Tactical urbanism like Bethesda’s pop-up bike lane can create lasting change

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) announced it would implement its first ever pop-up protected bike lane in Bethesda, just in time for Bike to Work Day on May 18. This is a significant development in the evolution of bike facility planning for a suburban county that implemented its first protected bike facility only four years ago.

Tactical urbanism tactics like these pop-up lanes have been around for a number of years. Recently they've been implemented by municipalities to spark change.

Tactical urbanism looks for opportunities to demonstrate potential with short-term changes to the built environment. These changes can help planners and the community understand the benefit of a project in a tangible way and make adjustments prior to permanent changes being implemented — in this case, a permanent bike lane.

Here’s where the bike lane will run

The county will implement a two-way protected bike lane from 6 am to 8 pm on Friday, May 18. According to the press release, “The lane will begin (from north to south) at the traffic circle at Cheltenham Drive and Tilbury Street, extend west on Cheltenham Drive, cross Wisconsin Avenue, continue onto Norfolk Avenue, and then head south on Woodmont Avenue to Bethesda Avenue. The pop-up bike lane will end near the entrance to the Capital Crescent Trail at the location of downtown Bethesda’s Bike to Work Day Pit Stop.” (See map below).

The lane will provide opportunities for people both north and east of Bethesda to commute to work and school. It will stay in place into the evening so it can show nearby businesses how they can be positively impacted by a permanent protected bike lane.

Although there is significant parking located in the three garages en route along Woodmont, changes to the existing on-street parking may spark protest from local business owners who fear losing customers. A pop-up lane can show them how many people might choose to bicycle to their stores if there was a low-stress way to do so.

Unlike many methods of public engagement, tactical urbanism offers everyday citizens the chance to shape changes to their communities by experiencing designs, rather than abstractly sending testimony. It can be far more powerful for affected businesses and residents if someone arrives this Friday and says that they bicycled there.

Here’s how it came about

The Bethesda BIKE Now Coalition wrote to county leaders in April requesting assistance in supporting Bike to Work Day since the Georgetown Branch trail is closed for the next several years. While this request came only about a month ago, community members have been discussing the need for more protected bicycle facilities in Bethesda for awhile.

Montgomery County is in the early planning stages for a bike network loop throughout Downtown Bethesda. While the first phases of the loop could be implemented as soon as Summer 2019, and local coalition leader Anna Sutton saw a prime opportunity to show the community the benefits of a protected bike lane sooner.

Advocacy groups such as WABA, community advocates including Sutton and Wendy Leibowitz, community rides such as Kidical Mass, and county council champions such as Hans Reimer and Roger Berliner have built momentum to make the pop-up lane a reality. Under the leadership of Al Roshieh, MCDOT has made significant progress, including making the permit process easier and coordinating this event.

Organizers Bethesda BIKE NOW and WABA hope that cyclists will be excited not only to bike to work, but also to demonstrate how many trips can be supported on a cyclist-friendly network. The pop-up protected bike lane will allow everyone in Downtown Bethesda to experience the power of changing the space of a street.

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