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Posts in category roads

Bicycling


DC could end its most unjust rule of the road now. Ask the DC Council to delay no longer.

A man named Kevin Washington was riding his bike on 19th Street NW toward M Street NW. As far as anyone knows, he was obeying every traffic law. He was in the street; he was in the right lane; he wasn't speeding.


Photo by Pedal_Power_Pete on Flickr.

A trash truck was in the middle lane, the one to his left. Suddenly, it turned across his path and hit him.

In a subsequent lawsuit, DC's highest court ruled that even with all of these facts, he still couldn't get any compensation from the truck driver's insurance, because he "was aware of the truck," and should have known that "when the truck reached M Street on a green light and proceeded into the intersection, it would either go straight ahead or turn onto M Street."

"The bicyclist, for his own safety, was obliged to pay close attention to the movements of the truck, and to anticipate the possibility that it might turn right, toward the bicycle."

In other words, it's person's fault if he gets hit while on a bike, even if he is doing nothing wrong, just because he should have realized that there was some chance another vehicle could have hit him.

This colossally unjust ruling was from the late 1980s, but insurance companies have been using the same principle in denying claims to this day. Shane Farthing posted a 2014 letter from Geico denying compensation to another person riding a bike for "failing to keep a proper lookout" when a driver veered into the bike lane.

This wouldn't matter in most states. But DC has a "contributory negligence" rule, along with only four states (including Maryland and Virginia). There, even the slightest fault from a person biking or walking (or driving) makes him or her absolutely ineligible to collect any money at all from the driver's insurance. And, as the court case above shows, courts have decided that even basically no fault is still at least a tiny bit of fault.

On Tuesday, the DC Council will consider a bill to end this phenomenally unjust law. Instead, if a person on a bike or on foot isn't more than 50% at fault, he or she can still get compensation.

Two weeks ago, the bill was supposed to come up for a vote, but a last-minute concern from Kenyan McDuffie (ward 5) derailed it (de-sidewalked it?) It's important for the DC Council to pass this bill now; an earlier version also fell apart at the last minute two years ago.

The insurance industry is fighting it—little surprise, since right now they have a law that lets them not actually do anything about some serious injuries. And AAA Mid-Atlantic is fighting it, too; it's an insurer as well as a driving lobby organization. And in contrast to many other AAAs around the country, our local chapter lacks the kind of humanity that would yield basic empathy toward those seriously injured and unable to get their medical bills paid.

Please ask the DC Council to change this law immediately using the form below. Thank you!



Public Spaces


National links: Hockey as a harbinger

What does outlawing street hockey in Canada say about public space? Germany is building super highways for bikes, and Oakland is getting its first Department of Transportation. Check out what's happening around the country (and beyond) in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Dave Kuehn on Flickr.

Game Off!!: Fewer people are playing street hockey in Canada. People playing have received tickets for doing so on neighborhood streets, and some kids say a lot of the hockey they play these days has so much supervision and structure that it's boring. Hockey is one thing, but the bigger issue is that kids feel less welcome in public spaces, like streets, than they used to. (Guardian Cities)

Bike super highways: Germany is building a series of bicycle super highways that will soon connect ten cities and is predicted to take 50,000 drivers off the road. The paths are 13 feet wide and fully separated from car traffic, even at intersections. There's a hope that this kind of infrastructure will usher in alternatives to crowded road and transit systems. (Guardian Cities)

New department in town: Oakland, California doesn't have a Department of Transportation, but it's starting one up this month. The interim director says the new agency will lead the way in answering questions about how to design transportation equitably and inclusively and how to design bike infrastructure without putting drivers on the defensive. (Next City)

Urban growth measures: We often compare cities by their population growth over time. Houston has overtaken Chicago as the third largest city in the US, but that's because counts include suburban growth and annexation, not just central city infill. Analysis by Yonah Freemark shows how central cities have changed since 1960, and that we should consider differences in how cities have grown when we talk about transportation policy. (Transport Politic)

A dense definition: The word "density" makes different people think of different things, and it's pretty unclear what it means relative to cities Are we talking about the density of buildings? People? Another quantifiable statistic? Perhaps the best kind of density is when the result is places where people want to go out and be around one another. (City Metric)

Quote of the week

"These are public streets, and navigation apps take advantage of them. Waze didn't invent cut-through traffic, it just propagates it."

