Greater Greater Washington

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Alexandria has identified locations for its next 16 bikeshare stations

The City of Alexandria might not follow through on plans to add 16 new Capital Bikeshare stations throughout the city this year. But if it does, city staff have identified the general areas the new stations are likely to go.

Capital Bikeshare stations overlaid on crowdsourced demand map (Click to enlarge). Map by the author from City of Alexandria data.

City staff presented the expansion information at the Alexandria's transportation commission's December. (The overlay map above reflects a slightly updated set of locations I received after reaching out to the city this week.)

The locations are based on the city's public crowdsourcing maps, connectivity to transit, proximity to mixed-use activity centers, and whether the location was within .25 mile of an existing station.

Technical considerations like direct sunlight to power the stations, adequate space, flat ground, and utility clearances will be important in choosing the exact site for each station.

The new stations would be primarily to the east, in Old Town, Del Ray, Potomac Yard, and surrounding areas. But three new stations would add to the cluster in Fairlington, and Eisenhower East will recieve a new station as well. Though there's definitely a demand for stations in West End, activity centers, density, and a lack of nearby stations could make it harder for stations in those areas to be successful.

What else do you notice about the locations?

To bike without worrying about nearby cars, I'm happy on the MBT

In recent years, a number of people riding bikes on the Metropolitan Branch Trail have been robbed or assaulted. But the trail is still a generally safe and, compared to city streets, comfortably pleasant place to ride.

A pedestrian bridge went up over the MBT at Rhode Island Avenue in December. Photo by Ranpuba on Flickr.

Recently, a neighbor of mine was riding on the MBT when they saw some young people in ski masks. This understandably prompted fear that they were about to get mugged, so they turned around and got off the trail as quickly as possible, warning other cyclists about the potential danger ahead. My neighbor later emailed our list serve vowing never to ride the trail alone again. Others replied with claims that the MBT is "not safe and never will be."

I use the MBT at least five days a week, during both morning and evening rush hours. I use it on the sunny days when the MBT is full of people and I use it on the cold, rainy days when I often only see one or two other people on the trail. I also use it at night if I am coming home from a friend's house or bar.

Sometimes I'm lucky enough to ride with one or two other people, but I usually ride alone.

I don't want to downplay someone's fear or dismiss their feelings. But I do want to counter the idea that a robbery (or even a handful of robberies) means that the MBT is unsafe.

To me, city streets feel far more dangerous than the MBT

I feel unsafe while riding on Michigan Avenue during rush hour, especially with the potholes that sometimes mean I have to swerve at the last second not to hit a six-inch bump. I'm afraid that I will get hit by a busy driver who is texting or talking on their phone as they come around the turn near South Dakota Avenue.

I feel unsafe crossing the Franklin Avenue bridge, where drivers seem convinced that they fit in the lane with me. They probably don't know that the right half of the lane is filled with broken glass and grates that could easily catch a bike tire. I feel afraid that I will get side-swiped by someone who sees me too late and instead of slowing down, decides to change lanes and doesn't make it all the way over before hitting me.

The end of my commute means getting off the trail and riding on Florida Avenue for one block before I turn onto P Street NE. That block is the scariest part of my commute. I have to take one hand off my handlebars to signal my intention to turn left, which means I have half as much control over my bike. I hear cars whizzing up behind me, and I pray that the car coming up behind me is in the right lane rather than mine.

I see the MBT as a safe haven

To me, the MBT is a sanctuary. For 15 minutes, I can stop being afraid of a car hitting me. When it's snowy or a little bit icy, I can ride my bike anyway because if I wipe out, I'll get scraped up but I won't get run over by a car passing me by at 30 mph.

This is what I tell my friends who are afraid to ride on the MBT: I feel a much more real and present danger of getting hit by a car when I ride on the streets than I do of getting mugged by some punk kid on the trail.

According to Lauren Cardoni, an associate at Nelson\Nygaard, 37 reported crimes happened within 100 feet of the trail in 2014; in 2013 there were 26. The stretch of Rhode Island Avenue between 7th Street NW and 2nd NE, by comparison, had 301 reported crimes in 2014 and 244 in 2013.

While Cardoni noted that the crime locations in this data aren't completely precise, just looking at them as approximations gives some valuable perspective.

Yes, I keep my eyes open when I'm riding the MBT. Yes, I am ready to turn around if I see a group of kids split up on either side of the trail. I am aware of the dangers, I am on the lookout, and I am ready to call the police if I feel unsafe.

But to me, getting hit by a car is a lot scarier than getting mugged.

