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.  

Roads


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.

Roads


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.

Bicycling


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.

Bicycling


Here's where a protected bikeway could go on the east side of downtown

People who want to ride a bike north-south along the east side of DC's central business district and in Shaw could soon have a new protected bikeway to do it. A new study recommends four options, including 6th Street NW, 5th and 6th, or 9th.


The 15th Street protected bikeway. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has been studying options for a bikeway to connect areas between Florida and Constitution Avenues. This bikeway would connect central DC neighborhoods, downtown, and the existing major east-west bikeways like the one on Pennsylvania Avenue.

This area has high levels of bicycling and many popular destinations but a distinct lack of quality bike facilities. Currently, 7th Street has the most bicycle traffic, but usage is pretty evenly spread out. 5th stands out because a large number of people ride south on 5th despite the road being one-way north.

DDOT planners studied an assortment of designs, considering every street between 4th and 9th. They first eliminated 4th and 8th because they were discontinuous streets. After a round of data gathering, where they looked at parking, parking utilization, auto and bicycle traffic, transit, potential pedestrian conflicts, cost, loading zones, events, and institutions along the route, they eliminated 7th Street because of heavy transit and pedestrian usage; they didn't want the bikeway to become an auxiliary sidewalk.


Data on transit ridership (left), pedestrian volume (center), and Capital Bikeshare usage (right) in the study area. Images from DDOT.

During this whole process, they have also been involved in a public outreach effort, meeting with institutions, businesses, churches, council staff, and other stakeholders. With data screening complete, there are four alternatives which they have made public and plan to discuss at an upcoming public meeting. After that, they will narrow the alternatives to three, which will get more intensive study and planning before choosing a preferred alternative sometime this winter.

Here are the alternatives:

5th and 6th couplet: Alternative 1 would place a one-way northbound protected bikeway on the east side of 5th Street up to New York Avenue and a painted bike lane north of that. A one-way southbound bikeway would go on the west side of 6th.

This would remove a travel lane on 6th north of New York and a parking lane south of there. On 6th south of New York Avenue, the bikeway would be adjacent to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane converted from what is now a southbound travel lane. While DDOT considered using angled parking on 6th, that didn't make it into the final design.

One-way on on each side of 6th: Alternative 2, would replace a travel lane in each direction on 6th Street with a one-way protected bikeway on each side. South of New York Avenue the bikeways would be adjacent to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane.

Bi-directional on 6th: Alternative 3 would remove a northbound travel lane north of New York Avenue and a parking lane south of New York and would convert a northbound travel lane to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane to make room for a bi-directional protected bikeway on the east side of 6th. This is similar to what exists on 15th Street (though the one on 15th is on the west side).

Bi-directional on 9th: Alternative 4 is like Alternative 3, but on 9th Street. A northbound travel lane north of Massachusetts Avenue and a parking lane south of Massachusetts Avenue would disappear, while a northbound travel lane would become an rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane. This would make room for a bi-directional protected bikeway on the east side of 9th. The southbound bike-bus lane would remain.

Bike planners are looking at numerous factors in deciding which to eliminate next. All the alternatives have similar expected travel times for cyclists, so that will not be a factor. But they will be considering turns across bike facilities, pedestrian intensity next to the bikeway, the amount of protection along the facility, and other safety factors.

As one example, the Verizon Center often shuts down a lane on the west side of 6th Street for loading for shows. That could be an obstacle for Alternative 2. There may be similar challenges in other spots for the other alternatives.

The planners will look at which designs affect buses the least, and how to deal with the unique parking needs of churches to accommodate their loading and unloading requirements, large event needs, funeral needs, etc.

Alternative 1 provides the least protection. DDOT has decided not to remove on-street parking in residential areas, which limits 5th street to painted bike lanes north of New York. Another consideration for 5th Street is that it has fewer stop lights, but more stop signs and some speed bumps.

In Alternative 4, 9th is one-way south of Massachusetts, so northbound cyclists would be going the opposite direction from car traffic, meaning it would suffer from the same light timing issues as 15th Street does. Timed lights on 15th mean people riding north hit more red lights than on a typical street.

