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The 11th Street Bridge Park gets a brilliant design. Will it succeed?

The organizers behind the 11th Street Bridge Park have picked a design that could be the city's most brilliant piece of architecture in decades. Now comes the hard part: making this vision work in a spot surrounded by water rather than homes and businesses.


The winning proposal concentrates activity on the east side of the Anacostia River. All images from the design team.

From a field of four competitors, the jury picked a design team led by the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), best known in the United States for the Seattle Public Library, and landscape architect OLIN Studios, which designed Canal Park near the Nationals ballpark and will renovate Franklin Park downtown. Together, they created a design that can do what the bridge park's organizers wanted: reconnect neighborhoods on both sides of the Anacostia to the river and each other.


A diagram of the different activities on the bridge.

In the best case scenario, someone walking along the Anacostia up from Poplar Point in summer 2018 would see the riverbanks rise gently for hundreds of feet, crossing to form an X shape. At first glance, it's simple: almost like two logs falling across a stream, some kind of primitive bridge. But up close, the renderings and plans show a string of spaces that would appeal to people across the city.


A section showing how the park is laid out.

The design creates iconic spaces and helps reconnect Anacostia to the river

From a functional perspective, it's best to look at the design like it's an extension of the ground on either bank. A long bar from Capitol Hill interlocks with a loop from Anacostia, making the bridge feel like an outgrowth of the banks and not a discrete transitional space. Multiple programs fill in the in between space. Some are shady and enclosed, like the amphitheater, while others are open and dramatic, like the overlook.


An outdoor theatre would have multiple levels.

The designers also chose to place the anchor elements, like the environmental education center, the cafe, and the playground, closer to the Historic Anacostia side. One reason is to encourage more people to visit the east bank, which I-295 cuts off from the river.

Anacostia also needs those activities more, especially the play space. They will serve a basic need while also generating the traffic that makes parks feel safe. What's better is that the environmental education center has eyes on both the main deck and the secluded space below it.


A detailed section drawing. Click to enlarge.

As the section above shows, the cafe also sits between levels, so someone sitting on the upper lawn can see through the restaurant and onto the environmental center's boat launch below.


Views extend across different levels, improving visibility and making the site feel safer.

The other elements, like the dramatic overlook, the main plaza, and the amphitheater sit closer to the Navy Yard. These are iconic attractions, for tourists, local bikers passing by, and I suspect even weddings, like at New York's equally dramatic Fort Tryon Park.

Finally, the ecological design is appropriately balanced. Along the main paths are spaces that people can play on. They're visible, but not in the way are the hands-off landscapes, like wetlands, oyster banks, and swales to filter rainwater. OLIN found a way to integrate ecological urbanism into the project without compromising the people habitat. They even proposed a wooded berm to block out traffic noise from I-295.


Section drawing showing the design's ecological features.

The project reflects the sophistication of the designers, who have shown that they can stand up to criticism and push their designs as the demands of money, politics and gravity weigh down their vision.

Public input can help this bridge soar

How will the organizers and their team face down the remaining challenges? Some are design issues, as competition entries are never quite figured out, and designers often fill renderings with aspirational eye candy. I think the public can help in this case by identifying those problems constructively and allowing the design team the room to solve them.

Scott Kratz, the man behind the bridge, has done that. He deserves commendation for the long-running and effective public outreach that formed the foundation of the competition designs. Respecting residents as experts in their own lives and the designers as experts in their fields, he has arrived at something that could work well. More of that is ideal.


Trees could buffer the park from I-295.

The bigger challenge is getting people there. This bridge is in the middle of the river, with the Navy Yard at one end and a highway interchange at the other before reaching nearby neighborhoods. That means there's little of the incidental activity that helps public spaces like this to be busy and safe.

New infill development could help, like the planned Maritime Plaza along the river on the north side. So would the redevelopment of Poplar Point, if it ever happens. Even without those, adding more destination activities to the nearby riverbanks, as in the WRT/NEXT design for the bridge, might have the same effect.

If the city builds the streetcar across the river, including a stop at the bridge park, it would open easy access to the park up beyond the immediate neighbors.

But a growing appeal around the park could cause a rise in rents and influx of expensive retail, displacing the groups the bridge was meant to serve. The four or so years before the park opens could be spent developing strategies to add housing diversity without disrupting lives and preventing the poor from enjoying the benefits of good urbanism and great architecture. The bridge has been an excellent catalyst for design, perhaps it can also be a great catalyst for social policy.

In Washington, some people criticize proposed buildings or developments to kill them and preserve the status quo. Meanwhile, designers criticize something with the hope of refining it. What can we refine with the 11th Street Bridge Park? Now is the time to start talking.

Alan Howze wants Arlington to adopt Vision Zero

Arlington County Board candidate Alan Howze released a call for Arlington to set a goal of zero pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths from vehicle-related collisions.


Image from Walk San Francisco.

These types of goals have become commonly known as "Vision Zero" after the Swedish campaign of the same name that began in 1997. They represent an important challenge to the belief that casualties from our transportation systems are inevitable and unpreventable.

