Montgomery County planners tasked with rerouting the Georgetown Branch Trail to guide users around future Purple Line construction have settled on a proposal that largely uses Jones Bridge Road to transport cyclists and walkers between Silver Spring and Bethesda.
County bike planners discussed the interim trail proposal Wednesday evening at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center with about two dozen residents.
The planners were required by the state to reroute the existing off-road Georgetown Branch Trail that cuts through Columbia Country Club in order for construction on the Purple Line to begin. The light-rail line that would run from Bethesda to New Carrollton would be constructed in the trail right of way and the county plans to build a new trail next to the line. Purple Line construction was set to begin late last year, but has been delayed due to an ongoing federal lawsuit.
The planners were hamstrung on what route they could choose for the interim trail because the Town of Chevy Chase has so far refused to allow the county to use its streets.
The proposed interim trail route from Bethesda to Silver Spring. (Blue line drawn by Bethesda Beat for emphasis; click to expand)
As a result, the route proposed by planners would take walkers and cyclists entering the Capital Crescent Trail from the entrance near Bethesda Row on a sign-guided route through streets in downtown Bethesda, then north along Pearl Street and Maryland Avenue, east onto Jones Bridge Road and through Rock Creek Park, and then onto roads in the Lyttonsville area before arriving in downtown Silver Spring.
The interim route does not include installation of new cycling infrastructure—such as separated bike lanes—and depends on riders and walkers using the signs to guide themselves while traveling the route.
“This is quite a puzzle,” one woman told Tim Cupples, a county transportation designer, at the meeting Wednesday night while the two discussed the route.
Cupples said planners want to get feedback from the community before finalizing the route. He said negotiations are ongoing with the Town of Chevy Chase to try to get access to the town’s roads, which the town maintains as a municipality. Town Manager Todd Hoffman told Bethesda Beat in January that town leaders and residents are concerned about being able to accommodate an influx of cyclists and walkers on the town’s narrow streets and that such trail users may interfere with ongoing gas line replacements happening in the town.
There’s no law or regulations preventing cyclists and walkers from using the town’s streets, even if the roads aren’t used as the official interim trail route.
“Experienced bikers are going to find the route they’re most comfortable with, regardless of what we sign,” Cupples said. “For recreational users, nothing is going to replace the existing trail, there’s nothing like it.”
Proposed signage that will mark the route. Via maps on display at the Wednesday night meeting.
East Bethesda resident Amanda Farber, who attended the meeting last night, contended that if the county expects recreational users to use the official interim route, then they should add bike infrastructure to make it safer. She noted construction of the Purple Line is expected to take five years and the creation of the interim route presents the county with an opportunity to improve bike infrastructure on roads in the area.
“Five years is not exactly temporary,” Farber said.
Jones Bridge Road in particular is known for its significant traffic and backups near Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues, especially during morning and evening rush hours.
Steve Noyes, the pastor council chairman at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bethesda, expressed his concern at the meeting that routing walkers and cyclists between the church and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School would be dangerous.
He said commuters and high school students are streaming along Pearl Street in the morning to get to the school and offices downtown. He described the roadway between the church and school as a “human Cuisnart” blender and added, “We’re one left turn away from a death.”
He recommended the county study that part of the route before finalizing the interim trail route.
A more detailed look at the route in the Lyttonsville area. (click to expand)
The route through downtown Bethesda is marked in red.