Greater Greater Washington

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Tysons will get its first bike lanes this summer

Some of Tysons' main streets are getting a makeover this summer, and that's going to make them more bike-friendly.


Map of the changes coming to Tysons, including how the bike network will connect with the Spring Hill, Greensboro, Tysons, and McLean Metro stations. Image from Fairfax County.

Along with getting new pavement, stretches of Tyco Road, Westbranch Drive, and Greensboro Drive are going on road diets. That means they'll get new paint jobs that take them from being four through lanes wide to having two through lanes, a center turn lane, and bike lanes on each side.


Before and after cross sections for roads in Tysons. Image from Fairfax County.

A road diet was successful on Lawyers Road in Reston, where Virginia Department of Transportation data say car crashes are down a whopping 70%. After five years, nearby residents, people driving cars, and people on bikes are happy with the arrangement.


Lawyers Road before and after its diet. Image from VDOT.

More than in Reston, Tysons needs to plan for people on foot. VDOT gets that, so the agency is lowering speed limits to 35 mph, which fits with Tysons' urban design standards.

Depending on their widths, some roads in Tysons will get sharrows while others will get climbing lanes. On Westbranch Drive, there will be a buffered bike lane like those in Arlington.

VDOT's Randy Dittberner said his agency may consider painting the bikeway bright green so it's more visible, but it won't happen at the start.

Dittberner also said that the new pavement markings are only going in places "where we are 100% sure it won't do anything to traffic conditions."

Fairfax County is taking comments until April 1st, and VDOT will begin its final planning stage after that.

Correction: The original version of this post said Westbranch Drive will have a protected bikeway rather than a buffered bike lane.

Virginia takes the politics out of transportation spending

A newly-passed General Assembly bill will make transportation spending in Virginia more practical and less political, by replacing ad-hoc funding decisions with more transparent performance measures.


Photo by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr.

HB1887, the "omnibus transportation bill" which the General Assembly passed this session, makes dozens of changes to the complicated web of formulas and regulations that govern Virginia's transportation budget.

The biggest change completely replaces the state's system for deciding which local road projects to build. Other changes set aside more money to maintain existing roads and bridges, and add more money to transit.

The new legislation will "revolutionize the way Virginia invests taxpayer dollars to restore aging roads, build new capacity and increase transit," says Virginia secretary of transportation Aubrey Layne in an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Funding decisions should become less political

Proponents of HB1887 argue it will make transportation planning and budgeting far less political.

Currently, a group called the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) makes decisions about what projects to advance, and where to spend money. But CTB members are appointed by the governor, and it's common for governors to fire and replace any CTB members who don't toe the party line, or who toe the wrong party's.

HB1887 changes that. Not only does it restrict governor's ability to fire CTB members without cause, it also requires the CTB to follow objective performance measures when allocating certain pots of money.

Money for repairs and key projects

Once signed into law, HB1887 will direct a larger percentage of Virginia's transportation budget to maintaining and replacing old bridges and roads, as opposed to building completely new highways. The CTB will develop a priority ranking system to distribute those funds, so the money will go where it can do the most good.

Still, a lot of money will go towards projects to expand interstates, major roadways, and rail lines across Virginia. The CTB is also responsible for distributing these funds, but under new, more mode-agnostic criteria mandated under last year's HB2 legislation.

Improvements to local project funding

Another large pot of money will go to road projects that local jurisdictions request funding for directly, via Virginia's nine road construction districts. Any county, city, or town can apply to its VDOT construction district for a grant. VDOT will analyze each request according to pre-determined performance measures, and fund as many as it can each year.

Northern Virginia's district includes the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park, along with Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties.

"Projects selected will receive full funding for all phases, allowing projects to proceed more quickly from design to construction," wrote Layne. He adds, "this is a significant improvement from the old system" which guaranteed a small amount of money to each jurisdiction every year, and "in which communities often "banked" funds for five to ten years so they had enough money to build the projects they wanted."

$40 million for transit

The bill also moves $40 million statewide from highways, ports, and aviation toward transit projects, such as new buses or railcars, and rehabilitating track. This transfer is key, because without it Virginia's transit capital funding would drop 62% in the coming years.

