Posts about L And M Street Bike Lanes
Last night, DDOT representatives held a short presentation on the latest design for the M Street cycle track. They have improved the design further since we last saw it. Meanwhile, angry opponents of the cycle track, including members of a nearby church which may lose some on-street parking, dominated the question and answer period.
During the presentation, DDOT tried to explain the reasoning for the cycle track, how it would work and how it would benefit people. Jim Sebastian, Mike Goodno and Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe showed preliminary data from the ongoing L Street study that showed that over the last 6 months since the cycle-track was installed, biking on L Street was up 41% (560 cyclists during the 8 hours of rush hour, up from 396).
Over the same period bicycle and pedestrian crashes on L Street were both down a trivial amount. Meanwhile, travel time by car had increased by only 1 minute across the length of the cycletrack in the morning and by no measurable amount in the afternoon commute (using data after construction on Connecticut Avenue was complete).
They also discussed results of the completed 15th Street cycle-track showing that biking increased and that while crashes rose too, it was not by as much as biking.
Experience with L Street helps improve M Street design
They talked about lessons they learned on L street and how that influenced design on M. For example, the cycle-track will be narrower, with parking and loading zones adjacent to it. They'll put in more flexposts. And they're using a new "Yield to Bikes" sign.
Parking and loading would change very little. To deal with what lost parking there would be, they plan to take back some unused diplomatic parking spaces and replace some missing parking meters, as well as add better signage.
The schedule is to continue evaluating L Street until August and then install the tracks before the end of the summer. That process would take 3 weeks and be done in phases.
Other design features include the cycle-track diversion onto Rhode Island Avenue that may have a concrete barrier to protect cyclists from traffic.
Left turning cyclists can stop in queue areas within intersections to make a two-light turn.
The drawings included other design changes like a raised cycle track at a bus stop where the track passes behind the stop.
Angry audience comments almost derail the meeting
Before DDOT could discuss these things, the meeting got very heated. At one point, Zimbabwe threatened to end the meeting if people continued to be disrespectful with one another.
It started with a woman who asked why DDOT was going ahead with the M Street lane if the L street study wasn't complete. M Street, she was told, is a complement to L, so any study of L is incomplete without M. Originally they were to be built simultaneously.
But she was clearly opposed to the project regardless, she said with exasperation that "L didn't work," claiming that no one ever used it (despite the presentation she just saw showing that there were several hundred users each rush hour) and that traffic was a disaster. Why were we spending money on bike lanes when libraries are closing? She called the design confusing and asked who this lane is for.
But that was just the appetizer. Many members and leaders of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church were there and they were not happy about the cycle track or the way DDOT had informed them about it.
"When slaves built our church, they were not thinking about bike lanes," is how the first comment started.
There were many criticisms, some of them contradictory. No one rides on M Street. Senior citizens won't be able to cross the street to get to church because cyclists never yield to pedestrians (only a problem if people actually do bike on M). Senior citizens rely on the church for transportation. Other M Street businesses are not pleased either. The bike lane on the north side will block funeral access. "What percentage of taxpayer money is going to this?"
When asked if this was a done deal, Zimbabwe said it was and it wasn't. That there was going to be a cycle track on M, but what it would look like was still negotiable. Speakers proceeded to throw the "done deal" comment, which wasn't his wording, back at him several times. But he stuck to his guns. When asked if the debate was over, he said "for this street, yes." When asked if the 1500 block could be left out of the plans, he said that it would have too negative an impact on people trying to bike the road.
But the biggest issues were that the church would lose its angled parking on Sundays (which took them 3 years to get) and that no one talked to them about it until the day before.
A pastor for the church talked about the church's 175 year history, 87 of those years at this location. She noted that this church is tied to the struggles of the African-American people, so to not hear about something like this until after it was a "done deal" is very disturbing and insulting. The church had been offered $1 million to move out of the city in the past, but they had made a commitment to stay. Many of their members had moved to the counties but still made an effort to come to church here. "Is DC becoming a church-unfriendly place?" she asked.
