Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category Roads

People walking and biking will get a new connection from L'Enfant Plaza to the waterfront

At the south end of the L'Enfant Promenade is a circle, Banneker Circle, atop a hill overlooking the waterfront. Unfortunately, the only way to get down to the water on foot or by bike requires a circuitous and unpleasant route. That will soon change.

Conceptual rendering of a connection from the SW Ecodistrict Plan. Image from NCPC.

Today, there is a narrow and cheaply-built path that cuts diagonally over to the intersection of 9th Street and Maine Avenue. People bicycling can either take that or ride along a road that feels a bit like a highway off-ramp to 9th Street. This makes people go fairly far out of the way, especially for those who want to then go north along the waterfront.

Banneker Circle and Banneker Park. Images via NPS unless otherwise noted.

As part of its package of amenities to get zoning approval, the Wharf project will build a new, temporary, direct pedestrian connection. The connection will consist of stairs and a new at-grade crossing of Maine, but include an ADA ramp that will work for cyclists.

The scoping document for the environmental impact statement says,

The temporary project also includes landscaping, improvements to pedestrian crosswalks, lighting installation, universal accessibility, and stormwater management. The purpose of the project is to provide a safe, functional, and aesthetically pleasing pedestrian connection between the overlook at Banneker Park and southwest waterfront. The project is needed to improve urban connectivity by providing greater accessibility between the waterfront, Banneker Park, the National Mall, and surrounding areas.
There are two concepts for the project and, to me, the better of the two is a no-brainer.

Concept 1.

Concept 1 would try to create a direct path down the hill. This would require a switchback ramp and stairs down the hill from a point a little way from the bike/ped access to the Case Bridge, the bridge that takes I-395 over the Washington Channel.

Concept 2.

Concept 2 would build a curving connection directly from the Case Bridge access point along with an ADA compliant sidewalk on the east side. The west-side stairs would connect to a new signalized crossing of Maine Avenue.

Both projects include landscaping, crosswalk improvements, lighting and stormwater management.

Concept 2 is the better design because of the way it removes switchbacks, allowing for a more fluid connecton, and the way it connects into the Case Bridge access.

The design should include a curb ramp from the L'Enfant Plaza roadway, as well as a bicycle-friendly transition area where the three connections meet—one with lots of room and natural curves as opposed to sharp turns.

The path to Maine Avenue (left) and to the Case Bridge (right) have no curb ramps. Photos from Google Maps.

Right now, there is no curb ramp to get from the roadway to either the path down to Maine Avenue or the path to the Case Bridge; a cyclist riding on the wide, very low-traffic L'Enfant Promenade instead of the sidewalk then has to get over the curb to go on either path.

The stairs should also include a bike trough, the ramp next to steps that lets people walk their bikes up or down the stairs, and there should be signs directing users to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and East Potomac Park via the Case Bridge. Also, the sidewalk along the south side of the circle should be widened for trail traffic from the bridge to the "new ADA compliant ramp."

If only it would include a fix to the Case Bridge access that didn't require the ridiculous switchback that's there today.

In the long run, the National Capital Planning Commission's Southwest Ecodistrict vision includes completely redoing 10th Street from a wide, empty promenade into a street with pedestrian activity, green plots, and festivals. That plan calls for completely redoing Banneker Park into a usable park instead of a traffic circle atop an empty hill. That redesigned park would also let people on foot and bike connect more directly to Maine Avenue and the waterfront.

The National Park Service will host a meeting on this project on August 11th, 6-8pm at the Wharf offices, 690 Water Street, SW and they will be accepting comments on the scoping document until September 2nd.

A version of this post was originally posted on TheWashCycle.

A senseless skirmish in Toronto is a welcome reminder to share street space

Two people in Toronto, one on foot and one on a bike, recently got into a fight after nearly colliding. The altercation happened on a street that's supposed to give pedestrians and cyclists their own dedicated lanes, and is a reminder of how important it is to share space.

A video posted by the Toronto Star shows the two men exchanging words before throwing punches, with the one on foot saying the one on a bike almost ran him over.

The video is barely more than a minute long, and we don't know what happened before the camera started rolling. But it's safe to say that the tension was at least partially rooted in a universal dilemma: on crowded city streets, pedestrians and cyclists have to vie for space.

Queens Quay. Photo by Waterfront Toronto.

