Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category Roads

Bikes in the snow in the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.


Photo by nevermindtheend.


The National Mall. Photo by Payton Chung.


Photo by Clif Burns.


Yards Park. Photo by Rob Cannon.


Rosslyn. Photo by Brian Allen.


Union Station. Photo by Mark Andre.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

The Dutch government is trolling DC over marijuana, bike lanes, and streetcars

As marijuana legalization took effect in the District of Columbia, Mayor Muriel Bowser said DC would "not become like Amsterdam." We talked about the differences yesterday, including on bicycling and transit, but the Embassy of the Netherlands has playfully responded with this infographic comparing our two capital cities.


Image from the Embassy of the Netherlands. Really.

The embassy also created a Q&A comparing marijuana laws in the two cities. But bicycling and transit supporters might focus more on the bike lane and streetcar disparities. That "(almost)" hurts. Low blow, Netherlands.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

How two families dealt with Metro problems and other transportation options in the snow

There was track work on the Red Line last weekend, and as it turned out, a smoke incident as well. Both Mitch Wander and David Alpert were riding the Red Line, and the experiences yielded plenty of examples of the bad and the good of Metro and other transportation choices.


A family (not Mitch's or David's) in the snow. Photo by Amber Wilkie on Flickr.

Mitch says, "My son and I considered car2go or Uber for an early morning trip from Glover Park to Catholic University. Uber had surge pricing in effect, likely because there were few cars on the road, but there were two nearby cars2go. We walked to the first only to find it parked on a patch of ice and on a hill. But the second one fit the bill."

Meanwhile, David and his daughter were going to Tenleytown. He says, "We've mostly given up on using Metro on weekends when there's track work (and often, sadly, even when there's not). But we didn't want to drive back in a major snowstorm, so we tried the Red Line even though the Metro website said service was only running every 20 minutes.

"We just missed a train to Shady Grove by a few seconds, but fortunately, though the website didn't mention this, there were some extra trains just from Dupont to Shady Grove (and from Judiciary Square to Glenmont), one of which pulled in shortly after."

The snowstorm begins

By the time both families were coming back, the snow was coming down heavily.

There were nearly two inches of snow on the ground when Mitch and his son left Catholic University just before noon. He says, "I overruled my son's suggestion to use car2go again. Instead, we decided to take Metro to Tenleytown and either take Metrobus or get a ride from my wife home.

"We walked to the Brookland-CUA Metro station. The first train arrived but the conductor announced that the train would go out of service at Judiciary Square without explaining why. We waited for the next train which continued downtown.

"At Dupont Circle, the train stopped with doors open for several minutes. There were still no announcements, but Twitter showed photos of smoke at the Woodley Park station."

"My son and I left, as did a few other passengers I informed about the problem. People by the bus stop said that the D2 had not been running for 45 minutes, so after trying to walk a few blocks, we decided to use Uber despite the 1.7x surge pricing. A car arrived within 10 minutes."

Another Metro delay compounds problems

David and his daughter left a little later, at 12:30. It was difficult to even push a stroller two blocks up a small hill to the Metro along sidewalks with fresh snow. This was not a time to be driving.

"Another 'special' train pulled in right as they got to the platform, which I knew wouldn't go through downtown, but he initially assumed it would reach Dupont before turning. However, it instead went out of service at Woodley Park. The conductor also did not explain why; I guessed that perhaps the train was going to wait in the pocket track before going to Dupont, though it also could have related to the smoke which I didn't yet know about.

"The conductor announced that another train was 20 minutes behind, and the signs confirmed this. This seemed odd since the wait between through trains was supposed to be 20 minutes, and the special was surely in between. Nonetheless, we settled in for a wait. Since mobile phone service works in Woodley Park, they were able to play music and watch videos.

"However, 20 minutes later, there was no train,though multiple trains had passed outbound. The top 'Glenmont' line on the digital displays showed a blank space instead of a time estimate. Eventually, the station manager announced that there was a disabled train at Friendship Heights.


Photo by David Alpert.

"I considered bailing on Metro, but my daughter is too small to ride in a car2go or an Uber without a carseat. There were no Uber vehicles with carseats available at all, according to the app, even at a surge rate.

"The platform had grown quite crowded at this point. Fortunately, Metro sent an empty special train in the opposite direction to pick up waiting passengers (even though, as Twitter showed, having a train pass by without picking them up annoyed some people waiting at Dupont Circle).

"An employee arrived on the platform and told people that a train would come within 15 minutes. And it did. The total trip ended up taking about an hour."

