Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Dan Malouff

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for Arlington County, but his blog posts represent only his own personal views. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives car-free in Washington. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post

A bikeable suburban highway? One Ohio town pulled it off

Wide suburban highways lined with big boxes and strip malls aren't usually places one finds protected bikeways. But Stringtown Road in Grove City, Ohio is such a place. Check it out:


Stringtown Road. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Since a curb protects the bikeway from the road, it's technically a sidepath, a sidewalk that's for bikes instead of pedestrians.

And as you can see in photos from Google Street View, it's nicer than riding in the street with fast-moving cars, but it's still not exactly pleasant.

Huge curb cuts interrupt the bikeway, so cars don't need to slow down much before pulling into the giant parking lots lining the road. There's certainly a risk that careless drivers will turn without watching, and hit people on bikes.

But that's a risk that will exist for any car-oriented highway. At least this one puts the bike lane front and center, just about as visible as it can be.

There are some sidepaths along large roads in the DC area, like Route 50 in Arlington or along Benning Road near RFK, but those aren't commercial highways lined with shops, and their sidepaths aren't right against the curb like Stringtown's. This particular layout is pretty unusual.

As more and more suburban communities evolve to become more multimodal, experiments like this will help everyone around the country understand what works and what doesn't. Grove City is near Columbus, where it's not the only suburb experimenting with urban retrofits.

What do you think? Will this design work? Tell us in the comments.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Review says H Street Streetcar will be able to open

An outside review of the H Street Streetcar found no fatal flaws in the project that would prevent it from opening.


Photo by the author.

The American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) peer review of the streetcar on "whether there's a pathway to passenger service" is in, and the answer is yes, the streetcar can open.

In its letter to DDOT, APTA recommends a list of additional training and new procedures for the streetcar, but none appear to be major problems. The list includes more training for maintenance staff, reviewing operations and maintenance procedures, and augmenting DDOT staff with more experienced personnel.

DDOT is now analyzing the results and establishing a schedule to complete the recommendations. There is still no opening date for streetcar passenger service, but it appears likely that question is now one of "when" rather than "if."

Here is APTA's full letter to DDOT.

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.

Check out this charming but incomprehensible 1975 DC bus map

Washingtonians hoping to catch a bus in 1975 consulted this friendly-looking hand-drawn map. Charming as it may be, the map has no lines. Rather, designers wrote the name of each bus route over and over along its path through the city.


Image from DDOT.

Transit riders and cartography experts can't fault the map designers too much. It was more challenging to illustrate detailed networks before the days of computers, and even in recent years some WMATA maps have been just as hard to follow.

Legibility aside, the map actually includes some very progressive elements considering its vintage. According to the legend, it only shows "all-day routes with frequent service," an incredibly useful idea that's picked up a lot of steam in the past five years.

Other progressive elements shown on the map include bike paths, although the Mount Vernon and Rock Creek trails appear to be the only ones, and much of its text is translated into Spanish.

The map also includes a fun vignette of the Metrorail system, which had yet to open but was less than a year away.


Image from DDOT.

On the other hand, some things never change. The legend for the Metrorail vignette notes Metro's first phase was scheduled to open later in 1975. In actuality it didn't open until 1976.

Finally, there are several other vignettes on the reverse side:


Image from DDOT.

The architecture firm John Wiebenson & Associates produced the map for the Bicentennial Commission of the District of Columbia.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Come and party tonight with GGW

Tonight is Greater Greater Washington's 7th birthday party! Join us from 6:30-8:30 pm at Lost and Found, 1240 9th Street NW, to mingle with your favorite contributors, commenters, and other readers.


Birthday image from Shutterstock.

The party is open to all and free to attend. There will be a cash bar, and delicious cake. Hope to see you there!

The Dutch government is trolling DC over marijuana, bike lanes, and streetcars

As marijuana legalization took effect in the District of Columbia, Mayor Muriel Bowser said DC would "not become like Amsterdam." We talked about the differences yesterday, including on bicycling and transit, but the Embassy of the Netherlands has playfully responded with this infographic comparing our two capital cities.


Image from the Embassy of the Netherlands. Really.

The embassy also created a Q&A comparing marijuana laws in the two cities. But bicycling and transit supporters might focus more on the bike lane and streetcar disparities. That "(almost)" hurts. Low blow, Netherlands.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

DC like Amsterdam? We can only hope

According to yesterday's Express, DC is starting to look a lot like Amsterdam, and not just because of marijuana. That's fantastic if true.


The top of yesterday's Express story.

