Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Bicycling

Bicycling


Can a bike escalator help riders up 15th Street's steep hill?

DC will soon extend the 15th Street cycletrack north, but riders will have to puff up a very steep hill. Could that become easier with a piece of technology from Trondheim, Norway?

Comemnter mtpleasanter pointed this out in our discussion about the cycletrack.

This device, called a Trampe, is a long track where, on request, a small metal platform pops out at the bottom and glides up to the top at 3-4 miles per hour. A cyclist just places a foot on the platform and lets it push him or her up the hill.

The one in the video looks like it follows a straight line, but if it will work around curves, it could indeed be a great addition to the 15th Street cycletrack along Meridian Hill Park.

The Trampe requires people to pay using a special card they can buy or rent; that could help the device pay for itself, but the hassle of managing a payment system also would seem to be somewhat considerable. It might be better just to make it free and encourage more people to ride, which would cut down on car traffic and perhaps slightly de-congest the extremely crowded 16th Street buses.

Edited to add: There are also many other places around the region which could benefit from such devices. Rosslyn would be a prime candidate, for instance.

Bicycling


The 15th Street cycletrack will soon continue up the hill to Columbia Heights

When the 15th Street cycletrack opened in 2010 with great fanfare, bicycle planners talked about extending it farther north. But attention shifted to other important projects. Now, it's coming back, and the cycletrack should lengthen from V Street to Euclid Street sometime in 2015.


Looking south from 15th and W. Photo by the author.

Since 15th Street is one-way northbound except for bicycles in the cycletrack, the only legal way to get on it at its northern end is using V Street from the west. People riding from farther north or east have to take busy 16th or U Streets or, as many do, ride illegally the wrong way on 15th or V.

Finally, a regular intersection for 15th and New Hampshire

In addition, the intersection of 15th, W, New Hampshire, and Florida has been waiting for a larger overhaul. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) added temporary bulb-outs in 2009 to narrow what was a huge intersection and a dangerous place, especially for pedestrians.

In the summer of 2012, DDOT unveiled potential designs to permanently rebuild this intersection and extend the cycletrack through.

Where 15th now widens into a huge sea of concrete feeding into 15th, W, and Florida, it will become a narrower, more classic intersection. There will be new trees and pedestrian medians including bicycle signals. The rest of the space will become bioretention basins to improve storm water runoff, water quality, and the walkable feel of the area.


Plans for 15th from V to W and surrounding streets. Image from DDOT.


Rendering of the cycletrack with curbs and bioretention. Image from DDOT.

Up the hill

After passing W/New Hampshire/Florida, the cycletrack hits a very steep hill along the east side of Meridian Hill Park, one of the steeper hills in northwest DC. Now, 15th has a pair of bike lanes, both going uphill, one on each side of the street.


The hilly and awkward dual one-way bikes on 15th Street. Photos by the author.

This design has never made much sense. Two bike lanes are redundant. Plus, it is dangerous to try to use the east side bike lane, because cyclists have to cut across fairly high-speed traffic to get to it. With this project, there will instead be a two-way cycletrack like 15th farther south.

Being allowed to go down the hill on 15th Street next to Meridian Hill Park will be a welcome change. Still, cyclists riding uphill will get a serious workout, while those riding down will have to take care not to build up more speed than is safe, particularly around the curve at Belmont Street and approaching the intersection at the bottom of the hill.


The space for the cycletrack is already there; it just needs to be reconfigured.

Reaching the top

After Euclid, there will still be a painted bike lane on the right side of the street. Goodno said DDOT will add a bike box (not currently shown on the plans) at 15th and Euclid to let cyclists headed north safely switch from the new cycletrack on the left side to the existing bike lane on the right.


The northern terminus point for the project at 15th and Euclid Streets, NW.

Drivers will not lose travel lanes and little if any parking. The parking on the west side of 15th will shift over to go next to the cycletrack, as elsewhere, but will just take up the space previously occupied by the old bike lanes. The parking on the east side of 15th won't change.