Aarian Marshall in Wired Magazine discussing the neighborhood animosity towards the Waze App.

Bicycling


A new bikeshare station could be a side benefit to this housing redevelopment

Plans to redevelop Park Morton, a public housing development in Park View just south of Petworth, are taking shape. Aside from adding housing options to the area for both low and middle-income residents, the project could be a chance to expand Capital Bikeshare in a place where demand for the service often outpaces supply.


An empty Capital Bikeshare station at Georgia and Columbia NW. Image from Google Maps.

The existing Park Morton housing site is centrally located in Park View, to the east of Georgia Avenue on Morton Street. The site has a total of 12 three-story walkup apartment buildings for a total of 174 public housing units. The redevelopment plan is to replaces the current structures with approximately 456 units of mixed income housing spread across both the Park Morton site and the former Bruce Monroe School site at Georgia Avenue and Columbia Road.

To accomplish this, both sites will be developed through the Planned Unit Development (PUD) process, which permits zoning flexibility—usually including taller buildings—if the project includes benefits for the surrounding community. One benefit this project will include are two new parks—one on Columbia Road and one on Morton Street (see the map below for locations).


More CaBi stations could be another benefit included in the PUD. At the existing stations, at Georgia Avenue and Columbia Road and Georgia and New Hampshire Avenue, there's often a shortage of bikes after the morning rush, and stations don't always get replenished in the evenings.

A review of this CaBi crowdsourcing map below shows that residents feel that both of these stations need to be larger because they're often out of bikes:


Capital Bikeshare's map of stations in the area, with comments from users.

"Park View needs more stations!," says voicevote, a commenter on the map. "The one at Georgia and NH is always empty

Furthermore, there has been a significant push for a new station in the area, near Georgia Avenue and Park Road. However, today there is no space that can accommodate a new station at that location

"This area needs a station!," says heckalopter, another commenter. "It's a long walk to the other stations, which are usually empty by very early in the morning. Many residents in this area are using the too-few stations further away."

A review of available bike availability at Bikeshare stations supports comments on the crowdsourcing map. In reviewing the Bikeshare station map shortly after noon on Monday, June 20, many of the stations in the area had fewer that two bikes, and many had no available bikes.

The significant exception here is the station at the hospital center, which is a commuter destination rather than a point of departure.


Image from Capital Bikeshare.

Because the Park Morton development effort includes new dedicated open spaces, new sidewalks, new streets, and other improvements as part of its master plan, it creates an opportunity to enlarge the Bikeshare station on Columbia Road and establish a new station on Morton Street as part of that plan. These stations ideally would be located near the new parks and could be established with minimal impact to either the design or overall budget.

Transit


Picture a rail yard, but with bike lanes and parks on top

A roof deck over a rail yard north of New York Avenue could create new space for bike lanes, a park, or more development in the area. The Virginia Railway Express, a commuter rail line that serves Virginia and DC, is looking at the possibility as part of a project to build a new place to store its trains.


Where the VRE's proposed storage tracks would go, north of New York Avenue. Amtrak's Ivy City Yard is the space wtih the grey/white building in the middle with tracks on both sides. Base image from Google Maps.

Currently, 16 VRE trains currently run north on the Manassas and Fredericksburg lines into DC each weekday morning, and 16 run back in the evening. While VRE train schedules are fairly limited and none run in off-peak directions or on weekends, VRE has long-term plans for expansion and is working on more bi-directional service at more stations.

For now, VRE leases space to store its trains in Amtrak's Ivy City Yard, which sits north of New York Avenue near 9th Street. But there isn't enough space for one of VRE's trains, so it runs to and from the agency's storage facility in Broad Run, Virginia, each day, which isn't cheap. Between that and the fact that Amtrak wants to use the space for something else anyway can start reducing VRE's storage space next year, VRE is looking for another way to house its trains in DC every day.

