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Events roundup: Building safe communities

This week, join the discourse in Alexandria about Eisenhower West and learn about safe commutes to school. Looking ahead, don't miss a presentation of new ideas for Buzzard Point and don't forget to register for Transportation Camp 2015.


Photo by Elizabeth

Safe routes to school: A safe commute to school is an integral part of any community. With missing pedestrian infrastructure, safe school commutes in suburban areas can be especially difficult. This Tuesday, December 9, the Action Committee for Transit's monthly meeting will welcome Bill Sadler, Regional Policy Manager of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, to discuss "Safe Walks to School in the Suburbs." The event is 7:30-9:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center, One Veterans Place.

Eisenhower West meeting: In Alexandria, a major redevelopment of Eisenhower West is planned for the coming year. The Eisenhower West Plan is currently open for public comment. Come make your opinion heard at the fourth community meeting tonight (Monday), December 7, 7-9 pm at Beatley Central Library, 5005 Duke Street.

Urban communities inspired by nature: connecting people and the planet: On Thursday, December 11 at 4:30pm on the second floor of 1250 24th St NW, the World Wildlife fund is hosting Tim Beatley for an event on his Biophilic Cities Network and his newest book, Blue Urbanism, which looks at the connections between cities and oceans.

CityVision final presentation: Sometimes young minds come up with the most innovative solutions. This fall, students of the CityVision program at the National Building Museum have been working hard to research and propose ideas for active gathering spaces at Buzzard Point. Join these students for the final presentation next week on Thursday, December 18, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at 401 F Street NW.

Transportation Camp: Reminder to all transportation nerds: Make sure to register for the 4th Annual Transportation Camp Washington DC coming up on Saturday, January 10, 2015. Transportation Camp is a daylong event that is meant to explore the intersection of urban transportation and technology and will precede the Transportation Research Board 94th Annual Meeting. George Mason University School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs, at Founders Hall will host.

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DC's street trees are thriving. Here's why

Trees give us shade and beauty, so it's no wonder a lot of DC residents would want to help care for them. But while residents are still the first line of care for older trees, DDOT has a great safety net that boosts their efforts and helps new street trees thrive.


Photo by Leigh Anthony Dehaney on Flickr.

DDOT's Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) inspects all of its new trees within the first year of planting, and it's quick to respond to service requests for older trees as well. Beyond that, UFA keeps notes of what its arborists find and, and it makes public its plans for resolving the issue.

UFA relies on residents' service requests to help prioritize annual street planting locations. This planting season, DDOT has a record 8,000 trees planned. Residents can watch the progress in what's almost real time as DDOT updates its tree planting and removal maps daily.

DDOT has made a greater effort to take care of young trees

One criticism of the planting program voiced in 2010 was that the District was planting trees and then hoping residents would volunteer to water and care for them through UFA or Casey Trees. If nobody stepped up during the cool fall and winter, those same trees would all too often die during the first hot summer.

Fast forward to 2014, and DDOT has really stepped up its efforts. UFA is keeping metrics on not only first year trees, but also starting to track metrics on trees in their second year of growth.

Residents and business owners are still the ones who need to water trees that are more than a year old. But DDOT now installs a watering bag on all new trees, and during the summer it also waters them twice a month throughout their first year. There have been over 62,000 "watering events" for trees planted within the past year, and trees have gulped down over one million gallons of water in the time span. There's even a nifty animated video showing the weekly watering activities from this past summer.

UFA's agreement with its contractor allows for easy tree replacement

C&D Tree Service, DDOT's contractor, charges $268 $295 for each tree it plants. For that price, C&D provides a warranty on each tree that that replaces trees that are dead, dying, or in poor condition which is the case if a tree has less than 90 percent live canopy. The only trees C&D isn't responsible for are those damaged by vandals, drivers, or thieves.

UFA conducted a warranty replacement on 125 trees over the past year after residents submitted requests via calling 311. Beyond those requests, in September UFA arborists inspect every new trees planted during the previous fall and winter, resulting in several hundred more warranty replacements.

With the exception of one anomaly, the last half-decade has been great for DC trees

With all this care and attention, 19 out of 20 trees thrive after the first year. Prior to this past year, UFA reported tree mortality and warranty replacement within a very low range, 4.5-7.0 percent, over the past four seasons.

