Greater Greater Washington

Posts by David Cranor

David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he's lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Committee for DC.  

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.

Cyclists more often get the blame if they die in a crash

Over 100 Washington area cyclists have died in motor vehicle crashes since 1987. Previously, I mapped out their locations. What about the outcomes? Police fault cyclists and drivers equally, except in Prince George's County, where they overwhelmingly blame cyclists.

Photo by The Bike Fed on Flickr.

Cyclists are found at fault more than drivers

I collected data on fatal crashes involving both a cyclist and a driver in the region since 1987. The data came from media reports and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

I was able to determine who was found at fault in 83% of the crashes. Cyclists got the blame 58.9% of the time. This could be because cyclists are just more reckless than drivers, but it could also be that there is a failure in the reporting itself.

There's a big discrepancy between the two sources. Of all of the cases in which fault was assigned, 34.4% relied only on data from a FARS report. In these cases, cyclists got the blame 74.1% of the time. In contrast, where the details of the crash came from a media report or from both a media report and a FARS report, cyclists only got the blame in 30 out of 59 crashes, or 50.8% of the time.

Prince George's finds cyclists at fault far more often

Prince George's County has has the most bike fatalities of any jurisdiction in the area. It's also the place cyclists are most often found at fault.

Cyclists got the blame in 76.7% of Prince George's fatal crashes, compared to 52.9% in Northern Virginia, 50% in Montgomery County, and 48% in DC. In fact, outside Prince George's County, drivers and cyclists in the region share fault 50-50.

Could police bias explain these discrepancies?

Responding police officers are responsible for filling out FARS reports, so police bias might be a factor.

For example, in several cases the only contributing factor was "Walking/Riding With Or Against Traffic, Playing, Working, Sitting, Lying, Standing, Etc. In Roadway." This could mean a lot of things, including something as simple as the cyclist riding in the road.

The inherently one-sided interview can also play a role. Often the only living witness, the driver, has a strong incentive to blame the cyclist, and perhaps the police do not do enough to challenge these claims.

On the other side of things, it's possible that the media only reported on crashes where the driver was to blame. My data set has far more news stories on the investigation, subsequent trial, and verdict when the driver was criminally at fault. Perhaps stories where the driver is at fault, such as the recent fatal crash near Baltimore, are more appealing to the media.

In addition to asking why the county is so deadly for cyclists, Prince George's County needs to ask the question of why cyclists who die there are so much more likely to be blamed. Are Prince George's cyclists worse? Do the roads there invite risky cycling? Is there a difference in the way police and journalists investigate and report crashes in Prince George's?

If it's bias, someone needs to address it for the sake of both justice and safety. If it's cyclists riding dangerously, then the county needs more education and enforcement. If it's road design, the county needs to change the roads. Being such a negative outlier should be cause for alarm.

Is sidewalk cycling really dangerous, or just scary, like a roller coaster?

Advocates for a law against bicycling on sidewalks talk about safety. But with so few injuries or fatalities that involve sidewalk cycling, is this more about perception than reality? Maybe it's like roller coasters, which are designed to be scary but not dangerous.

Photo by hounddiggity on Flickr.

Washingtonian's Emma Foehringer Merchant looked at the pros and cons of a sidewalk cycling law in Washingtonian. She wrote,

[Councilmember Jim] Graham argues allowing bikes onto sidewalks only transfers the hazards bikers face to pedestrians. "It doesn't make sense to me, and I've got too many people who have fear of injury," Graham says. The council member said he believes the bill will encourage more bike lanes, as pedestrians lobby for their construction to protect walking space.

Graham is trying to protect people from the fear of injury—not actual injury. Some of this is legitimate. People should not have to live with fear or be constantly startled. But some of this is what I call the Roller Coaster Paradox.

I usually refer to this when people ask "isn't biking dangerous?" It can be scary some time, scarier than driving, but it's not significantly more dangerous—if it is at all. I've become convinced that we really don't know.

