Greater Greater Washington

Montgomery planners work to find biking hot spots

Planners in Montgomery County are working to determine how to best accommodate bicyclists as the county continues to grow. They've created a tool known as a "heat map" to figure out the best places to invest in bike infrastructure.

Red indicates higher demand. Click for full version (PDF).

With limited funds, planners have to prioritize bike infrastructure, just like other types of infrastructure. This tool should help planners figure out which projects will have the biggest impact.

As expected, the analysis indicated that primary bicycle hot spots are in the more urban communities in the downcounty area. Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Friendship Heights top the list of areas with high cycling demand.

Wheaton, White Flint, and Rockville also have high demand for cycling infrastructure.


Click for full version (PDF).

The map was developed by measuring proximity to trip attractors such as Metro stations and public facilities. Density and the mix of land uses also factored into the analysis.

Montgomery is the third jurisdiction in the region to develop a bicycle demand map. It follows efforts in the District of Columbia and Arlington County, to develop demand maps for locating Capital Bikeshare stations.

Planners will be able to use this tool to prioritize Capital Bikeshare stations, bike lanes, and other cycling facilities.

The agency is still looking for input into the methodology. If you have ideas about how to improve the study, please share them.

The author worked on this project as an employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. Cross-posted on The Straight Line.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

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The arlington and DC maps are pretty weak.

This looks a lot better. However, I think they misplaced some stuff.

Density: over-rated. Real density means walking, not biking.

Thru-Trips: under-rated. Biking is great for skipping metro stops.

Takeway: biking is proving to be a poor last-mile substitute for transit. Any number of reasons for that. Bike-share can be a effective supplement to transit in some corridors. Imagine a purple-line bike share arrangement.

Also, the alcohol factor is always underrated. Biking is a great way to get drunk people home from bars.

by charlie on Sep 1, 2011 10:43 am • linkreport

Charlie -

Takeway: biking is proving to be a poor last-mile substitute for transit. Any number of reasons for that. Bike-share can be a effective supplement to transit in some corridors. Imagine a purple-line bike share arrangement.

You base that conclusion on what, exactly?

by Alex B. on Sep 1, 2011 10:46 am • linkreport

Why no weight to bike infrastructure / demand in adjacent counties & DC?

by Lucre on Sep 1, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

@AlexB; look at the metro bike parking survey in Mont. county. It isn't working well.

Bikesharing, in DC, by contrast is running at about the capacity of a medium circulator line. About the same amount of money too, but more scale.

by charlie on Sep 1, 2011 11:05 am • linkreport

Does the map give any weight to existing or planned bike routes? The Arlington one did not give any weight to the (heavily used) bike trail that Arlington has, such as the Custis, Mt Vernon, and W&OD trail. Those routes are built without respect to where user live or work, and where metro stations are, but will be major thrufares, and hence should be given some weight.

by Jasper on Sep 1, 2011 11:16 am • linkreport

This map does not give weight to existing bike facilities because the point is to try to figure out where to add bike facilities. The earlier DC and Arlington heat maps gave points for proximity to bike infrastructure because these maps were designed to help guide decisions about where to put bike sharing stations -- and so the presence of existing infrastructure was included to help determine where people would be most likely to be able to take advantage of that infrastructure if they had bike sharing available at that location.

by Casey Anderson on Sep 1, 2011 11:26 am • linkreport

@Charlie, @Lucre, @Jasper:
The map is intended to show cycling demand irrespective of bicycle facilities. In this way, it can help planners to prioritize future bicycle investments.

The through trip factor (imbedded in the map) attempts to capture the direct line path between the places people want to travel. It includes all travel (with a decay function for distance) within Montgomery County and to DC, Arlington, and the areas in Fairfax County, Frederick County, Howard County, and Prince Georges County that are closest to Montgomery County.

by Matt Johnson & David Anspacher (staff contacts) on Sep 1, 2011 11:30 am • linkreport

The bike-slamming in post 1 is apropos of nothing, really. To the extent there is demand for bike facilities, transportation dollars earmarked for bikes should allocated where the demand is greatest. Whether they should be earmarked is a separate question, and one the poster bizarrely posits as zero sum between transit and bikes. Not sure why taht would be the case, and in any event the amount spent on transit is and will continue to be many multiples of that spent on bike facilities.

by Crickey7 on Sep 1, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

@Matt Johnson & David Anspacher (staff contacts)

But why wouldn't planners prioritize future investents on the basis of where demand actually is based on existing infrastructure, eg existing DC CaBi stations within easy biking distance, or existing trails or lanes that end at the county line?

by Lucre on Sep 1, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

@ Matt && Dave:The map is intended to show cycling demand irrespective of bicycle facilities.

