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Bicycling


Copenhagen uses this one trick to make room for bikeways on nearly every street

I visited Copenhagen for the first time in June. I knew it was one of the bikiest cities in the world, but it's quite astounding to see what a place looks like where 52% of commuters travel by bike.


All photos by the author.

Almost every street has a type of protected bikeway. It's essentially a lane of the street but raised up with a small curb, low enough that vehicles can mount it but high enough to discourage that. (And generally, they don't.)

These are everywhere. It's not just the main streets or a few selected bike boulevards. Virtually every street of any appreciable size had one. It was almost strange to encounter a street with any traffic that didn't. The typical medium-sized street had two car lanes (one each way), two bike lanes of the same width (one each way), and a sidewalk on each side.

As an old city, the streets are fairly narrow (and, honestly, the sidewalks were pretty narrow and are made of cobblestones; it might be a bike mecca, but the walking experience could be better). So how can there be enough room?

Here's a picture. What do you notice that's missing?

If you said "on-street parking," you're right! As compared with most US cities which have parking on nearly every city street, Copenhagen has it on many smaller streets but far from all, and doesn't have it on most mid-sized and larger streets.

Could DC be like this?

There are some obstacles to DC having as much biking as Copenhagen (once again: 52% of commuters!) For one, our weather is both hotter and colder, and DC has more hills. Copenhagen is a smaller city, with about 2 million people in its metropolitan area versus 6 million for Washington.

Still, we can do so much better. We don't have to put a bikeway on every street, and maybe won't ever have the mode share to justify that, but there already is enough mode share to warrant a network of them connecting every neighborhood and spaced a certain distance in the city's core.


Instead of always blocking bikeways with construction, they keep the bikeways open!

More bikeways would also boost the amount of cycling; with DC's weather and topography we could easily double, triple, or quadruple the 2% of commuters bicycling (after all, 11% walk and they have to contend with the same weather!)

It's crazy that it takes years to build support for a protected bikeway on even one street. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) built only 0.14 miles of protected bikeways and 4.28 miles of other bike lanes in 2015.


A few streets also do have on-street parking as well, but it's uncommon.

The MoveDC plan calls for 7.5 miles a year of bike lanes. New York built 12.4 miles of protected bikeways in 2015, and the city does have about 12 times as many people as DC proper, but that means DC is still falling short by a factor of about seven.

It's certainly true there are political obstacles to changing even a single parking space into something else, but there's a simple political solution as well: do it differently.


Copenhagen is building a new bike/ped bridge next to an existing one, because the existing one has too much bicycle traffic.

Compared to many other US cities like Orlando and Cleveland, DC is doing great on transit, on bicycling, on walking. We shouldn't forget how far we've come, either; DC had zero protected bikeways until 2009. But go around the world and it can easily become clear: we also could do so, so much better.

Government


Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, explained

DC has a small, hyperlocal form of government called Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. Commissioners, who are elected by their neighbors, help with neighborhood problems and weigh in on how places should (or shouldn't) change, but can't actually make laws or regulations. Still, despite having little formal power, ANCs have a lot of influence over how the District does or doesn't change.


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

What are Advisory Neighborhood Commissions?

Each Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) represents a region in each of DC's eight Wards. Within each ANC, commissioners are elected to two-year terms to represent Single Member Districts (SMDs) of approximately 2000 residents. A commission can have anywhere from two SMDs (which would mean two commissioners) to twelve. ANCs are identified by their ward and a letter.

For example, I'm a commissioner in 7D, which is Ward 7's fourth (hence the letter D) ANC. I represent Single Member District 07, which covers neighborhoods called Paradise and Parkside. Some commissions represent a single community, such as 2B, which is the Dupont Circle ANC, whereas others, like my own, represent a number of neighborhoods.

Commissioners come from a variety of backgrounds. Some, like myself, are relative newcomers recruited by community leaders to serve their neighborhood while others have lived in their neighborhoods their whole lives. Even within a single ANC, commissioners can be very diverse; my own commission includes a teacher, a lawyer, government contractors, and a lifelong community advocate.