What can we learn from this story? There are a few conclusions we can draw:

Travelers have so many options, which is terrific. Mitch and his son used three modes of transportation (car2go, Metroail, and Uber) and considered two others (Metrobus and private car). He says, "I think my son takes for granted that we can seamlessly jump from one transportation option to another." If one mode is struggling, as Metrorail did, many people can opt to switch.

Modern technology is extremely helpful to compare options. It wouldn't have been possible to find out about the smoke so quickly or evaluate as many choices without today's smartphones, apps, and social media. We didn't have these options or this timely, decentralized information even just a few years ago, and it's transformed mobility.

Metro still can do far, far more to communicate about outages. Neither Mitch nor David knew about the short-turning special trains before riding one, and the website didn't talk about them. Some train announcements are hard to understand because of bad equipment and/or train operators who mumble through their explanations.

The following day, David and his daughter rode the Metro again, and when arriving at Dupont on a special train which was turning around, he overheard a rider saying, "I don't understand how this system works." People get confused and frustrated during planned or unplanned disruptions. Communication wouldn't stop all frustration, but could stop the confusion and reduce anger.

We're still lucky to have Metro even despite all its problems (which are many). Even though it took an hour to get from Tenleytown to Dupont Circle, that was better than trying to drive. Buses were not running. Walking was out of the question. Underground trains had a lot of problems, but they still worked. Maybe that's not much to be happy about, but people in most cities and even most parts of our region don't even have that.

Cities worldwide are building beautiful, landmark pedestrian and bicycle bridges. Could Georgetown be next?

A new bicycle and pedestrian bridge may one day connect Georgetown with Roosevelt Island. Some recent bridges like this in other cities have become iconic landmarks. Could DC do the same and compensate for its freqently lackluster bridge designs? Here are a few of the world's great pedestrian bridges.


London's Millennium Bridge. Photo by Dominik Morbitzer on Flickr.

Such a bridge was part of Georgetown's recent 15-year action plan and made it into DC's MoveDC citywide transportation plan last year.


Where the bridge could go. Image from the Georgetown BID.

Many cities have built new bridges as opportunities to showcase distinctive design while adding vital pedestrian links. The London Borough of Wandsworth is sponsoring a design competition right now for a new footbridge across the Thames.

Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava designed the glass-floored Sundial Bridge across the Sacramento River in Redding, California.


The Sundial Bridge in Redding, California. Photo by David W Oliver on Flickr.


Photo by dwhartwig on Flickr.

London's Millennium Bridge opened in 2000 to bridge the Thames between the Tate Modern to St. Paul's Cathedral. The bridge is tall enough to allow river navigation, but short enough not to obstruct the historically protected view corridor of the cathedral.


Photo by Duen Ee Chan on Flickr.


Photo by andre.m(eye)r.vitali on Flickr.

The Simone de Beauvoir Footbridge has been undulating across the Seine in Paris since 2006.


Photo by Tim Brown Architecture on Flickr.


Photo by Alexandre Duret-Lutz on Flickr.

The crescent Gateshead Millennium Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, tilts back to allow ships to pass.


Photo by Ian Britton on Flickr.


Photo by Martin Sotirov on Flickr.

The Henderson Waves bridge soars 120 feet over a valley in the Southern Ridges park of Singapore. The bridge deck provides shade and seating areas to view the park valley.


Photo by edwin.11 on Flickr.


Photo by Steel Wool on Flickr.

Although it spans a relatively short distance, Sarajevo's Festina Lente Bridge features a playful loop that shades a seating area midway across the bridge.


Photo by the author.

Could one of these bridges come to DC?

Such a connection would provide many advantages. Although the island is inside the boundaries of the District of Columbia, visitors can only access it from Virginia. Visiting the island requires a half-mile walk or bike ride from Rosslyn down the Mount Vernon Trail. There's a small parking lot on the Virginia shore, but it fills up quickly on warm weekends, and drivers can only reach it from the northbound GW Parkway.

A bridge from Georgetown would give District residents and visitors easier access to this wooded and marshy parkland, which serves as a stark contrast to the dense urbanization of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.


The view from Georgetown Waterfront Park. Image by the author.


Georgetown Waterfront Park (left) and Roosevelt Island (right) as viewed from the Key Bridge. Image by the author.

There isn't money for the bridge today. MoveDC lists the bridge as a second-tier priority, meaning it is not within DC's six-year capital plan. DDOT planner Colleen Hawkinson said external factors, such as outside funding or public support, could shift the bridge's priority.