The incident happened on Queens Quay, which runs along Toronto's waterfront and opened with space for pedestrians, cyclists, streetcars and automobiles in June. While local blogs have widely lauded the design, they have also noted its unique challenges.

"It seems that drivers, pedestrians and cyclists aren't heeding the standard signs, signals and line painting that are there to guide them through the street's new intersections and driveways," wrote Waterfront Toronto, the agency responsible for the street, in a recent post. "So, we're working on a few small changes to make these cues even more clear and to make the street as safe as possible."

We face similar issues in Washington

While our region continues to build more protected bike lanes that separate cyclists from cars and pedestrians, things can still get tense. For example, mid-block crossings by pedestrians have plagued cyclists using the protected bike lane on M Street NE, something that Twitter users hope new green paint will help deter.

It's always good to remind one another that whether we're on foot or on a bike (or using any other mode of transportation), respecting each other's space can help us avoid altercations like the one in Toronto. The video above is a good reminder of what can happen when we forget this.

Empty bikeshare stations don't always mean long waits

When a bikeshare station is empty, or an app tells you it's only got a bike or two left, should you just try another station? In both cases, waiting it out is often the best bet for getting a bike most quickly.

Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

A team of data scientists at TransitScreen recently put some thought into how to make information about bikeshare more helpful. Rather than just showing "0 bikes" at an empty station, for example, we wondered whether we could predict how long you would wait to get a bike at that station.

Using Capital Bikeshare data from 2012 through 2014, we calculated the probability of the bike count increasing or decreasing within five minutes. We did this for each station, then we smoothed this probability across hours, days, and months.

We looked at five different stations where more than 10 bikes per hour were turning over, but ended up looking most closely at the Thomas Circle station at 14th & M St NW. This 33-dock station was particularly interesting since its place on a border between residential and commercial neighborhoods leads to rapid turnover throughout the day.

We noticed the wait was most predictable at bikeshare stations that see a lot of turnover, like Thomas Circle. When that's the case, it's highly likely a bike will be available within a reasonable amount of time (even if you're in a hurry). And when there aren't many bikes left at a station, there's still a good chance that one will be available within a given five minute stretch.

If it's rush hour, waiting is a good call

Imagine you're working near Thomas Circle and looking to run an errand at 5 pm on a Tuesday. You rush over to the bikeshare station only to find it empty. What should you do?

The data shows that if you wait for five minutes, there is a 50% chance a bike will appear. Considering how long it might take to walk to the next-closest station, five minutes might not be so bad!

If the same situation came up at 1 pm, however, you'd only have a 20% chance of getting a bike within five minutes. Waiting would probably be a waste of time, and you might want to find another bikeshare station (or choose another transportation mode altogether).

Chance of bikes appearing within five minutes at different times of day. The station is Thomas Circle, the time is a weekday during May. Graphs from TransitScreen.

It's rare for a station to go from having few bikes to actually having zero

Let's say that next week, at the same time, you check an app like TransitScreen before leaving your building. This time, the dock isn't empty...but it only has one bike.

What's the chance there won't be any bikes left after the five minutes it takes you to walk there? It turns out even at the busiest time, evening rush, it's still 60% likely a bike will still be there when you arrive.

Chance of a single bike remaining after 5 minutes at different times of day. Station is Thomas Circle, time is a weekday during May.

Similar ideas hold for returning bikes to full stations

It's not uncommon for people to get "dockblocked," which is when you go to return a bikeshare bike but the station is full.

Anecdotally, this seems even more common than people waiting at empty stations. It's possible that's because it's just easier to see a person waiting with a bike rather than one who is empty-handed. It could also be that people who need to return bikes are willing to wait longer because they've just finished a ride and they're feeling tired.

Either way, like with empty stations, we predict that in a lot of cases, it makes sense to wait rather than find another station.

We can do similar studies for other stations

We used Thomas Circle as our example, but as long as it has open bikeshare data, we can study stations with high bike turnover in any city—New York, Boston, London, or Paris—With a combination of "big data" and data science, it turns out bikeshare systems are surprisingly predictable!

Three dockblocked riders patiently waiting in Dublin. Photo by Ryan Croft.

I'd like to thank Erin Boyle for doing the coding and analysis for our recent research. Dan Gohlke shared his CaBiTracker data store with us, and we used open source code from the Data Science for Social Good group.

Lousiana Avenue could get a protected bikeway

What's next for protected bikeways in DC? A few sections are in the works, including a connection from NoMA to Pennsylvania Avenue, a north-south bikeway downtown, and several other small connections as well as the next piece of the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

Area around Louisiana Avenue from the DC Bicycle Map.