The NoMa Business Improvement District is currently running a survey on MBT safety, and they're hosting a workshop on the trail tomorrow, from 5-8 pm. Note that the workshop was previously scheduled for today, but it's been moved because of a forecasted thunderstorm.

Ask GGW: The W&OD Trail's sharp turn

A reader recently wondered why the Washington and Old Dominion Trail turns sharply at Idylwood Park next to I-66 in Falls Church instead of tunneling under the interstate and Metro. "Was this by design when they were constructing I-66?" asked Mark Scheufler.

The W&OD Trail where it meets I-66. Base image from Google Maps.

After the W&OD railroad stopped running in 1968, VDOT bought some of the right-of-way to use for the alignment of I-66. The rest of the W&OD right-of-way was sold to VEPCO (which later became Dominion).

In 1977, the Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority came to an agreement with VEPCO to purchase segments of the W&OD right-of-way as funding became available, which in turn enabled NVRPA to construct the trail. Incidentally, this was also the same year that the "Coleman Agreement" allowed for the construction of I-66 inside the Beltway.

A W&OD extension came first, as the trail was completed between Falls Church and Vienna in 1979, including the section across I-66.

It is unclear why the W&OD was routed along the edge of Idylwood Park and across Virginia Lane instead of cutting straight through. One possibility is that NVRPA and VEPCO couldn't come to an agreement on the right-of-way between I-66 and Virginia Lane. Another possibility is that VDOT objected to a trail tunnel and thus forced NVRPA to use the park and Virginia Lane.

It's more likely, though, that the decision was a cost-saving measure. At the time, NVRPA was trying to locate funding to purchase the W&OD right-of-way and build trail segments. Using the already-planned Virginia Lane overpass over I-66 would have allowed VDOT and NVRPA to save money over the cost of a separate trail tunnel.

The trail diversion happens at a pretty sharp angle and it involves a hill climb. But the existing path along the edge of Idylwood Park and Virginia Lane is only about 400 feet longer than a routing that would've stayed in the rail right-of-way. For a bicyclist averaging 10 mph, that's less than 30 seconds.

With fed help, cities can better track those on foot and bike

The lack of good data on walking and biking is a big problem. Advocates say current metrics yield a spotty and incomplete picture of how much, where, and why Americans walk and bike.

This counter in San Francisco gives planners reliable, up-to-date data about bike trips on Market Street. Photo from Aaron Bialick/Streetsblog SF.

The US Census only tells us about commuting—a fairly small share of total trips. The more detailed National Household Transportation Survey comes with its own drawbacks: It's conducted infrequently and doesn't provide useful data at a local scale.

Without a good sense of people's active transportation habits, it's hard to draw confident conclusions not only about walking and biking rates, but also about safety and other critical indicators that can guide successful policy at the local level. A new program from the Federal Highway Administration aims to help fill the gap.

US DOT announced today that FHWA will help local transportation planners gather more sophisticated data on walking and biking. The agency has selected metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in ten regions—Providence, Buffalo, Richmond, Puerto Rico, Palm Beach, Fresno, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Memphis—to lead its new "Bicycle-Pedestrian Count Technology Pilot Program."

FHWA says the program will provide funding for equipment to measure biking and walking trips. Writing on US DOT's Fast Lane blog, FHWA Deputy Administrator Gregory Nadeau adds that "each MPO will receive technical assistance in the process of setting up the counters; uploading, downloading and analyzing the data; and—most importantly—using the data to improve the planning process in their community."

The first counts will be available in December. Following the initial pilot, a second round of regions may be chosen to participate, Nadeau writes.

This would be an enormous improvement over what they do in Cleveland, where I live, as well as many other regions: recruit volunteers to stand at intersections with clipboards once a year and count cyclists by hand.

Crossposted from Streetsblog USA.

Montgomery backtracks on a sprawl-inducing highway

After a decade-long process, it looked like Montgomery County was pushing ahead with a new highway through streams and wetlands at the edge of the county's built-up areas. But last week, county officials announced they don't support the road project after all.

Image from TAME.

In March, the county Department of Transportation issued a report recommending a new limited-access highway, around the edge of developed areas. The road, designated M-83, would approximately parallel I-270 and MD-355 but farther east, connecting the east side of Clarksburg to the current Midcounty Highway, Route 124.

This dismayed advocates who had been asking the county instead to study ways to better connect to Clarksburg with transit and fixes to local roads. Last week, DOT Acting Director Al Roshdieh put out a statement essentially repudiating the DOT's earlier recommendation:

The County Executive does not support building this road, he did not recommend the preferred alternative, nor was it an option that I as MCDOT acting director recommended. Further, there is no funding proposed for the project in the County's capital budget.

