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Posts about Bike Lanes

Transit


New bike and bus lanes could soon carry you from Columbia Heights to Brookland

Right now, getting between Columbia Heights and Brookland is tough. Walking is uninviting, riding a bike is dangerous, and there aren't many bus options. Even driving is a pain. The District Department of Transportation has a plan for making travel between these two places easier and safer.


Looking east from Columbia Heights. Photo by ctj71081on Flickr

DDOT wrapped up its Crosstown Mutimodal Transportation Study with a final report last month. The study looked at possibilities for new street designs as well as bike and bus lanes in the area defined by Kenyon and Harvard Streets NW between 16th and Park Place; Irving Street and Michigan Avenue NW around the Washington Hospital Center; and Michigan Avenue from the hospital center to South Dakota Avenue NE.

There are major developments planned around the hospital in the next few decades. McMillan Sand Filtration Site will be a new center for housing and retail. Also, the Old Soldier's home will eventually be redeveloped.

Right now, the major streets connecting the two areas, Irving Street and Michigan Avenue, are designed pretty much exclusively for cars, but they're still plagued by congestion on either side of the hospital center. The H2 and H4 buses that run from the Columbia Heights Metro to the hospital and on to Brookland often get caught in traffic and take more time than they should to actually move through the hospital campus. And for people on bike or on foot, the corridor can be dangerous and unwelcoming.

The study to improve the corridor kicked off in February, and after presenting the public with options at a series of planned community meetings, DDOT narrowed down its plan to three possibilities by April, then two by June, then the final one in September. DDOT presented its draft concept in late September, and on October 19th issued the final report for a plan that will be unrolled onto city streets.


Early this year, DDOT asked residents to identify problem spots in this corridor. Maps and images by DDOT unless otherwise noted. Click for an interactive version.

Riding a bike will be way easier

DDOT's plan puts a big focus on making it easier and safer to bike through the area by building a number of bike lanes.

Kenyon Street NW will get a two-way protected bikeway from 14th Street NW to where it turns into Irving Street at the hospital. From there, Irving Street will be converted to have a two-way center-running bikeway. A few more measures, like a possible signal at Kenyon Street and Irving Street, will maximize safety and guide the flow of people walking or biking along Irving Street. The first stage of the plan will establish two-way bike lanes, but the ultimate goal is to create a shared use pathway for bikes and pedestrians along Irving Street at the hospital center.


The intersection of Irving and Kenyon Streets. Photo by Nicole Cacozza.

Where Irving Street runs into Michigan Avenue in Brookland, there will again be a two-way protected bikeway. Then, at Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street, there will be marked bike lanes on either side of the road until South Dakota Avenue NE.

The plan will also install another option for cyclists who turn off Michigan Ave onto Monroe Street through Brookland. A meandering sharrow will "wiggle" through the neighborhood to give cyclists a route where they'll encounter fewer cars.

There will be dedicated bus lanes

The buses that travel these routes often hit bottlenecks and run slowly. To combat this, another major focus of the plan is making those transit routes faster and more efficient. DDOT hopes to combat sluggish buses with a series of dedicated and shared bus lanes.

Michigan Avenue will have a shared lane from Harvard Street to the hospital, but at First Street NW that lane will become a dedicated bus lane stretching farther east towards Brookland. In Columbia Heights, two one-way streets, Irving and Columbia Road, will be split into car and transit lanes: buses will have a dedicated lane going east on Irving and west on Columbia.


Here, and in the map directly below, the dark blue lines are dedicated bus lanes.

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Walking around won't be so dangerous

The plan also highlights intersections that need more appropriate signaling for the amount of foot, bike, and car traffic that they see. At 14th and Irving Street, the site of the Columbia Heights Metro Station, DDOT will create a dedicated crossing time for pedestrians only—the design should be somewhat similar to the "Barnes Dance" intersection at H Street and 7th Street in Chinatown. The Columbia Heights intersection is extremely busy, and this kind of change could ease commuter congestion and keep the crossing safe.

The final plan will also simplify a collection of intersections in Columbia Heights, west of the hospital. The proposal will remove the Michigan Avenue overpass as well as a service road and a segment of Hobart Place NW in order to create a street grid. Cleaning up the arrangement of streets will improve cycling and walking conditions by slowing cars and getting rid of the high-speed ramp, as well as eliminating unsafe intersections where multiple streets arrive at a single light.