On the map below, the yellow lines represent DC's wards, the thick red lines represent the ANCs within them, and the thin red lines represent the SMDs that make up each ANC.


A map of DC's Wards and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. Ward 7 ANCs are tinted blue, ANC 7D is green, and Single Member District 07 is highlighted in red. Map by the author. Data from DC Open Data.

ANCs weigh in on many of the decisions that the District's governing bodies make. For example, many ANCs wrote letters to the Office of Planning with comments or proposed amendments for the zoning code re-write, and most restaurants work out agreements with the ANCs on things like when they'll be open and whether they can play live music in exchange for ANC support of their liquor license applications. Commissioners can also offer resolutions and testify before the DC Council.

In practice, beyond laws about liquor licenses or zoning, government agencies consult ANCs as a way to get community buy-in for a project. For example, the District Department of Transportation often presents new plans to the public at ANC meetings, giving the community a chance to weigh in and provide feedback. Recently, ANC 6B worked with DDOT to get a pedestrian crosswalk on 11th Street SE between I and M Streets, and ANC 2B urged DDOT to reopen a bike lane at 15th and L which is closed due to construction.

Also, developers pitching new projects often seek ANC approval before going before the Zoning Commission or Board of Zoning Adjustment, as ANCs get a say with these agencies (more on that below…). The result of these interactions is often a contract between a developer and the neighborhood, called a Community Benefits Agreement.

Commissions can also provide avenues for greater community involvement and input by establishing committees that focus on certain issues, like transportation or planning and zoning.

What kind of authority do ANCs have?

The type of authority that ANCs have can vary. In some cases, they have legal standing. ANCs are automatically granted "party status" before the Zoning Commission, the Board of Zoning Adjustment, and the Alcohol License Review Board for new businesses and developments in their communities. Party status gives commissions easier access to information, notifications about upcoming hearings, and the right to cross examine participants.


Bars in DC often work with ANCs on things like hours of operation in exchange for the ANC's endorsement. Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.

In other areas, commissions can only make recommendations that city agencies have to give "great weight" to when making decisions. Great weight requires a government agency to respond, in writing, to concerns raised by a commission. While great weight demands that agencies explain their course of action, it doesn't actually require an agency to change its course of action.

Common critiques and shortcomings of the ANC system

ANC commissioners have complained that they are not given satisfactory explanations when agencies don't follow their recommendations; some commissioners say it's not uncommon for agency contacts to flat-out ignore them. Commissions have very few legal options to compel an agency to respond to their requests.

As a result, much of a commissioner's power is informal, coming from relationships built with government agencies, DC Council members, and the mayor's office. A motivated and skilled commissioner can draw district government attention to a neighborhood and even motivate agencies to bring resources to bear to solve a problem.

However, ANCs also reflect many of the inequalities and inequities of life in DC. Some commissions benefit from well-educated, well-connected commissioners who can afford to take days off work to testify at DC Council hearings, lobby agencies for action, and develop an in-depth understanding of how policy issues impact their community. Less wealthy communities do not necessarily have the privileges of as spare time and plenty of social capital. This places less affluent communities at a disadvantage when negotiating with developers or engaging with governmental agencies.

Commissions are also somewhat under-resourced. At most, a commission can afford to hire one part-time staff member, who usually acts as an office manager and assists commissioners with logistics, and supporting commissioners as they address concerns raised by the community.

In some cases, commissions have been accused of simply holding up any possible neighborhood change. For example, commissions have often devoted considerable time internally negotiating relatively minor adjustments projects. For example a commission can delay new development projects for months if not years. Such delays can be frustrating in a city like DC with a rapidly growing population and rapidly growing rents.

But ANCs can also positively weigh in on big neighborhood or citywide controversies by being thoughtful instead of knee-jerk. For the Hine project in ANC 6B, where a former junior high school is turning into a mixed-use development, the commission put together a task force that weighed the various interests really well and advocated for improvements instead of simply saying "no." Another example of 6B actively engaging is that with the zoning update, the commission studied and made smart suggestions while being supportive overall.