DDOT has a website with all the designs which is accepting comments. The team is planning a public meeting soon, but haven't settled on details. If a final design is chosen this winter, work could begin before the end of 2016.

Which design do do you think is best?

Transit


A new bikeway along Virginia Ave SE will connect the Anacostia to Capitol Hill

CSX is rebuilding the railroad tunnel under Virginia Avenue SE, which means tearing up and rebuilding the streetscape. When the project is finished, the street will have a new sidewalk and bikeway next to each other, along with a new connection to a trail that runs along the Anacostia River.


All images from CSX unless otherwise noted.

The Virginia Ave Tunnel Project recently released renderings of what the streetscape, including the trail, will look like when it's finished.

The project will come with a bikeway along Virginia from 2nd to 9th Streets SE, including a small spur where Eye Street is now. There are future plans to connect the bikeway to 11th Street, creating an extension to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. This would be one of two planned "mall connectors," the other being along New Jersey and 2nd SE.

The plans include more than the street and trail. On the north side of H, between 1st and 2nd, WC Smith Developments has proposed creating an "H Street Greenspace" between H Street and the railroad tracks. The trail will cross over the tracks at 2nd and eventually through Garfield Park to 1st Street.


The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail in 2010. Image from Capitol Riverfront.

DDOT's Public Space Committee is accepting public comments on the plan until mid-November, and some ANC commissioners are asking for comments as well. Once the comment period ends, the committee will evaluate community recommendations, and make a final decision about the scope and nature of the restorations to be implemented.

Virginia Avenue will look like this:

From 2nd to 4th, the trail will be a 10' wide shared use path on the south side of Virginia Avenue along side a wide green area. To reduce stormwater runoff, the trail will be made of porous asphalt pavement and the project will include porous asphalt parking lanes, several bioretention areas and permeable pavers for some sidewalks.


Going east from 4th Street, the path will split into an 8-foot wide bike path and a 6-foot wide sidewalk with three feet of separation between them and a wide green space to the south. This is a slight variation on a similar design for C Street NE.

Part of the block of Eye Street between 4th and Virginia Avenue will be removed; the space will used to increase the size of the existing pocket park and create a 10-foot wide bike path connection to the remaining Eye Street stub.

The 8 foot bike trail/6-foot sidewalk configuration will continue to 9th Street.

But east of 7th, the green space on the south side of the trail will narrow and the number of driveway crossings will increase.

East of 9th, the plan is for the trail to cross the Virginia Avenue Park along the north side.

The path through the park will be built by "others" and is not a part of the reconstruction. The park will feature a lawn, dog park, benches, catch basins, and an interpretive area.

On the east side of 11th, the rail portal will be moved east, creating more space. While some of that space will be used to eventually extend 12th Street to M, what remains could be used to create a direct trail connection from the end of the Virginia Avenue Park Trail to the existing ART so that trail users don't have to connect via 11th and M Streets.

There's also space for a more shaded, more inviting playground than the one that currently exists on the Hobson Apartments property south of K Street SE between 11th and 12th.

The first meeting for public comments on the plan, hosted by DDOT, ANC 6B and ANC 6D, is on Monday, September 28th, from 6:30-8:30 pm at 200 I Street, SE, in the community room. The second, hosted by DDOT's Public Space Committee, is on November 12th at 6:30 pm at 1100 4th Street, SW, Washington DC, in the Hearing Room on the 2nd Floor.

A version of this post was crossposted on TheWashCycle.

Correction: A previous version of this post said the public comment period for this plan would end on September 20th, and that DDOT's Public Space Committee meeting was on October 15th. The dates have since been corrected, and another meeting has been added.

Pedestrians


Arlington just got a new bridge and sidewalks, but light poles sprout from the middle of the old ones nearby

Freedmen's Bridge, which carries Washington Boulevard over Columbia Pike near the Pentagon in Arlington, was just rebuilt. So was its underpass. The sidewalks are wider now, but a few obstacles make using them difficult.


All photos by the author.