The study, "Draft Preferred Alternative/Conceptual Mitigation Report" (PA/CM) was conducted before the Route 355 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system was in the master plan, and therefore it was not considered as one of the alternatives. If BRT is considered, I believe the results of the PA/CM study and its recommended alternative could be significantly different. I strongly endorse this reassessment.

During my three months as MCDOT Acting Director, I continue to look for ways to promote a broader view of mobility in Montgomery County that is not necessarily wedded to building more roads. Taking a fresh look at various M-83 options, including the Route 355 BRT, is an important step in my vision for this department.

The council pushes M-83 out of limbo

In 1964, before the Clean Water Act had passed, Montgomery planners drew a future highway on maps to the east of MD 355. The road ran through wetlands and stream valleys to complete a "ladder and rung" network of arterial roads that would facilitate development in upcounty Montgomery. Since then, Midcounty Highway, also known as M-83, has been the subject of battles for over 50 years.

In its most recent chapter, the Montgomery County Council asked the county DOT in 2004 to study whether the highway, with its impacts to wetlands and streams, would be legal under modern environmental laws. Last year, DOT officials said they would complete the study in March of 2014, but were then silent about their progress for the rest of the year.

On March 2nd, the council's Transportation and Environment Committee surprised MCDOT leadership by asking about the study. Members suggested that, if it was complete, it should go to federal regulators for a decision one way or the other. It appears that Council transportation staffer Glenn Orlin learned that the study had been finished for some time, and suggested that the committee ask for some resolution on the issue.

"If we're not going to build it, we should take it out of the master plan", he said in the committee session. "My understanding is that the report was done last summer and has not been sent to the feds. However you feel about the project, it's delaying a resolution."

Chair Roger Berliner said, "It's no secret I'm not a big fan of this project. I'm even less a fan of ambiguity and being in limbo." The committee members, while harboring different opinions about the project, all agreed that MCDOT should make the study public and send it to regulators. Berliner and fellow committee member Tom Hucker, along with a majority of council members, now publicly oppose to the project, while Nancy Floreen, the third member of the committee, supports it.

The county suggests a destructive option, then backs away

After getting the prod from the council, the DOT issued its report and recommended Alternative 9A, the original alignment from the 1960s master plan. At $350 million, it is the most expensive of the six alternatives analyzed, a price tag that doesn't include environmental mitigation to compensate for the wetlands, floodplains, and forests it would damage.

In contrast to his agency's position, County Executive Leggett has said he is against the road: shortly after the release of the study, a spokesperson for the County Executive told the Washington Post that Leggett "opposes the road project because of its cost."

Throughout the study, it has been clear that the those in charge were building up arguments towards 9A. But more recently, top leaders who were most focused on building roads have left. Their replacements are already backing away from the controversial project.

WTOP reporter Ari Ashe tweeted recently that MCDOT Acting Director Al Roshdieh told him he was against M-83, and that it was "over." After I mentioned the M-83 report in a list of cautionary notes about whether the DOT was really reforming, DOT spokesperson Esther Bowring called to say that Roshdieh considers the 9A option "dead."

"If we don't do this, we need to do something else"

During the March 2nd committee meeting, Councilmember Floreen said, "If we don't do this, we need to do something else." Many residents in Clarksburg rightly feel that the county made and broke many promises, including to build retail and provide good transportation. Development in Clarksburg was initially supposed to coincide with transit service, but the transit has not materialized.

However, this road is not the answer. It will only make new sprawl development, including up in Frederick and Carroll Counties, even more desirable, leading people to live there and work in Rockville, Bethesda, or DC, be dependent on cars, and clog the roads further for commuting and shopping.

The better solution for all upcounty residents is to build the transit that was promised in the first place. Berliner and many advocates have recommended building the study's Alternative 2, a package of small widenings to congested intersections as well as new sidewalks and bike paths, and Alternative 5, which would widen MD-355—but using the new lanes as dedicated lanes for BRT rather than new car capacity.

Left: Alternative 9. Right: Alternative 5.

Bowring said that county officials are meeting next week to discuss next steps to reexamine the county's recommendations and start moving toward, or at least seriously studying, the transit options that many residents are pushing for.

To fully put the idea of a new highway to rest, the county would have to remove it from the master plan. The decision to do that would be up to the county council, Berliner said, and the council could ask the planning department to be involved if it wished.

Unless something changes, the Army Corps of Engineers will go ahead and evaluate Alternative 9A. Some may be hoping the corps just tells Montgomery County it can't build the road; that would forestall a local political battle between those who still want a new highway and the majority of the county council that doesn't.

Either way, this 50-year battle is far from over.

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