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.  

Bicycling


M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger

Last night, DDOT representatives held a short presentation on the latest design for the M Street cycle track. They have improved the design further since we last saw it. Meanwhile, angry opponents of the cycle track, including members of a nearby church which may lose some on-street parking, dominated the question and answer period.


Photos by the author showing DDOT materials.

During the presentation, DDOT tried to explain the reasoning for the cycle track, how it would work and how it would benefit people. Jim Sebastian, Mike Goodno and Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe showed preliminary data from the ongoing L Street study that showed that over the last 6 months since the cycle-track was installed, biking on L Street was up 41% (560 cyclists during the 8 hours of rush hour, up from 396).

Over the same period bicycle and pedestrian crashes on L Street were both down a trivial amount. Meanwhile, travel time by car had increased by only 1 minute across the length of the cycletrack in the morning and by no measurable amount in the afternoon commute (using data after construction on Connecticut Avenue was complete).

They also discussed results of the completed 15th Street cycle-track showing that biking increased and that while crashes rose too, it was not by as much as biking.

Experience with L Street helps improve M Street design

They talked about lessons they learned on L street and how that influenced design on M. For example, the cycle-track will be narrower, with parking and loading zones adjacent to it. They'll put in more flexposts. And they're using a new "Yield to Bikes" sign.

Parking and loading would change very little. To deal with what lost parking there would be, they plan to take back some unused diplomatic parking spaces and replace some missing parking meters, as well as add better signage.

The schedule is to continue evaluating L Street until August and then install the tracks before the end of the summer. That process would take 3 weeks and be done in phases.

Other design features include the cycle-track diversion onto Rhode Island Avenue that may have a concrete barrier to protect cyclists from traffic.

Left turning cyclists can stop in queue areas within intersections to make a two-light turn.

The drawings included other design changes like a raised cycle track at a bus stop where the track passes behind the stop.

Angry audience comments almost derail the meeting

Before DDOT could discuss these things, the meeting got very heated. At one point, Zimbabwe threatened to end the meeting if people continued to be disrespectful with one another.

It started with a woman who asked why DDOT was going ahead with the M Street lane if the L street study wasn't complete. M Street, she was told, is a complement to L, so any study of L is incomplete without M. Originally they were to be built simultaneously.

But she was clearly opposed to the project regardless, she said with exasperation that "L didn't work," claiming that no one ever used it (despite the presentation she just saw showing that there were several hundred users each rush hour) and that traffic was a disaster. Why were we spending money on bike lanes when libraries are closing? She called the design confusing and asked who this lane is for.

But that was just the appetizer. Many members and leaders of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church were there and they were not happy about the cycle track or the way DDOT had informed them about it.

"When slaves built our church, they were not thinking about bike lanes," is how the first comment started.

There were many criticisms, some of them contradictory. No one rides on M Street. Senior citizens won't be able to cross the street to get to church because cyclists never yield to pedestrians (only a problem if people actually do bike on M). Senior citizens rely on the church for transportation. Other M Street businesses are not pleased either. The bike lane on the north side will block funeral access. "What percentage of taxpayer money is going to this?"

When asked if this was a done deal, Zimbabwe said it was and it wasn't. That there was going to be a cycle track on M, but what it would look like was still negotiable. Speakers proceeded to throw the "done deal" comment, which wasn't his wording, back at him several times. But he stuck to his guns. When asked if the debate was over, he said "for this street, yes." When asked if the 1500 block could be left out of the plans, he said that it would have too negative an impact on people trying to bike the road.

But the biggest issues were that the church would lose its angled parking on Sundays (which took them 3 years to get) and that no one talked to them about it until the day before.

A pastor for the church talked about the church's 175 year history, 87 of those years at this location. She noted that this church is tied to the struggles of the African-American people, so to not hear about something like this until after it was a "done deal" is very disturbing and insulting. The church had been offered $1 million to move out of the city in the past, but they had made a commitment to stay. Many of their members had moved to the counties but still made an effort to come to church here. "Is DC becoming a church-unfriendly place?" she asked.

On the first issue, DDOT created several alternatives for Sundays that would still allow 30-50 parking spaces, even one with angled parking and several that allowed parking in the cycletrack (which would shift in between two lanes of car parking) and promised to work on it with the church.

On the second issue, Jim Sebastian apologized and noted that he had met with church staff at the church in 2011. At least one person accused him of lying. Sebastian said he could pull the phone and email logs if needed. He also noted that they had started this process in 2009 with public meetings, and that DDOT staff have met with ANC's, BIDs, groups and individuals. He said they tried to reach the church, a comment that brought scoffs from the church's members.

I'll add that anyone on M Street who didn't know about this has not been paying attention. While I don't expect anyone to have read the 2005 Bicycle Master Plan, the addition of a cycle track on M Street has been reported in the Washington Post many times. In fact it's been mentioned in numerous news outlets on many many occasions over many years. DDOT has had meetings and press releases. It's not been kept a secret. That no one in the church had ever heard about it until this week seems incredible.

Zimbabwe tried to address all the concerns. The M Street lane would have better signage. DC does not intend to be church-unfriendly. There is no "rush" to complete this, but DDOT wants to make people safe now, not later. They're willing to work with the church to resolve its issues.

He could have mentioned that in many cases funding for bike lanes can't be moved over to libraries.

When one woman talked about how important biking was for our future, someone asked her "Do you expect senior citizens to bike." "Yes," I thought, "many already do now." In fact many senior citizens in the church had prefaced their comments with "I'm a cyclist."

Another speaker, opposed to the bike lane, asked "Who wants this?" and many hands shot up followed by applause.