In the United States, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have adopted Vision Zero policies. DC mayoral candidates David Catania and Muriel Bowser have pledged to establish a program in the District.

Howze lays out a fairly detailed four-pronged action plan:

In order to "make streets safer for all users," Howze calls for identifying neighborhood safety hotpots and to address them within 12 months. He lays out a plan for accelerating safety improvements at the "Intersection of Doom" in Rosslyn and recommends collecting detailed collision data, expanding sidewalks, increasing traffic enforcement and adjusting signal timing to minimize vehicle and pedestrian interactions in intersections.

To "complete safe routes to all Arlington schools," Howze calls for making a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan for each school, creating a coordinated County/APS plan to clear sidewalks and provide safe routes within 24 hours of inclement weather, and designing safe bike infrastructure and policies that accommodate "all bikes, especially those used to transport children". Cyclists who ride regularly with trailers or on cargo bikes know that not all bike infrastructure meets this threshold presently.

Howze wants to "expand the trail and route network" including creating "20 miles of protected bike lanes by 2020," completing bike connectivity along Route 50, working with the National Park Service to "widen the Mt Vernon Trail and separate cyclists and runners and pedestrians," and improve connectivity on the Roosevelt Bridge, Chain Bridge, and Memorial Bridge.

Finally the plan lays out some standard "enhance community involvement" items like "improve county outreach and response processes on street safety issues," "accelerate implementation of neighborhood traffic safety solutions," and "improve opportunities for input by residents on street and safety improvements."

Howze will face incumbent John Vihstadt in the November election. Vihstadt has campaigned primarily on halting Arlington's planned streetcar system.

MARC will add a bicycle car to some weekend trains

MARC plans to allow bicycles on some weekend trains on the Penn Line before the end of the year, a MARC official said last week.


Photo by John on Flickr.

Bicycle advocates have long asked MARC to allow passengers to bring ordinary bicycles aboard MARC trains. MARC allows only folding bicycles on regular passenger cars.

However, MARC is now spending $359,000 to convert two single-level passenger cars to passenger/bicycle cars, Chief Mechanical Officer Erich Kolig explained to the MARC Riders Advisory Council on October 16. MARC plans to add one bicycle car to certain weekend Penn Line trains. There will be a bicycle symbol on the Penn Line schedule to denote these trains. The other bicycle car will remain in reserve.

The single-level cars have three seats on one side, and two seats on the other. In the bicycle cars, there will be 29 bicycle racks instead of seats on the three-seat side. The bicycle racks will accommodate full-length bicycles, tires ranging in diameter from 10 inches to 29.5 inches, and most fat tires. They are angled to preserve aisle space.

If the bicycle cars on the Penn Line are successful, MARC will convert two more cars and add bicycle service on Friday afternoons on the Brunswick Line, which will allow people to take their bicycles to Harpers Ferry on the train and then ride back to Washington on the C&O Canal trail.

David Catania on Metro, economic development, streetcars, affordable housing, bike lanes, building heights, and more

We chatted with David Catania, DC councilmember at large and an independent candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia, today at noon. Here is a transcript of the discussion.


Photo by tedeytan on Flickr.

David Alpert: Welcome to our chat. I'm here in Catania HQ with Aimee Custis, Ashley Robbins, Jonathan Neeley, and Abigail Zenner. We'll get started in just a minute.

I am going to be asking questions verbally to Mr. Catania, who will answer verbally. Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan will be taking turns typing in his words.

That means that if there are any typos, they are our fault and not Mr. Catania's. We suggested this arrangement to ensure we can get a lot of questions and answers in (it has nothing to do with Mr. Catania's typing ability).

I want to ask as many of your questions as possible. Please tweet them with hashtag #ggwchat and I will be able to post them directly to the chat.

David Alpert: Okay, David Catania is here with us. Let's get started!

Welcome to the chat, Councilmember Catania!

David Catania: Thank you very much! I'm really excited to participate. I've been looking forward to this conversation for a long time and I'm eager to get started!

David Alpert: To get started: What makes you the best candidate for mayor of DC?

David Catania: The District of Columbia has had reversals the last twenty years. When I first joined the council, we had a pretty bad budget shortfall. We've worked very had to reverse this trajectory. I have the vision and the values to make that happen.

It's a combination of record and experience coupled with the items I helped champion in my 17 years, and in our vision statement, which you can find at cataniaplatform.com, people can see the specifics of what I'd like to do to secure our city's future.

David Alpert: What initiatives from other cities do you admire and which you would like to bring to DC?

David Catania: During this campaign I've been talking a lot about what Mayor Bloomberg has done at Roosevelt Island. Specifically, the partnership between the city and Cornell and Israel Institute of Technology. It's a very ambitious $2 billion program to double the number of engineers and people with Ph.Ds in engineering in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg understood that financial services is a sector of the economy that's shrinking in New York. Doubling the number of engineers and individuals with PhDs in engineering is critical.