People drive to the amusement park and then they ride roller coasters. They find the first part to be nothing of concern (maybe they even sleep on the way) but the roller coasters are quite terrifying, by design. But in reality the drive is far more dangerous. The fatality rate for travel by car in 2000 was 0.86 deaths per 100 million miles of travel, but for roller coasters it was only 0.70. And the drive is far longer than a roller coaster ride. So the roller coaster is scarier, but not as dangerous.

Part of the concern about sidewalk cycling stems from this: it can be scary for pedestrians, but not that dangerous. Pedestrians have a legitimate right to ask to not be scared, but so do cyclists who are choosing the sidewalk over the road.

What we really need is for the police to enforce laws against unsafe sidewalk cycling and perhaps for the council to define some rules (a sidewalk speed limit, perhaps lower when pedestrians are present? A no passing rule, perhaps tied to sidewalk width? A strict "hitting a pedestrian on the sidewalk creates a presumption of guilt" rule?)

Graham also claims that this law will encourage more bike lanes due to pedestrians lobbying for them. This is a very unlikely outcome. AllWalksDC already supports more bike lanes, as does the Pedestrian Advisory Council. In addition, since cycletracks have already been shown to reduce sidewalk cycling in DC, people opposed to that behavior already have reason to support them. Yet I have not seen any interest in that from the people pushing for this law.

If Graham wants more bike lanes and cycletracks, he's had ample opportunity to engage with DDOT to make that happen. This is not "Force 10 From Navarone" where the easiest way to destroy the bridge is to blow up the dam. The easiest way to install more bike lanes... is to install more bike lanes.

A version of this post was originally published at The WashCycle.

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:

Prince George's36
District of Columbia25
Falls Church2

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.)

Bike lane3

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.

Virginia Avenue is an untapped resource; let's tap it

Over a decade ago, the federal government closed Virginia Avenue between South Capitol Street* and 1st Street SE, and then seemingly forgot about it. Could the street become a bicycle and pedestrian path instead?

Closed section of Virginia Avenue. Image by Google.

In 2003, in order to provide a construction staging area to expand and improve the Capitol Power Plant, the federal government closed a block and a half of Virginia Avenue SE. Those projects wrapped up in 2012, but two years later Virginia Avenue is still closed.

According to a statement from the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) office, the government "continues to have major infrastructure construction projects that require the use of Virginia Avenue." So for now at least, the AOC will continue to use Virginia Avenue as a staging area.

Will it ever reopen? Maybe not. In 2006, as part of the Capitol Complex Master Plan, the AOC said one way to improve security at the power plant would be "permanent closure of Virginia Avenue to vehicular traffic."

But Virginia Avenue is four blocks from the Capitol dome. It's a waste to leave it completely unused. Whether security really demands the AOC permanently close Virginia Avenue to vehicles is a debate the community should engage in. But even if the answer is yes, there are other options besides simply closing it completely.

How about a bike path?

Conveniently, planning is already underway on the parallel Virginia Avenue Tunnel Project. That provides a nice opportunity to bring up the closed blocks of Virginia Avenue.

The tunnel project stretches from 2nd to 12th and includes a side trail. The DC Safe Rail group suggests extending the trail along Virginia Avenue's closed right-of-way as a bicycle/pedestrian path only.

Combined with the Southeast Boulevard project, which will also have a multi-use trail, this could create a continues bicycle/pedestrian path from Barney Circle and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail all the way to South Capitol Street.

A trail is only one possible use of the space. Another option is to expand Garfield Park, with trees, grass, and bioswales. Or the road could reopen fully and return as part of the street grid. Or maybe something else.

For now, and into the foreseeable future, it appears the government will keep Virginia Avenue closed. But now is a good time to ask if that need always be the case.

* The original version of this post mistakenly referred to East Capitol Street instead of South Capitol Street.

A greener Eastern Market plaza may be on the way

Where today the parks around the Eastern Market Metro are mostly tired expanses of grass with a few trees, the parks soon could contain an expanded library, formal playground, cafe-style tree bosque and several stormwater management features. The roads and sidewalks around the square could also get a better layout.

