The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

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 Council for DC.  


Union Station expansion plans will help train riders, cyclists, and many more

Union Station and the surrounding area is in line for a huge renovation. Amtrak just announced a design to add new space to wait for trains. Other changes in the works could extend the Metropolitan Branch Trail and make Columbus Circle more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

Image from KGP Design Studio/Grimshaw.

On Tuesday, Amtrak released designs of the most immediate next step in its vision. It will push back the wall facing the trains, so that instead of waiting in too-small, uncomfortable pens for trains, people will have a more expansive space including a large glass wall looking out at the tracks.

But that's just the start. In the longer run, Amtrak is looking to add new entrances, lower-level concourses, and retail, and make existing platforms wider. Developer Akridge is also working on a project called Burnham Place, which would bring new office space, residential units, hotels, and retail atop the tracks directly north of Union Station.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail could one day look like this where it connects to Union Station. Renderings from Akridge.

Burnham Place would include "a green linear park connecting pedestrians and bikers north to Montgomery County in Maryland"—otherwise known as the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The trail would be built above the metro tracks, as a separated alternative to the existing protected bikeway that runs along First Street NE.

In the renderings below, the elevated park runs north behind the Union Station Bike Station on the building's west side, continuing as a tree-lined, elevated strip to the current trail just north of L Street.

Burnham Place with the MBT, looking from the south.

View of Burnham Place with the MBT, looking from the north.

The project, as rendered, would also create new connections to the trail. A pedestrian connection between the trail and 2nd Street NE would be added at K Street NE. A new segment of I Street built through Burnham Place would connect the trail to the new north-south roads in the developments as well as the new road built between Union Station and the buildings that front 2nd Street NE, such as the SEC building.

The DC Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC) has submitted comments asking for more secure bike parking. There's currently bike parking in the Bike Station at Union Station's southwest corner and at some outside racks in the same area. But sometimes there isn't enough, and what's there is notoriously theft-prone. Also, it's all in one place even though Union Station has multiple entrances—there doesn't even appear to be any bike parking in the existing parking garage.

One particular area the BAC recommended was on the north side of Columbus Circle near the existing flag poles across from Union Station.

In addition to these changes, the BAC has also discussed a complimentary idea to redesign Columbus Circle for better use, in light of Delaware Avenue and First Street NE south of D Street being closed for security reasons after September 11th.

If Delaware and First's connections to Columbus Circle were closed to automobile traffic, the roads could be narrowed, parking could move off of Massachusetts Avenue, and there'd be more space for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

Image from Google Maps.

Delaware Avenue could become a woonerf, used by cyclists going to or from the Circle and by drivers, accessing it only from D Street, for parking. First Street could be narrowed to two lanes with angled parking on one or both sides, while leaving a space for protected bikeways.

The addition of parking to First Street would allow for the removal of curbside parking on Massachusetts Avenue between First and Second Streets NE. This block is confusing, as it features two lanes wide enough for side-by-side traffic and curbside parking. Removing the parking would allow this block to feature three or four traffic lanes and a continuation of the bike lanes from Columbus Circle. For pedestrians, the south side of the circle would feature shorter bike facility crossings at New Jersey and First, instead of the current road crossings.

The Federal Railroad Administration will host a meeting on Wednesday, March 30th to give the public a chance to review the drafted project elements for Union Station's expansion.


Check out the final design for connecting two Bethesda trails

A connector trail between the Little Falls Trail and the Capitol Crescent Trail now has a final design. It makes for a longer connection than one of the other options, but it's also safer, cheaper, and will have less environmental impact.

The route Montgomery's planning department is recommending for connecting the two trails.

Right now, the only route between the two trails is through the parking lot of the Bethesda Outdoor Pool. The hard surface trail will run along the south side of Hillandale Road, then along the east side of Little Falls Parkway.

The connector trail will have at-grade crossings at Hillandale Road and one of the pool parking lot's entrances. It will be 860 feet long, and the cost is estimated at $408,000.

The Montgomery County Planning Board recommended this trail over another option, a boardwalk that would have been a more direct connection and would have avoided entrances to the pool, but that also would have cost $200,000 more.

