Drivers searching for cyclists at the intersection of Spring Street and Second Avenue in downtown Silver Spring just need to keep their eyes on a path of bright-green paint.
On Monday, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation debuted what employees described as the first “protected intersection” in the mid-Atlantic. The four-way stop has curved islands designed to slow down drivers making turns, senior planner Matt Johnson said, and separate bike lanes painted a noticeable lime green.
“The idea is to make cyclists and pedestrians more visible,” said Johnson, who managed the project. “We know that these protected intersections have a much better safety record in slowing speed, which is a major factor in collisions.”
The intersection was one of the final steps of a roughly 1.5-mile bike loop started in late 2016. The pathway of protected lanes along Wayne and Second avenues connects with a previously constructed section along Spring and Cedar Streets and links directly with the Silver Spring Transit Center on Colesville Road.
The trail aligns with a nearly 20-year-old vision established in the 2000 Silver Spring Master Plan, Johnson said. Protected bikeways weren’t a common design feature at the time, but the plan called for “tracked bikeways” along major urban routes.
By the time construction began on the crossing at Spring Street and Second Avenue, one of the last phases of the project, separated bike lanes were a well-known feature of transit design, he added. But protected intersections are still relatively rare, with only around three dozen across the United States.
The closest to Montgomery County are in Atlanta and Boston, according to a statement from MCDOT.
Officials framed the intersection as a vital public safety tool for a county recently marked by several high-profile cycling deaths. The protected lanes are separated from vehicle traffic by a series of concrete barriers and plastic posts that also keep drivers from parking in the bike path.
“In the past month, I’ve been to three memorial services for people killed while biking in Montgomery County,” said Casey Anderson, chairman of the county’s Planning Board. “My son rides his bike to school almost every day, and all I can think about is how projects like these help other people get home safely.”
They’re also slated to become a more common feature on county roadways, added County Executive Marc Elrich, who attended a Monday ribbon-cutting for the protected intersection and completed bike loop.
In 2018, the Montgomery County Council unanimously approved a 348-page Bicycle Master Plan that lays the groundwork for a network of separated bikeways across the county. Four years earlier, the county constructed its first separated bike lanes in White Flint.
There’s also dedicated funding for another stretch of protected bike lanes on Fenton Street, said Council Member Hans Riemer — the next phase of the bike network in Silver Spring.
Over the next several years, Bethesda and Wheaton are scheduled to receive their own pathways, and the master plan recommends a total 95 miles of separated lanes across Montgomery County.
The switch to more bike-friendly roads is an expensive proposition. The current Silver Spring loop cost $1.5 million and was funded entirely by the county. The network includes the state’s first traffic signal for cyclists and “floating” bus stops kept separate from the bike lanes by concrete medians.
It’s unlikely, as noted in the master plan, that the same comprehensive infrastructure will be funded countywide. But the Silver Spring loop is just the first indication of the county’s commitment to creating safer streets for cyclists, Council Member Tom Hucker said.
“People will say this is just one intersection,” he said at the ribbon-cutting. “But if you look at the plan, you get a sense of the vision we have for Montgomery County so it is safe for everybody and all modes of transportation at all times.”