DDOT Bicycle Specialist Mike Goodno said,

This will be an extraordinary connection between existing bike lanes on V St, W St, and New Hampshire Avenue. There will be improvements for pedestrians with the hard medians. Cyclists will have 10 feet of space, versus 8 feet in the rest of the cycle track south of V St, and be protected by curbing. It will extend the reach of protected cycling north to Euclid Street, and there will be bicycle signals as recommended in the 2012 bicycle facility evaluation report.
DDOT has selected a final design and plans to put the project out to bid within the next few months. Construction should begin in 6 to 12 months, once a contract is awarded.

Roads


Do red lights encourage reckless choices?

I almost hit a cyclist last week while driving. The cyclist would have been at fault; he ran a red light. But did the red light encourage his bad behavior, and would a stop sign be safer?


Red light photo from Shutterstock.com

I was driving down 18th Street mid-morning, approaching P. The light was green and I was traveling about 25 mph. As I started to enter the intersection, I suddenly saw a cyclist ride into the intersection from the right at a full cycling speed.

I hit my brakes, he hit his and swerved. We both stopped before reaching the point where our paths would have crossed. Fortunately, had either of us not seen the other, we probably would still not have collided, but it was very harrowing.

As my heart rate returned to normal, I thought about why this man would have ridden this way. He surely knew, as he rode at a good clip from Dupont Circle to 18th, that the light was red; it had been for tens of seconds already and the pedestrian countdowns showed it wasn't about to change. What we he thinking?

Some people are just foolish, but perhaps he was not expecting any cars to come down the road. I hadn't been in a long line of cars; the road was pretty empty. While that's no excuseand even for people who believe in the Idaho Stop, the only safe thing to do at a light is come to a complete stop before proceedinghe might have drawn the wrong conclusion from the street's emptiness.

I've spent a lot of time waiting at that light as a pedestrian, a cyclist, and a driver. Except when in a car I've gone through it, too, though only after stopping. Since, outside rush hour, there really is not much traffic here, maybe we need to ask a deeper question: should there be a traffic light here?

Why not a stop sign? Or if 18th is so busy at rush hours, how about a flashing 4-way red (which acts as a stop) at other times?

There are many intersections that could have stop signs instead of lights

Several similar intersections come to mind just in Dupont, which I'm very familiar with, and there are surely others in other neighborhoods. The light at 19th and R forces drivers on R to often wait a long time before getting to queue up to cross Connecticut Avenue, while little or no cross traffic passes on 19th. There's a triangle of lights at 18th and New Hampshire where you more often spend time waiting for no apparent reason than actually getting somewhere.

At 18th and N, if you're driving north on 18th, it often turns red just as cars cross Connecticut, forcing an immediate stop; driving south on 18th, almost everybody is turning right on N to cross Connecticut, but the odd person who wants to turn left often has to wait for northbound cars and block everyone else.

People race on P from 16th over to 17th to beat a light they know might change at any moment, making them wait 30 seconds while few cars pass on 17th. The list goes on. At all of these places, pedestrians and cyclists routinely go through red lights because there is so much time when no traffic is going through with the green.

Stop signs manage traffic better on medium-traffic streets

A stop sign may let fewer cars move through an intersection per minute when there is heavy demand, but when it's light, it actually can reduce the amount of delay each driver encounters because they have to just take the time to stop, not wait a somewhat random amount of time for the light to change.

Certainly stop signs are not appropriate on the major multi-lane streets like Connecticut and 16th, but for the many intermediate streets, even ones that are longer-distance through streets, stop signs (or part-time flashing red stop signs) could make the road network work better for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.

In our discussion of Portland cyclists stopping at red lights, Paul H wrote,

On the question of stop and proceed at quiet residential street traffic lights, these are exactly the kind of places that should have simpler traffic controlslights (expensive to operate and maintain as well) should be replaced by four-way stops, four-way stops replaced by mini-traffic circles (familiar in Portland, Arlington and MoCo). Smplifying traffic controls at intersections without heavy traffic encourages all users to pause, evaluate, negotiate with each other, and proceed cautiously. Stress, danger, cost, and travel times are all reduced.