The design process initially included three total options, all coming as results of a trail alignment study. Those options were two shorter routes on the north side of the pool and a longer one, similar to what the planning board chose but with the crossing of Hillendale at the north side of the pool.

Trail Alignment Study Options

Based on community input, especially from the Little Falls Watershed Alliance (LFWA) which proposed the recommended option, these options were refined to two: what's now being proceeded with, and the boardwalk.

The boardwalk would have been 525 feet long, on piers with a concrete deck and a section of concrete paving and stairs. It would have made for a shorter and more scenic trip between the two trails, with fewer places where bikes and cars would have had to share the road. But it also would have cost $617,000 and required construction in the Willett Branch stream buffer and removal of several trees including a 22-foot pine tree.

The planning board recommended the hard surface trail because it will cost less, doesn't run through the woods, and will have less of an environment impact (it will also require construction in the Willett Branch stream buffer, but would only impact, not remove, seven trees, all under 12 feet tall).

Leading up to the decision, the LFWA, Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) and Kenwood Forest II Condo Association all supported the hard surface trail over the boardwalk and no-build options. The CCCT opposed the boardwalk, primarily out of a concern for safety. The CCCT believes that the safest place to connect to the Capital Crescent Trail is at the intersection with Little Falls Parkway, where traffic is already slowed down, not farther north where cyclists are up to speed.

Meanwhile, three local residents, including at least one daily bike commuter, supported the boardwalk and another supported the boardwalk and Option C from the original trail alignments. In addition, six individuals, the Chevy Chase West Neighborhood Association, and about 100 signatories to a petition were against building anything altogether, finding the project to be too costly and environmentally damaging.

The connector trail currently has no funding, and there are no immediate plans to begin construction.

Public Spaces

This plan would make it easier to walk or bike from L'Enfant Plaza to the Southwest Waterfront

For the past year, the National Park Service has been working on a way to make it easier to pass through Banneker Park, from L'Enfant Plaza to the forthcoming Wharf development and Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. It just released its plan for making that happen.

The NPS's preference for the Banneker Park design.

Right now at Banneker Circle, there are no curb ramps to get from the roadway to the I-395 pedestrian bridge, the path to the intersection of Maine Avenue and 9th Street NE, or the informal path to Maine Avenue. The plan to change that, which NPS has identified as its "preferred alternative," calls for two new paths and a new staircase. It's a continued improvement over the concepts presented last summer.

The staircase replaces the existing informal pathway with a direct connection between the park's west side and the crossing that leads people across Maine Avenue and to the Wharf development at the Southwest Waterfront. The staircase is set to include transition areas for safe and comfortable access, integrated lighting, and a bicycle trough.

A rendering of Banneker Park from the Wharf side of Maine Avenue.

An 8-foot wide, ADA-compliant sidewalk will go in place of the existing path, running from the corner of Maine Avenue and 9th Street SW to the park's east side. About halfway up the hill, it crosses the eastbound lane of L'Enfant Plaza, then follows alongside that lane before crossing the westbound lane at the top of the hill.

There will also be a new crosswalk on the north side of the park, and all of the new sidewalks will get curb ramps, which aren't there now.

Rendering of Banneker Park from 9th and Maine

In addition, a second 8-foot wide ADA-compliant path will connect the pedestrian crossing to the Wharf to the other path's L'Enfant Plaza crosswalk.

The new design also includes new trees, paying homage to the park's original design by Dan Kiley. There will be restored landscaping, potential stormwater retention areas, and the 6-foot wide sidewalk along the north side of Maine Ave will get wider.

The addition of curb ramps, stairs, crosswalks and ADA-compliant paths should make the whole area easier to traverse for people on bikes, on foot, or in wheelchairs. It should also create an improved connection between the I-395 bicycle/pedestrian bridge, the National Mall and the Anacostia Riverwalk.

NPS has considered another design, calling it the "non-preferred alternative." That one would create a parallel staircase and ramp around the east side of the park that ran to the pedestrian crossing to the Wharf.

NPS has taken the project, started by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), through the Environmental Assessment process and will be returning to the NCPC for a revised concept review on April 7.


