Greater Greater Washington

Signs of bike boulevards pop up in Arlington

In 2013, Arlington began installing bike boulevards on the streets a block north and south paralleling Columbia Pike. The bike boulevards offer cyclists an alternative to Columbia Pike itself, which will one day have streetcar tracks.


Arlington bike boulevard street sign, with a wayfinding sign to the right. Photo by BeyondDC.

What's a bike boulevard?

Bike boulevards are slow-speed neighborhood streets where cars and bikes share lanes, but which are optimized for bikes. They're quiet local roads, usually lined with single-family houses, where there's such light car traffic that separated lanes for bikes and cars aren't necessary.

So far, Arlington's bike boulevards include special signs and sharrows. In the future they may add other elements, like specialized bike crossings at intersections, or improved trail links.

Bike boulevards are common on the west coast, but as far as I know Arlington's 9th Street South and 12th Street South bike boulevards are the first in the DC region.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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Alexandria needs this. Mt. Vernon Ave. and most of Old Town have parallel streets that are perfect for this. (Please no one say King St. West) We just lack the signage.

by movement on Feb 11, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

Another example of what happens when the Arlington government is given free rein to spend $$$$.

by Arlington Bob on Feb 11, 2014 2:29 pm • linkreport

@ArlingtonBob: What, they spend a few thousand dollars on signs to help bicyclists find a safer way to get around?

OK

by Michael Perkins on Feb 11, 2014 2:38 pm • linkreport

> Another example of what happens when the Arlington government is given free rein to spend $$$$.

lol. odds this person would complain if arlington removed all its street signs: 1:1.

by ballston guy on Feb 11, 2014 2:45 pm • linkreport

A while back (a couple years at least) there was a story on a public meeting about these lanes that showed renderings with a lot more infrastructure than just the signs. Was that scaled back somehow? Saying that Arlington "may" add other elements as opposed to "will" concerns me.

by drumz on Feb 11, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

With any luck, the first in DC will be installed in the spring On 41st Street, NW south from Western to Wilson High, and on Jennifer Street, NW east from Western to Nebraska. At least according to DDOT's plans.

Let's hope these are the first of many more.

by fongfong on Feb 11, 2014 4:21 pm • linkreport

G and I streets NE would make great candidates for this, since H is effectively unbikeable, between streetcars, bus traffic and cars.

by Dan Miller on Feb 11, 2014 4:51 pm • linkreport

THAT IS A TOTALLY AWESOME STREET SIGN. Perfect example of how I say that we need to use signage in this way as marketing and branding tools.

Kudos.

by Richard Layman on Feb 11, 2014 5:47 pm • linkreport

The bike boulevards thus far have been executed so badly as to be comical. First, the signs went up absolutely no new infrastructure - like putting up the sign for I-95 before they built the highway. Still today most of the minor cross-streets lack stop signs for crossing car traffic, which makes cyclists stop every block in places (in many cases with poor visibility for cross traffic). The major cross-streets (Walter Reed, Glebe) have neither signage nor lights nor street-level painting (the lone exception is an awkward existing regular cross walk/light). The sharrows themselves are hilarious: because the streets aren't wide enough for two lanes of sharrows on most of the "boulevards," they actually point directly at each other in places in opposite directions, visualizing head on cycle collisions! The fact that there are cars on both sides of most of the "boulevards" makes cyclists unable to see cars coming out of driveways and vice versa. Oh, and worst of all they don't connect in any safe way to where most Pike cycle commuters are going (the Pentagon/DC bridges).

In sum, riding on Columbia Pike (as long as the streetcar remains a pipe dream) is faster, safer and a much better option.

Classic modern Arlington "smart growth": winning headlines with expensive, long-delayed projects that are so NIMBY compromised as to be virtually useless. See Columbia Pike Transit Initiative.

