Posts about Bicycling
The City of Fairfax isn't a place that usually comes to mind when discussing cycletracks. But Fairfax does have one, and it's bizarre. It runs 270 feet along the back side of a strip mall parking lot.
The cycletrack is part of Fairfax's Mason to Metro Trail, an assemblage of sharrows, sidewalks, and dedicated bikeways that runs from George Mason University to Vienna Metro station.
The cycletrack portion is just north of Fairfax Main Street. It curves around the back side of the Main Street Marketplace strip mall, using a cycletrack through the parking lot and a simpler buffered bike lane through the loading dock.
It's no 15th Street, but it's something.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Almost 60% of residents spoke up for Alexandria's King Street bike lanes Tuesday night, but the city's Traffic and Parking Board once again voted to recommend that the City Council delay building them because of concerns about lost parking.
The proposal would remove 27 parking spaces and add bike lanes to King Street between Russell Road and Highland Place, west of Old Town. In a concession to neighbors, transportation officials had previously agreed to have sharrows between Highland and Janneys Lane for two additional blocks, saving 10 parking spaces.
Though Transportation and Environmental Services Director Rich Baier gave the order to go ahead with the plan in December, the Traffic and Parking Board (TPB) reconsidered the project as part of an appeals process and voted 5-2 in favor of delaying it. Next, it goes to the City Council for a public hearing and final vote on the lanes March 15.
According to Baier, there are an average of three cars parked along the corridor, and all of the houses on King Street have driveways that can accommodate at least two cars. But the board asked Baier to address a large number of suggested alternatives, all of which retained all parking spaces.
Said Baier, "Everyone talks safety, but it always comes down to the parking."
Those alternatives included finding alternative routes for bicyclists, which Baier said didn't address safety concerns for cyclists or pedestrians on King Street today. Baier also looked at a wider sidewalk, bulb-outs, and a so-called "enhanced curb," but without changing the parking, there was only two feet of space to work with, meaning the improvements would be small.
A representative of DASH, the city's bus agency, said that narrowing the through lanes for traffic calming as planned is not a problem for DASH buses or emergency vehicles.
At Tuesday's meeting, Baier, his staff, and numerous speakers in favor of the plan described the traffic calming effect of bike lanes. Transportation planner Carrie Sanders stated that bike lanes increase cycling, and drivers respond by slowing down. Baier pointed out that this is a well-established result and is "not at all cutting-edge."
Overall, 32 people spoke in favor of the plan and 23 spoke against. One speaker was Environmental Policy Commission Chair Scott Barstow, who pointed out that the entire EPC was in attendance and invited them to stand up. In the interest of time, the remaining EPC members did not testify.
But numerous opponents stated that the traffic would not slow down in any circumstance. One opposing speaker said that inviting more cyclists onto the streets would indeed slow down the cars by frightening drivers, but went on to say that frightening drivers was simply unacceptable.
TPB Vice Chair Larry Ruggiero, who made the motion to disapprove the city's plan, indicated that he judged the plan unsafe. When fellow board member Kevin Posey asked for his rationale, Ruggiero failed to give one.
William Schuyler, who seconded the motion, added an amendment asking the "two sides" to meet and find a resolution within the next 60 days, which the board had already recommended when they voted 6-0 against the proposal the first time in November.
Complete-streets proponent Kevin Posey, who represents Alexandria's Transportation Commission on the TPB, and TPB member Greg Cota cast the two dissenting votes. The Transportation Commission submitted a letter to the TPB in favor of the plan.
Cota seemed incredulous that the rest of the TPB could not see the value in separating bicycles from pedestrians and cars. Posey said he was not comfortable with any motion that dismissed the expertise of city staff and the opinions of cyclists concerning their own safety.
Despite the TPB request for both more "common ground" and more delays, the reality is that there is no solution that both retains parking and allows even a single, parallel bike lane within the right-of-way. As Baier repeatedly pointed out, the road is simply too narrow.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the project March 15 at 9:30 am at Alexandria City Hall, 301 King Street. If you'd like to express your support for this project, the Coalition for Smarter Growth is circulating a petition.
Now that spring is around the corner, DC is getting ready to install new bike lanes around H Street NE. Signs have started going up on G and I Streets NE for bicycles to legally travel in both directions on each street.
For cars, I Street remains one-way eastbound, while G Street is one-way westbound. According to an email from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT)'s Mike Goodno, the agency will start striping the lanes in the first "one to two week opening of warm weather and clean pavement."
DDOT considered several options to safely allow legal two-way bicycle traffic on G and I Streets NE, some of which would have changed parking to diagonal or converted both streets to two-way operation for both cars and bicycles.
