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Roads


Montgomery DOT ignores promises to the community and sabotages the White Flint plan

When the White Flint Sector Plan was adopted in 2010 after years of collaboration between residents, property owners, county officials, and civic leaders, it was hailed as a triumph of responsible, sustainable development. Now, county engineers are poised to undo years of work by pushing through a road design that does not include any of the elements the plan promised the community.


MCDOT's proposed design for Old Georgetown Road would make it even more unfriendly for pedestrians than it is today. Image from Google Maps.

Transforming White Flint into a vibrant, walkable area requires balancing new development, which brings growth and amenities, with the pressure to move through traffic around the area. It does this with a multi-modal transportation network that diffuses traffic across a new street grid, known as the Western Workaround. That will relieve traffic on Rockville Pike while providing safe and attractive ways to get around on foot, bike or transit.

Because these elements are so important to the plan's success, it prescribes specific details including the number of lanes, speed limits, and the location and character of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. For Old Georgetown Road between Executive Boulevard and Rockville Pike the plan is unequivocal: it should have four lanes (two in each direction), on-street bike lanes in both directions, sidewalks and a broad shared-use path, which forms part of a sector-wide Recreation Loop.


Planned bike lanes and walking/cycling paths in White Flint. Map from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

The County Planning Board and County Council both passed this plan, with all its specifics, and the community overwhelmingly supported it. Despite all this, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) designed a road that has no bike lanes, no shared-use path, and widens the road to one that is effectively eight lanes wide, and has nearly advanced that version of the project to the 70% design stage.

This will create an Old Georgetown Road that is even less safe for bikers and pedestrians than it is today. It also leaves a gaping hole in the Recreation Loop, one of the area's signature planned amenities.

MCDOT splits hairs to excuse a dangerous design

In trying to defend their plan, MCDOT officials argue that their design technically contains only two travel lanes in each direction. The additional lanes, which extend nearly the entire length of the roadway, are "merely turning lanes."

This obfuscation may hold water for traffic engineers, but for anyone unlucky enough to bike or walk along the road, that distinction provides little comfort. Under the MCDOT proposal, a pedestrian must traverse eight lanes of traffic to get across Old Georgetown Road. For cyclists, the lack of dedicated lanes means they must take their chances staying safe among four lanes of traffic.


Comparison of the two cross-sections. Rendering from of Friends of White Flint. Click for larger version showing more of the road.

In reality, the effect of this design will be even more pernicious. By prioritizing driving over everything else, MCDOT will fulfill its own skewed vision for mobility in the county: fewer people will walk, bike or take transit, even though they want to but won't feel safe. They'll, instead, choose to drive for every single trip, adding to congestion and undermining the entire premise of the White Flint Sector Plan redevelopment.

Even more galling, MCDOT has proposed redesigning Old Georgetown Road twice: once now to maximize auto traffic, and again, sometime in the future, to incorporate the elements in the sector plan only if conditions warrant and funding is available.

Drivers struck 454 pedestrians in the county last year. 13 were killed. Just this summer, a pedestrian was killed crossing the Pike down by North Bethesda Market. I frequently receive emails from residents concerned for their safety on and along Old Georgetown Road. These are the stark consequences of MCDOT's "windshield mentality."

With this action, the county government breaks the community's trust

Safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and a Recreation Loop were key elements that helped the plan gain public support. Since the plan passed, White Flint residents have consistently voiced their support for safer bike/pedestrian accommodations.

The Western Workaround is the first of many planned transportation and infrastructure improvements in the White Flint area. If MCDOT is willing to push through a design for this project that so plainly violates the sector plan, how can the public trust the agency will implement any other pieces of the plan faithfully?

The residents and stakeholders of White Flint deserve better. Please join the Friends of White Flint and Coalition for Smarter Growth in calling on County Executive Ike Leggett to uphold the promises made to the community and hold MCDOT accountable.