Even if funding arises, multiple federal agencies will have to act. The National Park Service controls the island and would have to agree to any changes. MoveDC classifies the bridge as a bicycle transportation project, but the National Park Service, which controls the island, prohibits cycling there. The National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission on Fine Arts, which are providing advice on the Frederick Douglass Bridge replacement, would play a strong role in reviewing designs.

Any project will require an environmental analysis which could take years (one for a proposed boathouse on Park Service land on the Arlington shore of the Potomac is dragging on into its third year, for example). If the bridge does come to fruition, it will be years away, but it would be a major asset to help people enjoy and appreciate the Potomac River.

DC like Amsterdam? We can only hope

According to yesterday's Express, DC is starting to look a lot like Amsterdam, and not just because of marijuana. That's fantastic if true.


The top of yesterday's Express story.

Among the reasons the Express cites for DC's Amsterdamization are increasing bicycle use, the appearance of streetcars, and Georgetown's improving C&O Canal.

Amsterdam is one of the world's great bicycling and streetcar cities. It's a joy to travel along its extensive bikeways, and even lanes where cars are allowed are amazingly bike friendly. And Amsterdam's huge streetcar network (with streetcars in both dedicated lanes and mixed traffic) is a case study in successful urban transit.

DC's nascent bikeway and streetcar networks pale in comparison, but Amsterdam is a superb model for us to aspire towards.

And while it's true that we can never hope to have as many canals (short of a disastrous global warming-induced flood), we can at least ponder what might have been had the history of Constitution Avenue turned out differently.

Even more similarities

Transportation and canals aside, Amsterdam's overall urban design is actually incredibly similar to DC's. We're both predominantly rowhouse cities, with plenty of brick. Even our street grids are similar: Amsterdam has a relatively small core with twisty medieval streets, but for the most part it's a city of straight streets and radial avenues just like DC.

These scenes from Amsterdam wouldn't look all that out of place in Dupont Circle, U Street, or Adams Morgan, apart from how little street space goes to cars.


Amsterdam, but could be DC. Photos by the author.

Admittedly, Amsterdam beats DC in a lot of ways. But it's not Paris or Hong Kong, not so thoroughly alien. And DC is not Las Vegas. Amsterdam and DC aren't identical, but we're the same species of city, which means Amsterdam is better in ways that DC can practically emulate.

Plus, we've got Amsterdam Falafelshop.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

2.5 minutes of extra walking is not nothing

This week's Walkblock of the Week highlighted the closed sidewalk at Connecticut and Yuma, NW. To get to the Franklin Montessori School from the Van Ness Metro, people have to walk past the school, to Albemarle Stret, and double back. Is this a big deal?


The walk from Van Ness Metro to Franklin Montessori with the sidewalk closed (left) and open (right). Images from Gmap Pedometer using Google Maps.

It's .29 miles versus .21 miles. That's 39% more walk from the Metro, a significant jump. On the other hand, it's only an additional .08 miles plus crossing Connecticut.

Some commenters think it's making a mountain out of a molehill to talk about this. "Notabigdeal" wrote, "Wait, they have to walk .08 miles farther? The humanity!" And "seriously" said:

Wow you must have a great life when you consider this to be "a significant additional inconvenience."

People, get a grip. So you have to cross the street. I live in the area, I do it all the time. Would I prefer not to cross the street? Sure. But do I give it a second thought afterwards? NO! How entitled do you have to feel to be outraged by having to walk an extra .08 miles? I mean come on.

It's 2.5 extra minutes and 1-2 major crossings

At an average walking speed of 3.1 mph, it takes 1.5 extra minutes to walk that distance (longer for kids who walk slowly, of course). Let's assume an extra 1 minute wait for the light and you have added 2.5 minutes to the trip.

That may not sound like much, but twice a day, 5 days a week, 10 months a year is about 17 hours a year of extra time, per person. Crossing Connecticut Avenue one or two times each way is also not nothing. Crosswalks on six-lane streets like Connecticut are common places for pedestrians to get hit, especially seniors and children, and while we all live with this risk, increasing it isn't something to do lightly.

Would drivers stand for a delay like that?

More importantly, these commenters' reactions highlight how we tend to think about inconveniencing pedestrians versus drivers. Would drivers stand for having their commute lengthened by 2.5 minutes each way?

We got to see such a case recently when DC put in (and then removed) a median on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park. The traffic count data said that drivers' trips lengthened by 1-2 minutes. But drivers, including Councilmember Jack Evans, who drives on Wisconsin to and from his kids' school, screamed bloody murder.

Evans insisted that the delay was more than 1-2 minutes. But 1-2 minutes can feel like a lot when you're stuck in traffic. How do you feel if you're waiting at a light, it turns green, and you can't make it through because of traffic, or maybe someone turning that blocks the way? That's a delay of about a minute, and it can be very infuriating.

