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Posts about Complete Streets


Bikes are taking a front seat in Howard County

Maryland's Howard County is taking serious steps to become a more bike-friendly community. With a new bike master plan and a pilot bikeshare system, the future is promising for people who want to get around on two wheels.

At this Open Streets event, a Howard County road got a temporary redesign that made it cater to people on bike and foot. All photos by the author.

Howard County, which lies between Montgomery County and Baltimore County, recently published its first-ever bicycle master plan. It outlines ways to make more than 500 miles of road and pathways more bike-friendly, and suggests 200 projects for making it easier for people of all ages and abilities to get around by bike in the county.

The county council unanimously passed the plan, along with a complete streets policy (PDF), after receiving broad support from bike advocacy groups, recreation groups, businesses, health organizations and others.

Howard County's proposed bike network. Image from Howard County.

One key project in the bike master plan will launch by summer 2017: A new bikeshare system with seven stations and 70 bicycles in Columbia, one of our country's iconic planned communities. Locations will include Howard County General Hospital, Howard Community College and the Mall, each of which sees heavy traffic and are in biking distance of each other in one of the denser parts of the county.

"If we make it easier and safer for people to get around by biking or walking," County Executive Allan Kittleman recently said. "More people will choose to do so. This brings health and economic benefits to the entire community."

On one hand, parts of Howard County are classic suburbia: wide streets, retail strip centers, and low-rise office buildings. Like residents of most suburbs, people in Howard County have grown accustomed to driving, and it remains the default choice for most people most of the time. For instance, many of our community's neighborhood schools struggle with car traffic, at dropoff and pickup, because parents choose to drive their kids.

The county does have some urban redevelopment projects taking place—in particular, in downtown Columbia and along the corridors of Route 1 between Laurel and Elkridge and Route 40 in Ellicott City—but most would call those exceptions rather than the rule.

There is, however, already a lot of bike infrastructure in Columbia. The central part of the county has a huge system of off-road foot and bike paths from the start—today, it has over 100 miles of paths (Arlington County, by comparison, has 36).

More than 1,000 people experienced the temporary redesign of Little Patuxent Parkway at last year's Open Streets event.

Encouraging bike riding means using space differently

Several community groups, businesses, residents supported the bike master plan and complete streets policy. The challenge, really, isn't public resistance or a lack of political will. It is something more fundamental: the physical and cultural structure of a suburban place.

But as the bicycle master plan and the efforts required to make it happen make clear, retrofitting a landscape to accommodate an active lifestyle is certainly possible. Wide roads mean there are often opportunities to narrow travel lane width to allow for more bike lanes, and well-placed crosswalks and spot improvements can create long-missing connections.

With time and investments, the bicycle network the new master plan envisions is certainly achievable. At my organization, the Horizon Foundation, we've begun working to encourage more people to choose active transportation for shorter trips. Last summer, Horizon hosted an Open Streets event, temporarily re-designing a road with expanded facilities for walking and biking. More than 1,000 people took the opportunity to experience how, with the right roadway design, short trips through the neighborhood can be safe, enjoyable, and convenient.

But there's more to be done, and it starts with the idea that an active lifestyle is not solely available to city dwellers. While much of the focus on active lifestyles nationally centers around commuting, we are working to show that even in places where traveling to work is largely done by car, people can incorporate active transportation into other parts of their lives.

Riding a bike should be just as easy as driving a car, whether to get kids to school or soccer practice or to meet friends at a restaurant.

After all, suburbs weren't actually built for cars. They were built for people. How we get around them is our choice. And more and more, people are asking for healthier choices. The question remains: If we change our community to make these options available, will we change too?


Rockville misses the forest for the trees with its plan for an 18-lane mega main street

Rockville Pike could one day become a 252-foot-wide mega boulevard with 12 car lanes, 4 bike lanes, 2 bus lanes, and over 50 feet of landscaping. But in designing a street with more than ample room for cars, bikes, and buses, planners abandon any hope the street will be walkable.

