Montgomery County is working on a plan for creating bicycle networks. Credit: ANDREW METCALF

Cyclists, pedestrians and other travelers in Montgomery County can comment on a draft bicycle master plan, a document that will guide officials as they plan bike networks.

The 370-page document is an overhaul of several past plans. It is written to improve safety and increase the number of cyclists by making more people feel comfortable traveling by bike. The plan will arm county leaders with tools for getting the most out of the money they spend on bike improvements, county planning board Chairman Casey Anderson said.

“We have a limited amount of resources. We can’t do all the most expensive fixes, but we probably should do a few expensive ones that are really important and valuable,” he said.

The draft will come before the planning board for a public hearing on Jan. 25, after which board members will hold work sessions to refine the proposal.

Creating the master plan has involved a couple of innovative approaches for targeting the highest-priority areas for projects, he said.

For instance, the planning department won a national award for developing a stress map, which covers more than 3,500 miles of roadway and trails in the county. The map color codes these thoroughfares based on the stress levels a cyclist would experience on them. Most everyone is willing to bike on the light blue pathways, while only the boldest cyclists will venture onto the dark red roadways.

Only about 7 percent of the population is willing to tolerate the high levels of traffic stress experienced while cycling on highways, according to a planning press release. About half the population, including children, falls into the “interested but concerned” category, cyclists who are willing to cycle on residential streets, trails and roads with bikeways separated from traffic, the release stated.

The plan also organizes bikeways into five types based on their separation from traffic. Shared roads offer the least separation from traffic, while trails provide the greatest degree of removal. 

By considering both the gaps in bicycling infrastructure and the need, county leaders and planning officials can direct money and attention to the projects that will have the greatest impact on increasing cycling rates, Anderson said.

The planning department has been working on the draft for about two years. It has gathered public input at community meetings and by launching a digital cycling concerns map that allowed people to comment on specific locations in the county.