Lame duck councilmember Jim Graham wants to make it illegal to ride a bicycle or ride a Segway on the sidewalk along roads when there is a bike lane going in the same direction, except for children 12 years and under.
A sidewalk cyclist on Barracks Row (often not a great place to bike, but not covered by Graham's bill). Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
Graham introduced the bill after receiving many reports of bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk without sufficient regard for the safety of pedestrians, especially the elderly, mothers with young children, and others.
This problem was tragically demonstrated four years ago when while walking in an alley near the Convention Center, a 78 year-old man and his wife were knocked to the ground by a speeding "hit-and-run" bicyclist. The elderly man was killed and his wife was hospitalized.
In recent years, the District has emerged as one of the foremost cities for bicycling in the US through the building of dozens of miles of bike lanes, and through its pioneering and successful Capital Bikeshare program. Graham stated "With so many miles of bike lanes now available, I think it's time that rather than riding on sidewalks, bicyclists and others be required to use bike lanes. I think this bill will help to encourage the construction of even more bicycle lanes for the safety of all".People riding bicycles on sidewalks at high speed can be very scary for pedestrians, and they feel legitimately threatened. It's the same as the way cyclists feel threatened on the road. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer because outside rare cycletracks, cyclists don't have their own space and are yelled at both on the road and on the sidewalk (and on multi-use trails).
Just as many drivers think they can safely pass a cyclist with less than 3 feet of space, or nose through a group of pedestrians crossing at a crosswalk, there are cyclists who think they can use their maneuverability to squeeze quickly between pedestrians without hitting them. And 99% of the time they are right, but that doesn't make the more vulnerable road user not feel intimidated.
I've been walking around and had someone on a bike ride by too fast and too close many times. I've been walking with our one-year-old in a stroller, or with my wife when she was pregnant. Just because none of them actually hit any of us doesn't make it right.
Would a ban even work?
However, a bill banning sidewalk cycling near a bike lane is probably not the answer. While people should ride in the road, there are often legitimate reasons to sometimes ride on any given sidewalk at certain times and in certain circumstances. What if the bike lane is blocked, for example? Graham's bill won't deal with many situations where sidewalk cycling is a problem while also making riding illegal at times when it's not a problem.
It's hard have a law that basically says it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk only in a way that intimidates pedestrians. And any legal restriction is only going to have an effect if police ticket, and we don't need police deciding to target cyclists here as they have been in NYC.
It could be worth discussing some measure like a speed limit that applies on sidewalks where there are pedestrians (but not empty sidewalks), or a 2-foot passing buffer distance. When we've discussed this before, commenters seemed open to somehow codifying the idea of "pedestrian pace in a pedestrian space."
Would this bill encourage building bike lanes, or add to acrimony?
The only real way to reduce bicycle-pedestrian conflicts is to make sure cyclists feel safe riding outside the sidewalk, and that's simply not the case right now. Many people say they just aren't comfortable in the road.
Walking around the city, I often see people riding on the sidewalk when there is a good bike lane or low-speed street, and I wonder why they are bothering to ride there. But instead of passing a law, let's find ways to help those people feel safe (and be safe).
Graham says in his press release that he hopes this will lead to more bike lanes being constructed. It's hard to see how a bill limiting cyclists' rights will lead to more bike lanes.
The obstacle to more bike lanes is that whenever one is proposed, people complain about losing travel lanes or losing parking. Graham has often expressed "concerns" about a transportation bill because it might take away parking spaces. That kind of rhetoric tells transportation planners that they should be very hesitant to embark on any project which impacts even a small amount of parking, or at the very least, they have to do many years of studies and outreach.
Maybe Graham is thinking that if this law exists, people worried about sidewalk cycling will turn into advocates for bike lanes. But the bigger danger is that it only further demonizes an activity that already comes under a lot of criticism, against whom some columnists in national newspapers think alluding to the possibility of violence is appropriate.