The plan for Rockville Pike. Image from Rockville.

Everybody gets a lane!

Rockville Pike is one the most important retail strip highways in the Washington region. Like most 20th Century retail roads, it's designed for cars, and it carries a lot of them.

Rockville wants to make it a more urban main street, so planners there are drawing up a redevelopment plan. It's a laudable goal, and it's not easy on a high-traffic state highway like Rockville Pike.

At first glance, this plan has all the components of a good complete street design: Tree-lined sidwalks, protected bikeways, a center-running dedicated busway. Every mode gets all the street width it could possibly want.

And why not? Why go through the political headache of forcing the community to make the difficult choice between fewer car lanes versus bikes or BRT if you can fit everything in? With a mega boulevard like this, everybody gets what they want, and nobody loses. Right?


Walkability loses, and it's the most important factor

At 252 feet wide, the new Rockville Pike will be practically impossible for pedestrians to cross. It will take multiple traffic light cycles and multiple minutes for anyone to cross.

Instead of a main street, Rockville will have a barrier. And that is a big problem for the rest of the plan.

Transit oriented development doesn't work unless it's walkable. If Rockville Pike is too wide, development on one side of the street will be effectively cut-off from development on the other side. Riders won't be able to easily access the BRT stations. People will drive for even short trips. The concept of a community where people don't need to drive everywhere will break down.

If you can't walk, other multimodal options don't work. Pedestrians are the linchpin to the whole thing.

To be sure, some level of compromise is always needed. If walkability were the only factor that mattered, all streets would be pedestrian-only. We add in car lanes, bike lanes, and transit because we have to make longer trips possible, and that's a good thing.

But there's a balance, and 252 feet veers so far to accommodate long distance travel that it seriously sacrifices short distance walking. In so doing, Rockville undermines the very foundation on which its redevelopment plans rest.

The Rockville Pike plan is wider than Paris' famously wide Champs-…lysťes. Photo by on Flickr.

Make pedestrians a priority

The Pike needs to be narrower. Assuming the sidewalks, busway, and three general car lanes each direction are sacrosanct, that still leaves a lot of potential fat to trim.

Are the service roads really necessary if the plan also includes new parallel local streets? Do we really need redundant bi-direction bikeways next to both sidewalks? Could we possibly reduce the 74 feet of various landscaping, buffer, and turn lanes?

These would be difficult trade-offs, to be sure. But there are massive negative consequences to an uncrossable mega boulevard.

If Rockville wants the new Pike to work as multimodal urban place, pedestrians need to become a priority.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Kids can be traffic engineers, too. Check out the video.

Last week at the National Building Museum, hundreds of local kids learned how to design streets. In the video below, check out what Fairfax-based civil engineer and STEM skills advocate Fionnuala Quinn taught them, and see if you can spot how they're working on challenges that are unique to DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

It's fascinating to see young heads nod with understanding at this year's Discover Engineering Family Day as Quinn explains how a complete street serves all users: people on foot and on bikes, drivers, transit riders, and people in wheelchairs.

An intersection of two streets with four car lanes in each direction forms the center of Quinn's display, to which she gradually adds components including traffic signals (for cars and pedestrians), crosswalks, sidewalks, bus stops, and bicycle facilities (including a bike counter and Capital Bikeshare station).

Quinn then alters her street by adding grass medians to show how land can be re-purposed, pointing out how the arrangement cuts the number of travel lanes and the possibility of head-on crashes while giving rainwater a place to soak in. She also closes off a street, transforming it into a space for food trucks and community events.

Engineering educator Fionnuala Quinn helps kids make street design choices at the National Building Museum's Discover Engineering Family Day on Feb. 28, 2016. Photo by the author.

Quinn makes everything in her mini-streets out of common household materials to show kids how easy it is to create their own designs.

Kids get their hands on The Bureau of Good Roads demonstration station at Discover Engineering Family Day. Photo by the author.

