Board Rejects Bike Path Site Near Connector

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 19, 2008

The Montgomery County Planning Board recommended yesterday that a bike path planned near the intercounty connector be built primarily along other local roads, saying a trail adjacent to the 18.8-mile highway would be too harmful to some county parkland.

The board also directed planners to study whether an additional east-west path, perhaps unpaved and narrower than a standard hiker-biker trail, could be built through some of those ecologically sensitive areas to better connect eastern Montgomery with county parks and the larger trail system.

Bicycle advocates said they were disappointed that the board rejected a continuous paved bike path adjacent to the highway. An unpaved path would be amenable to only experienced mountain bike riders, they said, and a route along busy roads would entail crossing dangerous intersections and driveways.

Jack Cochrane, chairman of Montgomery Bicycle Advocates, said he remained dismayed that a standard asphalt trail would be rejected to protect streams and forests being paved over by a six-lane highway.

"We shake our heads about the fact that this path would be in the shadow of a huge highway," Cochrane said.

The Maryland State Highway Administration plans to limit its connector hiker-biker path to 11.4 miles, broken into three segments. Montgomery and Prince George's counties are looking for ways to connect those pieces with about seven miles of local trails. The county councils will have the final say on how and where those trails are built.

At issue have been areas where the highway and trail between Gaithersburg and Laurel cross parkland. Upper Paint Branch Stream Valley Park, between New Hampshire Avenue and Route 29 in northern Silver Spring, is considered the most sensitive to more asphalt, which could create storm water runoff. Its special natural resources include several streams where brown trout survive only in cold and very clean water, park officials said.

"We want to provide public access but leave natural resources for future generations to enjoy," said John E. Hench, chief of Montgomery's park planning and stewardship division.

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