Posts about Bike Boxes
A section of Florida Avenue NW will soon better provide for all its users, including drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. The street will get wider sidewalks, street trees, and bike lanes after residents and DDOT collaborated to redesign it.
This section of Florida Avenue has enjoyed significant population growth over the past decade. New condo towers went up on both sides of the street and more are on the way.
The street's wide, auto-oriented roadway may have been appropriate for the area's previous use a warehouse district. Today, however, most of the industrial uses are gone and old shops and parking lots are turning into mixed-use residential and commercial buildings.
The project area encompasses 9th Street NW from U Street to Florida Avenue, and Florida Avenue NW to just past Sherman Avenue. The project also includes the southernmost block of Sherman Avenue and the northernmost block of Vermont Avenue.
More crosswalks and better sidewalks
Increasing the share of trips taken by means other than an automobile is an important goal for the District and especially for the U Street area, which is already at its car-carrying capacity. Making walking safer and more enjoyable is a good way to encourage people to shift from driving to walking for more of their trips.
The agency's designs call for widening the sidewalks and installing a planting strip buffer between the sidewalk and the roadway. Separating pedestrians from high-speed traffic with a row of parked cars or a planting strip improves pedestrian comfort. Few people want to walk within 2 feet of speeding traffic.
Crossing Florida Avenue today is a daunting task. The road's width encourages speeding and provides no median refuge for pedestrians. The new design resolves this problem with a median, a few bulb-outs, a narrowed roadway, striped crosswalks, and a new traffic light.
One of the more notable changes is that DDOT intends to turn the intersection of 9th Street, V Street, and Florida Avenue into a signalized intersection. Regular concertgoers know this intersection as the location of the 9:30 Club. The intersection's current form requires concertgoers to cross a wide section of Florida Avenue while hoping that motorists will stop for them at the crosswalks. The new signal will provide more order to this process.
DDOT plans to reconfigure the intersection of Florida Avenue and Vermont Avenue to slow traffic turning from southbound Florida Avenue to Vermont Avenue. Currently, the intersection is designed like a highway ramp for southbound traffic. The new design will force motorists to make a sharper right turn, which will cause them to slow down. This reduces the chance that a pedestrian will suffer severe injury or death if struck while crossing the street.
New bike lanes, bike boxes, and sharrows
The new street will receive bike lanes in some stretches and sharrows in others. DDOT will also implement some of its new bike practices here. The agency will place bike boxes on Florida Avenue at Vermont Avenue to aid turning and merging movements. A new southbound bike lane on Vermont Avenue will connect the Florida Avenue bike lanes with the V Street lane, which stretches to the foot of Adams Morgan 10 blocks west.
The District is now starting to paint green bike lanes to help differentiate the lanes from regular street lanes. The agency will apply the same treatment to assist cyclists who wish to continue on Florida Avenue beyond Sherman Avenue.
More trees, less impervious pavement
The proposal calls for adding 57 street trees, one of the most notable visual and environmental changes. At the first community meeting a year ago, DDOT planner Gabriela Vega noted that her agency was under a mandate to increase the District's tree canopy.
Trees reduce the urban heat island effect, raise property values, and reduce stormwater flow into the sewers. Converting some of the asphalt pavement into grassy planting strips and medians will help the soil absorb rainwater and reduce the pressure on the combined sewer system.
Reducing stormwater volume is especially important in light of recent storms that caused minor flooding in one of the condo buildings on Florida Avenue. This section of Florida Avenue drains to the Northeast Boundary Tunnel, the massive century-old combined sewer that has backed up and caused flooding several times this summer in the LeDroit Park and Bloomingdale neighborhoods.
In their conversations with DDOT, residents suggested adding a median with street trees and planting strips along the curbs. In response, DDOT plans to widen the sidewalks, many of which are too narrow for wheelchairs today, and add planting strips to both sides of the street. A tree-studded median will stretch from Vermont Avenue to W Street.
Though DDOT added nearly all of the ANC's requested improvements, the agency was unable to add two important features. First, the ANC requested striped crosswalks for the intersection of Florida Avenue and W Street to aid people crossing Florida Avenue.