"We're not taking a vote here or pitting one side against another," Zimbabwe said.

A restaurant/bar owner on M Street said that the street is already girdlocked (despite DDOT data presented earlier saying otherwise) and that eliminating a traffic lane was going to be a disaster for drivers and for his business. "I did find one friend who rides a bike and he says he'll never use it," he added, while noting that gridlock causes pollution and that snow removal is a problem as well. "Every merchant on M Street is concerned and in disbelief about this."

Zimbabwe pointed out that this is to get new riders to use bikes. Many tried to point to data in NYC showing that cycle tracks are good for business. One person thanked DDOT for putting the cycle track on L and opening her eyes to all the great businesses there.

A Georgetown ANC member took the opportunity to berate DDOT for not doing something about all the unsafe cyclists disregarding traffic laws. "It's a miracle that no one has been hurt," he noted, without realizing he was contradicting his whole position.

Finally, someone asked, "can't bike lanes go in AND angled parking be kept? Why does it have to be either/or?"

Zimbabwe promised to find a way to address the parking needs of church goers.

And they do have a plan for that. Below you can see Sunday parking on the bike lane as one alternative.

Bicycling


Cyclists are special and do have their own rules

Sarah Goodyear of the Atlantic has an article for Bike to Work Week entitled "Cyclists Aren't 'Special', and They Shouldn't Play by Their Own Rules." The thesis seems to be that now that cycling is mainstream, cyclists need to behave better.


Photo by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious on Flickr.

I would argue that whether or not cycling is mainstream you need to ride safely and courteously. In fact, an increase or decrease in cycling mode share shouldn't change the way you ride one iota.

Goodyear is asking cyclists to become footdroppers and thinks that more enforcement of cycling laws is what is needed for cycling to "get to the next level." I disagree which is easy to do since Goodyear offers no evidence, no data and no defense of her position. It appears to be 100% emotion-based opinion.

When I look at great cycling cities in Europe it doesn't appear to me that there is some point where increased enforcement is needed to keep growth going. Growth is fueled by better designed streets, laws that protect cyclists, and increasing the costs of driving. If anything, what I've read about Amsterdam and Copenhagen is that they don't tolerate the kinds of bad driving that are considered normal here. I don't read about ticketing blitzes.

She makes the point that many cyclists are rude or ride dangerously and that she'd like to see such behavior ticketed. I have no problem with ticketing dangerous behavior - though if we're really going to focus on the MOST dangerous behavior, that will rarely mean ticketing cyclists. And if law enforcement were to blitz cyclsits, it would likely not be for their most dangerous behavior (riding at night without lights or too fast on the sidewalk or against traffic) but rather not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign during a charity ride or at some out-of-the way intersection.

Writing about wrong-way cycling she adds,

It makes all of us look terrible and it's a real hazard. Same goes for blowing through a stop sign or red light, or blocking the crosswalk when you're impatiently waiting for the light to change. Not to mention shouting at pedestrians to get out of the way when they are crossing legally. I saw someone yell at an old lady the other day.
I again assert that few cyclists actually "blow through" stop signs and lights. Yes, cyclists run them - even Goodyear - but not blowing through them.

She sees herself as an ambassador. But does anyone see themselves as a pedestrian ambassador when walking or as a driving ambassador when driving? No. Biking is not foreign, and maybe to "get to the next level" we need to stop presenting it as though it is. It is funny that she sees it this way, that she has to behave hyper-legally and as a role model only to follow it up with.

You're going to have to give up your identity as a special person who does some special activity known as cycling.

You're not so special any longer.

Ok, if I'm not so special any longer, then how come I have to behave differently - squeaky clean - than everyone else?

I agree that cyclists should be safe and courteous (because I think EVERYONE should be), but not that they need to be hyper-legal in the hope that it will soothe everyone else. Because it won't. And it won't take cycling to the next level.

What will help is changing the law where it currently doesn't make sense, such as with the Idaho Stop - exactly the kind of "Special Treatment" and "own rules" that Goodyear seems to be arguing against. What will help is treating cycling as special by creating special facilities to help them get around - like bi-directional cycletracks on one-way streets or cycle-tracks. What will help is bike sharing, on street bike parking, unique zoning regulations related to bike parking, special commuter benefits for bike commuters, etc...

We're going to have to treat cyclists better and let them play by their own rules if we want to "get ot the next level."

Is it fair if bikers get benefits when motorists don't? Nope. You know what else isn't fair? Everything. Deal with it.

Cross-posted at the WashCycle.

Budget


Driving still a historical bargain after Maryland gas tax hike

There is much hand-wringing over the proposed Maryland gas sales tax, but when you adjust for inflation and look at the costs to drivers per mile, the taxes the government collects on gas will still remain very near their historical low.


Photo by johnwilliamsphd on Flickr.

We charge a gas tax, ostensibly to pay for transportation, that you pay based on how much driving you do. But because of increased fuel efficiency in cars and an unwillingness to tie the tax to inflation, the tax is not consistent per mile of driving every year.

In fact, after an initial increase in the gasoline tax's first years in Maryland, the tax was consistently above $0.03 per mile (all values in 2009 dollars) for 50 years. In the 1970's however, rapid increases in fuel efficiency and inflation rates cut that in half by 1981. It would never go above $0.025 again. This year, the tax is lower than it's been in 90 years: $0.01233.

But wait, there's more to this bargain: the federal gas tax this year is below a penny per mile for only the 8th time in history.