At the end of the day, ANCs matter

The fact that ANCs don't have formal power, plus that they can differ so much across the District, has led to some debates about the system's value. Some say ANCs should gain legislative powers and become a house of representatives for the District. Others say the whole system should be abolished since all it does is let hyperlocal politics trump good public policy by slowing things down.

No matter what you may think about these commissions, they do have influence over whether and how our neighborhoods will change and grow. Their importance in what gets built and what kinds of businesses can operate in the area means that they have influence in the community.

District residents should pay attention to what their ANC commissioners are saying in their name. At the end of the day, ANCs are supposed to represent the community's interests but they can only do that if the community pays attention to what they are doing.

You've got a chance to vote for your ANC commissioner this fall. Want to read and evaluate your candidates? Read candidate responses to Greater Greater Washington's ANC questionnaire here and learn where your commissioners (or potential commissioners) stand on important issues.

Bicycling


How Barcelona gets bicycling right

This summer I spent a few days in Barcelona on vacation. What I found there is a city built for people who ride bikes and car-free tourism that would be welcome here at home.


Bikeshare station with moped parking at Placa de Catalunya. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Bikes are everywhere in Barcelona. Family members who had visited before told me it's the best way to see the city, so my friends and I rented bikes for two days rather than taking public transit, taxis, or organized bus tours.

Renting the bikes was simple—there are numerous rental shops as well as bike share stations, the latter requiring sign up similar to Capital Bikeshare.

A very popular destination are the city's picturesque beaches. Riding a bike there, and everywhere, you quickly notice is that there are lots of marked bike lanes that share the road with cars and bikeways that are totally separated and shared only with pedestrians.


Left: A separated bikeway and pedestrian strip. Markings, signal and signs visible. Right: A protected bike lane with marking and bicycle traffic light ahead.

This makes riding a bike feel very safe, which is probably why it is rare to see people wearing helmets. On the beach, the pedestrian and bike path is plenty wide to accommodate everyone, even at the busiest times. Finding a bike rack there as well as everywhere else in the city is also a breeze, with some located right on the boardwalk leading onto the sand.


Bike parking in front of Antonio Gaudi's Casa Batllo.

At the Arc de Triomf and neighboring Ciutadella Park, wide sidewalks and dedicated bike lanes make getting around easy, fast and safe. In the Gothic District, typically narrow one way streets in the oldest part of town mean that biking and walking are the only fast way to get around.

The only place you have to get off your bike (which is very much worth doing!) is the the famous La Rambla, the main street in the old town. The reason you have to dismount is not cars or buses, but throngs of people. La Rambla is not a pedestrian only mall, like those in many downtowns around the US and world, because it has one lane on each side for car traffic but it has a wide strip in the middle reserved for foot traffic, of which there is plenty.

In the photo below, the car lanes are visible on each side, along with the Metro entrance located at the end of La Rambla. During our visit, we didn't go into the underground, but Metro stops were plentiful and well-marked.


The north end of La Rambla. Metro station in foreground.

Nearly seven miles of bike riding made it clear that bike is the best way to get around Barcelona. We encountered some road construction with clearly marked the detours for cyclists and cars alike, showing that both are valued and considered during traffic disruptions. We also saw the Barcelona tram, which made me think about the multiple modes you could easily use in the city.


One of Barcelona's trams.

By bike, you can also get to the Montjuic Castle and the old Olympic Stadium, which are on a hill overlooking the city. Bikeways and connecting bike lanes along the beach make for a quick ride with plenty of sightseeing. Instead of climbing the hill to the castle, you can ride the Teleferic de Montjuic—a gondola operated by the same company that runs the Metro and bus service (fare system is separate for the gondola though).

In this instance, a gondola seemed like the perfect mode to take you to the top and back quickly and efficiently. It also gives riders an amazing panoramic view of the city and a cyclist time to rest the legs.

On the way to return our rentals we enjoyed more sights and sounds of the city. At this point, you notice that most car traffic was fairly confined to a few large boulevards, and in those places room is almost always reserved on the side or in the middle for bikeways and walkways. The central gathering places for people almost always seem to be planned around bikes and pedestrians, with cars being an afterthought.