Richard Kenney of DDOT explained that the two lanes of southbound traffic make a crosswalk at W Street difficult. If a motorist in one lane stops for a pedestrian in the crosswalk, it would be too likely for a motorist in the second lane to continue moving.
Though a traffic signal at W Street could bring all traffic to a stop, DDOT's engineers worried that traffic would back up along Florida Avenue and block the intersection at Sherman Avenue.
The ANC also requested the addition of a striped crosswalk across Florida Avenue on the south side of the intersection with Sherman Avenue. The agency rejected this request, fearing that the left-turning traffic volumes from Sherman Avenue would be too high and cause drivers to block the intersection while waiting for pedestrians to cross.
Vega, DDOT's planner, was sympathetic to the ANC's desire to add every pedestrian accommodation possible, but said that the design process is a negotiation to balance numerous interests.
Even without these ANC-suggested changes, the project will widen sidewalks, add street trees, reduce the size of intersection corners, add bike lanes and bike boxes, remove curb cuts, and add a new traffic signal. It will create a street that is vastly better for residents on foot and on bikes.
Policy matters in the creation of complete streets
The ANC was instrumental in adding these complete street elements to the design. I volunteer as chair of the ANC's Transportation Committee and was happy to see residents, including a road engineer, mark up the original designs to add complete street elements I had not even considered.
The elected commissioners passed the list of requests and DDOT incorporated the vast majority of the requests into its design. The ANC did not get everything it wanted, but it got the majority.
Adding street trees and improving the quality of the walking experience are explicit District policy objectives that both Mayors Fenty and Gray have embraced. Though skeptics may dismiss these policy statements as electioneering, these official guidelines are critical in advocating improvements in new public projects. They provide political force for planners and citizens as they advocate for complete streets.
Portland has achieved near-cult status in urbanist circles for its progressive development and transportation policies. All is not perfect in Portland, but there are lot of great things we can take away from the City of Roses.
The city has a thriving downtown, and walkable inner-ring neighborhoods. It sports an extensive transit network and unbeatable bike infrastructure. But the central city gives way quickly to suburban development and highway interchanges. And there some examples where, even a town whose name is synonymous with alternate transportation, it's hard to overcome the primacy of the auto.
Last week I traveled to Oregon for work and had a few hours to kill in Portland before heading back east. Here are a few great things that Portland has accomplished, and also some pitfalls the DC region should try to avoid.
Transit and bike friendly airport
Landing in PDX, you are greeted by abundant wayfinding signage, all of which clearly points out transit and bike options.
Left: Wayfinding signage points out bike and transit options.
Right: MAX information is highly visible.
The MAX light rail line dead ends at one end of the terminal, much like the MTA light rail does at BWI. The covered walk from there into the main terminal is easily half the distance most drivers would walk from the nearest, most expensive parking garage. The MAX is brightly advertised on monitors in the airport, encouraging people to take transit into the city.
PDX is also extremely bike friendly, even featuring a bike assembly area. As one of the few airports in the country to be connected by trails and bike lanes to its downtown, this is an outstanding amenity. And while fliers probably don't use it heavily since checking a full-size bike on an airplane has become almost prohibitively expensive, even travelers with folding bikes will find the work stand, tool set, and bike pump useful.
It's also a low-cost amenity that is makes commuting by bike easier for thousands of airport employees and serves as a visible reminder that biking is a valued access mode.
Top left: Ample covered bike parking on the arrivals level. Top right: The bike assembly station. Bottom: detail of bike assembly sign.
Washington National Airport is ideal for an amenity like this. DCA connects to multiple trails, making a ride to the airport convenient from downtown, the close-in Virginia suburbs and even parts of Maryland. Washington National is even closer to downtown DC and Arlington than PDX is to Portland, making biking an even more viable option.
Bike amenities everywhere
Induced demand gets a bad rap on the highways side, but Portland is using it to its advantage with bike parking. You cannot walk 20 feet without finding a bike rack, both downtown and in neighborhoods. I was struck by Portland State University and Oregon Health and Science University efforts to provide ample bike parking. Demographically, students, and to some extent faculty members, are more likely to ride bikes, so it makes perfect sense.
