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In Rockville, a quiet bicycling transformation takes place

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.

Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

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.

Bicycling facilities in Rockville from Google Maps. Click for an interactive map.

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.

A RBAC community ride. Photo from Bike Rockville's Facebook page.

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.

Bicycling on the Millennium Trail. Photo from Bike Rockville's Facebook page.

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.

Shannon Brescher Shea is a bicycling enthusiast, sustainability advocate, and parent of a curious toddler. In addition to her day job as a science communicator for the federal government, she currently blogs on parenting at We'll Eat You Up—We Love You So and blogged previously about bicycling at Will Bike for Change (or Pie!)


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I biked from Wheaton to Montgomery College's Rockville campus for summer courses, and I really got to appreciate the bicycle infrastructure as I approached Rockville. I rarely felt out of place while biking on the road, and having a number of dedicated bike paths and bicycle friendly roads made it easy to pick and choose which route felt most comfortable for me. I hope the city's Bikeway Master Plan sets a precedent for other communities to follow suit!

by Jason L. on Mar 20, 2014 2:03 pm • linkreport

Great article. If only Alexandria were this on the ball (the city, not the bikers).

by JDC on Mar 20, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

Congratulations on all the progress through the years on the Rockville Bicycle Network. As we just started a year ago on our advocacy and social rides in Gaithersburg, it was great to have an an example so close by that had tried to do something in a more suburban setting. Large cities like DC often get the publicity for their efforts, but I have found it refreshing to work with a smaller city on incremental improvements over time. Over the past year, we have started Kidical Mass rides, provided education at events, looked toward implementation of the Gaithersburg Bike Master plan, discussed the implications of sharrows versus other infrastructure, asked for bike share (presentation to City next Monday), and partnered on a Bike Rodeo event for April 12th. The developing town centers in White Flint, Twinbrook, Rockville and Gaithersburg make bicycling a natural mode of transportation. Combined with the mountain bike trails and the science/health bent of the area, it could be only a few years before the area becomes known for its bicycle culture.

by Joseph A. on Mar 20, 2014 2:30 pm • linkreport

The biggest problem with Rockville is having to negotiate the freeway onramp areas at Montrose Pkwy, Falls Rd., etc.

I lived in the area for a year and got around mostly by bike. Even as a "one percenter" cyclist who will ride anywhere, these roads are harrowing, and a dealbreaker for most people.

There's plenty of room for better infrastructure along these corridors. We need to push the county to make it happen. Just 1-2 percent of what's being spent on the new Purple Line BRT would probably build all of Montgomery County's most-needed bike infrastructure.

by Matt O'Toole on Mar 20, 2014 2:43 pm • linkreport

I can't imagine a more appropriate memorial than naming the Millenium Trail for Carl Henn. He is missed greatly...

by Ben Ross on Mar 20, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

Residents and other locals disagreeing over the implementation of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure improvements does not mean the City of Alexandria is not "on the ball."

by selxic on Mar 20, 2014 6:18 pm • linkreport

Rockville has made progress but needs more bike lanes like DC. on some of the major artery roads.

by Tracy on Mar 20, 2014 8:16 pm • linkreport

Thanks for an inspiring article that shows what a small group of citizen volunteers can accomplish over time in a suburban setting. Keep moving forward.

by Allen Muchnick on Mar 21, 2014 1:08 pm • linkreport

While Rockville has put in some wonderful bike infrastructure and education programs, they haven’t provided all the connections and signage that would make it easy for new riders to start biking around the city. For instance, coming off the bicycle bridge from the west to the east, onto West Montgomery Avenue, bikes are supposed to make a sharp left, then go right on Anderson Avenue to get to the city center. However, it’s extremely difficult to figure this out, and in traffic the left turn is dangerous and really doesn’t allow space for bikes. This needs to be reengineered with a clear bike path (preferably separate) at least for the left turn. Instead, what happens is that novice bicyclists go straight onto West Montgomery, which does not have enough room for bikes during high-traffic times of day. This is the kind of situation that is going to give novice bikers a bad experience and prevent the switch to high-volume biking that we’re looking for. Other changes could include, for instance, adding sharrows to Anderson.

The number one change that will improve biking in Rockville is if the Rockville’s Pike plan is ever implemented, with full, separate bike paths along 355. If this happens, we’ll likely see an enormous boost to biking in Rockville.

by Ethan on Mar 22, 2014 6:39 pm • linkreport

Ethan and others who would like to see specific changes to the bike infrastructure (including signage) in Rockville, please read and comment on the draft update to the Bikeway Plan. These comments really do make a difference. I made a number of comments when RBAC had the chance to review it and the bike/pedestrian coordinator included a number of the changes in the next draft.

by Shannon on Mar 22, 2014 9:25 pm • linkreport

Thank you Shannon for authoring this article which provides a comprehensive perspective on Bicycling in Rockvillle and a forum for further advocacy and progress.

by John Telesco on May 27, 2015 8:10 pm • linkreport

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