To help ordinary people of all ages who don't have engineering degrees and planning backgrounds engage in civic discussions around streets and multi-modal mobility, Quinn recently started an organization called The Bureau of Good Roads. Among its offerings are hands-on workshops, camps, walking and bicycling field tours, as well as design guidance and advice.


This summer, Alexandria's King Street could become a complete street... or not

When it repaves a stretch of King Street this summer, the City of Alexandria wants make it safer for all users. But of the three design options Alexandria is considering, only one would make for a complete street.

This is the part of King Street that Alexandria will work on. Photo from Google Streetview.

Complete streets, which Alexandria has embraced since 2011, are streets designed in a way to make them safe for people of all ages and abilities, and which balance the needs of everyone using the street, whether they're traveling by car, bicycle, on foot, or via transit. When Alexandria repaves streets, the city's Complete Streets coordinator works to ensure these elements exist.

Where the changes will go

The section Alexandria is repaving this summer is from Janneys Lane to Radford Street, near TC Williams High School. That's immediately west of where in 2014, residents fought a protracted battle over adding bike lanes during another resurfacing process.

Contextual map of the project. Base map from Google Maps, with illustrations by the author.

But this time around, most neighbors living on this four-lane section of King Street seem to want changes. They consider this stretch of King Street a residential street in a residential neighborhood, and many have said in community discussions and on Twitter that they want to see slower traffic speeds, safer pedestrian crossings, and generally a more "residential" character for the street.

One resident pointed out that while it may become the major commercial corridor Rt. 7 in Fairfax, King Street is just two travel lanes in most of Alexandria (Janney's Lane eastbound to the river).

In feedback that city staff collected during preliminary public meetings and outreach last fall, residents reported that this stretch of King Street is difficult to cross, with pedestrian safety concerns near TC Williams, bus stops that are hard to get to, and unsafe conditions for cyclists, among others.

People driving need safety changes, too. Today, cars waiting to turn left along this stretch create delays for through traffic, and are in an exposed position, risking being rear-ended by fast cars in the left lane.

To address all of these concerns, the city is considering other changes, called the "King Street Complete Street Project," in addition to repaving. According to its project page, the goals of the project are to:

  • Improve the safety and convenience for all street users
  • Provide facilities for people who walk, bike, ride transit or drive cars
  • Implement City Council adopted plans and policies.
City staff has released three design options for the project, with offerings ranging from mainly car-oriented to a broadly-multimodal. Alexandria residents have an opportunity to give feedback on the options through this Sunday, February 28.

Design Option 1 only covers the basics

Option 1, while named "Complete Streets Maintenance," is basically the no-change option. According to the project sheet, there would be no major changes to the road's current 4-lane configuration, minimal pedestrian improvements, and no bike or vehicle improvements.

Cross section of Option 1. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

Basically, option 1 would bring the street up to what amount to most people's existing minimum expectations, by improving curb ramps, installing crosswalks along adjacent side streets, and bringing bus stops into ADA compliance.

Design Option 2 only focuses on intersections

Option 2 only focuses on making intersections better. Like option 1, it does nothing to change today's conditions, where people walking on the sidewalk are uncomfortably close to vehicle traffic. There are no improvements for people bicycling.

Pedestrian intersection improvements in Option 2. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

Under option 2, the main change is that planners would swap one of the two westbound through travel lanes for a left turn lane for the length of the project corridor.

This would help slow traffic and make the street safer, though residents have voiced concerns that it won't slow traffic enough. This option also adds pedestrian improvements at intersections, and improves crossings at bus stops.

Cross section of Option 2. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

One issue, though, is that slower speeds in option 2 translate into longer travel times for people traveling west by car or transit: 13 seconds during AM rush hour, and 11 seconds at evening rush hour, to get through the mile-long project corridor.

Despite many residents' calls to slow traffic on this stretch of King Street, other Alexandrians have already indicated in the city's online forum that they may see this slight increase in travel times as unacceptable.

