Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.
In the past five years, DC and Arlington have dramatically expanded their bicycle infrastructure, becoming national leaders in cycling. Meanwhile, a quieter transformation has been taking place in Rockville, which has built a 68-mile bike network and is looking to expand it.
As one of the few incorporated cities in Montgomery County, Rockville is in a unique position to plan its transportation. Since 1999, volunteers on the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee (RBAC) have worked with the city to expand infrastructure and develop bicycle-friendly policies. Today, the city has 34.3 miles of separated bikeways and 33.5 miles of shared lane designations.
Through the group’s advocacy and the city’s efforts, Rockville built the Millennium Trail in 2000, since renamed the Carl Henn Millennium Trail after its biggest advocate. A “bicycle beltway,” the multi-use path connects together a number of neighborhoods and parallels several major roads that would scare off all but the most experienced cyclists.
Rockville makes bicycling a priority
Rockville has also developed Maryland’s first Safe Routes to School curriculum, built the Sister Cities bridge over I-270, and added bicycle safety classes to Montgomery College’s course offerings. Recently, the city has made even more significant investments in cycling as a mode of transportation.
With encouragement from RBAC, the city hired a full-time pedestrian and bicycle coordinator in 2011. While previous bicycle-related work was located in the Department of Recreation and Parks, the coordinator’s position is in the Department of Public Works, showing how the city is recognizing non-motorized transportation’s role in the larger system.
The bicycle and pedestrian coordinator has played a key role in system-level activities such as analyzing crash data, developing heat maps, running bicycle counts, and coordinating activities across the city government.
Most recently, Rockville collaborated with Montgomery County on the Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) grant for Capital Bikeshare. Because of the matching grant funds from the City, as well as its site development work, Rockville has 13 stations. Because the grant is designed to increase transportation access for low-income citizens, the county is offering free memberships, helmets, and cycling classes to residents who qualify.
Showing that it’s safe to bike
RBAC works to complement the city’s work by organizing activities that educate and encourage citizens to ride. The RBAC booth is a reliable presence at the Rockville’s farmers’ market throughout the spring and summer. Volunteers hand out bike maps, answer questions, and carry out bicycle safety checks.
Through weekly community rides, RBAC members introduce participants to routes and demonstrate safety techniques. Past rides have included trips around the Millennium Trail, rides to local landmarks like Lake Needwood, and a “progressive dinner” ride to local restaurants. This summer, RBAC is launching a series of Kidical Mass rides geared towards families with young children. By showing parents that it’s safe to ride on the street, these rides will set the stage for the next generation of cyclists who can be less reliant on cars.
The efforts of the city government and RBAC are paying off. In 2012, the League of American Bicyclists recognized the city as a bronze level Bicycle-Friendly Community, a step up from its previous Honorable Mention status. Results from yearly bicycle counts show an increasing number of cyclists, with more than 300 people a day riding through one of the busiest intersections in Rockville.
Last year, more riders signed up for Rockville’s Bike to Work Day than ever, with a 48% increase in participants from 2012 to 2013. Attitudes are changing as well. Bicycling has become so mainstream that major developer JBG is using bicycle-friendliness as a selling point for its new development at the Twinbrook Metro station.
Rockville considers expanding its bike network
As encouraging as these changes are, Rockville still has substantial room for improvement. The update of the city’s Bikeway Master Plan, the first one in 10 years, sets a long-term vision. Based on extensive research and analysis, the draft plan proposes 24.5 miles of new dedicated bikeway facilities, including 15 miles of traditional bike lanes, 4.3 miles of shared-use paths, and 5.2 miles of cycletracks. In addition, it also proposes 18.1 miles of shared lane designations, including sharrows.
The plan maps these proposed locations, as well as new north-south and east-west crosstown priority bicycle routes. It also recommends updating zoning ordinances, improving maintenance of existing bikeways, increasing signage, and adding two-way cycletracks to both sides of Rockville Pike, which would be Montgomery County’s first protected bicycle lanes. The draft master plan is currently on the city’s website, and the city is accepting public comments through April 30.
While there are many improvements yet to be made, Rockville holds this vision: that it may be a city where bicycling is for all types of trips, for all types of people, and for all parts of the city.