Hundreds of bike spaces at Portland State University. Classes clearly aren't in session for another week. Photo by the author.
Comparatively, the major universities in DC have made meager attempts to provide ample, high quality bike racks. The biggest bike parking are on Georgetown's campus consists of 4 "comb" racks which are nearly impossible to safely lock bikes on. George Washington University's campus in Foggy Bottom, is practically devoid of on-street bike racks. GW's newest mixed-use building, Square 21, provided a total of 10 racks spread around an entire block with a Whole Foods and multiple restaurants.
The MAX trains also have hanging bike racks in them for cyclists. While racks like these won't work in the shorter Metro cars, they're worth keeping in mind as the DC streetcar system gets started.
In downtown, several streets feature buffered bike lanes. Although they were one-way, they were nice and wide, allowing easy passing for cyclists traveling different speeds. In other places where bike lanes were not separated from traffic, they were painted bright green and flowed into large green bike boxes at intersections.
In the redeveloped South Waterfront neighborhood, there are significant on- and off-street bike treatments that connect to a trail into downtown. Best of all, there is a massive bike parking area and a bike station with valet and repair services.
Left: A curb-separated bike lane splits as it enters the South Waterfront. Right: The northbound bike lane turns onto the sidewalk to send cyclists across the crosswalk to the sidepath into downtown.
This is right next to the lower Portland Aerial Tram station and a Streetcar stop. The Tram connects the burgeoning research, education, and residential neighborhood with the main campus of Oregon Health & Science University, situated on a massive hill and separated from the waterfront by I-5.
Good on-street transit information
Tri-Met and the city of Portland have made significant investments in good, visible transit information on the streets of downtown. The city's wayfinding system signs point to the nearest streetcar and MAX stations. Major downtown stops have very clear customer information, communicating which buses stop where, and where those buses travel. Also, many of the stops have real-time arrival screens, something DC has yet to achieve outside of the Metro.
Left: A bus stop is clearly marked with visible, high quality infrastructure.
Right: Real-time bus arrival information.
Acquiring right-of-way and laying track is expensive. So Tri-Met and Portland chose to single-track the MAX and Streetcar in some places where right-of-way would have been politically or financially unfeasible. In downtown, the streetcar runs on one track in both directions for 2 blocks just past PSU. For a low-speed system, where headways are unlikely ever to be shorter than a few minutes, this compromise makes sense if it allows for the most effective routing, in this case right through the center of PSU's campus.
Left: Streetcar singletracking south of PSU. Image from Google Maps. Right: Single track flyover on the Portland MAX Red Line. Image from Bing Maps.
On the MAX line to the airport, the system is single tracked in two places, for almost a mile after the Gateway/NE 99th Ave stop where the Red Line parts ways with the Blue and Green lines to head north along I-205, and again upon entering airport property until just before the terminal station. The first location incorporates a tight cloverleaf flyover and several over- and underpasses around I-84 and I-205. Again, frequencies on this line are unlikely to be high enough to make it worth the massive extra cost to build this infrastructure doubly wide.
Not quite level boarding
The result is that people with disabilities can only board some doors, which would maddeningly frustrating when an extra few inches of precision would have made all the doors accessible. The operational ramifications of having to deploy a ramp are minor, but not insignificant, so I'm not sure why you wouldn't just make sure the platform is entirely level with the rolling stock.
In DC, the existing streetcar platforms on H Street only have portions that are raised, so people in mobility devices will not be able to board at any doors. Hopefully, though those raised sections will at least be totally level, eliminating the need to operate and maintain ramps.
Mixed-traffic transit and highway right-of-ways
For a medium-size city, Portland has built a significant rail transit system in a phenomenally short time. However, this system suffers from one major shortcoming: low-quality right-of-way. The majority of Portland's light rail and streetcar systems run in either mixed-traffic lanes, or in the highway medians or shoulder.
