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A new bill would ban cycling or Segway riding on DC sidewalks next to bike lanes

Lame duck councilmember Jim Graham wants to make it illegal to ride a bicycle or ride a Segway on the sidewalk along roads when there is a bike lane going in the same direction, except for children 12 years and under.


A sidewalk cyclist on Barracks Row (often not a great place to bike, but not covered by Graham's bill). Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Graham, who currently represents Ward 1 but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Brianne Nadeau, introduced the bill this morning. His press release says:

Graham introduced the bill after receiving many reports of bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk without sufficient regard for the safety of pedestrians, especially the elderly, mothers with young children, and others.

This problem was tragically demonstrated four years ago when while walking in an alley near the Convention Center, a 78 year-old man and his wife were knocked to the ground by a speeding "hit-and-run" bicyclist. The elderly man was killed and his wife was hospitalized.

In recent years, the District has emerged as one of the foremost cities for bicycling in the US through the building of dozens of miles of bike lanes, and through its pioneering and successful Capital Bikeshare program. Graham stated "With so many miles of bike lanes now available, I think it's time that rather than riding on sidewalks, bicyclists and others be required to use bike lanes. I think this bill will help to encourage the construction of even more bicycle lanes for the safety of all".
People riding bicycles on sidewalks at high speed can be very scary for pedestrians, and they feel legitimately threatened. It's the same as the way cyclists feel threatened on the road. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer because outside rare cycletracks, cyclists don't have their own space and are yelled at both on the road and on the sidewalk (and on multi-use trails).

Just as many drivers think they can safely pass a cyclist with less than 3 feet of space, or nose through a group of pedestrians crossing at a crosswalk, there are cyclists who think they can use their maneuverability to squeeze quickly between pedestrians without hitting them. And 99% of the time they are right, but that doesn't make the more vulnerable road user not feel intimidated.

I've been walking around and had someone on a bike ride by too fast and too close many times. I've been walking with our one-year-old in a stroller, or with my wife when she was pregnant. Just because none of them actually hit any of us doesn't make it right.

Would a ban even work?

However, a bill banning sidewalk cycling near a bike lane is probably not the answer. While people should ride in the road, there are often legitimate reasons to sometimes ride on any given sidewalk at certain times and in certain circumstances. What if the bike lane is blocked, for example? Graham's bill won't deal with many situations where sidewalk cycling is a problem while also making riding illegal at times when it's not a problem.

It's hard have a law that basically says it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk only in a way that intimidates pedestrians. And any legal restriction is only going to have an effect if police ticket, and we don't need police deciding to target cyclists here as they have been in NYC.

It could be worth discussing some measure like a speed limit that applies on sidewalks where there are pedestrians (but not empty sidewalks), or a 2-foot passing buffer distance. When we've discussed this before, commenters seemed open to somehow codifying the idea of "pedestrian pace in a pedestrian space."

Would this bill encourage building bike lanes, or add to acrimony?

The only real way to reduce bicycle-pedestrian conflicts is to make sure cyclists feel safe riding outside the sidewalk, and that's simply not the case right now. Many people say they just aren't comfortable in the road.

Walking around the city, I often see people riding on the sidewalk when there is a good bike lane or low-speed street, and I wonder why they are bothering to ride there. But instead of passing a law, let's find ways to help those people feel safe (and be safe).

Graham says in his press release that he hopes this will lead to more bike lanes being constructed. It's hard to see how a bill limiting cyclists' rights will lead to more bike lanes.

The obstacle to more bike lanes is that whenever one is proposed, people complain about losing travel lanes or losing parking. Graham has often expressed "concerns" about a transportation bill because it might take away parking spaces. That kind of rhetoric tells transportation planners that they should be very hesitant to embark on any project which impacts even a small amount of parking, or at the very least, they have to do many years of studies and outreach.

Maybe Graham is thinking that if this law exists, people worried about sidewalk cycling will turn into advocates for bike lanes. But the bigger danger is that it only further demonizes an activity that already comes under a lot of criticism, against whom some columnists in national newspapers think alluding to the possibility of violence is appropriate.

