Posts about Bicycling
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.
I'm biking on the Suitland Parkway Trail to work, swerving around broken glass and under low-hanging tree branches. Highway traffic roars past just inches away. Suddenly, the trail ends.
Friday is the official Bike to Work Day, so on Monday, I did a test-run of a new route from my home in Trinidad to work in Suitland. What I found is that DC, Prince George's County, and the National Park Service, which maintains Suitland Parkway, still have a long way to go to make cycling a viable option for many communities east of the Anacostia River.
Suitland Parkway is a near-freeway connecting neighborhoods like Anacostia, Barry Farm, and Shipley Terrace to employment centers at Suitland and Andrews Air Force Base. Next to it is the Suitland Parkway Trail, a bike highway similar to the Mount Vernon Trail in Northern Virginia, but it doesn't make it out of the District. It appears to be DDOT's responsibility to maintain the trail, but judging from the lack of maintenance, it's clearly not a priority for them.
After a pleasant ride southbound against the commute rush on Martin Luther King Avenue, I turn onto Sheridan Road SE. This on-street section is the western extension of the Suitland Parkway Trail. It could certainly use sharrows or even a bike lane/cycle track, as the travel lanes are very wide.
Construction debris from the unfinished Sheridan Station development litters the sidewalk adjacent to the road. I swerve around something that was burned to the curb cut and a pile of mulch that sprawls onto the trail. There's no clear signage for the trailhead, but this is where it starts.
This is the nicest part of the trail in the city, though. There's separation from the parkway, and weeds and garbage haven't colonized the path yet.
It quickly gets worse, though. In some areas, there's so much underbrush, weeds, plant debris, garbage, and broken glass on the far side of the trail that there's just one passable "lane." I'm now limited to a space 3 feet wide, keenly aware that cars traveling over 50 miles per hour are just inches away.
The trail separates from the parkway for a short distance, where it's quickly overtaken by nature.
Grass grows through cracks in the pavement, reaching the point where the trail needs to be completely rebuilt. The surface is completely broken here.
When I get back to the parkway, the lane farthest from the road is still blocked, whether by trash and dead leaves or by low-hanging tree branches. I either have to get off my bike or move into oncoming traffic to pass it.
There's a speed limit sign placed not next to the trail, but in it. There's plenty of room 4 feet to the right.
Here's an uncharacteristically clear section of the trail. It's right in front of the speed limit sign, though, so I get the feeling it was kept that way so drivers could see the sign.
East of Stanton Road, the garbage littering the path makes me think I've found a mobile automobile repair shop.
A stream culvert passes under the trail and road here. Unfortunately, it narrows the trail.
This is the steepest climb on the trail, though thankfully it's much less steep than taking parallel streets like Good Hope Road or Pennsylvania Avenue. Here, you reach two places where the trail is collapsing due to erosion of the ground below.
After crossing two exit ramps, the trail continues under the Alabama Avenue bridge. The trail is very overgrown here, and I can pick out mulberries, Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven), Virginia creeper, and other weedy plants overrunning the pavement.
Under the bridge, the trail is barely 3 feet wide, making it impossible for two cyclists to pass each other here. The lanes of the parkway must be at least 12 feet wide, and they should be narrowed to give enough space for the trail.
If you haven't noticed by now, the parkway itself has a brand-new layer of asphalt, while the adjacent trail has not seen the same level of care or investment.
At Southern Avenue, the boundary between DC and Prince George's County, the trail abruptly ends.
I trudge up the hill through waist-high weeds to get to Southern Avenue. To add insult to injury, there's no gap in the guard rail, so you have to lift your bike over the rail to get to the sidewalk.
Improving the Suitland Parkway Trail is a chicken-and-egg argument: no one uses it because it goes nowhere, so it isn't used, which means it isn't maintained. But if the District and Prince George's County are serious about making cycling a viable option for communities east of the Anacostia River, they have to do a better job of creating trails and other infrastructure, and they have to actually maintain them. If our leaders are serious about all their claims about "One City" and working with our neighbors, they'd sit down together and find a way to make this a priority.
There are rumors that the trail will one day extend to at least the Branch Avenue Metro station, if not farther south to Andrews. In 1994, the National Park Service did a feasibility study of extending the trail, but nearly 20 years later, nothing has happened.
It's also unclear who would be in charge of this construction, the National Park Service or Prince George's County. I'll believe that the local governments actually see some level of priority here when I see shovels in the ground.
In the meantime, DDOT and Mayor Gray should at least send a crew to pick up debris and clear the underbrush so what's there can be used by District cyclists and pedestrians. It's literally the least they could do.