In 2000, I authored the New Economy Transformation Act, which included a host of incentives to bring tech companies to the city. We've been successful under this program. There were financial incentives, and other incentives. We've brought over 200 companies to the city. These companies, in order to grow, have to have a work force that permits them to grow, and that means more engineers than we are producing here locally.

Engineers are incredible job multipliers. Every engineer produces 4.2 jobs. In our city, our two largest industries are government and legal services, and these are not growing industries, in fact they're shrinking. The next mayor has to be consumed with how we'll continue to grow our economy, and I propose an increase in new economy companies.

I'd like to see this growth located on the St. Elizabeth's campus, the same campus as Homeland Security. Successful innovation is often the function of a partnership between government, education, and private sector. I see the St. Elizabeth's campus as a focal point for opportunity in our city.

David Alpert: OK, let's talk about transit for a bit. Andrew asked: In the several years that I've been a resident of DC, late-night, off-peak, and weekend Metrorail service has slowed to a trickle, while WMATA's much-touted bus investments have had little tangible benefit for riders. What will you do to encourage Metro to provide services that are more useful to DC residents?

David Catania: Many of the issues surrounding late night service with Metro is a function of our underinvestment in maintenance in the past. The system is really under a great deal of duress because of that lack of investment, which means it's often harder for us to keep the system in service.

Some of the ideas that are proposed under the Metro Momentum plan, which include additional pocket tracks and investments, will help with reliability but over the next 25 years will cost quite a bit.

I think there's quite a lot we can do about late night service for public transit across the city. It means greater investments in dedicated bus lanes and extended hours, and it means increasing our maintenance budget for Metro through a dedicated funding service so we're not constantly putting band-aids on a system with a legacy of underinvestment.

David Alpert: You mentioned the streetcar program. Earlier this year, the DC Council diverted much of the funding for the streetcar program to tax cuts. What's your plan to fund the streetcar program, and how soon would you enact it once mayor?

David Catania: I'd like to first explain, I have a long history with the streetcars. It started with Dan Tangherlini in 2002 who was with WMATA and I was a WMATA alternate.

In 2004, the very first streetcar proposed was the Anacostia light rail program. It was budgeted, and shepherded it through not only the Council but also WMATA, and I was there ten years ago for the groundbreaking.

The complications associated with the right of way meant that line was moved to H Street. I think it's important to explain this. When it came time to purchase the first three cars, I was instrumental in identifying the first ten million dollars for the first three cars.

In 2004, Dan Tangherlini and I took a leap of faith and bought the cars before we had a system. I believe that created a momentum for the light rail system that has seen it to fruition.

The council during the six-year capital improvement plan did reduce the nine million dollar investment not by half, but significantly. I'm still dedicated to the entire North-South and East-West lines. It may take a few more years to accomplish than proposed but we have to be flexible with it.

When I'm elected mayor, I'm going to look at ways at capturing increased property values and increased assessments of light rail, so the system can be funded by the virtue of increased property taxes created by the increase in property investment.

At the end of the day, its not about whether we'll build East-West versus North-South. I plan to be a part of completing that commitment.

David Alpert: Years ago, you argued that it was important for the streetcar to start in Ward 8. But a lot of people in Ward 8, including the councilmember, don't support it. Do you still think we should build the streetcar there, and if you're mayor, how will you work with Ward 8 to build support for it?

David Catania: I don't think there was ever any accurate polling to suggest a lot of people don't support it. To the contrary, I think there's a lot of evidence people do support it. And that Ward 8 is one of the most transit-dependent communities in the city.

I stand by that view and I hope we can reengage CSX regarding the right-of-way along the Anacostia. National Harbor is essentially the downtown of Prince George's County and I'd like to be able to connect people to opportunities there.

David Catania: Absolutely. I think we're going to learn some lessons the hard way with how we're approaching light rail on H Street. I think it would have been smarter for us to have designated rights of way down the street rather than on the sides. I think that's going to create safety traffic, transportation, and delivery issues.

We're expecting 170,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. We have to find a way to efficiently and safely and economically transport individuals around the city. I'm a fan of dedicated bus service as light rail, but when I look at he capacity of light rail cars than buses, light rail has double the capacity of buses. There's a great case for efficiency in dedicated lanes for light rail and for the expansion of the system.

David Catania: This is a more than $20 billion expenditure over the next 25 years. I've been very vocal about themed to have a designated funding source for wmata. For all jurisdictions that participate, I think there's great value in certainty. For some that might mean an additional funding source. Before we talk about funding Momentum, we have to talk about our existing capital improvement plans.

I'm sure your readers appreciate that, for instance, when were purchasing the additional cars to fund a eight car service, because we don't have a dedicated funding source, Metro isn't always able to exercise options on procurements. We have to start from scratch.

That's an incredibly inefficient way to purchase cars or other materials for our system. So a dedicated funding source will rationalize our funding with respect to our existing needs. Going forward, I'd hope that dedicated source would lead to additional resources.