Image from Google Maps.

In Barcelona, it was obvious that planning for bike riders, giving wide sidewalks to pedestrians, and connecting all those facilities with well marked and signaled infrastructure encouraged people to use those modes. Combining that with mass transit like a subway, light rail, or buses (even gondola, where it's useful!) can get people moving effectively and create more livable and beautiful city landscapes.

In a lot of our region's densely-populated areas already have bike lanes, but there isn't always separation from car traffic. And that's what makes the biggest difference. In Barcelona, it feels as though all but the busiest streets are for bikes and people rather than just cars.

Bicycling


Until someone cleans up this landfill, people are taking a shortcut. Can we make the shortcut better?

A new segment of the Anacostia River Trail takes a long route through the Kenilworth area. A second segment will go straight up the river, but work on it can't start until the National Park Service cleans up the land, where illegal dumping was once allowed. People are using a shortcut in the meantime, and there are ways to make it shorter and easier to use.


New segment of the Anacostia River Trail. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

The new, four-mile long segment will create the first connection between two key trail systems: Maryland's Anacostia Tributary Trail System, which is a 24-mile-long network of six trails that connects Silver Spring, Greenebelt, College Park, Bladensburg, Adelphi Park, and the District; and the District's Anacostia River Trail, which runs along both banks of the Anacostia River, from Pennsylvania Avenue to Benning Road.

South of Pennsylvania Avenue, the trail connects to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which runs along both banks all the way to South Capitol Street, with a connection to the Southwest Waterfront. This new segment finally creates a continuous trail the length of the Anacostia to the river's source in Hyattsville.

Since early 2014, construction crews have been working on on the new segment that will create a connected network of nearly 70 miles of trail. The project has been broken up into two phases. The first phase, which is the purple dotted line on the map below, connects Benning Road with Bladensburg but uses the longer eastern route, meant to connect the Mayfair nieghborhood (which is located between the river and the Anacostia Freeway) to the trail and the river.

The second phase, which is the the white line, will create an alternative route along the river in DC's Kenilworth Park, with a connection to a new bike and pedestrian bridge across the river to the National Arboretum. Work on the second phase will start once part of Kenilworth Park gets cleaned up. In the meantime, many trail users have been taking the shortcut illustrated by the green line.


Kenilworth Trail Segment Map courtesy of DDOT

Kenilworth Park, which sits between the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and an old power plant, started out as a tidal marsh that the Army Corps of Engineers later filled in. It served for decades as the Kenilworth Open Burning Landfill, DC's principal solid waste dump. Shortly after home rule, it became a sanitary landfill before closing in 1970. The site was subsequently covered with soil, revegetated, and reclaimed for recreational purposes.


Kenilworth Park Landfill Site courtesy of NPS

Mystery Mountain

In 1997, the National Park Service (NPS) allowed two contractors to dump an estimated half-million tons of waste on the Kenilworth South site, the portion in the map above that is south of Watts Branch, an Anacostia tributary stream.

So much debris came in that a pile 26 feet high went up on 15 acres of land, and locals dubbed it "Mystery Mountain." The second phase of the new trail is supposed to run overland impacted by Mystery Mountain.

The cleanup is still years away

Despite an NPS statement that the site would be addressed as early as 2001, it still has not been cleaned up. The agency put together a feasibility study and plan for the cleanup in 2012-2013, but has since indicated that it will restart the process because subsequent studies show that less work is needed. This means that neither the cleanup nor construction of the second phase of the trail will happen any time soon.

In the meantime, people have already started using the new trail segment. Since it doesn't take a direct route through Kenilworth Park, users have been cutting through a long-closed section of Deane Avenue and a short construction drive to travel directly to where the trail rejoins the river. Unfortunately, Deane, while passable, is significantly degraded, and furthermore, it's blocked at Watts Branch. The construction road's surface is even worse.


Construction road connecting Deane Avenue to the Trail.