Transit


America can learn from this French city's complete streets

Strasbourg, France is a beautiful city that takes its complete streets to heart. The roads through the old city gracefully mix street trams/light rail with bicycle paths and friendly traffic calmed streets. Pedestrians move easily. Its central intercity train station is a glamorous historic building sheathed in a chic, modern glass shell.


Strasbourg's train station. Photo by barnyz on Flickr.

My family moved to Strasbourg when I was 12. In French school, I comprehended little, and regularly escaped the gates of Le Lycée International des Pontonniers to explore the city by foot and public transportation. It was liberating to take my lunch money and spend it in boulangeries around town or even into Germany across the Rhine River. My parents thought I was in school and I may not have been in the country!

Given the quality of its infrastructure, it would be easy to think the French city is quite large. In fact, Strasbourg is a metro area with a population the size of Albany, Little Rock, Colorado Springs and would rank 73rd in US metro size behind Columbia, SC.


Complete Streets in Strasbourg. Photo by Spiterman on Flickr.

6 tram lines ply this small city

The Strasbourg metropolitan area of 760,000 people contains six tram lines, 56km (36 miles) of track, 72 stations, and daily ridership of 300,000 as of 2010. No US city near this size has this kind of rail system.

During the day, trams run every 6 minutes Monday to Friday, 7 minutes on Saturday and 12 minutes on Sundays. Yearly passes are 456 euros ($620 dollars) with discounts for those over 65 and under 25. A single fare is 1.60 euro ($2.18).


Trams glide from suburbs into the dense city with a dedicated right of way. Photo by michallon on Flickr.

Strasbourg's trams function as a hybrid of what in the US we would call streetcars and light rail. The rail vehicles are similar to streetcars because they are mostly in the roadbed and integrate into the city's fabric, but unlike streetcars, they operate with their own right of way separate from traffic, as light rail does.

Bicycle infrastructure abounds

To complement the tram system, Strasbourg has almost 500km (311 miles) of cycling paths, 18,000 bike racks that serve over 130,000 cyclists. Secure bike parking lots and tire inflation facilities are available at bus and tram stops for transit card holders.


Across the city, bicycles get their own space in the street network. Photo by NACTO on Flickr.

Baltimore County, a national leader in Complete Streets, still lags far behind Strasbourg

Many US cities have adopted complete street ordinances and individual streets have been retrofitted. Locally, Baltimore County has been recognized as a national leader for Complete Streets, ranking 6th among 83 communities in the US with Complete Streets programs.

Despite this recognition, the county's on-road bike network is minimal; members of the Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee have been frustrated by the lack of commitment to projects; the county has missed the mark on its pedestrian safety campaign; and now its county executive struggles to find a $50 million contribution for the $2.4 billion Red Line his administration says it supports.


The future home of the Towson Bike Beltway in Baltimore County. Image from Google Street View.

In Baltimore City, Council Bill 09-0433 was adopted in 2010 directing the Departments of Transportation and Planning to apply "Complete Streets" principles to the planning, design, and construction of all new city transportation improvement projects.

Despite the accolades and the policies, "complete streets" in Baltimore County and Baltimore City still feel foreign. Too many incidences of tragic pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle crashes get blamed on user error than engineering design.

Only a few of the most progressive US cities are scaling up Complete Streets projects. On the ground implementation in many jurisdictions remains the elusive prize. Complete Street advocates look forward to seeing first rate projects in the city and the suburbs get designed, funded, and become reality.

You can see a gallery of pictures of Strasbourg's complete streets infrastructure at Comeback City.

Pedestrians


843 people died walking in the DC region in the last 10 years

Over half of recent pedestrian deaths in our region happened on wide, high-speed arterial roads. When will traffic engineers, elected officials, and residents get serious about fixing dangerous street designs?


Pedestrians navigate Virginia's Route 1 without sidewalks. Photo by Cheryl Cort.

A new report out today from the National Complete Streets Coalition chronicles pedestrian fatalities and injuries and ranks every state, metro region and county based upon the degree of danger pedestrians face.

Our region fares relatively well, ranking 35 out of the 51 largest metro areas (with 1 being the most dangerous). At the same time, the report found that 843 pedestrians were killed in the region from 2003 to 2012an unacceptable number no matter the DC region's current ranking. The danger for minorities, young people, and older adults, as well as those walking along suburban arterial roads, is particularly high.

In state rankings, Maryland placed 15th and Virginia 22nd, and DC 49th on the Pedestrian Danger Index. That combines fatality rates and the share of local commuters who walk to work. 269 of Maryland's fatalities occurred in Prince George's County, accounting for over 30% of the region's deaths.

The report includes an online, interactive map showing the locations where drivers have fatally struck people walking. It includes several tragic examples documented on this blog, such as the elementary school principal in Loudoun County who was killed trying to cross a four-lane, 35 mph road.

The report also highlights the inequality of traffic violence, with older adults, children and minorities dying in disproportionate numbers. In each jurisdiction, Hispanics suffered an average pedestrian death rate higher than non-Hispanic whites; the rate is 135% higher in DC. African-Americans have fared similarly in recent years, dying 126% more often in DC.

While they comprise about 10% of the overall population, older adults accounted for 15-22% of pedestrian fatalities. Tragically, children under the age of 15 are also frequently at risk: from 2003 to 2010, 47 children in Virginia, 71 children in Maryland, and 11 children in DC were killed while walking.


Comparison of national pedestrian danger for various demographic groups. Image from the report.

"We are allowing an epidemic of pedestrian fatalities, brought on by streets designed for speed and not safety, to take nearly 5,000 lives a year nationwidea number that increased six percent between 2011 and 2012," said Roger Millar, Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. "Not only is that number simply too high, but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design, and practice. State and local transportation leaders need to prioritize the implementation of Complete Streets policies to improve safety and comfort for people walking."

Across the Washington, DC region, jurisdictions have been working in recent years to make their streets safer and more welcoming for pedestrians. Most jurisdictions in this region have adopted Complete Streets policies to make walking safe for all users, though physically redesigning dangerous streets has been slow.

In the Washington region, a few examples of complete streets include wider sidewalks and "bulbouts" on Georgia Avenue in Petworth to ease crossings, and a redesign of Lawyers Road in Reston that took a four lane road to two lanes plus bike lanes and a middle turn lane. VDOT officials say they've seen a 77% reduction in crashes since the redesign.


Bill Deatherage, of the Kentucky Council of the Blind, walking along Louisville, KY's Brownsboro Road before and after sidewalk construction. Photo by Anne M. McMahon, courtesy of Smart Growth America.

According to the report, arterial roads present the greatest danger to pedestrians: in Maryland, Virginia, and DC, a majority of pedestrian deaths occurred on high-speed arterials. Rockville Pike or Route 1 are examples of arterial roads that have both local businesses and destinations that attract pedestrians, while also trying to move regional traffic through at high speeds.

Several jurisdictions are trying to reinvent places like Tysons Corner, White Flint, or Route 1 as walkable, mixed-use destinations, but it will be imperative to redesign the arterials that divide those communities if they are to succeed.

Unfortunately, many obstacles to safer streets remain. Especially in the suburbs, old plans with inertia continue to move places in the wrong direction, including adding lanes to Route 7 in the core of Tysons. In DC, pedestrian advocates are still simply seeking transparent pedestrian crash data from DDOT to be able to better identify the most dangerous intersections.

Everyone deserves the ability to walk safely to home, work, school, or get groceries. As more people make the sustainable, healthy choice to walk, the dangers of our auto-oriented infrastructure are becoming more apparent. This report should be a wakeup call to traffic engineers, elected officials, and all of us. New York City has set a goal for zero traffic deaths in 10 years. Are we ready for the challenge?

Events


Events roundup: What do you want to tell the Park Service?

Do you have feedback for the National Park Service? For Arlington about transit or cycletracks? For Alexandria about a street in Del Rey Ray? Weigh in this week, plus a history lesson about the waterfront and walking tours all over the region.


Photo by Park Ranger on Flickr.

Town hall with NPS: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is convening a town hall meeting with leaders of the National Park Service in our region to talk about how they are managing many of DC's parks, large and small.

David Alpert will participate on the panel, along with NPS National Capital Region Director Steve Whitesell, Richard Bradley from the Downtown BID, and Greg Odell of Events DC. The discussion is Wednesday, May 21, 6:30-8:30 in Room 412 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

What topics should David bring up? Post your qualms, frustrations, plaudits, and questions in the comments.

Arlington Transit forum: Give Arlington's government your input on transit service at a public meeting from 7-9 pm tonight, Monday, May 19 at the Arlington Mill Community Center, 909 South Dinwiddie Street. If you can't make it, you can take an online survey to give your feedback.

Monroe Avenue, a complete street: Alexandria wants to redesign Monroe Avenue in Del Ray to calm traffic and better accommodate bicyclists. Officials will present options and hear from residents on Tuesday, May 20 (tomorrow), 6-8 pm at Commonwealth Academy on Leslie Avenue.

South Eads Street cycletrack: What should bike lanes, cycletracks, or other infrastructure look like on South Eads Street in Arlington? The county will be building a pilot cycletrack on a part of South Eads, and wants your feedback on the long-term plans for the road. Speak up on Wednesday, May 21 from 7-8:30 at the Aurora Hills Community Center, 735 18th Street South, or take the online survey.

History of the DC waterfront: Ever wonder about the early days of the DC Waterfront? The DC Library is hosting a book talk with author John R. Wennersten on his new book, The Historic Waterfront of Washington, DC. He will discuss the history of the area and the current issues facing the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. The talk is Wednesday, May 21 at 6:30 pm in the Black Studies Center at the MLK Memorial Library (901 G Street NW).

Search for the W&OD in Alexandria: Join the VeloCity Bike Co-op for a community bike ride in search of the remnants of the Washington and Old Dominion railroad in Alexandria. Hear about some area history and envision future uses for the space. The ride will begin at the VeloCity Co-op (2111 Mount Vernon Ave in Alexandria) at 10 am on Saturday, May 24.

MoCo candidates on transportation: Maryland is having a primary election on June 24, and in many races the primary will be the deciding contest. A group of smart growth, transit, bicycling, and other organizations are sponsoring a forum for candidates for Montgomery County Council.

WAMU's Martin Di Caro will moderate the forum, and you can submit questions online ahead of time. The candidates will face off on Thursday, May 29 from 7-9 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place in downtown Silver Spring.

CSG walking tours: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is leading two more Saturday walking tours in the coming weeks. Come hear about the past and future of Pentagon City, on May 31, and H Street NE, on June 7, while enjoying some spring sunshine.

  • Saturday, May 31: come hear about how recent development projects are transforming Pentagon City into a community that is more than a mall.
  • Saturday, June 7: explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the latest addition to the community: the DC Streetcar.
All of the CSG walking tours run from 10-noon. These events fill up quickly, so RSVP to secure a spot!

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Contact events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page on the web which has more information.

Events


Events roundup: Urbanism, past and future

Learn about the history of urbanism nationwide, then give input on downtown Bethesda, the DC Circulator, Courthouse Square and more. See how the past influences the future in Shaw and East Falls Church. All this and more at events this week and beyond.


Photo by ehpien on Flickr.

Two happy hours this month! Instead of having one Greater Greater Washington happy hour this month, we're cosponsoring happy hours around two interesting and informative events.

Tomorrow, come hear Greater Greater Washington contributor Ben Ross talk about his new book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, with a happy hour afterward.

And next Wednesday, join us, CNUDC, YIPPS, and guests from the Montgomery County Planning Department to learn about the Bethesda Downtown Plan while enjoying a drink.

