Posts about Pennsylvania Avenue Bike Lanes
WABA is reporting that the Department of Motor Vehicles isn't upholding tickets for U-turns across Pennsylvania Avenue.
When an MPD officer writes a ticket, the person ticketed has the opportunity to challenge that ticket through adjudication. This process is handled by the DMV, not the police. And on this issue, the DMV adjudicator has interpreted the laws in a way that does not prohibit mid-block U-turns across the cycletrack. Thus, MPD is reluctant to ticket motorists when the agency adjudicating the tickets has deemed such a ticket invalid.Rob Pitingolo asked on Twitter, "If [DDOT] designs a street and decides certain turns are unsafe, why does [the DMV] get to decide whether said unsafe turns are punishable? The whole thing calls into question whether any traffic sign in DC is actually legally binding or just a suggestion."
In the camera debate, MPD has been saying that they enforce the speed limits that are posted. Anyone want to look through the DC code to figure out if posted signs like "no U turn" actually have the force of law?
Perhaps Mary Cheh could introduce some emergency legislation to fix this problem, but Rob's point is a good one WABA's Shane Farthing added, Cycle tracks, separated bike lanes, or whatever you call them can work wonders for bicycling, but only if drivers respect them and District officials can properly enforce rules against unsafe driving and parking.
We do not know DMV's detailed legal reasoning, but it is possible that the same interpretation that would find U-turns across Pennsylvania Avenue to be legal might also find left turns by motorists who skip the "mixing zones" and cut across the cycletrack through the intersection on L to be legal. (That is speculation, but it sufficiently concerning speculation that we need to move quickly to find a solution so that MPD can enforce the rules of the cycletracks in a way that is consistent with their design.)So far, we know that many drivers are not obeying the rules in the cycletrack, though DDOT's Mike Goodno has been urging people to be patient as DDOT finishes up paint, signs. and bollards. The Express' Vicky Hallett interviewed some truck drivers who are, so far, just refusing to pull a little farther to an actual loading zone, and Nicholas Donohue sent over some pictures of trucks parked in the cycletrack.
Photo by Nicholas Donohue.
WABA's Shane Farthing added,
Cycle tracks, separated bike lanes, or whatever you call them can work wonders for bicycling, but only if drivers respect them and District officials can properly enforce rules against unsafe driving and parking.
Speaking of another part of the world even more prone to coastal flooding, someone recently shared a link to this video about why a top-notch network of bike paths came to the Netherlands. I often hear the question, why do other parts of the world do bicycling so much better than we do?
The video argues that the country was on the path of wider and wider roads and more driving following World War II, but after the pedestrian death toll started to mount, especially among children, residents demanded another transportation approach.
Why didn't the same happen here? The US is much larger, and during the interstate highway building boom, most of the roads were going in areas with few or no pedestrians. That would have meant a very different political dynamic around a national policy of road-building.
However, even in the cities there wasn't this push for bicycle infrastructure until fairly recently. Why not? Perhaps that is because the politically powerful classes at the time were moving to suburbs and not caring about the cities? What do you think?
Americans might not have made a fuss about the hazards of poor road design or reckless driving 50 years ago, but some are today. Cyclists rallied on Pennsylvania Avenue Friday to raise awareness of the dangers of illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue. Local bike shop BicycleSpace organized the event, and officers from the Metropolitan Police Department attended to speak with cyclists about how they can enforce the law.
A driver, talking on a cell phone, started to make an illegal U-turn across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes and almost hit Bill Walsh. He recorded the experience in a video:
Cyclists have been pleading for action against dangerous and illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue for some time. Justin Antos captured a recent U-turn on his camera as well, and many cyclists have reported the similar experiences using the #stoputurnsonpenn hashtag.
Councilmember Tommy Wells wants to stop the practice. His staff have obtained crash reports from DDOT for Pennsylvania Avenue and have been analyzing them for some time. Based on those reports, it appears that U-turns are by far the most common cause of bicycle-related crashes in the Pennsylvania Avenue lanes.
Here is the police narrative from one report, for a crash on October 27, 2010, where a taxi driver injured a cyclist:
DRIVER #1 STATES WHILE HEADING EAST BOUND IN THE 600 BLOCK OF PENNSYLVANIA AVE NW HE ATTEMPTED TO MAKE A U-TURN AND STRUCK VEHICLE #2 [A BICYCLE]. DRIVER #1 STATED THAT HE DID NOT SEE THE PERSON ON THE BIKE WHEN HE TURNED.Solutions: Enforcement? Bollards?