That's only a partial win. The coming drop in transit funding is close to $100 million, so there will still be less money for transit in the future than there's been in the past. But $40 million is better than nothing.

By comparison, individual highway interchanges frequently cost over $40 million each.

Other good transportation bills also passed

In other good news, legislators amended HB1915/SB1314, which would have forced officials to use highway-favoring "congestion metrics" in choosing transportation projects, to be less damaging to transit, bike, and pedestrian projects. And HB1886 passed, which partially reforms the Public Private Transportation Act, meaning Virginia should see even more accountability and transparency.

Live in DC, see aurora borealis

The northern lights, aurora borealis, are usually only visible near the Arctic Circle. But every once in a while, when conditions are perfect, they make an appearance as far south as DC. I caught a glimpse early Wednesday morning.


Aurora over Chesapeake Bay on Wednesday morning. Photo by Dan Malouff.

On Tuesday news spread that a heavy solar storm was hitting Earth, and producing some of the strongest aurora in years. Maybe strong enough to see from DC.

Since the sky was clear, the moon below the horizon, and conditions perfect, my wife and I booked a Zipcar to the clearest northerly view I could think of: The northern tip of Kent Island, across the Bay Bridge, in the middle of the Chesapeake.

And there was the aurora. Barely visible, but there. Dim green flashes floated low against the horizon, flowing in great fast waves from east to west. It was nothing like the huge curtains of light you see in the famous pictures (we're too far south for that), but it was unmistakable nonetheless.

How you can see them next time

Aurora are sometimes visible from DC's latitude. But they may never be visible from inside the District of Columbia, because this far south they appear very dim, and only close to the northern horizon. To see them, find an extremely dark north-facing vantage point, with a clear sight of the horizon.

If there are street lights turned on or trees blocking the horizon, you probably won't see them even if conditions are otherwise right.

Since we live in the northeast part of the city, we decided Kent Island would be ideal. It's about an hour drive east of DC, assuming no traffic—usually a safe assumption after midnight.


Route to Kent Island. Map from Google.

You will need a car to get there. And since news of likely aurora this far south typically only comes the day of the event, you won't have much time to plan ahead. But in the age of car-sharing, even a car-free urbanite can get it done.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Drivers who kill people on bikes often don't get prosecuted

Since 1971, there have been 109 fatal bicycle crashes in the DC region. Authorities rarely prosecute the drivers, and when they do, punishments aren't very harsh.


Photo by rick on Flickr.

During that span, there have been 32 cases where either the federal government's Fatality Analysis Reporting System or media reports said a driver was at fault in a fatal crash with someone on a bike. Authorities only charged a driver with a crime in 15 of those cases, or 47% of the time.

Prosecution was most likely in cases related to DUI and hit-and-run. Three of the 15 cases involved both a hit-and-run and DUI charge. Four were only hit-and-runs, and another two were only DUIs. Charges for the six other drivers included distracted driving, ignoring a red light, excessive speed, failure to yield, and unsafe passing.

There wasn't information on the results of the prosecution for every case. But in all 13 cases that I was able to track, the driver was convicted.

It's also worth noting two unresolved cases that aren't included in these counts: Tonya Reaves and Andrew Malizio

Even when it looks bad, drivers tend to get off easy

In all of these cases, the average sentence for convicted drivers was only two years and two months. Judges cut the actual jail time down to an average of only 15 months. In four cases, the convicted driver served no time. Another driver went to a night-time only facility, and another was admitted into a medical institution.

In a few cases where there weren't any criminal charges, there was a lawsuit against the driver but the parties reached a settlement before the case went to court. In the only civil case I could find that did go to court, which was in Maryland, the driver was found to be primarily responsible but got off the hook because the judge deemed the cyclist to have been contributorily negligent.

In another case, where the cyclist was at fault, a driver successfully sued the cyclist's estate for damage done to the car and for injuries sustained in the crash.

The numbers vary by jurisdiction

As was true with fault, there is a relationship between charges and jurisdiction.