The areas dense enough to best utilize high-capacity rapid transit only get high-capacity transit. The sections of the system where trains can run relatively fast suffer peaked ridership and lower productivity resulting from low-density development and park-and-rides that surround the stations.
The MAX gets more preferential treatment, running along a transit mall through much of downtown, but runs in highway right-of-ways in many directions on the outskirts of town, where comparatively little is within walking distance of stations.
Good or bad, Portland has led the way with many innovative urban investments. As we develop our bike and streetcar networks here in the Washington region, we should look to the west for lessons learned.
DDOT officials have said they are waiting to build the L Street cycletrack until they finished a study about the city's 2 existing cycletracks, on 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Yesterday, they posted an executive summary of the study, though right now the site isn't responding; perhaps too many people are trying to get a look?
David C. summarized some of the key findings. The 2 cycletracks increased cycling on their streets enormously, and took cycling off the sidewalk. Crashes increased, but not as much as volume, meaning that each individual cyclist became statistically safer.
Many riders aren't following red lights in many cases. Sometimes the red light timing works very poorly for cyclists riding through, which encourages more crossing against the light. At the corner of 16th and U, where they also studied the new bike boxes and signal, drivers aren't properly obeying the lights either.
David's summary is below.
16th Street/U Street New Hampshire
- Motor vehicle intersection [Level of Service (LOS)] remained the same before and after the bicycle facilities were installed.
- Fewer than 20% of cyclists are using the bike box and bike signal as intended to cross the intersection.
- 82% of cyclists are stopping in the crosswalk instead of the bike box as intended. Though the bike box may still be effective at giving separation as only 15% of cars are stopping in it.
- 13% of Cyclists using the bike signal encounter motor vehicles who are running the red, but are able to navigate through.
- There was 1 more bicycle crash (5 vs. 4) at the intersection in the year after the installation than before.
Pennsylvania Ave cycletrack
- Bicycle volume doubled after the cycletrack was installed.
- Arterial LOS was similar for motor vehicles on Pennsylvania Avenue before and after the bicycle facilities were installed.
- Danish Bicycle LOS and Bicycle Environmental Quality Index (BEQI) analyses all show significantly improved operations for cyclists with the median bike facilities.
- Signal timing for bicycles generally works well between 10th Street and 15th Street, but results in large delays to cyclists between 3rd Street and 9th Street.
- Bike crashes went up 80% after the bike lanes went in (so, not as much as bike traffic went up).
An average of 42 percent of cyclists arriving on a red signal violated the signal.
- Most cyclists stopping at red lights stop in the crosswalk or median area rather than behind the white stop bar.
15th Street cycletrack
- After the two-way cycle track was installed, there was a 205 percent increase in bicycle volumes (from before conditions) between P Street and Church Street during the p.m. peak hour, and there was a 272 percent increase in bicyclist volumes (from before conditions) between T Street and Swann Street during the p.m. peak hour
- Motor vehicle counts show that volumes are up a little bit on 15th Street before and after the bicycle facilities were installed.
- Motor vehicle LOS was basically the same after the cycletrack was installed.
- Bicyclists experience less delay on 15th Street between lower E Street and I Street than between I Street and U Street.
- The number or crashes again grew, but not as fast as the number of cyclists did (so crash per cyclist went down).
- There are potential issues with the existing design, which uses the pedestrian signal to control cyclist movements.
- Over 40 percent of cyclists were observed running red lights.
- There are now fewer cyclists on the sidewalk.
DDOT is hosting a public meeting on Thursday, May 3, to present more details of the study and discuss the proposed L Street cycletrack from 25th to 12th Streets, NW. The meeting is at the Reeves Center, at the corner of 14th and U, in the 2nd floor community room.
A version of this article was originally posted at TheWashCycle.
As urban bicycling becomes more common, new types of infrastructure are being invented to help bikes safely mix with cars. The latest innovation is what's called a "two-stage bike box." Arlington is proposing one for this particularly confusing intersection:
This intersection, of Wilson, Washington, and Clarendon Boulevards, is often referred to as "Clarendon Circle," because it used to be one. During the 20th Century the circle was removed and the intersection widened. Now Arlington wants to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
There are a lot of interesting things going on with this plan, but the most interesting is the bike queuing zone in the lower right corner of the intersection. The idea is that cyclists hoping to cross Washington Boulevard in order to move east along Clarendon Boulevard will have a dedicated and safe place to wait, separated from both cars and pedestrians.
