Posts about GW Parkway
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is organizing a town hall to talk about National Park Service-controlled parkland in the District of Columbia on October 25. I'll be participating on a panel. What issues or requests should I bring up?
Norton convened a town hall last year after a coalition of parks advocates and other activists, including myself, called attention to inflexible policies at the National Park Service interfering with Capital Bikeshare, the Circulator, farmers' markets, missing playgrounds downtown, and more.
The Park Service had recently gotten a new head of the National Capital region and new superintendents for several of the local park "units." These managers started working better with residents than their predecessors. They made considerable progress on Bikeshare, concession rules, and the Circulator.
That doesn't mean there isn't a lot more to do, and Norton is having another town hall hall on October 25. I'll be speaking on a panel, along with NPS Regional Director Steve Whitesell, Rich Bradley of the Downtown BID, Danielle Pierce of Downtown DC Kids (the group pushing for that playground), and Catherine Nagel of the City Parks Alliance, a national group that supports urban parks.
What should I talk about? Since there is no other person specifically devoted to pedestrian and bicycle issues, I'd like to raise the many ways that despite being parkland, rules make walkers and bikers feel less welcome than drivers.
On the Rock Creek and George Washington parkways, signs at off-ramps tell runners and bike riders they have to yield to cars. This is bizarre, since turning cars yield to pedestrians even on major city and suburban arterial roads; the only place with this kind of rule is a freeway, and that shouldn't be the standard for our roadways in parks, even ones that carry a lot of traffic.
The approaches to the 14th Street Bridge give bike riders really no safe or comfortable route to and from downtown, for instance. There is also no good way to cross the GW Parkway on foot or on a bike around the Memorial Bridge. (This area is actually inside the District's borders, even though it is across the Potomac.)
I hope Rich Bradley will talk about the ways public-private partnerships can better activate our downtown parks. Franklin Square should be a more inviting place to eat lunch, and Farragut host evening concerts. Strict concession contracts limit things like sponsorship of an event, and the food trucks can only operate next to the park because they are on the public street which NPS doesn't control. Yet these types of activities are good for urban parks, not bad.
How about retail on Pennsylvania Avenue? Vendors? Bike parking? Capital Bikeshare stations? The grand avenue of our capital city doesn't have to be barren and boring. Food options on the Mall don't need to be awful, either.
Then there are the memorials. DC's many small triangles and other shapes are reserved for future memorials, and it's appropriate to have sites of national or world importance in the American capital, but that doesn't mean the memorials can't also be successful public spaces, as the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue is.
I'm also concerned about a trend toward more fences in triangle parks, like at 21st and I, to "remedy social paths," or in other words, stop people from walking through the park the way they want to. Better to rearrange the walkways to be in the right places.
The Park Service is doing just that on Washington Circle, showing that they are now open to making parks work better for residents and visitors, people on foot and bicycles as well as in cars. We should hope that Steve Whitesell and his superintendents stick around for a while instead of moving to other parks elsewhere in the nation, so that we can all continue to make progress.
The town hall is Thursday, October 25, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Room 412.
What would you like me to talk about at the panel?
Near the Jefferson Memorial, 5 bridges cross the Potomac carrying motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, the Metro, and freight and passenger trains. How can they be improved?
The Federal Highway Administration, DDOT, VDOT, and the National Park Service have been working on an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the 14th Street Bridge corridor since 2006. They looked at the roads and paths on the bridges themselves and for some distance on and around I-395 and Route 1 (14th Street and Jefferson Davis Highway).
The study started with a long list of ideas from a number of public meetings, from double decking the 14th Street bridge or building a circumferential Metro line, to instituting cordon pricing or tolls, to painting murals on the concrete walls.
They analyzed a number of options and condensed them down to 3 bicycle and pedestrian options, 4 roadway options, and 6 Transportation Demand Management options. This post looks at the roadway and TDM alternatives; the next one will delve into the bicycle and pedestrian options.
One of the most significant conclusions from the draft EIS is what it chose not to recommend: More single-passenger vehicle capacity. The team looked at adding new general-purpose lanes (which, on a freeway-type bridge, aren't as much "general purpose" as "motor vehicle only") or HOT lanes. Once Virginia decided not to run HOT lanes through Arlington, the HOT lane options became moot, and adding new auto capacity generally did not reduce congestion.
