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Posts about Bike Lanes

Bicycling


A church in Shaw thinks bike lanes make streets safer

Some churches in Shaw are fighting hard to block a proposed north-south protected bikeway, but not all churches think it's such a bad idea.


Hemingway Temple AME Church. Photo by Martin Moulton.

Hamingway Temple African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, at 5th and P streets NW, has sent a letter to the District Department of Transportation suggesting "a fair balance" in its ongoing study of ways to add a protected bikeway around 5th, 6th, and/or 9th streets.

The letter says,

We realize that as our neighborhood becomes more heavily populated, its needs also become more diverse. Preserving church parking is important to our members, but we appreciate the Mayor's Vision Zero initiative and strategies that will make our streets safer and eliminate all traffic related fatalities. ... Separate protected facilities for cyclists keeps them out of the way of motor vehicles. Reducing the width of roads makes them safer for pedestrians to walk across.
(Before someone jumps on the church's seeming to claim the only benefit of bike lanes is to keep them out of drivers' way, cycling advocates have long been arguing drivers should support bike lanes for this very reason—they're actually potentially in the interests of people bicycling and people driving alike.)

The letter credits Martin Moulton, board vice president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, for engaging with the church. The nearby KIPP DC Shaw Campus, for which Moulton has worked as a consultant on community outreach, also has for some time let church members park in its parking lot on Sundays.

This demonstrates, first, that reaching out to engage constructively with churches is important; and second, that there can be creative other solutions to churches' parking needs besides forbidding bike lanes entirely. We can hope more churches will engage with area cyclists and find ways to make streets safer while still allowing parishioners to reach worship services as well.

There will be an open house meeting on the bikeway study this Saturday, February 6, from 12-4 pm at KIPP. People who want to speak should arrive at noon to sign up, and public testimony will begin at 1.

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Bicycling


A short protected bikeway could connect Ballston to the region's trail network

On a nice day, 2,000 people bike near Ballston while using the Custis Trail. Few of them, however, use the existing North Quincy Street bike lanes to actually visit Ballston. A group of Arlington residents thinks a protected bikeway along Quincy would change that.


The red line is the proposed bikeway along North Quincy. The green line is the Custis Trail. Map by WABA.

The Arlington Action Committee, with support from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, has launched a campaign called Bike Friendly Ballston to try to get Arlington County to install a protected bikeway (also called a cycletrack) to connect the Custis Trail to the heart of Ballston, where people can grab lunch, play at the park, shop at the mall, or check out a book at the library.

Biking on Quincy doesn't feel very safe

There are already standard bike lanes for most of the stretch, but they don't feel safe. The lanes are immediately adjacent to both fast moving traffic and parking spots, where people frequently opening their car doors threaten to pitch cyclists into that fast moving traffic. The lanes disappear temporarily at Quincy's busy intersection with Washington Boulevard, and are frequently blocked by double-parked cars and delivery trucks.

All of these factors contribute to a feeling of danger, which accounts for at least some of the drop-off in cycling activity between Arlington's trail network and its bike lane network. A protected bikeway along Quincy would make people feel safer on a bike, reduce injuries, encourage more commerce, and provide a better link from Ballston to the regional trail network.


Quincy with a protected bikeway. Image from Streetmix.

There are lots of benefits to building this

Protected bikeways make streets safer, even for non-cylists. In New York, the 9th Avenue protected bikeway led to a 56% reduction in injuries to all street users, including a 57% reduction in injuries to people on bikes and a 29% reduction to people walking.

Even without the statistics, the safety benefits of protected bikeways is obvious to both those who use them and those who just live near them: 80 percent of people who live near a protected bikewayproject believe it increased safety on the street. For people who use them, that number is 96 percent.

Safer streets make the "interested but concerned" more comfortable with the idea of trying cycling. The average protected bikeway sees bike counts increase by 75% in its first year alone. The jump could be even higher for Quincy given the connection to a highly-used regional trail at one end and a busy retail, office, and residential neighborhood at the other.