On the first issue, DDOT created several alternatives for Sundays that would still allow 30-50 parking spaces, even one with angled parking and several that allowed parking in the cycletrack (which would shift in between two lanes of car parking) and promised to work on it with the church.
On the second issue, Jim Sebastian apologized and noted that he had met with church staff at the church in 2011. At least one person accused him of lying. Sebastian said he could pull the phone and email logs if needed. He also noted that they had started this process in 2009 with public meetings, and that DDOT staff have met with ANC's, BIDs, groups and individuals. He said they tried to reach the church, a comment that brought scoffs from the church's members.
I'll add that anyone on M Street who didn't know about this has not been paying attention. While I don't expect anyone to have read the 2005 Bicycle Master Plan, the addition of a cycle track on M Street has been reported in the Washington Post many times. In fact it's been mentioned in numerous news outlets on many many occasions over many years. DDOT has had meetings and press releases. It's not been kept a secret. That no one in the church had ever heard about it until this week seems incredible.
Zimbabwe tried to address all the concerns. The M Street lane would have better signage. DC does not intend to be church-unfriendly. There is no "rush" to complete this, but DDOT wants to make people safe now, not later. They're willing to work with the church to resolve its issues.
He could have mentioned that in many cases funding for bike lanes can't be moved over to libraries.
When one woman talked about how important biking was for our future, someone asked her "Do you expect senior citizens to bike." "Yes," I thought, "many already do now." In fact many senior citizens in the church had prefaced their comments with "I'm a cyclist."
Another speaker, opposed to the bike lane, asked "Who wants this?" and many hands shot up followed by applause.
"We're not taking a vote here or pitting one side against another," Zimbabwe said.
A restaurant/bar owner on M Street said that the street is already girdlocked (despite DDOT data presented earlier saying otherwise) and that eliminating a traffic lane was going to be a disaster for drivers and for his business. "I did find one friend who rides a bike and he says he'll never use it," he added, while noting that gridlock causes pollution and that snow removal is a problem as well. "Every merchant on M Street is concerned and in disbelief about this."
Zimbabwe pointed out that this is to get new riders to use bikes. Many tried to point to data in NYC showing that cycle tracks are good for business. One person thanked DDOT for putting the cycle track on L and opening her eyes to all the great businesses there.
A Georgetown ANC member took the opportunity to berate DDOT for not doing something about all the unsafe cyclists disregarding traffic laws. "It's a miracle that no one has been hurt," he noted, without realizing he was contradicting his whole position.
Finally, someone asked, "can't bike lanes go in AND angled parking be kept? Why does it have to be either/or?"
Zimbabwe promised to find a way to address the parking needs of church goers.
And they do have a plan for that. Below you can see Sunday parking on the bike lane as one alternative.
DC's next cycle track is slated to open this August, along M Street in downtown DC. The M Street lane will serve people riding westbound, complementing the eastbound-only cycle track a block away on L Street.
Lots of people use the L Street lane, but cars and trucks frequently block it, and the mixing zones where cars cross the bike lane to turn can be confusing. Planners are learning from how L Street works, and will try some different designs on M.
The bike lane itself will be slightly narrower, and a row of parking will separate the bike lane from the general travel lanes in some places. Mike Goodno, bike planner for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), expressed hope these elements will dissuade people from driving or parking in the lane.
Both lanes are on the north side of their respective streets, which means that while L Street's is on the left, the M Street bike lane will be on the right. In addition to full-time parking along most of the lane, blocks where M Street is wider will also have part-time parking on the south side.
Because there's an extra lane in between, the mixing zones on M Street will be totally different. Instead of the gradual merge of L Street, drivers will turn toward the bike lane at a sharper angle, and are supposed to yield to bikes before crossing into the right turn lane. New York uses a similar arrangement for its Grand Street cycle track.
One trade-off is there's no more green paint in the mixing zone. However, the spaces in front of driveways will be green, to make it clear to drivers they're not supposed to stop in the bike lane.