Graham said he hopes to start a conversation about what to do about this problem. It's not clear that one best starts a conversation about conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians by proposing a restriction on one of the two groups. It's only going to lead to more rancor rather than understanding.

Why this, and why now?

Incidents of cyclists hurting pedestrians are vanishingly rare (while deaths involving cars are quite common). That doesn't mean it's okay to ride at a high speed on a sidewalk near pedestrians in a way that can be scary, but it's hard not to notice a little irony in the fact that Graham's press release cites a case from four years ago which wasn't even a fatality on a sidewalk or a road with a bike lane at all.

What bills has Graham introduced to deal with fatal crashes between drivers and pedestrians or bicyclists that happened since four years ago? In fact, speaking of safety for seniors and children, Graham has long fought a bill to get property owners to shovel sidewalks; icy walks create a real hazard, but not one that he seems to think is important enough to solve with a change in the law.

Anyway, it's almost the end of the session (and Graham's tenure on the council). He knows that there is probably not time to even hold a hearing if transportation chair Mary Cheh wanted to, and she likely does not want to. The bill will almost surely just die with the rest of Graham's actions this year that amount to shaking his fist at his younger, changing ward. But he can go out making a statement that of all the things that threaten seniors on the streets, like icy sidewalks or drivers not yielding in crosswalks, those damn bicyclists are the worst.

Is Sheridan Station a sign of change east of the river, or more of the same?

An entirely new neighborhood is rising just a minute's walk from the Anacostia Metro station. Nearly two dozen townhomes and apartments have sprouted at Sheridan Station, where public housing will become a mixed-income community. But will it be an economic catalyst for the community, or a new face for the area's existing struggles?


A view of Sheridan Station rising from the hillside across Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Photos by the author.

When it first broke ground more than 4 years ago, Sheridan Station was supposed to have 344 units, equally split between market-rate homes for sale and rentals for low-income households. But in the fall of 2012, developer William C. Smith asked to reduce the ratio of for-sale homes to 25%, arguing that potential buyers would have trouble securing mortgages.

Today, 327 homes are planned for Sheridan Station, just 80 of which will be for sale with the rest for rent. Of the remaining 247 units, 200 will be affordable, and 100 are set aside for households on the public housing waiting list. Priority will go to residents of Sheridan Terrace, which used to occupy the site, and Barry Farm next door, which will be redeveloped in 2016.

New residents are hopeful, but anxious

James grew up in the neighborhood and lived in Sheridan Terrace, the public housing complex that predates Sheridan Station, in the 1980s. The units were falling apart. "I came home one day from work and the ceiling was on the floor," he said. Hazardous building conditions and street crime precipitated the departure of hundreds of families.


James, a resident of Sheridan Station, has been watching the quick rise of an entirely new neighborhood yards from the Anacostia Metro station. Photos by the author.

I ran into James, who is wheelchair-bound, while recently surveying Sheridan Road. When housing became available in the first phase of Sheridan Station, he was able to secure a unit due to his sister's network.

"I've been coming out here everyday just to watch," James said. "It's about time they started. They never said why it took so long to begin. They blamed the weather. People began putting pressure on them and asking questions. There's more demand for housing than there is supply. This looks like it is decent housing." He pointed out a building and said once completed he would be moving to the first floor.

Market-rate homeowners are excited about the development too. Darin Tuggle, an attorney for the Department of Housing and Urban Development Chris Miller, a 29-year-old business consultant, saw the signage for Sheridan Station on Suitland Parkway while commuting from Upper Marlboro. "When I decided to purchase a home, I looked at various neighborhoods but the rapid rise in prices in more 'trendy' neighborhoods priced me out," he says. Sheridan Station won him over with the proximity to Metro and the views of downtown DC.

"After moving in, I switched from driving to work to taking the Metro," he says. "The commute has been a big quality of life upgrade for me."


Townhomes line Pomeroy Road SE as part of the Sheridan Station development.

