MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A long-range, regional bicycle plan that would connect trails across county lines and enhance cyclists’ safety is nearing completion.
The Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional planning authority active in Washington County, Maryland and Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties, has been preparing its long-range bicycle plan since 2014.
According to Matt Mullenax, executive director of the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization (HEPMPO), the plan, which has been updated for 2016, focuses on increased use of bicycles as transportation. He said the United States Department of Transportation has emphasized bicycling and walking as modes of transportation in recent years, for environmental and health reasons.
The Regional Bicycle Plan includes strategies for connecting parks via bicycle trails, as well as connecting the bicycle trail on W. Va. 9 from Jefferson County to Berkeley County.
“Ideally, the end result would be to connect the trails. At our meetings, we got input from the public. While we had a long list of recommendations, the public’s highest priority was to extend the two termini of the Route 9 path into Charles Town and Martinsburg,” Mullenax said.
Bill Yearout with the Eastern Panhandle Trailblazers, an organization that advocates for recreational bicycle trails that span the region, said the group was among the organizations and individuals that were involved in the planning process for the Regional Bicycle Plan with HEPMPO.
Yearout said the Regional Bicycle Plan will be tailored to fit the terrain and existing bicycle trails and amenities in each of the four counties in the HEPMPO’s region.
In Morgan County, the focus will be on creating and improving bicycle trails near Berkeley Springs and Cacapon Resort State Park. There is a tentative plan to connect Cherry Run and the C&O Canal Towpath.
The Berkeley County section of the Regional Bicycle plan suggest “high demand in the Martinsburg area,” Mullenax said. The Baker Heights area of the county along W. Va 9, particularly near the VA Medical Center, as well as areas of Inwood and Marlowe, have also been identified as areas where residents want to see more bicycle paths.
“I think the downtown Martinsburg merchants would love to see more bike access to Queen Street and the Roundhouse, and connect parks,” Yearout said.
In Jefferson County, the regional plan includes connecting Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry, and Charles Town and Ranson and extending the bicycle path along Route 9 into Ranson.
In Washington County, Maryland, Mullenax said there was high demand for bicycle facilities along the C&O Canal Towpath near Williamsport.
“The (Eastern Panhandle) Trailblazers have been a three-county operation, but we may divide the group and shift the focus to a county-by-county approach,” Yearout said.
Both Yearout and Mullenax said the HEPMPO is unique because it can receive federal, state, and local grants because it it s regional organization that crosses state lines. Grants are available from the West Virginia Division of Highways, United States Department of Transportation and other sources, Mullenax said.
“Municipalities have influence in the plan, too,” Mullenax said. “they can designate bike lanes, paint stripes and arrows and put up signs. There are multiple opportunities for bike projects in the area, and we want a whole plan, not a piecemeal one.”
The Regional Bicycle plan also includes measures to enhance cyclists’ safety.
Yearout, who said he cycles frequently in the Eastern Panhandle, said there is a need for safety measures, especially on windy roads like Tuscarora Pike.
“West Virginia drivers are typically very courteous to bike riders, but sometimes, there is a lack of awareness. On state highways, bicycles have the same right as cars. All roads are potentially for bicycles,” he said.
The Regional Bicycle Plan document includes reports of bicycle crashes and accidents in Ranson, Martinsburg and Hagerstown. There were 19 recorded motor vehicle-bicycle crashes in Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties from 2011 – 2015.
Mullenax said the plan is available to the public for comments, with the period to submit comments by mail or online open from June 15 to July 15.
A series of public meetings on the draft Regional Bicycle Plan has been scheduled, with meetings set for: June 27th at the Martinsburg Public Library’s Martinsburg Room from 6-7:30pm, June 29th at the Charles Town Library in the basement from 7-8:30pm, June 30th at the Washington County Free Library’s Community Room from 7-8:30pm and July 6 at the Morgan County Courthouse in the Commissioners’ Room from 6-7:30pm.
The plan is available online at http://bit.ly/23eKVtH.
-Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.