Prince George’s backs plan to ease the way for pedestrians and cyclists

April 24, 2012

The Prince George’s County Council unanimously approved a plan Tuesday that would make new developments more welcoming to cyclists and pedestrians, placing the county at the forefront of a movement to limit reliance on cars and reduce pedestrian deaths.

The measure places the needs of cyclists and pedestrians on a par with motorists and gives the county’s planning board a new tool to encourage walking and cycling. The bill was introduced by County Council Vice Chairman Eric Olson (D-College Park) and council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro), and County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) is expected to sign it into law.

For decades, new developments in Prince George’s and many other jurisdictions have been required to measure the potential traffic they would create and then pay to mitigate it by installing traffic lights, widening roads or adding parking. Little attention has been paid to making new developments more friendly to cyclists or walkers.

The lack of bike paths and sidewalks is especially pronounced in the Washington suburbs, where a string of single-family homes were built without bike paths or sidewalks in the post-World War II era.

The legislation approved Tuesday would require most new developments in the county to calculate not only the amount of car traffic they would generate but also whether the projects are safe for cyclists and walkers. For those that are not, the developer would be asked to improve the area within a half-mile of the project.


Bicycle safety advocates in Prince George's County hope to see more signs like this one on Seventh Street in Laurel. (Greg Dohler/The Gazette)

In the Washington area, only the city of Rockville requires developers to examine cycling and pedestrian needs, said Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. She said that the requirements the county is seeking to impose are rare and that she did not know of any other place in the country that mandates them.

While other jurisdictions in the region, such as the District, Arlington County, Alexandria and Montgomery County have attempted to make their areas more hospitable to cyclists and pedestrians, none has formally required that the assessment be part of a developer’s plan, Cort said.

“We think this bill builds better communities,” Cort told the council. “Not enabling the planning board to make these essential links is an oversight that this bill corrects.”

Greg Billing of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association called the county’s approach “a very simple solution.”

“If you can only get to a development by car, the development loses out,” he said.

In Prince George’s, most of the affected developers would be in what is known as the developed tier, inside the Beltway and relatively close to the county’s Metro stations.

Some developers worked with Olson to modify the bill to cap the amount they would have to spend to make improvements.

In addition to a lack of bike lanes and bike paths, Prince George’s has consistently led the region and the state in pedestrian fatalities. Since 2008, 81 people on foot have died in pedestrian-vehicle accidents, county data show. Maryland is third in the nation in pedestrian deaths.

“This is one important step of many the county can take to address pedestrian fatalities,” Cort said.

Baker recently established a CountyStat office that assessed pedestrian fatalities and accidents and found that the county lacks sufficient sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes and lighting in many areas.

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