Cycle of Frustration

Unless it is raining, physicist Alan Migdall rides his bike every day to his job at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus in Gaithersburg where he’s been employed for over 25 years.

Migdall is an avid cyclist who, like many of us, began riding a bike in third grade.

He’s not the only one pedaling to work either. Migdall once surveyed the NIST staff and learned that up to 100 of his coworkers also ride their bikes regularly to work. He said the results were not surprising to him because NIST employs a lot of employees who come from different places across the world.

“These young scientists are used to getting around without a car,” said Migdall.

So how is the bike path system in Gaithersburg?

“What bike path system?” responds Migdall.

Migdall certainly may be qualified to comment on the city’s lack of an official bike path system and not just because he rides his bike a lot. He served as a volunteer member of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) for over 10 years and is a current member of Montgomery County’s Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee.

He said he originally joined the city’s committee in hopes of increasing the number of people getting around without a car, and he lists a variety of reasons that cycling can help the community such as protecting the environment, promoting health and exercise and even helping national security.

But Migdall said the committee never met on a quarterly schedule as it was supposed to, and he said the city’s planning liaisons changed several times throughout his tenure.

The city’s BPAC met for the last time over a year ago on May 9.

Shortly after that meeting, Migdall learned the city was disbanding the committee in hopes of forming a new advisory committee that would serve the city’s greater transportation needs. A description on the city’s website defines the future committee’s objectives as proving members the opportunity to comment on the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) and other issues such as transportation alternatives in addition to the original mission of the BPAC.

So far, city leaders have not moved ahead with creating the new committee. Planning and Code Administration Director Greg Ossont is listed on the website as the city’s contact for the committee.

“It is on our ‘to do’ list, but I do not have any definitive timeline for implementation,” said Ossont in an e-mail copied to the city’s elected leaders.

City Council member Ryan Spiegel is the former liaison to the BPAC.

“I wish the committee had been put in place sooner, but unfortunately it just wasn’t,” Spiegel said.

When the Mayor and Council decide to put out a call for candidates, Migdall said he plans to apply again for a city appointment because he wants to see the city implement a comprehensive plan for cyclists so that getting around is safe and doable.

He recalls one of his successes, while he was on the city committee, as encouraging former Council member Ann Somerset to ride her bike to a Council meeting. He said the experience was an eye-opener for Somerset because of all the obstacles (including a telephone poll obstruction and a misplaced guardrail) she encountered along the way. He counts her commute on a bicycle as an educational win because the city leader saw many things that passersby can’t see from the safety of their cars.

According to Midgall, unlike the city, Montgomery County works all its proposed new developments through its pedestrian and traffic safety committee for the volunteer members to provide comment and their expertise on what works and what may need improvement during the planning process. He has reviewed traffic safety issues for developments in Clarksburg, Rockville and Bethesda, and he was the squeaky wheel that helped convince the State Highway Administration to re-stripe Darnestown Road (Route 28) across from Kentlands with bike lanes.

He said that kind of opportunity was not the norm in Gaithersburg when he was on the BPAC and he hopes that changes when the new committee is developed.

For example, Migdall said the committee was never asked for its formal input on Crown Farm or even projects like narrowing Kentlands Boulevard last year or putting trail markers on the Lakelands path system. Instead, he was told he could testify like any other resident during the public comment portion of city meetings.

At the city’s December 9 meeting last year, Migdall took that advice and publicly testified that he hoped in the future the city would use its committee’s expertise on crosswalks and other traffic safety issues from the beginning of a design plan or project.

Today, Spiegel gives Migdall credit for pushing the state to stripe bike lanes in the new Watkins Mill development, and the Councilman said he hopes to see more progress on the city’s overall bike path network sooner than later.

“I do think that we can and should try to make progress on the bike plan in the near future,” said Spiegel.