Graham said he hopes to start a conversation about what to do about this problem. It's not clear that one best starts a conversation about conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians by proposing a restriction on one of the two groups. It's only going to lead to more rancor rather than understanding.
Why this, and why now?
Incidents of cyclists hurting pedestrians are vanishingly rare (while deaths involving cars are quite common). That doesn't mean it's okay to ride at a high speed on a sidewalk near pedestrians in a way that can be scary, but it's hard not to notice a little irony in the fact that Graham's press release cites a case from four years ago which wasn't even
a fatality on a sidewalk or a road with a bike lane at all.
What bills has Graham introduced to deal with fatal crashes between drivers and pedestrians or bicyclists that happened since four years ago? In fact, speaking of safety for seniors and children, Graham has long fought a bill to get property owners to shovel sidewalks; icy walks create a real hazard, but not one that he seems to think is important enough to solve with a change in the law.
Anyway, it's almost the end of the session (and Graham's tenure on the council). He surely knows that there is probably not even time to hold a hearing even if transportation chair Mary Cheh wanted to, and she likely does not want to. The bill will almost surely just die with the rest of Graham's actions this year that amount to shaking his fist at his younger, changing ward. But he can go out making a statement that out of all the things that threaten seniors on the streets, like icy sidewalks or drivers not yielding in crosswalks, those damn bicyclists are the worst.
Take some time to stop, listen and engage in our many events this week! Don't miss our lunchtime chat with David Catania. Plus, there are several information-packed symposiums this week and if you want to get outside, CSG is hosting a beautiful walk-a-bout in College Park.
#GGWchat with David Catania: Did you love our chat with DC mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser? Don't miss our lunchtime talk with one of her opponents, David Catania, this Wednesday, October 22, from noon to 1 pm.
Follow the chat and propose questions live using the hashtag #GGWchat or submit your questions beforehand in the comments in this post.
After the jump: streetcars, urban agriculture, the Purple Line, College Park, and Safe Routes to School.
Streetcars in Southeast and Southwest: An environmental study to plan out the streetcar in Southwest Waterfront and Near Southeast is kicking off, and the first public meeting is Wednesday, October 22, 4-6 pm at Van Ness Elementary, 1150 5th Street SE. At the same time, DDOT officials will talk about updates to the citywide streetcar system plan.
Talk urban ag: Friday, the University of the District of Columbia will host a free Urban Agriculture Symposium from 9 am to 4:30 pm. Local and national leaders will come together to discuss today's food economy. Enjoy speakers and breakout sessions, followed by a green roof tour.
A vibrant Purple Line: Do you live or work near the Purple Line corridor? Do you want to take part in making it a healthy and vibrant neighborhood? Join the Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC) this Saturday, October 25, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm for the first of a two part workshop. The focus will be on community and economic development in the region. Space is limited.
Weekend walk: Join Coalition for Smarter Growth this Saturday, October 25, 3-5 pm for an afternoon walking tour of College Park. Discover and discuss the many ways this college is using its assets to create a more walkable and central hub for the region.
Safe school commute: Every student deserves a safe ride to school. Join Safe Routes to School on Tuesday, October 28, 8-12 pm to hear from North Carolina Safe Routes expert Mark Fenton, to talk about how to give students a safe commute. Registration requested.
Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at email@example.com.
DC will have more sidewalks, bike lanes, bus signal priority, real-time screens, many more finished studies, and other changes two years from now, if the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) follows through on a strong new "Action Plan" released today.
The moveDC plan is a forward-thinking, ambitious, and comprehensive vision for transportation across the District over the next 30 years. But will this become reality? Will DDOT start making significant progress on the many recommendations in the plan, or will this sit on a shelf and just be something we look at 28 years from now and lament how little got done?
To put some weight behind the plan, DDOT officials have now created a document that lists projects, studies, and programs they expect the agency to complete in two years.