Ben Ross' talk starts at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, April 22 at APTA headquarters, 1666 K Street NW. After the talk, head over to The Meeting Place (1707 L Street NW) for the happy hour at 6:30.

The following week's Bethesda planning-and-drinking gathering is from 6-8 pm on Wednesday, April 30 at Tommy Joe's, 4717 Montgomery Lane, in Bethesda.

Discuss pedestrian safety: Join the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee for a lecture and discussion on pedestrian safety. Hillary Poole, Alexandria's Complete Streets Coordinator, will talk about design concepts that make streets safe for walkers, bikers, and drivers. The discussion is 6:15-7:30 tonight, Monday, April 21, at the Nannie J. Lee Rec Center, 1108 Jefferson Street in Alexandria.

Tour Shaw and East Falls Church: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's walking tours resume with two great ones this month. On Saturday, April 26 from 10 am-noon, see how new development is bringing a renaissance to the historic Shaw neighborhood in DC. And on Saturday, look at ways the area around East Falls Church Metro could become more walkable and bikeable. Space is limited so RSVP today!

Envision Courthouse Square: Arlington County is considering plans for transforming Courthouse Square into a town square. The second community workshop is Wednesday, April 23 from 7-9 pm at the Key Elementary School, 2300 Key Boulevard in Arlington. Help develop an action plan for the area to help make it a vibrant public destination.

Circulator pop-up meetings: DDOT is looking for feedback from current and future riders of the DC Circulator to shape the system's Transit Development Plan update. They are holding a series of six pop-up meetings to discuss the current system as well as future routes. Here is the complete schedule:

  • NoMa: Tuesday, April 22, 3:30-6:30 pm at NoMa/Gallaudet Metro (M St. NE entrance)
  • Southwest: Thursday, April 24, 3:30-6:30 pm at Waterfront Metro
  • Capitol Hill: Saturday, April 26, 12-3 pm at Eastern Market Metro
  • 14th and U: Tuesday, April 29, 3:30-6:30 pm at Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center (2000 14th St NW)
  • Anacostia: Thursday, May 1, 3:30-6:30 pm at Anacostia Metro
  • Georgetown: Saturday, May 3, 12-3 pm at M St NW & Wisconsin Ave NW
Open houses for Montgomery zoning update: The Montgomery County Planning Department's zoning update open houses begin this Tuesday, April 22. Interested in asking questions or providing feedback? Planning staff attend to discuss the updates. The full open house schedule is below:

  • Rockville: Tuesday, April 22, 6-8 pm at Rockville Memorial Library
  • Wheaton: Thursday, April 24, 6-8 pm at Wheaton Regional Library
  • Silver Spring: Tuesday, April 29, 6-8 pm at Park and Planning Headquarters, Silver Spring
  • Burtonsville: Thursday, May 1, 6-8 pm at the Marilyn J. Praisner Library, Burtonsville
  • Germantown: Monday, May 5, 6-8 pm at Upcounty Regional Services Center, Germantown
  • Bethesda: Tuesday, May 6, 6-8 pm at Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, Bethesda

Pedestrians


Arlington's new vision for Rosslyn doesn't address the "intersection of doom"

Arlington County wants to create more transportation options in Rosslyn and make it safer and more pleasant to walk or bike there. But the plan the county's working on may undermine that vision by ignoring existing bicycle and pedestrian safety issues.


Image from Arlington County.

Realize Rosslyn is a major planning effort; for over a year, Arlington County has been holding meetings, studying travel patterns, examining viewsheds and gathering feedback from all sorts of people who live, work or play in and around Rosslyn.

County planners are currently gathering feedback on a draft policy framework, a sort of vision statement for the plan. Overall it is great policy, calling for things like wider sidewalks, cycle tracks, a better-connected street grid, and connecting Rosslyn to the Potomac. What is missing, however, is any policy for addressing what Arlington cyclists call the "intersection of doom," Lee Highway and North Lynn Street.