At some corners, like 22nd Street, there won't be a mixing zone. Instead, drivers cross the cycle track during an exclusive signal phase, like on 15th Street.
According to Goodno, many of the changes come simply because M Street is wider than L, offering more room to try different options for the lane. If they work well, some could make their way back to L Street.
DDOT will present its plans and accept public comments at a public meeting on Wednesday, May 15, 6:30-8:30 pm at the West End Library.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Who's blocking the L Street bike lane today? A delivery driver, most likely. That's the conclusion I've reached after 4 months of chronicling obstructions in the city's newest bike lane.
I started the blog, "Who's Blocking the L St. Bike Lane Today?" on a whim after the lane (technically a cycle track) opened. Since then, readers have submitted a steady stream of pictures showing vehicles blocking the lane, on top of the pictures I've taken myself.
While I do use the lane frequently (and thus have a personal stake in it being unobstructed), I don't view this as an exercise in vigilantism. My goal is to highlight larger trends, not to shame or mock individual drivers.
While swerving around a parked car into moving traffic on a bike can be dangerous, I realize there are many greater evils in the world and on the road, and am weary of perpetuating the perception of, broadly, the hysterically entitled cyclist by fixating on what is a ultimately a minor inconvenience in most instances. That said, the L Street bike lane is supposed to facilitate bicycling, not parking, and blocking the lane is, at least nominally, illegal. When the lane is blocked, it doesn't serve its purpose.
Who IS blocking the L Street bike lane today?
Overall, very few people actually "park" in the L St. bike lane. The majority of vehicles blocking the lane are delivery trucks supplying the many offices and stores that line the stretch. Looking just at the 156 photos on the site to date, 60% have been of delivery vehicles, while 30% are personal vehicles, and 10% belong to police.
Based on my observations, the median length of time for vehicles blocking the lane is 1-3 minutes. That's long enough to run in to a building, drop something off, and return. However, it's not uncommon for a delivery driver to treat the lane as a loading dock for loading and unloading large shipments, a process which generally takes 10-20 minutes.
Obviously, this is not a comprehensive sample. Because I took many of the pictures, they tend to over-represent weekday, daytime activity, and concentrate on the 1700 block of L. Still, they should provide some insight into the patterns of usage that have developed so far along the lane, as well as a starting point for potential solutions.
What can we do?
Deliveries, and delivery vehicles, are an increasing necessity in today's economy, and accommodating their activity will be an ongoing challenge as cities continue to densify and pursue more multi-modal streetscapes. This is especially true in central business districts like the Golden Triangle, where businesses and office workers (myself included) rely on quick and affordable deliveries engendered by the online economy.
While it may be tempting to vilify the individual delivery drivers, many of whom work long hours under tight deadlines, as you veer around them on your bike, doing so ignores the larger enforcement, policy and design pressures that shape the situation on L Street.
Enforcement: Willfully running a solid red light is universally taboo in America, and a pressure that is strong enough to dissuade drivers from doing it. Today the societal taboo is clearly not as strong against blocking bike lanes, but targeted enforcement can help change perceptions.
In all of my observation I have only seen one ticket issued to someone blocking a bike lane. Indeed, police cars are often guilty of the offense themselves, and not while on official business. Most of the photos I've taken myself of police cars blocking the bike lanes have occurred while the driver was visiting Robeks, a fruit smoothie store on the block.
Even though the actual penalties may not serve as a deterrent (many delivery companies simply write them off as a cost of doing business), an enforcement campaign can start to change attitudes about the practice and encourage delivery drivers to use dedicated loading zones or the service alleys that connect many larger buildings on L Street.
Design: The blocking problem is not nearly so great on the 15th Street cycle track. This may partly result from there being fewer blocks where the lane runs past commercial streets. Also on 15th, parking serves as a buffer between the 15th Street lane and the active roadway. Not only does that offer an alternative for delivery drivers and others, it creates a physical barrier of parked vehicles, impeding easy access in a way that the plastic pylons cannot.