Similarly, as a downtown cyclist and pedestrian, I'm always amazed at the decision to time lights that run 60-90 seconds. In the burbs it can be two minutes or over. Add a bunch of those together and it's maddening, particularly when the streets are empty but also when one local street has clearly been timed to facilitate long-distance travel over local passageunderstandable for arterials, not cool for neighborhood streets.

Shorten interval times, I'd be much more likely as a pedestrian and cyclist to participate in the motorist management system (we all know the lights and signs exist primarily to manage cars, if there were only bikes and peds it would look extremely different and in many places wouldn't exist). As a driver, yes I do, I'd be more likely to drive calmly and cautiouslynothing makes you feel the urge to floor it like a yellow light when you know that you'll be waiting forever.

Stop signs can also be good for buses, which tend to spend a lot of time waiting at lights before or after they drop off passengers. With a stop sign, the bus can just continue after the doors close.

The Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the traffic engineers' bible, defines standards for when an intersection can or should have a stop light, stop signs, nothing, or other options. But there is leeway, and many decisions in cities end up being political. Often residents think they want a light, assuming that one is always better, but it's not.

Had there been a stop sign at 18th and P, I would have been stopping that day instead of driving on through. Even if the cyclist hadn't stopped as he legally should have, there would then have been less chance of a crash. I'd much prefer to have that, even when I drive.

Bicycling


94% of cyclists (in Portland) stop at red lights

A new study in Portland finds that 94% of bicyclists stop at red lights there.


Photo by Tejvan Pettinger on Flickr.

Is that just Portland? A 2012 analysis of DC cycletracks found 60% of riders stopped at red lights on the 15th Street cycletrack.

BikePortland quotes an expert who speculates that because so many people bike, it creates some peer pressure not to go through the lights.

Portland also has very short light cycles, and I wonder if that contributes. If you wait, you don't have to wait very long. It also means that while there might be more time when nobody can go while the lights change ("intersection-clearing time"), there may be less time when one side has a green but no vehicles are actually trying to go throughthe time cyclists most often go through a red light.

The DC cycletrack analysis recommended retiming the lights as one way to cut down on red light running. If cyclists leave one intersection as the light turns green, but then the next one turns red just as they arrive, they're more likely not to wait than if it'll only be a short wait.

This follows a general principle: the more the road system (lanes, signal timing, etc.) is designed with cyclists in mind as well as drivers, the more people will obey the markings and signals.

As another example, the study says that 4% of the Portland riders started going into the intersection before the light turned green. People often do that to get some distance from cars which might be unexpectedly turning right, or whose drivers might be looking in another direction as they start into the intersection.

DC has recently added many leading pedestrian intervals, where the pedestrian walk sign goes on before cars have a green, and also changed the law to let cyclists start going when the walk sign changes. There hasn't been a study, but it seems very likely that far more cyclists are waiting until their legal chance to go now that the time they feel is safe, and the time when it's legal, match more closely.

As BikePortland notes, Chicago recently announced that red light compliance rose from 31-81% when it put in dedicated bike signals, but the Portland study found they made no difference. Could the shorter light phases and/or the greater numbers of cyclists in Portland mean that people felt safer in Chicago with the signals, but already felt safe enough in Portland without?

So when someone says "we shouldn't build more bike lanes until bicyclists follow the laws," besides the obvious retort that 36-77% of drivers speed yet we still build roads, building the bike lane to make legal riding safe is actually one of the best ways to get bicyclists to follow those laws.

Transit


What's fastest: walking, biking, transit, or driving? It depends

What's the fastest mode of travel to get somewhere? A group at the MIT Media Lab made some maps which try to answer that question.


All images from You Are Here Washington DC.

Click on a zone on the map (which match Census block groups) and it color-codes whether it's fastest to walk (green), bike (orange), take transit (blue), or drive (red) to the center (centroid) of each other block group in the city, based on the Google Maps API.

The map generally shows places somewhat close by as yellow (bicycling is best). Often Google Maps does indeed say that bicycling is faster than driving for many locations. The authors also added some extra time to the driving trip to account for the time it takes to park and walk to the destination.