(The author's conflict of interest is probably worth acknowledging here beyond his bio, too.)

by Pikecycle on Feb 11, 2014 9:12 pm • linkreport

drumz, I think it will get more than just the signs. It has $1M in funding according to the website.

by David C on Feb 11, 2014 10:35 pm • linkreport

There are definitely some things that need to be done better on the boulevards. Adding parking separated bike lanes on George Mason would be a game changer. This see click fix listing has some more details http://seeclickfix.com/issues/702987

by ChrisR on Feb 11, 2014 11:20 pm • linkreport

Taking 10 whole years to install a bunch of "bike boulevard" signs and sharrows and practically nothing else along about two miles of long-existing neighborhood streets is NOTHING to brag about. M

by Allen Muchnick on Feb 12, 2014 12:52 am • linkreport

David C.,

That's what I read too. I just remember what was proposed as distinctly meatier. I might be mis-remembering or I might have been too optimistic. Ah well. This is still good to have though.

by drumz on Feb 12, 2014 8:17 am • linkreport

It's highly disappointing that none of the safety improvements that were promised have come to fruition. Stop signs for vehicles, parking changes to increase sight lines, etc never happened, just some confusing symbols on the streets and a few pretty signs after $1 million and 10 years.

by 1234 on Feb 12, 2014 8:41 am • linkreport

My (very suburban) hometown added "bike path" signage a few years ago. The signs went up almost exclusively on the winding neighborhood thoroughfares with 30 mph speed limits. Every half mile or so, these "paths" require the cyclist to cross a busy 6 lane divided highway with 40 mph speed limits, often without a traffic light. Signage alone does not make a city, "bike friendly." Signage alone is a complete waste of money.

by DCtransitnerd on Feb 12, 2014 8:57 am • linkreport

Um, of course. Traditional bike routes, marked by signage, are often substandard routes for bicyclists but may be better than nothing.

The point of a bike boulevard is to provide a variety of treatments that prioritize bike movement over cars, by forcing cars to divert every so often, while bikes and pedestrians can continue through without diversion.

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/bicycleboulevards/

Although it can be argued that bike boulevards are "merely" an advanced form of neighborhood traffic calming, which is how I try to position them when talking to DPW agencies, who are mostly already doing traffic calming, but not thinking of advanced bike accommodations as a method to do traffic calming.

The point I made about the signage is as a branding mechanism and this is a better version than others I've seen, although not like that recommended by LA's Better Bikeways project.

http://www.good.is/posts/better-bikeways-guerrilla-improvements-and-diy-signage

by Richard Layman on Feb 12, 2014 9:22 am • linkreport

... but I haven't ridden the "new" routes, so I don't know if they are good or substandard. From the descriptions, the physical treatments typical of bike boulevards haven't been installed, so they wouldn't fit the definition of what a bike boulevard is.

by Richard Layman on Feb 12, 2014 9:24 am • linkreport

But why does the signage come first? If it's a branding mechanism, wouldn't you want to be able to brand with the physical modifications in place? I think it's just too easy to install the signage and then lose funding/support for the physical aspects, which have the bigger effect on safety.

by DCtransitnerd on Feb 12, 2014 9:58 am • linkreport

The Blvd on 12th Street between Glebe and Walter Reed is a joke. "They are quiet, local roads ...light car traffic..." is not a way to describe this stretch of road. Mail trucks, car mechanics and test drivers speed down this street with no one on their minds other than themselves. There are no sidewalks, cars are parked on both sides of the street and there is one street light. It is very dangerous and to add the bikes to it was/is irresponsible. The interesection at Highland and at Walter Reed are both dangerous as you have to basically go out into the intersection in order to see cross traffic. This was NOT a wise area to put a bike blvd. And yes, I do ride my bike but I try to get off of 12th Street as soon as possible. Drivers don't see you and it is quicker to travel on Columbia Pike.