They chose an option to place the contraflow lane between parked cars and the primary traffic lane, with parallel parking remaining on both sides of the street. ANCs 6A and 6C supported this choice as well.
Where else can this work?
While this project will create the city's longest stretches of such contraflow lanes, there are a few other small sections of contraflow bike lanes combined with sharrows in one-way DC streets, such as the 200 block of R NE near the Metropolitan Branch Trail and on New Hampshire Avenue near U Street NW.
This particular configuration is most practical at locations where there is room for a single bike lane, but the street has light enough car and truck traffic that sharrows would work well in the main travel direction. Are there other locations in DC where this method would be successful?
In 2013, Arlington began installing bike boulevards on the streets a block north and south paralleling Columbia Pike. The bike boulevards offer cyclists an alternative to Columbia Pike itself, which will one day have streetcar tracks.
What's a bike boulevard?
Bike boulevards are slow-speed neighborhood streets where cars and bikes share lanes, but which are optimized for bikes. They're quiet local roads, usually lined with single-family houses, where there's such light car traffic that separated lanes for bikes and cars aren't necessary.
Bike boulevards are common on the west coast, but as far as I know Arlington's 9th Street South and 12th Street South bike boulevards are the first in the DC region.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
As Virginia's legislative session continues, House Republicans are still trying to take local planning authority from Northern Virginia cities and counties. Two bicycle safety bills have moved forward. And Hampton Roads may get a regional transportation authority of its own.
Bike bills seek to prevent "dooring"
Two bicycle safety bills have passed the Senate and are heading to the House of Delegates, including a bill that would require three feet of clearance when passing a cyclist. Another bill, Senate Bill 225, codifies that a car driver or passenger must ensure that the road is clear before opening their car door into traffic. And the House of Delegates passed HB 82, which specified that non-motorized transportation was included in the law that prohibits drivers following too closely.
However, two road safety bills that would have clarified a driver's duties to pedestrians in crosswalks were defeated in the House.
Delegates rewrite bill stripping Northern Virginia's ability to plan for itself
In our last update, we talked about HB 2, which would reduce Northern Virginia's ability to plan its own transportation projects. It's been significantly rewritten to put transit projects on more equal footing with roads and highways.
It will allow the state to evaluate projects on economic development, safety, accessibility, and environmental quality in addition to congestion relief, which would have been the only factor under the previous bill.
Meanwhile, HB 426, from Chantilly Republican Jim LeMunyon, has been tabled. It called for a "study" of transportation options on I-66 that only included more lanes for cars. It's unlikely that it will come up again this year.
But Delegate LeMunyon did get a House Bill 793 out of committee. That bill would have VDOT recommend specific transportation projects to the groups that plan these projects in Northern Virginia. Bills like this want to ensure that there's always someone advocating for highway projects that local governments may have already said they are not interested in. And this one violates the spirit of last year's transportation bill, which allowed Northern Virginia counties to plan for more public transportation solutions to congestion rather than pursuing a strategy that only focuses on newer and wider roads.
Another bill that we covered and is aimed at pushing a transportation solution that local counties may not want is House Bill 1244 from Delegate Tom Rust (R-Herndon), which would study and likely advocate for another highway crossing of the Potomac River as part of the Outer Beltway. It's been referred to the appropriations committee.
And HB 957, which would delay giving the state more control over VRE's executive board, passed the House. The bill initially called for repeal but this delay means that repeal can be considered again next year.
Good news for red-light cameras, Hampton Roads
The Hampton Roads area may soon be getting a local transportation planning authority similar to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority with HB 1253, which has moved out of committee. This may be a benefit to Northern Virginia since such a group could bolster the argument that transportation decisions can be answered effectively by local governments.
Meanwhile, House Bill 973, which would have repealed localities' authority to install red light cameras, has been defeated.
We'll keep you updated on what happens to these bills.
Since launching in September, the Capital Bikeshare stations in Montgomery County have been slow to draw riders, with some stations being used less than once per day on average. This may change over time, but it'll take a more complete bike network to increase ridership.
I reviewed Capital Bikeshare's trip history data to find lessons from the first few months after the September 27 launch through December 31. Of the 50 stations in Montgomery County, the highest-performing ones were those in Friendship Heights and Bethesda, and those near Metro stations.
To count each station's number of trips, I included any trip that started or ended at the station. Trips that both started and ended at the same station counted only once, but if those trips lasted less than 30 seconds, I decided not to count them at all. To find the trips-per-day averages, I made sure to account for the fact that some stations were installed after the initial launch.