The maps show how much transit's usefulness varies

We can observe some trends from these maps. One is that transit is much more valuable to residents in some parts of the city than others. For example, in Anacostia, transit is a pretty fast way to get to a lot of the city, at least on the Green Line:

Head a little farther from Metro, and it's not so much.

We can understand why downtown businesses are pretty solidly supportive of transit: it's the best way for a lot of their customers to reach them.

Rock Creek Park is a big obstacle, particularly for bicycles. That can give the bus an edge over bicycling if you're crossing Rock Creek:

The map can help show why in parts of upper Northwest, like Tenleytown, there's strong support for transit and a lot of demand for car-free living ...

... while people in other neighborhoods not so far away might have a hard time understanding what all the fuss about car-free living and bicycling is all about.

The map is a blunt tool

Before anyone goes planning where to live with this map, there's a lot that's imperfect about it. By using the centroids of each block group, there's a lot of arbitrary variation. If one block group's centroid happens to be right near a Metro station or bus line while a nearby one isn't, then you'll see more blue blocks for one than the other.

Parking does add to the time cost of driving, so it's appropriate for the authors to add extra minutes to car trips for it. However, that also varies greatly. If you're driving to a part of the city with ample parking, or to stores with parking lots, you probably don't need to factor in much time. If you're going downtown or to a dense neighborhood, parking might take a long time. The map doesn't seem to account for this.

The instructions already note that it doesn't factor in financial costs, such as the cost of parking (which also varies enormously based on where you are going) or transit fares. People also bike at different speeds, though it's hard for a map to easily capture that.

It's also too bad the map doesn't include Arlington or other nearby areas. It would be very interesting to see the maps for areas near Metro stations outside DC.

Even so, the maps do illustrate important truths. Each of us sees the city and region in a different way based on where we live. In some sense we're all living in slightly different cities and regions. This perspective shapes how we think about transportation. And even imperfect maps like these help point some of these differences out.

What do you notice from these maps?

Events


Events roundup: Our next happy hour, Rockville transit, bike in Tysons, and more

It's time for Greater Greater Washington's next happy hour! This month's will be Thursday in Tenleytown. Also, learn about BRT plans in Rockville, see Tysons by bike, and more at events around the region.


Map of Montgomery BRT by Communities for Transit.

Join us Thursday, June 26 for a happy hour with Ward 3 Vision at Public Tenley, 4611 41st St NW. Stop by at 6:30, or come earlier to watch all or part of the 4:00 World Cup games. Neil Flanagan and others will be watching the game, then segue to discussing how to make the region more walkable, affordable, and vibrant.

Rockville rapid transit open house: Learn more about Montgomery County's planned 80-mile Bus Rapid Transit system, especially proposals on MD-355 and Veirs Mill Road. Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth will talk about the projects, show maps, and provide free refreshments Wednesday, June 25th, 6:30-8 pm.

After the jump: Tour Tysons by bike; public meetings on Virginia Route 7, Canal Road, Braddock Road; plus online maps and your vote.

Tour de Tysons: The Tour de Tysons bicycle race is Sunday, June 29. But FABB is making sure it's not just for racers. While racers take a break from noon to 1, the one-mile race course will be open to everyone for a family-friendly bike ride that's also a great chance to experience Tysons streets without trafficbasically an Open Streets event.

In the morning, a League of American Bicyclists instructor will hold a bike commuting seminar. Members of the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB) will also lead "bike trains" to help teach potential bike travelers safe routes to the Silver Line from three locations: the Barns of Wolf Trap, Mosaic District, and the Vienna caboose.

Widening Route 7: VDOT plans to widen Route 7 west of Tysons Corner. You can encourage them to design it in a way that's more walkable, bikeable, and good for transit at the public meeting tonight, Tuesday Jun 24, 6-8:30 pm at Forestville Elementary School, 1085 Utterback Store Road in Great Falls, just off Route 7.

Canal Road safety: DDOT is studying how to make Canal Road safer between Chain Bridge and M Street. The second public meeting for the study is Thursday, June 26 from 6:30-8:30 pm in the Palisades Neighborhood Library, 4901 V Street NW.

