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Bicycling


Bicyclists politely explain that they're not terrorists (and neither are their small children)

A group of bicyclists rode to the Washington Post headquarters yesterday in a polite protest against Courtland Milloy's recent column attacking bicyclists and the paper's decision to publish it.

Jay Mallin made a video of the event:

Some people brought their young children. Many held handmade signs, with messages like "I'm a heart nurse, not a terrorist" (in reference to Milloy's statement comparing some cyclists to terrorists). DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson happened to be in the area, and told the assembled press that while "there is friction" between drivers and bcicylists, "the answer is not to say it's okay to hit people. It's not okay to hit people."

Ben Freed reported how one cyclist, Julie Sibbing of Alexandria, tried to put a sign in the lobby saying "I want an apology, Wash Post," but the security guard removed it.

Kishan Putta, Dupont ANC Commissioner and candidate for DC Council at large, also attended and spoke about his commitment to bicycle infrastructure, according to Perry Stein in the City Paper.

WTOP's Kate Ryan also interviewed Veronica Davis, a GGW contributor and founder of Black Women Bike, about the Milloy column:

Bicycling


Links roundup: Clash with Courtland over bike bullying

The DC blogosphere is still buzzing over Courtland Milloy's column yesterday calling bicyclists "bullies" and "terrorists." If you've been offline for the past 18 hours or so, here's a lightning-round roundup of the internet's response to Milloy.


Photo from WABA

Empathy and understanding: David Alpert responds with an entreaty for bridge building instead of finger pointing and derision.

Point by point: Aaron Wiener and David Cranor take down Milloy's arguments and fear head on.

Cooler heads at the Post: Post transportation reporter Ashley Halsey III responds to his colleagues Milloy and John Kelly with the welcome sentiment that it's time to tone down the tirades against bicyclists.

Protest tomorrow: DCist has the details on a protest ride to the Washington Post headquarters tomorrow afternoon, and a twitter roundup.

Muppet bikes: If this whole topic has got you down, the video at the end of Ben Freed's take in Washingtonian should make you smile.

Bike lanes in Ward 8: One of the true things in Milloy's column is that there are no bike lanes in Ward 8 (but there are some trails); however, lanes are coming.

Cyclists by the numbers: Matthew Yglesias pulled together a bunch of graphs about how poor people and Latinos are still most likely to be bicycling.

The bizarro Milloy: What if Milloy had penned an identical anti-driver screen? Ben Harris imagines the alternative.

WABA responds: WABA's Shane Farthing sets the record straight on the group's bicycle advocacy. You can help make cycling safer and more inclusive by becoming a WABA member or making a donation.

Bikes on TV: David Alpert was on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt this morning, and discussed bicycle issues. Watch the video:

Bicycling


We need empathy and understanding, around bicycling, gentrification, and much more

Like many parts of our nation where many different people coexist, there are divides in the Washington region. Like many places that are changing, groups of people can direct resentment or intolerance at each other.


Bicycle and car photo from Shutterstock.com.

In many neighborhoods, new, more affluent residents are moving in, disrupting an existing social fabric that endured when many turned their backs on such communities. Likewise, the social order of our streets, where cars had almost exclusive use of the street save for delineated side sections for pedestrians, is giving way to a new one where multiple kinds of vehicles share space.

In both cases, new social norms are still catching up to our changing city. But it's easy for all of us to see another group, all visibly different in some way from ourselves, and lump them together. That goes for cyclists looking at drivers, drivers looking at cyclists, longtime older residents versus newer younger residents, or many others.

In a new column, Courtland Milloy says that "the bicyclists" in the area have "nerve" for, among other things, "fight[ing] to have bike lanes routed throughout the city, some in front of churches where elderly parishioners used to park their cars." And he specifically mentions me for pointing out a "Trampe" bicycle escalator as one tool which might be useful on 15th Street.

The Trampe is so far from an actual, serious, actionable proposal that it's not worth debating, but Milloy is also alluding to the fight over the M Street cycletrack and Metropolitan AME church. That was a prime example of groups of people not speaking to one another or building bridges.