Some points give very specific, measurable targets. For example:
- Add sidewalks on at least 25 blocks where they are missing today
- Improve pedestrian safety at 20 or more intersections
- Build 15 miles of bicycle lanes or cycletracks
- Complete Klingle and Kenilworth Anacostia Riverwalk Trail projects
- Get Rock Creek and Metropolitan Branch Trail projects at least to "advanced stages of design"
- Install bus lanes on a small piece of Georgia Avenue from Florida Avenue to Barry Place and signal priority on 16th Street
- Put real-time screens in some bus shelters citywide
- Work with WMATA to find at least 10 key spots that delay high-ridership buses and modify the traffic signals
- Finish a project to better time traffic signals for pedestrian, transit, and traffic flow
- Begin the Frederick Douglass (South Capitol Street) bridge construction.
Others call for a number of studies to take place on topics such as:
- Transit improvements, possibly including a bus lane, on 16th Street
- North-south bike routes between 4th and 7th Streets NW
- The 22-mile streetcar system (detailed environmental studies still need to be finished on many of the lines)
- Commuter and freight rail between DC, Maryland, and Virginia
- Dynamic parking pricing downtown
- Roadway congestion pricing
- Transit "brands" (i.e. what is the Circulator, and what is something else?)
Other prongs involve setting up programs and systems of communication, like:
- Working with a BID to set up parklets
- Working with MPD on more and better traffic cameras
- Working with neighborhoods (starting with three) to plan better parking rules
- Working with regional governments to find long-term funding for Metro and other needs
- Setting up more dashboards and releasing more data sets publicly, like public space permits and street trees.
The plan includes a few elements to advance this:
- Revise the Design and Engineering Manual to include new "tools and techniques for multimodal street design"
- Train all DDOT staff on multimodal design using the new manual and "national best practices."
What will the next mayor do?
Of course, a lot will depend on whether the next mayor and his or her appointee to head DDOT stick with the plan. They could ensure these projects get finished, slow some down, or abandon this altogether.
Gabe Klein's DDOT put out an action agenda in 2010 (which, admittedly, was very ambitious); Mayor Gray generally kept up the same initiatives and projects that the previous administration had begun, though many moved forward more slowly than advocates would like.
For example, WABA sounded the alarm in 2011 about the slow pace of new bicycle lanes. The 2005 Bicycle Master Plan called for new bike lanes that would have averaged about 10 miles per year. The 2010 Action Agenda called for adding 30 in just two years. But in 2011, DDOT planned 6.5 miles, designed 4.25 miles, and installed zero, WABA's Greg Billing wrote at the time.
Since then, the pace has picked up. Since Mayor Gray took office, DDOT has added or "upgraded" 19 miles, said DDOT's Sam Zimbabwe. This counts new striped bike lanes or cycletracks and any places where painted lanes turned into cycletracks. This year, Zimbabwe said, they've done 9 miles.
The Action Agenda sets a goal of 15 miles over two years, for an average of 7.5 per year. That's more than the recent average, but less than this year, and less than in the 2005 or 2010 plans. Which means it's probably an okay target as long as DDOT sees it as something to actually achieve rather than a stretch goal where it's okay to come in close but well under target.
When businesses set goals, they vary on whether the goals should be "stretch goals" where you don't expect to achieve them all, conservative goals where you need to achieve almost all of them to get a good performance review, or goals so conservative that they don't mean much because people are afraid to set any target they don't hit.
Ideally, the next DDOT director will treat these goals as the middle category: tell each department that he or she expects them to actually achieve what's in this plan. Certainly some things here and there will run into unexpected obstacles, but this plan should be something everyone takes seriously and feels some pressure to achieve in the two-year timeframe.
As Norfolk plans the next expansion of its burgeoning light rail system, a classic transit dilemma faces the community: Will the northern extension to Naval Station Norfolk run through rider-rich urban neighborhoods or take the path of least resistance along wide suburban highways?
Hampton Roads Transit is planning two light rail extensions. One, east to Virginia Beach, is relatively straightforward; it will follow an old rail right-of-way. The other, north to Naval Station Norfolk, is a challenge.
