The following is a link to the agenda for the September 27, 2017 City Council meeting: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-september-27-2017/. The key agenda items include a final vote on the proposed changes relating to bicycles on sidewalks, and initial votes on several Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) for apartment buildings in order to help improve rental units and preserve affordable housing. There will also be a presentation of the Concept Plan for the Takoma Junction development by the development company (NDC).
Bikes on Sidewalks. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170927-1-rev.pdf. A key responsibility of the City Council is taking steps to promote safety within the community for residents. We have had several discussions on the topic of allowing bicycles on sidewalks in the City, with a focus on safety. Specifically, we've had to consider the relative safety impacts of shifting riders off the streets, which in many cases are quite narrow and not ideally suited to cycling, and adding riders to sidewalks, which can pose safety hazards for pedestrians because sidewalks are narrow.
The reality is that both options -- continuing to limit cyclists to streets (which is what our current ordinance requires) or allowing them on sidewalks – have safety risks associated with them. There are reasonable arguments in both directions. On balance, my judgment is that the potential risks to pedestrians from bikes on sidewalks outweigh the risks to cyclists, but that there are circumstances in which it’s reasonable to make exceptions. Most Councilmembers appear to agree, and in last week’s Council meeting we approved a series of amendments that move us in that direction.
First we approved the proposal that children 12 years old and younger be permitted to ride bikes on sidewalks, and I offered an amendment – which was approved – to permit adults supervising such children to also ride on sidewalks.
Second, there was a proposal to allow cycling on sidewalks in areas where the City Manager has determined that it’s necessary for the safety of cyclists. While I recognize that there are indeed specific streets that may pose special safety challenges for bike riders, I wasn’t comfortable with this approach without some additional language. So, I proposed two other amendments that were approved by the Council.
One makes it clear that in order to designate an area as being acceptable for sidewalk cycling the City Manager has to also determine that doing so wouldn’t pose a significant safety risk to pedestrians. That is, safety for cyclists can’t be the only consideration. The other requires posting of appropriate safety signage in such areas in order to underline the importance of riding with caution, given the presence of walkers.
I also raised one other question – would there be a public process in which, if the City Manager proposes a designation of this kind, there would be sufficient time and an opportunity for members of the public to comment before a final decision is made? The answer is that there would be a public administrative process of this kind. With these changes and the understanding about the public process, I was willing to go along with the idea of allowing the City Manager to designate areas for cycling on sidewalks, but this will be something to monitor closely.
Finally, there was proposed language permitting cyclists at bike share stations to ride for brief distances on sidewalks by the stations. While I was skeptical initially, I came to see some validity to the argument that, at the point when cyclists are slowing down as they return their bikes or starting up at the beginning of their rides, it would be safer for them to avoid the necessity of being in the street. Again, this is a judgment call on relative safety concerns, and I did propose an additional amendment – which was also accepted – that calls for appropriate signage explaining our local cycling ordinances at City bike share stations.
This is more detailed information than I normally provide on specific agenda items, but I thought I should give a full explanation of where we are on this set or issues. Assuming all the above language is retained, I plan to vote in favor of the revised ordinance. Again, it will be important to monitor its implementation and how it works going forward to assess its safety impact, both for pedestrians and cyclists. We’ll also want to determine whether having a tailored policy with some exceptions as opposed to an across the board policy is confusing.
While I would like to see some more specifics on rent levels for the various income levels in the affected buildings, and some additional information on improvements that will be made and services that will be provided, at this point I’m planning to vote in favor of the PILOTS. We’ll be taking final votes on them at a future Council meeting.
Takoma Junction. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170927-4.pdf Presentation of the concept plan for Takoma Junction is a key milestone in the development’s process, and I look forward to hearing from NDC.
Please feel free to be in touch with questions or comments about any of the issues discussed in this message.
Takoma Park City Council