The new bridge is wider, longer and more attractive than the old one. It has a light well between its east and westbound lanes, and for westbound traffic there is a longer acceleration/deceleration lane between its ramps, which makes it easier to merge onto Washington Boulevard. The project also includes a new 10-foot shared use path along Columbia Pike where it passes under the bridge.

Also, to make room for a streetcar in the future, clearance under the bridge is now 16'8".


Base image from Google Maps.

Today, VDOT will host a ceremony with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to dedicate the project.

While the new, wide sidewalks on part of Columbia Pike are nice, flaws in both the project design and the road just beyond it make them hard to use for anyone walking on the street.


New, wider sidewalks along Columbia Pike.

One problem is that just beyond the area where work was done, there are still lightpoles in the middle of very narrow sidewalks. These force anyone in a wheelchair off the sidewalk and they create hazards for cyclists. Though these sidewalks will likely be improved and widened in the future, they're a barrier for the time being.


A telephone pole blocks the sidewalk just past the project area.

A more troubling issue is the pedestrian lights along Columbia Pike. The lights to cross one of the Washington Boulevard ramps only turn green when someone activates them. That means that to cross, you have to first get to the intersection, then push a button, and then wait for the green light. And this will have to be done three times in each direction. This makes navigating the area very time-consuming. It's also confusing to see a green light in the road but a red light for the sidewalk.

Also, people on foot or bike on the south side of Columbia Pike have to first cross Queen Street diagonally and then back across the Washington Boulevard ramp; in other words, continuing straight is a two-intersection maneuver that could require waiting two light cycles to get to a destination that's 25 feet away.

Few cyclists are going to choose such an inconvenient route along the sidewalk, rendering the path useless for them.


If you're using the sidewalk go east on Columbia Pike near the bridge, you've got to do some extra crossing to stay straight.


A Columbia Pike crossing at the new Freedman's bridge.


The bridge's eastbound underpass.

The new underpass is better than the old one, but it's unfortunate that space could not be found for a real bike facility and that it was designed with light cycles that inconvenience pedestrians so much.

A version of this post originally ran on TheWashCycle.

Public Spaces


People walking and biking will get a new connection from L'Enfant Plaza to the waterfront

At the south end of the L'Enfant Promenade is a circle, Banneker Circle, atop a hill overlooking the waterfront. Unfortunately, the only way to get down to the water on foot or by bike requires a circuitous and unpleasant route. That will soon change.


Conceptual rendering of a connection from the SW Ecodistrict Plan. Image from NCPC.

Today, there is a narrow and cheaply-built path that cuts diagonally over to the intersection of 9th Street and Maine Avenue. People bicycling can either take that or ride along a road that feels a bit like a highway off-ramp to 9th Street. This makes people go fairly far out of the way, especially for those who want to then go north along the waterfront.


Banneker Circle and Banneker Park. Images via NPS unless otherwise noted.

As part of its package of amenities to get zoning approval, the Wharf project will build a new, temporary, direct pedestrian connection. The connection will consist of stairs and a new at-grade crossing of Maine, but include an ADA ramp that will work for cyclists.

The scoping document for the environmental impact statement says,

The temporary project also includes landscaping, improvements to pedestrian crosswalks, lighting installation, universal accessibility, and stormwater management. The purpose of the project is to provide a safe, functional, and aesthetically pleasing pedestrian connection between the overlook at Banneker Park and southwest waterfront. The project is needed to improve urban connectivity by providing greater accessibility between the waterfront, Banneker Park, the National Mall, and surrounding areas.
There are two concepts for the project and, to me, the better of the two is a no-brainer.


Concept 1.

Concept 1 would try to create a direct path down the hill. This would require a switchback ramp and stairs down the hill from a point a little way from the bike/ped access to the Case Bridge, the bridge that takes I-395 over the Washington Channel.


Concept 2.

Concept 2 would build a curving connection directly from the Case Bridge access point along with an ADA compliant sidewalk on the east side. The west-side stairs would connect to a new signalized crossing of Maine Avenue.

Both projects include landscaping, crosswalk improvements, lighting and stormwater management.

Concept 2 is the better design because of the way it removes switchbacks, allowing for a more fluid connecton, and the way it connects into the Case Bridge access.

