Greater Greater Washington

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Bicycling


A gap in the Met Branch Trail slowly closes

The Metropolitan Branch Trail, which runs along the Red Line's eastern segment, still has a number of large gaps. The largest stretches from the Fort Totten trash transfer station to the Maryland line. DC officials recently announced they are moving ahead with preliminary engineering and design to close this gap.

WABA made an infographic showing the trail's progress:

According to WABA's post, officials from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) told the Bicycle Advisory Council that the firms RK&K and Toole Design are now working on the project. It will get the trail segment to the 30% design stage; after that, more as-yet-unscheduled work will be necessary to get the design to 100% and ultimately build the trail section.

There are also other gaps in Silver Spring and in Brookland. A bridge to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station is under construction now, and in NoMa, DDOT is adding short cycletrack segments to get riders all the way to Union Station.

Taxis


"Sharing" isn't a good term for services like Uber and Lyft. Is there a better one?

Many of the services that call themselves "sharing," like "ridesharing" (Uber, Lyft), "car sharing" (Zipcar, car2go), bikesharing (Capital Bikeshare), "home sharing" (Airbnb), and others, are not really "sharing" as we typically think of the term. Do we need up with better words to describe these new business models?


Photo by Via Tsuji on Flickr.

The "sharing economy" (early on called "collaborative consumption") is a rapidly-growing sector. Most of its businesses allow people to temporarily use some good for a fee where typically, and formerly, people would own it (like a bike, a car, or an apartment).

But many commentators have pointed out that the term "sharing," at least as we learned it as children, generally means letting people use something you have for free, not renting out something you have, and definitely not a company owning a bunch of things which it rents to people or paying someone to do work on your behalf.

Companies like Uber and Lyft have been dubbing their services "ridesharing." These companies contract with drivers who can make money by offering rides. Jason Pavluchuk from the Association for Commuter Transportation argued that calling these services "rideshare" made it harder to advocate for other models that more aptly deserve the term, like carpool and vanpool services where people actually ride together.

There's also slugging, a longstanding practice where people commuting, such as on I-95 in Virginia, pick up other people at a designated spot who are going to the same destination. (The drivers don't charge for this; they do it to get the right to use the carpool lane.)

Uber and Lyft are really new variants on taxi service. They let people use a car they might already own (though Uber is also offering loans to drivers to get new cars), but they are still doing it as a job. If you use such a service, you're not sharing someone's car; you're paying them to give you a ride.

Other companies like Sidecar have envisioned a model where people already driving from one place to another offer rides to someone who happens to be going the same way. That's a little bit more "sharing" than the app-based taxi-like services.

Services like Zipcar and Capital Bikeshare also could have somewhat more of a claim to the term "sharing." In those cases, at least, there is a pool of vehicles which multiple "members" all use together. They all pay, but basically are pooling money to have a shared resource instead of owning.

What do you think counts as sharing? Is there a better term for these services?

Transit


America can learn from this French city's complete streets

Strasbourg, France is a beautiful city that takes its complete streets to heart. The roads through the old city gracefully mix street trams/light rail with bicycle paths and friendly traffic calmed streets. Pedestrians move easily. Its central intercity train station is a glamorous historic building sheathed in a chic, modern glass shell.


Strasbourg's train station. Photo by barnyz on Flickr.

My family moved to Strasbourg when I was 12. In French school, I comprehended little, and regularly escaped the gates of Le Lycée International des Pontonniers to explore the city by foot and public transportation. It was liberating to take my lunch money and spend it in boulangeries around town or even into Germany across the Rhine River. My parents thought I was in school and I may not have been in the country!

Given the quality of its infrastructure, it would be easy to think the French city is quite large. In fact, Strasbourg is a metro area with a population the size of Albany, Little Rock, Colorado Springs and would rank 73rd in US metro size behind Columbia, SC.


Complete Streets in Strasbourg. Photo by Spiterman on Flickr.

6 tram lines ply this small city

The Strasbourg metropolitan area of 760,000 people contains six tram lines, 56km (36 miles) of track, 72 stations, and daily ridership of 300,000 as of 2010. No US city near this size has this kind of rail system.

During the day, trams run every 6 minutes Monday to Friday, 7 minutes on Saturday and 12 minutes on Sundays. Yearly passes are 456 euros ($620 dollars) with discounts for those over 65 and under 25. A single fare is 1.60 euro ($2.18).


Trams glide from suburbs into the dense city with a dedicated right of way. Photo by michallon on Flickr.