The proposed tax increase could "add 20 cents" to a gallon of gas, but that wouldn't even double the tax per mile of driving. In 2016, the year the tax would fully phase in, the tax per mile would be only $0.02113. This would be the highest rate since 1978, but well below the historic high of $0.04684 per mile. And also below the historic average of $0.02759. (Note: After publishing, numbers in this paragraph were modified to address a transcription error)

The chart below combines the Maryland state gas tax per year, the inflation rate according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and average US fleet efficiency per year from M. Sivak and B. Schoettle.

For future years it assumes a worst-case tax increase, expected inflation, and fuel efficiency increasing each year at the same pace as the preceding 10 years. The final assumption is likely a conservative estimate due to new CAFE standards set to go in effect by 2017. Furthermore, the tax would look even cheaper, compared to historic averages, for those who drive cars as opposed to light trucks because the fuel efficiency of cars has increased faster.


Maryland gas tax over time. Graphs by the author.

The federal tax is far below its average as well.


Federal gas tax over time.

So while the increase in the gasoline tax might seem large per gallon, the tax drivers pay per mile is still an incredible bargain compared to what drivers paid as recently as the 1990's. Claims that Maryland is "pricing middle-class families, and certainly the working-class poor, out of" the state are clearly overblown.

Development


Near Southeast rebirth started before the Nats came along

With the Nationals boasting the best record in the Major League, and the Near Southeast neighborhood coming alive, journalists and smart-growth bloggers alike are again claiming the stadium begot the neighborhood's transformation. But the neighborhood's development history tells us the situation is more complex.


Photo by tramod on Flickr.

The media hammered the storyline of the stadium as neighborhood savior back when the recession brought development to a halt. But now the trope is popping up as fast as cranes on the DC skyline. Even Jim Graham said "it's clear that if that stadium hadn't been built, you wouldn't have all this development."

Exaggerations like that are just plain wrong. The transformation of Near Southeast began years earlier. New federal and District policies opened land for development, the District's political leadership changed, and the Green Line was completed, connecting Navy Yard to Maryland suburbs. When the stadium site was announced in 2004, neighborhood development was well underway.

Near SE planning started long before Nats

As neighborhood blog JDLand has meticulously documented, the neighborhood's transformation began in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The District cleared blighted property and the Federal government decided to make the vacant land it owned available for development. In 1996, the District demolished the Ellen Wilson housing project under a Hope VI grant.

Two years later, the last of the Capper high-rises and the old Washington Star building were both closed, and parts of Capper demolished in 2000. In that same year, Congress passed the Southeast Federal Center Public-Private Development Act of 2000, allowing the GSA to begin negotiations with private developers to develop 55 acres of the Southeast Federal Center.

Over the same time period, the national and local government were making deals. In the late '90s, the Navy awarded a contract to build five new buildings in the Navy Yard as part of the NAVSEA Headquarters Project, the Marines inked a deal to build the Marine Bachelor Enlisted Quarters on the Capper footprint, and Federal and District agencies that controlled land along the Anacostia signed an agreement to develop the ambitious Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.

After a long delay, the GSA finalized deals to bring a new Department of Transportation Headquarters and the massive Yards mixed-use development to the Southeast Federal Center. Around that time, HUD awarded DC a $35 million grant to build more than 1500 new housing units at the Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg project sites, filling most of the area between M Street and the Southeast Freeway from 2nd to 7th Street.

In 2003, the District released the South Capitol Gateway and Corridor Improvement Study, which called for fundamentally redesigning South Capitol Street as a neighborhood boulevard and replacing the Douglass Bridge; and the Council approved funding for Capitol Hill Towera combined Courtyard by Marriott hotel and 344-unit apartment that would open in 2006. Finally, in early 2004, planning began on Canal Park.

Cranes were up when the Nats came to town

Prior to the announcement of the baseball stadium, construction was well under way. In 2002, two large office buildings on M Street opened and 4,100 NAVSEA employees started work at the Navy Yard. In 2003 the Federal Gateway building opened and the next year the Marine Barracks.

Maritime Plaza opened its two office buildings in 2001 and 2003. And developers and officials were negotiating or planning other projects, like the WASA site, Half Street, 20M, Florida Rock and Diamond Teague Park, during this time as well.

It was only after all of this had occurred, that District selected the area for the baseball stadium and even later, in a very close vote, that they financed the stadium. It would be another 14 months before the Council passed the lease agreement that would make construction of the baseball stadium possible. In fact, the vast majority of projectsby value, acre or numberin the area had their start before the stadium site was finalized.

More than just real estate deals

Political leadership played a important part in revitalization as well. The election of Anthony Williams as Mayor in 1998 ended the Barry era, and instilled confidence in the business community that investment in DC was safe. The Williams administration spearheaded the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative and worked hard to create an development-friendly environment.

The Federal Government assisted in 1997 with the DC First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit and again in 2001 when Congress dissolved the Financial Control Board. As Garance Franke-Ruta wrote in a recent piece in the Atlantic, "[t]he tax credit had a dramatic impact in encouraging moderate and middle-income people to put down roots in DC, especially younger, college-educated white people, and invest their sweat equity in fixing up rundown housing stock."

So strong was the change, that in 2002 the Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate (AFIRE) named Washington, DC the top city in the US and the world for real estate investment, only a decade after being known as the "Murder Capital of the World."

Better transit brought more people, more investment

Another major catalyst was the completion of WMATA's Green Line. Until 1999, Navy Yard was the end penultimate station on a stub line that only served a handful of stations, all in central DC. That year, it was extended south of the river and into Prince George's County in 2001 making the area more easily accessible, particularly to suburban workers.