The two-stage bike box is similar to regular bike boxes, except that it's located in a reserved corner of the intersection rather than between the crosswalk and stopping stripe.
A normal bike box behind the crosswalk on either southbound Washington Boulevard or eastbound Wilson Boulevard would be less versatile, because it would only benefit cyclists on that one street. The two-stage box helps people moving onto Clarendon Boulevard from both Wilson and Washington, which is why it's a clever innovation at this location.
There are a few two-stage bike boxes in Portland and New York, but they use a somewhat different design. Clarendon Circle will be the first implementation of this idea in the DC area, and will also be the first-anywhere use of this particular design, which hugs the curb in an inverted nub.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Last year, DDOT opened innovative new contraflow bike lanes on New Hampshire Avenue near U Street. But a few design problems remain.
Three cyclists created this video to illustrate some of the issues:
Dedicated bicycle facilities are a controversial issue among some bicyclists. "Vehicular cyclists" believe it's safer to take the lane rather than riding in dedicated spaces which can be too close to doors, hard to see, prone to right hooks, and more.
However, research has shown the safety benefits of dedicated urban bikeways. They also make many people feel more comfortable riding bikes, and increasing the numbers of cyclists on the road is the surest way to improve safety. The more people ride, the more drivers become used to dealing with people biking, and the safer everyone is.
Even if this project is imperfect, these lanes make a positive addition to DC's bike infrastructure. But the authors of the video are right to point out several problems.
The signs showing where it is legal to park don't line up with the striped lines on the roadway, giving drivers the right to park their cars in a way that partially blocks the lane.
The lane on New Hampshire south of T Street predates the contraflow treatment, and therefore doesn't line up properly to continue onto northbound New Hampshire Ave. Drivers must turn right at T, but are to the left of the lane. That means cyclists going straight through face significant risk of right hooks.
One solution would be for DDOT to sign the bike lane as right turn only, and place bike-through icons or sharrows in the northbound travel lane. The safest thing for northbound cyclists bound for the contraflow lane to do is to mix with cars on the approach to T Street. DDOT should indicate this through proper signage, paint, and lane striping.
Another major issue significant time in the video: the signal timing for cyclists. The short green period means cyclists may not have enough time to get positioned on 16th Street before drivers get the green. And the induction loops to trigger the signal often don't work properly.
DDOT should consider making the bike signal an automatic part of the light cycle instead of being an actuated signal. The sensor may not be calibrated correctly or cyclists may not position themselves correctly. Whatever the reason, long wait times are not optimal.
The video's authors make a big deal out of the dooring risk from the bike lanes, which are close to parked cars. However, since the lane is contraflow, this risk is actually much less than in a standard lane.
DDOT launched this as a pilot, and is supposed to evaluate its success and make changes. However, almost one year has gone by, and DDOT has not addressed the problems which lead some riders to engage in dangerous behavior at a busy intersection.
The lanes on New Hampshire give people a valuable way to ride through this busy area. Hopefully DDOT can start fixing these problems in the near future.
DDOT just activated the new contraflow bike lanes on the two blocks of New Hampshire Avenue connecting from U Street. Cyclists traveling against the flow of car traffic now have separate lanes in which to travel all the way to the crossroads of U Street, 16th Street, and New Hampshire Avenue.
At the intersection, DDOT has installed special bike traffic lights to allow cyclists to cross into the bike-boxes ahead of the queues of car traffic waiting on Sixteenth Street. (See the green bike-boxes ahead of the stop lines in the diagram below.)
This is a pilot project for DDOT and there are a few kinks to work out. First, the bike signals are not placed in ideal positions. Look carefully at southwest corner of the diagram above. Notice that a cyclist stopped at the stop line on New Hampshire Avenue does not directly face a bike signal. The cyclist must know to look to the right and to look up to heights that are unusual for bike signage.
