Greater Greater Washington

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Bicycling


Let's plan a Bike to Anywhere But Work Day

The annual Bike to Work Day is coming up on May 16. It offers a great annual opportunity to encourage people to try bicycling, but can't we come up with somewhere else to bike to as well?


Photo by the author.

Personally, I've attended the venerable Bike to Work Day so many times that I'm looking forward to Bike to Retirement Day. Nevertheless, B2WD is a great party with lots of food, free tchotchkes and activities. This year's B2WD will be hard to miss in Alexandria, with "pit stops" in Market Square, Carlyle, the Mark Center and a new stop in Del Ray. The only small weakness in this highly recommended party is that, when it ends, you are at work.

We in the DC area have been doing Bike to Work Day for so many years that I feel like it would be fun to branch out. By this I don't mean Bike to School Day, which is pretty much just B2WD for kids and is already scheduled for May 7. We can do better.

How about Bike to the Grocery Store Day? The best thing about B2GSD is that it eliminates the need to jockey a car through a small parking lot. Parking a car in an over-engineered lot is no fun and can take as long as the drive to the grocery store. The second best thing about shopping by bike is that, in my two bike-baskets at least, you can only carry enough food to feed two people for a week. There is no temptation to "stock up" on "food" that will live longer than you will, especially if you eat it, or on healthy food that will need to be wolfed down before it spoils.

Another boon to our local economy would be Bike to the Coffee Shop Day. With B2CSD, we would all get a break from working or errands and delight in the twin joys of exercise and gastronomic indulgence. On Bike to the Coffee Shop Day there is no pressure to bike to work and no need to get the groceries home before the ice cream melts. (Tip: pack the cold stuff together in one bag).

Instead of stopping at one pit stop and then biking to work, you can bike to the next pit stop. (Tip: please don't bike while holding coffeeI've done so and wish I hadn't). If the coffee is good enough you might speed through every stop in town before you know it!

In fact, bicycling and coffee shops go together so well that I remain astounded that so few coffee shops have bicycle parking corrals. I lead groups of cyclists to many of these shops and know they are handy to our local bikeways. Buzz and Perks are both handy to the Mt. Vernon Trail, Firehook is on the Wilkes Street Bikeway and the Alexandria Pastry Shop is just a stones throw away from both bike-friendly Arlington and the Spokes Etc. bike shop. A bike parking corral is like a big sign that says "cyclists welcome," deployable without input from the local architectural review board.

As an avid reader, I know I'd enjoy Bike to the Library Day. (Tip: please don't start reading that book while biking home). I'd also enjoy Bike to the Park Day. Either B2LD or B2PD could show off the wonderful services that Alexandria provides to encourage healthy minds and bodies. These events would also encourage people to visit all corners of our great city. Best of all, neither involve work.

Meanwhile, Alexandria residents can prepare for Bike to Work Day at a free event this weekend, Bicycle Commuting 101, where citizens will share information and offer encouragement. It will take place on Saturday, April 5, 3 pm at the Alexandria Library, Barrett Branch, 717 Queen Street.

Events


Events roundup: Dedicated lanes and growing pains

As we seek safer streets and better transit in the greater Washington area, we encounter some big questions and little battles for how to best accomplish smarter, greater growth. Show up to support the steps we must take to realize this vision at events around the region.


Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

Meetup for 16th Street bus lanes: This Wednesday, March 13, the Coalition for Smarter Growth kicks off its campaign for dedicated rush hour bus lanes on 16th Street NW with a happy hour from 6 to 8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar, located at 1518 U Street NW. Dedicated rush hour bus lanes would help to relive overcrowding and shorten commuting times. Most mayoral candidates support the lanes. Do you? You can click here to RSVP.

After the jump: talk about Metro with David and Eleanor Holmes Norton, support bike lanes in Alexandria, get an update on Red Line rebuilding, have some one-on-one time with DC planning officials to discuss the zoning update, learn more about DC's Southwest Ecodistrict, and discuss the impact of Metro Momentum in Maryland.

Metro roundtable with David and Congresswoman Norton: What do we need and what should we expect from Metro as riders in the 21st century? GGW's David Alpert and fellow panelists will explore that topic this Tuesday, March 11 from 6 to 8 pm, at a public roundtable discussion at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street NW.