The District Department of Transportation's Anacositia Waterfront Initiative project is building the new segment instead of the the usual Bicycle Program staff, and it's doing so with the approval and partnership of NPS. It is set to officially open soon, and users are likely to keep taking the Deane Avenue route until the second phase is complete. A great next step for DDOT and NPS would be for the agencies to make the shortcut a formal, temporary route.

Until NPS finally cleans the park up and the second phase can go in, there's a lot that the trail partners can do, if NPS will allow it, to make a shortcut like this more useful for people looking for a direct path. Separating the concrete barriers that block the road at Watts Branch to create a gap large enough for cyclists and pedestrians to pass through would be a great first step.


Barricades on old Deane Avenue over Watts Branch.

Also, paving or repaving an 8-10 foot wide section of Deane Avenue through the park, as well as the construction road, and adding signs along the routes, would make the trail far more useful, especially for those using it for transportation.

Pedestrians


Missing sidewalks? There's an app for that

Something as simple as a missing sidewalk ramp can make an entire block of sidewalk out of reach to someone who can't step up onto a curb. Inaccessible sidewalks are all over DC, and researchers at the University of Maryland created a tool for pointing them out. Now, they just need you to help them do it.


If you use a wheelchair or a walker, how are you supposed to get around here? Image from Google Maps.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires governments to build sidewalks in a way that makes them accessible to everyone. But since the law passed in 1990, many city sidewalks and intersections may not have been redesigned. With no safe way to walk from one place to another, many people simply won't travel on foot, while others may have to take a longer or more dangerous route to get to where they are going.

Project Sidewalk, from the University of Maryland's Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), is a tool that uses Google Streetview to rate whether sidewalks are useable by people who may have difficulty getting around on foot. That includes the elderly, children, and people with disabilities.


Rate this intersection for its accessiblity. Screenshot from author.

When you use the tool, you see a specific intersection in a DC neighborhood, and you rate it as passable, impassable, or somewhere in between. You can dive right into the work and let the program choose a street for you or you can sign up as a user which lets you track your own progress and choose which neighborhoods you want to audit.

Some intersections may be more passable on one side than the other. Other intersections may be technically passable because there's a sidewalk ramp, but an obstacle like a utility pole may block the way. You can also note places where the sidewalk is missing or the surface is so poor that it might as well be impassable.


An okay intersection. Green circles are passable while the pink one is not. Screenshot by author.

With the data that the project collects, the District Department of Transportation or other transportation planners around the world (the goal is to launch in other cities soon, and not just in the US) see where neighborhoods' greatest needs are in terms of being accessible for everyone. That could mean quick, small fixes, where repairing one part of a network would have a big impact.

I have audited two sections so far, each 1,000 feet long. In Spring Valley in DC's northwest quadrant, I audited 1,000 feet of roadway and found 13 passable intersections and 13 impassable intersections thanks to a lack of sidewalk ramps. On Girard Street in Brookland, I found 22 passable intersections, but at least two blocks lacked sidewalks despite having painted crosswalks once you got to an intersection.


Crosswalks but no sidewalks in Brookland. Screenshot by author.

Check out the site and tell us in the comments what sections you audited and what you noticed.

Roads


Pedestrian tunnels would not make DC's streets better for walking

DC is looking at ways to make city streets safer in and around Petworth and Brightwood. At least one neighborhood official thinks the best way to do that is to put pedestrians in tunnels—yes, tunnels. But tunnels make for longer trips for people on foot, can encourage crime, and don't really make dangerous streets any safer.


No. Photo by Matt Niemi on Flickr.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) put together the Rock Creek East Livability Study to come up with ideas and recommendations to improve safety and accessibility for streets in the area north of the Petworth Metro station, east of Rock Creek Park, and west of North Capitol Street.

These places are dense, walkable, and home to many people who do a lot of walking and biking. But they're also primarily designed for cars: the roads are wide, with intersection designs meant for fast turns that encourage drivers to look for gaps in traffic rather than crossing pedestrians.