There were nine cases in Montgomery County in which authorities blamed the driver, with driver convictions following in eight of them. Prince George's County prosecuted three out of five "at-fault" drivers (ignoring cases where the driver was never found). On the other end of the spectrum, Northern Virginia jurisdictions only prosecuted two out of six "at-fault" drivers, and DC only prosecuted two out of ten.

While this may be because Maryland treats these crimes with greater import, it is more likely due to the fact that Maryland crashes more often involve DUIs and/or hit-and-runs, which are easier to prosecute.

The public has a right to know what's going on with the streetcar

Earlier this month, DDOT's director suggested that the streetcar might have too many problems to ever start revenue service. But even after months of delays and several missed opening dates, the public still doesn't know what the actual problems are. We deserve to know.


Photo by DearEdward on Flickr.

At a DC Council hearing on March 7th, DDOT director Leif Dormsjo, who started in January, said he's waiting on an external review to decide "whether there's a pathway to passenger service" for the streetcar. That's as far as he went, declining to share specifics about what, exactly, might be so catastrophic as to warrant canceling the H Street line altogether.

The biggest problem with the streetcar is how little we know about it

We do know that there are some unresolved Federal Transit Administration safety recommendations, but they all appear to be easy fixes. We also know that DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (DC FEMS), which is the state safety oversight agency in charge of approving the streetcar's safety program, has concerns, as they still have not approved passenger service. But nobody at DC FEMS has shared their concerns with the public, either.

The issues could be easy to fix, like a need to add more signs or pavement markings. Or they could be more serious. The public has no way of knowing, and nobody at DDOT or DC FEMS is talking. That's unacceptable.

After so many broken promises from Mayor Gray, it makes sense that Dormsjo has resolved not to make rosy promises or predict opening dates. In that vein, taking a couple of months to figure out what's wrong is reasonable. But canceling a massive program for seemingly no reason, and amidst such deafening silence, is an entirely different matter, and one that would not be justifiable.

Other major projects in the region set a precedent for transparency

When the Silver Line was delayed, we knew why. There was a well-circulated list of 33 unfinished items, regular conference calls between WMATA and journalists, and several public hearings on the matter. Similarly, the public knows what the problems are with the long-delayed Silver Spring Transit Center.

Why is the Bowser administration refusing to talk about what's causing the streetcar's delay?

If DDOT continues to keep the public out of the loop and the streetcar does open, how can we have any confidence that never-named problems got the attention they deserved? And if DDOT stays quiet and the line doesn't open, how can we trust this administration to competently follow through on any of its other promises?

Muriel Bowser ran on a campaign of community engagement and support for the H Street line. She pledged to "push for the most open and transparent administration possible." It's time for Bowser and her administration to turn that promise into a reality.

Here's what keeps people from riding a bike

For 10 years, urban policymakers have been talking more and more about the so-called "interested but concerned"—people who would like to bike more but who are, for some reason, held back.


Photo by Christopher Porter on Flickr.

Make biking attractive to those people, the thinking goes, and great things can happen to a city: road capacity rises, parking shortages ease, auto dependence declines, development costs fall, public health improves.

Since then, several local studies have explored the opinions of these people, usually within cities that were already fairly bike-friendly. But since the "interested but concerned" concept was popularized, there's never been a study of these people at the national level.

Until now, that is.


Photo by 10 10 on Flickr.

A new national survey interviewed 9,376 adults who want to bike more

As part of its new national survey about bicycling participation, PeopleForBikes hired a public research firm to anonymously ask thousands of U.S. adults a series of questions. One of them: whether they would like to ride a bicycle more often.

To make sure people weren't lying to make us happy, we also asked whether they'd ever visited an imaginary website, and then disregarded all answers from people who claimed they had. After that, to ensure a representative sample, we weighted the remaining answers by age, gender, region, ethnicity, and income to make the sample look like the United States.

As we shared earlier this month, 53 percent of American adults answered that yes, they want to bike more.

