CORRECTION: The bike lane lines will be created with 10-inch wide white thermoplastic paint, a Rockville City official says—not green epoxy paint. An official July memorandum from the city indicated the color would be green.
The creation of bike lanes on Maryland Avenue could begin as early as September after Rockville city officials made changes in the original plan to accommodate New Mark residents’ concerns about safety and speed on the community’s only access artery.
The project was delayed over the summer as the city scrambled to accommodate unexpected pushback and requests from New Mark residents, who only learned of the plans in June.
The bike lanes—one westbound lane and one eastbound—will be demarcated with 10-inch-wide white thermoplastic paint after the avenue is resurfaced.
The current two lanes on eastbound Maryland Avenue will be reduced to one lane from the Potomac Valley intersection to just before the pedestrian crosswalk at South Washington Street. This will make room for the two bike lanes and, city officials hope, also slow down traffic.
About ten city officials and Rockville City Council Member Monique Ashton met virtually with New Mark Commons and Maryland Avenue residents on August 20 to discuss the final changes.
The biggest changes since June include the intention to lower the speed limit from 35 mph to 30 mph westbound beyond Argyle; creation of a left-turn-only lane on the eastbound direction right before South Washington Street; making the weight-limit signs more precise for big trucks going both ways; and expanding the demarcation strip for the bike lanes from 3 to 10 inches.
“We take all of your concerns … extremely seriously,” City Manager Rob DiSpirito told the August 20 gathering.
New Mark resident Amy Sloan, who has helped lead the neighborhood’s efforts for relief from the noise and speed on Maryland Ave, supplied photographic proof to the city in recent weeks that a large truck passes by every five minutes, often at speeds well over the speed limit. Large car carriers and construction vehicles regularly pass through.
“Large trucks that already violate existing laws are incompatible with bicycle traffic, especially when only painted lines separate the trucks from the bikes,” she said. “Trucks fill a whole lane!”
Residents wanted to know how the city will enforce speed compliance and limitations on truck size.
Rockville Police Chief Victor Brito and several of his officers countered with the difficulty they have in limiting truck access. “Google maps [and Waze] take them there, the drivers say,” one officer noted. Lt. Jonathan Berry said that Waze already has the capability to notify of restrictions.
City officials pledged to contact Waze and Google Maps to urge addition of weight limitation information to driving directions.
As for speed compliance, Emad Elshafei, chief of traffic and transportation, said staff hope to reduce westbound speed from 35 mph to 30 mph, which needs approval from the city manager. “We hope the bike lanes will slow down traffic … and with bikes travelling westbound, “we can justify the 30 mph.”
Fines only kick in when a vehicle is more than 12 miles over the speed limit, police said.
The plan to repave Maryland Ave was moved forward into the current city budget at the behest of the West End Civic Association (WECA), which requested the city also add the bike lanes. Mayor and Council added $60,000 for the bike lanes, which have been in the Bikeway Master Plan since 2017.
WECA does not include New Mark Commons in its community or discussions. NMC resident Sean Hart, whose property is right on Maryland Avenue, was surprised he and other New Mark residents along the street were not informed of the plans before June by the city.
Emily Bailey, who lives on Maryland Avenue within sight of the crosswalk at South Washington Street, pushed for creation of a single lane of traffic over the crosswalk.
“I just witnessed a student get hit on his bike at that crossing,” Emily said—the latest in a number of accidents she has seen there. She said the two-lane constellation often means a car in one lane might stop for a pedestrian while the car in the second lane sails right on through.
City officials first told the gathering that it would be impossible to keep the one-lane constellation through the crosswalk, because it would back up traffic intending to turn right on Fleet Street.
But Emad Elshafei, chief of traffic and transportation, came up with a last-minute solution to create the left-turn only lane onto South Washington Street. That means only one lane will continue on through the crosswalk, after which two lanes will open up for the right turn on Fleet Street.
“I think this should be very helpful,” he said. “That’s an improvement.”
As for better enforcement of truck size, police planned to replace the size-limit warning with more precise language, to read “No Trucks Over 10,000 lbs GVWR” instead of the simpler reference to tonnage. They said the clarification would help better defend fines in court to judges who don’t understand the current tonnage sign. (GVWR—Gross Vehicle Weight Rating—means the maximum weight a truck can carry, including its own weight empty plus its payload.)
Council member Monique Ashton asked if police could add the fine amount to the sign, but police said fines are on an incremental scale. To add the information would “get too wordy.”
In response to repeated requests by New Mark residents to add more speed cameras and digital speed indicators, officials pledged to evaluate conditions after the project is completed. Amy Sloan said she planned to talk to the Julius West principal about placing a guard at the South Washington Street pedestrian crosswalk.
Kathleen Moran, president of the New Mark Commons Homes Association Board who attended the meeting, said she was impressed with the city’s response.
“The volume of City staff participating absolutely reflected the importance of the concerns being expressed by Rockville residents,” she wrote afterwards.
Many New Mark residents continue to worry about the intersection at Potomac Valley, with traffic pouring off I-270 as Julius West students walk to school. The city limit stops at Potomac Valley, and any changes must be carried out by the state of Maryland.
New Mark resident Sean Hart suggested rumble strips to slow down traffic. Amy Sloan suggested a warning sign for southbound I-270 traffic before Exit 6, to remind trucks that Route 28 is the correct route into Rockville for heavy trucks.
Public Works director Craig Simoneau and Emad Elshafei said they are in discussion with the state highways department about these and other concerns, especially as the state moves forward with changes on I-270.