Transit, bikes, and teleworking have all gained popularity

The percentage of people taking transit, biking, and working from home is on the up over the past 14 years. Driving, both by by individuals and in carpools, is down.

A look at the percentage of the population using various modes of transportation for their commutes. Graph from the Transportation Planning Board.

This is according to data from the Transportation Planning Board about commuting trends in our region.

The total percentage of people commuting by car is down, from 81.1% in 2000 to 74.7% in 2014. Meanwhile, transit use has risen by 40%, telecommuting is up 38%, and bike commuting is up 200%. The percentage of people who walk is also up, but only from 3% to 3.1%.

You can check out the rest of the TPB's report on regional travel trends here.


DC will swap driving lanes for bike lanes in four key places

Around the District, four new sections of bike lanes and protected bikeways will replace existing driving lanes. These are part of four miles of planned new segments that will close gaps in the city's bike infrastructure.

Photo by Dylan Passmore on Flickr.

They'll focus on four major areas: the Metropolitan Branch Trail, the Klingle Trail, downtown, and Piney Branch Road, near Catholic University.

The projects are part of an amendment the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is submitting to the Transportation Planning Board's long-term plan. DDOT is proposing to complete all of them this year, an undertaking that would cost $1.35 million.

Here's a big-picture look at all of them:

Map from MWCOG.

Metropolitan Branch Trail

Three of the eight projects are related to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. One would cut Blair Rd NW from three lanes to two lanes from Peabody Street to Aspen Street (a total of 0.73 miles) to allow for that section of the trail to be added in.

Blair Road with a protected path. Image from DDOT.

Two other projects would, functionally if not explicitly, extend the trail south from Union Station to the National Mall. One would remove a lane from Louisiana Avenue from Columbus Circle to Constitution Avenue in order to add in a 0.42 mile long protected bikeway. The other would remove two lanes from the stretch of Constitution Avenue that runs from 1st to Pennsylvania Ave NW to add in 0.23 miles of protected bikeway.

Klingle Trail Connection

Another project would remove half the lanes on Klingle Road between the under-construction Klingle Trail at Porter Street and Adams Mill Road. This would allow for 0.31 miles of separated bike lanes on both sides of the street, which will help to connect Mount Pleasant and the new trail.

Image from Google Maps.

East side downtown protected bikeway

The longest project on the list (1.6 miles), this is the bike facility that has been the subject of so much media attention. It would add protected bikeways to 5th, 6th or 9th Street NW.

Image from DDOT.

Closing bike lane gaps

The remaining three projects would close gaps in the current bike network. The first, in Edgewood, would remove a driving lane on 4th St NE between the existing bike lanes that end at Lincoln Road and the existing bike lanes at Harewood Road and add 0.27 miles of bike lane in their place.

Image from Google Maps.

The second would remove one of two driving lanes on the one-way section of Harewood Rd NW on the south side of the Soldier's Home Cemetery and replace it with a separated bike lane (I assume bi-directional). It would be 0.2 miles long between Rock Creek Church Road and North Capitol.

Image from Google Maps.

The last and smallest project, at 0.11 miles, would close a small gap in the bike lanes on Piney Branch Road NW between Georgia Ave and Underwood Street, again by removing a driving lane.

Image from Google Maps.

The Transportation Planning Board has opened a 30-day comment period on these changes.

There are other new bike projects in the works around the region. The I-66 Multimodal Improvement Project includes bike and walking improvements, and a project to extend VRE to Haymarket will include three new stations with "bicycle access." The Crystal City Transit Way (BRT) promises bicycle and pedestrian facilities improvements, and the I-66 Outside the Beltway project notes that Bicycle and Pedestrian accommodations in the corridor are included as part of the Preferred Alternative.

Cross-posted at The WashCycle.


Vice City: A map of where all the Vice Presidents have lived

From our nation's founding until 1977, vice presidents had to find their own place to live. I created a map of where they made their homes, from boarding houses in the shadow of the Capitol building to large estates in nearby Maryland and Virginia.

Stars are buildings that still exist; colors signify the half-century they were occupied. Map by the author.

I found 58 houses and hotels were vice presidents lived. Twenty-five of these homes still remain today, and 17 of them are still used as private homes or hotels.

