Posts in category roads
Today's push to improve streets for pedestrians and cyclists mirrors the push a century ago for paved roads. Both ideas stated small but grew to become popular movements by increasing public awareness.
Over 100 years ago, maps of "Good Roads" led the push for paved roads by letting travelers know which roads were likely to be passable. In Slate magazine, Rebecca Onion recently posted an 1897 map of "Good Roads" in and around Philadelphia. Onion says that maps like these were a necessity in a time where standards on road quality and the funding for infrastructure was haphazard and sometimes non-existent.
Efforts like this are still happening today. While most of our roads and highways are now paved, many communities recognize that our streets need infrastructure upgrades in order to help more people feel safe while traveling on foot or by bike, as well as driving.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the "Good Roads" movement pushed governments to pave more roads to accommodate the newly-invented bicycle. Today, there is a push to create protected spaces for cyclists to use. Many cities are adopting "complete streets" policies that seek to standardize our street infrastructure and emphasize that roads are safe and accessible for all users whether they're on foot, riding a bike, or driving.
Like the "Good Roads" movements, maps are an important tool in advocating for complete streets. Both advocacy groups and local governments publish maps that show where the best routes to bike are. This isn't a new idea, either. Bicycle maps were being published in California as early as 1896.
In every debate over a new bike lane or changes to street parking, opponents sometimes argue that the status quo is fine and question why it should change. "Good Roads" maps show that our infrastructure is always changing, and the desire for better and more accommodating streets is nothing new.
For streetcars to move through traffic, rail tracks have to be free of parked cars. To keep them that way, the rules of the road must be crystal clear for drivers.
Last week DDOT used a truck for a test-run of the H Street streetcar route, and because of illegally parked cars, the going was slow. But other cities with similar streetcar layouts, like Seattle and Portland, have had a lot of success keeping their lanes clear. How do they do it?
With constant and clear communication to drivers, like the sign pictured here, and with strong enforcement.
Any time you take pavement away from cars, there's a learning curve. Drivers accustomed to doing as they please have to change behavior. That's to be expected, and it doesn't happen on the first day you run your first test truck. But most drivers do fall in line, once they understand what's changed. That's how streetcars have worked in other cities.
And if all else fails, ticketing cameras mounted on streetcars, like in San Francisco, would solve any remaining problem in a hurry.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Speak up for bike lanes in Alexandria tonight, and then after Thanksgiving, discuss education with David Catania, talk about civic engagement, and learn something new and nerdy.
Support King Street bike lanes: Come show your support tonight (Monday, November 25) for bike lanes on King Street in Alexandria at November's Public Meeting of the Traffic and Parking Board. The meeting is 7:30 pm in the Council Chambers at Alexandria City Hall (301 King St, 2nd floor).
The Alexandria Spokeswomen, a group making Alexandria more bike-friendly for women, is having a happy hour before the meeting. Join them at 6 pm at Daniel O'Connell's Bar (112 King Street) for some food and drink, and then go testify.
After the jump: hear from and talk with David Catania, Harriet Tregoning, and David Alpert.
Education forum with David Catania: Greater Greater Education is hosting a forum with DC Councilmember and Committee on Education chair David Catania. GGE editors will moderate the discussion, and audience members can pose questions.
Nerds in NoMa: Learn more about your favorite nerdy topics, like transportation, beekeeping, and brewing in a series of free events at The Lobby Project (1200 First Street NE) from 6-8 pm.
The first one features Harriet Tregoning, Director of the DC Office of Planning, and Jordan Mittelman from BicycleSPACE on Tuesday, December 3, 6:00 pm. RSVP here. Other talks take place on December 17, January 14, January 28, February 11, and February 18.
Talk about the future: Hear Greater Greater Washington's David Alpert give a talk about "new dimensions of civic dialogue" as part of a series of public talks organized by Georgetown's Urban and Regional Planning program. He will discuss how blogs have raised awareness and attracted more people to civic engagement, as well as how we can engage community members that have traditionally been neglected from this process, especially those in lower-income and minority neighborhoods.
Please come share your thoughts with David on December 5 at 4:30. You can RSVP here.
As always, if you have any events for future roundups, email us at email@example.com!
And please welcome Andrew Watson, one of our new event curators! Erin, the other, will be posting next week. Thanks Andrew and Erin!