WardTrees plantedWarranty replacements required
138859
259160
31129191
41080151
5955166
61013141
71203200
8982171

Unfortunately, UFA's supervisory forester Earl Eustler reports, last year was rough, as tree mortality spiked to approximately 15 percent. "In my 11 years of planting street trees in DC," he said, "last year was the first in which the earth actually froze beyond a depth of a few inches near the surface."

This year, DDOT plans to alter the planting schedule if a similar situation occurs.

As residents, our watering and tree-related service requests serve a critical role in expanding our tree canopy. With our help and UFA's ongoing improvements, the District left the age of "plant and forget" in the past. Newly planted trees, when taken care of, will be part of our community for years to come.

Editor's note: We've received clarification from UFA that while $268 was the cost per tree with warranty during the first year of the contract. We're now in the fifth year and the contract cost is $295 per tree.

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"Cycletrack"? "Protected bike lane"? What do you call them?

Those bicycle lanes with a physical barrier between the lane and other road users have been appearing around the region: 15th, L, and M streets NW and 1st Street NE in DC, Hayes Street in Arlington, and Woodglen Drive in White Flint. What should we call these?


What is this? Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Greater Greater Washington's current style has been to say "cycletrack." But Streetsblog, the Green Lane Project, and WABA all have decided in recent years to call them "protected bike lanes." In its new bike plan, Fairfax County calls them "separated bike lanes."

The contributors recently discussed the pros and cons. Here are some of the top arguments. What do you think? You can vote using the poll at the bottom of this post.

Arguments for and against "cycletrack"

"Cycletrack" is short and to the point. It's pretty easy to remember. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) calls these "cycle tracks." Since we've been using that term, continuing would make posts consistent and avoid confusing anyone with a change.

On the other hand, the term sounds like it's a place for cyclists to speed (in the same way a running track is a place to run as fast as possible). This isn't a velodrome, but a transportation facility. The Green Lane Project quotes several experts who said "cycletrack" confused some laypeople and sounded too "sporty."

Arguments for and against "protected bike lane"

The main reason these facilities are better than the standard painted bike lane is that they protect cyclists from motor vehicle traffic. Cyclists feel (and most experts believe they are) safer thanks to this protection. So this name puts front and center the feature that is its main selling point: its protection.

In choosing this, the Green Lane Project also pointed out that "protected bike lane" clearly conveys that "they're just for bikes and they're part of the roadway," and that it's easy to modify, like "curb-protected bike lane" for one that has a curb between it and the other lanes.

One disadvantage: It's a lot longer. It's three words instead of one, 19 characters instead of 10, five syllables instead of three (and the middle one very short).

Jim Titus also noted that one problem with "protected bike lane" (or "separated bike lane") is that in Maryland, there's a legal definition of a bike lane that doesn't encompass these facilities. Further, he wrote, in Maryland "cyclists are required to ride in bike lanes even if they are traveling at the speed of other vehicles." Not calling it a kind of bike lane can emphasize the difference.

However, I'm not sure that is a reason to pick a name. The legal rule for when you have to ride in a bike lane applies only to things that meet the legal definition of a bike lane. So the fact that the definition doesn't encompass these means the limitations also don't apply. Just because we call it a "protected bike lane" won't make the law any different.

Arguments for and against "separated bike lane"

"Separated bike lane" emphasizes the physical differences, that there's a separation.

However, one danger with this is that some bike lanes have a separation of distance (such as with a painted buffer zone) but no other features. NACTO calls those "buffered bike lanes." Is there enough of a clear distinction between "separated" and "buffered"?

The Green Lane Project further noted that "the word 'separated' carried a negative connotation" in surveys, and "protected bike lane" appears 3½ times as often as "separated bike lane" in news mentions.

What do you think? Vote in the poll below, then give your reasons in the comments. Or if you have another idea, put it on the poll and also explain it in the comments. If you're okay with more than one, you can select multiple.

We're going to decide based on the strength of arguments as well as on the vote, not just blindly picking the one that wins, so please do give your reasons in the comments.

