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Roads


The feds just blew a chance to reform the city-killing, planet-broiling status quo

The Obama administration has released new rules governing transportation planning. Despite rumors the new rules would be a big step forward, for example requiring states to take things like greenhouse gas pollution into effect, instead they appear to be more of the same-old.


US DOT isn't taking steps to hold transportation agencies accountable for building ecological disasters like the Katy Freeway. Image from Top 10 Famous.

Reformers hoped the rules would get states to reconsider highway expansion as a method of dealing with congestion and emissions, since widening roads induces more traffic and pollution. By introducing better metrics and reporting requirements, the thinking goes, US DOT could compel states to document the failure of highway expansion, which would lead to pressure for a new approach.

But the rules released yesterday are a big disappointment, say analysts. While it will take a bit more time to fully assess the 423-page document [PDF], advocates are already going on the record panning US DOT's effort.

Greenhouse gas emissions

On the question of whether state transportation agencies should be required to at least report the emissions impact of their transportation plans, US DOT "whiffed," writes Joe Cortright at City Observatory:

There's nothing with any teeth here. Instead—in a 425 page proposed rule—there are just six pages (p. 101-106) addressing greenhouse gas emissions that read like a bad book report and a "dog-ate-my-homework" excuse for doing nothing now. Instead, DOT offers up a broad set of questions asking others for advice on how they might do something, in some future rulemaking, to address climate change.

This is hugely disappointing, considering that anonymous Obama administration officials were bragging about the impact of these reporting requirements to Politico earlier this week. At the rate things are going, half of Florida will be under water before American transportation officials acknowledge that spending billions to build enormous highways serving suburban sprawl is broiling the planet.

Traffic congestion

There was also some hope that US DOT would reform the way congestion is measured. Current measures of congestion emphasize vehicle delay, which leads to policies that actually promote more driving and more total time spent in cars, as agencies seek to temporarily reduce delay by widening roads. Policies that reduce traffic by improving transit or enabling people to live closer to work don't rate well under this measure of congestion.

Stephen Lee Davis at Transportation for America says the new rule "would still push local communities to waste time and money attempting to build their way out of congestion by using a measure of traffic congestion that's narrow, limited and woefully out of date."

Cortright says the metric could have been worse, but it's still measuring the wrong things:

The core measure of whether a metropolitan area is making progress in addressing its congestion problem is what USDOT calls "annual hours of excessive delay per capita." This congestion measure essentially sets a baseline of 35 mph for freeways and 15 mph for other roads. If cars are measured to be traveling more slowly than these speeds, the additional travel time is counted as delay. The measure calls for all delay hours to be summed and then divided by the number of persons living in the urbanized portion of a metropolitan area.

The proposed measure is, in some senses, an improvement over other measures (like the Texas Transportation Institute's Travel Time Index) that compute delay based on free flow traffic speeds (which in many cases exceed the posted speed limit)…

This is all about vehicle delay, not personal delay. So a bus with 40 or 50 passengers has its vehicle delay weighted the same amount according to this metric as a single occupancy vehicle.

This ignores the value of shorter trips. As long as you are traveling faster than 15 miles per hour or 35 on freeways, no matter how long your trip is, the system is deemed to be performing well.

When you get down to it, US DOT's congestion metric belongs to the same line of thinking that led Houston to spend $2.8 billion widening the Katy Freeway to 23 lanes only to see traffic congestion return with a vengeance a few years later. Instead of managing demand for freeways, it will lead to more supply.

California has shifted away from an emphasis on vehicle delay and instead uses "Vehicle Miles Traveled" as a performance measure. VMT measures how much traffic a given project will add to streets and highways. US DOT is nowhere close to such an enlightened position.

Biking and walking

Caron Whitaker of the League of American Bicyclists also notes another big disappointment.

What you can do

Now for the good news. This process isn't over yet. The rule can be amended—and anyone can weigh in. The comment period will open Friday and will likely be open through the summer. US DOT needs to be inundated with comments that call for a modern approach to measuring transportation system performance.

It's worth noting that US DOT officials are touting this rule—which took three years to draft—as environmental progress. Gregory Nadeau wrote on the Fast Lane Blog:

This is a down payment on the administration's 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan, a budget proposal to reduce traffic and carbon intensity of the transportation sector.
Let's hold them to that.