I for one would lead that as the mayor of the District of Columbia. Metro is the tie that binds us, and if we don't take care of it, it will lead to our undoing. I'd look at gas tax, I'd look at regional sales tax, and I'd look at capturing value from the properties that are immediately adjacent to Metro stations that bear the greatest benefit from proximity to Metro.

David Alpert: Let's move to housing and development for a bit.

David Catania: The city doesn't have a housing plan, period. And I appreciate the often narrow self interest, but as a mayor, you have to house the whole family. That means there's a focus on individuals below 30% AMIwe need to have a focus on them. We have individuals who require partial assistance, and then we have those who make very good livings but there's still a lack of affordability.

We need to look at a couple of things, one, the city owned land that's in our possession and how we make that available. We look at easing and improving the regulatory ability to get licenses issued and plans approved and that means sitting down with planners and developers about what they're facing. I think we have quite a lot of unallocated federal resources$110 million for affordable housing that went unused.

Simply put, we lack a plan, and it's one of our biggest challenges. We used to have a really robust HPAP program, a housing purchasing plan. In 2008, we spent nearly $30 million helping individuals purchase their own homes, with up to $70,000 per family in down payment and closing cost assistance.

So, NYC provides a great example on how to provide mixed income housing opportunities. They merge federal resources with local support. In New York, they take their tax-exempt bonds, which we presently don't use all of ours, and we marry them with 30-year exemptions on property tax in exchange for 20% of the units in the building being available to low-income individuals.

So it gives you the opportunity to have mixed income in what are otherwise, higher income buildings. The city's been able to produce thousands of units that aren't strictly market based.

David Alpert: You mentioned city-owned land. The council is now debating whether to require a certain amount of affordable housing in any project built on public land. What do you think about such a requirement?

David Catania: On its face, it's very compelling. But having hard and fast percentages can play mischief in advancing housing generally. For example, when we try to do mixed-income development. It's illustrated in our New Communities projects. We try to create mixed income in communities where there's no demand for middle income, so the entire project stalls because we have these artificial expectations.

In theory, I absolutely support the requirement of low and moderate incomes in housing developments. But we have to look project by project and at the end of the day the financials have to work.

One of the things I want to focus on is that we spend a lot of time talking about new construction and at the same time we're ignoring the avalanche we're facing in the world of preserving existing affordable housing. There are more than 50 buildings under affordability covenants that in the next give years will be released from those covenants.

These are buildings that were financed with federal low income housing tax credits and federal tax-exempt bonds. These buildings lose any limitations on increases in rent, we're facing an avalanche of thousands of units that will lose affordability in the next five years.

I appreciate that we should be focused on building new units but as much attention must be focused on preserving existing units. Up until now, I've seen no plan of this. Recently, I was able to intervene and help the residents of Museum Square keep their apartments, but we need a global solution to these affordability challenges.

David Alpert: AC asks: You've talked a little about existing supply, but a lot of affordable housing advocates in the city are curious to hear you on record about Inclusionary Zoning. Can you tell us where you stand on that program?

David Catania: I supported inclusionary zoning in 2006. Inclusionary zoning is a fantastic principle, but it has yet to produce any meaningful supply. In the first five, six, seven years of inclusionary zoning, fewer than 100 units were created, and I think the real number is closer to 50.

We need to understand more deeply why inclusionary zoning is not producing the supply that we were anticipating and hoping for. So often we can have really terrific ideas that fail in execution, and we need to circle back and examine why that is. Sometimes you need mid-stream corrections.

Utilize a provision in the bill that I authored in 2002, which gives the District the opportunity to purchase when Section 8s are coming out. The reality is that individuals who are in building-based Section 8 apartments are not able to purchase the units, so giving those tenants the opportunity to purchase is to give them something that isn't real. That's what lead me to the district opportunity to purchase so that we can, as a city, manage these purchases. I think it's an indispensable tool and one that's never been used in maintaining affordability.

David Catania: To be clear, in the old city, I don't favor any change to the height requirement. In the rest of the city, I think these issues should be decided by our local legislature and local mayor with input from the population.

I personally am not keen on the notion of raising the height limit in our city. I believe there's plenty of infill capacity in our city to meet needs, but you can never say never. At this point, I don't support it though.

David Alpert: Especially when the height limit restricts the amount of housing near existing transit.

David Catania: One of the things that we can do is expand the quantity of transit. Light rail provides that opportunity. I agree if we were holding steady in our current infrastructure, it does really push greater density around those locations. But if through dedicated bus lanes and an expansion of light rain, we could extend the transit capacity throughout the city, it diminishes the need for intense density around a few locations.

David Catania: I think the community has done an excellent job in putting together this 25-year plan. One of our biggest challenges, if I'm not mistaken, that it's a nearly $50 billion investment and only half the funds have been procured, so we're going to have to get creative in terms of financing.

Financing aside, I think there are a lot of exciting components. The two-year plan has some elements I'd like to move forward with immediately, from Klingle to Anacostia trails. Sidewalk safety and dedicated bus lanes are important. The continued focus on pedestrian safety is important. There are many elements in the two-year plan and the 25-year plan that are exciting.