The design should include a curb ramp from the L'Enfant Plaza roadway, as well as a bicycle-friendly transition area where the three connections meet—one with lots of room and natural curves as opposed to sharp turns.


The path to Maine Avenue (left) and to the Case Bridge (right) have no curb ramps. Photos from Google Maps.

Right now, there is no curb ramp to get from the roadway to either the path down to Maine Avenue or the path to the Case Bridge; a cyclist riding on the wide, very low-traffic L'Enfant Promenade instead of the sidewalk then has to get over the curb to go on either path.

The stairs should also include a bike trough, the ramp next to steps that lets people walk their bikes up or down the stairs, and there should be signs directing users to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and East Potomac Park via the Case Bridge. Also, the sidewalk along the south side of the circle should be widened for trail traffic from the bridge to the "new ADA compliant ramp."

If only it would include a fix to the Case Bridge access that didn't require the ridiculous switchback that's there today.

In the long run, the National Capital Planning Commission's Southwest Ecodistrict vision includes completely redoing 10th Street from a wide, empty promenade into a street with pedestrian activity, green plots, and festivals. That plan calls for completely redoing Banneker Park into a usable park instead of a traffic circle atop an empty hill. That redesigned park would also let people on foot and bike connect more directly to Maine Avenue and the waterfront.

The National Park Service will host a meeting on this project on August 11th, 6-8pm at the Wharf offices, 690 Water Street, SW and they will be accepting comments on the scoping document until September 2nd.

A version of this post was originally posted on TheWashCycle.

Bicycling


Lousiana Avenue could get a protected bikeway

What's next for protected bikeways in DC? A few sections are in the works, including a connection from NoMA to Pennsylvania Avenue, a north-south bikeway downtown, and several other small connections as well as the next piece of the Metropolitan Branch Trail.


Area around Louisiana Avenue from the DC Bicycle Map.

At a recent meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Council, representatives of the District Department of Transportation announced that DDOT is working with the Architect of the Capitol and the ANC to extend the soon-to-be-completed protected bikeway on First Street NE from Union Station to the bikeway on Pennsylvania Avenue NW via Louisiana Avenue NE/NW.

The First Street NE extension to Union Station is almost done. Resurfacing will begin soon (if it's not already underway). After that, DDOT will install concrete blocks similar to those farther north.

When done, First Street will become a one-way street with a two-way protected bikeway where today motor vehicles are allowed to drive two directions for part of the road's length. The bikeway on this block will be two feet wider (10 feet) than on the sections farther north, as DDOT now views 10 feet as the minimum for such facilities. There will be a loading zone on the opposite side of the street.

DDOT has been meeting with the Architect of the Capitol, local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, and Councilmember Charles Allen's staff to discuss extending the bikeway further south, along Louisiana Avenue, where it would connect to Pennsylvania Avenue via either First or Third streets.

Discussions are preliminary and no alternatives have been defined yet, but the response has been mostly positive. One potential roadblock is that the design will likely require removing parking along Louisiana. Parking is under the purview of the Senate's Sergeant at Arms, not the AOC, and they are concerned about the loss of parking. But if all goes well, work could begin next year.


Senate parking on Louisiana Avenue. Image from Google Maps.

A north-south bikeway through downtown

The East End Bikeway would be a mile-long north-south bikeway on the east side of downtown. Studies are continuing for this project. DDOT planners have collected data on traffic volume, parking, transit use, land use etc. They have also been reaching out to stakeholders, especially churches, to address concerns early.

They'd like to have a public meeting on it soon, perhaps September, and present alternatives. There will be choices about designs and about which street(s) to use.


Area around downtown from the DC Bicycle Map.

4th and 8th have been ruled out, but they may get bike lanes. On other streets, the options are a one-way protected bikeway on each side of the street; a bi-directional bikeway on one side; or a pair of one-way bikeways on adjacent streets such as 5th and 6th.

They hope to have the 30% design completed by the end of the year, with installation to start next spring.

What else?

DDOT has only installed about two miles of bike lanes so far this year. Bike planners have been busy filling small gaps. Those are nearly as much work as longer lanes, but with less mileage. Still, DDOT planners think they're critical pieces which will pay off.

