Rhode Island Ave. bike lane plans criticized for slimmed-down design

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City of College Park

A rendering shows updated plans for new bike lanes on Rhode Island Avenue in College Park.

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College Park officials have scaled back plans for a renovated Rhode Island Avenue bicycle lane in the city’s northern neighborhoods, drawing criticism from some local cycling advocates. 

City officials in College Park have been working to redesign Rhode Island Avenue’s existing bike lanes, which currently are little more than a few bicycle shadows on a bumpy shoulder with only a thin line of paint separating cyclists from the cars traveling in lanes with a 35 miles-per-hour speed-limit. One goal of the project is to make the Rhode Island Avenue corridor cycle lanes feel safe for cyclists of all ages and all abilities. The plans are estimated to cost about $1 million to complete. 

Early concepts for the redesigned bike lane called for flex-post barriers to be added to the entire length of the project, which runs from Greenbelt Road in the south to Muskogee Lane in the north. But updated designs presented at a community meeting held Feb. 8, 2021, have removed most of those barriers. The barriers remain in the designs only in areas near intersections, with the designers saying concerns about plowing the roadway plus expense forced them to remove plans for more extensive barriers. While most of the barriers have been removed from the plans, designers plan to reduce the width of the vehicle lanes from 12 feet to 10 feet wide, and add two-foot-wide bicycle lane markings. 

Garrett Hennigan, a community organizer with the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, said the designs should either incorporate barriers along the entire length of the project, or should reduce the speed limit from 35 miles-per-hour to 25 miles-per-hour. 

“If we want this to be an ‘all-ages, all-abilities’ place to bike, a stripe of paint on the road is not going to prevent drivers from speeding and it’s not going to make most people feel safe,” said Hennigan. “What is really needed to make a 35 mile-per-hour road low stress, we either need to lower the speed limit or we need to increase continuous protection.”

Other residents on the calls also raised concerns about how emergency vehicles would negotiate areas bounded by barriers near the intersections. The designers, from firm RK&K Engineering Consultants, said they have accounted for large vehicles in their design using software that tests if emergency vehicles and trucks can make turns without causing problems. 

The plan would also call for the slight relocation of three bus stops. The designs also call for bulb-outs to be added to several bus stops. At these stops busses would remain in the vehicle lane, instead of pulling into the shoulder to alight passengers as they currently do. The goal is to remove risk of collision and improve scheduling by removing the need for the bus to pull out of and back into the roadway to allow passengers to board and disembark. 

The latest plans will be reviewed by College Park City Council at an upcoming meeting. From there, these preliminary plans will be submitted to the Prince George’s County Planning Board for conceptual approval.

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