THE DRIVER OF THE BICYCLE STATED THAT ALL HE REMEMBERS WAS BEING STRUCK BY A VEHICLE AND DID NOT KNOW WHERE THE VEHICLE CAME FROM.
THE DRIVER OF THE BICYCLE WAS IN THE BIKE LANE WHEN HE WAS STRUCK, THE BIKE LANE IS A UNPROTECTED MEDIAN FOR BICYCLE TRAVEL.
WITNESS #1 A DC POLICE OFFICER WHO WAS IN A MARKED PATROL WAGON WAS BEHIND VEHICLE #1 AND STATED THAT HE SAW VEHICLE #1 MAKE A U-TURN AND STRIKE THE PERSON ON THE BICYCLE.
THE PASSENGER IN VEHICLE #1 STATED THAT SHEN [SIC] THE CAB PICKED HER UP HE WAS TALKING ON HIS CELL PHONE WHILE DRIVING AND THAT WHEN HE STRUCK THE PERSON ON THE BIKE HE MAY STILL HAVE BEEN ON HIS CELL PHONE.
What can be done? Police could more strictly enforce the no-U-turn rules, and DDOT could add more clear signs or markings. Walsh himself made this suggestion:
Most of the crash reports Wells' office provided show that police did indeed ticket drivers for U-turns after crashes, at least when it was clear from the driver's statements or witnesses that a U-turn was involved. The fact that many drivers admitted to the U-turn may tell us that drivers don't realize it's illegal or unsafe, and the right signs might help.
On the other hand, police don't seem to ticket drivers for U-turns when there's no crash, and many federal and local police cruisers often actually park right in the lanes.
Darren Buck suggested more plastic stanchions or "flexposts." There are already short sets of these at each corner to make it clear to drivers that they shouldn't use the bike lane as a turn lane, but their absence in the center seems to give drivers license to make U-turns:
Earlier plans for the bike lanes included bollards along the whole length of the blocks, but the Commission on Fine Arts, a federal panel which reviews projects on federal land an in key areas near federal property, wasn't thrilled:
The Commission approved the proposed design without colored pavement on the bicycle lanes or median, noting the importance of the avenue's design character as a prominent visual symbol of the nation. The Commission also recommended against the installation of reflective plastic stanchions, commenting that these would be intrusive and incompatible elements in this iconic streetscape.DDOT ultimately decided to go ahead with some stanchions at the corners anyway, apparently believing this was a reasonable compromise between CFA's desire to keep objects out of Pennsylvania Avenue and safety. It may be time to revisit that decision and install stanchions mid-block.
Any physical changes, Wells points out, will probably not happen until after the Inauguration in January, when all of the traffic signals and other objects on Pennsylvania Avenue get taken out for the parade. DDOT will have to re-install the existing bollards at at that time, which would make it a perfect opportunity to put more bollards in while they already have crews out there.
DDOT officials have said they are waiting to build the L Street cycletrack until they finished a study about the city's 2 existing cycletracks, on 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Yesterday, they posted an executive summary of the study, though right now the site isn't responding; perhaps too many people are trying to get a look?
David C. summarized some of the key findings. The 2 cycletracks increased cycling on their streets enormously, and took cycling off the sidewalk. Crashes increased, but not as much as volume, meaning that each individual cyclist became statistically safer.
Many riders aren't following red lights in many cases. Sometimes the red light timing works very poorly for cyclists riding through, which encourages more crossing against the light. At the corner of 16th and U, where they also studied the new bike boxes and signal, drivers aren't properly obeying the lights either.
David's summary is below.
16th Street/U Street New Hampshire
- Motor vehicle intersection [Level of Service (LOS)] remained the same before and after the bicycle facilities were installed.
- Fewer than 20% of cyclists are using the bike box and bike signal as intended to cross the intersection.
- 82% of cyclists are stopping in the crosswalk instead of the bike box as intended. Though the bike box may still be effective at giving separation as only 15% of cars are stopping in it.
- 13% of Cyclists using the bike signal encounter motor vehicles who are running the red, but are able to navigate through.
- There was 1 more bicycle crash (5 vs. 4) at the intersection in the year after the installation than before.
Pennsylvania Ave cycletrack
- Bicycle volume doubled after the cycletrack was installed.
- Arterial LOS was similar for motor vehicles on Pennsylvania Avenue before and after the bicycle facilities were installed.
- Danish Bicycle LOS and Bicycle Environmental Quality Index (BEQI) analyses all show significantly improved operations for cyclists with the median bike facilities.