In much of the world, bike signals are placed five to seven feet above the ground. Even if the signals cannot be located to other poles, lowering them on their existing poles could help.
Second, there are induction loops embedded in the pavement to sense a waiting cyclist but there's no indication that cyclists should wait exactly at the stop line in order to trip the sensor. While filming, we pulled to the curb to stop and failed to trip the sensor.
This is merely the first step in DDOT's plan to reconfigure the intersection, which suffers a high number of pedestrian injuries. Until now, these two blocks of New Hampshire Avenue have been the missing link between the New Hampshire Avenue bike lanes and Sixteenth Street and the bike lanes on T and V Streets (eastbound and westbound, respectively).
Cross-posted at Left for LeDroit.
DDOT's long-term plans for U Street include major bicycle improvements at the corner of 16th and U. While a full reconstruction is not scheduled soon, the agency isn't waiting to implement some improvements for cyclists at this location.
The changes, which are being studied through FHWA's experimentation process, include contraflow bike lanes on New Hampshire and bike boxes on 16th Street.
Cyclists coming from New Hampshire will be detected by an induction loop in the roadbed and given a short signal phase that will stop other traffic and allow riders to cross 16th to the bike box. In short, cyclists who wait will be rewarded with a protected crossing of 16th Street.
Although the diagram indicates the lanes will be striped green, this will not be the case at first. The lanes may be striped with color at a later date. The first signs of project implementation are now sprouting at the intersection, including new signals and induction loops.
New signals (left) and induction loops (right).
The percentage of people riding bikes for transportation has been rising for the better part of two decades and there is every reason to believe that trend will continue. While engineers and traffic planners work to update the infrastructure and physical elements to encourage cycling, there is more that legislators can do to help too.
Some laws unnecessarily restrict safe cycling or where cyclists can ride or park. There are other laws that haven't caught up with technology and make the roads more dangerous for all. And there are still other laws that fail to protect vulnerable users or punish negligent drivers.
These laws should be rewritten. In many cases the change in laws will protect pedestrians and/or drivers as well. Below is a summery of recommended changes for the DC region that ran as part of a series on the Washcycle.
- Replace contributory negligence with comparative negligence. Maryland, Virginia and DC are three of only five "states" that use contributory negligence to establish damage awards in civil cases. Under this standard, if an injured road user was even 1% at fault for a crash with another road user they would be unable to recover damages unless they could prove that the other road user had the "last clear chance" to avoid the accident. Last clear chance involves proving four separate facts about the crash, all of which must be true, and can be difficult to prove.
Every other jurisdiction uses some form of comparative negligence, which allows the injured party to recover some of their loses even if they were partially to blame. Contributory negligence is loved by big business and the insurance industry but it punishes victims
— who are disproportionally pedestrians and cyclists — twice, and should be changed.
- Close the negligent driving loophole. In Virginia and Maryland, it can be very difficult to convict a negligent driver with a crime. In both states recently, drivers who were over-driving their vision or not paying attention hit cyclists from behind and killed them. In one case the driver got a $313 ticket in the other the driver wasn't punished at all.
The problem is that simple negligence is only a misdemeanor in Maryland and not a crime at all in Virginia. DC, on the other hand, has a law against "careless, reckless or negligent" driving that can result in 5 years in prison or a fine of up to $5000. Virginia and Maryland should close the loophole that allows negligent driving to be treated as "just an accident."
- Ban distracted driving. Distracted driving is quickly emerging as one of the major causes of road casualties. DC, Maryland and Virginia should move swiftly to make distracted driving (and that includes cycling) illegal.
This means making texting while driving a primary offense in Virginia, where now it is a secondary offense, and increasing the fine from $20. It means banning the use of electronic devices while driving, including phones, computers, pagers and video games. Hands-free phones aren't significantly safer than hand-held phones and drivers should not be allowed to use those either. Finally, drivers should not be allowed to manipulate a GPS device while driving, though they can listen to directions.