The final results of the study came out in August, and they included suggestions for things like bike lanes, traffic calming, and intersection designs that are more pedestrian-focused. DDOT engineers hope that different street designs will bring driving speeds down and make people feel safer walking or biking in the neighborhood.

Two major traffic circles, Grant and Sherman, got special treatment in the study. Right now, both have two lanes for cars and none for bikes. Petworth residents have long complained about speeding through the circles and how it makes crossing them on foot to go straight across a dicey proposition. DDOT looked at traffic volumes and determined that each circle could probably stand to have only one driving lane, which would mean room for bike lanes and shorter crosswalks.


Grant Circle Today. Better parking, bike lanes, and wider sidewalks are proposed. Image from Google Maps.

An ANC commissioner says tunnels would be better

Petworth Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C commissioner Talib-Din Uqdah is not a fan of the plan. He thinks the ideas proposed as a result of the study would negatively affect traffic in the area too much. In an attempt to explain to Petworth News' Drew Schneider that he is concerned about the dangers pedestrians face, he suggested that DDOT should dig tunnels underneath Grant Circle for pedestrians to use:

Since I'm now living in a city nostalgic for days past—street cars and "barn-dancing" (sic) at downtown intersections—why don't we consider bringing back the underground walkways that would take you from one side of a busy street, intersection or "circle," to another?

Coming up in the 50's and 60's, the city's earlier solution for pedestrian safety was to construct these underground walkways many of us used. I believe they are all closed-off now, Dupont Circle being the exception...Just something to think about—a win-win for the pedestrian and above ground modes of travel—cost should not be a consideration; all what price do we put on safety?

Here are the problems with pedestrian tunnels

It might seem like tunnels (and bridges) are a no-brainer way to get people across busy streets. There are, after all, places where they do just that, like on trails that cross over rail lines or interstates. But by and large, there are very good reasons for not making them part of our cities.


This pedestrian bridge over I-495 in Annandale makes sense. But over city streets? Not so much. Image from Google Streetview.

Simply re-routing people away from one or two intersections certainly doesn't mean dangerous driving will stop (it could increase since there'd be even fewer people around), and there are still plenty of other people crossing the streets that don't have tunnels.

Meanwhile, simple physics says that with a tunnel, you not only have to walk the distance to your destination, but also up or down the equivalent of a story. It also seems perverse to make walking harder and more inconvenient under the pretext of keeping people safe, especially when other safe options do the same job with less effort.

Moreover, unless you are talking about a lot of pedestrians using a particular tunnel at all hours, you have to deal with other safety concerns about potential crime. Tunnels and bridges that are out of the way of police cars driving by make many people feel unsafe and loathe to use a particular piece of infrastructure. If people feel unsafe walking down a dark tunnel alone at night, they'll decide to take their chances with speeding cars.

And despite Mr. Uqdah's assertion that "cost should not be a consideration" that is simply not true. DDOT and the city certainly do not have unlimited funds, and tunnels of any type are very expensive.


Randolph Street in Petworth. Photo by Rob on Flickr

Traffic calming helps drivers too

Another bad assumption is that traffic calming is just frustrating drivers for the sake of helping others feel good. That's simply not true. Reduced collision rates on calm streets are an obvious benefit for drivers.

Meanwhile, the fears that slower speeds (which usually just brings things down to the speed limit) just lead to increased congestion have not been borne out across the city.

Time and time again, it has been clear that a low-cost solution like traffic calming has great results for everyone when they travel, whether it's on foot or by car. We should get away from the assumption that a tunnel or bridge is far safer than the street.

Something as simple as walking around the neighborhood should not involve elaborate infrastructure plans. Walking is good for people as individuals, it's good for the city, it's good for business, and it's good for a safe and vibrant city. If people do not want to walk because they feel unsafe on the street, then it's going to be very hard to convince them to walk somewhere else.

Suggesting tunnels as a way to keep traffic moving implies that people on foot as mere obstacles for drivers. Tunnels would make the urban environment hostile to the people that live and work there.