Update: I had to delete the poll because it was causing a cache problem in Chrome, where voting and then later going to our home page would redirect to the poll site. If this is happening to you, clear your Chrome cache. I'll get a new poll up soon. You can now vote on this Google Form. It won't show the tally, but I'll follow up with a post giving the results.

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Capital Bikeshare needs smaller stations, but more of them

The most successful bikeshare systems in the world have dense networks with stations every few blocks, according to bikeshare guru Jon Orcutt. That suggests that as Capital Bikeshare expands, the agency should focus on adding small infill stations rather than adding more docks to make existing stations bigger.


Bikeshare station in Montreal with only seven docks. Photo by the author.

More stations are better

In a recent Streetsblog interview, Orcutt points out there's a clear (and probably causal) correlation between bikeshare station density and bike usage. He cites the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy's (ITDP) bikeshare planning guide, which bluntly states "increasing station density will yield increased market penetration."

Simply put, systems with denser networks get more riders per bike per day.

That makes sense. Most bikeshare trips cover short distances, so the closer stations are to cyclists' final destinations, the better. Conversely, it's a major disincentive if riders have to walk more than a block or two to get to a station, and dockblocking is much more painful when the next closest station is many blocks away instead of right around the corner.

Since there are destinations on every block, the ideal bikeshare network would have stations on every block. That's probably not practical even in the densest part of the city, but the best bikesharing networks seem to be those that come the closest. ITDP's guide says to shoot for 10-16 stations per square kilometer.

And though Capital Bikeshare is one of America's leading bikeshare systems, CaBi and nearly all its American peers lag world leaders in station density. That strongly suggests American bikeshare networks aren't attracting as many riders as they could.


Image from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Politics matter, especially in the Washington region

With distinct clusters of stations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, Capital Bikeshare is one of the most spread out systems in the world. But while that undeniably reduces the number of riders per bike, it clearly benefits CaBi politically, and therefore financially.

We're lucky in this region to have a strong regional consensus on the benefits of bikesharing. It's not just something that DC and Arlington do, which the suburbs grudgingly ignore. Alexandria and Montgomery take part. Fairfax and Prince George's soon will. It's a regional network that benefits everyone, and everyone has a stake in its success.

So it's OK to spread stations out into distinct clusters in multiple jurisdictions, or even multiple wards of the same jurisdiction. But within each cluster, a large number of small stations is better than a handful of large ones.

There's a catch

If smaller stations are better, why does Capital Bikeshare expand existing ones so often, rather than pour those resources into new station locations?

Simple: Because that would cost more.

Bikeshare stations are prefabricated. They come in basically three components: The kiosk section with the map and credit card terminal, snap-on docks, and the bikes themselves.

Each individual bikeshare station needs all three components, including the kiosk section. But expanding an existing station only takes more docks and more bikes, no kiosk. Thus, by expanding existing stations, CaBi reduces the need to buy expensive kiosk components. They can put out slightly more bikes and more docks with fewer, bigger stations.

Peak capacity versus peak access

Maximizing the number of bikes and docks is important too. The key question is whether it's more important for a bikeshare agency to maximize peak capacity or peak access.

Putting out the most possible docks and bikes at a smaller number of stations makes the system more useful for rush hour commuters, but less useful for other trips. On the flip side, a system with slightly fewer docks but more stations would be less convenient for commuters, but would put more of the city within reach of a station.

Different bikeshare systems might rightly prioritize different expansion models at different times. But Capital Bikeshare is one of the more commute-oriented large systems in the world. It may be time to think about maximizing infill.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Arlington considers a sidewalk-level cycletrack. Will others appear around the region?

Arlington is proposing a cycletrack to connect two of its busiest trails. The connection could be great, but only if the design keeps cyclists and pedestrians safely separated.


Concept plan by Arlington County.

Arlington officials plan to connect the Washington & Old Dominion Trail and the Four Mile Run Trail with a raised cycletrack along Walter Reed Drive. The stretch is short but important, as the W & OD and Four Mile Run are South Arlington's two busiest trails. It's currently lined by sub-standard sidewalks of varying widths, on-street painted bike lanes, 10-foot travel lanes, 10-foot left turn lanes, and a painted median.