A new street grid.

No more cloverleaf

DDOT also recommends modifying the cloverleaf ramps at North Capitol and Irving St to create a simple intersection with one traffic light. This will help regulate traffic speeds, and give cyclists and pedestrians a safer crossing by providing a clear view of all oncoming cars. It will also add green space to the area.


The cloverleaf is on its way out.

When will all this happen?

The time frame varies for each project based on the cost, complexity, and partnership with other agencies. Some projects, like the sharrows in Brookland, only need to go through the design and construction phases and could start in 2017. Others, like the bus lanes, where DDOT will need to work with WMATA, will take more time.

The measures furthest from completion are the cloverleaf change and the creation of the street grid, which will require significant planning. Both projects are slated to begin in 2021, but will take years to finish.

The changes that DDOT has planned will be necessary to manage the new residents and commuters using this corridor. Though we are still a few years out from some of the major project milestones, hopefully today's plan indicates that transportation will be ready to keep up with growth.

Politics


Is our next president going to care about transit and street safety?

What might a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency look like for transportation? Here's a roundup of what we know about their respective takes on getting around, from roads and bridges to bike lanes and sidewalks.


Hillary Clinton at a bike shop in Iowa. Photo by Hillary for America on Flickr.

Broadly speaking, both candidates say that US transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of attention and vow a massive increase in transportation spending. Hillary Clinton says she would increase funding by $275 billion over a five year period, paid for by means of a higher tax on corporations. Donald Trump says he will double that amount by tapping private investment and taking on more debt.

But opening a giant spigot of cash to fix US infrastructure is not necessarily a great idea. State transportation officials are notorious for spending most of their budgets on either new highways or on widening existing ones. Maintenance projects, which lack the visuals of ribbon cuttings beloved by politicians of all stripes, are relegated to a secondary status. As Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog notes:

Doubling federal transportation spending wouldn't solve this problem. Pumping billions of additional dollars into state DOTs without reforming the current system could actually make it worse—giving agencies license to spend lavishly on new projects that serve only to increase their massive maintenance backlogs
Unfortunately, neither candidate addresses this fundamental structural flaw. Both appear to view the main issue to be a lack of federal funding, when the real issue is how lawmakers spend the funding they get.

With Clinton, expect more road widenings

Hillary Clinton's talk in this last month unfortunately sounds like a plan that will focus on widening roads. Her website states that she "will make smart investments to improve our roads, reduce congestion, and slash the 'pothole tax' that drivers silently pay each and every day."

On the subject of transit, she plans to "lower transportation costs and unlock economic opportunity by expanding public transit options" and "encourage local governments to work with low-income communities to ensure unemployed and underemployed Americans are connected to good jobs."


Photo by torbakhopper on Flickr.

Clinton's website makes no mention of efforts to reengineer infrastructure for the safety of those who walk and bike. That's a key component of streets that are safe and promote more environmentally-friendly uses.

To Clinton, transit appears to be considered primarily a means for moving low-income workers around, with greater subsidies being the preferred means for boosting ridership. That attitude towards transit took hold in the 1960s and has held it back ever since.

A transportation outlook that holds roads so far above all other modes will fail, as road expansions in congested urban areas trigger induced demand that actually worsens congestion. This, in turn, triggers a vicious cycle with calls for more road expansions to relieve the new congestion. Even large departments of transportation like California's Caltrans admit this occurs. So, how did Hillary Clinton's campaign staff fail to catch this?

It may be because of who is in her inner circle. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is known to be a close friend of the Clintons, with the Washington Post describing him as being virtually part of the family. McAuliffe's transportation focus is primarily on highway expansions, with particular emphasis on HOT lanes. While he has gotten funding for rail projects, such as a light rail system in Virginia Beach, he has also claimed that HOT lanes can cure congestion. If this pro-road enthusiasm is prevalent in the Clinton camp, it is no shock that her agenda might be tilted towards roads.

Hillary Clinton does appear to be committed to reducing emissions that contribute to climate change. Reinforcing this perception is the commitment by Al Gore, perhaps the world's preeminent figure in the fight against global warming, to campaign on her behalf. However, her campaign site focuses on energy generation and lower emissions from vehicles. Neither transit nor walking and biking in urban areas are called out on her site's climate section. For Clinton, the focus is on tweaking sources to combat pollution, not shifting demand to lessen emissions.