To find a new location for its trains, VRE evaluated 20 potential sites within 12 miles of DC, and decided that the best move would be to purchase or lease space just off of New York Avenue, east of the Amtrak lot (and just below Amtrak's Northeast Corridor tracks). In May, VRE released a Request for Proposal to find a builder for five new sets of tracks at that location.

New rails could bring bike lanes and space for development

As part of the project, VRE is looking at how to make the new rail yard fit into the surrounding area. Part of VRE's request instructs its consultant to examine what it would take to provide "improved rail transit access to the surrounding neighborhood."

VRE threw out a few possibilities that they might look at, including a possible new VRE and/or MARC rail station as well as walking and biking that connect the neighborhood to surrounding areas, including the NoMa Metrorail station.

The language in VRE's proposal is pretty broad and vague, but it does ask whoever takes the project on to look into building a deck over top of the tracks. That'd make room for additional development, trails, a possible rail infill station nearby, or park space. In Manhattan, development above a major rail yard is underway:


Construction at Manhattan's Hudson Yards, December 2012 through May 2016. Video from Hudson Yards New York.

It's possible this could help with realizing DC's 2005 Bike Master Plan, which calls for expanding the bike and pedestrian trail from 4th Street NE to further up New York Avenue near the Arboretum. With some collaboration between VRE and DC, a new decked-over rail yard could provide the space needed to get the ball rolling on the trail project and could be a win-win for everybody involved.


Cross-section of the VRE storage yard with existing and proposed ground lines. Image from VRE.

Train storage in Virginia doesn't currently work for VRE

CSX Transportation owns the Long Bridge which runs from Virginia to DC as part of the company's RF&P subdivision, running from DC down to Richmond, VA. Through an agreement signed with VRE, the passenger rail company has 38 slots for trains running over the bridge. VRE uses 32 of these slots daily for passenger trains to and from Fredericksburg and Manassas. Two more slots are used to deadhead the one train down to Broad Run, since there isn't storage space for it in DC. And the last four slots are borrowed by Virginia to run Amtrak service to Richmond/Norfolk and Lynchburg to DC.

The limit imposed by CSX is one of the main bottlenecks in VRE's network, and keeps the agency from running more trains through to and from DC during rush hours. This limitation by itself essentially would eliminate the option of storing VRE trains mid-day in Virginia without a renegotiated access contract giving VRE more slots.

Another possibility, though more long-term, would be to agree with MARC to have trains run-through and service each others' stops. The two agencies have talked about doing this for several years now, but there are still hurdles to overcome before that might be a possibility. The tracks at Union Station would make running-through trains only easily doable for the MARC Penn line, the two agencies use a mixture of high and low platforms, and the issue of not enough capacity over the Potomac remains true.

Links


National links: How the highways happened

The US highway system is around partly because of a road trip Dwight Eisenhower took right after WWI, and if our leaders don't invest in our transit infrastructure, we'll have to sit back and hope for the best until they change their minds. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr.

Interstate prelude: On July 7, 1919, Dwight Eisenhower struck out on a road trip across the country. His military convoy, the first to cross the US by car, was partly a WWI celebration and partly an effort to gather info on the state of American roads at the time. It averaged 52 miles per day. This road trip and a view of the German autobahns would plant the seeds of the future US Interstate Highway System (History)

Alphabet soup: Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet (which is basically Google), has offered a suite of tools to Columbus Ohio, the winner of a contest for city design. It includes a program called "Flow," which would help the city modernize its parking system and coordinate ride sharing for low income residents. Though some worry the program will take away from standard transit services. (Guardian Cities)

Surviving the storm: Transit in the United States is often set back by ideological rigidity and under-investment. Laws that keep tax money from going toward infrastructure, for example, make it impossible to get the support needed to repair and expand transit, and they'll stay in place unless leaders change them. The real question is whether transit can survive until those changes happen. (The Hill)