There are 5 remaining proposals that would affect motor vehicles:
Add a bus lane. A lot of commuter buses drive to the Pentagon and then over the 14th Street bridge to DC, and many local buses also cross in this area. This alternative would use the existing shoulder of the Rochambeau bridge (the center of the 3 road bridges, which carries the express lanes in both directions) for a bus lane, and convert one lane on 14th Street to a bus lane.
The heavy volume of buses moves a great many people in this corridor. Helping buses bypass congestion and give riders a quicker ride would further improve the value of taking transit from many parts of Virginia.
Ban left turns at 14th and C (at a cost of about $203,000). C Street SW ends at 14th, in the last intersection with a traffic signal before the bridge. The study says that giving time for vehicles to turn left from southbound 14th onto C, or left from C onto southbound 14th, creates significant delay, and this option would forbid these turns. Drivers would only be able to turn right in or out of C.
On its own, this sounds like a bad idea because it would move further away from a functional grid in this area, and make 14th more like a freeway. It could, however, be a reasonable way to reduce some of the extra delay that comes from the bus lane option, making that a little more palatable.
The most important question, which the report does not specify, is how this would affect pedestrians. People cross on foot to get to and from the Holocaust Museum, for instance, and already the signal here forces them to wait long periods of time for the various movements. Removing the left turns could allow more pedestrian crossing time, or it could make things worse, depending on the final signal timings.
DC should also add a marked crosswalk along the south side of this intersection, where there is none today. Every side of every intersection ought to have a marked crosswalk, regardless of its effect on traffic, but an animation of the proposal makes it appear that there would be no traffic effect with left turns prohibited, anyway.
For the final EIS, the team should investigate pedestrian crossings and suggest timings that help them cross more safely and with a shorter wait.
Restripe around Maine Avenue, 7th and 9th Streets ($185,000). There are a lot of ramps on and off in this area, creating a lot of merging and weaving. This option would narrow the on-ramp at Maine Avenue to 1 lane instead of 2, reducing the amount of merging on the freeway itself.
Also, it would add a solid white line between some of the freeway's lanes east of 9th Street. Drivers getting on at 7th Street would only be able to then continue to the 3rd Street tunnel (the one that goes under the Mall to New York Avenue, also signed as I-395), and drivers getting on from 9th Street would have to continue onto the Southeast Freeway (now signed as 695) instead. Drivers might ignore this line, but FHWA hopes it will decrease weaving.
Remove some ramps on the Virginia side ($2.7 million). There are 10 ramps on and off 395 right around the Pentagon, also creating a lot of merging and weaving. This alternative suggests removing the ramps from 395 northbound to the GW parkway northbound, and the matching ramp from the GW Parkway southbound to 395 southbound. Drivers can still get where they need to go by taking Washington Boulevard (Route 27) instead, which is actually shorter, anyway.
In addition, this alternative would change around the ramps at Boundary Channel Drive, the access road to the Pentagon north parking lots. Now, there are cloverleaf-style ramps on and off of 395 southbound, so that cars coming from or going to each direction of Boundary Channel have their own ramps.
Instead, the ramps in the southwest quadrant would go away, and the northwest quadrant ramps changed so that cars can turn in either direction on and off of Boundary Channel.
Arlington has proposed another option to add roundabouts instead of traffic signals at the ends of the ramps.
Transportation Demand Management options
Reconfiguring roadways is not the only way to reduce congestion. Transportation Demand Management is the field concerned with helping people better understand their travel options besides solo driving. Maps, real-time information, and public service ad campaigns can help people choose transit. Employers can provide incentives or assistance for people to carpool, telecommute, or commute outside peak hours.
The TDM options that the DEIS proposed to carry forward to the final version include:
- Expand incentives for telecommuting
- Expand flexible work hours
- Increase prices for parking and/or decrease supply
- Better coordinate among agencies along the corridor (Federal, District, state, and local) to share information and respond to crashes or other incidents
- Create a program to educate drivers in the corridor in "[crash] avoidance maneuvers and defensive driving skills"
- Make signs better and more consistent across the corridor
The study team is accepting comments on the draft EIS until March 15th. They will then begin work on the final EIS. I will send them all comments made on this post through at least the end of Wednesday, March 14. If you want to send them your own, more detailed comments, you can do so through this form.