This intersection is the most frequent site of bicycle and pedestrian collisions, according to Arlington County Police statistics. In August of 2011, a series of three cyclist injuries occurred within a single week.


The "intersection of doom" forces drivers turning right to cross paths with cyclists going straight. Image from Arlington County and edited by the author.

Pedestrians and cyclists going from the Mount Vernon Trail to the Custis Trail, or waiting to cross Key Bridge have to go through this intersection. Passing through the same space are two lanes of traffic trying to turn right to from I-66 to the Key Bridge.

Both groups have a green light at largely the same time. Cyclists and pedestrians get a "leading interval" where the walk sign has turned, but the light is not yet green for cars. Without a "no turn on red" sign for the cars, however, drivers can still turn right into the crosswalk while people are still in it.

This intersection presents many challenges. Arlington County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the National Park Service and private individuals all own land right around this intersection. Any construction work in the area has the potential to significantly snarl bicycle, pedestrian and auto traffic.

Meanwhile, simple fixes like a "no turn on red" prohibition for the I-66 cars only address part of the problem and would likely back traffic up onto the highway. And there are viewsheds that people would like to protect, sensitive habitats, mature trees, and significant hills to contend with. That said, the status quo is clearly unsafe and a solution needs to be found.

Arlington is working on several projects that could address this problem. The North Lynn Street Esplanade and Lee Highway/Custis Trail Safety Improvements Project would improve sight lines, shorten crossing distances, and provide some additional space for bicycles and pedestrians at this spot.

But it will not fix the root issue, which is that a large crowd of bikes, pedestrians and cars all have a green light at the same time. In addition, it is LONG delayed. The last time there was a public meeting, construction was slated to begin in 2013. The current schedule has it beginning in 2015.

The county's Rosslyn Circle Study examined ways to relocate the trail so as to avoid these intersections. The Rosslyn Esplanade Study examined the potential for tunneling under Lynn Street.

In 2011, GGW contributor Steve Offutt proposed relocating the I-66 off ramp as one solution. Many folks think the proposal for an air rights development rights over I-66 provides a great opportunity to do that.

Whatever fix is decided on, the Realize Rosslyn framework needs to acknowledge that there is a problem. It is great that the plan calls for new trails and cycle tracks, and it is great that the plan calls for new parks and wider sidewalks, but the plan must also recognize that our current trail is unsafe and include a policy to implement a real, long-term solution.

This Tuesday, March 18, the Arlington County Board will vote on a "request to advertise" the policy framework at their 6:45 pm board meeting at the County Board Room, 2100 Clarendon Blvd #300 in Courthouse. Please consider coming out and letting the Board know that this is an unacceptable oversight in the plans for Rosslyn.

If you can't make it to a meeting, you can also send your thoughts to the County Board, the County Manager and the Principal Planner for Realize Rosslyn.

Roads


Valentine's cards for that special person who completes the street in your heart

Valentine's Day is coming up, but what do you do if your love for urban planning is eclipsed only by the love for your spouse or significant other? Reader Nick showed us how to combine the two with these cards from from the appropriately-named Planning Love blog.


All images from Planning Love.

Mixed use is better for our neighborhoods, but it's important to communicate that there is only one person for you.

Still, true love has no speed limit (unlike our city streets, which definitely do have speed limits and you should obey them).

And I know Valentine's Day can be tough for single people. Take heart and know there is someone out there for you though. Start by asking people if they'd like to know how DC's streets are organized and if they say yes, immediately ask them out.

Then, just imagine how you'll feel when you offer to pay for a cab after your first date, and he or she will look at you and say, "why don't we just take CaBi instead?" That's when you know you've found the one.

Roads


Putting pedestrians and cyclists first upsets the social order of the roads

Complete streets, or the idea that roads should be safe and effective for all users, aim to upend the social order, moving cars from first to last. Despite endless discussion of "safety" and "the law," many people seem to be upset by social, rather than legal violations of the rules.