Among the reasons the Express cites for DC's Amsterdamization are increasing bicycle use, the appearance of streetcars, and Georgetown's improving C&O Canal.

Amsterdam is one of the world's great bicycling and streetcar cities. It's a joy to travel along its extensive bikeways, and even lanes where cars are allowed are amazingly bike friendly. And Amsterdam's huge streetcar network (with streetcars in both dedicated lanes and mixed traffic) is a case study in successful urban transit.

DC's nascent bikeway and streetcar networks pale in comparison, but Amsterdam is a superb model for us to aspire towards.

And while it's true that we can never hope to have as many canals (short of a disastrous global warming-induced flood), we can at least ponder what might have been had the history of Constitution Avenue turned out differently.

Even more similarities

Transportation and canals aside, Amsterdam's overall urban design is actually incredibly similar to DC's. We're both predominantly rowhouse cities, with plenty of brick. Even our street grids are similar: Amsterdam has a relatively small core with twisty medieval streets, but for the most part it's a city of straight streets and radial avenues just like DC.

These scenes from Amsterdam wouldn't look all that out of place in Dupont Circle, U Street, or Adams Morgan, apart from how little street space goes to cars.


Amsterdam, but could be DC. Photos by the author.

Admittedly, Amsterdam beats DC in a lot of ways. But it's not Paris or Hong Kong, not so thoroughly alien. And DC is not Las Vegas. Amsterdam and DC aren't identical, but we're the same species of city, which means Amsterdam is better in ways that DC can practically emulate.

Plus, we've got Amsterdam Falafelshop.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

DC streets will get seven new miles of bikeways in 2015

DDOT has released a list of new bikeways it will add in 2015. Although most of the additions this year will be short, they're important. This year's work will specifically focus on closing gaps in the network, in order to make existing bike lanes more useful.


Planned bike lanes in 2015. Image from DDOT.

In total there are about seven miles of new bikeways on the list, including three short protected bikeways, about four miles of striped bike lanes, and two miles of sharrows.

According to DDOT's Darren Buck, "We're hoping to address several short but valuable network connection links that are easy to overlook on a map, but people have been requesting for years."

The new protected bikeways are all in Northeast, on M Street, 4th Street, and 1st Street. Collectively they'll begin to stitch together Northeast's existing patchwork of disconnected cycletracks into a more useful and cohesive network. An unprotected contraflow lane continuing along M Street will help that effort too.


Basemap from Google.

Besides the Northeast protected bikeways, other notable additions include a normal bike lane on 12th Street NW downtown, along with several east of the Anacostia and in Capitol Hill, and short but important connections on 11th Street NW, Ontario Road NW, 2nd and 3rd Streets NE, and crossing I-695.

This project list is separate from the list of ten car lane to bike lane conversions that came out in January. The bike lanes in January's list are still in planning, and will likely happen in future years.

Here's the complete street by street list of DDOT bike lane additions for 2015.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Here are America's largest bikesharing systems as of 2014

As US bikesharing continues to boom, it's fun to look back each year and see how systems have grown. Now that we're into the grind of 2015, let's look back on 2014 and see what changed.

2014 was a modest year for US bikesharing expansion, compared to the incredible boom of 2013. Overall, the number of bikeshare stations nationwide increased about 20%, from 1,925 in 2013 to 2,345 in 2014. San Diego Seattle launched the largest new system, with 117 49 stations.

Washington's Capital Bikeshare regained its crown as largest overall network, growing from 305 stations to 347 stations. Last year's champ, New York's Citibike, actually lost two stations and dropped from 330 to 328. Chicago rounds out the top tier, with the same number of stations it had last year: 300 exactly. No other system tops 200 stations.

Fourteen Thirteen new bikesharing systems opened nationwide, and four small existing ones closed, bringing the US total up to 49 active systems.

Here's the complete list of all US systems. New ones are marked in bold. Previous years are available for comparison.