Protected bikeways even have something to offer troll-ish bike article commenters: in Chicago, protected bikeways and bike-specific traffic signals significantly improved cyclist stoplight compliance, and in New York, the 9th Avenue bikeway brought with it an 84% reduction in sidewalk riding.

Why Quincy?

Without an updated bike plan in Arlington County, it is hard to say definitively what Arlington's next bike project should be. Ideally, an updated bike plan would detail a proposed ideal bike network to strive for, as well as a prioritization scheme to aid in project selection. That said, Quincy is a key piece of the bike network in the existing plan even though the plan pre-dates the notion of a protected bikeway (at least in the US).

The Arlington Action Committee chose Quincy for several reasons:

  • It connects a major neighborhood to the trail network
  • It has a number of important community amenities including Washington-Lee High School, the Arlington Planetarium, Quincy Park, the Central Library and Mosaic Park
  • It could become phase 1 for an eventual North-South bike connector stretching across the entire county along George Mason Drive, Quincy Street and Military Road
  • Unlike many other streets in the area, it crosses Glebe Road, Wilson Blvd, Fairfax Drive and Washington Blvd at traffic signals; and it would improve the bike network in a neighborhood that lacks much bike planning thanks to its very-dated sector plan (circa 1980).
The next step is to talk to the County

In the two months since the Bike Friendly Ballston Campaign launched, the Arlington Action Committee has been presenting to local neighborhood associations, approaching civic groups, and talking to local businesses to build support for the project. It's hoping to approach the County about moving forward with the project this month or next.

You can find out more about the campaign on the campaign's web page, or sign the petition if you want to support the project.

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Bicycling


Arlington wants to be more bike-friendly. Here's how it can.

Arlington has long wanted to "move more people with less traffic," and being a place where it's easy to bike around is a huge part of that. Arlington's not exactly doing poorly when it comes to being bike-friendly, but the county has fallen behind a lot of other places.


Bike riders in South Arlington. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Where does Arlington stand compared to other locations? One measure comes from an organization called the League of American Bicyclists, which has a program called Bicycle Friendly America that hands out awards to communities, businesses, and universities to recognize how bike-friendly they are. Bicycle Friendly Community awards work on a scale of bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.

The League has recognized Arlington since 2003, when the county received a bronze award. That was upgraded to silver in 2007, and there's been no progress since. It is worth noting that the Bike Friendly Community criteria may be especially difficult for big east coast cities to achieve; only two of the 29 Gold and Platinum level cities in the US—Cambridge and Hilton Head—are on the east coast. Perhaps it is sheer number of lane miles involved, or perhaps a product of older, narrow streets being harder to retrofit for protected bike infrastructure.

Whatever the reason, the League laid out several "key steps to gold" in a bike friendliness report card that was part of Arlington's most recent renewal.

The ideas are a useful road map:

Update the bike plan

Arlington adopted its bike plan in 2008, meaning it's now one of the oldest pieces of Arlington's Master Transportation Plan. It came out at a time when sharrows were the newest innovation in cycling infrastructure, two years before the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack would see the light of day, and before anyone had heard of a protected bike lane.

The League recommends that Arlington update the plan; both Arlington's Transportation Commission and Bicycle Advisory Committee have recently recommended the same.

Put money where its mouth is

The average gold level community spends 14% of its transportation budget on bicycling; Arlington spends 1%. Arlington has built a lot of bike infrastructure for very little money over the years by adding bike lanes while repaving roads, but this low-hanging fruit is largely exhausted.

Completing and extending Arlington's bike network will require political will to convert parking or travel lanes to bike infrastructure, a large monetary commitment to move curbs and acquire right-of-way, or a combination of the two.

Adopt and implement a Vision Zero plan

Cities across the nation, including DC, are taking up Vision Zero plans with the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities. With fear of being hit by cars one of the major reasons people don't ride bikes more often, making roads safer is a key piece of bicycle friendliness.

While Arlington has recently made major strides in addressing its most dangerous intersection for bikes, it is clear the County isn't addressing these issues systematically, but rather on a one-off basis in response to citizen complaints.

Focus on equity

Arlington needs to develop a formal way to reach out to minority and low-income communities, the League says, and it needs to be sensitive to what keeps people in these communities from riding and ensure that they are included in the bicycle planning process.