Organized by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the discussion will cover pertinent long-term Metro issues, including ridership, financing, and timeframes for construction, all in preparation for the development of a surface transportation reauthorization bill this year.

Joining David to discuss the future of Metro are General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles; Klara Baryshev, the chair of the Tri-State Oversight Committee; and Jackie L. Jeter, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689. To submit a question for the panel to address, email NortonMetroRoundtable@mail.house.gov and make sure to include your name and address.

Get a Red Line progress report: Next week, hear about Metro's work to rebuild the Red Line from deputy general manager Rob Troup. He'll be speaking at the Action Committee for Transit's monthly meeting this Tuesday, March 11 at 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place. As always, ACT meetings are free and open to the public.

Speak out for King Street bike lanes: Almost 60 percent of residents spoke up for King Street bike lanes at the last Traffic and Parking Board meeting. Now, the issue will go to the Alexandria City Council once again for a public hearing and final vote on Saturday, March 15 from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm at City Hall, 301 King St #2300. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is circulating a petition for those who would like to express their support in advance of the meeting.

Another chance to learn about DC's zoning update: The DC Office of Planning will continue to host open houses on the expected update to the zoning code through Friday, March 28. At each open house, you will have the chance to sit down one-on-one with Planning staff to learn more about the update and have any lingering questions answered. The remaining scheduled open houses are as follows:

  • Tuesday, March 11, 4-8 pm at Petworth Library, 4200 Kansas Avenue NW.
  • Wednesday, March 12, 4-8 pm at Deanwood Recreation Center, 1350 49th Street NW.
  • Friday, March 14, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Saturday, March 15, 10 am-2 pm at Thurgood Marshall Academy PCHS, 2427 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE.
  • Friday, March 21, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Friday, March 28, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
Implementing the SW Ecodistrict vision: Plans for DC's Southwest ecodistrict envision connecting the National Mall to the waterfront and creating a more sustainable neighborhood and prosperous local economy.

Join speakers Diane Sullivan, senior planner at the National Capital Planning Commission, and Otto Condon, urban design principal of ZGF Architects, at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, on Thursday, March 20 for a lunchtime discussion about next steps of implementation. The event is free but registration is required here.

Talk about Metro Momentum in Maryland: How will Metro Momentum serve Montgomery and Prince George's counties? Join Shyam Kannan, Managing Director of Metro's Office of Planning, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and local leaders to talk about Metro's plans to serve a growing Washington region, and to learn how you can get involved.

The event will take place Thursday, March 20 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place. Advance registration is requested here.

Bicycling


Despite community support, Alexandria board again wants to delay King Street bike lanes

Almost 60% of residents spoke up for Alexandria's King Street bike lanes Tuesday night, but the city's Traffic and Parking Board once again voted to recommend that the City Council delay building them because of concerns about lost parking.


Photo from Google Street View.

The proposal would remove 27 parking spaces and add bike lanes to King Street between Russell Road and Highland Place, west of Old Town. In a concession to neighbors, transportation officials had previously agreed to have sharrows between Highland and Janneys Lane for two additional blocks, saving 10 parking spaces.

Though Transportation and Environmental Services Director Rich Baier gave the order to go ahead with the plan in December, the Traffic and Parking Board (TPB) reconsidered the project as part of an appeals process and voted 5-2 in favor of delaying it. Next, it goes to the City Council for a public hearing and final vote on the lanes March 15.

According to Baier, there are an average of three cars parked along the corridor, and all of the houses on King Street have driveways that can accommodate at least two cars. But the board asked Baier to address a large number of suggested alternatives, all of which retained all parking spaces.

Said Baier, "Everyone talks safety, but it always comes down to the parking."

Those alternatives included finding alternative routes for bicyclists, which Baier said didn't address safety concerns for cyclists or pedestrians on King Street today. Baier also looked at a wider sidewalk, bulb-outs, and a so-called "enhanced curb," but without changing the parking, there was only two feet of space to work with, meaning the improvements would be small.

A representative of DASH, the city's bus agency, said that narrowing the through lanes for traffic calming as planned is not a problem for DASH buses or emergency vehicles.