Sarah Goodyear of the Atlantic has an article for Bike to Work Week entitled "Cyclists Aren't 'Special', and They Shouldn't Play by Their Own Rules." The thesis seems to be that now that cycling is mainstream, cyclists need to behave better.
I would argue that whether or not cycling is mainstream you need to ride safely and courteously. In fact, an increase or decrease in cycling mode share shouldn't change the way you ride one iota.
Goodyear is asking cyclists to become footdroppers and thinks that more enforcement of cycling laws is what is needed for cycling to "get to the next level." I disagree which is easy to do since Goodyear offers no evidence, no data and no defense of her position. It appears to be 100% emotion-based opinion.
When I look at great cycling cities in Europe it doesn't appear to me that there is some point where increased enforcement is needed to keep growth going. Growth is fueled by better designed streets, laws that protect cyclists, and increasing the costs of driving. If anything, what I've read about Amsterdam and Copenhagen is that they don't tolerate the kinds of bad driving that are considered normal here. I don't read about ticketing blitzes.
She makes the point that many cyclists are rude or ride dangerously and that she'd like to see such behavior ticketed. I have no problem with ticketing dangerous behavior - though if we're really going to focus on the MOST dangerous behavior, that will rarely mean ticketing cyclists. And if law enforcement were to blitz cyclsits, it would likely not be for their most dangerous behavior (riding at night without lights or too fast on the sidewalk or against traffic) but rather not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign during a charity ride or at some out-of-the way intersection.
Writing about wrong-way cycling she adds,
It makes all of us look terrible and it's a real hazard. Same goes for blowing through a stop sign or red light, or blocking the crosswalk when you're impatiently waiting for the light to change. Not to mention shouting at pedestrians to get out of the way when they are crossing legally. I saw someone yell at an old lady the other day.I again assert that few cyclists actually "blow through" stop signs and lights. Yes, cyclists run them - even Goodyear - but not blowing through them.
She sees herself as an ambassador. But does anyone see themselves as a pedestrian ambassador when walking or as a driving ambassador when driving? No. Biking is not foreign, and maybe to "get to the next level" we need to stop presenting it as though it is. It is funny that she sees it this way, that she has to behave hyper-legally and as a role model only to follow it up with.
You're going to have to give up your identity as a special person who does some special activity known as cycling.Ok, if I'm not so special any longer, then how come I have to behave differently - squeaky clean - than everyone else?
You're not so special any longer.
I agree that cyclists should be safe and courteous (because I think EVERYONE should be), but not that they need to be hyper-legal in the hope that it will soothe everyone else. Because it won't. And it won't take cycling to the next level.
What will help is changing the law where it currently doesn't make sense, such as with the Idaho Stop - exactly the kind of "Special Treatment" and "own rules" that Goodyear seems to be arguing against. What will help is treating cycling as special by creating special facilities to help them get around - like bi-directional cycletracks on one-way streets or cycle-tracks. What will help is bike sharing, on street bike parking, unique zoning regulations related to bike parking, special commuter benefits for bike commuters, etc...
We're going to have to treat cyclists better and let them play by their own rules if we want to "get ot the next level."
Is it fair if bikers get benefits when motorists don't? Nope. You know what else isn't fair? Everything. Deal with it.
Cross-posted at the WashCycle.
Between heavy car traffic and the upcoming streetcar, H Street can be an intimidating place for some bicyclists. DDOT wants to give them an alternative with new bike lanes on parallel streets.
Mike Goodno, bike planner for the District Department of Transportation, has prepared several options for G and I streets NE. Among the proposals are contraflow bike lanes, which would allow two-way bicycle travel on what are now one-way streets. This gives bicyclists an alternative to riding on H Street.
DDOT's 2005 Bicycle Master Plan already includes bike lanes for G and I streets. Parts of the plan are already in place, like bike lanes on 2nd, 4th, and 6th Streets NE. A larger DDOT reconstruction and safety project is also looking at bike lanes on Maryland Avenue.
Streetcar tracks can be hazardous for bicyclists because bicycle tires can slip on the rails or get stuck in them, causing riders to fall. That doesn't mean bikes and streetcars can't coexist, and many world cities have extensive bike and streetcar networks. Small design features can help cyclists better cross streetcar tracks at an angle that minimizes danger, for instance.
But especially for cyclists less experienced riding around streetcar lines, the tracks pose a hazard. M. Loren Copsey has seen many crashes as owner of The Daily Rider, a bike shop on H Street. He says that they have had "numerous customers come into the shop directly after a fall with injuries and damaged bikes."