Participating in bicycle planning in Arlington currently requires showing up in-person on a weekday evening to a meeting, which isn't easy for restaurant workers and day laborers in Arlington who get around by bicycle not because they want to, but because they have no other choice. The result of this dynamic is that their important voice has been missing from the conversation.

Start an Open Streets event

A "Ciclovia" or Open Streets event that closes off a major corridor to auto traffic and offers the space to cyclists and pedestrians would go a long way toward encouraging people to try cycling.

Improve staff training

Having on-staff champions and elected officials who understanding cycling is crucial to improving bike infrastructure. To make this happen, Arlington should offer regular bicycle skills courses that include on-bike instruction and in-traffic cycling.

These courses would be beneficial for transportation engineers and planners who work in Arlington, including VDOT staff and other agencies with control over roads in Arlington like the National Park Service. Other county staff and elected officials would benefit from this as well.

Those are the League of American Bicyclists' recommendations. What do you think Arlington needs to do to reach the next level of bike-friendliness? Arlington's original goal was to earn gold by 2011. What should its new goal be?

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Bicycling


For new bike lanes in College Park, there's good news and bad news

New drawings are out for bike lanes along Route 1 in College Park, between the University of Maryland and Greenbelt Road. The State Highway Administration is now proposing buffered bike lanes on the main street through College Park, but community leaders want a protected bike lane, or at least a bigger buffer.


Photo by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious on Flickr.

The new bike lanes that the Maryland SHA is proposing are about one foot wider than the original design, which was too narrow to be next to heavy traffic. But there still aren't any "vertical" safety features to put a physical barrier between cars and bikes, like curbs, flexible posts, and rumble strips.

When members of the College Park City Council asked whether that would change, SHA said it would not. The issue, apparently, wasn't about cost, but rather maintenance and road space.


Bike lane dimensions for Route 1 in College Park. Image from the State Highway Administration

Route 1 is notorious for its safety problems. It has seen several fatalities—of both people on foot and in cars—along the route in recent years, and in just one weekend last October, turning drivers struck pedestrians in crosswalks two times.

The new bike lane width of six feet is certainly more bike-friendly than the prior design, but it remains one foot short of the seven foot total width that the highway administration's own guidelines recommend for curb-protected bike lanes.

If Route 1 were a bit narrower, there'd be an extra foot for bike lanes.

Wider car lanes vs better bike lanes

The new design for Route 1 in College Park widens the road's main driving lanes to 11 feet, which Maryland Department of Transportation secretary Pete Rahn says will make it easier for large vehicles like trucks and buses to turn.

Wider lanes, however, also encourage drivers to speed and carry with them a greater risk for crashes at corners. 10-foot lanes would calm traffic and leave more space for bike lanes and sidewalks.

It may make sense that high-speed roads in rural areas would prioritize higher speeds and looser turning radii. But College Park is a rapidly urbanizing area, and to make things safe, buses, trucks and cars will need to slow down.

Also, making biking and walking safer and more convenient (as well as continuing to improve transit) will help cut traffic volumes and travel times by taking cars off the road.

The decision whether to prioritize turning convenience for bus and truck drivers vs. pedestrian and bike safety is a question not of engineering, but of politics and values.


Route 1 at Paint Branch Parkway with a relaxed turning radius for higher-speed turns. Image from Google maps.

Fortunately, there is a potential compromise. The Route 1 master plan calls for 11-foot outside lanes and 10-foot inside lanes. A wider 11-foot lane on the right side would give more space for turning trucks and buses, and there could still be a narrower, calmer 10-foot passing lane on the left. That extra foot of road space would allow a wider buffer zone between the bike lanes and traffic. It would also leave space for a protected bike lane to go in later.

Given the history of fatalities and injuries all along the route, College Park needs traffic calming features like protected bike lanes and narrow travel lanes, not features intended to encourage drivers to speed through the area or make higher-speed turns. A complete roadway rebuilding project is a once in a generation opportunity, and there's still time to get this design right.