- Treat cycling as transportation. Complete Streets is a doctrine requiring transportation agencies to build roadways that enable safe access for all users. Several states have adopted complete streets legislation or policies.
Maryland adopted weak Complete Streets legislation in 2000, but it needs to be stronger. Virginia has a policy to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, but it needs to be expanded. DC has no complete streets policy and should pass legislation to that effect.
In addition, both DC and Maryland should emulate Virginia's ban on culs-de-sac, as they make for circuitous cycling on traffic sewers. M-NCPPC should end its policy of closing trails at night or when it snows and region-wide, critical trails should be cleared after a heavy snow. People still commute at those times.
- Leave a safe distance. Maryland and Virginia should follow DC's lead and pass a three feet minimum passing distance law, as well as a law making it illegal to open a car door unless it is safe to do so.
- Fix equipment requirements. Maryland, Virginia and DC require some equipment that isn't needed, fail to require one piece of valuable equipment and should try to standardize their light rules.
The three have different laws about what kind of lights are required, but a common set of rules would help DC area cyclists. Combining the three state's laws could create a requirement for, at minimum, a front light visible 500 feet away attached to the bike, a rear light visible at the same distance attached to the bike or the rider and a rear reflector visible 100 feet away.
While bells are nice, they shouldn't be required. I've never met a cyclist who thought their life, or anyone else's, was saved by a bell. And Maryland and Virginia should match DC's unique law allowing fixed gear bikes without a separate brake.
- Improve the return of recovered and impounded bikes. All three jurisdictions should create a process that maximizes the number of recovered stolen bikes and impounded bikes returned to owners. They should check all such bikes against the national bike registries. They should place photos of them on a recovered bike web site, as Arlington County does, and make it searchable by serial number.
The serial number of bikes that are auctioned, donated or scrapped should be recorded in a searchable online database so that owners can recover the money or donation receipt for their bike. All jurisdictions should regularly report recovered bike statistics such as total number, number returned, number disposed, etc... as well as registries used to return them.
- Let cyclists decide where to ride. The uniform vehicle code, which most states use to define traffic laws, requires cyclists to ride "as closely as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway" and then lists several exceptions. While Denver has rewritten the law to make cyclists the judge of where in the lane a cyclist should ride, a more dramatic change is needed.
It's not unreasonable to require cyclists to move right to accommodate faster traffic when safe and necessary, but attempting to codify this has led to frequent misinterpretation. A better rule would require riding right only when the lane is wide enough to allow a car to pass a bicycle safely in the same lane (safe), and when there is only one lane in that direction (necessary). Those cases are actually quite rare, so DC, MD and VA could be required to sign those roads as "Ride Right Roads." In addition, Maryland should repeal its law requiring cyclists to use bike lanes and shoulders when present.
- Let cyclists ride more than two abreast. Most places limit cyclists riding in a group from riding more than two abreast, and only when not being passed. Cyclists riding in an informal group ride often find themselves riding three or even four abreast, and under current law that's illegal. Instead the law should only require cyclists to stay in a single lane, except when legally changing lanes, and to move right to facilitate overtaking vehicles when judged safe and necessary.
- Improve access and parking. Building rules restricting bike commuters from bringing bikes inside as well as rules restricting bike parking in the public space make it unnecessarily difficult to park a bike. The region should adopt a rule similar to New York City's Bicycle Access to Buildings law which requires buildings to allow bicycles inside under certain circumstances. Cyclists should also be allowed to park their bikes to poles within bus zones or located within 25 feet of an intersection.
- Decriminalize safe cycling. Laws that were written for cars and drivers shouldn't necessarily be applied to bikes and cyclists. The Idaho stop law allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs, which is what many cyclists do anyway. Since it's inception in Idaho, cycling has actually gotten safer.
Another change should allow cyclists waiting at a light to move past the advanced stop line while the light is still red so as to stay in front of and in view of drivers. And finally, Maryland should review its law requiring cyclists to have both hands available for reaching the handlebars. DC and VA don't have such a ban and and this law could make it illegal for a cyclist to do something as simple as grab a water bottle.