A study of neighborhoods along the Green Line from Navy Yard to Petworth showed that during the 2000s, the area added more young people, more multi-family units, and more jobs than either the Rosslyn-Balston corridor or the Northwest DC Red Line Corridor. The baseball stadium can't be viewed as the catalyst for the whole corridor, but the Metro line can be.

While development deals and transit improvements played large parts, Near Southeast also benefited from more general forces at work. As the new millennium began, Washington was experiencing a regional boom. Several areas went through a massive redevelopment from 1997-2007 including Gallery Place, Near SE, U Street, Barracks Row, Columbia Heights, and Rosslyn-Ballston. The pattern of development in those areas, over that time period, looks very similar.

At the same time, DC and its neighborhoods benefited from a general return to cities. Not only has DC's population been growing since the 2000 census, but "28 of the nation's biggest metropolitan counties grew faster from April 2010 to July 2011 than the rest of the nation as a whole."

Sites adjacent to the stadium still empty

If Councilmember Graham's assertion that "we wouldn't have all this development" were true, we'd expect to see development start closer to the stadium after it was built and radiate away from there over time. But mapping out the development, what we see is that almost every lot next to the stadium remains undeveloped.


Development sites in Near Southeast. Blue=pre-stadium, orange=during stadium finalization, purple=after stadium; shaded=under construction or completed; solid=cleared or planned only

The area east of the Metro station seems to be the core of the transformation, with later work building off of that. Only one property that abuts the stadium, the Camden South Capitol condos, has been developed in the 8 years since the stadium site was announced. You have to look across M Street to find any other post-stadium development, and those 5 properties are as linked to the pre-stadium development as they are to the stadium itself.

No stadium can be just as good

Thanks to New York's failed bid for this summer's Olympics, we also have a recent answer to the question of what happens when a stadium isn't built. The answer is development.

When New York City lost the 2012 Olympics to London, the city revamped its proposed stadium site to create Hudson Yards. This development has so much potential, the New York Times wrote "the Olympic bid's defeat may have been one of the best things to happen for the city's growth in recent memory."

There is no doubt that Nats stadium, by pumping $1 billion into the neighborhood and using eminent domain to consolidate property, may have sped up the Near Southeast revitalization. In time, it may even prove to bring additional development of the area.

But the evidence so far is that, at best, it hasn't been a drag on the process that was already in place. Near Southeast was a neighborhood on its way when the Nationals were still playing in Montreal.

Public Spaces


To save the Eisenhower Memorial, we may need to move it

Construction on the proposed Eisenhower Memorial in southwest Washington has stalled amid criticism of the current design. Critics have challenged specific elements of the design, but few have questioned whether we're putting the memorial in the right place. Could we better honor President Eisenhower by moving his memorial somewhere else?


Current Eisenhower Memorial design on proposed site. Image via DCmud.

The proposed Eisenhower Memorial, along Maryland Avenue between 4th and 6th Streets SW, has been a lightning rod for dissent. Criticism centers on the metal tapestries designed to create a "roofless" structure and shield the site from nearby buildings. The memorial's design dispute has gotten so serious that the House may cut funding for the project later this year.

The current site

Congress required that President Eisenhower's Memorial be located to maximize prominence, public access, and availability; ensure thematic appropriateness to Eisenhower's memory; and be feasible while avoiding undue controversy. The chosen site happens to satisfy each of these needs, but not particularly well.

The planned location, to be named Eisenhower Square, is not without symbolism. Placed between the Department of Education and the National Air and Space Museum, the site was designed to create a connection with two agencies that were established during his presidency, the Department of Education and NASA.

But the non-controversial location and symbolism may be illusory. First, the site's lack of controversy mostly reflects the fact that the site is currently an urban dead space with limited development options and a lack of a cohesive neighborhood to protest. This seems a poorly justified reason to choose a certain site.

Secondly, neither the Department of Education nor NASA serves as a key element of President Eisenhower's legacy or the reason for which he's being honored. Few would put the creation of the Department of Education or NASA at the top of Ike's list of achievements, which includes leading the Allied forces in Europe during WWII, ending the Korean War, creating the Interstate Highway System, laying the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement through desegregation of the government and two key Civil Rights laws, and articulating the "Domino System" that defined the Cold War as well as the threat of undue political influence by the "military-industrial complex."

Moreover, even this thematic justification for the location may not make sense in a few years. Departments and agencies frequently move, and while it is likely that the Air and Space Museum (which is not a part of NASA) is there to stay, the Department of Education could move or even consolidated with another agency.

Surely another consideration was proximity to the Mall and to a steady stream of visitors. But where is the value is having a lot of people visit an uninspiring memorial? The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial is far from the crowds and can only be accessed by foot from Virginia, but its sense of solitude is an enhancement to the memorial. Foot traffic should drive our decisions about where to put dry cleaners, not memorials.

The weak justification for the current site and its controversy leads to the inevitable question: Could we get a better design at a better location?

Where else could it go?

DC has plenty of sites to build new memorials. Through the Commemorative Works Acts, Congress created a Memorial Task Force that identified more than 100 locations in 2001 in the DC area suitable for a memorial. The proposed Eisenhower Memorial site made their list of 20 "prime locations." [See the list and map on pages 20-21 of the Task Force's report]

In light of the current controversy, it may be time to start looking at the remaining 19.

Other locations identified by the Task Force might be more appropriate than the current site. Perhaps the South Capitol Street terminus at the Anacostia River, just south of the baseball stadium or the 10th Street Overlook would be fitting. Both are near highways, for which Ike is well known, and the first is soon to be redeveloped and within a very short distance of a pair of military bases. The site on Columbia Island, near Arlington Cemetery and not far from Fort Myer where Eisenhower twice lived, would also be fitting.