The challenge is for us to make the investments today and begin planning today for that transition. I'm eager to get started with this execution. We're going to have 140,000 new residents over the next quarter century.

In terms of an organizing philosophy around transportation, there are issues with ethics, engineering, education, and enforcement. Each of them plays a role in building a balanced, community-centric transportation system.

David Alpert: You mentioned a few elements like buses and sidewalks but we haven't gotten to talk yet about bicycles. ChrisRHamilton asked in the last chat: Progressive mayors across the country have started to compete for businesses and the best and the brightest young folks by making their cities the most bike-friendly. While the District is making good incremental progress on becoming more bike-friendly, largely following the initiatives started under Mayor Fenty, do you envision ramping up the pace of change in installing protected bike lanes, bike parking and bikeshare so that it is more transformative or do you think the current pace of change is good enough?

David Catania: There are many core elements of moveDC that I embrace, including 200 miles of bike lanes. When I go back to the issues of education and enforcement, I think we've done a really terrible job of educating the public on what bikes contribute to our community. Obviously, there are huge environmental benefits from cycling. It also helps dramatically reduce demand for existing roadwayswe're up to 14,000 cyclists.

The third area which is rarely talked about is how cycling contributes to the economic development of our city. Many people bike out of economic necessity. But for othersthe cost of operating an average medium size sedan in our country is between $8,000 and 9,000 per year. If we can convince more of our residents to forgo that investment and instead use bicycles, they'll spend those thousands of dollars here locally in housing, retail and supporting our local economy. This may be overly simplistic but if you look at 14k cyclists forgoing that 8k a year, there's over $100 million in economic opportunity for our city when we're not buying cars and fighting wars overseas but instead investing in our communities. It's a very powerful economic development tool and we've never communicated that importance to the population.

Long story short, count me in. There are very important tools for our city. The better opportunity is to educate our city as to where they're located.

We can get really into the weeds about how some of our streets are better for bike lanes than others. Our one-way streets that are 30-feet wide provide great opportunities for one lane of traffic, one lane of bikes, and one for parked cars.

I prefer to look at things where we can have win-win instead of zero sum. The bike plan isn't taking anything away from drivers but is in fact is a traffic calming device.

David Alpert: You talked about a win-win and not zero sum, but bike planners have concluded that not everywhere is it possible to build a bike lane without taking away any parking or any travel lane. How do you balance the need to get community input with the fact that at some point, not everyone is going to be on board with everything?

David Catania: It's really a challenge to make generalized answers to hypotheticals. I've made it a practice to cast a wide net and bring people together, and it doesn't mean everyone gets exactly what they want, but that there's a give and take and sometimes you lose in some items and lose in others. I know tough decisions have to be made. But you have to make them.

David Alpert: You've talked in your platform about Vision Zero, the idea that no loss of life or serious injury is acceptable within a given area's transportation system. How, specifically, would you start taking action on Vision Zero?

David Catania: Sweden has figured out how to reduce their deaths by more than 40% by a combination of engineering and values. I commend both the mayors of San Francisco and New York for executing elements of Vision Zero. I think education is an incredibly important element.

One of the things I like about the Swedish model is the emphasis on simple things. When you open the car door, you open it by using your right hand rather than your left. It actually physically forces a person to turn and get accustomed to looking for a cyclist. That's a simple example.

Through engineering roads that are safer, establishing consistent speed limits depending on the likelihood of pedestrian use, issues of concentration at the most dangerous intersections. The use of engineering and evidence and education to lower incidents. There are ways for us to take elements and execute it right away.

So creating an infrastructure that accommodates those with an underpinning of the value of human life is something I don't think we do here, and we should. Respect for human life and understanding human frailties.

It's looking at educating our population, at re-engaging a traffic enforcement division. The enforcement in our own city is a missing component as well as the underlying respect for human life. Educating pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers is critical. And having an enforcement mechanism.

David Alpert: And that's all the time we have. Thank you so much for joining us for the chat!

David Catania: I just really appreciate the five of you coming over and going through this trouble. And I appreciate people weighing in with their questions.

We're a growing, vibrant city. For that to continue, we have to pay attention to the fundamentals of not just transportation and housing, but also issues of crime, economic development education, and at the same time we have to be prepared for crises as they come whether they be Ebola or it be changing economics.

And I really appreciate everyone coming today and the opportunity to share with your readers.

David Alpert: Thank you so much to David Catania, to all of you who submitted questions on Twitter, to our super tweeter Abigail, and to our tireless and lightning-fast typists Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan.

Please post your thoughts on Mr. Catania's statements in the comments on the post. And thank you all for joining us today!

Topic of the week: Banning cycling on sidewalks

A bill by councilmember Jim Graham to ban bicycling on sidewalks by adults when there's an available bike lane has gotten a lot of attention. We asked our contributors what they thought about the idea.


Photo by fromcaliw/love on Flickr.