Traffic engineering standards even agree: If the average car is delayed 1 minute and 20 seconds at an intersection, vehicular Level of Service, the measure for how well traffic flows, would be a failing F. In other words, traffic engineering considers it totally unacceptable to add that level of delay.

Or if you commute by car, try this experiment: Pick a spot along the route (if you use Connecticut Avenue, it could be this area). Every time you get there, stop the car and wait 2.5 minutes. I know I wouldn't want to have to keep doing that.

Maybe closing a the sidewalk was right in this case since it's such a busy street. Maybe not. But DDOT doesn't even habitually compute how much delay a closure will cause pedestrians, while it's mandatory before closing any lanes to traffic. To at least weigh the impacts quantitatively would be a good start.

Restore the sidewalk now

One thing is for sure: This sidewalk ought not stay closed for much longer.

DDOT's George Branyan said that in initial applications for the permit, the developer's representatives promised that once the vault (the area under the sidewalk) is built, they would put a top on and create a pedestrian path. They estimated that would happen by about December 2014.

It's past that time now, and the building's structure is above the street level. Branyan said permit officials will be talking again with the construction team to find out when there can be a new sidewalk.

Crews sometimes want to keep the sidewalk closed longer than absolutely necessary because it's more convenient to be able to pull up construction trucks to the site and not worry about pedestrians. That, for sure, is not a good reason to keep a sidewalk closed, and when sidewalks do have to close, it's important for DDOT to push to reopen them as early as possible.

Safer Maryland bikeways get the green light

Thanks to new guidelines, curb-protected or buffered bike lanes will be allowed on Maryland state roads. This change could ultimately make many roads much safer.


Eads Street in Arlington. This will now be permitted on Maryland's state highways. Photo by the author.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) released new policy and engineering guidelines in January. They will allow more innovative and protective bike infrastructure in many rapidly urbanizing suburbs such as College Park, where Route 1 is supposed to get a bike lane but needs one that's safe alongside high-speed traffic.

Changes add space between cars and bikes and make intersections safer

Bike lane designs can now include extra buffering, such as striped and cross-hatched lane markings, to separate bike and car traffic. And while the new guidelines don't mention the use of flexposts, which engineers and planners around the country often use for extra visibility and "soft protection" for buffered bike lanes, SHA also doesn't forbid them. And that's encouraging.

The new regulations will also allow bike lanes raised up between the height of the main roadway and the curb. Raised lanes further increase the separation of people biking from motor vehicle traffic, and help prevent people from driving or parking their cars in spaces that are for people on bikes.

The guidelines also introduce designs for "bike boxes," which allow cyclists to wait in a visible location at the head of a line of traffic and make it easier and safer to turn. Other places have been using bike boxes for several years, but they haven't been permissible on Maryland state roads until now.

All of these new approaches to protecting and separating bike lanes from traffic on busy or high-speed roads will be better than the bike lane designs SHA is currently using. For example, the photo below shows a newly-painted bike lane on Greenbelt Road near the Capital Beltway. Would you feel safe riding your bike in that lane? Would you want children or elderly people riding in it?


An unprotected bike lane on Route 193 in Greenbelt. Photo by the author.

This is a great step, but SHA's work is far from finished

While we applaud SHA's new guidelines, there are still some key problems with their overall bike lane design approach.

First, building bike lanes to fit the new guidelines is still not mandatory, making the guidelines somewhat limited in scope. Even though SHA policy now allows buffered and protected bike lanes, engineers are still allowed to build narrow unprotected lanes alongside high-speed or high-traffic state roads. Protected and buffered bike lanes should be the standard, not just an option, especially where separated sidepaths are not feasible.

Noticeably absent are designs for facilities such as two-way protected bikeways, protected intersection designs, and creative ways of accommodating transit adjacent to bike lanes—since people often ride bikes between buses and the curb, it's crucial that transit riders have easy places to cross bike lanes to get to their buses or transit vehicles.

Protected bikeways are important because while SHA rules do require new roads to include bike lanes, the typical painted bike lanes are simply too narrow for the kinds of high-speed roads where they often appear. These roads frequently have lower speed limits than the speeds people really drive, meaning that a bike lane designed for a 30-mph street would be inadequate where people are really usually traveling 40, 45, or 50.

Finally, the new guidelines are incomplete in that they don't include illustrations and criteria for additional bike lane and intersection designs, which are very common in other urban and semi-urban areas. Navigating intersections can be tricky for cyclists—they're where the majority of collisions happen—so it's very important to get their design right.