Trump doesn't seem like a bike lane guy

Whereas Hillary Clinton's stance on sustainable transportation may leave something to be desired, Donald Trump's attitude can be downright hostile. In 2015, Trump criticized Secretary of State John Kerry for riding a bike, after a crash in which Kerry injured his leg. Trump vowed, "I swear to you I will never enter a bicycle race if I'm president."

Given the debates over bike lanes in New York City and the pedestrian-friendly changes in Times Square, you might have expected Trump to have said something on the matter. But if he has, the media hasn't picked it up.

However, his campaign manager, Stephen K. Bannon, has had very strong views on the matter of bike lanes. During his tenure at Breitbart News, Bannon ran a story on bike lanes in Chicago with the headline, "Rahm to Spend $91 Million on Bike Lanes for the 1%." Given this level of antagonism towards people who bike from such a close adviser, Donald Trump may not be a friend to cycling.


Donald Trump hosted a bike race in 1989 and 1990, but that's probably the extent of his familiarity with bicycling. Photo by Anders on Flickr.

By contrast, Trump supports improvements to passenger rail systems. The American Conservative's Center for Public Transportation explains this split from the traditionally anti-transit Republican Party as being due to Trump's long exposure to subways and commuter rail in his hometown of New York City.

Trump also admires Chinese intercity rail transportation. Time reported Trump saying during a freewheeling campaign speech, "They have trains that go 300 miles per hour…We have trains that go chug … chug … chug."

But Trump's admiration for rail transport may not reflect a desire for sustainability. Trump has consistently denied the science behind climate change, going so far as to call it a hoax by China. His motives for boosting rail are apparent in his effusive praise of large, new airports in China and Dubai.

As he has said repeatedly, "Our airports are like from a Third World country." As with airports, Trump views US rail systems as a source of embarrassment on the world stage. However, in the case of airports, he overlooked the tendency of modern airport planners to build on a gargantuan scale that makes them unusable, a trend I pointed out in 2012. Throwing cash at rail systems probably won't bring any more efficiency than it does for airports or roads.

Neither is exactly an urbanist, but could they get the right advisors?

Essentially, both candidates had questionable approaches to sustainable transportation, whether they are outdated or simply wasteful of taxpayer dollars. That is something that can be remedied if advisors are retained who are current with best practices in the field.

There is no shortage of these: Gabe Klein, Janette Sadik-Khan, and Chris Hamilton spring to mind as US experts worth consulting. Relying less on governors and website editors whose attitudes are frozen in the mid-20th century would be a sign of wise leadership, crucial for being President of the United States.

As to which candidate is more likely to change their approach, I leave that for others to speculate upon.


Links


National links: Fair housing in Arizona

Arizona is cracking down on racial discrimination in housing, there's lots we don't know about how people get home from transit stations, and in Chicago, old pipes and telegraph lines at excavation sites may no longer be a problem. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by kmaschke on Flickr.

A win for fair housing: In Yuma, Arizona, developers can sue the city if they think reasons for blocking affordable housing projects are race-based, and the Supreme Court recently declined to hear arguments to overturn the decision that allows that. The case in question found that residents in a historically-white neighborhood were, in effect, organizing to keep Latinos from living nearby. (Arizona Daily Star)

The first last mile: Even if the trip isn't that far, lots of people have to figure out how to get between their homes and jobs to where their nearby transit network is running—this is called the first/last mile problem, and people in transportation talk about it all the time. But there's really not much research has on the subject. David King, a professor at Arizona State, says we need to know more about how much riders will tolerate fare changes, whether they're ok transferring, and how much people budget to cover the last portions of their trips. (Transportist)

Mapping Chicago's underground web: Underneath Chicago, long-forgotten wood pipes and telegraph lines make digging or tunneling an undertaking in bravery. But a 3D modeling company has created a way to map all of the underground pipes and wires so excavating a site is far less dangerous. (Chicago Magazine)

A subway in downtown Dallas: The Dallas City Council is supporting major transit projects downtown, including reorganizing the bus system and building a new subway line. This focus on the urban core means not prioritizing a suburban subway line that was competing for funds, which is a big shift for the council. (D Magazine)

A new approach in Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh hopes to add BRT and more bike lanes soon, and to better coordinate transportation projects between all of its departments, the city is opening a new Department of Mobility in Infrastructure. The hope is that the department will make it easier to make things like signal priority for buses and solar-powered autonomous vehicles happen. (Pittsburgh City Paper)

Quote of the Week

"'Suburbs feel the same everywhere you go. All the same streets. All the same trees. All the same houses. It's a way of living. I'm not saying it's bad. I enjoyed it.' ">Brooklyn, though, has character, he said—the parks, the architecture, the people, the shops. 'You walk to the stores, and you talk to the people there. He knows you, and you know him. Every place has a story behind it.'"