Some contributors, like Dan Malouff, didn't want to outright dismiss the idea of changing the laws around sidewalk cycling, depending on the details:

I'm actually OK with making some compromises on where bikes are allowed, but it has to be reasonable. It has to actually take into account the real-life needs of cyclists.
Topher Mathews agrees:
I do think it's important to develop a strong case for why exactly adults should be allowed to bike on narrow sidewalks. This is a big issue for Georgetowners (particularly senior citizens) who are baffled that it's legal in the first place. So far most of the defense of sidewalk biking has been sort of circular: it's legal so it's OK.
There may be some place for selective banning of bikes on sidewalks outside the CBD. This could turn into the camel's nose under the tent, but outright opposing any extension of the ban could engender a even wider ban.
Other contributors think it's just a bad idea. Here's Jonathan Krall:
With all the nuances and exceptions, this takes a near non-issue and makes it a mess. This almost certainly creates more problems than it solves. Education and design (such as putting bike parking on the street instead of the sidewalk) would help more than this.
Canaan Merchant worries about the effect of discouraging cycling:
Any time someone considers banning cyclists from doing something, they run the risk of having fewer cyclists overall. While a ban on sidewalk riding can seem reasonable and argued for from a "common sense" perspective, it's critical that the city keep its larger transportation goals in mind, mainly that DC wants more and more people to travel by bicycle in the future.
David Cranor notes that sidewalk cycling is already illegal if it creates a hazard, and therefore this law could only have a harmful effect:
The kind of behavior that supporters of this ban wish to make illegal is already illegal. The law says that cyclists may use the sidewalk "so long as the person does not create a hazard." So hazardous sidewalk cycling is illegal.

What this law does is make non-hazardous sidewalk cycling illegal. The only reason for this is under the pretense that enforcement would be easier. But the logic behind making non-hazardous sidewalk cycling illegal because it would be easier to enforce is somewhat lacking.

It reminds of the old vaudeville joke, where one man is looking for his wallet and another offers to help. After some time, the second asks "Where did you lose it?" and the first says, "Over there in the woods." "Well then why are we looking over here?" the second asks angrily. "Because the lighting is better." Why are we going to ticket non-hazardous cycling? Because the lighting is better.

Sidewalk cycling is not ideal, but for some cyclists and at some times it is a totally adequate option, and possibly even the best one. Rather than changing behavior by trying to make some less desired kinds of cycling less appealing we should do it by making other types more appealing.

Bans do not get cyclists off the sidewalks, but bike lanes, and to a much larger extent, cycletracks do. That's where efforts should be focused.

Steve Seelig also feels that we need better infrastructureeven better than what DDOT is building today:
I would be very willing to agree not to ride on sidewalks outside the central business district on streets where the city has decided to construct a safe, PROTECTED bike lane. Sorry, L Street and M Street do not count. I have 30-plus years of DC bike commuting under my belt, so until recently the number of times I have ridden on the sidewalk has been minimal.

Of course, this was until my 5-year-old started to ride. Sounds like he can ride on the sidewalk while I am in the bike lane, at least until he is 12. Shall I not get to ride with him on the sidewalk to teach him proper bike behavior? How about when I have him on the cargo bikeam I consigned to the completely unprotected bike lane? And do we really think that it is safe for a 13-year-old to ride a bike in an unprotected bike lane?

Plus, we have many folks who are new at this, and rightfully terrified of riding in the street because of inattentive drivers, blocked bike lanes, etc. Shall those folks be consigned to not riding at all?

Where else has this debate raged?

DC isn't the only jurisdiction in the country that has debated changing laws around bicycling on sidewalks. Some contributors referred to their experiences elsewhere. Jonathan Krall dealt with a similar issue in Alexandria:

Alexandria went through this, in reverse, last year. Last year, Alexandria changed the law to allow bicycling on sidewalks, legalizing something that timid adults and children where already doing, largely without injury to anyone. The main effect of the law was the occasional ticket issued to an incredulous citizen.

When sidewalk bicycling was legalized, there was a sizable outcry from the public, along with a morphing of the usual anti-bike "war on cars" language into a "war on pedestrians." Proponents of legalized sidewalk riding replied that the new law would change little, other than to stop the police from issuing tickets to timid cyclists who probably shouldn't be riding in the streets anyway.

A year later, the hullabaloo has died down and not much has changed. Children, their parents, timid cyclists, and cyclists riding from the street to on-sidewalk parking are all still riding on sidewalks and the anti-cycling crowd has gone back to complaining about cyclists not stopping at stop signs.

Jaime Fearer is dealing with a similar debate in San Jose, California, which has pitted pedestrian advocates against cyclists:
A cyclist did hit and kill a senior earlier this year on a campus path/sidewalk in San Jose, which certainly propelled this proposed legislation.

Having attended a number of meetings on this now, one thing is clear: pedestrians and bicyclists are being divided to fight against each other and for whatever scraps they can get, rather than being encouraged to work together. I see the politicians encourage this through legislation, and I see us (the advocates on "both sides") continue to approach this as though these sides are polar opposites. Whether we're being divided purposefully or not is up for debate, but the fact that we are divided to our detriment is not.