The concept plan would remove the median in favor of wider 11-foot travel lanes, 11-foot left turn lanes, and a consistent 6-foot clear sidewalk. It would protect the bike lane from traffic by raising it up to sidewalk level.

It's a welcome project, but the design has a number of flaws

Arlington presented its plan at Monday night's Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting, and members expressed support for new and innovative bike facilities in Arlington, especially ones that will encourage new riders.

But they also voiced concern that if it isn't implemented carefully, this project could turn out as a facility that is no safer for cyclists than a wide sidewalk.

While the proposed design satisfies the National Association of City Transportation Officials' (NACTO) minimum requirements for a raised cycletrack, it leaves out some of important recommended features.

  • The cycle lane is at the same elevation as the sidewalk rather than at an intermediate level, which makes it hard to distinguish the two.
  • The lane doesn't have a mountable curb, which would make it easier for cyclists to move in and out of the car lane when needed as well as to make a vehicular-style left turn.
  • It has no buffer area between the cycle lane and the automobile lane, nor between the cycle lane and the sidewalk.
  • As designed, the cycle lane will have to rise and fall across each driveway apron that it crosses.

Rendering by Arlington County.

Some BAC members also expressed concerns about being unable to exit the cycle lane to the street in case of emergency, and others said that without clear separation from the sidewalk area, the cycle lane would function as just another piece of the sidewalk. This problem has occurred in other parts of the Washington area, such as on the Metropolitan Branch Trail along 2nd St NE, on the Silver Spring Green Trail along Wayne Ave and on Western Ave in Friendship Heights.

Making Arlington's plan better wouldn't require much, but there's a lot at stake

Arlington transportation staff said that while they'd like to include buffers for the cycle lane, the existing right of way isn't wide enough to do so. But this is only true if you widen all of the travel lanes to 11 feet, which the concept plan does. DES said the lanes need to be this wide because of heavy bus and truck traffic along Walter Reed, but that claim deserves reconsideration.

Walter Reed functions just fine with 10-foot lanes now, and there's research that shows that 10-foot lanes are just as safe or safer than wider lanes while carrying similar amounts of traffic. Sticking with 10-foot lanes would free up five feet of space for a buffer around the cycle lanes, and it would also shorten the distance pedestrians and cyclists have to travel when crossing Walter Reed Drive.

The cycletrack would have a lot more flexibility in its design if Arlington freed up the space for buffers. The curb could become mountable, or a buffer between the cycle lane and the sidewalk could encourage pedestrians not to walk in the cycle lane. Alternatively, the cycle lane could return to street level and be protected by a curb like the lane on 1st St NE.

This would make it much less likely for pedestrians to treat the lane like part of the sidewalk as well as make it more likely that cars pulling out of driveways along this stretch will see approaching cyclists.

Protected cycling facilities have great potential for making more folks comfortable with cycling as a viable form of transportation, and it's important that Arlington gets its first versions of these facilities right. If they're safe and enjoyable to ride on, people will demand more of them. But if they aren't, it will be difficult to justify trying a second time.

The project is still in the concept stage, so now is the time for feedback to make it the best project it can be. Over the next few months, Arlington staff will solicit feedback from nearby neighbors, and then the'll move on to design and engineering. Construction would begin in the Summer of 2016 at the earliest. The plans can be reviewed on the project website, which also has an email address for submitting feedback.

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Around Potomac Avenue Metro, an oval, a square, or a triangle

The intersection around Potomac Avenue Metrorail station needs to accommodate pedestrians, almost a dozen bus routes, heavy traffic, cyclists, and more. DDOT is proposing three options for redesigning this intersection and creating a usable park in the center.


The Ellipse Park design. Rendering from DDOT.

Since 2006, several proposals have emerged for modernizing the Pennsylvania and Potomac intersection, an increasingly important transit hub for Wards 6, 7 and 8. It's a particularly tricky spot because while there's a high demand for walking through the intersection, the current design does not prioritize pedestrians. In addition, the intersection is home to a Metrorail station and multiple bus stops, which necessitates designing for bus turning radii and transfers between buses and Metro.

Three designs for the intersection, and what they have in common

The three design options DDOT is considering are a Triangle Park, Rectangle Park, and Ellipse Park. Each shares the goals of prioritizing pedestrian safety and creating a usable park space in the median of Pennsylvania.