Braddock Road Metro: WMATA is holding a public meeting Thursday, June 26th to get community input as the agency starts planning to redevelop the area around Braddock Road station. The meeting is in the Charles Houston Recreation Center on Wythe Street in Alexandria.

Try out Alexandria's interactive maps: The City of Alexandria is setting up a new online, interactive map system, and they want people to kick the tires. Many of you can probably give them very valuable feedback! There are six in-person sessions in the next few weeks to try them out, or you can try them online and send in your feedback.

And vote! If you're a Maryland resident, don't forget to vote in the primary today if you haven't already! See our election coverage for information on candidates in competitive Montgomery council races.

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Send an email to events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page on the web which has more information.

Correction: The first version of this post erroneously listed the date of the happy hour as for tomorrow, Wednesday, June 25 instead of Thursday, June 26. The happy hour is Thursday.

Bicycling


How to make cycletracks public art

As more cities build more protected bike lanes, some are beginning to use them as opportunities for public art. In Seattle, the new Broadway cycletrack includes a section with "art bollards."


Seattle cycletrack. Photo by Gordon Werner on Flickr.

Most cycletracks around the US use flexposts or concrete curbs to separate the bike lane from car traffic. A few use other methods like parking stops or zebras, but there are better-looking options available.

In addition to Seattle's art bollards, a growing number of cities use landscaped barriers.


Vancouver cycletrack. Photo by Paul Kreuger on Flickr.

These are great ideas. As cycletrack networks continue to expand, cities around the country can look for opportunities to make their bike lanes more beautiful.

But that being said, beautification adds time and expense to construction, and most cyclists would likely rank having more usable cycletracks sooner as a higher priority than art or landscaping.

So art is great, but there's definitely a place for easy, cheap flexposts.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


Bike sharing means more head injuries, study says? Actually, it's the opposite

The headline on an NPR blog post Friday blared, "Brain Injuries Rose In Cities After Bike-Sharing Rolled Out." It sounded horrible! A tiny graph showed a pretty clear trend, suggesting hard data behind this conclusion. As it turns out, while the authors of the study and news stories sensationalize the issue, the data show the exact opposite.


(Misleading) graph from NPR.

The paper's lead author even said that this supports the conclusion she expected all along. Only it doesn't. Instead, the data seem to show that in cities which launched bike sharing systems, bike-related traumatic injuries decreased, including head injuries.

What's wrong with the analysis

The researchers (Janessa Graves, Barry Pless, Lynne Moore, Avery Nathens, Garth Hunte, and Frederick Rivara) obtained data from trauma center records in cities that implemented public bike sharing programs (PBSPs) and control cities that did not.

The best analysis would compare the number of bike-related head injuries to the total amount of bicycling. That's because if more people bike but bicycling gets safer, you might see more injuries even if every individual cyclist's risk goes down.

If they didn't have that information, it would still be useful to just look at the total numbers of bike-related injuries or bike-related head injuries. Instead, the authors made the odd decision to look at the percentage of bike-related injuries that are head injuries.

This percentage can increase for two reasons:

  1. There are more head injuries
  2. There are fewer non-head injuries (and thus the head injuries make up a larger share)
Clearly, (1) is bad. But (2) is not.

In the paper, the authors get around this limitation by being careful to state their results in an exact fashion:

In this international study, implementation of a PBSP was associated with 14% greater risk of head injury among patients admitted to trauma centers for bicycle-related injuries.
As often happens, news stories shortened this to the very different headline, "Brain Injuries Rose In Cities After Bike-Sharing Rolled Out." But it's not just the media. The authors have also been less careful in public statements since writing the article.

NPR quoted lead author Graves saying, "Public bike-share initiatives are great wellness initiatives. But without providing helmets, we were concerned that we would see an increase in head injuries. And we did."

Only that's not what they really would see if they looked at the data more clearly.

What the numbers seem to really say

I couldn't perform an in-depth analysis similar to the study's because I don't have their dataset. However, the paper includes a table (Table 2) which lists the total numbers of head and non-head injuries in PBSP cities and control cities before and after the bike sharing program began.