Photo by EURIST e.V. on Flickr.

While the majority remains polite, a vocal minority is extremely attached to the status quo. In the current social order, roads are for cars, slow drivers are "bad drivers," and cyclists and pedestrians are expected to get out of the way.

The social order of the road is governed not by laws, but by socially-enforced rules. For example, one might voluntarily drive below the speed limit on the Beltway. That would be perfectly legal, but would also garner honking, headlight-flashing, and rude gestures. As everyone knows, appropriate driving speeds begin at the speed limit and extend upwards, not downwards. The power of these rules is such that police rarely issue a ticket, photographic or otherwise, for driving less than 10 mph over the speed limit.

Violating social norms

All this came to mind the other day, when I was bicycling in violation of the social order. I was riding in the center of a narrow lane and a driver started honking at me. Shortly thereafter, he pulled alongside and helpfully explained that cyclists are not allowed in the street unless they can "ride at the speed limit."

This struck me as quite the head-scratcher. After all, isn't the speed limit an upper limit? Those of us with Internet access have certainly read that cyclists should not be allowed on the road unless they "obey the law." Riding at a typical bicycle speed surely complies with the law. Nevertheless I've been told, even by friends, that cyclists must ride at the speed limit.

As it turns out, the speed limit is the single point of intersection between socially acceptable driving speeds and socially acceptable bicycling speeds. Cyclists who do not ride this tightrope, and that would be all of them, are in violation of at least one of these social conventions.

Despite endless discussion of "safety" and "the law" it is increasingly clear to me that many people are upset by social, rather than legal, violations of the rules. While the majority of drivers remain polite, a vocal minority is extremely attached to the status quo.

As old gives way to new, old ideas fall by the wayside. One of these is that automobile traffic is an unstoppable force. As a pedestrian, it is up to me to get out of the way or suffer the consequences. As a cyclist, there is no point in asking for bike lanes because they would simply put me in harm's way.

The complete streets concept recognizes that traffic is ruled by individual drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, each of whom is able to slow down and even stop to avoid a crash. Complete streets are updated streets, often with narrower traffic lanes that have been demonstrated to slow motorized traffic. Pedestrians come first, followed by transit, cyclists, and cars.

Barbara McCann, author of Completing our Streets, describes supporters of complete streets as "a broad coalition of bicycle riders, transportation practitioners, public health leaders, older Americans, smart growth advocates, [and] real estate agents" who "came together to insist that we begin to build streets that are safe for everyone."

Because the automobile can't deliver the promises of speed and freedom to 100% of the population, people continue to take up walking and bicycling, often in the direction of the nearest Metro station. When these non-drivers get in the way of the cars, and they do so often in urban settings, they upset the social order. Transit planners participate in these changes as well by calling for dedicated bus lanes and new buses that give their drivers the power to change traffic signals. I myself joined AARP specifically because they are a champion of complete streets.

McCann cites a 2012 nationwide poll that found that "63% of Americans would like to address traffic congestion by improving public transportation and designing communities for easier walking and bicycling." While frustrating for some, a majority of citizens support these changes. The new social order, it seems, is here to stay.

A version of this post appeared in the Alexandria Times.

Pedestrians


This bill could make Montgomery's streets better for walking

Montgomery County's urban areas are growing, but their wide, fast streets, designed to prioritize drivers over everyone else, are holding them back. A new bill going before the County Council could level the playing field for pedestrians and cyclists.


Pedestrian-unfriendly Colesville Road. Photo by the author.

Last month, Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer introduced several amendments to the county's Road Code, notably to reduce the "target speed," which is usually the speed limit, of new or rebuilt streets. All streets in urban areas would be designed for speeds of 25 mph, or between 30 and 40 mph on suburban arterials. On smaller residential streets, the target speed would be 20 mph.