At Tuesday's meeting, Baier, his staff, and numerous speakers in favor of the plan described the traffic calming effect of bike lanes. Transportation planner Carrie Sanders stated that bike lanes increase cycling, and drivers respond by slowing down. Baier pointed out that this is a well-established result and is "not at all cutting-edge."

Overall, 32 people spoke in favor of the plan and 23 spoke against. One speaker was Environmental Policy Commission Chair Scott Barstow, who pointed out that the entire EPC was in attendance and invited them to stand up. In the interest of time, the remaining EPC members did not testify.

But numerous opponents stated that the traffic would not slow down in any circumstance. One opposing speaker said that inviting more cyclists onto the streets would indeed slow down the cars by frightening drivers, but went on to say that frightening drivers was simply unacceptable.

TPB Vice Chair Larry Ruggiero, who made the motion to disapprove the city's plan, indicated that he judged the plan unsafe. When fellow board member Kevin Posey asked for his rationale, Ruggiero failed to give one.

William Schuyler, who seconded the motion, added an amendment asking the "two sides" to meet and find a resolution within the next 60 days, which the board had already recommended when they voted 6-0 against the proposal the first time in November.

Complete-streets proponent Kevin Posey, who represents Alexandria's Transportation Commission on the TPB, and TPB member Greg Cota cast the two dissenting votes. The Transportation Commission submitted a letter to the TPB in favor of the plan.

Cota seemed incredulous that the rest of the TPB could not see the value in separating bicycles from pedestrians and cars. Posey said he was not comfortable with any motion that dismissed the expertise of city staff and the opinions of cyclists concerning their own safety.

Despite the TPB request for both more "common ground" and more delays, the reality is that there is no solution that both retains parking and allows even a single, parallel bike lane within the right-of-way. As Baier repeatedly pointed out, the road is simply too narrow.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the project March 15 at 9:30 am at Alexandria City Hall, 301 King Street. If you'd like to express your support for this project, the Coalition for Smarter Growth is circulating a petition.

Events


Events roundup: Events to keep you warm

The polar vortex is back, and so are your chances to talk about DC's proposed zoning update, buses in the District and Montgomery County, housing in Arlington, and more at events around the region.


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

It's time for the Circulator: The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is hosting its Semi-Annual Circulator Forum this Tuesday, February 25.

The discussion will likely cover the planned National Mall route, a potential fare hike, and a 2014 update to the Circulator's longer-range plan. The forum is 6-8 pm at Eastern Market's North Hall, 225 7th Street SE. If you can't make it, you can send comments to Circe Torruellas at circe.torruellas@dc.gov or call 202-671-2847.

After the jump: speak up on King Street bike lanes and DC's zoning update, learn about bus rapid transit in Silver Spring, glean wisdom from Arlington housing officials, and take a walk to see the negative implications of a proposed highway in Montgomery County. Plus, don't forget about our happy hour in Alexandria this Thursday!

Big meeting for King Street: Alexandria's Traffic and Parking Board, which decided to defer bike lanes on King Street, will discuss the issue once again tonight at the council chambers in Alexandria City Hall. WABA says it's an important meeting and there will be a lot of "vocal and motivated" opponents. The meeting starts at 7:30 and you have to sign up by 7:45.

Final zoning update hearing: A snow day forced the DC Office of Zoning to reschedule its planned hearing on the zoning update for residents of wards 1 and 2. The meeting, which is the last of the series, will finally take place starting at 6 pm this Wednesday, February 26 at the DC Housing Finance Authority, 815 Florida Avenue NW. If you are a ward 1 or 2 resident who wishes to testify but has not signed up, please click here.

Rapid Transit open house: Montgomery County planners are working on a bus rapid transit (BRT) network to improve accessibility and mobility throughout the county. Join Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth on Wednesday, February 26 from 6:30-8:30 pm for a brief presentation on how the system is an opportunity to move people and connect communities, even as population and congestion rise. A collaborative discussion and questions are welcomed.

The event (and refreshments!) are free but RSVP is recommended. The meeting will be held at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place.