Fortunately for us in DC, the main pedestrian advocates here are not interested in starting a pedestrian-cyclist war and don't believe cyclists are the biggest threat to pedestrians. Tracy Hadden Loh, a co-founder of All Walks DC, had this statement:
All Walks DC is devoted to improving safety for those who walk in DC. We ask our DC Councilmembers to take an evidence-based approach to improving conditions for pedestrians. Motor vehicles kill or injure hundreds of pedestrians every year in the District. Bicycling, on the other hand, is a low-speed, sustainable transportation that serves as an alternative to car trips.

We believe most cyclists riding on sidewalks do so because they don't feel safe on the street, or even in the existing bike lanes. Where high quality bike infrastructure exists, such as on 15th St NW, L St NW, and 1st St NE, very few people ride on the sidewalk.

We believe Councilmember Graham's proposal to ban bicycles from sidewalks would mostly just discourage people from riding bicycles, which we do not support, while failing to address the underlying problem of streets that are not safe for all users.

What about Segways?

While most of the discussion revolved around bicyclists, the bill would also ban Segway riding on sidewalks near bike lanes. But Matt Johnson feels that rather than pushing Segways off sidewalks and onto bike lanes, we need the reverse:

I would actually like to see a ban on Segways in bike lanes. Especially when being operated as a part of a tour where they're going to stop and sit in the bike lanes while the tour guide tells them how the French burned down the White House in the War of 1820.
Nick Keenan has some historical background to the Segway issue:
You may remember when the Segway was introduced that it was supposed to revolutionize transportation forever. That didn't happen. One of the obstacles was that the existing legal framework had no place for the Segway. So the manufacturer went on a lobbying blitz to get Segways recognized as comparable to bicycles.

In 2006 then-councilmember Carol Schwartz introduced the "Motor Vehicle Definition Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Device Exemption Amendment Act of 2006." It did two things. First, Segways fit the then-existing definition of motor vehicles, so that definition was changed to exclude "electric personal assistive mobility devices" (the generic term for Segways). Second, everywhere the code mentioned the word "bicycle" it was changed to say "bicycle or an electric personal assistive mobility device" so that Segway operators would have the same rights and duties as cyclists.

For reasons that aren't clear, the person tasked with making those changes did not use an up-to-date version of the code. They used one that was at least ten years old. There had been significant changes to the code in 1996 and 2004, and they were erased. In effect, what Schwartz (or her staff) did was to accidentally undo all of the changes to the law between 1996 and 2006. Oops.

I think most of those changes have since been reinstated but for a while there confusion reigned.

David Cranor takes a different view on Segways:
I'm not bothered by Segways being treated like bicycles. What should they be treated like? Pedestrians? Cars? Some other category? It's really the answer that makes the most sense and I think we can graciously share space with them. We should put up with the occasional inconvenience of segways the same as we expect driver to tolerate the occasional inconvenience of cyclists. Besides it creates another constituency for bike facilities and an expanded argument for their need.
What do you think?

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.

Events roundup: #GGWchat with Catania, urban agriculture, tours, and more

Take some time to stop, listen and engage in our many events this week! Don't miss our lunchtime chat with David Catania. Plus, there are several information-packed symposiums this week and if you want to get outside, CSG is hosting a beautiful walk-a-bout in College Park.


Photo by Adam Fagen on Flickr.

#GGWchat with David Catania: Did you love our chat with DC mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser? Don't miss our lunchtime talk with one of her opponents, David Catania, this Wednesday, October 22, from noon to 1 pm.

Follow the chat and propose questions live using the hashtag #GGWchat or submit your questions beforehand in the comments in this post.

After the jump: streetcars, urban agriculture, the Purple Line, College Park, and Safe Routes to School.

Streetcars in Southeast and Southwest: An environmental study to plan out the streetcar in Southwest Waterfront and Near Southeast is kicking off, and the first public meeting is Wednesday, October 22, 4-6 pm at Van Ness Elementary, 1150 5th Street SE. At the same time, DDOT officials will talk about updates to the citywide streetcar system plan.

Talk urban ag: Friday, the University of the District of Columbia will host a free Urban Agriculture Symposium from 9 am to 4:30 pm. Local and national leaders will come together to discuss today's food economy. Enjoy speakers and breakout sessions, followed by a green roof tour.

A vibrant Purple Line: Do you live or work near the Purple Line corridor? Do you want to take part in making it a healthy and vibrant neighborhood? Join the Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC) this Saturday, October 25, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm for the first of a two part workshop. The focus will be on community and economic development in the region. Space is limited.

Weekend walk: Join Coalition for Smarter Growth this Saturday, October 25, 3-5 pm for an afternoon walking tour of College Park. Discover and discuss the many ways this college is using its assets to create a more walkable and central hub for the region.