Chris Miller, a 29-year-old business consultant Darin Tuggle, an attorney for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says he loves the "great urban neighborhood vibe and look" of the street where his new home is. "We are a microcosm of the city, young, less young, professional, artistic, black, white, Hispanic, foreign-born, single, couples, inter-racial," he says. Miller looks forward to the area becoming more walkable and getting a grocery store.

But there's been some tension between new residents and those who already lived in the area. Miller says kids have smashed his house windows three times, while neighbors have had their cars vandalized. "These incidents of vandalism can be attributed to some of the tension that existing members of the community feel towards the new development," says Tuggle.

Is this a sign of change, or more of the same?

Sheridan Station serves as a preview of future development east of the river, from the reconstruction of Barry Farm to Skyland Town Center, the 11th Street Bridge Park, and Saint Elizabeths East Campus. But in contrast to the splashy opening of Sheridan's first phase, the groundbreaking and construction of Sheridan's second and third phases have gone on quietly. At a press conference earlier this month, Mayor Gray highlighted his outgoing administration's commitment to developing affordable housing, but did not mention Sheridan Station.


An elevated view of the 1st phase of Sheridan Station from Suitland Parkway.

William C. Smith's uneven promotion of for-sale units led homeowners to speculate that the development's initial goals would never happen. "I had to look for Sheridan Station; it didn't look for me," says Tuggle, noting that he'd received ads for other new developments in the area, like Arts District Hyattsville and Dakota Crossing.

He and other homeowners only found out recently there were only 20 homes for sale in the development's last phase, with the rest being rentals. "[My neighbors] had advised friends and associates that there would be a lot more opportunities to buy in the last phase," he says.

Furthermore, many public housing tenants I've spoken with express a fear that when the new buildings are filled with disparate families from various public housing developments, long-standing feuds, similar to the Hatfields and McCoys, may erupt.

Although private investment has hesitated to cross the Anacostia River, long-term residents point to developments like this, as well as the new schools and recreation centers that have been built recently, as infallible evidence of "the Plan," which seeks to make the area attractive to a new demographic who will displace them. But Sheridan Station and its inability to deliver a mixed-income neighborhood as first promised illustrates the tenuousness of the "new Ward 8," as Councilmember Marion Barry calls it.

The need for tenant and workforce housing in Ward 8 is overwhelming. Despite Sheridan Station's success in attracting affluent professionals, the continued concentration and retrenchment of disadvantaged people in this area has the potential to suppress the economy of communities east of the river for yet another generation.

Landover is not the place for the FBI

The owners of the Prince George's County land where Landover Mall used to sit are lobbying to locate the FBI headquarters there rather than near the Greenbelt or Franconia-Springfield Metro stations. But a site not easily accessible by Metro isn't the best location for the FBI.


Photo by Jonathan on Flickr.

While building the project in Landover might be cheaper to start, the long-term costs to local governments and regional workers, including added traffic and longer commutes, would be far, far higher.

Prince George's Metro stations are the least used in the system (averaging 4,716 daily boardings per station in 2012, compared with 8,478 systemwide). While other counties promoted walkable development around their stations to maximize their investment in Metro, most Prince George's stations remain isolated parking lots with little or nothing to attract activity and train rides.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

Area governments take a small step on carbon emissions, but stall on real action

Greenhouse gas emissions are building in the atmosphere, contributing to climate change that is threatening our world. Our region needs to reduce carbon emissions from all sectors, but the regional Transportation Planning Board still won't commit to a specific target.


Photo by John Quigley/Spectral Q reposted with permission.

In 2008, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) published its climate change report establishing a scientifically-based regional goal to reduce carbon emissions to 80% of 2005 levels by 2050. All 21 local government members of COG reaffirmed the commitment in 2010 when they signed the compact called Region Forward.

But so far, the Transportation Planning Board (TPB), COG's most powerful committee which sets transportation funding priorities, has no plans to meet that target and is actually moving in the opposite direction. TPB staff are quick to note that per capita emissions are declining slightly, but if overall emissions continue to rise until 2050, they will worsen the climate change problem.