Last night, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) presented several concepts for replacing the end of the Southeast Freeway with a boulevard. While it's supposed to reconnect Hill East to the Anacostia River, all of the designs presented prioritize through traffic instead.
The Southeast Freeway has been a barrier between the neighborhood and the river, but the new 11th Street bridges mean that the spur between 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE is no longer needed. DDOT would like to replace it with a surface street, called "Southeast Boulevard," connecting the freeway at 11th Street to Barney Circle.
A standing-room only crowd packed the Payne Elementary School auditorium for DDOT's public meeting on the Barney Circle-Southeast Boulevard Transportation Planning Study. At the meeting, required as part of an environmental assessment of the project under the National Environmental Protection Act, transportation planners shared design concepts for the project and gathered community feedback.
Alternatives for Southeast Boulevard and Barney Circle vary slightly
DDOT planners presented six different options they're studying for the new street, including a "No Build" option (Concept 1) required as part of the NEPA process that would keep everything as it is today.
Concept 2 puts Southeast Boulevard on an elevated structure midway between L Street SE and the existing CSX railroad tracks. The boulevard would be on the same level as L Street, with green space acting as a buffer. Pedestrians and cyclists could access the waterfront by crossing the boulevard at 14th Street SE. DDOT would also build a "multi-modal" parking facility underneath the raised boulevard, with ramps off of the boulevard providing bus and car access to the parking facility.
In Concept 3A, Southeast Boulevard would be at grade, below the level of L Street, with surface parking and green space next to it. There would be a foot and bike bridge over the boulevard and another surface lot to provide access to the waterfront.
Concept 3B is similar to 3A, except the boulevard is on the same level as L Street. In this case, pedestrians and cyclists would have to cross directly over the 4-lane boulevard and surface parking lot to access the waterfront.
Concept 4A places the Southeast Boulevard closer to the railroad tracks and away from L Street, with a parking lot in between. The boulevard and parking would be at grade below the level of L Street. Pedestrians and cyclists would access the waterfront via a pedestrian bridge over the parking lots and boulevard.
Concept 4B is the same, except the boulevard is at the same level as L Street, and pedestrians and cyclists would cross the parking lots and boulevard at 14th Street.
Planners also presented two options on the Barney Circle project, both of which would place traffic signals at the circle.
Option 1 would connect 17th Street, Kentucky Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Southeast Boulevard directly to the circle. Kentucky Avenue would stay a two-way street south of Freedom Way and one-way north of it. K Street would not be connected to the circle, but you could still reach it via Pennsylvania Avenue.
In Option 2, 17th, Pennsylvania, and Southeast Boulevard would connect to Barney Circle, while Kentucky Avenue would become a one-way southbound street from H Street to the circle. H Street would become a two-way street, with all-way stop signs installed at 17th & H and 16th, Kentucky, and H. K Street would remain one-way, but would connect directly to the circle.
These options prioritize through traffic over local connections
All of DDOT's concepts for Southeast Boulevard have three things in common: they all include a four-lane boulevard, have no connections to local streets, and include some parking element. The agency's traffic analysis determined that the new street was necessary, connections to local strets would increase cut-through traffic and that there's a significant need for parking.
The result is concepts that simply recreate what DDOT and the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative are trying to eliminate: a freeway that separates the neighborhood from the waterfront. The extra lanes, lack of signals and additional parking will just attract more drivers to the neighborhood during rush hour.
The designs are especially harmful to 17th Street, where Hill East residents have fought for years to reduce traffic volume and speed. DDOT proposes making 17th Street the only access point to Southeast Boulevard via Barney Circle, making it an alternative for drivers trying to avoid 295 and the 11th Street bridge.
Replace the freeway with a new street grid
If a new street is necessary, a better option is to extend the neighborhood grid by connecting the local streets, 13th, 14th, and 15th, to a two-lane boulevard with stoplights at each intersection. This would make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to cross at multiple locations and make the boulevard a local street, rather than a freeway.
A two-lane road with multiple signals would attract less traffic, easing but not eliminating some of the pressure on 17th Street SE. Green space could provide a buffer between L Street and the two-lane boulevard. And forget the unneeded parking lots.
On Barney Circle, Option 1 appears to be preferable to Option 2, assuming that DDOT can implement traffic calming measures on Kentucky Ave SE. Option 2 exacerbates current traffic volume problems by attracting more vehicles to 16th, 17th, and H streets. Without changes to the Southeast Boulevard portion of the project, both Barney Circle options make the neighborhood worse off.