On the maps, blue dots are stations which averaged 10 or more trips a day; green dots at least 5 trips but less than 10; yellow at least 2 trips but less than 5; orange at least 1 trip but less than 2; and red dots were stations with less than one trip per day. Black dots represent stations that weren't installed until this year.
Bethesda and Friendship Heights
The most popular bikeshare station in Montgomery County so far is the one at the Friendship Heights Metro station, which was involved in about 11 trips per day. It has several things going for it. Metro stations are a popular place for bikeshare trips, as we'll see throughout this analysis. The location is also right on the border with DC, which has its own bikeshare stations nearby and, presumably, residents who were already members before the Montgomery launch.
The next most popular station was at Bethesda Avenue & Arlington Boulevard, in the dense, mixed-use Bethesda Row area. The third most popular was the station at Montgomery Avenue & East Lane, close to the Bethesda Metro stop. Those two each saw between 7 and 8 trips per day.
The most common trip involving a Montgomery station went from Battery Lane & the Bethesda Trolley Trail to Norfolk Avenue & Fairmont Avenue. But this trip only happened 70 times last year, meaning a handful of users could easily be responsible for all the trips. As a result, I'm hesitant to draw any broad conclusions from the popularity of certain trips.
Bike sharing in Rockville started very slowly. The only station involved in more than two trips per day was East Montgomery Avenue & Maryland Avenue, which averaged 2.5 trips per day. It's the closest station to Rockville Town Center, and also less than a half-mile from the Rockville Metro stop.
The most glaring omission in Rockville is the lack of a bikeshare station at the Shady Grove Metro stop. Capital Bikeshare put stations in the King Farm and Fallsgrove neighborhoods, both of which have bike-friendly routes to the Shady Grove Metro.
The lack of a bikeshare station at the Shady Grove Metro seems like a missed opportunity to connect residents to a major destination. Throughout the system, Metro stations are among the most popular sites for bikeshare stations. The two most popular stations in the whole system were the one near the Dupont Circle Metro stop's north entrance and the one near Union Station. Each was involved in more than 300 trips per day from September 27 to December 31 last year.
Silver Spring and Takoma Park
Like Bethesda, Silver Spring has some of the highest rates of bicycle commuting in the county. But the most popular station in eastern Montgomery County was the one near the Silver Spring Metro station, at Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue. It saw just 4.3 trips per day.
There's no bikeshare station right near the Takoma Metro station. The closest one is at Carroll Avenue & Westmoreland Avenue. It was Takoma Park's most popular, averaging 4.1 trips per day after it was installed in late October.
Comparing Montgomery County to Alexandria
Alexandria was the first jurisdiction outside of DC and Arlington that Capital Bikeshare expanded to. The cluster of stations there is geographically isolated from other parts of the system in a similar way to the Montgomery County clusters.
The growth of ridership in Alexandria since its stations launched on August 31, 2012 could offer a clue for what to expect going forward in Montgomery.
There were 4,736 trips involving at least one of Alexandria's stations during the fourth quarter of 2012. In the fourth quarter of 2013, that number went up to 5,345, an increase of 13% from the previous year.
All eight stations in Alexandria launched on the same day, and there have been no additional stations since then, so it's easy to compare them from year to year.
Notably, and not surprisingly, the bikeshare station near the King Street Metro station was Alexandria's most popular.
Montgomery County can expect bike sharing to grow over time, but it shouldn't assume that such a slow start is normal.
In DC, the station at North Capitol Street & G Place NE opened in mid-December and managed 14 trips per day during the final few weeks of the year, even during a relatively cold month. The 10th Street & Florida Ave NW station, added in October, saw 25 trips per day for the rest of the year.
No station in Montgomery County really came close to those numbers, let alone those of the most popular stations in DC.
If the county wants its investment in bike sharing to pay off, it should fill in key gaps, especially at the Shady Grove Metro. Providing bike lanes or paths to connect neighborhoods to Metro stations would also encourage the kind of trips that have proven popular everywhere else in the system.
Complete streets, or the idea that roads should be safe and effective for all users, aim to upend the social order, moving cars from first to last. Despite endless discussion of "safety" and "the law," many people seem to be upset by social, rather than legal violations of the rules.
While the majority remains polite, a vocal minority is extremely attached to the status quo. In the current social order, roads are for cars, slow drivers are "bad drivers," and cyclists and pedestrians are expected to get out of the way.
The social order of the road is governed not by laws, but by socially-enforced rules. For example, one might voluntarily drive below the speed limit on the Beltway. That would be perfectly legal, but would also garner honking, headlight-flashing, and rude gestures. As everyone knows, appropriate driving speeds begin at the speed limit and extend upwards, not downwards. The power of these rules is such that police rarely issue a ticket, photographic or otherwise, for driving less than 10 mph over the speed limit.