Other sites not on the list would also be suitable. Since the Task Force report came out, the Awakening has moved from the southern tip of Hains Point. This site would be a beautiful location for a memorial and one that's within sight of the Army War College that Ike attended in the 1920s. The soon-to-be-redeveloped Southwest Waterfront also presents opportunities.

While historically we have chosen sites within the nation's capital as most worthy of our national attention, a location outside of DC might better honor President Eisenhower. Gettysburg was Eisenhower's home after World War II and where he chose to retire. Because of its prominence within American history, it is well visited and thus can easily meet the 3 requirements of the law authorizing the memorial.

Some might be concerned that a monument to a President in close proximity to the battlefield would detract from the significance of the battle and the address that followed it. But at the same time, Gettysburg would seem a particularly poignant location for a memorial to one of our country's most decorated soldiers.

Eisenhower was a great leader, and he is worthy of a great memorial. If this site constrains his memorial to the point of making it a failure, perhaps the smart thing to do is to start over with a new site.

Bicycling


Do DC's cycletracks work well? DDOT has some conclusions

DDOT officials have said they are waiting to build the L Street cycletrack until they finished a study about the city's 2 existing cycletracks, on 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Yesterday, they posted an executive summary of the study, though right now the site isn't responding; perhaps too many people are trying to get a look?


Photo by SLO County Bicycle Coalition on Flickr.

David C. summarized some of the key findings. The 2 cycletracks increased cycling on their streets enor­mous­ly, and took cycling off the sidewalk. Crashes increased, but not as much as volume, meaning that each individual cyclist became statistically safer.

Many riders aren't following red lights in many cases. Sometimes the red light timing works very poorly for cyclists riding through, which encourages more crossing against the light. At the corner of 16th and U, where they also studied the new bike boxes and signal, drivers aren't properly obeying the lights either.

David's summary is below.

16th Street/U Street New Hampshire

  • Motor vehicle intersection [Level of Service (LOS)] remained the same before and after the bicycle facilities were installed.
  • Fewer than 20% of cyclists are using the bike box and bike signal as intended to cross the intersection.
  • 82% of cyclists are stopping in the crosswalk instead of the bike box as intended. Though the bike box may still be effective at giving separation as only 15% of cars are stopping in it.
  • 13% of Cyclists using the bike signal encounter motor vehicles who are running the red, but are able to navigate through.
  • There was 1 more bicycle crash (5 vs. 4) at the intersection in the year after the installation than before.
Pennsylvania Ave cycletrack
  • Bicycle volume doubled after the cycletrack was installed.
  • Arterial LOS was similar for motor vehicles on Pennsylvania Avenue before and after the bicycle facilities were installed.
  • Danish Bicycle LOS and Bicycle Environmental Quality Index (BEQI) analyses all show significantly improved operations for cyclists with the median bike facilities.
  • Signal timing for bicycles generally works well between 10th Street and 15th Street, but results in large delays to cyclists between 3rd Street and 9th Street.
  • Bike crashes went up 80% after the bike lanes went in (so, not as much as bike traffic went up).
    An average of 42 percent of cyclists arriving on a red signal violated the signal.
  • Most cyclists stopping at red lights stop in the crosswalk or median area rather than behind the white stop bar.
15th Street cycletrack
  • After the two-way cycle track was installed, there was a 205 percent increase in bicycle volumes (from before conditions) between P Street and Church Street during the p.m. peak hour, and there was a 272 percent increase in bicyclist volumes (from before conditions) between T Street and Swann Street during the p.m. peak hour
  • Motor vehicle counts show that volumes are up a little bit on 15th Street before and after the bicycle facilities were installed.
  • Motor vehicle LOS was basically the same after the cycletrack was installed.
  • Bicyclists experience less delay on 15th Street between lower E Street and I Street than between I Street and U Street.
  • The number or crashes again grew, but not as fast as the number of cyclists did (so crash per cyclist went down).
  • There are potential issues with the existing design, which uses the pedestrian signal to control cyclist movements.
  • Over 40 percent of cyclists were observed running red lights.
  • There are now fewer cyclists on the sidewalk.
DDOT is hosting a public meeting on Thursday, May 3, to present more details of the study and discuss the proposed L Street cycletrack from 25th to 12th Streets, NW. The meeting is at the Reeves Center, at the corner of 14th and U, in the 2nd floor community room.

A version of this article was originally posted at TheWashCycle.

Bicycling


NoMa project maximizes Met Branch Trail access

Preliminary work has started on the Washington Gateway project, the three-building development on the triangle between Florida Avenue NE, New York Avenue NE and the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The project will take several positive steps to embrace its position as a neighbor to the trail and to maximize the opportunity that the trail will present.


Washington Gateway site plan.

The highlight of the project is the Metropolitan Branch Trail Atrium (circled in red above).

This three story space will create a bike-friendly entrance to the project unlike anything in the DC area. It will include a paved and signed entrance to the atrium which includes LED lighting and automatic doors that will allow cyclist to ride into the atrium. There will be an automatic bike pump for maintenance; a water fountain; a refreshment area with vending machines, tables and chairs; indoor bike parking and a natural ventilation system to supplement the HVAC system in appropriate seasons.

WABA has been invited to provide programming for the space and will be allowed to use the site for staging rides. It will not be open 24 hours a day, but it will be open at most times of the day.