Design Option 3 makes things better for all street users

Option 3 does the best job of addressing resident's concerns about traffic moving too fast and safety for people walking along this residential stretch. It not only swaps one of the two westbound through vehicle lanes for a left turn lane (as in Option 2), it also swaps an eastbound vehicle lane for a buffered bike lane for much of the project's eastern stretch, and incorporates a shared lane west of TC Williams High School.

Cross section of main section of Option 3. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

In addition to the bike infrastructure, this option facilitates safer turning and smoother through traffic for people in cars at TC Williams High School with left turn lanes, and includes planted pedestrian crossing islands.

Like Option 2, Option 3's safety improvements result in slightly slower travel times in the corridor for people in vehicles (7-13 seconds during peak periods through the mile-long project corridor). But that means some Alexandrians are up in arms about it:

Some residents are opposing bike lanes and other improvements in Option 3. Image from AlexandriaVAmom on Twitter.

But Option 3 provides the most separation between vehicles and the sidewalk, and creates a dedicated space for each user of the street. That makes it the best in keeping with Alexandria's Complete Streets policy.

What happens next

Alexandria has extended the public feedback survey on the three options through February 28. Once public comment on the three design options closes, city staff will review the comments and decide on a course of action. Staff has said that as of now, all options are still on the table. Look for more community discussions, before a design eventually goes to a public hearing of Alexandria's Traffic and Parking Board for approval.


Alexandria's elections are Tuesday. Here are some candidates' views on walking, biking, and street safety.

About half of the candidates in Alexandria's upcoming mayoral and City Council elections say they believe Alexandria should do more to be a safe place for people to walk and bike. Here's who they are, and some detail on the policies they'd back if elected.

City Hall in Alexandria. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr.

The Alexandria's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) sent a survey to all the candidates, asking for their views on issues that people who walk and bike often face.

The survey questions covered street use and safety as well as walking and cycling issues. Specifics included quesitons about committing to a Complete Streets policy and expanding Capital Bikeshare.

Current mayor Bill Euille (D) is running for re-election as a write-in candidate after losing the Democratic primary to Allison Silberberg, the vice mayor of the City Council. While Euille's responses make clear that he wants Alexandria to be more walkable and bikeable, Silberberg did not reply to the survey questions.

All six City Council spots are up for election. Respondents from that race include incumbent candidates John Taylor Chapman (D), Tim Lovain (D), and Justin Wilson (D), and Council challengers Monique Miles (R) and Townsend "Van" Van Fleet (D).

On making Alexandria's streets safe for everyone

A few years ago, Alexandria passed a Complete Streets policy, which is meant to ensure the city's streets provide a comfortable experience for all users: people who walk, people who bike, people who drive, and people who use public transportation. But this policy needs continued council and staff support to achieve its

Lovain and Miles gave the most detailed answers when asked how they would push Complete Streets forward. Lovain noted that he is a member of Smart Growth America's Local Leaders Council, which helps promote Complete Streets policies throughout the US, and that he has pushed the Transportation Planning Board for the National Capital Region, which he will chair next year if re-elected, to follow Complete Streets principles.

"I can promise that, if I am re-elected, I will make sure that Alexandria continues and enhances its focus on Complete Streets in the years ahead," Lovain said in his survey response.

Miles says complete communities make places healthier, happier, and more sustainable, and that Alexandria should continue to make obvious repairs to the transportation system. She adds that organizations like Alexandria LocalMotion and, with resident involvement, the Transportation Commission and Urban Design Board, are crucial parts of design in Alexandria.

Miles also stresses the importance of small area plans, saying that they should constantly revisit and study the Complete Streets criteria. "An example of this would be to focus on the upcoming implementation of the Beauregard Small Area Plan and ensuring that important road safety measures are included," she said.

Chapman says he would continue to fund Complete Streets, and push for staff to work with neighborhoods on local projects.

Bill Euille says that as mayor, he would push the policy forward through "education, communications, outreach and advocacy," and notes that the initiative passed under his administration. Townsend Van Fleet says he would endorse the policy.

On walking and cycling to Metro

Alexandria currently has four Metro stations within the city boundaries, and making it easier for people to walk or bike to them is key to helping to cut surrounding vehicle traffic.

Lovain suggests building a tunnel from the new Potomac Yard Trail to the Braddock Road station. He also says Alexandria needs "to proceed with the multi-modal bridge connecting Cameron Station to the Van Dorn Metro station."

The Potomac Yard Trail, looking southbound. Image by the author.

Van Fleet wants to make it safe to walk and bike to Metro, and ensure bike racks are available at stations. Bill Euille wants to add bike lanes and wayfinding. John Chapman wants to continue to push WMATA to redevelop stations, which he says would make access easier. Justin Wilson wants better trails and sidewalks.

Looking beyond walking and biking, Miles suggests that the city should explore "creative solutions" like the Old Town Trolley for areas outside of Old Town. "We must extend our reach beyond the half mile around a Metro station and ensure shuttles and other forms of transportation offer all residents the opportunity to have easy access to Metro stations," she said.

On Union Street, where people on foot and bike often travel

Union Street near King Street is a popular place to walk, and Union Street is also a primary north-south bicycle route through Alexandria that connects to the Mount Vernon Trail. At times, especially on weekends, Union Street can become quite congested, challenging the users to share the road safely.

It's typical to see people on foot, on bike, and in cars on Union Street. Image by the author.

Solutions for the King and Union Street intersection include better signage, crosswalks and sidewalks, along with making sure people know about traffic laws and that they are enforced.

Lovain suggests exploring "an alternative north-south bicycle route through Old Town, such as on Royal Street," noting "any such bike route should be implemented carefully in close consultation with the neighbors."

Van Fleet calls for more law enforcement on Union Street, especially during peak travel times.

Wilson supports changing the road way to allow people who walk, bike and drive to safely operate in the corridor.

Euille sees better street design and police enforcement as holdovers until the pilot pedestrian plaza approved in 2012 is completed.

On expanding Capital Bikeshare

Alexandria currently has 16 CaBi stations, located in Old Town, Del Ray and Carlyle. There are also 16 more on the way next year. Most of these stations will be added on the eastern side of the city. With the National Science Foundation coming to Alexandria in 2017 and the Transportation Security Administration following in 2018, the city will need to continue to expand Bikeshare, especially in its north and west sections.

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Wilson, a regular CaBi user, says he supports bringing in more stations as part of completing an "overall transportation picture". Lovain thinks expansion should be done "strategically," focusing on adding stations that are close to other stations. Chapman wants to see more stations in neighborhoods that don't have them but "have infrastructure to support it." Euille says he'll seek grant money and other ways to support expanding bikeshare.

While she says she's against "one bike rental company receiving city subsidies," Miles says she wants more bikeshare options in Alexandria.

Van Fleet does not want to spend "any city funds on bikeshare, as it is a money making corporation".

On walking and biking to school

Alexandria has over 14,000 students at 16 schools throughout the city. While some students walk and bike to the schools, the majority arrive either by bus or in private vehicles. If it encourage students to walk or bike to school, the city can combat traffic congestion, air pollution and childhood obesity and increase kids' happiness and effectiveness in the classroom.

Townsend calls for "schools and parents to educate the children regarding safe practices when walking and biking" and wants "those who chose to break the law" to face consequences.

Wilson supports "expansion of the City's Safe Routes to School efforts to improve the approaches to our school buildings." He also believes "that biker and pedestrian education efforts need to be part of school curricula."

Miles did not address walking and biking in her survey response.

Chapman "would work with the Alexandria City Public Schools to see if they consider pushing out the radius for bus service... but also make walking and biking a more explored option for families". He also says he would "work with the school system to provide more crossing guards, as well as work with the PTA to provide parent volunteers."

On calming traffic in neighborhoods

Drivers who are aggressive, speed, and don't yield to people on foot are problems for most Alexandria neighborhoods.

Euille calls for "proper funding" for Alexandria's Safe Streets and Complete Streets initiatives.

Wilson "strongly supports changes to the road space that are designed to force vehicle drivers to operate their vehicles more safely". He also supports making Vision Zero happen in Alexandria.

Lovain says aggressive driving and disregard for pedestrians are serious problems in Alexandria, and points to Complete Streets principles as a way to promote safety.

Miles wants to assemble a "safe roads commission" to look at how to make Alexandria safer. She also says she'd like to address Alexandria's street challenges with a "holistic approach" that accounts for how the city fits with the entire region, what's financially feasible, and what residents want.

Van Fleet says traffic safety is "a law enforcement problem."

On achieving goals laid out in the city's transportation plan

Alexandria is updating the bicycle and pedestrian chapters of its transportation master plan to reflect changes that have occurred since 2008. The new chapters should go before City Council late this year.

A recent city audit of its own performance revealed that parts of what the 2008 plan called for, particularly regarding pedestrians and bicycles, hasn't gone into place.

While acknowledging that funding has been a factor in missing the goals, Wilson says he is "committed to the vision of the 2008 plan, and will work to provide the resources to see it to completion."

"We should also prioritize unfinished efforts to make sure the resources are available," Lovain says.

Euille and Chapman are committed to the plan, with Euille calling for "adequate funding" and Chapman saying he'll work with city staff to "determine a plan."

Miles says there is "no reason that the 2008 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan should not have been completely implemented." She further adds that "City Council and staff revisited the plan in 2014 and spent more time studying and updating the plan before the original plan had even been completely implemented."

The elections are next Tuesday, November 3. If you live in Alexandria, make sure to exercise your right to vote for the candidates who support your views.


A protected bikeway will soon come to C Street NE

New bike lanes and walkways headline DDOT's plans for a new C Street NE. The changes will go a long way in making it a complete street that's safe for everyone.

Image from DDOT.

The proposal is to cut one driving lane in each direction on C Street between 16th Street and Oklahoma Avenue and use that space to add protected bike lanes (which we also call protected bikeways.

West of 16th, where C Street becomes a one-way street, the westbound bike lane will continue on to 14th Place and the eastbound one will run along North Carolina Avenue from 14th Street.

The project also calls for new sidewalks and full time parking on each side of the street, bulb outs, and rain gardens.

Base image from Google Maps.

C Street is breaking new ground for DC

The District currently has one-way protected bike lanes with flexiposts along L and M Streets, a two-way protected bike lane with flexposts along 15th Street, and a two-way protected bike lane with curb separation along 1st Street.

But the type of bike lanes DDOT wants for C street would be a first for DC, and they'll likely make people using the street both on bikes and on foot more comfortable.

Image from DDOT.

The first distinction is that they'll be raised to the sidewalk level, which will provide another barrier to separate bikes from vehicles.

Also, a landscaped area will go between the road and the bike lane, providing a lot more protection than the traditional small two foot-wide curb or flexi posts. There will also be a landscaped area between the bike lanes and the sidewalk.

Finally, since the bikes lane are at the sidewalk level, which is above the road, there are two options: bring the bike lanes and sidewalk down to the road level at crossings, or vice versa. The design will bring the road up to the level of the bike lanes and sidewalk. That means C Street will essentially get speed bumps with crosswalks on top of them, which should cause cars to slow down as they cross or make turns where people on bikes and foot use the street.

An example of raised crossings from Boulder, Colorado. Base image from Google Maps.

A C Street with fewer car travel lanes and bulb outs at intersections will mean people who want to cross on bike or foot won't have to cover as much distance. In fact, the crossing distance will shrink from 90 feet to 44, and includes a pedestrian refuge in the median at most crossing locations.

Raised crosswalks, fewer car travel lanes, and smaller turning radii will slow vehicle speeds and provide better sight lines, helping C Street to do its part in achieving DC's Vision Zero goal.

