Exciting news for Columbia cyclists and pedestrians! After a lengthy process, The Howard County Office of Transportation - through the BikeHoward initiative - has released the results of their study that has identified a preferred low-stress bicycle route connecting Grace Drive (providing access to the Village of River Hill and points west), through Hickory Ridge and onto Downtown Columbia. This is a key missing connection in the County's bicycling infrastructure.
As I wrote about last week, Columbia villages, like Hickory Ridge and River Hill - each have a strong network of internal paths and local streets that facilitate safe and comfortable intra-neighborhood cycling as a mode of transportation. What is currently missing is a safe, comfortable, and accessible bicycle facility that connects these two villages to each other - and connects them to Downtown Columbia and from there onwards to the rest of the Columbia pathway system and bike network. This plan would fill in the missing gaps and help overcome a barrier that prevents bicycle travel between Central and Western Columbia. This is a critical and necessary improvement.
Howard County government began the process to identify this route during the Summer of 2019 with public outreach, a presentation to the Hickory Ridge Village Board, and a survey of residents to better understanding the context and challenges associated with the roadways in the study area. In January 2020, Howard County's Office of Transportation presented the concept they developed at a public open house meeting and solicitated feedback, suggestions and comments on their plan. In December 2020, the final study, which includes the planned route and technical assessment, was quietly posted to the BikeHoward website.
The analysis includes a Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) analysis - which is a national best practice used for assessing the comfort and connectivity of bicycle networks. It is performed by rating roadway segment based on a combination of perceived danger and other stressors associated with riding a bike close to motor traffic, and seeks to identify bike improvements to reduce stress to acceptable levels to ensure the new bicycling facility will be comfortable for as many riders as possible. The exciting news for this Hickory Ridge Plan is that the route identified is comprised entirely of LTS Level 1 (a level considered comfortable for children) and LTS Level 2 segments (considered comfortable for most adults). To achieve these levels, off road shared used paths will be used on busier roads, like Cedar Lane, and buffered bike lanes would be used on low volume and low speed roads.
A shared use path, which is typically 10 feet wide, is an off-street bicycle and pedestrian facility that is physically separated from the road and motor vehicles, thus provided a lower stress experience for people walking or bicycling. Buffered bike lane are on-road bike lanes that include additional striped buffer zones between the bike lane and traffic lane to provide increased separation.
Links to the Final Report and report appendices are available on Hickory Ridge Bike Corridor page of the BikeHoward website. The newly released documents include the following:
Hickory Ridge Bicycling Corridor Study Report: 60 page Study describing the study, analysis performed, proposed routes, costs, and implementation plan.
Appendix 1 -5: Photo Log, Survey Result Summary, Presentation, Public Workshop Boards , Planning-level Cost Estimates
Appendix 6: Concept Design Plan Sheets.
Appendix 6 - linked above - provides 19 detailed maps of each segment of the route labeled with the planned crosswalk improvements, barrier designs, buffers, curb adjustments, retaining walls, etc. If you are interested in reviewing the exact plans for any specific segment of the plan, then I suggest you start with Appendix 6. While all the details you can imagine for all segments of the plan are included in this appendix, missing in the report is a single high-level overview map that provides a big picture of the entire plan. So, after reviewing all these detailed maps, I created my own map by marking up a screen-print of a Google Map in Microsoft Paint (yep, my graphics game is strong) showing the new connections planned.
Here are descriptions of each segment:
Cedar Lane (Grace Drive to Owen Brown Road): A an off-road shared use path is proposed on the east side of Cedar Lane (i.e. - the same side as the Hickory Ridge Village Center). There is an option to provide a direct connection under Cedar Lane into the Robinson Nature Center.
Owen Brown Road (Cedar Lane to Martin Road): Buffered bike lanes are proposed along Owen Brown Road. In order to accommodate buffered bike lanes, a section of this road may requiring widening. Therefore, an interim option of regular "unbuffered" bike lanes may be implemented first.
Martin Road (Freetown Road to Hickory Ridge Road): Buffered bike lanes that transition to a shared used path approaching Hickory Ridge Road. Modifications would be made to the three existing traffic calming devices to permit bikes to pass safely through while maintaining function of traffic calming devices to reduce vehicle speed.