The map includes at least one residence for every vice president, even Theodore Roosevelt, who lived in DC for five days, and John Tyler, who lived here for just one day. The one exception is William R. King, who was inaugurated in Cuba and died six weeks later without ever coming to Washington. This is not a complete list, as some directories don't include the information or aren't easily available, and some vice presidents likely moved mid-session (Aaron Burr did it once) and their new homes might not have been recorded.

The first vice presidents lived in boarding houses

Starting with President John Adams in 1800, presidents lived in the White House, which was then the largest house in the United States. In contrast, Adams' vice president, Thomas Jefferson, rented a bedroom and parlor in a Capitol Hill boarding house where he lived with 30 other members of Congress, Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, and a handful of their wives. Similar to Jefferson, most of the early vice presidents lived in boarding houses, many near the Capitol.

Later, vice presidents lived in hotels, starting with George M. Dallas in 1845. Others followed suit over the next century until John Nance Garner, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's vice president who lived in the Hotel Washington until 1941, became the last. Others rented private homes or lived with wealthy residents. In 1889, William Henry Benjamin Harrison's vice president Levi P. Morton was the first to own his own home (or possibly Schuyler Colfax 20 years earlier), but by the 1950s personal ownership became the norm.

It wasn't only the kinds of homes that changed, but also the locations. Until 1839, most vice presidents lived on Capitol Hill. From the 1840s to the 1920s, vice presidents lived almost exclusively within what we now call the Central Business District, except for John C. Calhoun's time at Dumbarton in Georgetown. In 1919, Thomas Marshall moved outside of the L'Enfant City to stay in the old Wardman Park Hotel, and 20 years later, Garner would be the last VP to live downtown. After World War II, vice presidents moved toward the upper northwest part of DC and into Maryland and Virginia.

Of the 25 remaining vice presidential residences, the oldest one is 1909 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. In the late 18th century, it was home to Vice President Elbridge Gerry, who served under James Madison and gave is the eponym of the term "gerrymandering." The building was a boarding house at the time, and Gerry lived with the secretaries of the Navy, War, and Treasury. Today, that building is part of the Mexican Embassy.

The Naval Observatory is now the vice president's permanent home

In 1951, Congress directed the Secret Service to protect the vice president and their family, which would eventually lead to the creation of a permanent vice presidential residence. Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Secret Service gave vice presidents full-time, in-home protection, which required expensive improvements to their private homes.

In 1966, Congress authorized the creation of an official vice presidential residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory, but postponed construction until after the Vietnam War. For the following eight years, the Secret Service spent $123,000 to safeguard the private homes of Hubert H. Humphrey, $250,000 for Spiro Agnew, and $80,000 for Gerald Ford.

Due to public outrage over the cost of improving Spiro Agnew's house, Congress took an existing house next to the lot where the vice presidential house would go and made it the "Official Temporary Vice-President's Residence." The 33-room mansion, then known as Admiral's House, had served as the home of the Chief of Naval Operations since 1923. Due to political opposition to the cost of building a permanent home, and concerns from astronomers at the Naval Observatory that a new house would interfere with their work, a new house was never built.

Admiral's House, now called One Observatory Circle, became the official vice president's residence in 1975. However, then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller only used it for entertaining, preferring to stay at his sprawling estate in the Foxhall neighborhood. In 1977, Walter Mondale and his family became the first to move in to the official residence. Since then, six vice presidents have lived there (though ongoing maintenance to the house has delayed the Second Family from moving in on at least three occasions), tying it with the Willard Hotel for housing the most vice presidents.


The feds might pay for smarter drunk driving penalties in DC

Most people would say they favor harsher punishments for drunk driving. But when it comes to keeping impaired drivers off the road, the most important thing is having laws that work.

Photo by VCU CNS on Flickr.

During testimony at a recent DC Council Transportation Committee hearing in favor of laws to eliminate road deaths, Mothers Against Drunk Driving State Legislative Affairs Manager Frank Harris supported increased use of ignition interlock devices, which are mechanisms that test the driver's blood alcohol level and keep a car from starting if the driver is under the influence.