Some church members felt that cyclists were interlopers trying to remake the fabric of a city that is only desirable because of the churches' hard toil when others were abandoning central DC. At the same time, some newer residents too readily dismiss churches' needs and concerns by pointing to laws concerning parking which don't match a more unwritten social understanding that had been established for many years.

Church leaders told city officials that a bike lane was a nonstarter and rebuffed bicycle advocates' requests to meet and talk. Some bicycle riders belittled churchgoers for living outside the city. And so on.

It's easy to denigrate others, but harder to understand why they feel aggrieved.

There's plenty of injustice, and it's right to be outraged

Milloy points out:

I recall in the not-so-distant past when the city's bikers weren't newly arrived, mostly white millennials but black juveniles whom D.C. police frequently stoppedat least in neighborhoods that were being gentrified. Stopped for riding on sidewalks. Stopped for riding in parking lots. Now that kids like them are being moved to the outskirts of the city, if not out altogether, the District government is bending over backward to make Washington a more "biker-friendly" city.
Milloy highlights two failures of society here. First, police disproportionately stop young black males on the street. That means that that black youth who, for example, smoke marijuana are far more likely to be arrested than white youth. Black youth who break rules in school are far more likely to end up having the criminal justice system deal with the issue and possible punishment, while white youth far more often get a stern talking-to and a promise from parents to make sure it never happens again.

This sort of disparity is absolutely unconscionable. Mounds of books, articles, blog posts, and more have and will be written about this issue. We must not tolerate it.

This has little to do with bicycling. Bicyclists in DC are in fact probably very likely to support reforms to these injustices.

Second, it is entirely true that affluent groups of people tend to get more of what they want. They push for city services with more success. They lobby for zoning and historic preservation restrictions to protect elements of their neighborhoods and push change to other communities without this power.

Bicycling has long been an activity for two groups: those who can't afford cars and those who can, but choose to ride anyway. Now that the latter is growing quickly, there is new political support for bicycle infrastructure.

But you'd scarcely find a single member of that second group who feels that the lanes should just go in expensive neighborhoods. Bike lanes do not discriminate among who can ride a bicycle in them.

Cyclists, like many others, want to be safe first

Cyclists are precisely the group who want to see more bike lanes in Ward 8. Cyclists aren't looking to win some sort of battle about the soul of the city. They're looking to get where they want to go more easily and safely.

Yesterday was also the sixth anniversary of Alice Swanson's death. She was crushed under a garbage truck at Connecticut and R. Let's not forget the real human toll that traffic crashes can cause. And let's also not forget that people in poorer neighborhoods die or suffer in many ways as well, and often their families lack a voice to speak about their injustice.

Bicycling generates an odd juxtaposition where the typically most privileged members of our societymostly young, often white, primarily male, highly-educatedget to know what it is like to be a minority and feel threatened. Nikki Lee wrote that "cycling is awfully similar to being a woman," because random interactions are usually safe but every so often could be dangerous or fatal; small obstacles can be far larger just for you; and if something happens to you, society will probably blame you, the victim.

It also gives these privileged people (myself included) a chance to be reduced to a single adjective. To have peopleeven respected ones like NPR's Scott Simonassume something about you because of a superficial characteristic they can see.

There are jerks among every group. Some are riding bicycles. Some are driving. Some are white, black, old, young, gay, straight, trans, tall, short, athletic, bookish, long-haired, or like Milloy, sporting mustaches.

It's difficult to see past surface categories and understand people as people rather than as symbols of some group.

How about some bike lanes in Ward 8?

Milloy also says that "So far, more than 72 miles of bike lanes have been carved out of city streets. There are virtually none in Ward 8, by the way, which has the lowest income and highest number of children of any ward in the city."

There should be bike lanes in Ward 8. Unfortunately, DDOT planners have often tried to suggest bike lanes in projects, like the Great Streets program a few years ago, and hear angry residents say things like, "You just come in here with ideas and don't listen to us," and, "We don't want any bike lanes in our neighborhood."

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has been working to address this with its outreach east of the Anacostia River. Black Women Bike has been trying to dispel racial and gender stereotypes. But a few programs won't dispel misconceptions overnight. We need far more dialogue and interaction, on bicycling, on gentrification, and on much more.