In addition, the project will improve the trail along the building line. The developers will replace the trail surface, landscape the area along it, and replace the solar trail lighting with lights on the side of the building. A portion of the trail will be enhanced for pedestrian use with different paving patterns and treatment to encourage trail use for commuters walking from the Metro station and to separate users.

The atrium will be at the elevation of the trail, so users will have to go down stairs or an elevator to access the plaza in the center of the site and from there access the surrounding streets. The stairs will have a bike trough as will stairs from the plaza to the sidewalk along the New York Avenue Bridge.

The first building to go up will likely be the western building, which will be residential. The developers will build a temporary 6- to 8-foot-wide paved connection from the trail to this building while they wait to build the two office buildings on the east that will include the atrium. The residential building will have indoor bike storage as well as outdoor visitor bike parking. One of the office buildings will have a fitness facility that will give commuters access to a shower.

DDOT worked with the developers on the PUD to make sure that the project would be permeable for cyclists and pedestrians, and from all appearances this has the potential to be a flagship example of how development should work with adjacent trails. I predict future Bicycle Summit tours of DC to include this as a must-see stop.

Cross-posted at the WashCycle.

Bicycling


DDOT working to improve trail maintenance

Trail maintenance in DC is currently handled by a mish-mash of agencies and contractors, but no single person or agency is truly responsible. This leaves many tasks routinely ignored and results in damaged, unusable trails, some in need of complete repaving.


Photo by Travis Jon Allison on Flickr.

The Department of Transportation (DDOT) is responsible for some maintenance, but so is the Department of Public Works (DPW) which DDOT does not direct.

To address this problem, DDOT, through its Urban Forestry Administration (UFA), is pursuing a plan to assign an employee to the full-time task of trail maintenance and to equip this employee with specific tools to aid in that task. Given the tools needed to do the job well, the new staffer can increase both the utility and longevity of the trails DDOT builds.

There are many tasks that need to be performed to keep a trail open and in good repair. Tasks like sweeping, debris removal and snow removal improve the utility of the trail. Clearing vegetation that grows next to and over the trail can improve safety and extend the useful life of the trail. In some cases, trails have been effectively closed due to snow. On the Suitland Parkway Trail, maintenance has been ignored so long that the trail is literally crumbling away.

This isn't just a matter of convenience for trail users, it's about saving money by dealing with problems early. Just as changing your oil frequently will save you money in car repairs, maintaining a trail will save money that would otherwise be spent on repairs.

At the Recreational Trails Committee meeting this week, UFA announced that the new trail maintenance staff member would be issued a small utility work machine, like a Toolcat 5600. This machine can be equipped with one of over 40 attachments that would allow the operator to perform dozens of tasks: plow and remove snow, clear glass or sand that poses a safety hazard, and mow grass, for example. The new staffer would take ownership of both the vehicle and the trails.

Perhaps as importantly, the staffer wouldn't have to limit him or herself to off-street trails. In a snow event, he or she could clear bike lanes like the prominent ones on Pennsylvania Avenue, or the wider bridge sidepaths.

Initially, maintenance would be limited to DC trails like the Metropolitan Branch and Anacostia Riverwalk, but its possible DDOT could work out an agreement to also maintain National Park Service-owned trails like Rock Creek, the Capital Crescent and the DC portion of the Mount Vernon Trail (the island next to Arlington Cemetery at the west end of the Memorial Bridge is actually part of the District).

Until recently, DC didn't have much of it's own trail network, but the District now owns several miles of new or repaired trail. If UFA's plan is approved, users will start enjoying much better, and safer, cycling conditions.

Cross-posted at The WashCycle.

Roads


Funding Amtrak is more cost-effective than subsidizing roads

Amtrak's federal grant, constituting just 0.05% of federal spending in 2010, is once again under attack. Its critics perennially point to the railroad's 24¢ per passenger mile (ppm) government subsidy, compare it to the 2¢ ppm direct subsidy for driving, and call Amtrak a waste.


Amtrak's Chicago-DC Capitol Ltd. crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry. Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

Comparing these direct subsidies, though, tells only part of the story. When indirect subsidies are considered, Amtrak's total subsidy comes out to a little less than 44¢ ppm, but motoring's subsidy rises up to almost 5645¢ ppm.

When considering all of the costs to society the argument for increasing Amtrak's subsidy (and/or the gasoline tax) becomes clear. This table compares the direct and indirect subsidy of Amtrak versus roads, per passenger mile:

Subsidy Amtrak Roads
Direct subsidy $0.240 $0.020
Air pollution $0.081 $0.118
Global warming $0.072 $0.109
Parking $0.000 $0.151 $0.041
Resource consumption $0.008 $0.040
Crash damage $0.007 $0.037
Congestion $0.000 $0.023
Lost tax revenue $0.006 $0.028
Land use $0.018 $0.020
Noise $0.006 $0.008
Transportation diversity $0.000 $0.004
Total $0.439 $0.557 $0.447

All values are adjusted for inflation and reported in 2010 dollars. Most of the road values are from 2007 but since then, driving is down more than 15% and road user fee receipts are down as well.

Here is how each cost contributes to the total, and how I arrived at each estimates:

Direct subsidy: In 2010, Amtrak received $563 million in operating subsidies and $1 billion in capital and debt service grants while carrying passengers a total of 6.52 billion passenger miles, for a direct subsidy of 24¢ ppm. Meanwhile, in 2007 roads received a $94.6 billion (49% of $193 billion) subsidy to carry automobile passengers (including drivers) 4.24 trillion miles for a direct subsidy of 2¢ per passenger mile.

This is where a lot of people like to end the story. And doing so makes Amtrak seem like a bad deal, but if we consider all the external costs of both, it becomes a very different story.