But is demand not automatically higher near existing facilities?

To give an example (in Arlington because I don't know MoCo very well): Would one not expect biking demand to be higher on the W&OD trail than on I-395? People will bike where facilities are, not where they are not. You can put thirty bike stations on ramps of I-395 but they won't be used; people will speed by. Put them near a bike trail and they will be used.

by Jasper on Sep 1, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

Demand can be increased by facilities, although I'd say in general unless there was preexisting demand in that location already, you should see only a modest increase. I place some caveats becuase I'm not familiar with the model used, and it may produce output that looks more or less dramatic than a different model might. In particular, I'd be interested in what happens when the Purple Line is completed. I anticipate a big jump in demand (even though this contradicts what I said earlier) as it is depicted on this map at the Connecticut Ave. and Jones Bridge intersections with the Purple Line.

The demand along Wisconsin Ave. in MoCo exists because the density and lifestyle there create it, not because there are bike facilities.

by Crickey7 on Sep 1, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

@Lucre, @Jasper:
This map is intended to show latent demand for cycling. So for instance, let’s say we have a dense neighborhood with no bike facilities currently. This map could show that it has a high demand for cycling. At that point, it would make sense to not only invest in infrastructure there, but also to connect that infrastructure to the rest of the cycling network.

While DC and Arlington made their maps primarily to site CaBi stations, ours is a tool to look at a larger set of infrastructure improvements. When it comes to placing CaBi stations, it makes sense to take into account distance to other stations and proximity to bike facilities. However, for locating bike lanes, paths, and facilities like the Union Station bikestation, it makes more sense to look at where trips would go if there were no impediments to cycling.

So for example, many cyclists choose to ride between Rockville and Bethesda using the Rock Creek Trail because it’s a safe route. But there is clearly a demand for cycling in the Rockville Pike corridor, and that corridor is a more direct route. If it had a cycletrack or other safe, well-designed facility, cyclists might choose to ride there instead.

This tool is meant to be more than just a substitute for a bike count.

by Matt Johnson & David Anspacher (staff contacts) on Sep 1, 2011 12:30 pm • linkreport

@mattJohnson; good comeback and quite true.

That being all said, it does still look like you are overvaluing density too much. And my point about bars, which I understand you can't touch, is still valid -- look at destinations. Bars, grocery stores -- and where else?

by charlie on Sep 1, 2011 12:34 pm • linkreport

@ Matt & Dave: So for example, many cyclists choose to ride between Rockville and Bethesda using the Rock Creek Trail because it’s a safe route. But there is clearly a demand for cycling in the Rockville Pike corridor, and that corridor is a more direct route. If it had a cycletrack or other safe, well-designed facility, cyclists might choose to ride there instead.

Ok. Point taken.

by Jasper on Sep 1, 2011 1:15 pm • linkreport

wrt Charlie's point, I disagree. Biking is a great last mile combination for transit, if you have the right spatial connections and system for making it work. That's a huge caveat.

The thing is it's easy to get confused by this in terms of CaBi and DC specifically. As far as "last mile" is concerned at least in the core of the city, people are close enough to their final destination from transit that walking fully suffices, at least in the central business district.

CaBi isn't about last mile so much as it is about substituting bike transit for walking, driving, or regular transit.

So then the issue becomes one of substitution, of using bikes instead of walking or driving (or transit). In order for it to work you need to have density of bikes and bike stations, as well as density/proximity between destinations and origins, and infrastructure.

When I did the plan in Baltimore County, I didn't have the resources to do the kind of "next level in bike planning" approach that Montgomery County is undertaking as evidenced by this map.

What I did there was focus on infrastructure at five scales: 1 mile walk-bike zones from transit stops and schools (note that this covers a lot of Montgomery County too); 3 mile radii from what Baltimore County calls "town centers;" 3-9 mile distances between town centers along corridors; between corridors (indeterminate distances, this was about connections); and cross-county and between jurisdictions.