If the goal of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative is really "to reduce barriers between neighborhoods and the waterfront parks" and "provide continuous pedestrian and bicycle access along the entire waterfront," than we need an option that replaces the Southeast Freeway with a new street grid that prioritizes local connections.
What do you think about the proposals? You can send your comments directly to DDOT at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last night, a cyclist nearly hit a van blocking the L Street cycletrack and decided to report it to the police. That's when he met Fred and Fran Smith, the husband-and-wife heads of a conservative think tank who started berating him for "minding other people's business."
Rob, who tweets as @the_baseband, captured the interaction on his helmet camera and posted it online yesterday. It not only shows the need for more public education about cycling laws in the District, but also the divisive attitude some have towards cyclists, even when they're following the law.
Rob was turning left from 19th Street NW to L Street when he almost slammed into the back of a white van parked in the lane. He walks his bike onto the sidewalk and can be heard calling the police, when a woman approaches and asks if he's going to report the van.
As Rob reads out the license plate of the truck over the phone, an older man in a suit walks over and the two begin screaming at him. The two are later identified as Fred Smith and Fran Smith, founder and board member of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that promotes free-market economics and denies global warming.
The interaction is brief, but it says a lot about lingering attitudes towards cycling and cyclists in DC. While the driver of the van broke the law by parking in a bike lane, it happens so frequently that people like Fred Smith either assume that it's acceptable, or that it's not actually a bike lane.
When Rob explains that he almost hit the van, Fred yells, "The truck is not in the bike lane at all!" He walks out into the street, points to the striped buffer between the bike lane and the general traffic lanes, and says that's the bike lane.
It's also interesting the way that Fred and Fran immediately try to paint Rob as the aggressor for trying to report the driver, chiding him for "minding other people's business." Fred makes multiple assumptions about Rob, saying he "hasn't worked a day in his life" and is "mad" at the driver for not being a cyclist.
When another couple walking by stops to see what's going on, Fred tries to rope them in and marginalize Rob (and by extension, other cyclists, or other young adults) as an outsider. Holding a cigarette, he says to them, "This used to be a nice town where people actually got along." It's hard to hear what he says next, but it's clear he's pointing at Rob.
On YouTube, Rob notes that he stayed to wait for the police, then "I realized it would be better for me to leave."
Our streets have limited space, and tension between different users is unavoidable. But as the ranks of cyclists in DC grow and the cycling infrastructure needed to serve them becomes more common, they won't be seen as outsiders anymore. Fred and Fran Smith may be a lost cause, but hopefully others will be more willing to accept cyclists and acknowledge their rights to the road.
The sidewalk on the east side of Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring just got a makeover, with new brick pavers and street trees. But will it have enough room for everyone who wants to use it?
Montgomery County's Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) managed the $650,000 project, which began this summer and lasted about five months. The agency's main goal was to level and lower the sidewalk to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It replaced the existing concrete sidewalk, built in the 1980s, with sturdier and more attractive brick pavers, and created large new bumpouts at some intersections.
The new sidewalk is very attractive and will hopefully encourage visitors and shoppers to stray from the Ellsworth Drive strip and check out the businesses on Georgia. But it also reveals the tension between different users on Silver Spring's often-cramped sidewalks.
DHCA also removed all of the mature Zelkova trees along Georgia, arguing that the sidewalk reconstruction would disturb the trees and kill them. The new trees are Princeton or Lacebark Elm trees, which will apparently improve the visibility of shops and restaurants from the street.
The old sidewalks had trees in tree grates, allowing room that businesses could put out tables and chairs and leave enough sidewalk for people to walk past comfortably. But the new trees now sit in long, wide planter boxes with little gaps in between for street lights or people getting out of parked cars.
This isn't the only place in downtown Silver Spring with new planters. The county's Department of Transportation (MCDOT) also installed the same planters along Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street, except with three-foot-high hedges. Some planters, like one on Fenton Street, extend for most of a city block to discourage jaywalking.
In 2009, when planning on the Georgia Avenue sidewalk project started, county-hired arborist Steve Castrogiovanni recommended doing the same thing with the new trees to "strike a [balance] between the trees' needs and the needs of pedestrians." But officials endorsed the bigger planters, saying it would give the trees more soil and help them live longer.
Street trees have a lot of health and environmental benefits. They can provide a feeling of enclosure on a street or sidewalk, calming traffic on busy streets like Georgia Avenue, and making pedestrians feel safer.