This has worked elsewhere

Looking outside of DC, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is a great example of a raised, two-way protected bike lane that has been extremely successful and seen high levels of use.

DDOT's planning phase should wrap up before the end of 2015. Neither funding nor a construction schedule are nailed down yet, but it's likely the project will move forward. All good work starts with a good plan, and this one is off to the right start.


Ask GGW: Why is the street grid lopsided east of Georgia Ave NW?

The street grid east of Georgia Avenue and south of Madison Street is slightly lopsided, with horizontal streets angled slightly towards the northeast and vertical streets angled slightly towards the northwest. Reader Robb wants to know why this is the case.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Petworth 1903-1916. Photo by Ghosts of DC.

Truth be told, we're not sure.

What we do know is that the neighborhoods that this section of Georgia Avenue traverses—Brightwood Park, Petworth, Park View, Pleasant Plains (where Howard University is located), and LeDroit Park—are all north of Florida Avenue (formerly known as Boundary Street), which means they're outside of Pierre L'Enfant's original DC street grid.

Many of these neighborhoods were developed in the late 1800s after the Civil War.

In 1893, Congress passed a law mandating that existing streets must be changed or moved in order to conform with the city's street plan, the System of Permanent Highways. ("Highway," like "parking" is a common law term whose meaning changed in the 20th century. Here it denotes only that it's a maintained public right-of-way.)

From top to bottom, Brightwood Park, Petworth, Park View, Pleasant Plains, and LeDroit Park, all with a "lopsided" street grid east of Georgia Avenue NW. Base image from Google Maps.

Previously, Congress passed a law that said future DC subdivisions had to conform to the street, but that existing ones could stay how they were. This covered the neighborhoods along Georgia Avenue, so they kept their alignments even the System of Permanent Highways came into place.

Other neighborhoods in DC, like Brookland, Kalorama, and Columbia Heights, also deviate from the L'Enfant grid. LeDroit Park, for example, was originally a suburban neighborhood outside of the original city of Washington, and is laid out differently.

What we're still unsure of is why these particular streets were built at an unusual angle. Do any of you, our readers, know?

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll pose a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!


To make people-friendly streets, think beyond just cars

To make streets that are safe and comfortable for everyone rather than just speeding drivers, we need to measure them differently. In Montgomery County, one councilmember has a few suggestions on how to do that.

It's hard to build streets like this. All photos by the author.

Like many places around the country, Montgomery County uses two tests of congestion: Level of Service (LOS), which measures how many cars can go through an intersection, and Critical Lane Volume (CLV), which measures how many cars travel through a single lane of road. But both tests assume that cars are the only way to move people, which results in wider and faster roads and undermines attempts to create safe, pedestrian- or bicycle-friendly streets.

Councilmember Roger Berliner, who represents both urban communities like Bethesda and urbanizing areas like White Flint, wants to change that. Last week he released a letter with some examples of alternative ways to measure congestion.

While the county's policy is to encourage compact development in places like White Flint, where people can get around by foot, bike, or transit, the traffic tests it uses assume that everyone's still going to drive a lot. Not only is that counter to actual driving trends in the county, but it also results in fast, dangerous streets that conflict with the county's own goals.

Berliner says he first started thinking about ways to measure congestion at an "Infrastructure Forum" he organized last month to discuss area traffic and school issues.

"One of the 'ah-ha' moments for me during our Infrastructure Forum was the notion that what you 'test' leads inexorably to the solutions that you focus on," he writes in the letter, addressed to county Planning Board chair Casey Anderson.

Thinking differently about transportation metrics is nothing new

In the letter, Councilmember Berliner outlines some alternatives to LOS and CLV for measuring how effective our transportation network is. California stopped using LOS in favor of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), which instead measures how much a project will cause people to drive. This allows planners to see whether a transportation project will support efforts to encourage walking, bicycling, transit use, or infill development.