The northern extension will have to run on or adjacent to streets, and could follow any one of several alignments planners are currently considering.
If the light rail follows Granby Street, a tightly packed urban commercial street, or Hampton Boulevard, the main street through Old Dominion University, then it will probably capture a lot of local riders, since those are walkable transit-friendly destinations. On the other hand, adding transit lanes would be more disruptive for car drivers on narrow streets than on wider, more suburban highways, since there's less space to go around.
Conversely, if the light rail follows the more easterly Military Highway, there will be plenty of space to accommodate trains without disrupting cars, and commuters to the navy base using park-and-rides near the end of the line will have a quick ride from their cars to the base.
But that alignment wouldn't serve any strongly walkable neighborhoods; it would even miss downtown Norfolk. It would offer quick rides to one destination and easy construction, but the resulting line would be a glorified parking shuttle to the navy base, not the spine of a transit-oriented community.
Maybe after a few decades a Military Road alignment might induce enough transit oriented development that some of its stations could become walkable. Or maybe not. In the meantime, Norfolk's genuinely urban neighborhoods will still need better transit.
Meanwhile, the Church Street alignment would split the difference by skirting the outer edge of downtown Norfolk, and the Chesapeake Boulevard alignment would snake along an indirect route that serves a few additional neighborhoods, but would be very slow from end to end. These options look like compromises unlikely to satisfy anybody.
Planners have already dropped the most urban alignment options, which would have gone through Norfolk's dense Ghent neigborhood. Not only does that mean the most walkable part of Norfolk besides downtown will be without rail, but also that the western end of the existing light rail line will be a spur, forcing transfers.
Experience says pick the urban options
The fast and easy suburban options are tempting. Not only are they the path of least resistance, but computer models of traffic behavior probably predict that the more suburban routes capture the most navy base commuters.
But history shows light rail systems built like that don't work very well. Computer models are good at predicting long distance car commutes, but bad at understanding travel in walkable areas. They naturally push planners towards park-and-ride oriented systems, when we know the most successful transit routes follow dense walkable corridors instead.
So Norfolk faces a choice: Embrace the city and build a transit line for the city, or follow a highway and build a park-and-ride shuttle.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Running a blog is a labor of love, and Greater Greater Washington's mostly volunteer team sure loves to labor. But our wonderful volunteers can't do everything, so to keep the blog growing we're looking to hire a paid Development Associate to help raise funds.
Money gift box image from Shutterstock.
You may recall that in February we held our first-ever reader drive to great success. As we've grown this year, we've learned that we have many fantastic writers, editors, and volunteers, but that we could really benefit from someone with specific fundraising skills.
As we begin fundraising through a fiscal sponsor, we are looking for someone to work closely with our team to build relationships with new funders.
Duties include, but are not limited to:
- Requesting and setting meetings with program officers or potential donors on behalf of GGW
- Assisting with grant writing
- Managing a grants calendar, and tracking proposals and report deadlines
- Managing acknowledgements for major gifts.
Experience working in a startup environment and a working knowledge of Washington area philanthropy are definitely a plus. Hours are flexible, but require some daytime availability. If you or someone you know are interested or would be a great fit, please do check out the full details in our listing on Idealist.
In the year since a speeding car struck a friend on Arkansas Avenue NW, more drivers keep getting into crashes. New crosswalks and a traffic camera haven't helped much, so now DDOT says it will re-stripe the street to eliminate its dangerous rush hour driving lane.
Last Tuesday night, yet another crash left a car totaled on Arkansas Avenue. Neighbors report that an SUV crashed into a parked car, pushing it onto the sidewalk and into a tree.
Tuesday's crash was at least the third like it in a month. Residents count at least six in the past year where drivers have crashed into parked cars. The culprit appears to be a dangerous combination of aggressive driving and unclear lane markings.
After residents organized to demand a fix, DDOT studied the corridor to consider changes. Earlier this year, DDOT added new high visibility crosswalks and installed a traffic camera, but that didn't address the root problem.
