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Bicycling


In Rockville, a quiet bicycling transformation takes place

In the past five years, DC and Arlington have dramatically expanded their bicycle infrastructure, becoming national leaders in cycling. Meanwhile, a quieter transformation has been taking place in Rockville, which has built a 68-mile bike network and is looking to expand it.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

As one of the few incorporated cities in Montgomery County, Rockville is in a unique position to plan its transportation. Since 1999, volunteers on the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee (RBAC) have worked with the city to expand infrastructure and develop bicycle-friendly policies. Today, the city has 34.3 miles of separated bikeways and 33.5 miles of shared lane designations.

Through the group's advocacy and the city's efforts, Rockville built the Millennium Trail in 2000, since renamed the Carl Henn Millennium Trail after its biggest advocate. A "bicycle beltway," the multi-use path connects together a number of neighborhoods and parallels several major roads that would scare off all but the most experienced cyclists.

Rockville makes bicycling a priority

Rockville has also developed Maryland's first Safe Routes to School curriculum, built the Sister Cities bridge over I-270, and added bicycle safety classes to Montgomery College's course offerings. Recently, the city has made even more significant investments in cycling as a mode of transportation.


Bicycling facilities in Rockville from Google Maps. Click for an interactive map.

With encouragement from RBAC, the city hired a full-time pedestrian and bicycle coordinator in 2011. While previous bicycle-related work was located in the Department of Recreation and Parks, the coordinator's position is in the Department of Public Works, showing how the city is recognizing non-motorized transportation's role in the larger system.

The bicycle and pedestrian coordinator has played a key role in system-level activities such as analyzing crash data, developing heat maps, running bicycle counts, and coordinating activities across the city government.

Most recently, Rockville collaborated with Montgomery County on the Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) grant for Capital Bikeshare. Because of the matching grant funds from the City, as well as its site development work, Rockville has 13 stations. Because the grant is designed to increase transportation access for low-income citizens, the county is offering free memberships, helmets, and cycling classes to residents who qualify.

Showing that it's safe to bike

RBAC works to complement the city's work by organizing activities that educate and encourage citizens to ride. The RBAC booth is a reliable presence at the Rockville's farmers' market throughout the spring and summer. Volunteers hand out bike maps, answer questions, and carry out bicycle safety checks.


A RBAC community ride. Photo from Bike Rockville's Facebook page.

Through weekly community rides, RBAC members introduce participants to routes and demonstrate safety techniques. Past rides have included trips around the Millennium Trail, rides to local landmarks like Lake Needwood, and a "progressive dinner" ride to local restaurants. This summer, RBAC is launching a series of Kidical Mass rides geared towards families with young children. By showing parents that it's safe to ride on the street, these rides will set the stage for the next generation of cyclists who can be less reliant on cars.

The efforts of the city government and RBAC are paying off. In 2012, the League of American Bicyclists recognized the city as a bronze level Bicycle-Friendly Community, a step up from its previous Honorable Mention status. Results from yearly bicycle counts show an increasing number of cyclists, with more than 300 people a day riding through one of the busiest intersections in Rockville.

Last year, more riders signed up for Rockville's Bike to Work Day than ever, with a 48% increase in participants from 2012 to 2013. Attitudes are changing as well. Bicycling has become so mainstream that major developer JBG is using bicycle-friendliness as a selling point for its new development at the Twinbrook Metro station.

Rockville considers expanding its bike network

As encouraging as these changes are, Rockville still has substantial room for improvement. The update of the city's Bikeway Master Plan, the first one in 10 years, sets a long-term vision. Based on extensive research and analysis, the draft plan proposes 24.5 miles of new dedicated bikeway facilities, including 15 miles of traditional bike lanes, 4.3 miles of shared-use paths, and 5.2 miles of cycletracks. In addition, it also proposes 18.1 miles of shared lane designations, including sharrows.


Bicycling on the Millennium Trail. Photo from Bike Rockville's Facebook page.

The plan maps these proposed locations, as well as new north-south and east-west crosstown priority bicycle routes. It also recommends updating zoning ordinances, improving maintenance of existing bikeways, increasing signage, and adding two-way cycletracks to both sides of Rockville Pike, which would be Montgomery County's first protected bicycle lanes. The draft master plan is currently on the city's website, and the city is accepting public comments through April 30.