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Bicycling


If urbanists practice empathy, bike lanes on 6th Street could bridge communities

A church on 6th Street NW opposes plans to build a bike lane there. As a bike advocate, it's easy to be frustrated with that. But really, this is a chance to make region better by putting ourselves in each other's shoes.


New bike lanes on 14th St NW. Photo by the author.

There are a lot of people who want new bike lanes along 6th Street NW, but also a lot who don't. Members of the United House of Prayer, a church with a rich history in DC, are among the most vocal opponents.

If your urbanist-nerd social media stream is anything like mine, you woke up this morning to a flurry of news and commentary about last night's DDOT public hearing on the matter. And reading through some of the arguments against the bike lanes, I got mad and exasperated. Did you?

But wait. Urbanism and smart growth should be about building stronger communities, yes usually through the built environment. But building better communities for everyone. Our movement, our community, whatever you want to call it, doesn't always do a very good job at this. We can do better. We talk a lot about wanting to do better.

So let's stop for a minute.

Those of us who consider ourselves urbanists should look past how and what the churches are saying for a few minutes and think about why the churches saying it the way they are. I am trying, as much as I can, to put myself in those church members' shoes, and to give their motives the benefit of the doubt. And you know what happens when I do that?

I can start to see a very different perspective from my own. I can see how a decades-long history of those in power ignoring my race and culture's needs and voices starts to wear thin, and I can see how this would just seem like the latest in a never-ending stream of decisions that don't take what I want and need into consideration. That don't address what I see as priorities.

If seeing it through that lens seems unfathomable for you, I encourage you to keep privilege in mind. Ask yourself if you might be having a hard time sympathizing because, to you, this is just an instance of one particular group wanting special privileges. But what if it is YOUR OWN group NEVER EVER feeling respected for your wants and needs.

When I try to put myself in UHOP's shoes, I can begin to see some of the fear, and frustration with a changing city and changing times that's causing them to act that way. If they know they won't be listed to because of their skin color, maybe something else we value in this country—freedom of religion—WILL be listened to.

So as we try to build bridges with communities that don't look and sound like us, my plea today to those of you who look like me is to imagine yourself in church members' shoes (and try not to doubt the genuineness of their motives) today.

Have a little compassion for neighbors with a long history of being downtrodden, hurt, and afraid. And then ask yourself, how can we talk about this, and find a solution, that isn't us-vs-them. Even if down the road, others say it is. We can do better.

It sounds from WABA's Freedom of Information Act request that the need for bike lanes here really is a safety issue. I hope we build the lanes. But even more, I hope the urbanist community stops thinking of the people at last night's meeting as "them". "They" are our neighbors. Part of our community.

We should really make an effort (and not just a show of one without any real personal effort and soul-searching) to at least understand where these members of our greater community are coming from. And that's not to shortchange any of the public outreach DDOT has worked to do so far.

If urbanists and smart growth advocates want traction, we should welcome as many people as possible; not shut people out before they've ever had a chance to interact. Let's try to act and speak from a place of compassion, not one of frustration and anger. Let's be open to others' perspectives, motivations, and histories.

For just a moment today, let's set aside the arguments against the bike lanes, and talk of religion and taxes and everything else. Let's try to understand the underlying why of our neighbors (whether they live in the District, or in Maryland, or wherever) making these arguments. Whether or not arguments against the bike lanes are factually correct, or whether we agree with those arguments, let's understand the emotional and historical reasons people opposing the bike lanes feel compelled to speak up.

This isn't our first and won't be our last opportunity, but it is hard. We need to start a real conversation that results in compromises that actually make sense. It's tough to have a fight when there's so much tension on both sides. But I think it's on us to figure out how to make it happen.

I hope we'll give it a try. It's being a good neighbor to our fellow human beings, and it's a good thing to do. Race, and inequality, and history, and understanding are all vital to the future we all want.

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Bicycling


Fairfax City will install its first bike lane

There will soon be a bona fide bike lane between downtown Fairfax and George Mason University, the first in Fairfax City.


Fairfax City's first bike lane, location map and proposed design. Images from the City of Fairfax.

