County Council: Please demand a better Bikeways and Trails Plan!

Back in 1999 I was part of a citizens group that worked with Frederick County government to create a Bikeways and Trails Plan. The plan, nearly a year in the making, was subsequently approved by the County Commissioners.

At that point, I thought to myself, “The hard work is over, now let’s build things.” Forward to 2017, eighteen years later. County planners have updated the document with some additions, some removals, and some design specifics, and presentation before the County Council will be happening soon.

Let us look back on our progress.

I opened up the 1999 plan to see what has been accomplished since then. It called for over 170 miles of bikeways and trails and over 300 miles of on-road facilities.

Eighteen years have passed, and I’ve seen evidence of the following achievements:

1) The county has placed two and one-half miles of trails on the ground (the Ballenger Creek trail, as yet unfinished). Developers contributed the majority, or perhaps all, of the funding for this project; and

2) Exactly zero miles of on-road bicycle facilities, which can include such simple applications as “sharrows” (painted arrows denoting shared lanes), on-road bicycle lanes and markings on the road shoulders signifying bike lanes.

At this rate, the county would need 1,200 more years to complete the trails as specified in the 1999 plan. On-road facilities have yet to appear. Those that you do see are on state roads. Frederick County cannot afford paint? That is pitiful.

I’ve little reason to throw stones at our planners, only that I’ve read the updated plan from beginning to end several times, and it reads like the Beach Boys tune “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. That is, there is very little in the plan to provide for any measurement of progress, or lack thereof. It is simply a list of things that would be lovely to have. It is the 1999 plan, with a few items added and a few items removed.

Other surrounding counties have discovered the advantages of incorporating on-road bikeway and off-road trail infrastructure. Hancock sees a bundle of tourism dollars from the Western Maryland Rail-Trail. That is where my fiancée and I go to trail-ride. And stay. And eat. Howard and Montgomery counties have fine plans. Washington County’s plan is well-done. But most importantly, these counties are following through on their planning.

Countless friends and acquaintances of mine have stated that, if the infrastructure were available, they would use their bicycles for errands, riding to work, and pleasure/exercise. These people are afraid to ride on our roads, and for good reason. As the county has grown, the number of places that are good for riding are decreasing.

The annual Tour de Frederick, which raises more than $100,000 dollars for local charities and boosts revenue for hotels, restaurants and stores in town, now sends its riders into Pennsylvania where there are better places to ride. Bicycling attracts tourism dollars. Increased bicycle usage lessens the need for more auto parking, along with numerous other benefits.

The county needs the following to make this plan a reality:

1) A full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator to assist with securing grant funding and implementation and a committee of citizens to provide input;

2) Line-item dollars in the county budget for specific items in the plan;

3) Adoption of a Complete Streets policy to ensure that new standards are adhered to and bicycle-pedestrian accommodations are designed into projects;

4) Metrics to measure yearly progress.

The town of Thurmont has a nice bike trail that ends at the town line. Extend it into the countyside. The town of Walkersville is on-board (pun intended) with placing a bicycle trail alongside the Walkersville Southern Railroad. How about a ride to Walkersville for lunch on a trail? Emmitsburg is developing a fine trail system on its own. These towns understand the advantages of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

It is important to note: property rights will be respected by this plan. At the Planning Commission meeting it was clearly stated that no private property will be taken. So please – relax.

County council, reject this plan and demand a better one. Then let’s get some trails on the ground. Let’s get some on-road bicycle accommodations off paper and make them reality.

A version of this letter to the editor was also published here.

Bicycle & Pedestrian Planning on the Frederick County government website

Bikeway​s and Trails Plan Update on the Frederick County government website

Division of Planning & Permitting STAFF REPORT for the Planning Commission Public Hearing on the Draft 2017 Bikeways and Trails Plan