At a recent meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Council, representatives of the District Department of Transportation announced that DDOT is working with the Architect of the Capitol and the ANC to extend the soon-to-be-completed protected bikeway on First Street NE from Union Station to the bikeway on Pennsylvania Avenue NW via Louisiana Avenue NE/NW.

The First Street NE extension to Union Station is almost done. Resurfacing will begin soon (if it's not already underway). After that, DDOT will install concrete blocks similar to those farther north.

When done, First Street will become a one-way street with a two-way protected bikeway where today motor vehicles are allowed to drive two directions for part of the road's length. The bikeway on this block will be two feet wider (10 feet) than on the sections farther north, as DDOT now views 10 feet as the minimum for such facilities. There will be a loading zone on the opposite side of the street.

DDOT has been meeting with the Architect of the Capitol, local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, and Councilmember Charles Allen's staff to discuss extending the bikeway further south, along Louisiana Avenue, where it would connect to Pennsylvania Avenue via either First or Third streets.

Discussions are preliminary and no alternatives have been defined yet, but the response has been mostly positive. One potential roadblock is that the design will likely require removing parking along Louisiana. Parking is under the purview of the Senate's Sergeant at Arms, not the AOC, and they are concerned about the loss of parking. But if all goes well, work could begin next year.

Senate parking on Louisiana Avenue. Image from Google Maps.

A north-south bikeway through downtown

The East End Bikeway would be a mile-long north-south bikeway on the east side of downtown. Studies are continuing for this project. DDOT planners have collected data on traffic volume, parking, transit use, land use etc. They have also been reaching out to stakeholders, especially churches, to address concerns early.

They'd like to have a public meeting on it soon, perhaps September, and present alternatives. There will be choices about designs and about which street(s) to use.

Area around downtown from the DC Bicycle Map.

4th and 8th have been ruled out, but they may get bike lanes. On other streets, the options are a one-way protected bikeway on each side of the street; a bi-directional bikeway on one side; or a pair of one-way bikeways on adjacent streets such as 5th and 6th.

They hope to have the 30% design completed by the end of the year, with installation to start next spring.

What else?

DDOT has only installed about two miles of bike lanes so far this year. Bike planners have been busy filling small gaps. Those are nearly as much work as longer lanes, but with less mileage. Still, DDOT planners think they're critical pieces which will pay off.

They've installed a couple of small bike lane sections on 2nd and 3rd streets NE near Rhode Island Avenue; bike lanes and sharrows on 49th street NE; a pair of one-way bike lanes on Galveston and Forrester Streets SE; and one-block sections on 4th and 6th NE near Stanton Park. They plan to do the same thing on 11th and 13th near Lincoln Park too.

19th Street NE/SE on Capitol Hill got a bike lane and sharrows. This project was originally going to be a complete rebuild of the street, but became restriping only.

Area around the northern Met Branch Trail from the DC Bicycle Map.

Design and community outreach is underway on the north section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail. DDOT planners are meeting with community groups, taking soil borings near the trash transfer station and the Metro tunnel, and working on the 30% design, which they hope to complete this year. The stickier sections are where the trail crosses Riggs Road and the area near the Brookland Metro entrance. They hope to start construction in 2017.

Finally, DDOT and DPW are creating a snow clearing plan for bridges for next winter. Last year no one was responsible for the 14th Street Bridge so it wasn't cleared. They are trying to prioritize bridge sidewalks for clearing and then DPW and DDOT are dividing up responsibilities, so that every bridge will eventually get service.

A version of this post was originally posted on TheWashCycle.

Old Lee Highway could become Fairfax's most bike-friendly street

Old Lee Highway in Fairfax City might soon become a lot more walkable and bikeable. That would mean more foot traffic in downtown Fairfax and more people using bikes to travel to residential and transportation hubs around the county.

Old Lee Highway. Base image from Google Maps.

Old Lee Highway spans from Old Town Fairfax to Fairfax Circle, one of the city's main commercial areas. It's home to a number of community destinations, including several schools, churches, the Blenheim Interpretive Museum, and Van Dyck Park, one of Fairfax City's largest parks.

But Old Lee Highway also caters to cars. At its commercial ends, Old Lee Highway has four lanes. At its residential heart, it has two. At one time the city had planned to widen the entire stretch of Old Lee to four lanes, and it acquired the right-of-way and paved the area for that purpose at several segments.