Pedestrians


8 ways to make it easier to walk around North Bethesda... or anywhere, really

The North Bethesda neighborhood of White Flint is in the midst of transition from car-oriented suburb to a vibrant, mixed-use community. But the area still has a ways to go. Here are eight ways to make walking around White Flint safer and easier to walk around that wouldn't require major investments.


Rockville Pike. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

Around the Pike District, which is the area of White Flint near the Metro, there are a number of examples of how the built environment doesn't make it easy for people to get around on foot, which is increasingly common. There are six-lane roads with no crosswalks, places where people walk but there's no visible lighting, and crosswalk signals that simply don't turn on unless you hit a button.

These are some simple ways to make the Pike District more inviting to pedestrians:

1. Make it easier to see people who are walking

More lighting for sidewalks and crosswalks, clearly-visible crosswalks, and trimming trees and vegetation on drivers' sight lines would all make it easier for people driving and walking to see one another.

Drivers on Rockville Pike and on many of the major streets in the Pike District area aren't used to people walking alongside them. For decades, a pedestrian in that area was almost as rare as a really great $5 Bordeaux. For the cost of a bucket of paint, cool crosswalks would draw attention to the fact that people now walk in the Pike District. (They'd also add some much needed beauty and pizzazz.)


A decorative crosswalk in Los Angeles. Photo by NACTO on Flickr.

2. Make sure there are crosswalks on all sides at all intersections

When crosswalks are missing from one or more sides of an intersection, it forces people walking to go out of their way to cross in the existing crosswalks.

In reality, many people continue to use the most direct route to cross the intersection, only without the safety of a marked crosswalk and walk signal to alert drivers to their presence.


A missing crosswalk at MD-355 and Old Georgetown Road. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

Several intersections in the Pike District, where huge residential buildings have recently gone up, are missing crosswalks on one or more sides: Montrose Parkway and Towne (Hoya) Road, Nicholson Lane and MD-355, Grand Park Avenue at Old Georgetown Road, and MD-355 at Edson Lane.

3. Make pedestrian signals automatic

Beg buttons—so called because they require pedestrians to press them in order to receive a walk signal rather than providing one automatically with a green light—make walking more complicated and inconvenient.


Photo by Eric Fischer on Flickr.

Except for the intersection of Marinelli Road and Rockville Pike, all major intersections within the Pike District feature beg buttons in at least one direction.

Rather than actually making it easier to walk places, these buttons often cause confusion among pedestrians. Not realizing they must press the button to receive a walk signal, pedestrians often tire of waiting and cross against the signal, making things less safe for everyone.

While there's a lot that goes into making sure traffic flows smoothly, it costs nothing to flip the switch to make pedestrian signals automatic like they are in nearly every urban area.

4. Add places for people to wait in the median

Rockville Pike is wide: between six and eight lanes throughout the Pike District. For many, this distance can be too far to cover on foot in one light cycle. When that happens, people are stranded on a narrow concrete island between fast moving traffic.


A pedestrian refuge in Silver Spring. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

Pedestrian refuges provide a safe place for those who cannot cross the full distance in one turn. On Rockville Pike, they could be implemented in the short term by narrowing traffic lanes slightly at intersections and using that extra room to expand medians.


A tiny, insufficient pedestrian refuge at Marinelli Road and Rockville Pike. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

5. Make signs better

Improve signage so that drivers are more aware that pedestrians will be crossing the street and so that pedestrians know the safer places to cross. Wayfinding signs could be invaluable in directing people to cross where it's safest.

These following three projects are a bit more complicated and they be more expensive than the ones above, but they're doable if officials get started soon.

6. Eliminate slip lanes

Hot rights, or slip lanes, are dedicated right turn lanes at intersections that allow drivers to make the turn at higher speeds by reducing the angle of the turn versus a typical perpendicular intersection. It also allows cars to turn right without stopping, although they do need to yield to cars and pedestrians.


A slip lane at Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

Slip lanes make intersections less safe by placing walkers directly in the path of fast-moving cars and increasing the distance they must travel to cross the road.