The Metro entrance, library entry pavilion, and water feature on the southwest parcel. All images from Esocoff & Associates unless otherwise noted.

The $45 million redesign has gone through years of planning and outreach. The project originally started as a Congressional earmark to Barracks Row Main Street, which funded the Capitol Hill Town Square study in 2008 that considered ways to redesign the intersection, including possibly rerouting Pennsylvania Avenue around a square similar to Stanton or Lincoln parks.

Any changes to Pennsylvania Avenue ran into fierce opposition from immediate neighbors. But the project team continued studying ways to redesign the parks and started a new round of public engagement in 2013, this time assuming Pennsylvania stayed where it is.

The plaza now. Image from Bing Maps.

Architect Amy Weinstein of Esocoff & Associates recently revealed a final design coming out of numerous community meetings and feedback on two concepts from January.

The most dramatic change would be on the southwest parcel with the Metro entrance. A new pavilion would lead to a massive below-ground expansion of the Southeast Library, across the street from the square. A long courtyard and a water feature would connect this pavilion with the Metro.

Staircase for the new pavilion.

The parcel would also get a shaded tree bosque (an urban grove of shade trees similar to the one at New York's Lincoln Center) with a crushed gravel surface, movable furniture, and an open space along the "desire line" path where people most often walk between the Metro station and Barracks Row.

Artist's rendering of the bosque.

A straight pedestrian path along the South Carolina Avenue axis would divide the northeast section, the largest parcel. A fenced-in children's play area and an open lawn would flank it on the each side. The play areas include a landscape with "Anacostia Hills," a "Floodplain," a "Valley," and a "Ridge," and on that landscape, children will find a tree house, water pump, a pair of jungle gyms and a swing set.

The playground and promenade.

The wide median of Pennsylvania Avenue would become a pair of bioswales surrounded by wrought iron fencing. The bioswales will absorb up to 70% of the stormwater runoff from the inside portion of Pennsylvania Avenue during most storms. Meanwhile, the fences prevent pedestrians from crossing in the middle of the block.

The smaller triangular parcels on the southeast and northwest sides would become green space with stormwater management gardens and trees surrounded by an outward facing bench. The southeast parcel would be further expanded by closing D Street in front of the Dunkin' Donuts and adding the land to the park.

Site plan for the smaller triangular parcels.

Around the square, the plan would make changes to street directions and sidewalks to provide better flow and greater pedestrian safety. The segments of D Street along the northeast and southwest edges would reverse to carry traffic away from 8th Street instead of toward it. 8th Street would get a new left turn lane for those turning west onto D Street south of Pennsylvania.

To aid pedestrians, many intersections would get curb bump outs and pedestrian islands. The northbound bus stop on 8th would move south of Pennsylvania, while southbound buses would stop just across the street from that spot, closer to the Metro station.

Building the parks and plazas will cost an estimated $13,500,000, while the expanded and renovated library would cost $22,800,000. With DC management fees, a maintenance endowment and other costs, the project team estimates the whole project would need a budget of a little over $45,000,000.

The team is still accepting comments and will issue a final report in September. Barracks Row Main Street has some money to help pay for development, but from the (somewhat vague) statements from the project team, it appears they would be looking for city funding to help make the project a reality.

DC's staggered elections give a random half of politicians an edge for higher office. That's a problem.

The system of elections in the District of Columbia gives a big advantage to councilmembers who represent half of the wards over those elected from the other half. This discourages good councilmembers from running for mayor or council chair.

Staggered lane number image from Shutterstock.

Half the council seats, for wards 1, 3, 5, and 6 and two of the at-large seats, come up for election in the same years as the mayor and council chair (such as this year). The other half, wards 2, 4, 7, and 8 and the other two at-large seats, run in the even-numbered years in between (such as 2012 and 2016).

This means councilmembers holding one of the mayoral/chair election cycle seats must choose between running for re-election or trying for higher office. Meanwhile, their counterparts in the other half of the seats can avoid taking risks and run for chair or mayor without giving up their seats.

