For years now, many across the city have been studying the streets in an effort to create the “spikes” on the “wheel” of the Carl Henn Millennium Trail that encircles Rockville. In a vote of 4-1 on Monday, the Rockville Mayor and Council finally adopted the ordinance to make the Bikeway Master Plan an Amendment to the Adopted Comprehensive Master Plan for Rockville. The approved plan now replaces the 2004 Bikeway Master Plan.
Voting in favor of the Bikeway Master Plan were all the Councilmembers, Beryl Feinberg, Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr, and Mark Pierzchala.
Opposed was Mayor Bridget Newton, who made a statement before the vote, “I will just say that I’m going to vote against the plan. It is not a premiere plan as I had hoped it would be. As a matter of fact, I think it’s pedestrian. I don’t use that word to mean walkers, I use it to mean I don’t think it’s visionary. I think Rockville is taking the easy way out on this and I think we should have taken the opportunity and the five years that we’ve spent on this to do something that’s really extraordinary to do more than just put routes down our city streets. I think we could have done more to connect neighborhoods. We could have done more to encourage cycling among those who aren’t using it for commuting purposes, and we haven’t done that in my opinion. I don’t take this position lightly and I understand that the plan will pass, but I encourage our staff and our council to think bigger when we’re doing Master Plans. A Master Plan is something that’s suppose to take us into the future. It’s something that’s aspired to. Something we can be known for, and I don’t think this plan gets us there. And I’m disappointed in that.”
One idea proposed by Newton was to build a bike trail along the CSX rail line through Rockville, although it was pointed out during past discussions that the locations of buildings along the west side of the tracks left little room in a few places for such a recreational trail.
After the favorable vote for the Bikeway Master Plan, Pierzchala took issue with what Newton had stated, “I would like to just go on record that my findings, my research on the Master Plan, my opinion is precisely opposite of the Mayor. I think it is far reaching. It is visionary. It connects the city. It crosses the city eight different ways. It does so in a very cost-effective manner. A lot of the things that were going to cost a lot of money, or involved a lot of construction, have already been done … bridge over I-270, the beltway. Those kinds of heavy lifting things have already been done. I think it’s a very visionary plan without costing millions of dollars. I think the ‘mainstreaming’ – that’s my word – of bikes in Rockville is a big thing. I think probably the most beneficial thing we can do for biking in Rockville is actually fairly inexpensive and that’s just putting up a lot of directional signs on those bike routes so people can actually get from point a to point b without going in the wrong direction. So, I think it’s actually a plan that accomplishes a lot for a relatively modest investment.”
Additional insight on the vote can be found during the March 27, 2017 meeting when the Mayor and Council were presented with the draft of the plan incorporating the work from their sessions. During that discussion, Newton accused the Staff of falsely stating that the Mayor and Council’s comments had been included because in her opinion only the comments of Palakovich Carr and Pierzchala were included.
The Mayor brought up the West End Citizens Association Executive Committee comments to remove several of the streets in the West End from the plan (such as Mannakee Street, Martins Lane, Maryland Avenue) and to instead list them as streets “to be studied”.
Palakovich Carr defended the Staff calling it “unfair” to accuse them of not including everyone’s edits because at the last worksession, members of the body had submitted written changes in advance, some of which had support for inclusion and some that did not. The removal of these streets from the plan was not brought up for a decision during that worksession.
Pierzchala said it would have to be brought up for a vote because he was not in favor of this change.
“West End is really in the middle of the city and one of the really strong parts of this Bikeways Master Plan is how it connects the city, how it implements cross city routes, and a lot of those go right through the West End,” said Pierzchala, “And I know as somebody frequently on the bike, if I want to get from my neighborhood to Town Center, for example, it’s almost impossible to avoid the West End without really increasing the number of miles I bike.” He stressed that there are very strong protections in the plan for community input during implementation.
Looking ahead after the adoption of the plan, Pierzchala optimistically concluded, “I do look forward to RBAC (Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee) coming forward sometime this fiscal year with some plans for studies and cost estimates and maybe we can fit those in.”