But that question also gave us an opportunity to do something else: to look more closely at the situations of the people who answered "yes" to this question. By comparing their answers to different questions, we can explore one of the holy grails of bicycling advocacy: what the most important obstacles to biking might be.

After a week of looking closely at the numbers, here are our six most interesting discoveries.


Chicago's Milwaukee Avenue. Photo by John Greenfield on Flickr.

1. One third of people who want to bike more are dissatisfied with existing bike infrastructure

Among people who would like to ride more, 34 percent disagree with the statement below, 26 percent are neutral and 38 percent agree.


All graphs from People for Bikes.

This is actually slightly better than the population at large (31 percent of all adults agree with the statement), which probably reflects the fact that people who like to bike tend to live in bike-friendlier areas. But it still leaves a huge share of adults who disagree—and speaks to the fact that in the United States, we simply haven't built enough bike-friendly neighborhoods to serve even the people who currently wish they could live in them.


Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo from People for Bikes.

2. Bicycle ownership is a major barrier to riding, especially among poorer households

It's pretty hard to ride a bike regularly if you don't own one—or, even more frustrating, if your tire went flat or your brake cable snapped and you've never gotten around to fixing it.

The good news is that adults who know they want to ride more are about 25 percent likelier than the population at large to have at least one working adult bike in their home. But even among these interested adults, 35 percent still have no bike. This problem is dramatically higher for low-income families:

This is actually a powerful argument for (among other things) affordable, accessible bike sharing. Because bike-share systems essentially pool bike purchase and maintenance costs among many different people, they can be even cheaper than bike ownership as a way to get around.


Photo by waltarrrrr on Flickr via People for Bikes.

3. Fear of being personally targeted is a major barrier to riders of color

Traffic collisions aren't the only physical threat that keeps people off bicycles. Depending on what you look like and where you live, you might be biking less than you'd like because you're afraid of being targeted by a criminal—or maybe, sad to say, by law enforcement. On average, 41 percent of people who want to bike more agree with the statement below, but there's a lot of variation by race—more than the variation by gender, region or income.

According to this survey, white adults who want to bike more are least likely to have this concern; 38 percent do. But the concern is shared by more than half of Hispanic adults who want to bike more: 52 percent.


Photo by radworld on Flickr.

4. The western United States is much better at the bike + transit combo

Bicycles are the "secret weapon of suburban sustainable transport," says Ben Plowden of Transport for London. By designing all-ages bikeways that connect to public transit routes and hubs, U.S. suburbs can dramatically reduce car dependence and start increasing transit quality.

But to do that, you've got to be able to ride your bike to the rail station, load it onto a bus rack, park it securely while you're away, and so on. Our survey found that 35 percent of U.S. adults disagree with the statement below, compared to 26 percent who are neutral and 38 perent who agree. Intriguingly, the answer to this question varies widely by region. "Interested but concerned" bikers in the western United States are far more likely to be satisfied with bike-transit integration. Cities and transit agencies east of the Great Plains should look to Asia and Europe for ideas, but they can also look west.


Monroe, Washington. Photo by papahazama on Flickr.

5. Every group worries a lot about getting hit by cars, but some more than others

There wasn't much divide on this issue among men and women or among people of different incomes. There was a bigger difference by race and ethnicity. Black adults were the least likely to agree with this statement (though still 57 percent) and Hispanic adults the most likely (a whopping 66 percent).

But the biggest divide of all was actually by region, with 65 percent of adults in the South agreeing with this worry and only 54 percent of adults in the Midwest.

This brings us to our final observation...


Schenley Drive, Pittsburgh. Photo from People for Bikes.

6. Every single demographic group wants protected bike lanes

Not much ambiguity here.

Compared to 46 percent of the general population, an overwhelming 64 percent of people who would like to bike more say that protected bike lanes would make a difference to their transportation choices. Of this "interested but concerned" group—which, to reiterate, consists of half the U.S. adult population—only 13 percent disagreed with the statement above.

As with the other questions, we broke this finding out by gender, region, income and race to look for trends within the data. We found exactly one trend: everyone feels more or less the same way.

And that's all we have to say about that.

This post originally appeared on the blog of The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps US cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

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