Before the L Street Lane was installed, Mike Goodno, Bicycle Program Specialist at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) said that a similar arrangement would not be possible on L, as it would limit the street to one through lane outside rush hour.
One option could be to relocate the current parking from the south side to the north side, between the bike lane and the active roadway. Currently, parking and loading is permitted in the southernmost lane outside of rush hour; during rush our, the lane becomes a third through lane, though obstructions in this lane often remain throughout rush hour, leaving two effective through lanes in most cases.
Goodno says that is a possibility, and in fact DDOT is planning to have (full-time) parking next to the forthcoming lane on many blocks of M Street. However, Goodno noted, there could not be parking next to the left turn lanes, or for some distance before the start of the "mixing zones," where drivers merge into the bike lane to turn left. That would substantially reduce the amount of parking on L Street.
Alternatively, DDOT has floated the idea of installing a curb along the L St. lane to prevent vehicle incursions, though so far there has been no activity. Likewise, Goodno said they are considering adding more posts, which today appear every 20 feet.
Policy: Most blocks of L Street now combine some dedicated loading zones and short-term metered parking along the south side of the street. In my observation, the loading zones are nearly always occupied with delivery vehicles, suggesting that drivers are willing to use them provided they can find a space. Likewise, the metered parking on the street is consistently occupied as well, typically by passenger vehicles.
The difference, of course, is that those drivers have the option of parking off-street in one of the numerous commercial garages in the area, while delivery vehicles cannot. Though it would almost certainly draw criticism from some quarters, the city could convert existing metered parking along L Street to loading-only lanes, giving delivery drivers more legal options to park. If and when performance parking comes to the Golden Triangle, it could also ensure that spaces are more likely open for delivery drivers.
My experience watching the L Street bike lane has not revealed an existential struggle amongst warring factions for turf on one of downtowns busiest arteries. Rather, I've seen drivers, bikers, delivery guys, cops, and pedestrians (who, lest we forget, are often one in the same) working to coexist in a new multi-modal reality that they all generally accept, even if they're all still getting used to it.
Ever since the L Street bike lane opened (and while DDOT was building it), for-hire sedans, delivery trucks, and other vehicles have consistently parked in the lane, despite signs, bollards, and new loading zones across the street or around the corner to serve buildings' loading needs.
Jay Corbalis created a Tumblr, Who's Blocking the L St. Bike Lane Today? to collect photographs of these scofflaws. This is a great way to raise consciousness of how often it's happening.
If you ride down the lane and encounter a blocker, take a picture of your own! You can submit them directly to be included on the site.
The L Street cycle track is open, but the pavement markings are confusing some people. Car drivers planning to turn left off of L Street often don't understand how to cross the cycle track into the turn lane, and instead stay in the travel lane only to cross in front of the bike lane at the intersection.
In response, Twitter user @whiteknuckled proposes some modifications to the markings:
I am always in favor of more green paint on bike lanes, and this idea is no exception. However, the real key to solving this problem is the arrows on each car lane, especially the "left turn enter" one, which indicates to drivers where to cross over the bike lane. That's the awkward movement, so that's what needs to be as clear as possible.
In a Twitter response, DDOT notes that bikes turning left are also supposed to use the left turn lane, which is why they used sharrow markings in that area. But DDOT's Twitter rep also promised to pass along this idea to the bike team for their thoughts.
Cycle tracks are still a pretty new thing in the United States, so it's natural that designers need to experiment a little with different options. DDOT deserves enormous praise for being on the very cutting edge of this field.
Other DOTs might have waited years until all these design questions are answered and there's an adopted nationwide standard for every conceivable layout, but DC needs better bikeways now, and DDOT is doing its best to deliver. That's great.
But it also means they may have to adjust the lanes as we learn how cyclists and drivers interact with it in the real world.
Ideally DDOT could apply both the turn markings and green paint section, as whiteknuckled suggests, but at a minimum, "left turn enter" markings for cars could make a big difference.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
As I walked home from work last night, I saw a crowd gathered at the corner of 17th and L Streets, NW. On closer inspection, a woman was lying in the road. A bicyclist had been hit. Have you thought about what you would do in such a situation?