The result is a widely varying road width that leads to people driving too fast and then needing to decelerate, which is confusing, and potentially dangerous. That makes it hard to use the street if you're on foot or bike.

Old Lee Highway between Route 236 and Route 29 might look a lot different soon.

A a $60,000 grant from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' Transportation and Land Use Connections program let Fairfax hire a consultant to look into how to make Old Lee a more complete street. In early July, the city's transportation director presented preliminary design concepts to the mayor and city council.

Old Lee could get bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and calmer traffic

The proposed design would keep Old Lee Highway four lines wide on either end, and provide a uniform two-lane configuration at the residential segment. It would add bike lanes, landscaped buffers, and wider sidewalks throughout the entire street. A landscaped median would also go between the four-lane sections. Throughout, Old Lee's travel lanes would shrink from 12 to 11 feet.

Design concept for one segment of Old Lee Highway. Image from the City of Fairfax.

The proposed bike lane would run between Old Town and Fairfax Circle, connecting to the Cross-County Trail and to the Fairfax Connector trail, which connects to the Vienna Metro station.

For current residents of Country Club Hills, Old Lee Hills and Great Oaks, the three established neighborhoods along Old Lee, calming traffic by adding medians, widening side paths, narrowing travel lanes, and making crosswalks more visible would make walking and biking safer and more pleasant.

The changes would also help accommodate new residents in the area, as Fairfax Circle has been approved for a major mixed-use rezoning with more than 400 new residential units. Over 2,000 new residential units at Vienna MetroWest are just a five-minute bike ride to the north via the Fairfax Connector Trail.

Previous potential changes on Old Lee have fallen through

The plan to widen Old Lee to four lanes throughout was eventually abandoned because it didn't sit well with surrounding neighborhoods.

In 2005, Fairfax commissioned a study that recommended narrowing the street in its residential heart to a uniform two-lane configuration, widening the sidewalks and improving pedestrian crossings. Residents and civic associations did not wholeheartedly embrace that plan, and the transportation division and local elected leaders did not advance it.

Since then, the city has taken some steps to make Old Lee more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly. The city installed pedestrian-activated lights at the crosswalk near Fairfax High School, and striped bike sharrows in 2012.

Fairfax City now plans to do basic preliminary engineering to see how feasible the current concepts are. It will also hold more meetings to get residents' views on the plans. While the reception by the mayor and city council at the July work session was generally supportive, some councilmembers expressed concerns about ceding too much space to bicycling and pedestrian uses and cutting travel lane widths.

Moving forward with these changes will require sustained community support. Less ambitious projects in Fairfax City have foundered in the face of opposition by a vocal minority of residents.

It will take a lot of persistence from citizens and community groups to embolden the mayor and council to secure the needed funding and move forward with the plans for Old Lee.

Finally, the stop signs residents pushed for... along with some startling news

Residents near the intersections of Kansas Avenue and Quincy Street NW spent the last few years asking for four-way stop signs at the intersection. Recently, the intersection saw two traffic collisions on the same day. The stop signs followed soon after.

The new stop signs on Kansas Avenue NW. Image by the author.

Whether you were on foot, bike, or car, poor lines of sight made it very hard to cross Kansas via Quincy when there were no stop signs. In asking DDOT to install stop signs in every direction at the intersection, Petworth ANC commissioners noted that they were a feature at almost every other four-way stop in the area.

Still, DDOT representatives refused the neighborhood's requests for a long time, suggesting instead that the solution was to remove parking spaces to make it easier to see. Residents objected, saying doing so would both cut needed parking supply and entice people to drive faster on Kansas.

About a month ago, the community members turned up the pressure after yet another avoidable crash. On Saturday, July 11th, back-to-back collisions in the morning and afternoon prompted a deluge of neighborhood concern, expressed at the scenes of the crashes, over local listservs, and even in the Post.

The aftermath of the first July 11th crash. Image from a neighbor, who lives adjacent to the intersection.

Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, along with representatives from the mayor's office, the police department, and DDOT, were quick to pay attention. DDOT's representatives tracked traffic patterns and deployed a Traffic Control Officer.

On Thursday, July 16th, all-way stop signs went in at the intersection.

Neighbors are thrilled. People on foot no long have to detour around the intersection when walking with their children or pets, and drivers on Quincy have a much easier time crossing Kansas.