However, these planter boxes seem to provide the wrong kind of enclosure. Crowded sidewalks can be a good thing, creating a feeling of excitement and vitality on a city street. But when you push pedestrians and outdoor dining tables into too small a space, it can feel uncomfortable, and people won't want to stick around and spend money.
That's why restaurateur Jackie Greenbaum, who owns Jackie's, Sidebar, and Quarry House Tavern, all on Georgia Avenue, didn't want trees planted on the narrow sidewalk outside her businesses. "THIS WILL ELIMINATE MUCH OF MY PATIO SEATING!" she wrote in a 2010 email to DHCA. "This is NOT an improvement and is unnecessary, even undesirable." In the end, DHCA agreed not to plant any there.
Having healthy street trees and vibrant sidewalks aren't mutually exclusive. DHCA could have still created a bigger soil pit for the trees, giving them room to grow, while putting tree grates or permeable pavers on top, ensuring that there's still enough sidewalk space.
Wider sidewalks mean ample room for walking, for dining, and for nature. Photo by Jim Malone on Flickr.
And if county officials really wanted planters, they could have at least used a more attractive design, like these low, stone planters in NoMa that provide space for trees and plants while staying out of the way. Or they could have looked at a bioswale that cleans and filters stormwater in addition to looking pretty.
The real issue isn't the planters, but that the sidewalks on Georgia Avenue aren't appreciably wider. DHCA's project was simply to make the sidewalks meet ADA regulations.
This sidewalk may not get rebuilt for another 30 years, meaning we've missed an opportunity to have a larger conversation about how Georgia Avenue works. Wider sidewalks mean we wouldn't have to decide between landscaping, walking space, and outdoor seating. They mean we could have added new features, like benches, or a "shared use trail" for cyclists similar to the Green Trail on Wayne Avenue.
Doing this would require taking space for cars, which today constitutes the vast majority of Georgia Avenue, and giving it back to people. While that would probably be bad for drivers passing through, it would ultimately be a good thing for downtown Silver Spring, whose historic main street would become a more attractive, pleasant, and safer place to walk and spend time.
DC could one day have 70 miles of protected bike lanes, if the latest proposal from DDOT becomes reality.
The proposal comes as part of the latest draft of MoveDC, DDOT's master plan. It's still only a proposal, and has not been approved by the DC Council. But what an exciting proposal it is!
And that's not all, just for bikes. The proposal also includes over 60 miles of new off-street trails, and another 70 miles of new regular bike lanes.
Of course, it's easy to adopt great plans and harder to accomplish them. DDOT is still struggling to implement the M Street cycletrack, after all. But one must start with a plan, and this appears to be an extremely progressive plan.
Tomorrow I'll share the latest recommendations for transit.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Tonight (Thursday) is the next Greater Greater Washington happy hour! Also, mark your calendars for a Greater Greater Education forum with David Catania on the evening of December 9, and a late afternoon talk with me about growing civic engagement on December 5.
We've been rotating happy hours between DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and now it's DC's turn again. This month's happy hour is at Penn Quarter Sports Tavern, 639 Indiana Ave. NW from 6-9 pm. It's right across 7th Street from Archives Metro, a short walk from Gallery Place or Federal Triangle, and also on the 30s, 50s, 70s, D, P, and X Metrobus lines. There's a CaBi station nearby at 6th and D.
You won't see me because I'll be spending my time putting a baby to bed, but Dan and the other editors and contributors are lots of fun!
After the jump: Stand up for King Street bike lanes Monday, and talk with David Catania about education on December 9 and me about civic engagement on December 5.
Defend bike lanes in Alexandria: The proposed King Street bike lanes in Alexandria have been coming under some intense and often crazy attacks. You can speak up for the lanes this Monday, November 25 at 7:30.
The Alexandria Spokeswomen, an organization working to make the city more bike-friendly for women, is having a happy hour just before the hearing at Daniel O'Connells Bar, 112 King Street, at 6. Have a few drinks and then head over to actually push for safer cycling infrastructure.
Talk about education with David Catania: Our sister blog Greater Greater Education is hosting DC Councilmember and Committee on Education chair David Catania for a forum on December 9. It's 6:30 pm at the Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE (Eastern Market Metro).
Natalie Wexler and Ken Archer will pose questions to Catania about education, and audience members can too. What would you like us to ask? Post your question suggestions in the comments.