The primary culprit of the crashes seems to be the northbound curbside lane. Normally it's a parking lane, but at rush hour it becomes a second travel lane. But there's no paint indicating where one lane ends and the other begins. Drivers see a very wide street that might be one or two lanes, with no indication of lanes or parking.
That situation encourages drivers to speed, and sometimes to pass on the right. When that happens and they encounter the occasional illegally parked car, crashes occur.
Eliminating the rush hour driving lane, allowing cars to park all day in both directions, and painting parking boxes to visually narrow the street should inhibit the most dangerous driving.
Eliminating the rush hour lane wouldn't be a radical idea. DDOT eliminated other rush hour lanes, such as the one on nearby 13th Street, years ago. Meanwhile, the recent parking study included a map of rush hour restrictions that doesn't include Arkansas Avenue.
Another major issue is there are no stop signs or signals for almost 1/3 of a mile between Allison Street and the intersection with 13th Street. That enables drivers to build up speed. In the neighborhood's traffic calming petition to DDOT, residents requested a new stop or signal along that stretch to slow motorists down.
In May, DDOT recommended removing the rush hour lane, and said the agency would continue to study the unsignalized intersections, as well as the potential to add bike lanes.
Six months and about the same number of crashes later, DDOT's director Matt Brown confirms the study is now complete. DDOT will re-stripe the street and change the parking restrictions in the next 30 days.
While it's not yet clear whether any new stop signs or bike lanes are also in the plans, eliminating the rush hour lane is a great victory for safety on Arkansas Avenue.
Kelly Blynn was a co-founder of 350.org and is currently the Next Generation of Transit Campaign Manager for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. However, the views expressed here are her own.
An entirely new neighborhood is rising just a minute's walk from the Anacostia Metro station. Nearly two dozen townhomes and apartments have sprouted at Sheridan Station, where public housing will become a mixed-income community. But will it be an economic catalyst for the community, or a new face for the area's existing struggles?
A view of Sheridan Station rising from the hillside across Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Photos by the author.
When it first broke ground more than 4 years ago, Sheridan Station was supposed to have 344 units, equally split between market-rate homes for sale and rentals for low-income households. But in the fall of 2012, developer William C. Smith asked to reduce the ratio of for-sale homes to 25%, arguing that potential buyers would have trouble securing mortgages.
Today, 327 homes are planned for Sheridan Station, just 80 of which will be for sale with the rest for rent. Of the remaining 247 units, 200 will be affordable, and 100 are set aside for households on the public housing waiting list. Priority will go to residents of Sheridan Terrace, which used to occupy the site, and Barry Farm next door, which will be redeveloped in 2016.
New residents are hopeful, but anxious
James grew up in the neighborhood and lived in Sheridan Terrace, the public housing complex that predates Sheridan Station, in the 1980s. The units were falling apart. "I came home one day from work and the ceiling was on the floor," he said. Hazardous building conditions and street crime precipitated the departure of hundreds of families.
James, a resident of Sheridan Station, has been watching the quick rise of an entirely new neighborhood yards from the Anacostia Metro station. Photos by the author.
I ran into James, who is wheelchair-bound, while recently surveying Sheridan Road. When housing became available in the first phase of Sheridan Station, he was able to secure a unit due to his sister's network.
"I've been coming out here everyday just to watch," James said. "It's about time they started. They never said why it took so long to begin. They blamed the weather. People began putting pressure on them and asking questions. There's more demand for housing than there is supply. This looks like it is decent housing." He pointed out a building and said once completed he would be moving to the first floor.
Market-rate homeowners are excited about the development too.
Darin Tuggle, an attorney for the Department of Housing and Urban Development Chris Miller, a 29-year-old business consultant, saw the signage for Sheridan Station on Suitland Parkway while commuting from Upper Marlboro. "When I decided to purchase a home, I looked at various neighborhoods but the rapid rise in prices in more 'trendy' neighborhoods priced me out," he says. Sheridan Station won him over with the proximity to Metro and the views of downtown DC.
