So Mr. Jeffrey Miller, Transportation Program Manager, for the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda asked me to meet with him today to discuss ways to improve bicycling at NNMC. Although I should be studying gastrointestinal physiology, I gladly took him up on his offer. We talked for about 45 minutes this afternoon. He had emailed me after finding my flier on a bike with regards to setting up a NNMC bicycling listserv.
He made the argument that the community wanted BRAC and that much of the transportation issues stem from already too much traffic, and thus the traffic increases of BRAC are not that much. I would somewhat agree but also point out that the traffic demands of 2500 more employees and another half of a million patient visits are not insignificant. He also told me that by the time they found out about Bike-to-Work day, it was too late to set up a pit stop at NNMC. He hoped that they would be able to next year. I also learned that the bike racks at the quonset huts (I only know about them because of the NNMC website.) had been moved to somewhere around the Joint Task Force building. He also was unable to tell me exactly where the BEQ bike racks were that I was unable to find the other day.
I told him that the biggest single thing the Navy and DOD could do to improve bicycling would be to have one or more actually bike lanes through the gates onto base. He seemed receptive to the idea, and we discussed different options. I pointed out that the single most important aspect would be a good connection to area bicycle infrastructure. I also told him that, although twenty dollars is not much money, NNMC finding a way to implement the Bicycle Commuter Act would be a great impression on the community. Overall, the gist of my points were that even though SHA controls the area infrastructure, there are little, affordable, actions that the Navy and DOD can take to both improve the situation and take the high ground in encouraging all modes of transportation, which lessens the traffic for drivers.
I also suggested that the security forces receive some training on regulations concerning cyclists. I've had issues with the police not properly understanding the rules and when I politely inquired at their office on separate day, two senior officers, one DOD and one MA, were unable to adequately explain the interaction between military regulations and state and county traffic laws. They could not tell me which rule I was breaking when I passed a stopped car. Further, a classmate of mine had an officer incorrectly stop him for not having lights and reflective clothing on during the day. Yet, OPNAVINST 5100.12H CH-1 clearly states that such equipment is only required from sunset to sunrise. Mr. Miller seems very receptive to this idea and stated that he has a very good working relationship with a chief in the security forces, so hopefully there will be some improvements.
I didn't ask him how he personally commutes to work everyday. Perhaps I should have. Nevertheless, I'm skeptical if things will change. I've got at least three more years on this base, so I'll schedule in my calender to write a post on this blog comparing cycling now and then.
Somewhat insultingly Mr. Miller found it comically that a member of the NIH Bike Club and I have been communicating regarding these issues since he is in regular contact with his counterpart at NIH. Mr. Miller seemed to think that this member and the other members of the NIH Bike Club should have inquired with him or his NIH equivalent regarding numbers of cyclists on NNMC. I don't think he understands that besides the fact the only people who cycle in the face of daily threats we face are a bit zealous and crazy about cycling, that one of the major benefits of cycling is the community it builds. Not only do we no enjoy getting fat in our cars and enjoying God's beautiful world, but we don't like the disconnect the sitting in a metal and plastic box while stuck in traffic breeds. I can't think of a single case of road rage I've had while on my bike directed at another cyclist. When someone is in their car, it's so easy to see them as not a person but as some type of cyber creature on wheels.
The type of community that cycling creates is such that even though I haven't even actually cycled with the NIH Bike Club member, he/she invited me to his/her church because of its strong community. My wife and I attended church there last week and look forward to meeting his/her spouse this Sunday.
I gave Mr. Miller's email address above, but don't email him regarding SHA's issues. If SHA can't get things right, Mr. Miller can't make them. However, I would urge anyone with specific suggestions or ideas for NNMC itself, which somewhat limits things, to email him.