Since half of all councilmembers must vacate their seats to run for mayor or council chair, the mayoral system dissuades some of the city's most experienced and productive leaders from running for DC's top government posts. The data show that this is indeed happening.

Since DC home rule was enacted in 1973, those in off-mayoral/chair seats have run for council chair 4 times and for mayor 17 times. Conversely, those in mayoral/chair election cycle seats have run for council chair 3 times and for mayor 6 times (and 4 of which were incumbent council chairs).

If this continues then one can expect more candidates—and more mayors—from Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8, thus giving an undue advantage to councilmembers and their constituents from those wards. Indeed, all three DC mayors elected with prior council experience (four if you count Marion Barry twice) came from one of those wards, and only Arrington Dixon and Linda Cropp have ascended from off-cycle seats to chair. Even Cropp is a particular exception as she won during a special election, and thus her council seat wasn't at risk.

What can be done?

DC could extend council seats to 6-year terms and have councilmembers alternate running between mayoral and non-mayoral elections. Or, there could be separate primaries for chair and mayor, similar to what we do for presidential elections.

Even better, we can follow the federal model and let people stand for two offices at once, as Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan did during the 2012 election while running for vice president. Or, perhaps DC rearranges the election calendar so all council seats come up for election in council-only elections, while the chair and mayor have their own elections.

DC should explore all options to ensure its election calendar and political circumstance doesn't discourage quality candidates. The current system is unfair to half the city. Of all places, the nation's capital needs a system that encourages its political talent to seek higher office and is fair to all its voters.

Here are 8 ways DC can get the most out of a new soccer stadium

Last year, DC announced a tentative deal to fund and build a new soccer stadium for DC United through a land swap. The details haven't been worked out yet, though concern is growing that the soccer team may ask more of DC than it will give back in return. By making sure DC United accepts more risk, the city can get a better deal.

Rendering of a Buzzard Point soccer stadium. Image from DC United.

Under the deal, DC would swap land in Buzzard Point owned by developer Akridge for the city-owned Reeves Center. Then, for $1 a year, it would donate rent the land to DC United to build the stadium. While it appears better than the baseball stadium deal, considering how expensive it was, that's not a particularly high hurdle to get over.

Both the DC Council and local budget activists have begun to question whether the deal is fair or wise. And public skepticism about the deal could help drive a discussion about how to craft a better one.

A new DC United stadium and a successful franchise could be good for the city. It could bring in business and tax revenue and create opportunities for entertainment, local unity, prestige, and civic pride. These things have value, and it would not be unreasonable for DC to help DC United as long as the benefit exceeded the cost, because a stadium is unlikely to happen without some public contribution.

Even AT&T Park in San Francisco, which is often billed as privately financed, got help with the land and transportation improvements along with continued city service to the park. Without any contribution from the city, no stadium will be built and it's possible DC United could move.

So what would a good deal look like?

Have DC buy the land outright. They already own some of the land that the stadium sits on and they have the power to force landowners to sell if they need to. The District's lack of borrowing ability is something of an impediment, but it can probably still buy and assemble the land necessary for less than DC United can.

And the city is, by definition, invested in the area, so it can hold the land for a very long time if the deal goes south. This makes it a low-cost, low-risk way to help the team. The District would continue to own the land and could always sell it later.

Use a crowdsourcing campaign to pay for transaction costs. Assembling the land will require title work and environmental site assessments that will cost a lot of money. DC United fans are eager to have a stadium. Let them raise $1 million of their own money to make it happen.

Periodically, the Green Bay Packers sell "stock" in the team to raise money for stadium-related projects, but this stock consists mostly of a piece of paper that doesn't pay dividends. A similar campaign for DC United would demonstrate public support and allow those who care the most to pay the most, while reducing the city's burden. It would also be a way to get fans outside of the city to pay more.

Let the District pay for environmental remediation. Currently an industrial site, the future stadium location will require environmental remediation. The cost of the land plus the cost of remediation should be somewhat related to the land's value afterwards, suggesting that DC could recapture most of this expense when they sell.