A few people were hunched over, talking to her, trying to keep her still and calm. The rest of the crowd watched, concerned but unsure of what to do. Since I'd learned about the bystander effect, which renders people immobile rather than helpful in a crowd, I'd mentally rehearsed how to deal with a crash.
I sized up the situation to see if I was needed. A man kneeling next to the victim was on the phone, so 911 had been called; she was talking and I didn't see any blood, so things probably weren't dire (though only trained medical personnel can decide for sure as some injuries aren't immediately visible).
It looked like the scene was under control, but the crowd was looking inward, away from traffic, so I jumped in to direct drivers and cyclists around the site. I also tried to flag down the police, but the 3 patrol cars that passed by ignored our waving and yelling.
The injured cyclist had been riding as far to the right as possible when she was struck. Ron Knox confirmed that she was so far to the right that she was lying with one of her legs in the storm drain.
While it's always safer to take the whole lane, which is a bicyclist's right, I can't say I blame her. The traffic on L was heavy and chaotic, with bicyclists and cars both weaving through or between lanes. The cycle track isn't complete on that block, and the incomplete portion still looks more like a hazard than a feature.
Two other people joined me to form a phalanx against traffic. I asked one of them how long they'd been waiting for an ambulance. About 6 minutes, he said, and it was at least another 2 until an FEMS SUV pulled up and an EMT took over.
With the FEMS vehicle blocking the right lane and an ambulance within earshot, my work was finished and I started home. I tweeted the incident with the #bikedc hashtag, which alerted advocates and traffic watchers in the press that something had happened, and wondered what lessons to take from the mess.
Tips to avoid a crash, or react to one once it happens
If you're bicycling, take the lane. If you're riding with traffic on downtown streets, ride a little bit left of the center of the lane to ensure drivers have to pass you like they would another vehicle. They might get upset, but you're safer there than in the gutter.
Drivers need to give bicyclists clearance when they don't take the lane. DC requires drivers to pass with at least 3 feet, to cut down on the odds of a side-swipe. Given how far over the crashed bicyclist was riding, it seems likely she wasn't afforded those 3 feet.
For anyone who might be a bystander, rehearse what to do in a crash. Just being mentally prepared for the situation can help keep you calm and in control. There's no need to command a situation if people are already acting, but just standing by to help as needed can be enough.
Lastly, tweet it, if you can, ideally with a picture. Mention @struckdc, a Twitter account that tracks crashes, and #bikedc if it's bicycle-related. Spreading the word lets other travelers know to avoid the area and lets advocates know to follow up. It's embarrassing to lie injured on the road with strangers standing around and tweeting, but crashes shouldn't happen to begin with. Advocates keep the narrative of those struck and injured alive, and people need to know when the street design and traffic patterns make them too dangerous.
I'd also like to know more about why the police didn't stop or respond to the crash. When the 911 call goes out for an ambulance, police ought to respond to the scene as well to take witness accounts, interview the driver, and take over the crowd while waiting for medical personnel. Police also typically stop when bystanders try to wave them down, so hopefully these particular cars were responding to another, even more urgent call, or had another reason not to stop.
Cyclists and advocates, motivated by crashes like this, have pushed for safer bike infrastructure like the L Street cycletrack. It, and its twin on M Street, can't come online soon enough.
While most Washingtonians prepared for Hurricane Sandy, DDOT crews were hard at work over the weekend installing the L Street cycle track.
The cycle track will run from New Hampshire Avenue in the west to 12th Street in the east. Workers began marking it on Thursday near New Hampshire Avenue, and have been moving east block by block. As of Sunday they reached just past 17th Street.
L Street near New Hampshire Avenue by Zach Rausnitz (left),
and near Connecticut Avenue by Dan Malouff (right).
On Sunday, DDOT's "green lane flash mob" was out, painting a high-visibility green coating where the cycle track approaches Connecticut Avenue.
When Sandy is safely past and DDOT begins to work again, share your photos with us via Twitter and on the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool.