Strasbourg's trams function as a hybrid of what in the US we would call streetcars and light rail. The rail vehicles are similar to streetcars because they are mostly in the roadbed and integrate into the city's fabric, but unlike streetcars, they operate with their own right of way separate from traffic, as light rail does.

Bicycle infrastructure abounds

To complement the tram system, Strasbourg has almost 500km (311 miles) of cycling paths, 18,000 bike racks that serve over 130,000 cyclists. Secure bike parking lots and tire inflation facilities are available at bus and tram stops for transit card holders.


Across the city, bicycles get their own space in the street network. Photo by NACTO on Flickr.

Baltimore County, a national leader in Complete Streets, still lags far behind Strasbourg

Many US cities have adopted complete street ordinances and individual streets have been retrofitted. Locally, Baltimore County has been recognized as a national leader for Complete Streets, ranking 6th among 83 communities in the US with Complete Streets programs.

Despite this recognition, the county's on-road bike network is minimal; members of the Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee have been frustrated by the lack of commitment to projects; the county has missed the mark on its pedestrian safety campaign; and now its county executive struggles to find a $50 million contribution for the $2.4 billion Red Line his administration says it supports.


The future home of the Towson Bike Beltway in Baltimore County. Image from Google Street View.

In Baltimore City, Council Bill 09-0433 was adopted in 2010 directing the Departments of Transportation and Planning to apply "Complete Streets" principles to the planning, design, and construction of all new city transportation improvement projects.

Despite the accolades and the policies, "complete streets" in Baltimore County and Baltimore City still feel foreign. Too many incidences of tragic pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle crashes get blamed on user error than engineering design.

Only a few of the most progressive US cities are scaling up Complete Streets projects. On the ground implementation in many jurisdictions remains the elusive prize. Complete Street advocates look forward to seeing first rate projects in the city and the suburbs get designed, funded, and become reality.

You can see a gallery of pictures of Strasbourg's complete streets infrastructure at Comeback City.

Parking


It's a little harder to pay for parking in Montgomery County

Montgomery County's limited options for paying for parking, besides using piles of quarters, shrank some more yesterday, as the county announced it will not longer support popular Parking Meter Cash Keys.


Photo by the author.

These keys allow drivers to load and store value on the key at a county parking office. When parking, the driver can insert the key into the meter, which will then deduct money every 15 minutes at short-term meters and 3 hours at long-term meters. There is no charge other than a refundable deposit for the keys.

Many people use the cash keys instead of having to carry about $5.50 in quarters to park for a full day. But Tuesday morning, the county's Division of Parking Management announced in a press release that the program will be discontinued. The keys will continue working in meters, but people will not be able to get new keys or add value to existing keys after Monday.

County spokesperson Esther Bowring stated that she does not have information about how many cash keys are in circulation, but estimated the number to be in the tens of thousands.

Bowring said the sudden discontinuation came because of a software glitch that the manufacturer of the cash keys (Duncan Technologies) was not willing or able to fix. As a result, the county is transitioning to a new contractor for all of its payment-related services.

Other alternatives to quarters are limited

The county's press release touts a "Smart Meter Debit Card" as a replacement for the cash keys, but these smart meters are only available in Bethesda. That means that the only non-coin option in the Silver Spring and Wheaton garages is a monthly "Parking Convenience Sticker" (PCS) that costs $113-$123 per month. This is not a valid option for residents that mostly use transit, but may need to drive occasionally.

New meters that accept credit and debit cards will be on street in Silver Spring "later this year," according to the press release. It does not mention whether the credit card meters will also go inside the garages.

Cell phone payment is available in some garages, but not all. That's because enforcement officers were not able to get a reliable wireless signal in underground garages, preventing them from verifying whether someone has parked with pay-by-phone or just has an expired meter.

When the county rolled out pay by phone, to great fanfare in 2011 and 2012, I tried to park in a Silver Spring garage, but noticed the sticker denoting the space was missing. A parking services manager on the phone blamed this on homeless people vandalizing the meters (which seemed odd for a garage that was 3 stories below ground level.) But the "Go Park Now" (Now "MobileNow") application did not recognize the number, meaning that, in fact, the county had not programmed it to work with those meters.

Officials could extend cell phone service inside the garages with "PicoCells" or "Network Extenders." Residential versions are available from the mobile phone companies for approximately $250, and act as miniature cell towers that connect to a land line.

According to Bowring, county officials did examine this option, but initially ruled it out as each floor of each garage would need a separate unit for each mobile carrier. But now that the meter keys are not an option, she said that the county will revisit the possibility.