RankCity2013 Stations2014 Stations
1Washington (regional)305347
2New York330328
3Chicago300300
4Minneapolis (regional)170169
5Boston (regional)132140
6San Diego0117
7Miami Beach9794
8Denver8183
9San Francisco (regional)6770
10San Antonio5153
11Seattle049
12Austin1145
13Boulder2238
14(t)Fort Worth3434
14(t)Miami034
16Chattanooga3333
17Columbus3030
18(t)Madison3229
18(t)Cincinnati029
20Houston2928
21Indianapolis026
22Omaha825
23(t)Nashville2224
23(t)Charlotte2124
23(t)Phoenix0~24
26Ft Lauderdale (regional)2521
27(t)Kansas City1220
27(t)Salt Lake City1220
29Aspen1215
30Long Beach, NY1314
31Washington State Univ (Pullman, WA)911
32Milwaukee010
33Greenville, SC68
34(t)Oklahoma City77
34(t)Tampa0~7
36(t)Des Moines66
36(t)Ann Arbor06
38Univ of Buffalo (Buffalo, NY)45
39(t)Univ of Califonia Irvine (Irvine, CA)44
39(t)Spartanburg, SC44
41(t)Tulsa43
41(t)Louisville33
41(t)Stony Brook Univ (Stony Brook, NY)33
44(t)Kailua, HI22
44(t)Roseburg VA Hospital (Roseburg, OR)22
44(t)Hailey, ID2
~2
44(t)Rapid City02
44(t)Savannah02
44(t)Dallas02
44(t)Orlando0~2
Fullerton, CA (closed)100
Georgia Tech (Atlanta, Ga) (closed)90
George Mason Univ (Fairfax, VA) (closed)70
Lansing (closed)40

Systems marked with a ~ are stationless bikeshare networks, in which each bike contains a lock and can be docked anywhere. The number of "stations" listed for three of these four systems (Phoenix, Tampa, and Orlando) is approximate and was calculated by dividing the overall number of bicycles by eight. The fourth system, Hailey, has only six bikes but they're located in two distinct clusters, so it seems most appropriate to report two stations.

Counting the number of bikes rather than stations would be a more accurate way to rank systems, but that information is more difficult and time-consuming to obtain.

Correction: This post originally reported that San Diego's bikeshare network opened in 2014. It was originally scheduled to do so, but delays pushed its opening to 2015.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Where to go wireless: The next big streetcar question

Now that DC's oft-delayed H Street streetcar is hopefully near opening, DDOT officials are planning the next wave of lines. One of the biggest emerging questions (besides the role of dedicated lanes) is where the streetcars should run without wires.


Current law prohibits wires under the Whitehurst Freeway. Should that change? Image from Google Maps.

DC has important monumental views that wires could impact. Therefore, DDOT has been promising hybrid streetcars that can run off-wire for part of their route since 2009. It could mean wires along some roads but not at major intersections, crossing state avenues, or across the National Mall, for example.

DC Councilmember Mary Cheh is convening a public hearing today to discuss the question with District Department of Transportation (DDOT) officials including new director Leif Dormsjo.

Where wires are legal

Current DC law prohibits overhead wires in the central L'Enfant city (basically everything between Florida Avenue and the Anacostia River) and Georgetown, except on H Street. In 2010, the council exempted H Street from the law, specifically to permit streetcars there.

But only exempting H Street was never a permanent solution. It was a stopgap to let H Street move forward while giving DDOT time to study wire-free planning in more detail. Now it's time for a broader plan.


Wires on H Street. Photo by the author.

Is wireless technology ready?

The 2010 law also required DDOT to study wireless streetcar technology before building any other lines, so leaders could make an informed decision about other exemptions.

DDOT completed that study in mid-2014, and in it concluded that off-wire technology is still only practical for short distances. Batteries, ground-based power supplies, and various other wire-free systems do exist, but they're vastly more expensive and vastly less reliable than traditional overhead wires. Hybrid streetcars that operate on-wire part of the time, and off-wire at other times, remain by far the best option.

Moving forward, the DC Council could opt to change the wire law in one of four ways: 1) Keep the existing law allowing wires only outside the core; 2) Prohibit wires everywhere; 3) Allow wires everywhere; or 4) Allow wires in certain additional locations, but not others.

DDOT's report proposes an approach in line with option 4:

In the near term, proven overhead contact system (OCS)-based technologies will form the basis of the system, with limited application of off-wire technologies in the most sensitive areas to the extent possible. As technologies advance, the amount of off-wire operations will be gradually increased.
This option makes sense. Most people agree that the north-south streetcar line should be wireless when it crosses the National Mall, but it would be absurd to demand the K Street line be wire-free when it runs under the Whitehurst Freeway.

Others worry that DDOT will not actually "gradually increase the amount of off-wire operations" once wires are in the ground. If DC buys streetcars that can handle only limited off-wire operation, it would cost money to upgrade, and that might not happen for a long time.

But wire-free technology still only works for short distances, so a hybrid is still the way to go. Modern streetcar wires can be relatively unobtrusive and won't mar the streetscape. Allowing overhead wires in some other areas while prohibiting them in the most sensitive spots is the rational solution.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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