When it comes to traffic safety, there's still work to do

Because the second July 11th crash was less serious than the first, officers at the scene didn't file an official police report. When witnesses asked why, they learned that the Metropolitan Police Department doesn't require reports on some minor collisions.

Given that DDOT decision makers consider the number of reported crashes at an intersection in a 12-month period when weighing whether or not (PDF) to install an all-way stop, MPD's policy creates a dangerous information gap.

If crashes go unreported, are decisions that affect safety all that reliable? How many other intersections in DC meet the criteria for an all-way stop?

Which Metro parking lots fill up, and which don't

If you drive to a Metro station with parking after rush hour, are you likely to find the lot full, or be able to park? Here's a diagram to help you.

Image by Peter Dovak.

A Montgomery County couple that lives in a car-dependent area, but is interested in trying to use Metro, asked this question recently. They're not going to use it for commuting, but might go downtown mid-day. The rush will have ended, which also means some parking lots might fill up, and they don't want to go to a station only to find no spaces.

Unfortunately, Metro does not have a real-time tracker to tell riders (or potential riders) exactly how full a lot is at any given time. It would be great if an app could show you, but given everything WMATA has to do right now, it's also understandably perhaps not the top priority.

We can, however, get a good idea from historical information. Metro does track how many people pay to park at each lot. Sherri Ly, WMATA media relations manager, sent this June 2015 parking report. It gives the parking capacity for each station and also the "utlization," which is the number of people who paid to park per weekday, divided by the number of spaces.

The numbers are below, and Peter Dovak visualized this data in the above diagram. On the image, each circle's area is proportional to the number of spaces in the lot, and the colored inner circle's area is proportional to the average utilization for fiscal year 2015.

Lot CapacityPaid Utilization
Station/RegionJune 2015June 2014June 2015FY 2015 YTDJune 2014FY 2014 YTD

White Flint1,2701,27057%62%56%53%
Shady Grove5,7455,74591%85%91%86%
Forest Glen596596102%96%102%95%
Montgomery Total15,10115,10183%79%83%78%

New Carrollton3,5193,51991%81%90%84%
Addison Road1,2681,26851%50%51%48%
Capitol Heights37237289%80%89%80%
College Park1,8201,82066%55%66%57%
P.G. Plaza1,0681,06846%46%46%44%
West Hyattsville45345395%84%95%86%
Southern Avenue1,9801,98061%52%61%58%
Naylor Road368368107%98%107%100%
Suitland Garage1,8901,89067%61%67%60%
Branch Avenue3,0723,072103%94%102%94%
Morgan Blvd.60860889%88%89%84%
Prince George's Total24,38324,38369%69%77%71%
Maryland Total39,48439,48472%73%79%74%

Minnesota Ave.333333116%106%101%103%
Rhode Island Ave22122198%101%106%102%
Fort Totten408408107%110%115%100%
Anacostia Garage80880840%45%50%45%
District of Columbia Total1,9641,96474%76%79%73%

West Falls Church2,0092,00962%66%104%95%
Dunn Loring1,3261,32685%85%106%92%
Van Dorn St361361103%107%114%108%
East Falls Church422422120%117%126%120%
Wiehle-Reston East2,300100%82%
Northern VA Total20,27317,97381%79%91%85%
System Total61,72159,42175%75%83%77%

Some lots show a utilization over 100%. That's because if someone parks in a station, then leaves, and another person pays to park in that same space, it counts as two people. For a lot that's totally full and has some turnover, the utilization can go over 100%.

Ly said that in the parking industry, an occupancy level of 90% is considered "full." Or to put it in terms that relate to riders, if a station is reliably over 90% filled, it's risky to try to park there unless you arrive early. Much lower, and there's a lot of space going unused, which is wasteful.

At stations that fill up, Metro and the area governments could look into ways to help more people reach the station other than by driving. At stations that don't, perhaps those are top spots to consider transit-oriented development on the parking lot, and where the developer doesn't need to rebuild as many spaces as there are today.

Metro is organizing a series of movie nights at Metro station parking lots, partly to engage with surrounding communities but also to bring attention to generally underused parking lots. Upcoming movie nights will be August 8 at West Falls Church, which Ly said "saw a drop-off in parking once the Silver Line opened," and August 22 at Twinbrook, both at 6:30 pm. Ly also said Metro will launch a campaign this fall to communicate where there is parking space in the Metro system.

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