- Signal timing for bicycles generally works well between 10th Street and 15th Street, but results in large delays to cyclists between 3rd Street and 9th Street.
- Bike crashes went up 80% after the bike lanes went in (so, not as much as bike traffic went up).
An average of 42 percent of cyclists arriving on a red signal violated the signal.
- Most cyclists stopping at red lights stop in the crosswalk or median area rather than behind the white stop bar.
15th Street cycletrack
- After the two-way cycle track was installed, there was a 205 percent increase in bicycle volumes (from before conditions) between P Street and Church Street during the p.m. peak hour, and there was a 272 percent increase in bicyclist volumes (from before conditions) between T Street and Swann Street during the p.m. peak hour
- Motor vehicle counts show that volumes are up a little bit on 15th Street before and after the bicycle facilities were installed.
- Motor vehicle LOS was basically the same after the cycletrack was installed.
- Bicyclists experience less delay on 15th Street between lower E Street and I Street than between I Street and U Street.
- The number or crashes again grew, but not as fast as the number of cyclists did (so crash per cyclist went down).
- There are potential issues with the existing design, which uses the pedestrian signal to control cyclist movements.
- Over 40 percent of cyclists were observed running red lights.
- There are now fewer cyclists on the sidewalk.
DDOT is hosting a public meeting on Thursday, May 3, to present more details of the study and discuss the proposed L Street cycletrack from 25th to 12th Streets, NW. The meeting is at the Reeves Center, at the corner of 14th and U, in the 2nd floor community room.
A version of this article was originally posted at TheWashCycle.
Winter is getting closer and closer, which means sooner or later DC will likely see some snow. DDOT is pondering how to ensure they can plow the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes when snow does come.
DDOT uses large plows to clear Pennsylvania Avenue and other major roads quickly after a snowstorm. The large plow, however, can't fit in the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, at least not as long as the white pylons remain near intersections.
DDOT added those pylons to make sure drivers realize they're not supposed to drive in the lanes when making turns. Occasionally, some do anyway, and police cars periodically park in them, but most of the time the pylons effectively guide drivers and protect cyclists at the corners, where there are more conflicting turning movements.
A smaller plow could come back later to clear the snow from the lanes, but depending on the size of a snowstorm, this would likely not happen until 24 to 48 hours later, meaning the lanes could remain impassable for up to 2 days while the regular roadway is clear.
The other option DDOT is considering is to remove the pylons for the winter. This would allow the plows to clear the lanes. On the other hand, it could mean drivers again getting confused and driving in the lanes, and cyclists feeling less safe at corners.
It doesn't snow very often, so if they do remove the pylons, the lanes would be a little bit worse every day in the winter, but keeping them means they'd be a lot worse for a few days. What's better: keeping them always passable to cyclists, or keeping them in their optimal condition at the cost of losing them temporarily when it snows?
The bicycle team would like your input. What do you prefer?
Councilmember Jack Evans says the 15th Street cycletrack should remain as it is and DDOT should move quickly to implement L and M Street cycletracks. These comments followed a bicycle tour of Ward 2 yesterday morning with people from WABA, DDOT, and Greater Greater Washington.
Evans bicycling on New Hampshire Avenue, NW.
Evans has received complaints about the 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue cycletracks in the past, and criticized elements of them from the perspective of drivers on the Council dais. I invited Evans to come experience these facilities from the cyclists' point of view, to see how they've made many cyclists, especially less experienced ones, feel much less intimidated riding downtown.
"It's easier than I thought it would be" to bicycle around, Evans said of the trip, which included Georgetown, Rock Creek Parkway, the harrowing Washington Circle, L and M Streets, the bike signal at 16th and U, and the 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue cycletracks.
Leaving from Evans' house in Georgetown, he mentioned right away an eagerness to see the 15th Street lane, noting he'd gotten many complaints about it from drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians and more. But at the end, he told me he felt DDOT should just "leave [15th Street] the way it is and people can get used to that."
He's referring to the well-known effect that when something changes, people complain, but often after a period of time people adjust to the new pattern. In the case of 15th, many drivers found the left turn red arrows awkward, but now things have settled out well where those driving through know to take one of the rightmost two lanes.
As we passed one downtown restaurant which had complained about parking and loading, DDOT's Jim Sebastian pointed out that they had created a loading zone in the lane adjacent to the cycletrack to let them continue with valet operation. People have to cross the bike lanes to get from cars to the restaurant and watch for bikes, but they also have to cross the sidewalk and watch for people walking and running, and that has become second nature.