While there are many improvements yet to be made, Rockville holds this vision: that it may be a city where bicycling is for all types of trips, for all types of people, and for all parts of the city.

Bicycling


Kidical Mass brings pedal power to tots

This spring, expect to see more toddlers blazing DC's most popular trails and safe streets, cycling independently or riding along behind their parents in a trailer.


Photo by Randall Myers.

Since 2011, about 25 parents and children have been a part of Kidical Mass DC, a kid-friendly bike movement with chapters in multiple cities across the country. Megan Odett, founder of Kidical Mass DC and a mother of two who tows her children to school and daycare everyday, hopes that Kidical Mass DC can be a catalyst to further push cycling infrastructure in the city, while providing a fun and safe family activities for the cycling season.

Odett reveals how Kidical Mass is becoming the go-to source for kid-friendly cycling in the city.

What made you decide to start a Kidical Mass chapter in DC?
I'd been living in DC for a few years at that point and I noticed more and more people biking with kids, and as a parent I noticed more and more people asking questions about biking with their kids on the neighborhood listserv. But there wasn't really a central place where people could meet or talk about what equipment works best or where they can go to find equipment. So I decided that since DC's biking community was growing and becoming much more widespread, it was time for us to also get a family bicycling community going in a more formal way.

Describe the types of events and activities that Kidical Mass DC hosts.
Our main activity is doing fun family bike rides. These are typically easy bike rides of 3-5 miles in length and we ride on a combination of streets and separated cycling infrastructures like trails. Usually the rides end at some place fun like a splash park or place to get something to eat.

In addition with Kidical Mass DC, I also do one education event every year called The ABC's of Family Biking. It is a kind of expo or celebration of family biking that involves parents who bike with their kids showing off how they bike with their kids and what kind of bikes they use; bike shops getting together to demonstrate what equipment they sell for biking with kids; and some teaching activities and workshops that are run by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association and the local Safe Route to School coordinator.

What are the best kid-friendly trails, parks or roads in the city?
I am a huge fan of the Metropolitan Branch Trail that runs from Brookland down close to Union Station and I also really love the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. They're both really beautiful trails that are off the streets but offer a lot of really interesting things to look at.

What's the most difficult part of organizing rides that incorporate children?
Probably finding places to ride that are both fun to get to and easy and safe for kids to ride on, since we still don't have a whole lot of cycling infrastructure on the streets.

How do you feel about the progress that the city has made in accommodating cyclists?
The city has made a lot of progress and I'm really happy to see that DC is becoming a national leader in building cycling infrastructure.

I think that the next big steps are going to be connecting all the different pieces of cycling infrastructure together so that you can really go all the way from one place to another place on really safe roads rather than having a safe road here and having to jump over the to the next piece of really safe cycling infrastructure.

And also making sure that the cycling infrastructure that we have accommodates young riders and people riding big bikes that tow their childrenso having infrastructure that accommodates non-stereotypical cyclists is going to be a big step for DC

If more children are seen riding, will there be a push for safer streets?
I sure hope so. I think that in other cities, demonstrating that children and families are riding bikes has done a lot to make cycling seem like something that ordinary people do and in turn that helps generate more support for good cycling infrastructure and facilities.

What can people expect from Kidical Mass this year?
This year we are going to do an even bigger and better ABC's of Family Biking and they can expect to see more great rides ending at fun destinations with good food.

Kidical Mass's first ride of the year, and its ABCs of Family Biking event, will be May 3. Learn more here.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Crossposted on ElevationDC.

Pedestrians


Arlington's new vision for Rosslyn doesn't address the "intersection of doom"

Arlington County wants to create more transportation options in Rosslyn and make it safer and more pleasant to walk or bike there. But the plan the county's working on may undermine that vision by ignoring existing bicycle and pedestrian safety issues.


Image from Arlington County.

Realize Rosslyn is a major planning effort; for over a year, Arlington County has been holding meetings, studying travel patterns, examining viewsheds and gathering feedback from all sorts of people who live, work or play in and around Rosslyn.