Air pollution: According to McCubbin and Delucchi (1996), the external cost of air pollution caused by driving was $0.112 per vehicle mile traveled (VMT) in 1990 dollars. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are approximately 1.59 passengers per vehicle. So dividing the VMT by passengers per vehicle and adjusting for inflation gives a value of $0.118 ppm.

While a similar analysis is not available for Amtrak, we do have the energy intensity ppm for passenger cars (3501 Btu ppm) and Amtrak (2398 Btu ppm) which can serve as a reasonable proxy for air pollution emissions. If anything, this ratio is unfair to Amtrak, since the bulk of its energy use (carrying Northeast Corridor riders) is electricity which produces fewer emission per BTU than gasoline does due to the use of nuclear, hydroelectric, natural gas and renewables. Using this ratio, the cost of air pollution caused by Amtrak is $0.081 ppm.

Global warming: In addition to air pollution, the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline or coal creates an assortment of greenhouse gases which have been shown to add to global warming. According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI), the external cost per vehicle mile of GHG creation is $0.164 in $2007 which is equivalent to $0.109 ppm in $2010. Meanwhile, Carbon Fund calculates rail travel as creating 0.42 lbs CO2 per passenger mile.

The EPA calculates that the annual emissions from a typical passenger vehicle are 5.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Dividing that by the 12,000 miles the average car travels in a year (also from the EPA) results in 1.01 lbs per vmt or 0.64 lbs ppm. Using the lbs ppm to create a ratio (0.42/0.64) and multiplying it by the value for cars gives us the value for rail travel of $0.072.

Parking: While some parking costs are paid by users, others are external because, for example, of tax-exempt "free" employee parking or because of municipal parking minimums. Shoup (2005) sets the external cost of parking at $0.22 $0.05-$0.14 per vehicle mile in $2005. VTPI determines a value of $0.062 pvm. Accounting for inflation and passengers per vehicle this becomes $0.151$0.041 ppm. Amtrak, on the other hand, pays for its rail yards where it parks its trains, which means its parking is covered in its direct costs. Its subsidy is $0 ppm.

Resource consumption: The external costs of resource consumption refers primarily to the cost of producing, importing and distributing petroleum that are not passed directly to users. It includes the military costs associated with protecting oil supplies, macroeconomic costs of oil dependence, uncompensated ecological costs (like loss of a species), subsidies for drilling and costs associated with depleting a non-renewable resource. VTPI prices this at 76¢ per gallon or 4¢ ppm (in 2010) for roads.

Amtrak, meanwhile, used 62 billion gallons of diesel in 2009 to carry passengers 5.914 billion miles. Which puts its resource consumption external cost at $0.008 ppm in $2010. [(62B gallons*$0.80 per gallon)/5.914 billion miles]

Damage from crashes: While some crash costs are internal to the user, like insurance premiums or personal property damage, others are external because they're uncompensated or paid by an external user, such as when a pedestrian is injured in a hit and run crash. Looking at a series of studies and estimates of the external cost of automobile crashes, VTPI determined that the external cost per vehicle mile is $0.055 in $2007 which becomes $0.037 ppm.

Miller, Douglass and Pindus' 1994 paper on railroad injuries determines that per passenger mile, train injury costs comprise only one-fifth those of cars. There's reason to believe that less of the crash cost for rail is external than it is for autos because of Amtrak's greater ability to absorb such costs than an individual motorist. External Cost of Transport: Accident, Environmental and Congestion Costs in Western Europe puts the ratio for external costs of auto vs passenger rail at a much higher 41:1, so we can safely use the 5:1 ratio, making the external cost for rail $0.007 ppm

Congestion: Traffic congestion carries a very real transport cost that consists of incremental delay, vehicle operating costs (fuel and wear), pollution emissions and stress that result from interference among vehicles in the traffic stream. VTPI estimates the cost of congestion for roads at $0.035 pvm in $2007, which becomes $0.023 ppm in $2010. Unlike the highway system, most of our rail network is below capacity (Figure 13) which means Amtrak causes very little rail congestion.

While there has been little attempt to quantify the congestion Amtrak might cause, there is plenty about how it reduces congestion on roads and at airports. A USDOT study, in fact, determined that expanded rail service would have a net positive effect on congestion. And an Amtrak study put the benefit of the reduction of airport congestion along the Northeast Corridor alone at $104 million. Therefore I've conservatively set the Amtrak congestion charge at $0.00.

Lost tax revenue: Most of Amtrak's train routes use railroads owned by freight companies for which Amtrak pays rent and the owners pay property, sales and franchise tax. If roads and highways were similarly owned by private companies, they too would pay billions of dollars in taxes. TeleCommUnity set the value of the land used for roads in America at $7.1 trillion in $2007. Taxed at the average state property tax rate of 1.38% in $2010, roads would have contributed 2.8¢ ppm to states' coffers.

Before being made exempt in 1979, Amtrak paid state and local taxes which totaled $14 million in 1979. Adjusting for inflation and dividing by total passenger miles, lost tax revenue from Amtrak is 0.64¢ ppm.

Land use: ecological impacts: Building roads and railroads has an ecological impact that also carries a cost. These land use changes can, for example, cause a heat island effect, sever and fragment wildlife habitat and result in "roadkill." VTPI puts the cost of these ecological impacts for roads at $0.03 per vehicle mile in $2007 (or $0.0198 ppm in $2010).