While pedestrians are supposed to cross at the intersection, the "desire line" through the median makes it clear that pedestrians are crossing mid-block, which is unsafe. Recognizing pedestrians' preferred path, all three proposals include adding a signalized intersection to allow pedestrians to cross through the median.


The existing intersection Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenues. Photo from Google Maps.

Of the three designs, the Ellipse Park is the best fit for Pennsylvania and Potomac's array of needs.


The Triangle Park design. Rendering from DDOT.

The Ellipse Park is the best of the three designs

For starters, if a park is going to be inviting it needs to have enough large space to feel distinct from the road median. The Ellipse Park would create more green space than the other two options34,300 square feet, to be exact. The Triangle Park would only create 25,000 square feet of space, and by wedging grassy areas between traffic lanes, it wouldn't be much better than what's there now. And the Rectangle Park, while more unified, would create only 500 more square feet than the Triangle Park.

The Ellipse Park is the only proposal that would reduce the number of bus stops from five to four, which would cut down on pedestrians dashing from the Metro or a different bus stop to catch a bus. The Triangle design creates a situation where people transferring from 30s buses to the Metro would need to cross more roads than in the other designs, and while the Rectangle Park wouldn't have this problem, it doesn't have the Ellipse's pedestrian refuge for people walking south across Pennsylvania.

Finally, both the Ellipse and Rectangle parks would reduce the number of lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue, currently at four in each direction, down to three. The Ellipse Park, however, has curb extensions, which gives the appearance of less roadway than Rectangle Park.


The Rectangle Park design. Rendering from DDOT.

Whichever design wins out certainly won't be without its challenges. The National Park Services, the agency that would be responsible for maintaining them, has a mixed record when it comes to caring for these kinds of small civic spaces, which is cause for concern when it comes to both the Ellipse and Rectangle parks' proposed tree linings that would serve as buffers between park visitors and passing automobiles.

As the area around Pennsylvania and Potomac continues to grow, new and current residents alike deserve transportation design that enhances their safety and convenience. The proposed Ellipse Park is the best way to go because it will create the most park space and make bus-to-rail travel easiest in addition to reducing car lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Events roundup: Post-holiday fun

After a short holiday break, we are jumping right back into a busy week of fun-filled events. Learn about Buzzard Point, Montgomery County rapid transit, and President Obama's transportation funding strategy. See new apps and tools using Capital Bikeshare data, and learn how smart growth and environmental protection go hand-in-hand in Virginia.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The future of Buzzard Point: This section of DC has started to change with the nearby baseball stadium and will change far more if a soccer stadium comes to the area. GGW contributor David Garber is moderating a panel discussion about Buzzard Point development Tuesday, December 2, 6:30 pm at 101 M Street SW.

Obama's transportation strategy: Nathaniel Loewentheil, Senior Policy Advisor at the White House National Economic Council, wil discuss the Obama administration's transportation funding strategy at a talk on Tuesday, December 2. It's at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), 1666 K Street NW. A wine a cheese reception starts at 5 pm and the presentation and discussion will go from 5:30 to 6:30 pm.

Capital Bikeshare technology: Coders around the region have continued to build useful and fun apps and visualizations using Capital Bikeshare data. The third CaBi hack night is coming up on Thursday, December 4. People will show off their creations at the WeWork Wonder Bread Factory, 641 S Street NW starting at 6 pm.

Montgomery County rapid transit: If buses are more your flavor, then spend your Thursday night learning about the proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) line for Montgomery County. The Coalition for Smarter Growth and Communities for Transit will host an informational open house at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park, 7:30-8:30 pm, where you can get up to speed on the proposal for 10 major BRT routes to connect several communities in the County.

Greener smart growth: Interested in saving the environment while supporting smart growth? Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the MVCCA Environment and Recreation Committee to consider how smart growth can help support restoring the watershed around Route 1 in Fairfax County. Ecologist Danielle Wynne with Fairfax County will discuss the current restoration plans for the watershed and how we can balance growth and the future health of the environment. The event is on December 3 at the Mt. Vernon Government Center, 2511 Parkers Lane, from 7:15 to 8:30 pm.

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.

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