I would like to work toward building these bridges across the divides in our city and region. I would love to work with Courtland Milloy to achieve that, and emailed him to reach out last night. Former DC council candidate John Settles has been talking about convening conversations among disparate people in DC.

I hope that if we can find the right venue for conversations, the readers of Greater Greater Washington, and of Milloy's column, will participate, not to point fingers at another side or deride their misconceptions, but actually to learn from each other and let understanding win over hatred.

Events


Events roundup: Tree care, electric buses, and more

Meet the people who care for DC street trees over happy hour drinks, then join them to help trees in Lansburgh Park. Tour an all-electric, zero-emissions bus of the future, and learn the history of Fire and EMS services in DC.


Photo by whiteknuckled on Flickr.

Join Casey Trees for happy hour: The DC non-profit committed to preserving and enhancing tree canopy will hosting a happy hour tonight from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Nellie's Sports Bar, 900 U Street NW. Enjoy drinks and learn more about Casey Trees' mission.

Talk about Montgomery's recent elections: Also tonight, Action Committee for Transit hosts reelected County Councilmember George Leventhal for a talk about last month's primary election as well as upcoming issues for the council. That meeting's from 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building (One Veterans Place). Click here to learn more.

After the jump: Calling all Millennials to Bethesda, and other upcoming events around the region.

This isn't your father's public meeting: Next week, Streetsense, JBG, and Clark Construction are co-hosting Untapped Perspective to help the Montgomery County Planning Board receive feedback on their Downtown Bethesda Plan. They are in need of millennial input, so this event is geared toward 21-35 year olds who have some affiliation to Bethesda. They've got beer, food, and giveaways to make it worth your while. The event is Wednesday, July 16 from 5:30 to 8:30 pm at Streetsense, located at 3 Bethesda Metro Center. RSVP by July 14 to untappedrsvp@streetsense.com.

See the bus of the future: Come see the future in public transportation with ProTerra, makers of next-generation electric buses. ProTerra will be at several DC locations tomorrow, Wednesday, June 9th, displaying its quiet and emissions-free V2 40-foot buses. RSVP to Will Hansfield to attend.

The schedule of tours is as follows:

  • 8:30 am-10:30 am - USDOT, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
  • 11:00 am-12:30 pm - DDOT, 55 M Street, SE
  • 1:00 pm-2:30 pm - The Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
  • 3:00 pm-5:30 pm - Union Station, 40 Massachusetts Ave NE
Learn the history of firefighting in DC: Also tomorrow, July 9, join the staff of the DC Fire and EMS Museum in the Washingtonian Room of the MLK Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G St. NW, from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm for a panel discussion on the history of the DC Fire and Medical Emergency Service Department. Historians will discuss 150 years of DC firefighting history, and share photos and stories from DC's biggest fires. For more information contact Lauren Martino or call 202-727-1213.

Take care of trees in Lansburgh Park: Do your part to improve the health of DC's tree canopy at Casey Trees' second Thirsty Thursday event of the summer on July 10th. Weed, mulch, and water the 18 young trees planted in Lansburgh Park during its spring community tree planting season, to help them through their first few years. The event will be held in Lansburgh Park, 1030 Delaware Avenue SW, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm.

Women bike, too: Join women's health expert and roll model Laurie from Proteus Bicycles on Sunday July 13th for a skillshare on women's health and biking. Learn how biking benefits your health and the health of our communities. Laurie will be meeting participants at the Georgetown Library, from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

Bicycling


Photographic proof bikes and streetcars work together

Despite the fact that streetcar tracks can be hazards to cyclists, bikes and streetcars are great allies.


Amsterdam bikes and tram. All photos by Dan Malouff.

They both help produce more livable, walkable, less car-dependent streets. It's no coincidence that the same cities are often leaders in both categories. In the US, Portland has both the highest bike mode share and the largest modern streetcar network. In Europe, Amsterdam is even more impressive as both a streetcar city and a bike city.

With that in mind, here's a collection of photos from Amsterdam showing bikes and streetcars living together.

Of course, it doesn't just happen. It's easy for bikes and streetcars in Amsterdam to avoid one another, and to interact safely, because each one has clearly delineated, high-quality infrastructure.

Chalk it up as one more reason to build good bike lanes.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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.

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