The bicycle and pedestrian proposals, meanwhile, are worth a whole discussion on their own. Part 2 will examine these in detail.
The intersection of Lee Highway and Lynn Street in Rosslyn, where the Custis Trail crosses Lynn St., is one of the most dangerous intersections for cyclists in the Greater Washington area. By reconfiguring the exit ramp for the Key Bridge, this conflict could be reduced, dramatically improving safety while also potentially improving traffic flow.
This intersection has received a lot of scrutiny lately, after a driver sideswiped a cyclist who was subsequently blamed for the incident by Arlington Police.
The primary problem at this intersection is traffic turning right from the I-66 off-ramp onto Lynn Street to head toward the Key Bridge. This traffic has a green light at the same time as the pedestrians and cyclists have the walk signal. There are two lanes of right turning cars (and sometimes cars in the third lane turn right illegally). Shifting the Key Bridge traffic to the north of the Custis Trail crossing could eliminate this conflict.
According to recent counts, the intersection sees more than 400 bikes an hour during rush hours, and that number is increasing. That is one bike about every 9 seconds on average.
My proposed redesign could significantly improve the situation for all users: cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. The numbers below correspond to the red numerals on the above graphic.
1. Split I-66 offramp: Currently the I-66 exit ramp is one lane that curves up to Lynn Street, dividing into three lanes as it approaches Lynn. The right lane is right-turn only, the middle lane is right turn or straight onto Lee Highway, and the left lane is straight only.
My proposed configuration would divide the ramp just after its split from I-66. Lee Highway traffic would follow the existing ramp up to the light at Lynn Street. Traffic headed for the Key Bridge would curve down under the existing Custis Trail ped/bike bridge over the GW parkway and then curve left to join the existing Key Bridge ramp from the southbound Parkway.
2. Reconfigure southbound offramp intersection: The combined Key Bridge ramps could be reconfigured into a 90-degree intersection at Lynn Street with a traffic light. While I proposed all three lanes to be right turn only, the far left lane could potentially allow movement onto the ramp for the northbound GW Parkway. This intersection would have no-right-turn-on-red restriction, which would eliminate the current conflict for cyclists and pedestrians also headed for the Key Bridge.
Cyclists and pedestrians could cross with the Lynn Street traffic while it has the green, and would wait with the Lynn St. traffic while the ramp traffic has the green. With three right turn lanes and no time lost yielding to bikes and peds, there could easily be an increase in capacity for cars, even with right turns on red prohibited. In evening hours, right-on-red movements could be allowed from the right-most lane only.
3. Narrow existing Lynn/Lee offramp: The existing ramp/Lynn St. intersection can then be narrowed to two lanes, allowing more space for the trail, improving sight lines, and reducing crossing distances. Both lanes would be straight only onto Lee Highway. This would completely eliminate all conflicts with Custis Trail traffic, since there would be no turning cars. Lee Highway and Custis Trail traffic would cross on the green and would wait on the red while Lynn Street traffic proceeded.
It appears that there is probably enough room under the existing bike/ped bridge to accommodate a new ramp lane without lengthening the bridge. This Google Street View shows the southbound lanes of the parkway traveling under the pedestrian bridge.
Note there is space on both sides of the lanes (the far support is about six feet beyond the stone wall if that additional space were needed.) The new configuration would have one lane of traffic traveling north as it passes under the bridge in addition to the Parkway lanes, which would be shifted into the existing median.
I paced it off, and my best estimate is 58 feet of span available between the support wall on the west and the support column in the median of the Parkway. That would accommodate three 12' lanes with 22 feet for shoulders and median. I'm not an engineer, but if that is possible, then this solution allows for eliminating the conflict without the need for significant additional infrastructure like a bike tunnel.
While this may seem like a costly proposal, a permanent solution like this one is eventually going to be necessary. The conflict at this intersection can only get worse. Bicycle use is increasing rapidly, and both DC and Arlington are promoting more cycling and investing in it with Capital Bikeshare and other efforts. As bike traffic increases, the number of conflicts with right turning cars will no doubt increase with it.