Though units suitable for garages plus maintenance will cost more than the $250 a resident would have to pay, it would be worthwhile for the county to spend some of its parking revenue to make the phone-based payment system work while Silver Spring residents wait for their transit center, Purple Line, Metropolitan Branch Trail, Bus Rapid Transit, longer VanGo hours or other long-promised alternatives to driving.

Transit


Maryland SHA needlessly draws community ire with poor Georgia Avenue Bus Rapid Transit options

Last November, Montgomery County passed a master plan envisioning high-quality Bus Rapid Transit on its eight busiest corridors. Unfortunately, Maryland officials are pushing to design BRT in an unreasonable way that would harm the community along the route, and have unnecessarily stirred up opposition to BRT as a result.

The Maryland State Highway Administratrion (SHA) hosted an open house in May to discuss alternatives for BRT on Georgia Avenue from Olney to Wheaton. This image from SHA's map of the area shows how it would add two bus lanes to a three-block stretch north of Glenmont:


Image from Maryland SHA.

On this segment, SHA shows a 200-foot wide right of way. The current road is only 88 feet wide, with 6-foot sidewalks on each side, meaning that SHA wants to widen the road by 100 feet just to add two bus lanes. This would require destroying 34 residencesthe red R's on the mapalong with a business and a church.

And that's just one small part of the corridor. From Wheaton up to Olney, SHA estimated that adding a single reversible dedicated transit lane in the median would mean destroying 142 properties. Adding two dedicated BRT lanes brings the number to 155.

Not surprisingly, these numbers have generated concern along Georgia Avenue. Opponents point to them as one more reason to stop BRT.

Thankfully, there's no reality to these numbers. This is true for two reasons.

First, SHA's assumptions for road widths, busway widths, and necessary buffers are unnecessarily large. For example, SHA assumes six traffic lanes and two bike lanes are 88 feet wide, while the Montgomery County Planning Department scopes the exact same road at 66 feet wide. SHA overestimates the width of a two-lane busway by six more feet as well, making the road 28 feet wider than the county believes necessary.

Second, on top of these bloated road widths, SHA routinely tacks on anywhere from 28 to 62 additional feet of width for no clear reason. Here, just adding two bus lanes to a regular 6-lane road somehow adds a full 100 feet to the cross-section. Clearly, the lanes are not each 50 feet wide.

A better study of BRT alternatives for Georgia Avenue would have applied the standards used by Montgomery County's planning staff when they developed the county's BRT master plan last November. The planning staff's cross-sections for the exact same roadway (meaning the same number of travel lanes, turn lanes, and bus lanes) are more than 20 feet narrower curb-to-curb than the cross-sections used by the SHA. Excluding the extra unexplained width in the SHA cross-sections makes an even bigger difference.

To illustrate this point, here's the same three-block stretch of Georgia Avenue north of Glenmont, preserving all lanes and turns, drawn using the Planning Department's design standards:


Image by Communities for Transit using Google Maps base image.

Just by changing which agency's assumptions we rely upon, the number of endangered properties drops from 36 to exactly 1 (marked with a red pin). The reason is simple: instead of requiring around 200 feet of right-of-way, as SHA does, this layout requires only 106 to 112 feet, with sidewalks adding another 12 feet. All this space is saved without changing the number of traffic lanes, turn lanes, and bus lanes.

Switching from SHA to Planning assumptions totally changes the story of BRT's impact on the community along Georgia Avenue. Under the Planning standard, the number of endangered properties would drop by more than 80%.

And this is just a first cut. Shifting the road's centerline or using a narrower sidewalk and planting strip than Planning's recommended 20 feet could save nearly all of the remaining threatened properties.

Finally, repurposing a traffic lane to transit-only won't affect any properties. That's an important option to consider, especially in constrained areas.

The question remains why SHA ignored the planning department's recommended BRT cross-sections and instead produced alternatives that affect so many properties, which they must have known would provoke opposition. If SHA repeats this unnecessarily destructive approach when it studies BRT alternatives on MD-355 (Bethesda to Clarksburg) and on US-29 (Silver Spring to Burtonsville), it will only compound the harm.

The county's residents deserve a realistic assessment of how BRT would fit in our communities. If you live nearby, you can submit a comment to SHA asking them to create community-sensitive BRT alternatives for Georgia Avenue.

Events


Events roundup: Precocious pedaling, Potomac Yard, trees, and transit

This week is jam-packed with engaging events to keep you entertained throughout the dog days of summer. Participate in a grown-up science project. Attend the groundbreaking for the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transitway and take the kiddies on a bike ride through Alexandria. With so much to do, why stay inside?