County planners are currently gathering feedback on a draft policy framework, a sort of vision statement for the plan. Overall it is great policy, calling for things like wider sidewalks, cycle tracks, a better-connected street grid, and connecting Rosslyn to the Potomac. What is missing, however, is any policy for addressing what Arlington cyclists call the "intersection of doom," Lee Highway and North Lynn Street.

This intersection is the most frequent site of bicycle and pedestrian collisions, according to Arlington County Police statistics. In August of 2011, a series of three cyclist injuries occurred within a single week.


The "intersection of doom" forces drivers turning right to cross paths with cyclists going straight. Image from Arlington County and edited by the author.

Pedestrians and cyclists going from the Mount Vernon Trail to the Custis Trail, or waiting to cross Key Bridge have to go through this intersection. Passing through the same space are two lanes of traffic trying to turn right to from I-66 to the Key Bridge.

Both groups have a green light at largely the same time. Cyclists and pedestrians get a "leading interval" where the walk sign has turned, but the light is not yet green for cars. Without a "no turn on red" sign for the cars, however, drivers can still turn right into the crosswalk while people are still in it.

This intersection presents many challenges. Arlington County, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the National Park Service and private individuals all own land right around this intersection. Any construction work in the area has the potential to significantly snarl bicycle, pedestrian and auto traffic.

Meanwhile, simple fixes like a "no turn on red" prohibition for the I-66 cars only address part of the problem and would likely back traffic up onto the highway. And there are viewsheds that people would like to protect, sensitive habitats, mature trees, and significant hills to contend with. That said, the status quo is clearly unsafe and a solution needs to be found.

Arlington is working on several projects that could address this problem. The North Lynn Street Esplanade and Lee Highway/Custis Trail Safety Improvements Project would improve sight lines, shorten crossing distances, and provide some additional space for bicycles and pedestrians at this spot.

But it will not fix the root issue, which is that a large crowd of bikes, pedestrians and cars all have a green light at the same time. In addition, it is LONG delayed. The last time there was a public meeting, construction was slated to begin in 2013. The current schedule has it beginning in 2015.

The county's Rosslyn Circle Study examined ways to relocate the trail so as to avoid these intersections. The Rosslyn Esplanade Study examined the potential for tunneling under Lynn Street.

In 2011, GGW contributor Steve Offutt proposed relocating the I-66 off ramp as one solution. Many folks think the proposal for an air rights development rights over I-66 provides a great opportunity to do that.

Whatever fix is decided on, the Realize Rosslyn framework needs to acknowledge that there is a problem. It is great that the plan calls for new trails and cycle tracks, and it is great that the plan calls for new parks and wider sidewalks, but the plan must also recognize that our current trail is unsafe and include a policy to implement a real, long-term solution.

This Tuesday, March 18, the Arlington County Board will vote on a "request to advertise" the policy framework at their 6:45 pm board meeting at the County Board Room, 2100 Clarendon Blvd #300 in Courthouse. Please consider coming out and letting the Board know that this is an unacceptable oversight in the plans for Rosslyn.

If you can't make it to a meeting, you can also send your thoughts to the County Board, the County Manager and the Principal Planner for Realize Rosslyn.

Bicycling


The story behind Fairfax's weird cycletrack

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.


Fairfax's cycletrack, behind the parked cars. Photo by Google.

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.

Bicycling


Despite community support, Alexandria board again wants to delay King Street bike lanes

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.


Photo from Google Street View.

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.

Bicycling


Striping will start soon for contraflow bike lanes on G and I Streets NE

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.


DDOT construction drawings for I NE at 7th.

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."


Signs for the contraflow bike line on G NE. Photo by the author.

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.

You can download the full 95% design drawings for G Street and I Street.

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?

Bicycling


Signs of bike boulevards pop up in Arlington

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.


Arlington bike boulevard street sign, with a wayfinding sign to the right. Photo by BeyondDC.

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.

So far, Arlington's bike boulevards include special signs and sharrows. In the future they may add other elements, like specialized bike crossings at intersections, or improved trail links.

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.

Roads


VA legislative update: Bike safety bills advance, while some still try to limit Northern Virginia

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.


Photo by William F. Yurasko on Flickr.

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.

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