by MBR on Feb 12, 2014 10:20 am • linkreport

So glad you drew attention to the 12th street sign...that street as a bike boulevard is unbelievable and defies any safety issues that should be of concern when designating a bike "boulevard".The 12th St. "Boulevard" has two way traffic already, parking on both sides of the street, bike decals that go one way until they hit a side street in the middle of the block and then the decals are reversed so you have bikes coming both ways at that point on the street! Oh and this part of 12th St is one of the most narrow streets in South Arlington...BTW I saw the signs going up...on a Saturday (overtime) with 5 Arlington county employees apparently necessary to hang the signs!

by M. King on Feb 12, 2014 10:52 am • linkreport

Most of the rest of the bike boulevard infrastructure is still coming.

Last update I heard was they were hoping to come back to the community with engineering plans last month but their engineer was backed up with other stuff. The Walter Reed Drive intersection will be done as part of the Walter Reed Drive complete streets project which is supposed to get built this year. The Doctor's Run Trail stuff is a giant question mark. Haven't seen any movement on that from DPR.

by Chris Slatt on Feb 12, 2014 11:29 am • linkreport

Right, the sings were put in before the route was bike boulevardized. Perhaps that is wrong, or perhaps it is not, but what you have now is not the final product.

Allen, has it been 10 years? First I heard of this was in 2008 I think.

by David C on Feb 12, 2014 12:44 pm • linkreport

The bike boulevards are worthless to me. On the west end, they don't get as far as the W & OD. On the east end, they don't get as far as Joyce Street. Joyce was hailed for its new pedestrian and bike infrastructure, but it is practically worthless unless it connects the Pentagon City area to the Columbia Pike corridor.

by John Flack on Feb 12, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

Looks as though this has been in the planning stages since at least 2007:
http://www.commuterpageblog.com/2007/04/planning_for_a_.html

by 1234 on Feb 12, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

The bike boulevards offer cyclists an alternative to Columbia Pike itself, which will one day have streetcar tracks.

To the author: Does this mean cycling will not be allowed on columbia pike if the street cars go in? I will literally not be able to get into work if that's the case.

by lizzers on Feb 12, 2014 2:21 pm • linkreport

No you still can bike on the Pike. But any street with streetcar tracks is a little risk for bikes. Try to cross the tracks at a 90 degree angle whenever possible.

Bike boulevards help mitigate the risk from that and can alert cyclists to calmer routes if they don't like mixing with traffic as much.

And good signage is always a plus.

by drumz on Feb 12, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

As a cyclist, I don't see the value in these bike "boulevards". Although I appreciate the attempt to provide safety to the riders, directing cyclists to narrow, busy streets such as South 12th Street, then diverting them back onto Columbia Pike is ludicrous. Not only is 12th Street extremely narrow, it does not have sidewalks so pedestrians (and there are many pedestrians) now share the road w/ bikes, cars and the never-ending Postal-truck races. In my opinion, the County would be better served scrapping the Columbia Pike Trolley folly and spend that money to put in bike lanes that extend the length of the Pike...

by rrr on Feb 12, 2014 3:28 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

Bike boulevards are slow-speed neighborhood streets where cars and bikes share lanes, but which are optimized for bikes. They're quiet local roads, usually lined with single-family houses, where there's such light car traffic that separated lanes for bikes and cars aren't necessary."

[Deleted.] It is clear to me that Arlington County neglected to perform its due diligence too. As a resident of 12th Street South, I can say with great certainty that my block of 12th Street is definitely not a quiet, slow, neighborhood street. 12th Street South acts as a driveway for the Post Office, a raceway for the new Audi dealership and as a cut-through for disgruntled commuters of the Pike. All of this coupled with the two sides parking, ultra narrow roadway, no sidewalks for pedestrians and now bike traffic too it's simply an accident waiting to happen.