Carbon Dioxide emissions from transportation, 2015-2040.

Many leaders want to tackle climate change, but TPB balks

Last week the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' (COG) air quality and climate change committees met together for the first time. They focused on the wide and broadening gap between our region's accepted climate emissions reduction goals and where we are headed within the transportation sector.

The overall tone and broad participation reflected optimism and ambition about taking on this challenge. Many members spoke strongly in favor of moving urgently to tackle transportation emissions, led by Roger Berliner of Montgomery County, Jay Fisette of Arlington, Phil Mendelson of DC, and Tad Aburn of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

They and others repeatedly asked the important question: will TPB accept and plan for the regional goal of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions from transportation by 2050?

Amongst all the supportive voices, it was difficult to see exactly what was holding the group back from making a more forceful decision. Perhaps it was the way the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Maryland Department of Transportation muddied the waters by raising scenarios that were not relevant to what was being proposed.

When Jay Fisette asked point blank if there was any legal prohibition on TPB adopting a self-defined climate change goal, TPB head Kanti Srikanth answered, "no." But he also said that he was sure "there are stakeholders on TPB that would have a different view."

Mr. Srikanth, until recently the head of planning for the Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) Northern Virginia District, didn't say so, but those stakeholders most resistant to achieving climate and smart growth goals in COG's transportation plan have long been the departments of transportation of Maryland and Virginia, and some local DOTs.

In the end, a small step

Ultimately the two committees adopted a weak, but still helpful resolution urging that all COG committees adopt the existing 80% reduction target, and created a working group to "explore establishing a target for screening for the regional transportation plan."

Many of the meeting participants had hoped for a more explicit commitment, so the Coalition for Smarter Growth is pressing the TPB to make a specific commitment to reduce CO2 emissions from transportation by 80% using a strategies that link land use changes with greater investment in transit, walking and bicycling.

Our most populous suburban areas hold the key

TPB's recent assessment of the region's transportation projects includes some stunning statistics that show how such an approach can make real progress on reducing emissions from transportation.

For example, the commute mode share for the "regional core" (DC, Arlington, and Alexandria) shows 70% of commute trips today are by walking, cycling, or transit. This is a direct result of mixed-use, walkable, bikeable, and transit-oriented community development.


Commute mode share by core, inner suburbs, and outer suburbs.

For what COG terms the "inner suburbs" (Montgomery, Fairfax, and Prince George's), 37% of commute trips today are something other than people driving alone. Not bad, but they also don't show much progress by 2040. For the outer suburbs, it's 21% today and 28% in 2040.

These very populous counties could do much more to shift mode shares and reduce vehicle miles traveled and emissions by accelerating what they are already planning: a combination of transit-oriented development at existing transit stations and transformation of their commercial strip corridors into mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented communities.

The outer jurisdictions would also benefit from more mixed-use centers. Finally, significant investment in dedicated lane commuter transit service would benefit both the outer and inner areas.

But we'll never move the needle on transportation emissions with our current plans. The regional transportation plan for 2014 includes a whopping 1,200 new lane miles and 25 new grade separated interchanges, compared to just 44 new miles of transit.

Many of those projects would go in the so-called "inner suburbs," and many were conceived years and even decades ago when everyone assumed people would drive more and more every year. Now that it's clear people are driving less, and walking, cycling, and riding transit more, how many of those road projects could be downsized, translated into a dedicated transit lane, or eliminated altogether?

Last week's meeting and resolution were a good start for bringing renewed attention to the actions our region must take to help fight climate change. Now, setting clear CO2 and vehicle miles traveled targets for transportation, and creating a real plan to get us there, are essential. If you think TPB should ensure our regional transportation plans will contribute significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, you can send them an email here.

Many Silver Line riders make a long trek from Metro's eastern branches

Fifteen percent of commuters who take Metro's Silver Line to Tysons Corner or Wiehle Avenue come from east of the Anacostia River in DC or Prince George's County. These long commutes result from a growth pattern that puts jobs in far-flung western suburbs and affordable housing in the east. They're part of the price our region pays for sprawl.