"After moving in, I switched from driving to work to taking the Metro," he says. "The commute has been a big quality of life upgrade for me."
Chris Miller, a 29-year-old business consultant Darin Tuggle, an attorney for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says he loves the "great urban neighborhood vibe and look" of the street where his new home is. "We are a microcosm of the city, young, less young, professional, artistic, black, white, Hispanic, foreign-born, single, couples, inter-racial," he says. Miller looks forward to the area becoming more walkable and getting a grocery store.
But there's been some tension between new residents and those who already lived in the area. Miller says kids have smashed his house windows three times, while neighbors have had their cars vandalized. "These incidents of vandalism can be attributed to some of the tension that existing members of the community feel towards the new development," says Tuggle.
Is this a sign of change, or more of the same?
Sheridan Station serves as a preview of future development east of the river, from the reconstruction of Barry Farm to Skyland Town Center, the 11th Street Bridge Park, and Saint Elizabeths East Campus. But in contrast to the splashy opening of Sheridan's first phase, the groundbreaking and construction of Sheridan's second and third phases have gone on quietly. At a press conference earlier this month, Mayor Gray highlighted his outgoing administration's commitment to developing affordable housing, but did not mention Sheridan Station.
William C. Smith's uneven promotion of for-sale units led homeowners to speculate that the development's initial goals would never happen. "I had to look for Sheridan Station; it didn't look for me," says Tuggle, noting that he'd received ads for other new developments in the area, like Arts District Hyattsville and Dakota Crossing.
He and other homeowners only found out recently there were only 20 homes for sale in the development's last phase, with the rest being rentals. "[My neighbors] had advised friends and associates that there would be a lot more opportunities to buy in the last phase," he says.
Furthermore, many public housing tenants I've spoken with express a fear that when the new buildings are filled with disparate families from various public housing developments, long-standing feuds, similar to the Hatfields and McCoys, may erupt.
Although private investment has hesitated to cross the Anacostia River, long-term residents point to developments like this, as well as the new schools and recreation centers that have been built recently, as infallible evidence of "the Plan," which seeks to make the area attractive to a new demographic who will displace them. But Sheridan Station and its inability to deliver a mixed-income neighborhood as first promised illustrates the tenuousness of the "new Ward 8," as Councilmember Marion Barry calls it.
The need for tenant and workforce housing in Ward 8 is overwhelming. Despite Sheridan Station's success in attracting affluent professionals, the continued concentration and retrenchment of disadvantaged people in this area has the potential to suppress the economy of communities east of the river for yet another generation.
The owners of the Prince George's County land where Landover Mall used to sit are lobbying to locate the FBI headquarters there rather than near the Greenbelt or Franconia-Springfield Metro stations. But a site not easily accessible by Metro isn't the best location for the FBI.
While building the project in Landover might be cheaper to start, the long-term costs to local governments and regional workers, including added traffic and longer commutes, would be far, far higher.
Prince George's Metro stations are the least used in the system (averaging 4,716 daily boardings per station in 2012, compared with 8,478 systemwide). While other counties promoted walkable development around their stations to maximize their investment in Metro, most Prince George's stations remain isolated parking lots with little or nothing to attract activity and train rides.
Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.
- A new bill would ban cycling or Segway riding on DC sidewalks next to bike lanes
- After more crashes, DDOT pledges to remove Arkansas Avenue's rush hour lane
- Norfolk's light rail choice: Embrace the city, or follow the highway?
- Landover is not the place for the FBI
- Not just a phase: Young Americans won’t start motoring like their parents
- Is Sheridan Station a sign of change east of the river, or more of the same?
- Here's what will (hopefully) happen in DC transportation over the next two years
by Kenneth Carroll on Is Sheridan Station a sign of change east of the river, or more of the same?
by Crickey7 on Breakfast links: Civic duty
by CyclistinAlexandria on Breakfast links: Civic duty