Join us for happy hour this Thursday: Greater Greater's monthly happy hour series heads to Old Town Alexandria this Thursday, February 27, with cosponsors CNU DC. Come share drinks, snacks, and conversation with us at the Light Horse, located at 715 King Street between Columbus and Washington streets, from 6 to 8 pm. The Light Horse is a 15-minute walk from the King Street Metro station, but there are also a number of bus and Bikeshare connections as well.

Hear neighborly advice from Alexandria: If you're not at the happy hour, also on Thursday the Montgomery County Planning Department hosts housing officials from Alexandria in part two of its Winter Speaker Series. Mildrilyn Davis and Helen McIlvaine will talk about about how Alexandria has redeveloped blocks of public housing into mixed-income communities and built affordable housing alongside new public buildings.

The APA National Capital Area Chapter is co-hosting this event, which is free to the public. It starts at 6 pm in the Montgomery County Planning Department Auditorium, 8787 Georgia Avenue.

Learn about law and planning: That's not the only forum APA-NCAC is cosponsoring on Thursday. The National Capital Planning Commission is hosting a panel discussion with area planners about how the laws of our region's many jurisdictions and levels of government shape our planning. That's 6-7:30 pm at NCPC, 401 9th Street, NW Suite 500.

Walk and talk about Midcounty Highway's future: Over the summer, the Montgomery County Planning Board received 237 comments from the public about Midcounty Highway or M-83, a proposed highway between Montgomery Village and Clarksburg, 228 of which were in opposition. This Saturday, March 1, you can join the TAME Coalition (Coalition for Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended) in Montgomery Village for walking tours, to see exactly what the proposed highway would damage or destroy.

The tours start at South Valley Park, 18850 Montgomery Village Avenue, and end at Montgomery Village Avenue. You can choose to tour either the wooded area or the non-woods area that would be affected. Registration begins at 12:30 pm, and the tours will go from 1:30-3:30 pm. You can park at South Valley Park near the ball field, next to Watkins Mill Elementary School.

Events


Join us for happy hour in Old Town Alexandria with CNU DC

This month, the Greater Greater Washington happy hour comes to Alexandria with cosponsor CNU DC, the local chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism. Join us Thursday, February 27 from 6 to 8 pm at the Light Horse on King Street.


Photo by Thomas Cizauskas on Flickr.

Earlier this week, the Express interviewed Matt Johnson about our awesome commenters, including a plug for our monthly meetup. It's a great chance to join contributors, editors, and readers for "very wonky and very geeky" conversation without "a single raised voice." (Other than yelling over the usual bar noise, of course.)

This month, we'll be at the Light Horse, located at 715 King Street between Columbus and Washington streets in Alexandria. The Light Horse is known for its excellent beer list but also has a respectable dinner menu if you're interested in something more substantial. But the big attraction for Greater Greater readers might be all the ways you can get there.

The bar is a 15-minute walk from the King Street Metro station (Blue and Yellow lines) and a 5-minute ride to the Capital Bikeshare station at King and Patrick streets, two blocks from the bar.

If you're coming from DC or points north, you've got a variety of bus options for getting there as well. From the King Street Metro station, you can take the King Street Trolley, the AT2 or AT5 to King and Columbus. Or there's the Metrobus 9A from Pentagon and the Metrobus 10A/B from Braddock Road, both of which stop at King and Washington. There are also an ample number of parking garages in the area.

Our happy hour moves to a different part of the region each month. In recent months, we've been to downtown DC, Arlington, and Silver Spring. Next month, we'll be back in the District. Let us know in the comments where you'd like us to go!

Pedestrians


What if we ranked schools based on their walkability?

Parents often choose schools for their kids based on test scores. But as more families seek out an urban lifestyle, what if we ranked schools on a kid's ability to walk there as well?


Locations of the region's most walkable high schools. Blue are schools in a "Walker's Paradise," red are "Very Walkable" schools, and green are "Somewhat Walkable." Click for an interactive map.

Studies show that kids who live in walkable neighborhoods get more exercise and are at reduced risk for obesity. Being able to walk to school teaches kids independence and a stronger sense of community as well.

So where are students most likely to be able to walk to and from school? One indicator is a school's Walk Score, a measure of its walkability. To find the region's most walkable schools, I looked at the Walk Score of 95 public high schools (both neighborhood and magnet) in the District, Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland, and the city of Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia. Here's a spreadsheet of all of the schools.

