New Mark Residents told a Rockville City official that they welcome the prospect of bike lanes on Maryland Avenue but need to first see long-standing safety, traffic and noise issues on the street resolved.
The official, Emad Elshafei, the city’s chief of traffic and transportation, held a virtual briefing on June 24 that drew more than a dozen New Mark residents and other residents of Rockville. He said construction was to begin this summer.
Most of the New Mark residents at the meeting have Maryland Avenue in their backyards. Helene Dubov, Peggy Metzger and others have been beseeching the city for years to enforce the speed and tonnage limits on the street. Helene Dubov has said she has stopped using her deck because of the constant loud traffic behind her house. Sean Hart described car accidents that nearly landed in his backyard.
Residents said there is little evidence of a concerted effort by city police to enforce the truck weight limit of one ton or the speed limit, which drops to 25 mph at the eastern end of the stretch. Adding bike lanes will not help, and could be dangerous, they said.
The bikeway plan calls for the elimination of the second east-bound lane of traffic starting at the Falls Road/Potomac Valley interchange up to South Washington Street, where the bike lane would continue on that street. That would free up space for two five-foot wide bike lanes on either side of Maryland Avenue. The bike lanes would be marked by paint.
A left turn lane for west-bound traffic into New Mark Esplanade is in the draft bike lane plan.
A search for background information about the plan on the Rockville City website the morning after the meeting came up empty-handed. The only reference was to the announcement of the June 24 meeting. The sketch of the plan presented at the virtual meeting was not found, but has since been sent by Emad Elshafei. Information about prior meetings, Mayor and Council discussion of the plan, or a background and analysis of the plan were not available.
In an e-mailed answer to questions sent by this reporter, Mr. Elshafei said he was “currently working with the City’s website manager to post the plans online.”
At 10:45 p.m. that evening, Mr. Elshafei had provided the schematic plan and information from pages 300 and 307 in the city’s 2022 proposed budget which shows provision for the bike lanes. He cited the 2017 Bikeway Master Plan which shows bike lanes on Maryland Avenue at the bottom of page 23. He wrote that a consultant was hired to produce the concept plan, and that the June 24 meeting provided the opportunity for public input.
According to a copy of the Bikeway Master Plan from January 23, 2017, the city was to notify “all residents and businesses with frontage along the route.” There was also supposed to be a “public hearing in front of Mayor and Council” for each step of the plan.
No such notices had been sent to residents. Peggy Metzger noted her dismay that the city had not sent out the customary notices about the plan or about the meeting. Some residents were informed because they had put themselves on an email list with the city. New Mark Board President Kathleen Moran was informed of the briefing, and the information was published in the New Mark newsletter on June 19.
New Mark resident Mark Wetterhahn noted in an email to the city that he was “hampered …. by the complete lack of availability of written material prior to the meeting describing the proposal and alternatives.”
“Members of the community expect to be involved at the very early stages of planning for projects that could affect a significant number of residents on a daily basis,” Mark wrote.
One of the biggest concerns in the New Mark Commons community is danger at the intersection at Maryland Avenue/Falls Road/Great Falls Road/Potomac Valley, where children must cross Maryland and Great Falls Road to attend Julius West Middle School.
Cars and trucks speeding off northbound I-270 often do not slow to see if there is traffic coming east on Falls Road and must also quickly cross four lanes and a barrier to turn left on Great Falls Road. They often race through the left turn onto Great Falls “to get ahead of pedestrians,” Peggy Metzger noted.
The sign limiting weight to 1 ton is in small script and barely visible. Residents try to keep the foliage trimmed back from that sign and the speed limit sign, as the city does not routinely do it.
Referring to the death of a neighbor’s child who was biking home from school some years ago, Helene Dubov said that without control of speed and truck size on Maryland Avenue, “there will be disaster and there will be deaths and we will be regretful if we do bike lanes without looking at the holistic picture.”
Pedestrians have been killed and seriously injured at the intersection.
Mark said that the bikeways plan puts bicyclists in danger especially at the western terminus. “You are dumping bicyclists into traffic turning every which way. It sounds like you’re putting in a bike lane in an area where you can but overall not improving safety,” he said.
Rockville bicyclist Dave Stinchcomb supported the plan, as did other bicyclists who attended the virtual briefing. “I don’t find the intersection at Great Falls as much of a problem as the lack of bike lanes on the length of Maryland Avenue,” he said.
The city says it has no authority over the traffic pattern at the Falls Road interchange., Efforts over the years by New Mark residents to get the state to install a stop light in the north bound I-270 exit lane have fallen on deaf ears.
Mr. Elshafei said his office had not considered traffic control in its plan. It was felt that narrowing traffic down to one lane would slow down traffic. He pledged to further study the issue with the bicycle committee.
“Unless you can make a statement that you’ve looked at it, I don’t think you’re prepared to start this project [this summer],” Mark Wetterhahn said.
Emad Elshafei appeared dismayed by the pushback from New Mark residents.
“We got the request from the West End Citizens Association that they want this project,” he said. “We thought it was what the community wanted. We thought that everybody loved it.”
In the 2020 letter from the West End group supplied by the official late Friday night, the group asks the city to install bikeways on Maryland Avenue. As for as anyone in New Mark Commons could determine, the group had not consulted with New Mark residents about the plan.
Peggy Metzger noted that New Mark Commons does not even border on the West End.
“I think you can do more to slow down traffic and make it a great boulevard coming into our city,” Peggy said.
Other suggestions on improving the plan and safety included:
- Build a roundabout at the Falls Road interchange
- Separate the bike path from motorized traffic with a concrete curb or vertical plastic markers. City officials said that was impractical, due to space limitations and the cost of maintenance. In its proposal to the city for the project, the West End Citizen’s Association called for a flowerbed area to be added between the east and westbound lanes.
- Add rumble strips on the northbound I-270 exit lane.