Violating social norms
All this came to mind the other day, when I was bicycling in violation of the social order. I was riding in the center of a narrow lane and a driver started honking at me. Shortly thereafter, he pulled alongside and helpfully explained that cyclists are not allowed in the street unless they can "ride at the speed limit."
This struck me as quite the head-scratcher. After all, isn't the speed limit an upper limit? Those of us with Internet access have certainly read that cyclists should not be allowed on the road unless they "obey the law." Riding at a typical bicycle speed surely complies with the law. Nevertheless I've been told, even by friends, that cyclists must ride at the speed limit.
As it turns out, the speed limit is the single point of intersection between socially acceptable driving speeds and socially acceptable bicycling speeds. Cyclists who do not ride this tightrope, and that would be all of them, are in violation of at least one of these social conventions.
Despite endless discussion of "safety" and "the law" it is increasingly clear to me that many people are upset by social, rather than legal, violations of the rules. While the majority of drivers remain polite, a vocal minority is extremely attached to the status quo.
As old gives way to new, old ideas fall by the wayside. One of these is that automobile traffic is an unstoppable force. As a pedestrian, it is up to me to get out of the way or suffer the consequences. As a cyclist, there is no point in asking for bike lanes because they would simply put me in harm's way.
The complete streets concept recognizes that traffic is ruled by individual drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, each of whom is able to slow down and even stop to avoid a crash. Complete streets are updated streets, often with narrower traffic lanes that have been demonstrated to slow motorized traffic. Pedestrians come first, followed by transit, cyclists, and cars.
Barbara McCann, author of Completing our Streets, describes supporters of complete streets as "a broad coalition of bicycle riders, transportation practitioners, public health leaders, older Americans, smart growth advocates, [and] real estate agents" who "came together to insist that we begin to build streets that are safe for everyone."
Because the automobile can't deliver the promises of speed and freedom to 100% of the population, people continue to take up walking and bicycling, often in the direction of the nearest Metro station. When these non-drivers get in the way of the cars, and they do so often in urban settings, they upset the social order. Transit planners participate in these changes as well by calling for dedicated bus lanes and new buses that give their drivers the power to change traffic signals. I myself joined AARP specifically because they are a champion of complete streets.
McCann cites a 2012 nationwide poll that found that "63% of Americans would like to address traffic congestion by improving public transportation and designing communities for easier walking and bicycling." While frustrating for some, a majority of citizens support these changes. The new social order, it seems, is here to stay.
A version of this post appeared in the Alexandria Times.
Maryland's 2014 legislative session began last month. For the state's urban areas, one of the biggest issues is whether to spend the glut of transportation funding on more highways or new transit. But there are also two bills seeking to improve bicycling safety, while legislators will again consider a statewide disposable bag fee.
Disposable bag fee returns
Right now, Montgomery County, Baltimore County, and Baltimore City are allowed to impose a fee on stores giving out disposable bags, though only Montgomery currently does. Two new bills from Senator Jamie Raskin (D-Takoma Park), SB 707 and HB 718, would allow the other 21 counties to charge for disposable bags as well.
This isn't the first time Maryland's attempted a statewide bag fee. Raskin has introduced the bill each year for the past four years.
Bike bills would increase passing distance, outline cyclist rights
Lawmakers have also introduced two bills to promote bike safety. Delegate Jon Cardin (D-Pikesville) submitted HB92, which would strengthen Maryland's current 3-foot passing law by increasing the distance drivers need to pass cyclists to 4 feet. There would be some exemptions, including when the road is too narrow for drivers to leave 4 feet of space.
Delegate Al Carr (D-Kensington) introduced the other bill, HB52, which clarifies that the duties of bicyclists are those defined in Maryland law. The bill would give cyclists the same rights and duties as drivers.
It would require bicyclists to watch for other vehicles in public areas, while drivers would have to watch for bicyclists along highways where bikes are allowed. By clarifying the duty of a bicyclist, this bill would protect cyclists who are riding lawfully from additional or hypothetical responsibilities.
Both bills came up in a committee hearing on January 28th and were not received well. Legislators questioned if the new legislation is necessary at this time. The Washington Post quoted Delegate James Malone (D-Baltimore and Howard counties) as saying that cyclists already "don't pay any attention to the rules of the road."
We'll keep you posted on what happens next.
This post was edited to reflect that only Montgomery County has enacted a bag fee, while Baltimore City and County are authorized to.
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