The redesign also would nicely complement the N. Lynn St Esplanade and Lee Highway/Custis Trail improvement projects that are currently being planned. A meeting on these projects is scheduled for tomorrow night.
Whatever the solution, the northern portion of Rosslyn will need major updates to its traffic patterns in order to accommodate a growing number of cyclists and pedestrians in an environment that was originally designed for the convenience of motorists.
Crosswalks along the GW Parkway are very dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. But instead of fixing the problem, the Park Police are pulling over and criticizing drivers who stop to let people cross.
TBD's Andrew Beaujon reports that this morning, he was trying to cross the parkway on his bike, and a driver slowed down to let him. In response, Park Police officers pulled over the driver.
The officer then told Beaujon that he had pulled the driver over because his stopping might have led to a collision. Beaujon also says the officer was "very rude."
The Park Police seem to be responding, but in a very poor manner, to an incident last week where one driver rear-ended another who had stopped to let a cyclist cross at a crosswalk. As Stephen Miller explained, this stems from the basic design of the area, which is optimized for high-speed traffic flow instead of to accommodate both drivers and people crossing alike.
WJLA yesterday picked up the story of unsafe crossings here. Their video mentions the same solution Stephen suggested: HAWK signals, which DDOT officials told them have been very effective.overreacting to dancing, shutting down food trucks, arresting journalists at public meetings, or tasering pedicab drivers, there seems to be a pattern of very poor Park Police responses to issues that arise.
The "Smooth Operator" road safety campaign just sent out a press release entitled, "Speeding belongs on the raceway Correction: The original headline on this article erroneously suggested Beaujon was a pedestrian. He was actually on a bicycle.
Correction: The original headline on this article erroneously suggested Beaujon was a pedestrian. He was actually on a bicycle.
A three-car crash last Thursday morning at a trail crossing on the George Washington Parkway once again highlights the need for the National Park Service to take action on critical safety improvements.
A driver stopped for a cyclist crossing the parkway at a marked crosswalk, but when an approaching pickup truck did not slow down, the cyclist hesitated. It very well could have saved her life; the nasty rear-end crash resulted in two injuries. An eyewitness captured the aftermath on video:
Image from Facebook. If you can't see the video, try logging into and/or refreshing Facebook first.
Trail users and parkway drivers can both attest to the constant danger at these crossings.
Solutions to these problems exist that would make the George Washington Memorial Parkway safer for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. But is the National Park Service interested in implementing them?
At least five unsignalized crossings are located near Memorial Bridge. Many of them cross two lanes, putting pedestrians in danger of a "double threat" when one lane of traffic has stopped but drivers in the other lane are unable to see the pedestrian in the crosswalk. Drivers hesitate to stop at all, as high speeds and heavy traffic on the parkway put them at risk of rear-end crashes like Thursday's.
Although the video suggests a tunnel, there is a simpler, less expensive solution that NPS can implement relatively quickly: HAWK signals, which Alexandria and the District have begun installing. HAWK signals are activated by the crosswalk user and installed at locations where a traditional stop light would not meet traffic engineering standards.
Research has shown that HAWK signals are not only more effective than other traffic signals at getting motorists to safely stop at the crosswalk, they reduce traffic delay compared to traditional signalized mid-block pedestrian signals.
Since being included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices in 2009, HAWK signals have been installed across the nation. A news report from Providence, Rhode Island, explains how a HAWK signal works at one of that city's most dangerous crossings:
At crossings on the GW Parkway, HAWK signals could be implemented in combination with vehicle stop lines that are farther from the crosswalk. This would improve visibility for all users and reduce the likelihood of a "double threat" crash, resulting in a significant safety improvement for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike.
The recent Humpback Bridge construction resulted in significant improvements for Mount Vernon Trail users, and it shows NPS understands the trail is a significant reason to use the park. It's now time NPS made these critical safety changes a priority for all users of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
The year was 1979. The Iranian Revolution led to oil shortages and long lines at the pump. Maryland Governor Harry Hughes proposed rationing gas. Levittown drivers rioted when gas prices rose to a whopping $1 a gallon. And large numbers of people tried bicycling to work.