Another measure Berliner suggests is Person Hours of Travel (PHT), which measures how long it takes travelers to get somewhere regardless of what mode they're using. This is especially useful for urban areas where there may not be ways to cut delays for drivers, but there are opportunities to shorten travel time for transit riders, such as providing bus lanes.

"Reducing commute time is vital for the quality of life of all of our residents, but is particularly crucial for opening up access to opportunity for our low-income residents," Berliner writes.

Streets designed for moving lots of cars undermine attempts to create pedestrian- and bike-focused development in places like White Flint.

A third tool is "Accessibility," which considers how many jobs or homes are within a certain travel time of a new development. This measure rewards development in existing communities that are already close to homes, jobs, and other things, making it easier for potential residents or workers to get there without a car or by driving a shorter distance.

Berliner hopes that these alternative tests will focus development around transit hubs and existing activity centers. Doing so has been the county's policy for over 50 years. He argues that these tests will promote economic development in the county, help the environment, and ultimately reduce traffic by giving people alternatives to driving long distances.

"The bottom line," writes Berliner, "appears to be that if we measure the right things we will move towards true multimodal solutions that give residents and businesses the traffic relief they need and a quality of life that we aspire to."


White Flint's holiday gift: a safe Old Georgetown Road

White Flint residents were frustrated to hear that Maryland transportation officials wanted to push a wide, eight-lane road through the new urban center they anticipated. But on Christmas Eve, they got an early holiday gift: Old Georgetown Road will get to be a boulevard after all.

Old Georgetown Road and Pike + Rose. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Montgomery County's award-winning master plan for White Flint, approved in 2010, would transform an aging commercial strip corridor into a new downtown. A new street grid, complete with bike and pedestrian infrastructure, was a central element in the plan, which specified the number of auto and bike lanes, target speeds and other details for new and redesigned roads.

But community leaders, advocates, and the business community alike were distraught to learn that state transportation officials required that Old Georgetown Road be built wider than what the master plan dictated and without bicycle and pedestrian paths. They said the road needed to handle more car traffic from a redeveloped White Flint.

So it was welcome news when County Executive Ike Leggett said in a December 24th press release that the county's department of transportation and Maryland State Highway Administration had agreed to reduce the number of lanes on Old Georgetown Road. Instead of eight lanes, the new street would have five, with two through-lanes in each direction and a shared left-turn lane at a new intersection with Hoya Street.

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

The decrease in lanes will significantly improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety by reducing crosswalk distances, and will also allow space for on-street bike lanes and an off-street shared use path between Hoya Street and Grand Park Avenue, as called for by the master plan.

In the press release, Leggett said, "I want to thank our partners at the State Highway Administration for working with MCDOT and my office in approving a forward thinking solution that helps us reach our goal of creating a more walkable and bikable community in White Flint--right from the start."

While advocates and community members are thrilled by this development, there's a feeling that this battle shouldn't need to be won street by street. Behind this success story lies the continuing tyranny of traffic models, which are notoriously wrong in their predictions but still used to prevent local jurisdictions from building the walkable places they want. Montgomery County, like most places around the country, has been witnessing a decline in driving, yet the models continue to predict otherwise.

Even in White Flint, where a rare alliance of community leaders, elected officials, advocates, and the business community has rallied for years around a vision for a walkable community, Montgomery County was on the brink of building yet another dangerous eight-lane road through their showpiece redevelopment, against their wishes, due to the state's requirements to deal with likely incorrect traffic forecasts.

Thankfully, Montgomery County's executive and councilmembers have been supportive of a new approach, and it appears that MCDOT's new acting director Al Roshdieh is on board as well.

"We must continue to transform our transportation infrastructure to be even more transit-oriented, bikable and walkable," he said in a recent interview, adding that he "plan[s] to take a hard look at all of MCDOT's policies and procedures to ensure that they are consistent with our emphasis on smart growth principles."

When people are clearly driving less and desiring to live in walkable places, it's well past time to remove the antiquated, auto-oriented barriers in place that continue to limit the creation of healthy, sustainable, inclusive places like White Flint.

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