Last week, Copsey says he "saw a cyclist in the streetcar lane get caught and thrown over the handlebars. The first thing he said was that he was glad there wasn't a vehicle behind him when he fell. Thankfully he wasn't injured."
DDOT has a two-pronged approach to keeping bicyclists safe in this corridor. One is to educate riders on the dangers streetcar tracks can pose. Warning signs could go at Capital Bikeshare stations or be painted on to the roadway itself. There are currently some text-only signs on lightposts, but some could be replaced by more graphic warnings like this one in Portland.
The other way is to offer bicyclists the choice of another nearby route. That's what Arlington County is doing along the future Columbia Pike streetcar line. They're turning two parallel streets, one on either side of Columbia Pike, into "bike boulevards," low-speed streets designed to give bicyclists an alternative to a busier street where there isn't room for bike lanes.
Today, G and I streets are about 30 feet wide and contain 2 7-foot parking lanes and one 16-foot travel lane, which is wider than a normal 9-foot travel lane. DDOT is looking at 4 ways to use that extra space for bicyclists:
Option 1 paints sharrows in the primary direction of travel, with no provision for bicyclists to travel in the opposite direction. This is only a small step above a "no build" option. Riders could need up to a 4-block detour to legally reach a destination if they don't want to ride at all on H Street.
Option 2 also paints sharrows in the primary direction and adds a contraflow bike lane on the left side of the roadway, between parked cars and the primary travel lane. Any drivers trying to park would need to cross the bike lane. However, drivers will not be backing into the lane, improving visibility. The hazard of doors opening into the bike lane would be less because they would be passenger doors, which open less often.
Option 3 converts parking to be diagonal along only one side of the street, with a contraflow bike lane on the opposite side. Cars would not need to cross into this area, so bollards or a curb could protect it from the rest of traffic. This option may be the safest configuration for bicyclists, but would take away some parking spaces.
Option 4 converts both streets to 2-way traffic, with painted sharrows in each direction. In addition to allowing biking in both directions, this change could alleviate congestion in the area by reducing the number of turns and increasing the number of alternative routes to H Street. However, this option may increase the chances drivers would hit parked cars.
These options could also help residents find parking spaces. Each block has between 24 and 30 spaces today. Under options 1, 2 and 4, no on-street parking spaces would disappear, while option 3 would mean 4-6 fewer spaces on each block.
Streetcars and bikes happily coexist in cities from Philadelphia to Amsterdam, and they can in DC as well. On some future streetcar corridors, there may be room for bicyclists to get their own lanes. Meanwhile, in areas like H Street where there isn't room for bike lanes, it's good to provide an alternative route for those bicyclists who may not feel safe riding on a busy street.
May is a great month to bike to school or work (and so is every other month!) Tomorrow is the national Bike to School Day, Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 17, and Greenbelt is having a vintage New Deal-themed bike ride later this month.
Also, there are public meetings to learn about and weigh in on some of the most important questions shaping our communities, like what the Purple Line will look like and how tall buildings should be in DC, a more walkable Route 1 in Fairfax, and Montgomery's Bus Rapid Transit plans, and more.
Here's what's coming up on the Greater Greater Washington calendar:
Purple Line open houses: The Maryland MTA is holding 5 open houses to inform residents about the Purple Line, now looking a lot more likely to actually become a reality. They're tonight (Tuesday) in Silver Spring, Thursday 5/9 in Riverdale, Saturday 5/11 in Langley Park, Tuesday 5/14 in Bethesda, and Wednesday 5/15 at Woodridge Elementary School in Hyattsville. Each is 5-8 pm, except the Saturday one which is 11-2.
Bike to school: If you have children in school and don't bike to school regularly, tomorrow is a great time to try. 17 DC schools are participating, and for the dozen on those which are on Capitol Hill, families can congregate in Lincoln Park for an event featuring Ray LaHood, then form bike trains to the schools. Sandra Moscoso has more on Greater Greater Education.
Walk Route 1: CSG's next walking tour looks at Route 1 in Fairfax, the oft-forgotten highway where big box sprawl has the potential to become eco-friendly, walkable communities. Volunteers will help groups take the bus from Huntington Metro for those arriving by transit. RSVP before it's full!
Height "master plan" meetings: The National Capital Planning Commission and DC Office of Planning are working together on a study that might recommend changes to the federal height limit, or might not. Regardless, the issue is sure to be completely noncontroversial, since as we know nobody ever wants to argue about the height limit. (Kidding.) The first public involvement is next week, with a meeting Monday, May 13, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Petworth Library, and then Saturday, May 18, 10:30-12:30 at the MLK Library by Gallery Place Metro.