Peter Harnik wrote an op-ed in the June 23, 1979 Washington Post about the sudden rise in bicycling:
On Wednesday night, there was another unearthly sound, the noise of thousands of people rummaging through their basements, oiling chains, dusting gearshifts, inflating tires, tightening spokes, looking for locks.
And, like the emergence of some giant strain of locusts, the bikes appeared on Thursday
— Fujis replacing Datsuns, Gitanes replacing Citroens, Raleighs replacing Triumphs, and Sears and Schwinns replacing Fords and Chevys. ...
June 14th was the day Washington had its first glimpse of the future
— and everyone not stuck in a car seemed to be smiling.
Harnik suggested five specific projects that would make cycling safer and more enjoyable in Washington:
- A bike lane, the width of one full car lane, on 15th Street, NW from Florida Avenue to I Street.
- Closing the service lanes on K Street except to bicycles and delivery trucks, like European bike boulevards.
- A bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue from Georgetown to the Sousa Bridge.
- Close Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park and the Arboretum to motor vehicles on Sundays.
- Close the George Washington Parkway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway for two days a year.
How are we doing with those? The 15th Street bike lane is a hugely successful reality, and now goes farther than Harnik proposed, all the way down to Pennsylvania Avenue where it connects to the Pennsylvania Avenue lane.
The Pennsylvania Avenue lane only goes from the White House to the Capitol, plus the part always closed to traffic and usually open to bikes past the White House itself.
K Street remains a heavily car-centric road. The K Street Transitway plan would improve that, but not really for cyclists. Instead, DDOT is proposing cycle tracks on L and M Streets, but those projects haven't moved forward since Gabe Klein took his cycle track enthusiasm to Chicago.
Beach Drive does close to motor vehicles on Sundays. The Arboretum does not. The GW Parkway does become a bike-only road once a year, for Bike DC; the BW Parkway does not.
In summary, DC went above and beyond on one and partway on three. Harnik wrote when he sent along the article, "Not bad, until you realize it's been 32 years!"
Reader M asks why an Arlington County road has a very strange curve that looks like a part of an interchange that was never completed:
I drive on this section of Glebe Road often, near the Chain Bridge and wonder why the curve was designed this way. I tried researching for some sort of unbuilt interchange, but had no luck. Do you know any GGWers who are good at sniffing this stuff out? It's not even on Wikimapia.To answer this question, we found a wealth of resources from Arlington County, which provides electronic copies of its historic General Land Use Plans.
As can be seen in the 1961 Plan, This section of Glebe Road was designed to be part of a wye (or 'Y') interchange with the George Washington Memorial Parkway and also with a new bridge proposed to connect with Arizona Avenue across the river in the District.
This interchange remained on the books until 1975, when the County removed the proposed bridge and a number of other road projects (including, for a period of four years, I-66) from its Plans.
On a related note that may become a later post on Greater Greater Washington, and as recounted by Zachary Schrag, Arlington County at the time was in a war with the state and the Federal Highway Administration over Interstate and Metro plans. In 1979, I-66 was restored in a compromise with the two other parties to run Metro underground in Arlington. However, the two other proposed bridges (the I-266 Three Sisters Bridge near Spout Run Parkway, and the Arizona Avenue Bridge suggested above) never made it back in after various battles.
It was designed as a scenic, recreational "gateway" to Washington, but the George Washington Parkway has become a major commuter highway
The National Park Service is taking the traffic engineer's approach: add merge lanes, expand ramps, and widen shoulders to cut down on conflicts. But they've drawn the line against changes like high-powered lighting that cuts against the "parkway" character. The article quotes police who wish people would only obey the 50-mph speed limit (the average speed is more like 65).
The ramp-wideners and speed-limit-enforcers, as is often the case, are thinking about the road the wrong way around. Speed limits don't meaningfully reduce speeds. People drive at the speed that their instincts tell them is appropriate for the road. When we widen a ramp, it only makes people feel a little more comfortable driving a little faster, negating the safety value.
- Bikeshare is a gateway to private biking, not competition
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- Long-term closures: A solution to single-tracking?
- Metro policy for refunds after delays falls short, riders say
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Prince George's County struggles to get trails right
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money