Crossposted from Streetsblog.

History


Check out this DC bike map from 1896

Did you know our region had bike lanes all the way back in 1896? This map shows the best way to get around DC and parts of Maryland and Virginia on two wheels before the start of the 20th Century.


Image from the DC Public Library.

The map is one of 70 that the DC Public Library recently added to its Dig DC collection.

These newly available maps are part of DCPL's ongoing effort to digitize the Washingtonia Map Collection, which includes material from various sources dating back to 1612. So far, the collection on Dig DC includes maps from 1768 through 1900.


Image from the DC Public Library.

According to the note above, the direction and frequency of triangles along paths indicates the slope and incline of hills. If topography is your top concern, this map could still be helpful in choosing your best route: The gentle decline of Bladensburg Road as you travel southward into the city could certainly offset traffic considerations.

It's also interesting to note that certain roads—7th St. NW, Connecticut Ave. NW, Pennsylvania Ave. SE, among others—are as preferable now as they were then. One detail begs the question: was Virginia Avenue SW/SE once a preferred bike route?

What else about this map do you notice?

Roads


Why widening highways doesn't work, in one simple gif

Decade after decade, American metropolitan areas continue to widen their highways in order to reduce congestion. And decade after decade, congestion just keeps getting worse. That may be counterintuitive, but it's because of a phenomenon called induced demand. This simple gif illustrates how it works:

Of course, it's a little more complicated than this gif. Congestion keeps increasing not only because more people drive, but also because more people drive farther. And because the more highways we build, the less walkable and transit-accessible our cities usually become. And because the more desperate our congestion situation becomes, the more some groups attack using money for anything other than more highway widenings.

Highway congestion is a negative feedback loop. The only way to really solve it, besides economic calamity, is to break out of the loop by attacking its root causes. Rather than applying highway-widening band-aids that only work for a few years, build urban communities with multimodal infrastructure, in which it's just as convenient (or more so!) for most residents to get around without a car than with one.

That doesn't mean no new roads are ever needed. New communities and densifying ones need streets, after all. But it does mean we should be skeptical of plans to make highways bigger. In the long term, that money is usually better spent elsewhere.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


A safer bike ride through Rock Creek Park is on the way

Later this year, work will begin to reconstruct Beach Drive and parts of the Rock Creek Park Trail. The road will get a lot of work that should mitigate the environmental damage it causes, and the trail—in particular, three spots that consistently give cyclists and pedestrians trouble—will get wider.


A cyclist navigates the National Zoo tunnel under Administration Hill. Photo by Jay Mallin on Flickr.

Headed up by the Federal Highway Administration, the project should take between two and three years. It will focus primarily on Beach Drive, a 6.5 mile long road that runs from the Maryland state line to the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, rehabilitating nearly a dozen bridges and rebuilding the roadway and adjacent parking lots.

New pavement markers and centerline rumble strips will also go in, along with new steel-backed timber guardrails and better lights and signs.

To mitigate stormwater runoff, stormwater management elements like bioretention ponds and bioswales will go in at strategic points along the road, and workers will stabilize the creek bank with retaining walls.

In addition, DC Water will take the opportunity to add 16 manhole vaults to the Rock Creek Main Interceptor beneath Beach Drive. This will allow DC Water to rehabilitate the interceptor and Beach Drive sewers at a later date without cutting Beach Drive's newly-added asphalt.

Rock Creek Park Trail is a big part of the project

As part of the road rehabilitation, the project will resurface and widen parts of the Rock Creek Park Trail in the sections closest to Beach Drive.

The main section of the Rock Creek Park Trail is a 5.2 mile stretch from Peter's Point along the Potomac River, just south of the Roosevelt Bridge, to Broad Branch Road, near the Forrest Hills neighborhood. Another 0.7 mile long section starts north of there at the intersection of Joyce and Beach Drive and then follows Beach to Bingham Drive.

The FHWA work will focus on a piece of the main section from Shoreham Drive just south of Connecticut Avenue to Bluff Bridge just south of Tilden Street.

Changes to several problem areas along the trail, which users have long said were dangerous, will be a signature of the project.

The tunnel that runs under the National Zoo's administration building is currently an unappealing option for cyclists and pedestrians because there is little space set aside for them, and what is there is totally unprotected. As of now, it's the only option for getting through the park when the trail section that runs through the zoo is closed.

To make it more appealing, the FHWA will narrow the travel lanes inside the tunnel and widen the sidewalk from two feet to five feet, with a new 21 inch tall crash-worthy railing. "Cyclists Must Dismount" signs will also go up.


FHWA will widen the sidewalk through the Zoo tunnel. Image from US DOT.

Just south of the Zoo tunnel, the trail currently crosses Rock Creek on a notoriously narrow five foot wide sidewalk. The FHWA will build a new 11 foot wide, 140 foot long bridge just upstream from the existing zoo tunnel bridge that will serve as the new trail bridge. The existing sidewalk will also remain.


Rendering of the new trail bridge adjacent to the Zoo bridge. Image from US DOT.

Another trouble spot is where the trail crosses Shoreham Drive, the ramp that runs from Beach Drive to Calvert. There, trail users must cross two lanes of fast moving traffic on a diagonal crosswalk without the aid of a traffic-control device.


Shoreham Drive intersection and trail reconfiguration

Already improved once less than 10 years ago to remove the old dual crosswalk configuration, the crosswalk will be straightened to take the shortest path across the road. The crosswalk will also be widened to 12 feet, and include a pedestrian island. The trail just north of there will also be straightened, and the intersection with the trail along Cathedral Avenue will get separate paths for those going north or south.

The trail is getting work in other places too

The FHWA will pour new asphalt, straighten the trail in several places, and widen it to ten feet in most places, eight in others (it's currently between six and seven feet wide in most places).

The FHWA will also construct a new trail, running from Porter Street to Bluff Bridge and connecting to a 0.8 mile long trail that DDOT plans to build later along Piney Branch Parkway from Beach to Arkansas Avenue. All trails will be designed for speeds of 18 mph (designated speeds for bikes mostly have to do with the turning radius and the amount of space at turns).

Delays and completion time

The project, promised since before the adoption of the Park's General Management Plan in 2006, has been delayed again this year. Last year WABA announced that these projects would start in the fall of 2015 and then in December the Park Service said they would start this spring, but since then the proposal due date has slipped from November 5th to March 29th, putting them a little less than five months behind, with a "no earlier than" date of August 2016.

Pedestrians


Why long waits to cross the street might be good for humanity

We've often criticized "beg buttons," those buttons you have to push (and then wait) before being able to cross a street. But maybe civilization depends on them?


Photo by Dylan Passmore on Flickr.

Beg buttons, by their very nature, put people on foot at a lower level of priority than people driving. The drivers get a green light at set times whether they're there or not, but people walking don't.

Many force pedestrians to wait much longer than otherwise necessary, as Tony Goodman wrote about 10th Street and Maryland Avenue NE in DC:

If someone presses the button during a green light, they have to wait for the light to turn red and then green again to get a walk signal, despite the fact that the sensor will extend the green time if more cars show up during the cycle.

But now, Ben Hamilton-Baillie has uncovered some archaeological records that show that perhaps we should thank beg buttons for our very society:

So thanks for those long waits, for those traditionally-minded traffic engineers out there! Also, thanks to Ben Hamilton-Baillie for the revelations and for permission to repost this cartoon.

Bicycling


The Metro shutdown changed how people use Capital Bikeshare. Here's how.

When Metro shut down on March 16th, it made life tougher on thousands of commuters. But there was a silver lining: the opportunity to see how other parts of our region's transportation network would handle new demand.

Capital Bikeshare data from that day informed a mapping tool and several animations by Mobility Lab's senior tech advisor, Michael Schade, which provide some insight on how the bikeshare system fits within the broader regional network.

The map gives an idea of which bikeshare stations had major jumps in ridership (such as those downtown and in NoMa), and which ones were negatively affected by the lack of Metro riders.


Graph from Mobility Lab.

Looking broadly, the overall bikeshare ridership grew by 21 percent compared to the previous Wednesday, March 9. (It's worth noting, for comparison purposes, that both days had unseasonably warm and sunny weather.) Almost all of this increase came from a more-than-doubling of casual bikeshare trips: registered trips grew by only 1 percent.

One possible explanation for the low increase in registered trips could be the higher likelihood that registered riders own personal bikes. In an effort to make more bikeshare bikes available, those with their own bikes were encouraged to ride those instead. Additionally, Capital Bikeshare made casual trips, normally $8 for 24 hours, free for the day.

While tourists and visitors to the DC area are typically the ones considered as "casual" bikeshare riders, on the day without Metro the category grew to include a massive number of residents trying out the system for the first time.

On a station-by-station scale, 223 (or 63 percent) of all 354 stations saw a jump in traffic on March 19. Trip decreases from certain bikeshare stations could offer a possible insight into where Capital Bikeshare riders typically connect to Metrorail. Some stations near Metro, such as a few in the Golden Triangle area of DC near Farragut West, saw decreases, but the decrease was not uniform or widespread enough to show any particular relation to Metro.

Other factors, such as schools canceling classes or employers allowing telework, would have had a major impact on bikeshare ridership as well.

Given the multitude of factors, and the unique situation of the shutdown, it is difficult to determine some of these exact patterns behind ridership. But the overall jump in casual ridership does make clear: without Metro, many commuters explored a new transportation option through bikeshare.

For more Capital Bikeshare-based data projects, you can check out Mobility Lab's upcoming Transportation Techies meeting on April 28.

Bike counts in the interactive map courtesy of the BikeArlington Counter Dashboard.

This post originally ran on Mobility Lab.

Bicycling


Low-income residents can now buy cheaper CaBi memberships

If you qualify for need-based services in the District, you can now get a year-long Capital Bikeshare membership for $5 rather than the regular $85 fee. DC's Department of Transportation hopes the initiative will encourage more people to use bikeshare and make transportation more accessible for the District's less affluent residents.


DDOT director Leif Dormsjo announcing the new Capital Bikeshare Community Partners Program. Photo by James Huang.

The new Capital Bikeshare Community Partners Program offers qualifying residents significant savings off the regular annual membership fee, as well as a free helmet and introduction to the system.

In addition to the savings, members in the program will also be able to use a bike for 60 minutes instead of the normal 30 minutes before incurring additional ride fees.

"It is critical that those with the most need are able to travel quickly and economically to and from their appointments, jobs, training and classes," said Leif Dormsjo, director of DDOT, in a statement. "By including need-based Capital Bikeshare annual memberships, we are ensuring that all District residents can use this healthy, affordable and efficient means of travel."

The program works through local non-profit and social service organizations, including Back on My Feet, Community of Hope, the DC Center for the LGBT Community, Unity Healthcare and the Whitman Walker Clinic. Clients who qualify for those organizations' services can qualify for the Community Partners Program.

The program is available now to DC residents, and CaBi hopes to expand it to Alexandria, Arlington County, and Montgomery County in the future.

Removing barriers could mean more riders

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) found that paying for an annual membership can be a barrier for lower-income people to using bikeshare systems, in a 2015 report.

The low upfront cost—$5 is less than the cost of three Metrobus trips—will hopefully remove this barrier for low-income residents in DC.

In addition, CaBi's estimates that members saved an average of $710 each in transportation expenses annually in 2014, in its most recent member survey.

NACTO also found that extensive outreach is important to the success of low-income bikeshare membership programs. In 2014, about 18% of the 12,673 members of Boston's Hubway bikeshare system joined through the city's $5 low-income membership program—the highest in the USA—after heavy marketing, according to the report.

A big question for the new program is whether it will expand CaBi's reach to a more diverse group of users. Bikeshare use has grown regularly in recent years, with monthly trips surpassing 360,000 for the first time in 2015, its data shows.

CaBi trips peaked at around 330,000 a month in 2014 and 300,000 in 2013, according to the data.

However, users are "on average, considerably younger, more likely to be male, Caucasian, and slightly less affluent" than commuters in the Washington DC region based on US census data, CaBi's 2014 member survey found.

The new community partners memberships should help shift these demographics. However, more will be need to be done, including marketing the program to those who can benefit from it and expanding CaBi's presence in low-income neighborhoods - there are only 20 docks east of the Anacostia River - to ensure its success.

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