Learn about, push for BRT: There's a big hearing on Montgomery County's BRT plans on Thursday, May 16, 6-9 pm in Silver Spring. Can you testify? Also, Montgomery transportation planner Larry Cole will talk about BRT as well as MARC expansion at ACT's monthly meeting Tuesday, May 14, 7:30 pm in Silver Spring.
What's up with Pennsylvania and Potomac? The second public meeting on the intersection at Potomac Avenue Metro is Thursday, May 16, 6:30-8:30 pm at Payne Elementary. Have DDOT and its consultants listened made the early designs even better to walk and bike, or have they gotten worse? We'll find out!
Bike to work: Just a little over a week after Bike to School Day (but much farther down our chronological calendar) is Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 17. Pledge to ride, stop by one of the pit stops around the region, join one of the commuter convoys along popular routes, and support almost all of the event sponsors.
Talk Smart Growth with David Grosso: Ward 3 Vision, the smart growth resident group in upper Northwest DC, is having a meet and greet on Tuesday, May 21, 6:30 pm at Guapo's by the Tenleytown Metro. At-large councilmember David Grosso will be there to hear from you about your vision for a more walkable and vibrant Ward 3 and all of DC.
Roosevelt Ride: Ride around Greenbelt, the New Deal planned community, in your best New Deal-era attire, followed by a picnic. You can also get a free tour of the Greenbelt Museum, which shows how families lived in what was built as working-class housing in 1937. That's Sunday, May 26; the ride starts at 11, the picnic after, and the tours at 1.
Have an event we should consider including on the ? Send them to email@example.com. Please include a URL to a webpage that has the information about your event as well, so that we can link directly to your event.
On Wednesday, a driver on Massachusetts Avenue hit me while making an illegal and dangerous turn onto 9th Street NW. I was bicycling east on Massachusetts Avenue, waiting to cross 9th Street on the south side crosswalk. The driver fled the scene.
I travel this area frequently, and know this is a dangerous intersection because it includes a right red arrow to allow pedestrians to cross 9th Street safely even while other through lanes get a green light. Many drivers nevertheless illegally turn right when the light turns green for people continuing straight.
I have asked the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) on multiple occasions to add enforcement here, but have never witnessed any.
I have seen this behavior numerous times before at this spot, so I am ready for it. However, this time the first car, a black Chevy Suburban waiting to turn right, remained stopped. But the driver second in line could not stand for this, changed lanes to the left, then drove around the Suburban to make the right turn.
I saw this coming from the corner of my field of vision, but it was too late. The driver cut in front of me, clipping my front tire with the rear corner of his car. It was a grazing blow, but enough to knock me off the bike.
The driver left the scene, never bothering to stop. Fortunately, my spill was fairly minor and I was able to continue to Union Station with little injury. However, if I had been a few seconds faster, I would have been more squarely in his path and would likely be in the hospital.
Without enforcement, lawlessness runs rampant
There was no police officer to witness the incident. Police can't be be everywhere and catch everything. However, I've also seen MPD simply ignore dangerous infractions by drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians occurring directly in front of them.
Last weekend, while riding in the 15th Street cycletrack, a driver illegally turned left against the protected left turn signal at 15th and U Street NW, right behind my wife and me. By coincidence, a MPD patrol unit was directly behind this illegally turning driver but did nothing.
On the same trip, my wife and I witnessed two illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue right in front of police cars and officers stationed along the street for the marathon. At the time, there were lots of pedestrians and cyclists around but they refused to enforce against illegal driving right in front of them.
This is even more frustrating because this episode occurred during the regional Street Smart campaign, an annual campaign to raise safety awareness and increase enforcement. Mayor Vincent Gray stood with MPD Chief Cathy Lanier to announce DC's part of the program a week ago, alongside advocacy groups such as WABA. The Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track was supposed to be an area targeted for enforcement during this campaign.
Drivers are not the only problem. Cyclists and pedestrians also contribute when they ride down one-way bike lanes in the wrong direction, run out in front of cyclists and drivers without bothering to look, and more.
The roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks all function as a transportation system and users interact with this system according to a set of laws. When these laws go unenforced for long periods of time it creates a broken system of lawlessness.
Mayor Vincent Gray has called for a 25% mode share for walking and cycling by 2032. To reach this goal, sustained and consistent traffic enforcement will become pivotal. The city doesn't need any more public safety campaigns, advertisements, lip service, and promises. We need results.
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.
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