7. Add mid-block crossings on really long blocks

Mid-block crossings are dedicated pedestrian crosswalks between signalized intersections on very long blocks. A crosswalk at Executive Boulevard and Rockville Pike by North Bethesda Market is just one place where a mid-block crosswalk would help.


A mid-block crossing in San Francisco. Photo by Eric Fredericks on Flickr.

8. Fill in missing sidewalks

Several areas of high-pedestrian traffic in the Pike District lack formal sidewalks, and instead have only well-worn dirt paths, or desire paths, that develop from foot traffic. Where there are desire paths, there should be real, paved sidewalks.


Desire path at SE corner of Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road. Photo by Jay Corbalis.

Around the Pike District, members of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Friends of White Flint, who teamed up to create the Pike District Pedestrian Safety Campaign, recently put up signs that point out the existing conditions.


Photo by the author.

The signs also invite people who walk in the area to share their own suggestions for making the Pike District more pedestrian-friendly on social media with the hashtag #pikepeds or at pikedistrictpeds.org.

Bicycling


A DC law that was terribly unfair to cyclists and pedestrians will soon be a thing of the past. Let's thank the DC Council.

Since the spring, the DC Council has been flirting with a bill that would end "contributory negligence," an unjust rule that keeps people who are hit when walking or biking from collecting medical costs from a driver's insurance. The bill officially passed on Tuesday. Please help us thank the legislators who made it happen.


Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

DC's "contributory negligence" rule says that if you're involved in a crash while traveling on foot or bike and even one percent at fault for what happened, you can't collect any damages. The Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2015 will do away with that rule, allowing people to collect damages as long as they were less than 50% at fault.

An earlier version of this bill came up two years ago, but fell apart at the last minute. The Council was set to vote on this one early in the summer, and while the vote did get delayed for two weeks, it passed its first reading in July. This week's vote was what's called the second reading, and the bill passed without debate.

This is very, very important

I had my own run-in with "contrib" when a minivan driver hit me, fracturing my pelvis and spraining my back, while I was riding my bike home from work in 2008. The driver's insurance denied my claim, saying that I had contributed to the crash. Instead of receiving a settlement proportional to my injuries and experience, I wound up in court.

I was extremely lucky that a pedestrian witnessed the crash and, over a year later, was willing to come to the Rockville District Court to testify on my behalf. I won a $30,000 judgement against the driver, which his insurance company paid. The amount was above and beyond the total of my lost wages and medical bills, which the judge said was to "make me whole" by compensating me for pain and suffering.

While dollars and cents are what the court has to work with, money alone doesn't make people whole. The months of pain and struggle, the paperwork, the rage I felt when I heard the driver tell the judge that I threw myself in front of his car... well, it's laughable to suggest that the few thousand dollars left over after my lawyer and my health insurance took their cuts could compensate me for all that.

Justice would be a better compensation. When Mayor Bowser signs this bill into law, I will at last be made whole.

There is a huge discrepancy in how drivers experience the costs of collisions as opposed to people on bike or foot. Doing away with contributory negligence in DC will be a huge step forward towards treating road users more fairly in accident compensation.

We should give credit where credit is due

Mayor Bowser still needs to sign this bill (she has praised it before), and then Congress has to approve it. But for today, let's make sure to give DC Councilmembers the thanks they deserve for educating themselves on this issue, finding a solution, and carrying it to completion.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank the DC Council for passing this just, fair law that protects the most vulnerable on our roads.

Use #ContributoryNegligence and #fixcontrib to thank your councilmember, in particular @marycheh, the bill's sponsor, and @CM_McDuffie, the judiciary committee chair. Also use our tweets here below:

  • #DC is much closer to ending #ContributoryNegligence! Thanks #DCcouncil, esp. @CM_McDuffie @marycheh for your votes ggwash.org/33604
  • Votes are in, #ContributoryNegligence is out. Thx #DCcouncil, esp @marycheh @CM_McDuffie for working to #fixcontrib! ggwash.org/33604
  • Thx #DCcouncil for doing your job. @MayorBowser will you sign the #ContributoryNegligence bill & #fixcontrib in #DC? ggwash.org/33604
Check out what people have been tweeting so far:



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