Evans' committee director Ruth Werner, Jack Evans, and WABA's Nelle Pierson stopped at a light in Washington Circle.
Evans also endorsed the L and M Street crosstown bike lanes. "We need a complete system," he said, calling it "crazy" to have to ride crosstown on streets like L and M without any good bicycle facility option in the vicinity. He doesn't feel DDOT needs to spend much time analyzing existing cycletracks before moving forward on L and M.
Even though he regularly drives L and M, he doesn't anticipate traffic problems. M does back up in the evening rush, but Evans observed that most of those cars turn left on 23rd
to get to the Memorial Bridge, and the bottleneck is on 23rd, not M. Therefore, removing a lane for bicyclists, in addition to taking some cars off the road, won't actually cut down on the total throughput of the road network.
The group observed some of the flaws in the 16th and U bike signals, where half our group got left behind because they weren't quite poised to ride quickly as soon as the very short bike signal turned green. Coming back from the north, a bus driver honked at the group on 16th, demonstrating how cyclists can incur the ire of drivers when following the law. It wasn't the only honk we received on the trip for doing nothing wrong.
The group reaches the Wilson Building. Left to right: Nelle Pierson and Shane Farthing of WABA, David Alpert, Jack Evans and Ruth Werner.
Evans also expects to bike more in the future. Currently, he regularly goes on a 7-mile run along both sides of the Potomac, but knows his knees won't hold up for much longer. He now suspects he'll switch to bicycling when his knees can no longer handle running, since they didn't bother him at all on our trip.
He's up for reelection this year, and his campaign was surely at least partly on his mind. Evans clearly knows that Ward 2 has some of the highest biking, walking, and transit using rates in the city, and that while he drives to work, understanding the experience and the frustrations of users of the other modes is a necessary part of representing all people in the ward.
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!"
Individual drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders naturally have differing views and observations when their modes of travel intersect. In many cases, those intersections are complicated. Below, two letters from readers, Bradley K. and Steve W., describe contrasting road behaviors from, respectively, the views of a driver and of a cyclist.
Bradley K. writes,
A week or so ago, I was driving down King Street in Alexandria between I-395 and Old Town. There was a cyclist riding down the road, mostly to the right-hand side. He was doing a pretty decent speed, but still worth passing.
This is a two lane road, so passing the cyclist was a game of patience. Once oncoming traffic subsided, I passed the cyclist in the oncoming lane (leaving him an entire lane of room) and thought nothing of it.
Of course knowing King Street, traffic came to a halt, and the cyclist caught up to me. He got in front of my car and started shouting obcenities at me and ended up giving me the finger...
This draws a few questions for me:It seems like Bradley did nothing wrong in this case, but riding in the middle of the lane is often the right thing to do.
- What did I do wrong? I left the cyclist the entire lane while I passed.
- What do motorists expect of cyclists?
- What do cyclists expect of motorists?
What I expect of a cyclist:
- If you are on the street, obey the rules of the road (including stop signs, stop lights etc.)
- Stay to the right of the road. You don't have to be on the curb, but assist the motorists if they desire to pass you. It creates a safety issue if you are in the middle of the road going 15-20mph.
What I would expect of a motorist:
- Treat the cyclist as a slow car.
- Give the cyclist plenty of room if you need to pass.
- DO NOT PASS if the road is narrow and there is oncoming traffic (see suggestion two)
Meanwhile, Steve W. writes,
This morning, I picked up a CaBi bike from my local station for the typically relaxing commute to the office. I made my way onto the cycle track on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. I would typically think of this section as being one of the safer and more segmented parts of my commute with no car doors to open or traffic sharing the same lane with me.Turning across the Pennsylvania Avenue lane illegally and without looking is definitely not the right thing to do.
However, as I started through the 11th Street intersection going east, a minivan also going east made an illegal left turn in front of my path and onto 12th Street. Fortunately, I was able to slow down and only tap the minivan as it sped by without any consideration for cyclists.
Not only did the minivan not pay attention as it passed me and then turned in front of me on Pennsylvania Avenue, but it also made an illegal left turn as turns are never allowed at this intersection. Unfortunately, many drivers, especially tourists, are not familiar with having to pay attention to bike lanes that are separate but intersect at cross streets.
Perhaps these no-turn intersections should have some sort of red lights to additionally make drivers aware when and where they should not turn. Alternatively, maybe some sort of double yellow line would provide greater awareness to drivers.
I'm fortunate that no one was injured today, but not everyone is as fortunate.
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