There were 22 schools in the "top 20," which I've mapped above. (Three schools tied for 20th place.) Not surprisingly, nine of them are in the District. But there are also six in Montgomery County, two each in Prince George's and Arlington, and one each in Alexandria and Fairfax. Seven of them are outside the Beltway.

Four schools were in the "Walker's Paradise" category, Walk Score's highest ranking. School Without Walls in downtown DC, came in first with a Walkscore of 97, followed by Columbia Heights Education Campus (94), and Woodrow Wilson High School in Tenleytown (92). Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Montgomery County made fourth place, with a score of 91.

Of course, Walk Score isn't a perfect measure of walkability. It only measures an address's proximity to commercial and institutional destinations, not the homes where students might be walking from. And it doesn't consider the actual pedestrian experience. Seneca Valley High in Germantown, where a student died crossing the highway outside the school last year, placed 13th on the list with a score of 72.


Rockville Town Square is the de facto cafeteria of Richard Montgomery High School (Walk Score 65), located a few blocks away. All images by the author.

Some of these schools also have high academic ratings, like Richard Montgomery and B-CC in Montgomery, McLean in Fairfax, and Banneker in DC, all of which top the regional rankings in the Washington Post's Challenge Index. But there aren't a lot of them, and they're in expensive neighborhoods. Many of the schools on this list are low performers; forced to choose, parents will usually always pick high test scores over a kid's ability to walk to school.

My parents were no different. As a student at Wilson in the 1970s, my mother walked to lunch at Steak 'N Egg Kitchen or to catch the 30 bus to her job at a clothing store in Georgetown. But I went to James Hubert Blake High School near Olney (Walk Score 11, or "car-dependent"), where nearly everyone drove, and gruesome car accidents were a fact of life. I once begged my principal for open lunch, but it wouldn't ever happen: the nearest place to eat was over a mile away on a 40mph road with no sidewalks.

What else do you see in these rankings? And did you walk to school?

Bicycling


Alexandria's King Street will get bike lanes after all

Alexandria's transportation director gave the order Friday to build bike lanes on King Street west of Old Town. The decision ends a long and contentious debate over whether to remove parking spaces.


Photo from Google Street View.

Rich Baier, director of the city's Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, announced that Alexandria will proceed with a "compromise plan" for King Street after a contentious public process that lasted over two months. In so doing, Baier effectively bypassed the Traffic and Parking Board which, in its advisory role, had voted to defer any decision on bike lanes at its November 25 meeting.

The so-called "compromise plan," which will start next year, retains 10 of the 37 spaces the city originally planned to remove. Traffic counts suggest that, on average, 2.4 cars are parked on King Street at any time. To keep the 10 spaces, the design will include a brief section of shared lanes with sharrows instead of separate bike lanes.

There will be bike lanes on both sides of King Street for five blocks between Russell Road, just west of the King Street Metro station, to Highland Place. There, the bike lanes will merge with the general traffic lanes for two blocks between Highland and Janneys Lane, where the parking spaces will be. That section will have sharrow markings, as well as a bike box to aid left-hand turns, improving access to the bike lanes on Janneys Lane.

"This has been a challenging and complicated project, and I am empathetic to the inconvenience that the loss of parking will create for residents," wrote Baier. "I am also empathetic to the pedestrians and cyclists who use this corridor on a daily basis."

In his announcement, Baier noted that to research the issue, he "walked, drove and rode [his] own bike up and down King Street." He cited several reasons for moving forward with the bike lanes, including the city council's goals, the city's Transportation Master Plan, the Eco-City Alexandria charter, and the city's Complete Streets Policy. Baier noted that King Street doesn't qualify for an exception from Alexandria's Complete Streets Policy, which only applies when there's "excessive cost or that the use of the roadway by bicyclists or pedestrians is prohibited by law."

Baier also described broad support for the plan from Alexandria's transportation, environmental policy, and park and recreation commissions, as well as the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC).

"I think the city made the right decision to implement the complete streets policy, which will create a safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians," says BPAC chair Jerry King. Meanwhile, an announcement on the BPAC Facebook page adds that this result "is arguably a win for car-parking enthusiasts as well."

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