A couple of weeks ago, I posted some comments on here on Greenbelt Patch that expressed my opinion that the City of Greenbelt could do far more with the resources we have to make our area better for getting around by bike (or on foot, for that matter).
Here is what I said:
"Overall, I think Greenbelt is great for cyclists, with the BARC and the close connections to the Anacostia Tributary trails. However, it's sad that we haven't done more with the resources we have. Greenbelt Road is a bike and pedestrian hostile, semi-highway traffic sewer. Route 201 could be a nice multi-use parkway, but instead its just another ugly highway through Greenbelt. Our planners and road builders have clearly been preoccupied with helping drivers speed through the city from elsewhere to elsewhere rather than making complete streets -- accessible and convenient for cars, buses, bikes, and walkers -- that benefit those of us who live here." (my emphasis)
Here was the city planning department's response (via email):
"[This comment] seems to imply that the City’s planners have been preoccupied with only a single mode of transit. Both 193 and 201 are State roads – not under the City’s jurisdiction – and we have been vocal during the sector planning process about inclusive, multi-modal upgrades to SHA roads, including Greenbelt Road. It’s unfortunate that Patch readers may come to the conclusion that the City is ignoring the needs and desires of its residents, and perhaps you’d like to also share some – or all – of the following information:
Concerning Cherrywood Lane:
- While a two-way cycletrack has come up in informal conversation, it is not currently a formal consideration (it hasn’t come up for vote via APB [Greenbelt's citizen Advisory Planning Board]; it isn’t included in the long-vetted recommendations matrix in the draft ped/bike plan). Other ped/bike improvements are in the current draft recommendations matrix, including the long-awaited roundabout at Metro Access Drive. After years of delay, construction is going forward with improvements to the roundabout’s design that take into account multi-modal movement along Cherrywood and through the intersection.
- Additionally, completing the bike lanes from Breezewood to 193 is on the [draft bike-pedestrian master plan] recommendations matrix, and it has been noted that the challenges to that leg include lack of right-of-way and SHA [State Highway Administration] cooperation ([our] understanding is that this was also noted back when the current bike lanes were vetted through community input).
- A few months ago we applied for a Chesapeake Bay Trust grant for a “Green Streets—Green Jobs—Green Towns” conceptual design plan for Cherrywood Lane. The proposal included “complete streets” language, with the thinking that the combination of both green and complete streets improvements would prove to be an innovative project for this corridor, particularly because of its impact on the Anacostia Watershed via the Indian Creek sub-watershed and because of its multimodal use and significance. Though we didn’t receive the grant [sic], the good news is this proposal was supported by the City, as well as by the Anacostia Watershed Society and the Citizens to Conserve and Restore Indian Creek. And, we now have a vetted proposal ready for future grant applications as opportunities arise.
It’s important not to lose sight of the many projects the City, including the Department of Planning, is working on to the benefit of its residents. Since your focus is on cycling, here’s a truncated list of current projects with a predominantly bike/ped focus:
- Completing and adopting the City of Greenbelt Pedestrian and Bicycling Master Plan (still working, as you know, through APB).
- Bikeshare feasibility study: We are currently working on a partnership with the County to move forward on this important (and competitive) grant – the award was a huge step forward for cycling, not just for the City, but for Prince George’s County as a whole.
- Safe Routes to School at Springhill Lake Elementary: Though pedestrian focused because research showed that very few students bike to this school, this project intends to make Springhill Drive safe for all pedestrian users by calming traffic and providing safe refuge in multiple crossings. Longer-term goals include an educational component for all users.
- See the Green Streets—Green Jobs grant for Cherrywood mentioned above.
- Complete Streets: The City Manager’s office current has a Maryland Municipal League graduate student intern who, among a number of projects, is researching Complete Streets policies in an effort to inform a potential Greenbelt policy, no doubt in response to MWCOG/TPB’s new regional Complete Streets policy.
I hope this clarifies any assumptions about what the City is doing in cooperation with, and in support of, its residents, and in particular, those who are pedestrians and cyclists."
To which I say: "Fair enough!"
And to be sure, the city's draft bike-pedestrian master plan, which is mentioned in the city's letter and has been in the works for a very long time, does have a lot of great suggestions for making it easier and safer to get around Greenbelt under one's own power!
However, it's also fair to point out that the pedestrian/bike master plan has not yet been published. So despite all the great ideas, few are being implemented.
It's also fair to ask what more we can do to get control of our city's roads. If bad decisions by the county or the state highway administration are the reason our roads (like 193) are so gross and awful, what can be done to get more local control? Strongly worded letters don't seem to be having much of an impact.
Overall, I'm heartened that the city is at least thinking about bike, pedestrian, and transit improvements: updated sidewalks and crosswalks, improved bike lanes, etc.
However, I think we have an awfully long ways to go before it will truly be pleasant and convenient to get around Greenbelt, on foot or by bike, bus, or car for that matter.
Regardless of who’s to blame for past decisions, the reality on the ground is that many parts of Greenbelt are glorified parking lots, and our major roads are divisive, ugly, unsafe, and dysfunctional from a community-building point of view. We’ve somehow managed to get in a very deep hole, which will take a long time to retrofit. Our current roads detract from our quality of life and our city’s value, both for residents and businesses.
Ironically, our roads are no fun for drivers either – the light cycles on 193 and 201 are horrendous and biased toward through traffic and against local drivers just trying to get across; the semi-highway designs prompt drivers to speed or wait forever at the next light; the ramps and high-speed "slip lanes" are not only deadly for people who try to get around on foot, they are also difficult for many drivers to negotiate and are the source of many traffic crashes (just look for the road debris!).
In fact, we have lots of high-speed car-car or single-car crashes, which can be deadly for drivers and their passengers! (Note -- I just got car crash statistics from the city, so that will be the subject of a future blog.)
It should be easy, safe, and convenient to get around Greenbelt by any mode of transportation, and right now, despite (or because of) our massive road widening projects on 193, the 193/201 interchange from hell, and the never-ending construction on the 201 beltway bridge, it's not particularly pleasant to get from one part of Greenbelt to the others by any means.
So while I didn't mean to discount the city's efforts to improve our bike and pedestrian infrastructure, in my opinion we have a long ways to go. -Jeff