Wiehle Avenue station. Photo by Matt Johnson.

Data released last week from Metro shows that 150 of the 983 morning rush hour riders arriving daily at Wiehle Avenue come from the system's easternmost stations. With 126 out of 827 passengers coming from the same area, the new Tysons station has similar numbers. The percentage is even higher at Spring Hill station.

These numbers are particularly noteworthy because only 20% of Metro's morning riders come from east of the Anacostia or Prince George's in the first place.

Silver Line stationAM peak riders
from EOTR/PG
Total AM
peak riders
Percentage
McLean383879%
Tysons Corner12682715%
Spring Hill8440620%
Greensboro343848%
Wiehle Ave15098315%
Total432298714%
Click on a column header to sort.

Some of those arriving at Wiehle Avenue are no doubt well-off homeowners who chose long commutes in order to live near Chesapeake Bay. After years of long car treks around the crowded Beltway, they might well prefer to park at New Carrollton or Largo and take a train trip of 70 minutes or more.

But the most common motivation for Silver Line riders from the east side is surely economic necessity, as most board at stations that draw riders from less affluent neighborhoods nearby.

Going from New Carrollton or Addison Road to Reston is a tough commute no matter how one travels, and if you have to wait for the bus at one or both ends, it's brutal. These ridership figures are a reminder of how painful it is when low wages meet land use policies that separate jobs from affordable housing.

Not just a phase: Young Americans won’t start motoring like their parents

A raft of recent research indicates that young adults just aren't as into driving as their parents were. Young people today are walking, biking, and riding transit more while driving less than previous generations did at the same age.


Charts from the US Public Interest Research Group.

The vast majority of state DOTs have been loathe to respond by changing their highway-centric ways. A new report by the US Public Interest Research Group, points out the folly of their inaction: If transportation officials are waiting for Americans born after 1983 to start motoring like their parents did, they are likely to be sorely disappointed.

Though some factors underlying the shift in driving habits are likely temporarycaused by the recession, for instancejust as many appear to be permanent, the authors found. That means American transportation agencies should get busy preparing for a far different future than their traffic models predict.

"The Millennial generation is not only less car-focused than older Americans by virtue of being young, but they also drive less than previous generations of young people," write authors Tony Dutzik, Jeff Inglis, and Phineas Baxandall.

There's a good deal of evidence that the recession cannot fully explain the trend away from driving among young people. Notably, driving declined even among millennials who stayed employed, and "between the recession years of 2001 and 2009, per-capita driving declined by 16 percent among 16 to 34 year-olds with jobs," the authors write.

Even as the economy has rebounded, car commuting has declined, and the drop is most pronounced among younger workers. According to the Census, between 2006 and 2013, the share of commutes by driving or carpooling dropped 1.5 percent among workers 16 to 24, 1.3 percent among workers 25 to 44, and 0.5 percent among workers 45 and older. The drop in car commuting among 16- to 24-year-olds continued after the recession ended, though at a slower pace, falling 0.5 percent between 2009 and 2013.

There's also a big mismatch between the places where the recession hit hardest and the places where driving is dropping the fastest. "The states and urban areas that experienced the biggest increases in unemployment during the recession were generally not those that experienced the greatest declines in VMT," the authors write.

While economic factors can't be completely discounted, the authors argue that they are not as significant as longer-term shifts in attitudes. A survey by Deloitte, for example, found that millennials are three times more willing to give up their cars than their parents' generation. The National Association of Realtors found that today's young adults are more likely to view a car as "just transportation" and not inherently superior to other modes.

Driving rates peak between the ages of 35 and 55, and millennials will likely drive more as they reach that stage of life, but they will still drive less than their parents did during those years, the authors conclude. Standard traffic models that guide transportation spending decisions and forecast steadily increasing driving rates for years on end fail to account for these shifts.