The bike lanes were a relatively good idea that has gone wrong. The elected/appointed officials who spent large sums of money and helped make this happen should be ashamed of themselves.

by B Taylor on Feb 12, 2014 3:45 pm • linkreport

I can say with great certainty that my block of 12th Street is definitely not a quiet, slow, neighborhood street. 12th Street South acts as a driveway for the Post Office, a raceway for the new Audi dealership and as a cut-through for disgruntled commuters of the Pike.

Maybe by putting in a bunch cyclists/cyclist infrastructure it'll go back to being a quiet street?

The signs and the concept itself is still pretty new to the area. Let's give it some time.

by drumz on Feb 12, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

You can't realistically ride your bike on a street with a curb-side, fixed-rail streetcar unless there is a separated bike path; the streetcar would get stuck behind cyclists as, unlike a bus, it can't pass them. However, the County prefers medians/turning lanes to full-length bike lanes on the Pike. As the author suggests, this is why the Country planned the "bike boulevards" -- to deal with the fact that the streetcar will eliminate the current cycle commuting route on the Columbia Pike roadway.

Fortunately, the incompetence of the County in executing the bike boulevards is matched in their incompetence in funding and building the streetcar.

by pikecycle on Feb 12, 2014 4:11 pm • linkreport

Nice … I encountered an intersection in Berkeley the other day where bikes had their own curb-separated left turn lane and cars were forced to turn right. It was a bit frustrating as a driver, but I do like the idea of prioritizing bike traffic in an urban setting.

by Omar on Feb 12, 2014 8:12 pm • linkreport

Regardless of how 12th Street is used now, it's an excellent candidate for a bike boulevard because it runs parallel to a major road but is a safer place to bike. Other street improvements could probably make the street friendlier to bikes in the future, but you gotta start somewhere!

http://goo.gl/maps/Wub37

by Omar on Feb 12, 2014 8:14 pm • linkreport

Alcova Heights did not want the 9th street boulevard and strongly opposes the proposed hawk light at 9th and Glebe. Moving to 7th Street would be have a much better alternative because 9th street ends at one end with a staircase and the other ends at a do not enter one way street. The bike boulevard to really goes no where and creates bad traffic issues for 7th street if the hawk light is installed.

by Alcova Heights on Feb 12, 2014 9:20 pm • linkreport

The Bike Boulevard idea was originated by Randy Swart, an active bicyclist, who lives in the Barcroft neighborhood along Col Pike.

It was adopted into formal Arlington plans as a recommendation from the Col Pike Street Space Planning Task Force in ~2004.

You can see the overall alignment of the Bike Boulevard on page 34 of the Col Pike Initiative - A Revitalization Plan Updated published in 2005.

http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/CPHD/forums/columbia/initiative/cpi_transportation.pdf

Riders on the S 9th St route heading east are expected to transition to a future Shared Use Path (SUP) on the north side of Col Pike starting at S Wayne St and running east to S Joyce St. Construction will result from rebuilding street running way for street car (Wayne - Oak), widening of sidewalk under new Washington Blvd Bridge (already underway), and Oak to Joyce St section of SUP to be built with realignment of Col Pike done as part of conversion of old Navy Annex bldg site to Arl Cemetery space.

As readers can see from page 34, there were also extensive sections of on-street bike lanes planned for Col Pike as part of rebuild of the street. Understand those may have been dropped now, so creation of the Shared Use Path becomes even more valuable for bicyclists.

Never saw the value in the 12th St alignment south of Col Pike - very disjointed with topography challenges at Doctor's Run and then riders eventually have to move to north side with SUP starting at Wayne St. anyway.

I felt Randy Swart's idea was inspired and an example of the wisdom of regular citizens. Since 9th St already has a connection to WO&D, if Bike Boulevard with SUP and signalized crossings are completed - offers the opportunity for commuters and tourists to travel down WO&D, bike through all the attractions in Col Pike corridor, reach the Air Force Memorial and the Pentagon 9/11 memorial and the Pentagon as a work destination.

