Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities connect high-comfort biking networks.
“Hey, how long does it take you to get to work?”
“Well, on average my car is usually traveling at 36 mph.”
No actual human makes transportation decisions this way. But for some reason, the federal government has proposed evaluating highway congestion based entirely on the speed of cars — while ignoring how far or how long people have to drive or ride to get where they’re going.
It’s a system that’d reward states for spending billions to extend freeways to sprawling exurbs, transportation reformers warn, but penalize communities that make their streets more space-efficient.
“Let’s say your [road’s average speed is] going from 40 mph to 30 mph,” said Katy Hartnett, director of government relations at PeopleForBikes, in an interview. “Maybe at 30 mph you’re actually moving more people through, because you’ve put a bus on it, or a bike lane.”
For the White Flint neighborhood of Montgomery County, Maryland, that’s exactly the risk. The county has a long-term plan to run a bus rapid transit line and protected bike lanes up Rockville Pike, greatly improving access to the White Flint Metro Station. Old Georgetown Road would also get protected bike lanes, helping form a connected bike-and-transit network that could combine to create convenient alternatives to rush-hour traffic in this redeveloping suburban area.
“Montgomery County, it’s growing quickly,” said Garrett Hennigan of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “Over the past five years there’s really been a change in focus and a change in thinking in how we should plan around the bike.”
But the federal rules as currently proposed might penalize Montgomery County for trying to get ahead of its congestion problem. That’s because Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road are both classified as “principal arterials,” which makes them part of the Federal Highway System, which means any slowdown in auto traffic would raise bureaucratic red flags — even if the actual result would be to help more Marylanders escape congestion.