DC United commits to pay for the stadium's eventual removal. One day, the stadium will reach the end of its life, and DC United should be responsible for restoring the land to the condition in which they get it. They could meet this requirement by either posting a bond to cover the cost, or paying insurance to cover it in case they go bankrupt.

DC United pays market-rate rent and full property tax, eventually. The term sheet has DC United paying $1 in rent per year and getting a reduced property tax for 20 years. By buying and preparing the land for DC United, the District is already taking on a large portion of the risk for them.

But the price of the land will include the potential rent they can charge. Paying $1 in rent regardless of revenue, as is currently proposed, means that DC is losing money on its land investment. It's a clever way to mask the contribution, but it isn't in the best interest of the city. Nor is reducing the property taxes.

If soccer is doing as well as its proponents argue, then covering these expenses shouldn't be too difficult. It would make sense to create a system for deferring these payments without penalty when revenue is low, or in the early years while the league is still growing. But they should be paid eventually, at an interest rate similar to what the city pays on its bonds.

Stadium-related sales taxes go to DC whether DC United profits or not. The current deal makes the tax revenue related to ticket sales, concessions, parking and merchandise available to DC United. In exchange, DC would share 50% of the revenue (which includes the tax revenue that DC would normally get) if DC United makes more than a reasonable profit.

This places all the risk on the city, but splits the reward with DC United. Because of concerns that the team will refuse to open its books or to move money around in such a way that it will never turn a profit, City Administrator Allen Y. Lew has stated that this part of the deal may not happen.

This is a good thing. It's far better for the District to be involved in normal government functions like collecting taxes, than trying to be a business partner of Major League Soccer. Being their landlord is enough.

Tax future development to pay for transportation and security. If the argument is that the stadium will generate spillover development in the area, then it can help pay for stadium-related costs, like security and transportation improvements. In addition, the city could also dedicate about $5.5 million in stadium-construction-related taxes it will earn.

Instead of a land swap, sell the land with open bidding. Once DC determines the value of the properties it proposes swapping, potential buyers willing to pay more should do so. DC and developers on the other side of the swap could split the excess value.

This is actually not too far from what DC is already proposing. But it moves more risk and cost to DC United, its fans and the landowners near the stadium that will benefit most from it, which is where those risks and costs should go. By allowing DC United to defer some payments in the early years, DC can create a cushion for DC United to grow into this investment. That's what a good deal would look like.

Dueling proposals for Eastern Market plaza include a miniature Capitol Hill

Barracks Row Main Street recently presented two design alternatives for a new plaza at the Eastern Market Metro station. Both concepts go a long way to uniting the plaza, which is currently broken up into six pieces, while making it greener, cleaner, easier to traverse, and more inviting.

Concept A, one of two possible plaza designs. All images from Barracks Row Main Street.

Last month, architect Amy Weinstein of Esocoff & Associates and landscape architect Lisa Delplace of Oehme van Sweden revealed the two concepts at a public meeting. Both designs bring life to the unkempt, desolate green space that's there today by adding fountains, play areas for children and adults, and public art. Barracks Row Main Street is accepting public comments on the two designs through the end of this week.

Proposals include a mini-Capitol Hill, shady forest

Each design addresses each of the plaza's six pieces, which are divided by Pennsylvania Avenue and 8th Street SE, and include the two median strips on Penn.

Parcel 1 is the northeast corner of the plaza and one of the two largest parcels. Both concepts turn it into a pair of "play" areas, one fenced in for children, and another open area for adults, which are separated by a diagonal path between Pennsylvania and South Carolina avenues.

The children's play areas in Concept A.

In Concept A, the children's area would be larger and have two themed "playscapes," including a miniature Capitol Hill with the Capitol building, and a tiny Anacostia Watershed with rubber berms for climbing and rolling and a river with playable pumps and water wheels. In Concept B, there would be a smaller children's area themed after the Navy Yard, without any miniature buildings.