In my view it was a mistake for staff to put up signage without any of the other infrastructure in place - should have kicked off with at least the new signals at Glebe and Walter Reed Dr. Raised expectations with little beef in the burger. True potential won't be realized until SUP is built.

Noticed driving by 9th St in Arl Heights neighborhood that boulevard signage routes around short section of 9th St between Ivy and Irving because of one way short block for driving. Hope bicyclists ignore this and continue biking thru. Froggie in message here posted links to Flikr photos of Minnesota bike boulevard which clearly shows a DO NOT ENTER sign "Except for Bikes". Simple solution.

Only missing piece in 9th St boulevard vision is how to get the boulevard efficiently across S George Mason Drive. Randy and I debated this. Randy's solution is for section of boulevard between S Quincy (in Alcova Heights) and S Taylor St (in Barcroft) to route riders north to 7th St crossing. IMHO, this adds a lot of additional distance and the grade change is too tough for young children. I had proposed a bike bridge off cul de sac on 9th St in Alcova Height elevated over G Mason Dr and integrated with redevelopment of Food Star shopping center in Barcroft. Another solution might be to create a SUP section between S Quincy and St Taylor St. This would still present some grade changes and riders would be held up by S George Mason Dr traffic signals.

Bottomline, there's a good vision here - just will take 10 years or so to be fully realized.

by Tom Greenfield on Feb 13, 2014 8:26 pm • linkreport

Cyclists don't really need signed bike routes, bike boulevards, bike lanes, bike maps, etc. They just use regular street maps to identify the safest and most convenient routes for their own trips. The most experienced cyclists use topographical maps to select the type of terrain on which they would like to travel.

Many bike lanes are adjacent to the left side of parked cars. Because of "dooring", they are far more hazardous than are the automobile lanes of the street.

Worse, developers and utility and cable companies often tear up bike lanes when they bury their cables and pipes. They patch up their work with rough asphalt, which is far more hazardous to cyclists than are the smoother automobile lanes. The inspectors who check out the patches know little about cycling and care even less. As a result, many bike lanes in urban and suburban areas are either dysfunctional or absolutely dangerous.

In Arlington, some bicycle lanes are even worse than the above. The incompetent people responsible for operating and promoting the County's cycling program recently decided to widen bicycle lanes on least two major traffic arterials (Clarendon Blvd and Walter Reed Drive), but did not bother to inform the street workers on how to remove the old lane markers properly. Lacking such information, the street workers removed the old lane markers by scratching them out, leaving rough surfaces that destroyed any prior usefulness of the bike lanes. Cyclists must now either travel next to doors of parked cars or must travel outside of the bike lanes to avoid the rough surfaces.

The typical bike program is a huge waste of money that often makes things worse for cyclists than if it did not exist. The programs are just expensive boondoggles carefully designed to pursuade the public to cycle, rather than to travel more safely by walking, using public transportation and driving automobiles.

by Cyclist on Feb 21, 2014 4:15 pm • linkreport

Cyclists don't really need signed bike routes, bike boulevards, bike lanes, bike maps, etc. They just use regular street maps to identify the safest and most convenient routes for their own trips. The most experienced cyclists use topographical maps to select the type of terrain on which they would like to travel.

Some cyclists don't. Others do. "Cyclist" is a pretty broad group. Half of all Americans will get on a bike at least once this year. Some of them only once. we need to build bike infrastructure that meets the needs of experienced, map-reading cyclists as well as new, less-prepared cyclists.

Because of "dooring", they are far more hazardous than are the automobile lanes of the street.

This is a heavily debated point, but "far more" seems to go too far.

The typical bike program is a huge waste of money that often makes things worse for cyclists than if it did not exist.

If you're one of the 2% of people who will bike in the road no matter what, this may be true. For everyone else it is not. Find me a city that has a high bicycle mode share without a "typical bike program."

by David C on Feb 22, 2014 8:45 pm • linkreport

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