On September 29, the Fairfax City Council approved a one year pilot program to test a three block bike lane on University Drive, the street that connects downtown Fairfax to the largest university in Virginia.

The bike lane will begin just south of downtown Fairfax, and will run south as far as Armstrong Street. There, it will meet George Mason Boulevard, where Fairfax installed its first sharrows a few years ago.

Crews will restripe University Drive this autumn, to change its configuration from having two car lanes in each direction, to having one car lane each way, a central turn lane, and bike lanes next to each curb.

This is a baby step

This bike lane, and its associated road diet, is a nice baby step for a community that's never given bikes much thought.

But a baby step it is. Not only did officials promise to reevaluate and possibly remove the bike lane after one year, but they significantly shortened it from the original proposal.

At one point, planners had hoped to stripe the bike lane north through downtown Fairfax, as far as Layton Hall Drive. Unfortunately, that was a no-go.


Map of the approved bike lane, canceled portion, and existing sharrows. Map by the author, using base map from Google.

A natural location

Fairfax City isn't a big community. It's located roughly between I-66 and George Mason University, and its historic downtown is one of the more walkable places in Northern Virginia outside the Beltway.

With a walkable downtown and a big university, it's a natural for better bike infrastructure.

Unfortunately, decades of suburban road design have left most of Fairfax City just as car-dependent as surrounding Fairfax County. Now, that's beginning to change. But ever so slowly.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Bicycling


Montgomery County has plans for a protected bikeway network in White Flint

Work is already underway on an update to Montgomery County's bicycle master plan, but the county isn't waiting that long to start working on building bike infrastructure in a quickly-urbanizing neighborhood.


A protected bikeway in Bethesda. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

At a meeting at Walter Johnson High School Tuesday night, planners discussed a proposed network of protected bikeways in the White Flint area. The county's Department of Transportation has agreed to recommend adding this network to the Capital Improvement Plan. That means that it'll recommend the County Executive put money to design the bikeways into his budget.

Protected bikeways are a better way to create low-stress bicycle facilities than conventional bike lanes, which rely just on paint. They keep cyclists separate from drivers with things like flexposts, parked cars, curbs, or medians. In some cases, the protected bikeway may be raised to a higher elevation than the street.


The Montgomery Planning Board's proposed protected bikeway network in White Flint. The dotted lines in the northwest section are not part of the current proposal for the CIP.

These proposed lanes won't be the entire bike network in White Flint, but they will be a starting point for creating a low-stress network in the area, Montgomery's newest urban neighborhood. Other streets will have different types of bike infrastructure, and the protected bikeway network may well grow larger over time.

The redesign of White Flint's suburban streets is a positive step in the county's quest to transform the auto-oriented suburban district into a walkable and bikeable district.


Two-way protected bikeway in Seattle. Photo by Matt Johnson on Flickr.

While the Montgomery County Planning Board recommended more separated bike lanes on the west side of Rockville Pike, those streets are already well into the design phase and changing them now would be expensive and time-consuming. Those planned streets aren't without bike infrastructure. In most cases, they will have conventional bike lanes or shared-use paths.

This proposed network is a great start, and will likely be just the tip of the iceberg. Planners intend to recommend more separated bike facilities around the county as part of its bicycle master plan.

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Development


Bike lane debates move from city hall to late night TV

Bicycling is becoming so popular that even late night talk show hosts are talking about it. The Late Late Show's James Corden recently weighed in on a controversial bike lane plan in California.

Coronado, a town near San Diego, recently tabled plans to paint bike lanes on many city streets after public backlash. Many of the opponents literally did not want to see any extra paint than they felt was necessary on the town's roadways.

Corden apparently found those objections pretty wild.

Despite his jokes, its clear that Corden is in favor of the bike lanes. The news clip he plays points out that lots of people bike in Coronado already and talks about many of cycling's benefits.

He wonders why anyone would hate the idea of bike lanes and he lists a number of benefits to both bike lanes and cycling in general. He also jokes about how the actual objections (like calling bike lanes "graffiti") are hyperbolic and don't really make sense.

Finally, he offers to paint the lanes themselves, rallying his audience to ride in the "Bike Lanes of Justice."

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