They've installed a couple of small bike lane sections on 2nd and 3rd streets NE near Rhode Island Avenue; bike lanes and sharrows on 49th street NE; a pair of one-way bike lanes on Galveston and Forrester Streets SE; and one-block sections on 4th and 6th NE near Stanton Park. They plan to do the same thing on 11th and 13th near Lincoln Park too.

19th Street NE/SE on Capitol Hill got a bike lane and sharrows. This project was originally going to be a complete rebuild of the street, but became restriping only.


Area around the northern Met Branch Trail from the DC Bicycle Map.

Design and community outreach is underway on the north section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail. DDOT planners are meeting with community groups, taking soil borings near the trash transfer station and the Metro tunnel, and working on the 30% design, which they hope to complete this year. The stickier sections are where the trail crosses Riggs Road and the area near the Brookland Metro entrance. They hope to start construction in 2017.

Finally, DDOT and DPW are creating a snow clearing plan for bridges for next winter. Last year no one was responsible for the 14th Street Bridge so it wasn't cleared. They are trying to prioritize bridge sidewalks for clearing and then DPW and DDOT are dividing up responsibilities, so that every bridge will eventually get service.

A version of this post was originally posted on TheWashCycle.

Bicycling


CaBi's phone app could enlist riders to rebalance bikes

One of Capital Bikeshare's basic challenges is keeping some bikes and docks available at each station all the time. CaBi has staff that keeps that balance by moving bikes from one station to another, but if the Spotcycle app had a rebalance option, users could opt to help with the effort.


Photo by Supermac1961 on Flickr.

A few years ago, CaBi tried a Reverse Riders Rewards program, which rewarded CaBi members for moving bikes from typically full stations to typically empty ones during the weekday morning rush hours as a way to supplement their normal rebalancing efforts. The program didn't last long because, as I recall, it mostly rewarded members for doing things they were already doing.

To get a similar benefit at a lower cost, CaBi could add a "rebalance" button. When you push the button, the app would use your location to identify any nearby stations that are full/nearly-full or empty/ nearly-empty and identify close-by stations that need rebalancing.

That'd be it.

I'm sure some people would rebalance bikes out of general altruism just like people create data visualizations and hack apps for free. It'd only take a few helpers to make the effort worthwhile. It might not cost anything extra to add the button, and any additional rebalancing would lower costs.

To get greater participation, CaBi could even make a game out of it. The top "citizen rebalancer" every quarter could get a gold member key and public recognition. Or a cupcake. Or socks. Or a free membership. Or maybe rebalancers could earn "points" redeemable for rewards.

Regardless, by giving individual rebalancing assignments, CaBi would encourage actual additional rebalancing. You could even tax people 1/10th of a rebalance if they ask for an assignment and refuse it, so as to keep people from just being opportunistic about it ("Let's see if the trip I'm going to do anyway will earn me a rebalance").

There is a lot of opportunity to include CaBi members in rebalancing efforts. The more the service tinkers with how to do that, the better.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Wash Cycle.

History


There's history to behold on some of DC's manhole covers

The District has thousands of manhole covers, and a lot of them offer a glimpse into the city's history. This one, for example, is from a 19th Century streetcar company that hasn't existed in over 100 years.


An extant manhole cover from the Anacostia & Potomac River Railroad. Photo by the author.

The "A&P RR" refers to the Anacostia and Potomac River Railroad, which was the fourth streetcar company to begin operation in DC. A&P ran from 1876 until 1912, when the Washington Railway and Electric Company bought it.

The manhole was almost surely for below-the-street electrical power access. A&P was the last company to switch from horse-cars to electric power, making the switch in 1900, so we can reasonably assume this cover to be from between 1900 and 1912.

This cover is on 11th Street SE, between Pennsylvania Avenue and Lincoln Park. I've seen three covers like it in the area, and another on Maryland Avenue NE, just east of 14th Street by the Checkers. Those are the only ones I know about. These locations are a bit surprising since the A&P didn't run on these streets, nor did any other streetcar. The A&P did run in 11th Street SE, but only south of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Know of any interesting manhole covers in the DC area? Mention them in the comments!

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