- Allow more sidewalk cycling. Though sidewalk cycling is a critical tool to effective cycling, it's illegal in Prince William County, Alexandria and most of Maryland.
While it might make sense to ban it in certain areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, such as DC's Central Business District, a county-wide ban is excessive and imprecise. These jurisdictions should make bans the exception and not the rule. Even in areas where its been decided that a ban makes sense, the law should allow riding on the sidewalk for the purpose of parking, as is done in Denver.
- Close the negligent driving loophole. In Virginia and Maryland, it can be very difficult to convict a negligent driver with a crime. In both states recently, drivers who were over-driving their vision or not paying attention hit cyclists from behind and killed them. In one case the driver got a $313 ticket in the other the driver wasn't punished at all.
Bike boxes allow a bicyclist to wait in front of cars at a light, making them more visible, especially to turning traffic which might otherwise hit them with a "right hook". DC plans bike boxes at 16th and U and possibly a few other places, similar to the ones in Portland. But DDOT can't repaint every intersection where bike boxes could improve safety. With a minor law change, however, DC could create a de facto bike box at nearly every intersection in DC by letting bicyclists wait in crosswalks without blocking pedestrians.
Many cyclists in the area already treat crosswalks as de facto bike boxes. When there are no or few pedestrians, waiting in the crosswalk provides the visibility and doesn't interfere with anyone crossing on foot. However, that appears illegal under this section of the vehicle code:
2405.1 No person shall stop, stand, or park a vehicle in any of the following places, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic, in compliance with law, or at the direction of a police officer or traffic control device:
(b) On a crosswalk;
2201.11 No driver shall enter an intersection or marked crosswalk, unless theThe second section specifically applies to a "driver," and does allow for the fact that while you're in the crosswalk you might not obstruct pedestrians. Still, I wouldn't want to try to explain to a judge why those don't apply to me on a bicycle.
movement can be made such that the vehicle can completely clear the intersection without obstructing the passage of other vehicles or pedestrians, notwithstanding any official traffic control device indication to proceed.
DC could formally decriminalize this behavior and change the law to something like this:
A person operating a bicycle may, after coming upon a red light where no bike box is present and coming to a stop, move ahead of the stop line and into the crosswalk so long as there are no pedestrians in the crosswalk. Should a pedestrian enter the crosswalk, the cyclist must move the bicycle so as not to obstruct their path.This would give cyclists legal permission to do what bike boxes would let them do eventually. Passing such a law could create 4 or more interim "bike boxes" at every one of the District's
Update by David: The original 4 million intersections number came from a misreading of the Metcaffeination data. According to DDOT, there are about 1,600 signalized intersections. Many have more than two intersecting roads, so the actual number of bike boxes is actually much higher than 6,400.
15th Street isn't the only contraflow bike lane planned for DC. DDOT is working on designs for a contraflow lane on New Hampshire Avenue between T and U (where New Hampshire is one-way southbound) and U and V (where it is one-way northbound). This is a very popular, and perhaps the safest, route across U Street for cyclists, as New Hampshire is wide but low traffic.
When cyclists in the contraflow lane approach the intersection, they will see a special signal to wait until traffic is stopped on 16th. Then, they can proceed across 16th into the bike box area. When the light turns green for traffic on 16th, they can cross the intersection and re-enter New Hampshire, with the "sharrow" telling cyclists and motorists to share the lanes. We'll also get bike boxes on U.
The mega-bulb-outs from the previous plan (right) are still there, and the dangerous slip lanes still gone. The southwest plaza is shrinking a bit, to fit in the extra contraflow lane. The original plan looks really cool, with the two symmetrical circular plazas, but may be better on paper than in real life. Each circle had a gap on the "underside", on New Hampshire, which looked elegant but didn't actually make sense, forcing pedestrians to walk a little bit out of the way in the name of cleaner lines.
As you can see, the northeast plaza in the new design is a bit of a franken-curb, with about four different angles. That's probably better for actual traffic, even if it looks less elegant on a plan. I do wonder if the edge closest to 16th and U could be squared up a bit.
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