To achieve those lower speeds, in urban areas like Silver Spring, the bill would allow lanes no wider than 10 feet, tighter curb radii at intersections, and curb bumpouts, which reduce the distance pedestrians have to cross a street. It also lets developers work with the county to put bikeshare stations or car charging outlets in their projects.

"The overarching goal of this bill is to…facilitate the implementation of pedestrian friendly, bike friendly, walkable, livable urban areas as envisioned" in county plans for areas like White Flint and Wheaton, write Berliner and Riemer in a memo to the council.

Bill 33-13, as it's officially called, is an update of the county's Road Code, which was approved in 2008 as an attempt to create "complete streets" that accommodate pedestrians and cyclists in addition to drivers. To offer recommendations, County Executive Ike Leggett convened a 24-member task force, including representatives from groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, as well as AAA. Many of the bill's progressive features fell by the wayside due to AAA pressure to allow wider roads and remove street trees, which spokesperson Lon Anderson called a hazard to drivers.

Berliner and Riemer's amendments will help the Road Code fulfill its original purpose. Whether in emerging urban places like Wheaton or older communities like Bethesda and Silver Spring that were built before cars became common, wide, fast streets are unpleasant to walk on at best, and at worst, a danger to pedestrians. This bill will make those streets safer by slowing traffic and forcing drivers to pay attention.

But complete streets are also better for the county's economy. More people want to live in a walkable community, which translates to rising home prices in places like Silver Spring.

Streets that are nicer to walk or bike along mean more foot traffic, which means more customers for local shops and restaurants. And studies show that pedestrians and cyclists spend as much if not more at businesses than drivers do. That's especially good news for the county's Nighttime Economy Initiative, which seeks to encourage nightlife in its urban areas.

As in 2008, this bill could face resistance both now and if it's passed. The county's Department of Transportation has been reluctant to create more pedestrian-friendly streets in White Flint or even in school zones. Despite efforts to promote pedestrian safety, county police still side with drivers even when those on foot aren't breaking the law.

Berliner and Riemer's bill deserves all the support it can get. But for it to be successful, we'll need a change of attitude towards pedestrians and cyclists. Some will call lower speed limits and curb bumpouts an inconvenience to drivers, but they remove barriers to making Montgomery County a better and more prosperous place to live.

The County Council will have a public hearing about Bill 33-13 Thursday, January 23 at 7:30 pm at the Council Office Building, located at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. To sign up or for more information, you can visit the county's website.

History


"Good Roads" and the push for complete streets today

Today's push to improve streets for pedestrians and cyclists mirrors the push a century ago for paved roads. Both ideas stated small but grew to become popular movements by increasing public awareness.


1912 Good Roads map. Photo by Orange County Archives on Flickr.

Over 100 years ago, maps of "Good Roads" led the push for paved roads by letting travelers know which roads were likely to be passable. In Slate magazine, Rebecca Onion recently posted an 1897 map of "Good Roads" in and around Philadelphia. Onion says that maps like these were a necessity in a time where standards on road quality and the funding for infrastructure was haphazard and sometimes non-existent.

Efforts like this are still happening today. While most of our roads and highways are now paved, many communities recognize that our streets need infrastructure upgrades in order to help more people feel safe while traveling on foot or by bike, as well as driving.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the "Good Roads" movement pushed governments to pave more roads to accommodate the newly-invented bicycle. Today, there is a push to create protected spaces for cyclists to use. Many cities are adopting "complete streets" policies that seek to standardize our street infrastructure and emphasize that roads are safe and accessible for all users whether they're on foot, riding a bike, or driving.

Like the "Good Roads" movements, maps are an important tool in advocating for complete streets. Both advocacy groups and local governments publish maps that show where the best routes to bike are. This isn't a new idea, either. Bicycle maps were being published in California as early as 1896.

In every debate over a new bike lane or changes to street parking, opponents sometimes argue that the status quo is fine and question why it should change. "Good Roads" maps show that our infrastructure is always changing, and the desire for better and more accommodating streets is nothing new.

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