Safe school commute: Every student deserves a safe ride to school. Join Safe Routes to School on Tuesday, October 28, 8-12 pm to hear from North Carolina Safe Routes expert Mark Fenton, to talk about how to give students a safe commute. Registration requested.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

Here's what will (hopefully) happen in DC transportation over the next two years

DC will have more sidewalks, bike lanes, bus signal priority, real-time screens, many more finished studies, and other changes two years from now, if the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) follows through on a strong new "Action Plan" released today.


Photo by AJC1 on Flickr.

The moveDC plan is a forward-thinking, ambitious, and comprehensive vision for transportation across the District over the next 30 years. But will this become reality? Will DDOT start making significant progress on the many recommendations in the plan, or will this sit on a shelf and just be something we look at 28 years from now and lament how little got done?

To put some weight behind the plan, DDOT officials have now created a document that lists projects, studies, and programs they expect the agency to complete in two years.

Some points give very specific, measurable targets. For example:

  • Add sidewalks on at least 25 blocks where they are missing today
  • Improve pedestrian safety at 20 or more intersections
  • Build 15 miles of bicycle lanes or cycletracks
  • Complete Klingle and Kenilworth Anacostia Riverwalk Trail projects
  • Get Rock Creek and Metropolitan Branch Trail projects at least to "advanced stages of design"
  • Install bus lanes on a small piece of Georgia Avenue from Florida Avenue to Barry Place and signal priority on 16th Street
  • Put real-time screens in some bus shelters citywide
  • Work with WMATA to find at least 10 key spots that delay high-ridership buses and modify the traffic signals
  • Finish a project to better time traffic signals for pedestrian, transit, and traffic flow
  • Begin the Frederick Douglass (South Capitol Street) bridge construction.

Others call for a number of studies to take place on topics such as:

  • Transit improvements, possibly including a bus lane, on 16th Street
  • North-south bike routes between 4th and 7th Streets NW
  • The 22-mile streetcar system (detailed environmental studies still need to be finished on many of the lines)
  • Commuter and freight rail between DC, Maryland, and Virginia
  • Dynamic parking pricing downtown
  • Roadway congestion pricing
  • Transit "brands" (i.e. what is the Circulator, and what is something else?)

Other prongs involve setting up programs and systems of communication, like:

  • Working with a BID to set up parklets
  • Working with MPD on more and better traffic cameras
  • Working with neighborhoods (starting with three) to plan better parking rules
  • Working with regional governments to find long-term funding for Metro and other needs
  • Setting up more dashboards and releasing more data sets publicly, like public space permits and street trees.
And finally, while actually getting things done is most critical, transportation departments can also lay the groundwork for better decisions in the future by writing manuals and training their staffs about the best practices for pedestrian safety, bicycle infrastructure, transit, and other elements of making a truly multimodal, complete street.

The plan includes a few elements to advance this:

  • Revise the Design and Engineering Manual to include new "tools and techniques for multimodal street design"
  • Train all DDOT staff on multimodal design using the new manual and "national best practices."
This is a great set of projects and while every group will likely find something they wish were in here or where the target were more aggressive, if DDOT can actually complete these and the other items in the action plan, DC will move meaningfully toward being safer and more accessible to people on all modes of travel.

What will the next mayor do?

Of course, a lot will depend on whether the next mayor and his or her appointee to head DDOT stick with the plan. They could ensure these projects get finished, slow some down, or abandon this altogether.

Gabe Klein's DDOT put out an action agenda in 2010 (which, admittedly, was very ambitious); Mayor Gray generally kept up the same initiatives and projects that the previous administration had begun, though many moved forward more slowly than advocates would like.

For example, WABA sounded the alarm in 2011 about the slow pace of new bicycle lanes. The 2005 Bicycle Master Plan called for new bike lanes that would have averaged about 10 miles per year. The 2010 Action Agenda called for adding 30 in just two years. But in 2011, DDOT planned 6.5 miles, designed 4.25 miles, and installed zero, WABA's Greg Billing wrote at the time.

Since then, the pace has picked up. Since Mayor Gray took office, DDOT has added or "upgraded" 19 miles, said DDOT's Sam Zimbabwe. This counts new striped bike lanes or cycletracks and any places where painted lanes turned into cycletracks. This year, Zimbabwe said, they've done 9 miles.

The Action Agenda sets a goal of 15 miles over two years, for an average of 7.5 per year. That's more than the recent average, but less than this year, and less than in the 2005 or 2010 plans. Which means it's probably an okay target as long as DDOT sees it as something to actually achieve rather than a stretch goal where it's okay to come in close but well under target.

When businesses set goals, they vary on whether the goals should be "stretch goals" where you don't expect to achieve them all, conservative goals where you need to achieve almost all of them to get a good performance review, or goals so conservative that they don't mean much because people are afraid to set any target they don't hit.

Ideally, the next DDOT director will treat these goals as the middle category: tell each department that he or she expects them to actually achieve what's in this plan. Certainly some things here and there will run into unexpected obstacles, but this plan should be something everyone takes seriously and feels some pressure to achieve in the two-year timeframe.

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