The District barely uses its current ignition interlock program. Right now, only nine people in the District have one, which is a much lower rate than in Maryland or Virginia. Harris said relying on the devices more would be more effective than current penalties.

Revoking licenses, Harris said, is a "hope for the best" policy: there's a risk DWI offenders will drive anyway. With interlock devices, there's a higher chance offenders drive soberly.

The bill currently being proposed for DC would require two-time offenders and offenders with particularly high blood alcohol concentrations to use a device. According to Harris, if DC were to require all DWI offenders to install an interlock device for at least six months, a federal incentive grant from NHTSA of around $200,000 could cover the cost of the program.

25 other states, including Virginia, have such a requirement for first-time offenders.

Interlock devices cost a little less than $3 a day. While most people who are ordered to use interlock devices have to pay for them, most states require manufacturers to provide devices to people who can't afford them, a model DC could emulate.


Proposed rules aim to get serious about road safety in DC

The DC government has committed to "Vision Zero," a goal of eliminating all road deaths. A detailed plan from the Bowser Administration will come out Wednesday, but in the meantime, legislators have been putting forth their own proposals for laws around safety.

Photo by Jonathan Warner on Flickr.

Four bills in the DC Council about road safety proposals were the subject of a hearing on December 8. Here's a rundown of what they will do.

Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act of 2015

This bill, introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson, would increase fines for people who repeatedly engage in distracted driving. Anyone with three violations within eighteen months would get his or her driver's license suspensded and points on the license.

Today, first-time violators who purchase a hands-free device do not face any fines; the bill would end that waiver.

Speakers at the hearing were broadly supportive. Many asked whether or not it went far enough. Both the District's Bicycle Advisory Council and Washington Area Bicyclist Association expressed interest in expanding a ban on driving while using a hands-free phone device (it's illegal for all road users to use a handheld phone). That ban now applies to school bus drivers and novice drivers; witnesses suggested adding drivers in school zones and construction zones, or preferably all drivers at all times.

Others asked that the bill include more provisions for education about distracted driving. (Disclosure: I am acting chair of the Bicycle Advisory Council and testified on its behalf for this bill.)

Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015

Earlier this year, Mary Cheh, chair of the council's transportation committee, convened a working group of advocates to discuss potential changes to the law around road safety. The group reached consensus on a number of changes, which are in this bill. Some of the key provisions would:

  • Require the government to regularly publish data on crashes, sidewalk closures, citizen petitions for for traffic calming measures, dangerous intersections, and moving violations.
  • Instruct the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to create Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas (at least one per ward) with no right turns on red, lower speed limis, and more human and camera enforcement.
  • Let cyclists slow down and yield rather than stop fully at stop signs.
  • Write a Complete Streets policy into law. (DDOT has one today, but just as a directive of the DDOT Director which can be revoked at any time.)
  • Create a curriculum on safe cycling and walking for schools; require taxi and other for-hire drivers to go through training on bicycle and pedestrian safety.
  • Apply the laws for motor vehicle insurance to bicycle insurance, and allow bicycle insurance providers to require policyholders to register their bikes.
  • Impose larger fines on repeat violators (up to five times the fine for a fourth offense) for violations including speeding, blocking a crosswalk, and illegal stopping or standing including in a bike lane (sorry UPS!)
  • Allow aggressive driving citations for drivers who commit three or more or a set of violations (like speeding or improper lane changes). This which carries a penalty of $200 and 2 points and mandatory driver education.
  • Forbid using a phone in the car when not moving.
  • Require side under-run guards, reflective blind spot warning stickers, and either blind spot mirrors or cameras on all heavy-duty vehicles registered in DC. This is currently the law for District-owned vehicles.
  • Create a Major Crash Review Task Force to review major crashes and recommend changes to reduce the number of them.
You can read a complete list of changes here.

Much of the discussion for this bill focused on the fact that it does not lower the speed on residential streets, a proposal which the working group discussed but didn't reach consensus on. WABA had several proposals for ways the bill could go farther to create safer streets.

Some witnesses opposed pieces of the law. Several were uneasy about letting cyclists yield at stop signs.