Using the rail and road costs ppm defined in a 2005 Swiss ARE paper (from VTPI), we can determine a ratio between road and rail which is 0.7 centimes to 0.775 centimes per passenger kilometer (1.2 per vehicle kilometer/1.59 passengers per vehicle). This means that the ecological impact of passenger rail is 92.75% the value of the one for roads ppm. Multiplying this by $0.0198 gives a value for rail of $0.0184.

Noise: Noise from roads and rail can have real and measurable impacts on nearby land values. VTPI looked at several studies of the external cost of road noise and determined a value of $0.011 pvm ($0.0075 ppm in $2010). A study by INFRAS/IWW placed the ratio of ppm passenger rail noise costs to roadway noise costs at 3.9/5.2 (page 74). Multiplying this ratio times the cost for autos gives $0.0057.

Transportation diversity: Many communities are automobile dependent. This lack of diversity can often result in inefficiency and inequity, such as when people feel the need to drive for very short trips because they can't easily walk or bike on roads that don't accommodate that kind of travel. This eliminates options, leads to less physically active (and therefore less healthy) lifestyles, and can often trap people who can't, for whatever reason, drive. VTPI determines the value of the impact of roads on transportation diversity at $0.007 pvm ($0.0044 ppm). Amtrak doesn't create the same kinds of dependency, so it's cost is zero.

I omitted some costs because adequate values were not available for both. This includes the delays, discomfort and lack of access that vehicle traffic imposes on nonmotorized modes; waste disposal; water pollution and hydrological impacts; and other land impacts such as reduced property values, reduced community cohesion, and the costs associated with sprawl. Together these constitute another 4¢ ppm for roads, with most of that cost related to sprawl.

Amtrak is unlikely to have a larger ppm cost for these factors. Amtrak isn't considered an engine for sprawl. Railroad surfaces are capable of absorbing twice as much rainwater as paved roadsand there is far less land dedicated to Amtrak rail than to roads per passenger mile. So it is reasonable to believe that the addition of these omitted values would not change the relative values between the two subsidies very much or change them to be further in favor of Amtrak.

Based on these numbers, it appears that roads are subsidized at almost 12 1¢ per passenger mile more than Amtrak. To bring the two into balance, the gas tax would either need to be raised from the national average of 48.1¢ per gallon to about $3.30 $0.96 per gallon, or the Amtrak subsidy would need to be increased from $1.565 billion to $2.348$1.630 billion.

Another way to think about this is to combine the subsidized cost with the portion paid by user fees to get a total public cost. (Drivers' user fee revenue in 2008 was $94.512 billion and miles travelled was 4.9 trillion passenger miles for an inflation adjusted contribution of $0.020.)

Total public cost, unpaid + paid
Amtrak: $0.439 + $0.318 = $0.757
Roads: $0.557 $0.447 + $0.020 = $0.577 $0.467

Which means that Amtrak users are paying 44.5% of their public costs, while drivers pay only 3.6% 4.3% of theirs.

To be clear, this does not mean that motoring is cheaper. Drivers are also paying their own internal costs (purchase and maintenance of a car and insurance) which the IRS estimates to be 51¢ per mile total (or 48.5¢ per mile, less tax). That increases the total cost of driving to $1.062 $0.952 per mile. That's without considering the travel time costs. Comparing all the costs, Amtrak becomes much cheaper than motoring.

We should not ignore the environmental, political, human and other non-obvious costs of transportation when discussing how to fund it. By focusing only on the direct costs, as many choose to do, we run the risk of making the wrong decisions. While a more thorough scholarly analysis would surely come up with different values and totals than my amateur one, it's more than possible that Amtrak is the bargain paying most of its own way, and roads are the resource-consuming boondoggle that need to have their subsidy cut.

Bicycling


Montgomery considers many ways to fund bike sharing

Montgomery County will get 20 Capital Bikeshare stations in Rockville next year, and is exploring many funding possibilities to expand the program to more parts of the county.


Photo by ivan | sciupac on Flickr.

The county council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment committee discussed the issue on Monday. According to the pre-meeting material, the county has been trying to join bike sharing since 2008 when they investigated expanding SmartBike, but Clear Channel was not interested.

In 2009, they joined other jurisdictions in applying for a TIGER grant, which the region didn't win, but they worked with DC and Arlington to craft the CaBi vendor agreement to accommodate including them later. A second application, this time for TIGER II in 2010, made the first cut from 350 programs to 128, but was "not funded due to geographic distribution issues."

Finally, in 2011, the program got funding through a Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) grant to bring 200 bikes and 20 stations to Rockville. Some of the funded stations will go in unincorporated portions of the county around Shady Grove Metro, including the Life Sciences Center. Others will go in Rockville Town Center and areas around the Rockville Metro and MARC station inside the City of Rockville. Montgomery is still awaiting final approval and hope to install the stations in 2012.

The county is now seeking two additional grants: a Maryland DOT grant funded by Federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality (CMAQ) money, which would require a 20% local match, and a TIGER III grant request.

In addition, State Senator Brian Frosh hopes to introduce a bill to have the state fund bonds to pay for bike sharing capital costs. The state could also consider tax credits for businesses supporting bike sharing.

Locally, the county could use funds from its parking districts to cover some of the costs. To developers willing to pay for a station, the county could offer density bonuses, reduce parking requirements, reduce payments to parking districts, or include them in Traffic Mitigation Agreements, which the county negotiates with developers around projects in areas like Bethesda. For current building owners, they can also offer tax credits and advertising or sponsorship opportunities.

Montgomery County is clearly dedicated to expanding bike sharing and, despite tight budgets, has identified many options to achieve that goal. Will any of them pan out in the immediate future? We can hope.

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