Photo by Colville-Andersen on Flickr.

Kidically Arlandria: Join the family biking party this Sunday, July 20 from 11:00 am to noon (followed by an optional group lunch after the ride) as Kidical Mass takes you and your kids on a bicycle tour through Alexandria!

The tour will pass through the exploding soon-to-be-exploding Potomac Yard retail corridor, around the leafy neighborhoods of Del Ray and through Arlington, before returning to the playground behind the Harris Teeter at the Eclipse in Potomac Yard. Ride will start from this location as well. Roll-out at 11:15am, but come early to play!

Groundbreaking new transitway: Come attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the region's first dedicated bus transitway on Friday, July 18, 9:00 am at 33rd Street and Crystal Drive in Arlington. This innovative system will provide faster, more reliable bus service along the Route 1 corridor through Crystal City and Potomac Yard. Learn more about the benefits of BRT in Arlington and Alexandria at this historic event!

Grown-up science projects: Ever wanted to participate in a study? Need some encouragement? Casey Trees will be offering restaurant gift cards to participants in a study which attempts to monitor the accuracy of data collection. Their goal is to standardize urban forest monitoring across the US and abroad, in an effort to improve urban life.

More information about volunteer requirements and a general study overview are here. The studies will take place Thursday, July 17th from 6-9 pm and Saturday, July 19th from 9 am to noon at 3030 12th Street NW.

Tacos and transit: Next Wednesday, June 23 at Paladar Latin Kitchen in Rockville, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Friends of White Flint, and Communities for Transit will be holding a rapid transit happy hour Besides noshing on latin food and $5 margaritas and mojitos at happy hour, learn the latest news about Rapid Transit in Montgomery County and how you can get involved. Connect with fellow allies, volunteers, and supporters.

Ride the Silver Line! Saturday, June July 26 is opening day for the Silver Line. The first train will leave Wiehle Avenue at noon, and you can get there by bike, car, foot, or Fairfax Connector bus. A group from Greater Greater Washington will ride to East Falls Church, then head back and stop at each of the new Tysons Corner stations along the way. Hope to see you there!

Government


Casey Anderson is Montgomery's new Planning Board chair

Montgomery County's new Planning Board chair will be Casey Anderson, a strong advocate for growing the county's urban areas and improving its transit network. The County Council voted 8-1 to appoint him this morning.

An attorney who lives in Silver Spring, Anderson has been a community activist on smart growth, transit, and bicycling issues, previously serving on the board of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. He stepped down to join the Planning Board in 2011, and can be seen walking or biking to meetings there. The council will have to find a replacement for his old seat.

Councilmembers appeared to rally around Anderson last week over four other applicants for the position. "Anderson comes closest to holding the vision I have for our County's future," wrote Councilmember Roger Berliner in a message to his constituents. "He is a strong proponent of smart and sustainable growth, served by world class transit. These are the key components of a strong future for our county."

The Planning Board chair is responsible for giving the County Council recommendations on land use and transportation issues, meaning they can play a big role in how and where the county grows. As chair, Anderson says he'd like to look at the way Montgomery County uses the amount of car traffic as a test for approving development. The tests often discourage building in the county's urban areas, where people have the most options for getting around without a car.

As a board member, Anderson has advocated for more transportation options and more nightlife as ways to keep the county relevant and attractive to new residents. He was the only vote against approving an extension of Montrose Parkway through White Flint, where the county wants to create a pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented downtown. He also served with me on the Nighttime Economy Task Force, which sought to promote nightlife in the county.

Anderson was a strong influence in favor of the county's Bus Rapid Transit plan, and persuaded some of his fellow commissioners to support repurposing existing lanes for BRT. Anderson also pushed for performance standards for BRT which aim to prevent BRT from being watered down in the future.

Upcounty, he opposed the board's unfortunate vote in support of the M-83 highway last fall. He did support keeping development in a part of Clarksburg near Ten Mile Creek which turned the Montgomery Countryside Alliance against his candidacy.

Councilmember Marc Elrich was the only vote against Anderson. Though he didn't nominate her this morning, Elrich favored former Planning Board member Meredith Wellington, who had support from some civic activists who feel that the county is growing too fast. The field of candidates also included current board member and real estate developer Norman Dreyfuss, current deputy planning director Rose Krasnow, and former County Councilmember Mike Knapp.

Montgomery County offers a wide variety of urban, suburban, and rural communities. Anderson's appointment suggests that the county's ready to embrace its urban areas while preserving the suburban and rural ones, providing a greater variety of community types and transportation choices for an increasingly diverse population.

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