Talk about the future
I'm giving a talk on Thursday, December 5 at 4:30 about "new dimensions of civic dialogue." It's part of a series of public talks by various people in planning organized by Georgetown's new Urban and Regional Planning program.
I'll talk a bit about how blogs (like Greater Greater Washington and others) have drawn more people into the process of civic engagement. However, I also want to spend some time exploring how we can broaden the conversation beyond just the demographic of our core audience. We need to be engaging with communities that have traditionally been neglected in the process, especially lower-income and minority neighborhoods.
The changes many of us push for, like adding housing opportunities and amenities like shops and restaurants, can and should benefit new and long-time residents of those communities as well. But we have to make sure they will, not just say so. We can't just draw supply-and-demand curves and say that more supply will filter and keep housing affordable; we have to craft policies that actually ensure people with lower incomes benefit not just in the vague future but now.
And we have to understand what people want for their own neighborhoods. Greater Greater Washington has always sought to highlight voices from all around the region about what they want for their communities, and I'd like to do more to find these voices from our traditionally underserved communities.
If you're interested in this issue, please come share your thoughts with me on December 5 at 4:30. You can RSVP here. That page says the talk is by Shyam Kannan of Metro, and my talk is on 12/12, but we switched, so I'm on 12/5 and Shyam is 12/12. (And go see Shyam's talk, too!)
The last time the sidewalk by the Van Ness Square demolition site was closed to pedestrians, it was a temporary measure. But the latest closure could last much longer.
Photo by Pat Davies.
Developer Saul Centers will tear down the shopping center and replace it with a new apartment building. At a pre-construction meeting last week, representatives from Saul told the community that the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk alongside the construction zone will be closed for two years. DDOT regulations won't allow a covered walkway because of underground construction that was too close to the street.
Instead, pedestrians would have to cross to the west side of Connecticut at Albemarle and Windom. By last Saturday, Saul had already closed off the sidewalk, and it was clear how dangerous this situation was going to be.
I saw a blind man walking north in the street and a man with a toddler on his shoulders coming toward him. Of course, the blind man could not see the large sign announcing the closed sidewalk, but the father definitely could.
ANC commissioner Sally Gresham was also out on Saturday afternoon and spent an hour monitoring "how folks were dealing with" the sidewalk closure. "The results are very scary!" she wrote. Gresham counted 102 people walking on Connecticut Avenue itself, including 6 young teenagers on skate boards, 22 strollers with 1, 2, or 3 adults, 35 people carrying bags of groceries or small children, 26 elderly people, and 13 people using canes, walkers, or leg braces.
Luckily, this was the weekend, and parked cars did provide something of a buffer between traffic and pedestrians. But I wondered about the march of pedestrians on automatic pilot during the Monday morning rush hour.
When asked if there will be a police presence to monitor the situation, Commander Reese of the 2nd Police District said the agency would pay attention to it, but did not have enough officers to have them out on the street.
On Monday morning between 8:30 and 9 a.m., I decided to take a look. Most pedestrians were crossing where they should:
All photos by the author unless noted.
But there were quite a number crossing mid-block and walking in the street.
People crossing mid-block on Connecticut Avenue.
People walking in the street.
And with no police in sight. I forgot they were only monitoring the situation.
I emailed the photos to DDOT, and Director Terry Bellamy replied, "I am alerting our Public Space Team to investigate and make recommendations." According to Saul Centers' Kimberly Miller, construction superintendent "Jason" met with DDOT inspectors, who noted that pedestrians weren't following the posted signs, but that the project still complied with DDOT requirements.
This is not a satisfactory outcome. After pondering the issue, and thinking of the places I have traveled that control pedestrian crossings a lot better than we do, the solution came to me on my afternoon walk. I went home and dashed off another email proposing that pedestrian path be controlled through fencing that allows people to enter stores but prevents pedestrians from crossing the street mid-block.
New legislation may also improve pedestrian safety around construction sites as well. The Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013, which will take effect December 20, requires anyone seeking permits from DDOT to block a sidewalk or bike lane to also provide a "safe accommodation" for pedestrians and bicyclists to use instead.
As of today, the sidewalk is open again, but it's unclear for how long. Will the council's new legislation make a difference for pedestrians on Connecticut Avenue over the next two years? We will keep you posted.
A version of this post appeared on Forest Hills Connection.
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