On the adjacent lawn, people can sun, do yoga, read, and socialize. This area would be larger in Concept B and have hedges along the north and west sides to create more separation from the street and homes.

Concept A includes a "shade tree bosque" by the Metro station entrance.

Parcel 4 is the other large parcel in the southwest corner, where the Metro entrance is located. Both concepts include another lawn, as well as an interactive fountain, an "infohub," a busking area, and a redesigned Capital Bikeshare station and parking area. In Concept A, the space becomes a "shade tree bosque" with trees, tables, and chairs in a bed of gravel.

Section of a proposed Southeast Neighborhood Library extension in Concept B.

Meanwhile, Concept B proposes an extension of the Southeast Neighborhood Library in a pavilion in the plaza, which would connect to the rest of the library in a tunnel under 7th Street SE.

An overview of Concept B.

Parcels 2 & 5 are the medians. While community members are interested in turning them into usable park space or adding bike lanes, DDOT asked the design team not to consider these options until the agency does its own corridor-wide study of the area.

Instead, the design team proposed new landscaping with barriers to discourage jaywalking. Concept A would add fenced-in bioswales that collect and filter stormwater, while Concept B adds raised, planted medians, like those on Connecticut Avenue.

Parcels 3 & 6 are the small islands on the northwest and southeast corners of the plaza. In both concepts, they would become bioswales surrounded by a continuous bench.

Community concerns

The design team took time to discuss additional issues important to the community. They talked about preserving existing trees, which many residents wanted, as well as which other trees might be appropriate for planting there. The designers also talked about ways to solve the plaza's rat problem, such as solar-powered trash cans, trees that repel rats, and eliminating standing water.

The designers also looked at ways to increase pedestrian safety with refuge islands and curb extensions. To improve traffic flow, they considered removing D Street on the south side, east of 8th, and reversing the direction of D Street on the north and south sides of the plazas. Finally, they proposed some moving bus stops, taxi stands, and car sharing spaces.

No one will love every one of these ideas, and there are some desirable amenities that neither design includes, like a dog park. But there are some really interesting ideas in these plans, and either concept would go far in making the plaza more of a park, rather than a place you just walk through to get somewhere else.

New commuter benefits could help bicyclists

Mayor Gray has proposed requiring large businesses to provide their employees with a commuter benefit and that benefit could include the cost of bicycling to work. While it's a good move, it doesn't cover bikesharing, and DC has yet to extend this benefit to its own employees.

Photo by James Schwartz on Flickr.

At the beginning of this month, Mayor Gray submitted a package of 11 bills as part of the Sustainable DC Act of 2013. Included in this is the Transit Benefit Establishment Act of 2013, which would require that employers with 50 or more workers provide their minimum wage-eligible staff with some form of transit benefit.

Employers will have three choices. They can give their employees pre-tax benefits, to be used however they like, that are at least as high as the maximum amount that can be deducted from the employee's gross income. They can also supply each employee a transit pass or reimburse them for vanpool cost. Finally, the employer can provide vanpool or bus transportation to work at no cost to employees.

The first option could include the bicycle commuter benefit, if the employer chooses to offer it, because the Internal Revenue Service considers it a qualified mode of transportation. The second option does not include bikesharing as a public transit system that employees can choose, but it should. And employers would likely support that, since it is surely much cheaper than any of the other options. And the third option does not relate to cyclists.

This is a good bill that could be made a little bit better if it included bikesharing as transit. (The federal government could decide to call bikesharing transit if it passed the Commuter Parity Act of 2013, but why wait?)

In addition, DC does not currently offer its employees the option to choose the bicycle commuter benefit in place of a transit benefit. Gray claims that this bill will move the District "even further along on the path to becoming an international destination for people and investment, and a model of innovative policies and practices that improve the quality of life and economic opportunity for all District residents."

Expanding the commuter benefits of DC employees to include the bicycle commuter benefit would help with that too, and at almost no cost to the District.

Crossposted from theWashCycle.

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