That makes it possible to graph just the raw numbers of injuries for these time periods. (I adjusted the numbers for the fact that the paper's pre-implementation period spans two years and the post-implementation period only spans one.)

The overall trend is clear. For the control cities, there isn't much change in total injuries (an increase of 2%) or head injuries (4% decrease). But for the PBSP cities, head injuries decreased by 14% and total injuries decreased by 28%.

Weaknesses in the data

There are plenty of caveats to both the original study and my analysis, many based on limitations in the data.

Since the data on injuries come from emergency room records, the study only captures injuries that involve visits to the ER. The decision to go to an ER could be totally nonrandom for a whole range of injuries, and we could imagine that a large bike share program might affect whether people go or not.

Moreover, the introduction of a bike sharing program is not a discrete event. The authors had to pick a date for each city, and it's unclear how sensitive the analysis is to pushing the dates a bit in either direction. Plus, some of their dates may simply be incorrect. At least in DC, as Darren Buck pointed out, the paper lists bike sharing as starting in May 2010, when it really launched in late September 2010.

Finally, the dataset just doesn't contain a ton of cases. The authors end up with two years pre-implementation and one year post-implementation for each PBSP city, and the same length of time for control cities. They only have 5 PBSP cities and 5 control cities.

Since bike-related injuries are not incredibly common and this isn't a very long time period, it's going to be hard to identify gradual trends in the data. Bike advocates tend to focus on the need to change culture over the long term, with bike sharing as one element of that. One year after the introduction of bike sharing simply may not be long enough to see much of an effect.

Finally, the dataset suffers from the problem that it's not actually experimental data. The authors make a nice effort to deal with this by finding a matched control city for each PBSP city, but there are plenty of other differences between the paired cities other than the presence of bike sharing.

For example, the PBSP cities already had a lower incidence of total bike-related injuries before they implemented bike sharing, so it's hard to argue that they're identical to the control cities. The drop in injuries could be due to some other change in PBSP cities at the same time (DC built its first cycletracks in the same year it launched Capital Bikeshare, for example).

We have no way of knowing with this sort of analysis. And since I don't have the full dataset, I can't drill down to individual cities. But the overall trend is pretty dramatic: control cities had virtually unchanged injury rates, while PBSP cities had large drops in total bike-related injuries as well as smaller drops in head injury rates.

Conclusions

Graves has said that the authors started the study expecting to find that because bikeshare riders often don't use helmets as often as other cyclists, bikesharing systems put people at greater risk of head injuries. If we take their data at face value, instead we have evidence that bikesharing may instead decrease serious bike-related injuries, including head injuries.

That would be a big deal, because many people expected that perhaps injuries would increase, but the numbers of cyclists would increase faster, meaning bicycling got safer. The paper's data might not be correct, but if it is, then it's even better news for bike sharing: cycling went up, injuries per cyclist went down, but on top of that, total injuries went down, too.

Even if it's too soon to draw that conclusion given all the caveats listed above, it's clear that the study's authors have not shown a strong and direct relationship between new bike sharing systems and increases in bike-related head injuries. It's too bad that they have trumpeted an incorrect interpretation of their data, and that press reports have spread a false and sensationalized conclusion far and wide.

Bicycling


"Floating" transit stops work well with bicycles

Ever played a game of leapfrog with a bus while riding your bike? Some cities are using "floating" transit stops so buses don't have to pull into the bike lane to discharge passengers. Could one work here?


A floating light rail stop in San Francisco.

Since buses (and sometimes streetcars) discharge passengers onto the sidewalk on the right side of the street, bicyclists often face conflicts with transit vehicles or transit riders. That's one of the primary reasons the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack was put in the middle of the street, rather than as a pair of curb-side bike lanes.

These "floating" transit stops make it possible for cyclists to stay next to the curb, while still allowing transit vehicles to stop without blocking the bike lane. As the video shows, cyclists and transit riders share the space easily.

With DC's growing network of bike lanes and cycletracks, conflicts with transit stops are going to grow. Floating stops like this could be a solution to the problem.

Support Us

How can our region be greater?

DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC