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

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


Photo by AJC1 on Flickr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The plan includes a few elements to advance this:

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

What will the next mayor do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After more crashes, DDOT pledges to remove Arkansas Avenue's rush hour lane

In the year since a speeding car struck a friend on Arkansas Avenue NW, more drivers keep getting into crashes. New crosswalks and a traffic camera haven't helped much, so now DDOT says it will re-stripe the street to eliminate its dangerous rush hour driving lane.


Photo by an Arkansas Avenue neighbor.

Last Tuesday night, yet another crash left a car totaled on Arkansas Avenue. Neighbors report that an SUV crashed into a parked car, pushing it onto the sidewalk and into a tree.

Tuesday's crash was at least the third like it in a month. Residents count at least six in the past year where drivers have crashed into parked cars. The culprit appears to be a dangerous combination of aggressive driving and unclear lane markings.


The parked car struck in Tuesday's crash. Photo by an Arkansas Avenue neighbor

After residents organized to demand a fix, DDOT studied the corridor to consider changes. Earlier this year, DDOT added new high visibility crosswalks and installed a traffic camera, but that didn't address the root problem.

The primary culprit of the crashes seems to be the northbound curbside lane. Normally it's a parking lane, but at rush hour it becomes a second travel lane. But there's no paint indicating where one lane ends and the other begins. Drivers see a very wide street that might be one or two lanes, with no indication of lanes or parking.

That situation encourages drivers to speed, and sometimes to pass on the right. When that happens and they encounter the occasional illegally parked car, crashes occur.

Eliminating the rush hour driving lane, allowing cars to park all day in both directions, and painting parking boxes to visually narrow the street should inhibit the most dangerous driving.


Arkansas Avenue NW. Image from Google.

Eliminating the rush hour lane wouldn't be a radical idea. DDOT eliminated other rush hour lanes, such as the one on nearby 13th Street, years ago. Meanwhile, the recent parking study included a map of rush hour restrictions that doesn't include Arkansas Avenue.

Another major issue is there are no stop signs or signals for almost 1/3 of a mile between Allison Street and the intersection with 13th Street. That enables drivers to build up speed. In the neighborhood's traffic calming petition to DDOT, residents requested a new stop or signal along that stretch to slow motorists down.


Length of Arkansas Avenue with no stops or signals. Image from Google.

In May, DDOT recommended removing the rush hour lane, and said the agency would continue to study the unsignalized intersections, as well as the potential to add bike lanes.

Six months and about the same number of crashes later, DDOT's director Matt Brown confirms the study is now complete. DDOT will re-stripe the street and change the parking restrictions in the next 30 days.

While it's not yet clear whether any new stop signs or bike lanes are also in the plans, eliminating the rush hour lane is a great victory for safety on Arkansas Avenue.

Kelly Blynn was a co-founder of 350.org and is currently the Next Generation of Transit Campaign Manager for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. However, the views expressed here are her own.

Sharrows tell drivers to share the road with cyclists, except when that road is a state highway

Sharrows are great for streets where there isn't room for a traditional bike lane. But sometimes, they're used as a way to avoid putting in a bike lane, which is bad for bicyclists and drivers alike.


New sharrows on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. Photo by Paul Meyer.

Last week, sharrows appeared on Georgia Avenue between Wayne Avenue and East-West Highway in downtown Silver Spring. It's one of eighteen state highways in Maryland where cyclists are allowed to take the full lane, and the sharrows let drivers know to look out for them.

Reader Paul Meyer tweeted this photo of the lane markings and wrote, "Sharrows on Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring?!? A start."

Sharrows are a start for Montgomery County, which has embraced bicycling without always committing to the infrastructure needed to support it, like bike lanes. The county has had Capital Bikeshare for just over a year, including in downtown Silver Spring, but due to a lack of safe places to bike, it's gotten off to a slow start.

Georgia Avenue is a big, wide street, with six lanes of traffic, turn lanes, and parking lanes. Though the signed speed limit is 30 mph, the lanes are wide, which encourages speeding. This is the kind of street that only the hardiest cyclists would ride on, and sharrows won't change that. Cyclists will continue riding on the sidewalks where they feel safer, but they're already barely wide enough to accommodate pedestrians in some areas.

Sharrows are ideal for streets that are too narrow for a bike lane. Because of the amount and speed of traffic on Georgia, cyclists need their own space. This street would be a good candidate for bike lanes with a buffer or even cycletracks, where a physical buffer would give cyclists additional separation from vehicle traffic, which benefits drivers too.

Obviously, that would require taking lanes from cars, and in the case of cycle tracks, redesigning or even removing parking spaces. County and state transportation officials have traditionally been reluctant to do that, most recently with Old Georgetown Road in White Flint. And so sharrows are sometimes used as a substitute for a bike lane where the political will to build one isn't there.


Sharrows are great for narrow, slow streets like Illinois Avenue in Petworth, but not for big, fast streets. Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

But if there's any community that should have the will to give cyclists a place on its streets, it should be downtown Silver Spring, where a majority of residents walk, bike, or take transit to work. Nearly a third of all households don't even have cars, and 40% of its public parking spaces are usually vacant.

The new sharrows on Georgia Avenue tell drivers to pay attention to cyclists. But as long as Georgia remains a big, fast street that prioritizes driving over everything else, drivers won't have many cyclists to watch for.

Where DC area bike fatalities happen, in one map... and what's the real "intersection of doom"

Since 1987, over 100 DC area cyclists have died in motor vehicle crashes. This map shows where they are. And there's just one intersection in the region which had two separate fatal crashes. Can you guess where?

In the above graph, red pins show crashes in an intersection, yellow in the roadway, black in a crosswalk, blue on the shoulder of the roadway, orange on a sidewalk, green in a bike lane, or white where the location was not available.

These fatalities have occurred in every jurisdiction, on busy highways and quiet neighborhood streets, and on every part of the roadway from sidewalks to traffic lanes.

The real "Intersection of Doom" is at Gaithersburg's edge

The intersection of Lee Highway and North Lynn Street, where drivers make a right turn across cyclists' path coming off the Mount Vernon Trail, gets much coverage as the "Intersection of Doom." But fortunately, I found no actual bicycle fatalities there.

Nor were there any where the Mt. Vernon Trail connections cross the George Washington Parkway, another harrowing experience for cyclists and a big problem spot that needs fixing. But there was one location where two separate fatal bike crashes occurred.

In 1997, a driver hit 15-year-old Alexis Smith on her bicycle in the crosswalk as she crossed the ramp from Great Seneca Highway to Sam Eig Highway, just west of the end of I-370 in Montgomery County. Then in 2009, another driver hit and killed Codi Alexander, 16 at the same spot.

However, Montgomery County wasn't the place with the most fatal bike crashes.

Prince George's has the most deaths by far

Of the seven jurisdictions I looked at, Prince George's had the most fatalities, with 36. Here is the full list:

JurisdictionNumber
Prince George's36
District of Columbia25
Montgomery21
Fairfax19
Alexandria2
Falls Church2
Arlington2

Some of the variation might be explained by population and square mileage, but Prince George's County is neither the largest nor the most populous. And comparisons get more complicated because DC's surge of daytime population means that considering its resident population understates the amount of exposure cyclists have there.

Most fatal crashes happen at intersections

If we combine fatalities listed as in the intersection and in the crosswalk, it shows that more than half of all fatal crashes happen at intersections. (Some crashes listed as on sidewalks or in bike lanes also may be at intersections.)

TypeNumber
Intersection37
Roadway36
Crosswalk20
Shoulder7
Bike lane3
Sidewalk2
Unknown1

Where this data comes from

I assembled this list and map from two main sources: media reports and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Most media reports are newspaper accounts available on highbeam, which is why they only go back to 1987. These accounts are usually very accurate and reliable. I only flagged one possible error during the review.

However, these are not particularly comprehensive. Only 53% of all fatal bike crashes get reported in newspapers, and usually as only one story about the fatal crash itself. Occasionally a reporter will follow up with a second item once authorities release the victim's name. For a particularly sensational story, there may coverage all the way through a trial and sentencing. Most media accounts, however, just end with a line saying something like, "Police are continuing to investigate the incident."

The NHTSA FARS data, on the other hand, is significantly more comprehensive but riddled with a vast array of errors. It also only goes back to 1994. Some of the errors come from problems with the forms themselves, while people filling them out introduce others.

These errors ranged from trivial cases, such as mislabeling a female fatality as male, to nonsensical cases where a bike fatality was coded as "Safety Belt Used Improperly," to the outright misleading case where a cyclist was mislabeled as a pedestrian. But 98% of the fatalities with media accounts also appeared in FARS.

Still, FARS data under-counts total bike fatalities because it does not include crashes on driveways or parking lots or crashes that don't involve a motor vehicle. I identified 15 such fatalities. In addition, the United States Park Police apparently doesn't submit FARS forms to the NHTSA, as crashes they investigated don't appear. Nor do bike deaths that arise from medical conditions such as heat stroke or from murder (except in the one case where the murder weapon was a car). So while the FARS data is more comprehensive, it is not complete.

The map above includes every bike fatality identified except for one that had an unworkable location description.

* The original version of this post failed to count one Arlington fatality.

Cross-posted with footnotes at TheWashCycle.

Offbeat pedestrian and bike signs in Panama

Panama's capital, Panama City, lacks pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, but the country has some pretty amusing signage. For example, there's this "pedestrian" sign. Perhaps we should all be aware of bootylicious robots.


All photos by the author.

My personal favorite was this jogger sign. If a jogger ran past me with that physique, I would drive slower.


Jogger sign

I didn't see any bike lanes or people biking around the city, but the "Respect It" signs are all over the city.


"Respect It."

Crossing the street in Panama requires courage and attitude of a honey badger. Literally, you have to look straight and walk across without any hesitation or risk getting hit. Everyone ignored the pedestrian signals.

Not just a phase: Young Americans won’t start motoring like their parents

A raft of recent research indicates that young adults just aren't as into driving as their parents were. Young people today are walking, biking, and riding transit more while driving less than previous generations did at the same age.


Charts from the US Public Interest Research Group.

The vast majority of state DOTs have been loathe to respond by changing their highway-centric ways. A new report by the US Public Interest Research Group, points out the folly of their inaction: If transportation officials are waiting for Americans born after 1983 to start motoring like their parents did, they are likely to be sorely disappointed.

Though some factors underlying the shift in driving habits are likely temporarycaused by the recession, for instancejust as many appear to be permanent, the authors found. That means American transportation agencies should get busy preparing for a far different future than their traffic models predict.

"The Millennial generation is not only less car-focused than older Americans by virtue of being young, but they also drive less than previous generations of young people," write authors Tony Dutzik, Jeff Inglis, and Phineas Baxandall.

There's a good deal of evidence that the recession cannot fully explain the trend away from driving among young people. Notably, driving declined even among millennials who stayed employed, and "between the recession years of 2001 and 2009, per-capita driving declined by 16 percent among 16 to 34 year-olds with jobs," the authors write.

Even as the economy has rebounded, car commuting has declined, and the drop is most pronounced among younger workers. According to the Census, between 2006 and 2013, the share of commutes by driving or carpooling dropped 1.5 percent among workers 16 to 24, 1.3 percent among workers 25 to 44, and 0.5 percent among workers 45 and older. The drop in car commuting among 16- to 24-year-olds continued after the recession ended, though at a slower pace, falling 0.5 percent between 2009 and 2013.

There's also a big mismatch between the places where the recession hit hardest and the places where driving is dropping the fastest. "The states and urban areas that experienced the biggest increases in unemployment during the recession were generally not those that experienced the greatest declines in VMT," the authors write.

While economic factors can't be completely discounted, the authors argue that they are not as significant as longer-term shifts in attitudes. A survey by Deloitte, for example, found that millennials are three times more willing to give up their cars than their parents' generation. The National Association of Realtors found that today's young adults are more likely to view a car as "just transportation" and not inherently superior to other modes.

Driving rates peak between the ages of 35 and 55, and millennials will likely drive more as they reach that stage of life, but they will still drive less than their parents did during those years, the authors conclude. Standard traffic models that guide transportation spending decisions and forecast steadily increasing driving rates for years on end fail to account for these shifts.

Dutzik, Inglis, and Baxandall say policy makers need to respond immediately to prepare for a future where Americans aren't driving more every year. They recommend incorporating a greater degree of uncertainty to projections about how many cars are going to be on the road in the distant future.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog.

Regulators want to create a new app for taxis to compete with Uber. Would it succeed?

