Standing at the corner of Route 355 (also known as Rockville Pike) and Veirs Mill Road in Rockville, Maryland, you might be baffled that this city was recently named a Bicycle Friendly Community. Living just south of this area, I sure was, too. But, continue a block east or west of the Pike and you’ll see why.
Rockville — which is situated in the Washington D.C. metro region — didn’t allow a major state highway to get in its way of becoming bicycle-friendly. Instead, the city focused on off-road bike paths through parkland, connecting their network of lower volume streets, and a Safe Routes to School curriculum.
“The city has plans to redesign Rockville Pike – a great area for all kinds of shopping but very auto-centric,” says Nancy Breen, head of the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee (RBAC). “But until the redesign is done, we need to find other ways to invite people to ride a bike.” One of the first steps the city took was to engineer the Carl Henn Millennium Trail (pictured) – an 11-mile bike beltway that circles the city and comes within two miles of all Rockville neighborhoods. The trail was recommended in the city’s 1998 Bike Master Plan and came to fruition in 2006. Rockville then concentrated on connecting their bike network on lower volume streets through road diets, bike cut-throughs, traffic-calming, and bike/ped overpasses. The Sister City Friendship Bridge, that opened in 2007, allows bicyclists to safely and conveniently travel east-west across town over a major interstate, which before was unthinkable.
Bike counting has also been a key tool to determine the best use of city resources. With guidance from their new bike coordinator, Matt Folden, the city collected bicycle user data in 2011 and received a technical assistance grant by the MPO National Capital Transportation Planning Board to analyze the city’s bikeways and transportation network, and recommend improvements for the Bikeway Master Plan.
In addition to the MPO grant, the city received a Federal Transit Administration Job Access/ Reverse Commute (JARC) grant award. The JARC program seeks to provide transportation options to low-income users, as well as individuals who have a reverse peak hour commute. The city plans to install 20 Capital Bikeshare stations, in collaboration with Montgomery County, around the Shady Grove and Rockville Metrorail stations. Rockville will provide a local match of $100,000 annually, for three years, to support this program.
I had the honor of presenting Mayor Marcuccio and the City Council with their BFC award this month. “Designation as a BFC is important for the City of Rockville because it recognizes the Mayor and Council’s commitment to pedestrian and bicycle issues, the dedication of the city’s bicycle community, and the interdepartmental staff coordination necessary to implement bicycle friendly practices,” Folden said. “The BFC application continues to help City of Rockville staff improve the community by identifying bicycle friendly benchmarks and establishing future goals.”
The city has a lot to be proud of — but still has a lot of work ahead. Overcoming a major obstacle such as the auto-centric Rockville Pike is never easy. But year-by-year Rockville is encouraging more bike and less pike.
Alison DeweyDewey joined the League in 2008. For four years prior to that, Dewey worked for Massachusetts- based Landry’s Bicycles and served on the board of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. Dewey has a MA in International Relations and Communications from Boston University and is a graduate of St. Olaf College. She spent three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal.
League Program Manager, BFB & BFU