Try something new!: The developers behind a Harris Teeter in Carrboro, North Carolina, want to build something familiar: a grocery store in a tired strip mall. The design has remained very suburban and auto-oriented despite the city's multiple efforts to make it more urban and increase its potential tax base. It's an example of what happens when bean counters at the home office believe what they've always done (strip malls) is the only way to make money. (City Beautiful 21)

No Mickey Mouse ride: Disney has been pushing for a streetcar line from a commuter rail station in Anaheim to the theme park, and local officials were going along with the plan until now. The streetcar has been cancelled by the Orange Country Transit Authority board, with opponents citing low demand for the existing commuter rail and a high speed rail station that's coming in the future as reasons. (Voice of the OC)

Geek city:This week bay area tech incubator Y Combinator has put out a request for applications for its city research endeavor. The agency hopes that in the future, it might be able to find out the best way to build a city from scratch in a way that's better than what exists now. Good luck with that.(Treehugger)

Quote of the Week

"Drive-ins shifted the film industry's focus to the teenage demographic, a tactic that still informs studio decisions in 2016. And drive-ins unwittingly became both cause and casualty of urban sprawl."

- Urban planning expert Ryan Baker on the heyday of the drive in theater.

Bicycling


Boston's "park & pedals" are park and rides for bikes

How do you get more commuters to bicycle into the city? Boston is trying "park & pedals," dedicated parking lots where suburban commuters can drive to the edge of the city, then bicycle the last couple of miles.


Photo by Park & Pedal.

Bicycling is often the fastest way to travel through dense cities. But most commuters from far-flung suburbs aren't willing to bike that far every day. Park & pedals split the difference, allowing suburban commuters to drive where it's easier to drive, then bike through the part of the city where it's easier to bike.

It's a fascinating idea, and an unusual twist on the last-mile problem of urban transportation.

The last mile

The hardest part about providing transportation from low-density suburban areas is the so-called "last mile." That's the gap between commuters' homes and a major highway or transit line, where there's not enough people going to the same place at the same time to provide convenient shuttles.

Park and ride lots around transit stations solve that problem by putting the onus on drivers to get to the station. That's not as efficient as having people live within walking or biking distance of the transit station, but it's better than making them drive the full distance into the city.

Transit agencies should never design their entire systems around park and ride users, but a few park and rides at strategic locations can be a good thing.

Why shouldn't the same idea work for bikes? A few parking lots near major bikeways like the Custis Trail and the Metropolitan Branch Trail might indeed prove useful. Particularly if they're located far from Metro stations, where it's not so crucial to reserve land for transit-oriented development.

Official vs unofficial

Boston has an official park & pedal network, with designated lots specifically for drive-to-bike commuters. It opened in 2015 and has been expanding this year.


Boston's park & pedal network map. Image from Park & Pedal and Google.

Naturally, an official network isn't strictly necessary for commuters to combine driving and biking. In the Washington region, people hoping to bike the last mile into the city can park at Metro stations, private lots, or even neighborhood streets.

But official parking lots do have some big advantages over doing it ad-hoc. They're easier to advertise, and they provide natural places for hubs of bike amenities. With park & pedals, planners could add wayfinding signs, maintenance kiosks, secure bike parking, lockers, even bikeshare stations and bus connections. Each one could become a Union Station-like bike station.

Worth the money?

Car parking is expensive and already abundant. With so many demands on transportation budgets and so little money generally available for bike improvements, spending money to subsidize car parking may be a questionable idea. Better to spend it on bike lanes, bikeshare stations, sidewalks, or transit.

But transportation budgets aren't all-or-nothing. There could be opportunities to partner with parks, churches, developers, and other property owners to designate park & pedals on the cheap, without the need for expensive construction.

Some of Boston's park & pedals are simply designated sections of on-street parking on public streets, and therefore a matter of policy more than construction. Nothing says DC could not do the same.

As Washington area planners do more to make bicycling easy, park & pedals may well be one more tool to add to the toolbox.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


We're getting closer to having a bike trail from DC to Baltimore

Last month, a 1.7 mile section of the WB&A Trail opened, bringing the separate parts in Anne Arundel and Prince George's County as close to one another as they've ever been. A few more additions to the trail would mean an uninterrupted bike route from DC to Baltimore.


