near the community center and serves on the community center board.
"It would be great to have people be able to walk or ride a bike from the library to the community center," he said. "We've always been supportive of easier access to the community center, and safer access, and that's definitely what it would be. It would definitely make it more accessible to kids."
It would mean be fewer cars and more activity for the center, Cohen said.
Regarding the assertion that serious bicyclists use the road, Cohen said that he often sees them using the Falls Road bike path on the south side of Potomac Village.
"I do seem them on that too. I think that's the key. And I see them on the Rockville piece," he said.
As for questions of right-of-way, Cohen said, "A major portion of that is the Bullis site that doesn't have any homes and plenty of land around it."
“Falls Road is just a very difficult road to bike on, it has so many curves and it’s very narrow and it has almost no shoulder to speak of,” said Pogue, who also lives near Falls Road. “There are many more people I think that will look forward to using the bike bath, myself included.”