It's progress, at least. AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend no longer says a new bike lane means "a war on cars." Now, in criticizing a bike lane on L Street NW, he says, "I'm not saying it's a war on cars, but..."
Townsend is very good at getting quoted in the press. After taking a lot of flack for the "war on cars" meme, he seems to have found a way to have it both ways with Examiner columnist Harry Jaffe.
Townsend was objecting to the new L Street bike lane, which DDOT started installing this week. The lane will provide a protected path for cyclists from New Hampshire Avenue to 12th Street. AAA Mid-Atlantic apparently isn't happy that only 3 of the 4 lanes will be designed around cars, rather than all of them.
"[The bike lane] fails to recognize that the vast majority of people still rely on cars," said Townsend. Townsend's statement fails to recognize that the vast majority of street space is still devoted to cars as well. The few bike lanes DC has installed to date fall far short of allocating street infrastructure fairly.
As a cyclist, I am overjoyed. When the city creates a matching bike lane on M Street, perhaps in early 2013, I will be able to commute from home to work in dedicated bike lanes. But as a driver, I question whether it's fair to autos. I see it creating miles of traffic if cops allow double parking, and I fear accidents if cyclists and drivers don't respect one another. Bikers always lose.He seems to be saying we shouldn't install any bike lanes because the city might not enforce the laws, or drivers might drive dangerously. Maybe bikers do always lose
Brian attended a lunch briefing yesterday with Martha Roskowski of the Green Lane Project and officials from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). Jim Sebastian and Mike Godono of DDOT said that bicycle use on 15th Street NW has increased 272% since they installed the cycle track there, and 200% on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Bike crashes have remained steady, in spite of the increased numbers of riders, and there have been no additional pedestrian or car crashes as a result of the protected lanes. According to DDOT's evaluation, the lanes' impact on car traffic on 15th Street and on Pennsylvania Avenue has been negligible.
The Green Lane Project supports cities building separated "cycle tracks," like the one on L. Unlike standard familiar bike lanes, separated cycle tracks place some kind of barrier between cyclists and other road users, such as plastic bollards, raised curbs, parked cars and more. The group believes that providing a protected space for bicyclists on the roadway will make streets safer and also entice the 60% of potential cyclists who are "interested but concerned."
Furthermore, by separating bicyclists from car traffic, these kinds of lanes will create a predictable place for drivers to expect to see cyclists. Separating bike traffic from car traffic will reduce conflicts between drivers and cyclists and allowing each kind of vehicle to travel at its appropriate speed. With more road users on bicycles, this should reduce congestion for drivers as well.
These reasons show why the bikes-vs-cars tradeoff Jaffe and Townsend set out is a false one. More people bicycling means that drivers have fewer other cars to compete with. Bikes take up far less space, even when they get a lane-wide cycletrack on a few roads. Bike lanes even get bikes out of drivers' way in many cases.
In a video report for NBC Washington that also plays up the conflict, Adam Tuss quotes a driver who complains about how he was driving down L Street "behind a bicyclist going 5 miles an hour dead in the middle of the lane, and traffic is backed up all behind him." Later, the same driver suggests ticketing bicyclists who don't use the bike lanes, and then, "I'm saying a lot of bicyclists don't follow the rules."
Actually, it's completely legal to drive in the middle of the lane, and in fact that's the recommended safest practice. Riding in a bike lane is also not required. Perhaps it's the driver who needs to learn the rules, but building this bike lane could move a lot of cyclists out of car lanes, just what this driver wants.
It's time to not just stop with the "war on cars" theme, but also its cousins, Townsend's "I'm not saying war on cars but ..." and "bikes are squeezing out cars" from Jaffe's headline.
WABA put out an action alert asking residents to email Mayor Gray, DDOT Director Terry Bellamy, and Sebastian to thank them for building the L Street bike lane. It can't hurt to also encourage them to quickly follow up with its planned twin on M Street. Please send them that message, and prevent the cars vs. bikes false choice from jeopardizing a very important project.
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