Dutzik, Inglis, and Baxandall say policy makers need to respond immediately to prepare for a future where Americans aren't driving more every year. They recommend incorporating a greater degree of uncertainty to projections about how many cars are going to be on the road in the distant future.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog.

Maryland voters could put transportation funding in a "lockbox." Here's what that would mean.

Legislators in Maryland are asking voters to amend the state constitution to ensure that transportation taxes go to transportation projects. They say it's necessary to keep governors from using the state's Transportation Trust Fund to balance the budget, as many have done since the 1980s.


Lockbox image from Shutterstock.

The fund gets revenue from the state gas tax, vehicle registration fees, titling taxes, and transit fares. If voters pass Question 1 in November, the governor won't be able to dip into it without declaring a state of fiscal emergency and getting a three-fifths vote from both houses of the General Assembly.

To date, more than $1 billion has never been reimbursed to the Transportation Trust Fund. The measure is similar to a constitutional provision that secures Maryland's education fund.

Who's in favor

Question 1's primary backing comes from the Committee to Protect Marylanders' Transportation Trust Fund, a coalition made up of the Greater Baltimore Coalition, AAA Mid-Atlantic, the Corridor Cities Transitway Coalition, the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, Purple Line Now, Red Line Now, the Maryland Association of Realtors, and various chambers of commerce. The committee hopes to raise between $400,000 to $500,000 in campaign funds.

Right now, various transportation taxes in Maryland are supposed to go toward improving safety, reducing congestion, and improving mass transit, air travel, and port facilities. Question 1 proponents say placing this money in a "lockbox" would ensure funding both now and in the future, a must for effective long-term planning.

Beyond the state budget, safeguarded funds would give Maryland more certainty to match federal funding grants moving forward. This is an important step in securing increasingly-scarce transportation funding, particularly from the Federal Transit Administration and its competitive grants like the New Starts program.

Who's not in favor

Formal opposition has yet to emerge, but some Republicans have publicly urged voters to turn down the proposition on the grounds that it doesn't offer strong enough protection. The lockbox would only protect state funds; the state could still take away the funding it gives to local jurisdictions for their discretionary use.

"It's not a lockbox. It's not very difficult to get past," Washington County delegate Andrew Serafini told the Baltimore Sun.

Who's keeping quiet

Last year, transportation advocacy groups rallied to support an increase in the gas tax. That coalition included many smart growth groups, bicycling groups, and others. So far, groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Action Committee for Transit have not taken a position on the lockbox issue.

Ben Ross, former ACT President, criticized the lockbox idea in a post here in 2011. He said that it reinforces what he calls the false notion that drivers pay for roads. The gas tax comes in lieu of a sales tax on gas (though, after last year's change, not as much as it once did), meaning that some of what drivers pay at the pump could have been general revenue were gas subject to the sales tax instead of having a dedicated gas tax.

Some transit and smart growth advocates have privately said they support the proposal but are nervous about the fact that this initiative is coming primarily from road lobbying groups like AAA and SMTA, who very clearly advocate for more money to expand roads.

Others worry that more spending on transportation overall, rather than more targeted spending on transportation, could ultimately help many residents get around faster in the short term, but also fuel the ongoing destruction of farmland and wilderness as more suburban developments crop up at the edge of the Washington and Baltimore regions.

This may explain why groups focused on a specific transportation project, like the CCT coalition or Purple Line Now, would sign on while smart growth organizations might have mixed feelings. This has been a similar tension in states that have considered ballot measures to find both roads and transit. There, many transit supporters cheered for the measures because they would build much-needed transit, while others worried more about the destructive effects of the road spending in the package.

This is good on balance

Passing the constitutional amendment to secure funding in a lockbox would send the message that transportation is a priority for Maryland residents. As transit and smart growth advocates continue to be engaged, these groups can ensure that the funding is spent wisely.

"This is a situation where the perfect should not be the enemy of the good," said Greater Baltimore Committee president Donald C. Fry, whose organization has been lobbying for a securing amendment for years. "This is clearly a good protection."

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