For people who want to ride their bikes safely in Maryland, the new state guidelines are a strong pedal-stroke in the right direction. We hope this is the beginning many positive changes coming from SHA to incorporate and implement state-of-the-art designs that will increase the safety of people riding bikes, especially for the more densely populated and urbanizing parts of the state.

Sidewalk snow shoveling hall of shame: "DC government is the worst offender" (and Arlington too)

After a warm Sunday, many buildings and property owners were able to clear their sidewalks, as the law requires. But some did not. We asked you to submit your photos of snow clearing scofflaws or, as reader Jasper Nijdam dubbed them, "snoflaws."


Photo by Jasper Nijdam.

He sent along this photo of the sidewalk past the Key Bridge Marriott, at the corner of Lee Highway and Ft. Myer Drive in Rosslyn. He writes,

I'd like to nominate eternal snoflaw The Marriott at Key Bridge. Their own parking lot is so well treated that I doubt snow ever reaches the ground. But they utterly refuse to do anything about their busy sidewalk.
Update: Commenter charlie says that this is National Park Service land, and thus NPS is responsible for clearing it rather than Marriott. However, both agree in the comments that Marriott could do a public service and clear it anyway.

Nijdam continues:

Also nominated, whomever lives on the west side of 35th [in Georgetown] between Prospect and M Street. Note how the east side is nicely cleaned.

Georgetown from the Key Bridge. Photo by Jasper Nijdam.

Bridges remain treacherous

While local governments have avidly plowed streets, sidewalks along bridges have not gotten the same love. These are especially problematic for pedestrians since the bridges often represent the only nearby path across a major barrier like a highway, railroad tracks, or a river.


Left: North Meade Street overpass over Route 50 in Rosslyn. Photo by LMK on Twitter. Right: H Street "Hopscotch Bridge" over railroad tracks in DC. Photo by Emily Larson on Twitter.

Twitter user LMK tweeted a picture of the bridge over Route 50 at the south end of Rosslyn, which connects Ft. Myer Heights, the eponymous military base, and the Marine Corps Memorial to Rosslyn. The already-narrow sidewalk is now a sheet of ice.

Across the Potomac, we have a similar condition on the "Hopscotch Bridge," where H Street crosses behind Union Station. Dave Uejio alerted us to this photo on Twitter by Emily Larson.

"DC government is the worst offender"

Ralph Garboushian writes an email with the apt subject line, "DC government is the worst offender." He calls out DC's Department of General Services, which is responsible for maintenance in and around District property including parks. He says,

DCDGS never clears the sidewalks around the triangle parks between 17th Street, Potomac Avenue and E Street SE and at 15th & Potomac. Both see pretty heavy pedestrian traffic—people walking to the Metro, going to the grocery store, taking their dogs to Congressional Cemetery, etc. A neighbor and I usually tackle the one at 17th.

Photo by Ralph Garboushian.
It infuriates me to see Mayor Bowser patting herself on the back for doing such a great job clearing the snow. On Potomac Avenue SE, the main beneficiaries of her efforts are the suburban motorists who speed up and down the street with no regard for pedestrians or neighborhood residents.

By Sunday morning the street was bare pavement. Meanwhile, the sidewalks along the triangle parks were a disaster, even as most homeowners had already shoveled their sidewalks. It boggles my mind that taxpaying neighborhood residents have to pick up the city's slack to ensure we can travel safely on foot while non-taxpaying suburban motorists get gold-plated treatment.

Many of DC's square and triangle parks (like the triangles along Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House, for instance) are not local, but federal, and it's the National Park Service (NPS) which should (and doesn't) clear their sidewalks. This one, however, is DC land and not federal, though it's next to Congressional Cemetery, which NPS controls.

Garboushian and his neighbors later shoveled this sidewalk themselves, which is a great public service, but they shouldn't have to. The DC government (and Arlington government, and other governments) should take responsibility for clearing sidewalks that don't abut private property. Arguably, they should just handle all sidewalks, but we can at least start with these.

Thanks to everyone who sent in images! We didn't have room for them all, and I preferred ones showing conditions Monday, after everyone had ample time to clear sidewalks on a warm day.

Correction: The original version of this article identified the property on the west side of 35th Street as the Halcyon House. That is actually on the west side of 34th Street. We apologize for the error.

Update: Here's one more, from whiteknuckled, who tweets, "Our neighbor never shovels his side-sidewalk, only the front. But digs out his driveway and piles snow on sidewalk."


Photo by whiteknuckled on Twitter.
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