County police to monitor MacArthur Boulevard cyclists
Bike path along popular commuter route to break ground this year
Bicyclists and vehicles often coexist peacefully, but on narrow and popular roads like MacArthur Boulevard, tempers can flare when drivers and cyclists are asked to share.
Fed up with getting caught behind a group of cyclists traveling in a pack when driving down MacArthur Boulevard on the weekends, Ronald Rust called on Montgomery County police and county officials to dissuade the behavior.
"They basically get in something that looks like the Tour de France peloton and basically take up the right side of the road," said Rust, 59, of Bethesda.
Rust's letter complaining about a pack of bicyclists "monopolizing an entire lane of the road" on MacArthur Boulevard and surrounding roads and its written response from Montgomery County police Chief J. Thomas Manger have been circulating through the bicycling community.
The letter reminds riders that they may only "ride two abreast only if the flow of traffic is unimpeded." It also includes a photograph of a group of cyclists taken from a car driving behind them. The cyclists appear to be riding three or four abreast.
Rather than riding on the right of the road where vehicles can zoom past, bicyclists like to ride in the center of the road where drivers are more likely to see them, said Jack Cochrane, chairman of Montgomery Bicycling Advocates. But drivers forced to slow behind a bicycle are often not happy.
"There is a lot of driver hostility toward bicycles on MacArthur and a lot of it is based on a misunderstanding of the law," said Cochrane, a frequent MacArthur Boulevard cyclist.
Anger can come from both sides, Rust said. He has had cyclists curse at him when he asked them to move to the right side of the road.
Because of the complaint, officers assigned to the area were asked to watch for violations throughout the summer, spokeswoman Officer Amy Daum said. Riding more than two abreast is punishable by a $90 fine. Neither county nor state police have a record of how many such citations were issued to cyclists last year.
Bikers riding in groups are common especially in the western part of the county, said Gail Tait-Nouri, bikeways coordinator for the county Department of Transportation who emailed the letters to bicycle groups.
"When the group gets relatively large and poses a delay for traffic that's when there starts becoming some conflicts," Tait-Nouri said.
Bicyclists are legally allowed to ride on county roads with a speed limit less than 50 miles per hour, she said.
MacArthur Boulevard, which runs parallel to the C&O Canal is a popular route for cyclists because it is scenic and culturally significant to the area's history, Cochrane said. Because it is also a major commuting route to the District, cyclists and cars often clash.
Riding in a compact group is way that cyclists feel safer and can go faster, Cochrane said. Groups of cyclists riding several abreast are easier to pass than a long line of single-file riders.
"Some of those packs can easily go the speed limit," he said.
Cochrane said he doesn't see the difference between one cyclists riding in the road or three of them. Either way, a car will need to carefully pass them on the left when there is no oncoming traffic.
But for Rust, a wider a group makes it more likely that the driver could accidentally sideswipe a bike when passing, or get into a head-on collision with another vehicle.
"The problem is you can't pass the pack the way it is," Rust said. "Trying to pass the pack is a very dangerous thing."
There is less tension on roads that have widened shoulders or separate bike paths, Tait-Nouri said. There are 108 lane miles of shared-use bike paths and 15 miles of bike lanes in the county.
The countywide functional master plan of bikeways, published in 2005, identified the need for 200 more bikeways totaling more than 500 miles.
MacArthur Boulevard is scheduled to get wider shoulders and an 8-foot-wide shared-use hiker/biker path along a 7.3 mile stretch from Old Angler's Inn in Potomac to the Washington, D.C., border. A 2.6 mile segment from Oberlin Avenue to the Interstate 495 underpass costing $8.7 million should break ground this year.
Other bikeway projects that are funded for design and construction include a hiker/biker path along Falls Road from River Road to Dunster Lane, a bike path along Frederick Road from Stringtown Road to Brink Road, and a bike path from Redland Road to Shady Grove road that will provide access to the Shady Grove Metrorail station, Transportation Planning Manager Aruna Miller said in an email.
The county also has some projects awaiting funding for design and construction such as a sidewalk and bikeway along Seven Locks Road from Montrose Road to Bradley Boulevard, a dual bikeway along Bradley Boulevard from Wilson Lane to Goldsboro Road, and another 2-mile segment of the MacArthur Boulevard project from Oberlin Avenue to the border of the District, said Miller, who also represents District 15 in the House of Delegates.
Maryland law says that bicyclists must stay to the right of the road if going slower than the speed limit unless the lane is "too narrow for a bicycle or a motor scooter and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane."
Until MacArthur Boulevard is improved, Cochrane believes it falls into that category.
But for Rust, the narrow condition of MacArthur Boulevard is all the more reason for bike laws to be enforced.
"At this point it has gone too far," he said.