Image from Google Maps.

The WB&A trail runs from Odenton to Lanham, with a gap at the Patuxent River. There are plans to bridge the river, extend it south to Washington and north to BWI and then onward to Baltimore, which would create a full trail between DC and Baltimore.

When the WB&A was first built, it was a state of the art, electric commuter railroad that ran on three lines connecting Washington, Baltimore, Annapolis and the B&O railroad at Annapolis junction. It operated from 1908 until 1935. Work on the WB&A trail began almost 20 years ago, when the bulk of the Prince George's section from Glen Dale to Bowie was constructed, and planning dates back to the early 1990s.

During the seven years after that first section opened, the trail was extended to the banks of the Patuxent River on the Prince George's side and 5.5 miles of the Anne Arundel section of the trail was built across the town of Odenton.

Work stalled after that, though, leaving a one-mile gap between the two sections of the trail.

The trail is expanding, but there's still a gap to bridge

In recent years, hope for connecting the trails has been rekindled. Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties have resolved the issue about how to close the gap, deciding to go with a detour that was the subject of a lot of debate. While this isn't ideal for trail users, and plans to build on the right-of-way make it worse, it does mean the stalled project is moving forward.

To that effect, this year Prince Geroge's County completed the WB&A Trail Spur, which extends the trail west along the old Race Track Railroad Spur. And last month, Anne Arundel County built the 1.7 mile trail extension. This brought both trails across the river from one another, albeit nearly a mile from where the train used to cross the river.


The newest section of the WB&A Trail along Conway Road in Anne Arundel County. Photo by John Ausema.

The next step is to build a bridge across the Patuxent River. Using a $560,000 state grant, the two counties plan to begin the design phase later this year on a bridge near the location of an old road crossing that disappeared sometime prior to 1945. Once the new bridge is there, the WB&A Trail, as officially planned, will be complete.


1908 Map showing location of old bridge between the railroads.

South to Washington, DC

The recently drafted Prince George's County Trails Plan proposes dozens of connections to the WB&A and extensions, most notably extending the trail south along MD-704 all the way to DC's Marvin Gaye Trail and to the Anacostia Tributary Trails via US-50.

Though these routes differ from the ones proposed by WABA in 2015 and fleshed out in 2016, the general idea remains the same, connect the WB&A to Washington, DC and the Anacostia.


Extensions to the WB&A Trail proposed in the Prince George's trails plan.

North to the BWI Trail

Subsequent plans to the original 1990's master plans for the WB&A, South Shore and West County (what the WB&A in Anne Arundel was called at the time it was planned) trails have taken the opportunity to expand and tie into it.

The 1995 West County Trail Master Plan included a sidepath along WB&A Road from the north end of the current trail all the way to the BWI Trail—the loop trail that completely encircles BWI airport. The 2002 Severn Small Area Plan included this same trail, built in four phases. Unfortunately, this trail extension is not included in the county's 2013 Master Plan.


Severn Small Area Plan bicycle and pedestrian map, showing the WB&A trail in red running north-south.

The BWI Connector Trail

In addition to the connection to Washington, the bridge across the Patuxent and the connection to the BWI trail, finally realizing the dream of a Washington to Baltimore bicycle greenway would require one other trail: the BWI Connector (formerly the Light Rail Trail).

This trail would extend the existing Light Rail Trail, which currently runs from the BWI Trail to Maple Avenue in Linthicum Heights, 2.4 miles north to connect it to either Baltimore's Middle Branch or Gwynn Falls Trails. Such a connection was one of the top priority projects in Maryland Trails: A Greener Way To Go, the state's 2009 statewide trail vision.

It was also one of five recommendations for a hiker-biker trail network in the 2003 BWI/Linthicum Small Area Plan and was a public recommendation in the Baltimore region's Maximize2040 surface transportation plan, though it's not mentioned in the plan itself.

A complete Washington-Baltimore Greenway could end up looking something like to this:

Four separate projects, all in different stages of planning and development, would have to come together to make this vision happen. But the small section opened last month in Anne Arundel County brings it slightly closer to fruition.

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