Hickory Ridge Road (West of Martin Road towards Howard Community College): A shared use path on the south side of Hickory Ridge Road that connects to existing CA pathway that leads into the Hawthorne neighborhood and the HCC Connector pathway (that provides a pathway across HCC connecting Hickory Ridge Road and Little Patuxent Parkway)
Hickory Ridge Road (East of Martin Road towards Broken Land Parkway): 3 different options are still under consideration for this 600 foot stretch that connects Hickory Ridge to Downtown Columbia, pending further evaluation of traffic speeds and stakeholder coordination. See more details on this below.
COSTS AND PHASES
Implementation of the Hickory Ridge Bike Corridor would occur in phases.
Phase 1: Owen Brown Interim (no buffer for bike lanes) and Martin Road: $800,000
Phase 2: Hickory Ridge Road (west and east of Martin Road): $1.4M to $2.1M, depending on Option selected for segment east of Martin Road
Phase 3: Cedar Lane Shared-use Path: $5.35M
Phase 4: Owen Brown Road (buffered bike lanes): $500,000
Note that some prior year allocations remain available for construction of some of this, but more funding will be necessary for this route - and other bike and pedestrian infrastructure being planned elsewhere in Howard County - for this to be completed, particularly after funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects was cut from the FY21 Capital Budget.
THE SEGMENT BETWEEN MARTIN ROAD AND BROKENLAND PARKWAY
One of the most important segments of the plan is the 600 foot stretch of Hickory Ridge Road (HRR) between Martin Road and Broken Land Parkway (BLP), and accordingly, it deserves special attention. This segment is of such great importance because it connects Downtown Columbia and Hickory Ridge (and onward to River Hill through the rest of the route) as well as Downtown Columbia to Howard County Community College and Howard County General Hospital. Accordingly, the study report identifies this stretch as a high priority connection and recommends further detailed traffic studies and stakeholder coordination in order to select the most appropriate option in order to get this segment correct.
The report describes 3 options being considered:
Option A: Shared Use Path on south side of HRR (Estimated Cost: $560,000). This option requires reconfiguring the right turn lane onto BLP to slow vehicle traffic (see separate figure at the end).
Option B: Shared Use Path on North Side of HRR (Estimated Cost: $1,100,000)
Option C: Connection to Existing CA Pathway (Estimated Cost $350,000). Note that the CA path that winds through a wooded area parallel to HRR has an unpaved informal offshot path created by people walking from HRR to the CA path. This option would pave this path and add necessary connections and improvements to HRR.
MY PREFERENCE FOR THIS SEGMENT
My preference would be for Option A (including formalizing the desired pathway to asphalt to connect to the existing CA path).
Here is why I suggest this. The plan already calls for adding a shared use path on the south side of HRR west of Martin Road. This keeps the shared-used path on the south side of HRR east of Martin Road as well to ensure a continued connection. Secondly, there are plans in the future for adding a wooden bridge / path over the wooded area and stream east of BLP to connect the Merriweather District to the BLP/HRR intersection, as depicted in the Merriweather District leasing plan. So, keeping the shared-use path on the south side will ultimately result in a more direct cycling and pedestrian connection into Downtown Columbia once this planned path is built (and accompanying new crosswalk is added to the south portion of the intersection). Additional icing on the cake is this option costs half as much as the option of adding the shared-use path to the north side of HRR.
Keeping the path on the south side of HRR would also allow for formalizing the desire path (as depicted in Option C), providing a much improved connection to existing CA pathways and the neighborhoods to the south. There is already an informal path in this location, a sure sign that a connection improvement is needed.
The one drawback of Option A (or Option C) is that it requires bicycles and pedestrians to cross over the free right area for vehicles merging onto BLP from HRR. As noted in the Study report (and shown in the figure below), if either of these options were select, it would require reconfiguring the right turn lane from HRR onto BLP to tighten the angle in order to slow vehicle traffic and promote visibility of crosswalk users, as depicted in the figure below. So, not only would this change improve safety for cyclist and pedestrians, but tightening this angle should also help to reduce traffic accidents that commonly occur at this intersection due to speeding cars merging onto BLP.