Taxi operators have complained that companies like Uber and Lyft are not competing on a "level playing field" with more heavily-regulated taxis. In response, DC Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton has suggested, in effect, a way for the taxis to compete with Uber: Run their own Uber-like app. Would it work?


Photo by Koman Tam on Flickr.

The proposal originated when some (as-yet-unnamed) group offered to donate code for a similar app to the Taxi Commission. Linton would have the taxi operators create a cooperative company that would then control and market the app and set rates for rides using it.

The co-op would have to provide every taxi driver in the city with a smartphone to log into the app and accept rides, whether or not they've bought into the co-op or not. But nobody would force the driver to actually log in.

Linton says that this will give the industry a chance to compete. But it's up to that industry to seize the opportunityor risk going out of business.

Why might you use the app?

If the industry does indeed embrace this path, there could be some real reasons to use such an app. In my anecdotal experience trying UberX and regular taxis, the taxi drivers know faster routes around town and also have an easier time actually getting to my house rather than circling the neighborhood multiple times.

We actually have Uber-like apps that hail regular taxis now. Hailo, like Uber, lets you see the locations of taxis that work with the app, get an estimate of time to pick you up, and find out within seconds which cab can come get you.

Mytaxi is another app offering this functionality. Uber also has its own taxi mode, though the company pushes the other options like UberX more actively. Curb, formerly Taxi Magic, also has an app, though right now that just passes your request to a taxi company's dispatcher rather than finding you a vehicle directly.

Some riders might want to choose an app that brings more experienced drivers. Some might also want to patronize an app for drivers who earn something closer to a living wage. But they will only do that if the service is actually better.

Finally, if every taxi driver in DC gets a device to log on, that's a lot of cars. The services like Hailo have only gotten a small minority of taxis on board; this would bring a big fleet right from the start.

Why might the app fail?

This app would compete with all of the other apps. Those have companies with marketing budgets behind them, and a built-in user base.

We don't know how good this app is from a technical standpoint. If it's a lot clunkier than Hailo and Uber, people won't use it. And even if it's great now, keeping an app competitive requires constant technical work. Will the co-op be able to hire the right people with the coding chops to pull it off?

Also, part of the promise of new "sharing economy" tools is that user feedback through "stars" and other means provides a check on quality that regulators formerly offered. Instead of needing inspectors to check a hotel's cleanliness, an Airbnb user can just see what other people who stayed there recently said. With taxis, Uber and Hailo and the others have a strong incentive

Ubser, Hailo, and the others have strong incentives to dump drivers who aren't providing good rides or good customer service. If a driver gets low stars regularly, there's a good chance they'll stop working with the driver.

Linton says the proposed regulations allow the co-op to kick drivers off the system for cause. One question is, will it? The co-op's managers could decide that to compete with the likes of Uber, they need to maintain high quality. Or, they could instead prioritize protecting all members, as some labor unions end up doing, regardless of performance.

One big reason many DC residents embraced Uber is because there were a lot of old, decrepit taxis with drivers who seemed to be trying to cheat them (and because payment is a breeze). I've found Hailo cabs to be in good shape and it's just as easy to pay with Hailo, but if the co-op has every cab, will it be able to ensure riders don't get one of the small minority of really bad taxis?

There might be a better way

Taxi drivers might compete even better with Uber if the co-op can negotiate with companies like Hailo or mytaxi or another to essentially offer the large fleet of taxi drivers at one fell swoop.

The co-op could still run its own app, but wouldn't succeed or fail based on whether it can build, run, and market an app. Instead, it can draw on the talents of a company that's good at app development and marketing.

To make this work, the co-op would just need to set up a computer-to-computer interface, known as an API, where a Hailo-type app could look up the locations of nearby taxis and ask them to accept a ride. The co-cop would be the backend, and its chosen partner(s) could be the front end.

The co-op would negotiate rates and could ensure its drivers get a reasonable wage while also being competitive. It could do what it's positioned to be good atrepresenting drivers' needswhile not trying to also be the best tech company out there, something governments and industry associations have a poor track record on.

Update: Hailo also announced today it is closing its operations in North America. This makes the app likely more necessary if taxis are to compete with Uber and Lyft, because competitor apps aren't finding profitability doing it on their own. Alternately, it means that if the industry consortium existed and could offer more cabs to companies like Hailo, it could boost their success and productivity.

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