As far as where to prioritize the staging of infrastructure, I am 100% down with the heat map approach. And the heat map approach would conform with my 5 scales approach, because you are working on different types of trips and purposes simultaneously from a planning perspective.

The problem in execution of plans is that departments of transportation don't prioritize biking infrastructure based on potential of opportunity for mode split and share increase, but what plans call for on roads that they happen to be doing construction or rehab on.

This tends to be in less urban and exurban areas because the road network has already been constructed for the more densely populated areas.

That doesn't promote biking very well.

Maps like this one make it easier to reposition the discussion towards promoting actual use, rather than construction convenience, and "total" miles of lanes (and other infrastructure) irrespective of placement where it will be used vs. where it won't be used.

by Richard Layman on Sep 1, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

http://planitmetro.com/2011/08/03/bicycle-parking-census-at-metrorail-stations/

Obviously Rlayman has thought a lot more about this, and I have to respect his points. But he's describing bike-as-last-mile as an ideal, while I was looking at what is going on in Mont. county. Also I was focusing more on bike sharing as a last mile, rather than bikes in general.

I think the point that bike lanes get put in when roads are redone, rather than where they are needed, is one that always needs to relooked at.

by charlie on Sep 1, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

The heat map does show the high demand around the Friendship Heights Metro station. I wonder when the county will acknowledge that and provide some accommodation?

For example - coming off the CCT at either River Road or Bethesda means you then have little choice but to use a high speed arterial road (River Rd or Wisconsin Ave) to get to Friendship Heights. Neither road has any accommodation or adequate shoulder and both suffer from excessive speeding by motorists.

by JeffB on Sep 1, 2011 4:04 pm • linkreport

Charlie...

1. wrt bike sharing as last mile in Montgomery County, personally (and recognize I work for a co. trying to do bikesharing ourselves, although obviously not in this market), I don't think it's realistic because bike sharing is supposed to have docks at both ends. How much sense does it make to have docks at each office building. How many do you need, etc.?

The idea is that you go to common places (e.g. White Flint Mall etc.) and lock your bike at a station, and ideally enough bikes move back and forth for natural rebalancing.

With bike sharing, the bikes are expensive as are the terminals, and rebalancing is resource intensive. I think it makes more sense to provide bike parking at the subway stations and the end points and encourage people to get their own bikes. And I believe this in relation to the proposal for adding bikesharing to Rockville. Many of the business destinations are a distance away from the Metro Station, making natural rebalancing unlikely.

2. WRT your basic point, I am in 100% agreement that in the bike priority areas as identified by techniques such as the heat map, there needs to be a practical focus on creating the right infrastructure to make bicycling a reasonable option. I would agree that for the most part that infrastructure doesn't exist in Bethesda, Friendship Heights, and Silver Spring.

That's the thing that my typology in Balt. County was designed to address. Basically take your activity centers (schools, transit stations, commercial districts, shopping centers) and work to build practical infrastructure in those one mile and three mile zones.

- http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/4378811289/
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/4378811287/in/photostream/

3. Anyway, we did that Montgomery County bike conference last May. The next stage is to have two additional conferences, one for Bethesda-Rockville Pike, and the other for Silver Spring, and identify what needs to be in a bikeway network and the gaps that exist.

Ideally the concept that I keep pushing, having local bike/ped plans with programming and infrastructure components could update the way that sector plans deal with this kind of infrastructure in MoCo.

We talked about it a few months ago, I don't know what the status of the idea is.

Plus of course, the general budget problem persists.

by Richard Layman on Sep 1, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

This map does not give weight to existing bike facilities because the point is to try to figure out where to add bike facilities.

It should be giving weight to existing facilities, including those in adjacent jurisdictions, in an effort to promote connectivity. Connected networks are vital to increased usage.

by Jeff on Sep 1, 2011 5:22 pm • linkreport

Well there should be two maps: the one above, and one that shows how well that need is being addressed.

by Neil Flanagan on Sep 1, 2011 6:29 pm • linkreport

@jeff and neil: If you click through to the planning department web site, you can see a version of the map that includes an existing facilities layer, so you can see where connections are missing and compare that to the density and other factors in whatever specific area you are interested in to get a rough idea of the relative value of completing a particular connection.

by Casey Anderson on Sep 2, 2011 12:51 am • linkreport

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