The Metropolitan Police Department's representative argued that the law was primarily about convenience and might, in an urban environment, lead to more crashes. In response, Councilmember Elissa Silverman asked if there was any evidence that it might lead to more crashes, and MPD conceded that there was none. Mary Cheh cited a recent study showing that crashes dropped 13% in Boise following the passage of a similar law in Idaho.

Insurance industry representatives said that this law would need to be coupled with a dedicated education effort. One witness from the insurance industry also objected to regulating bicycle insurance.

Vision Zero Act of 2015

This bill comes from Mayor Bowser and is a companion to the forthcoming Vision Zero plan. Like the Safety Act, it would also mandate a Complete Streets system. Like the Distracted Driving Act, it would increase fines and add points for distracted driving violations.

In addition, it would enhance penalties for operating all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes on District roads and require ignition interlock devices for repeat DUI offenders and high blood alcohol content (BAC) first-time offenders.

While supportive, WRAP, MADD and AAA all suggested that the bill instead require interlock devices for all DUI offenders, as 25 states do now.

Regulatory changes

In addition to the legislative changes mention above, both Cheh's working group report and the Vision Zero action plan recommended regulatory changes, some of which have been addressed by proposed rules that the Bowser administration proposed Friday.

These rules would:

  • Require side underrun guards for certain vehicles.
  • Require drivers to clear damaged but operational vehicles from the travel lanes.
  • Require drivers to yield to buses merging into traffic.
  • Designate certain streets as neighborhood slow zones with a maximum speed limit of 20 miles per hour (and near high-risk areas like playgrounds, as low as 15 mph).
  • Add points for several offenses such as overtaking another vehicle stopped at a crosswalk or intersection for a pedestrian.
  • Increase fines for infractions such as driving more than 30 mph over the speed limit (including possible jail time), running a stop sign, driving on the sidewalk, unsafely opening a door into traffic, or striking a cyclist.
  • Break the violation for parking in a bike lane into two categories, one for commercial vehicles and one for non-commercial vehicles, and raise the fine from $65 to $300 and $200 respectively.
Since these changes are coming in regulations from the Bowser administration and not a bill in the DC Council, there is some conflict about whether the increased fines will be effective, and whether they're even allowed.

Mary Cheh told the Washington Post she wanted to make sure "the mayor has authority" to raise the fines and asked, "Is there data that supports that this is something that will deter people from speeding? Otherwise people would think this is just a money raiser."

What else could be done?

In addition to formal changes to the law and regulations, the working group recommends other steps District agencies could take to improve safety. Some of these recommendations include:

  • A universal street-safety education program for all elementary school students (which has already gone into effect).
  • More automated cameras for enforcement.
  • Greater "no right turn on red" restrictions in bike and pedestrian priority areas.
  • Distributing more free bicycle lights.
  • Equipping large District-owned vehicles with audible turn warnings.
  • Providing more information about bicyclist insurance.
After becoming a campaign issue in the last mayoral election, District leaders have been busy this year, through multiple efforts, in working towards that goal.


Virginia candidates wrongly criticize plans to toll I-66

Many candidates in Virginia's election next week are criticizing plans to add tolls along with a new lane to I-66 inside the Beltway. But, and this is going to shock you, many of the things they are saying are wrong.

Photo by William F. Yurasko on Flickr.

VDOT's plan would change I-66 inside the Beltway from HOV-2, where there are two lanes reserved (during rush hours) only for cars with two people, to HOT-3, where users would pay a toll unless there are three people in the car.

The plan would also improve bus transit in the area and enhance the bicycle and pedestrian system.

Some examples of what candidates are saying, from Dr. Gridlock, are below:

  • Oct. 19 posting by Loudoun County Republican Jeanine Martin on the Bull Elephant blog: "Governor McAuliffe and the Democrats propose transforming one HOV-2 lane along I-66 into a $17 toll lane. And the tolls won't be used for road improvements; commuters would pay for bike paths and subsidizing mass transit. People in Loudoun would be paying for bike paths in Arlington and their Metro."
  • From the campaign Web site of House Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun): "The revenue from this tolling plan isn't slated to improve I-66 or relieve the massive traffic congestion that Northern Virginia struggles with. Governor McAuliffe's proposed tolls are going to 'multimodal transportation' projects—that means Metro subsidies and bike paths among other things." The message includes links to Bike Arlington to illustrate "the kind of effort Arlington County goes to to force people onto 'car diets' and spend taxpayer money to promote biking!"
  • Manassas Mayor Harry J. "Hal" Parrish II (R), candidate for state Senate in the 29th District, has a 30-second ad in which he says: "The Richmond politicians are at it again. They want us to pay $17 just to drive on I-66 inside the Beltway Elect me, and we'll put a stop sign on any new toll on a road that you already paid for."
  • House Majority Whip Jackson Miller (R-Manassas) said this in an Oct. 1 statement issued by GOP leaders in the General Assembly: "Asking commuters from Prince William, Manassas, Fairfax and Loudoun to pay such an outrageous amount for the privilege of sitting in the same unmoving lanes of traffic so Arlington can have nice new bike paths is unconscionable. Drivers who use both I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road could be stuck with $9,000 per year in fees. Governor McAuliffe's plan is a nonstarter."
Martin claims that the tolls won't be used for road improvements, and that is mostly true. What is not true is that they would pay for bike lanes and subsidizing mass transit.

In the report, toll revenue (about $12 million) would be used to offset operating costs for the HOT lanes ($1-$2 million), and the revenue may be used to fund operation costs of transit and bike and pedestrian programs if there is sufficient revenue. And even that is "dependent upon jurisdiction-level constraints on modal application."

It's likely to happen, but it's all a bit of a shell game, and even if tolling can pay for the capital and operating costs of the tolling, it's not expected to be sufficient to cover the transit operations as well, let alone bike and pedestrian projects, Transportation Demand Management, and Integrated Corridor Management.

Approximately $29 million in capital expenditures are required to implement tolling and it has been assumed that toll revenue will, at a minimum, completely offset the cost of operating the tolling system. Approximately $5 million in capital expenditures are necessary to implement the transit program included in the package, with an ongoing $23 million per year operating cost. Later in this section, priorities are offered for bicycle/pedestrian, TDM, and ICM improvements. The full complement of these improvements, included in all packages, is estimated to cost as follows: bicycle and pedestrian, $42 million capital; TDM, $5 million per year operating cost; and ICM, $6 million capital, $1 million per year operating cost....A conservative estimate of $24 million in annual revenue was calculated, determined solely by multiplying the tolls assumed in the model to maintain the LOS C/D level of traffic on I-66 by the number of non-HOV 3+ vehicles forecast to use the facility.
But the toll revenue would be about half as much, the study concluded, if tolling were only done during peak periods—as is now being proposed.

It's also not entirely true there won't be any road improvements since there will be dynamic merge/junction control, traveler information improvements and a future widening study. Also, this plan dates back to 2012, which means it's not really Governor McAuliffe's.

When LaRock says that money from the tolling isn't slated to relieve traffic congestion, he's wrong, and he's ignoring the other goals of the project. By paying for tolling, transit, TDM, ICM and bike/ped projects, the complete multi-modal package is expected to bring down congestion as a percentage of vehicle miles traveled (though total congestion will go up, as there will be more users) when compared to the baseline.

In other words, more people will deal with congestion, but each person will have fewer congested miles.

But despite what Miller says, the tolls will not pay for nice new bike paths in Arlington. Most off those paths are already in the plans, and they will likely be paid for by the same sources they were going to be paid for otherwise. But there will not be a straight payment from toll revenue to Arlington bike paths. People will be tolled and revenue gained (theoretically) and then bike paths will be built. But one does not do the other. In fact, in alternatives without tolling, the same bike/ped projects are still recommended.

In addition, right now no one pays these tolls because no one can. If you want to drive on I-66 inside the beltway in an single-occupancy vehicle, you can forget about it. Under the VDOT plan, you'd have the option of paying the toll. As Dr. Gridlock writes, if you don't want to pay them, "You could just keep doing what you're doing." If you're already "sitting in the same unmoving lanes," you won't have to pay because you must already be an HOV user.

I've probably covered this before, since it's three years old, but just to rehash it, many of the bicycle and pedestrian enhancements in the report come from existing plans in the area and others come from stakeholder inputs or identified needs.

The report includes 60 bike/ped projects which include trail improvements to the Mt.Vernon, Custis, Four Mile Run, W&OD, Route 110, Washington Blvd and Arlington Blvd Trails; connector trails; bike facilities added to the Route 27 bridge over Route 110 and the Meade Bridge; bikeshare expansion and parking additions along the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor and in Falls Church; Rosslyn Circle improvements, including a tunnel; bike lanes; and bike parking at Metro Stations. The list is too long to go into, so if curious, you should check it out starting on page 3-76 of the report.

Image from VDOT.

They assigned a benefit for each of these projects and those that rated the highest were (and some others just of interest):

  • Widen the Mount Vernon shared-use trail between the Roosevelt Island Bridge over the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Four Mile Run Trail
  • Construct a trail to link the sidewalk along the south side of the Roosevelt Bridge directly to the Mount Vernon Trail
  • Renovate Custis trail sections with asphalt cracking and washout, and, where feasible, widen the Custis Trail to 12 feet.
  • Construct a 10-foot wide sidepath from City of Fairfax to existing Arlington Boulevard trail in Arlington (may include some use of existing frontage roads)
  • Improve the Arlington Boulevard trail from Taft Street to Fort Myer Drive and from Pershing to Queen.
  • Construct sidepath on west side of Arlington Boulevard from Washington Boulevard to North Fairfax Drive
  • Rehabilitate Arlington Boulevard Trail from Glebe Road to Park Drive
  • Construct a short segment of Mount Vernon trail between North Randolph Street and the Fairfax line, following an existing sanitary sewer easement near Pimmit Run. Extend the Mount Vernon Trail from its current terminus at Theodore Roosevelt Island using existing trails, bicycle lanes, and proposed bicycle lanes in Arlington.
  • Build bicycle/pedestrian crossing of Beltway from George C. Marshall Drive to Tysons Executive Court
The highest priority projects were Capital Bikeshare expansion and bike parking in they R-B Corridor and near select Metro Stations.

A version of this post originally ran on TheWashCycle.


A tunnel for bikes in Brookland was once a possibility. Is the idea totally dead?

When you ride the Metropolitan Branch Trail into Brookland, it merges with 8th Street NE until it hits Monroe Street, where people on bike have to line up in traffic and wait to use the crosswalk. While DDOT once decided against building a tunnel under Monroe that would keep bikes and cars separate, the idea could come back to life.

The current configuration of the MBT when it hits Monroe Street. Base image from Google Maps.

DDOT's 2005 Metropolitan Branch Trail Concept Plan included two possible options for crossing Monroe Street, both of which proposed a path that ran along the railroad tracks between Monroe Street and Michigan Avenue.

The first, Option A1, would take the path through a tunnel under Monroe and then on a path across a wooded lot to the south, which would lead to a mid-block crossing at 8th Street.

A rendering of the potential Monroe Street tunnel. Image from DDOT.

The second, Option A2, would have the path follow Monroe west to its intersection with 8th Street and send riders across at grade rather than using a tunnel. DDOT settled on this option.

Trail options from the Metropolitan Branch Trail Concept Plan. Image from DDOT.

A tunnel could be in the cards after all

In the ten years since the MBT plan came out, the path between Michigan and Monroe went in as part of the Arts Walk and Monroe Street Market and the wooded lot south of Monroe has become the Edgewood Arts Center.

DDOT has announced plans to replace/rehabilitate the Monroe Street Bridge in FY2020, which could yield a chance to build a tunnel (which would make for a better trail).

While DDOT staff is concerned that there isn't room for the trail anymore because of the Arts Center, I believe there is.

The trail could reach the railroad tracks by going east off of 8th Street through the gravel parking lot that runs along the Arts Center's retaining wall.

The Arts Center, from 8th Street. The railroad tracks are just beyond the trees. Image from Google Streetview.

There's a "green" strip of trees, about 27 feet wide, that sits between the Arts Center and the railroad track fence. That space could be used to have trail run like this:

Overhead monroe
Image from Google Maps.

Property ownership and resident resistance might very well be issues, but the space itself should not be. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to build this facility, and we shouldn't dismiss the opportunity lightly.

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