- Brooklyn Nets basketball player Luis Scola describes living in Brooklyn after the team moved there from New Jersey. He sold his minivan because he couldn't find parking often enough! (New York Times)

Bicycling


Copenhagen uses this one trick to make room for bikeways on nearly every street

I visited Copenhagen for the first time in June. I knew it was one of the bikiest cities in the world, but it's quite astounding to see what a place looks like where 52% of commuters travel by bike.


All photos by the author.

Almost every street has a type of protected bikeway. It's essentially a lane of the street but raised up with a small curb, low enough that vehicles can mount it but high enough to discourage that. (And generally, they don't.)

These are everywhere. It's not just the main streets or a few selected bike boulevards. Virtually every street of any appreciable size had one. It was almost strange to encounter a street with any traffic that didn't. The typical medium-sized street had two car lanes (one each way), two bike lanes of the same width (one each way), and a sidewalk on each side.

As an old city, the streets are fairly narrow (and, honestly, the sidewalks were pretty narrow and are made of cobblestones; it might be a bike mecca, but the walking experience could be better). So how can there be enough room?

Here's a picture. What do you notice that's missing?

If you said "on-street parking," you're right! As compared with most US cities which have parking on nearly every city street, Copenhagen has it on many smaller streets but far from all, and doesn't have it on most mid-sized and larger streets.

Could DC be like this?

There are some obstacles to DC having as much biking as Copenhagen (once again: 52% of commuters!) For one, our weather is both hotter and colder, and DC has more hills. Copenhagen is a smaller city, with about 2 million people in its metropolitan area versus 6 million for Washington.

Still, we can do so much better. We don't have to put a bikeway on every street, and maybe won't ever have the mode share to justify that, but there already is enough mode share to warrant a network of them connecting every neighborhood and spaced a certain distance in the city's core.


Instead of always blocking bikeways with construction, they keep the bikeways open!

More bikeways would also boost the amount of cycling; with DC's weather and topography we could easily double, triple, or quadruple the 2% of commuters bicycling (after all, 11% walk and they have to contend with the same weather!)

It's crazy that it takes years to build support for a protected bikeway on even one street. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) built only 0.14 miles of protected bikeways and 4.28 miles of other bike lanes in 2015.


A few streets also do have on-street parking as well, but it's uncommon.

The MoveDC plan calls for 7.5 miles a year of bike lanes. New York built 12.4 miles of protected bikeways in 2015, and the city does have about 12 times as many people as DC proper, but that means DC is still falling short by a factor of about seven.

It's certainly true there are political obstacles to changing even a single parking space into something else, but there's a simple political solution as well: do it differently.


Copenhagen is building a new bike/ped bridge next to an existing one, because the existing one has too much bicycle traffic.

Compared to many other US cities like Orlando and Cleveland, DC is doing great on transit, on bicycling, on walking. We shouldn't forget how far we've come, either; DC had zero protected bikeways until 2009. But go around the world and it can easily become clear: we also could do so, so much better.

Bicycling


How Barcelona gets bicycling right

This summer I spent a few days in Barcelona on vacation. What I found there is a city built for people who ride bikes and car-free tourism that would be welcome here at home.


Bikeshare station with moped parking at Placa de Catalunya. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Bikes are everywhere in Barcelona. Family members who had visited before told me it's the best way to see the city, so my friends and I rented bikes for two days rather than taking public transit, taxis, or organized bus tours.

Renting the bikes was simple—there are numerous rental shops as well as bike share stations, the latter requiring sign up similar to Capital Bikeshare.

A very popular destination are the city's picturesque beaches. Riding a bike there, and everywhere, you quickly notice is that there are lots of marked bike lanes that share the road with cars and bikeways that are totally separated and shared only with pedestrians.


Left: A separated bikeway and pedestrian strip. Markings, signal and signs visible. Right: A protected bike lane with marking and bicycle traffic light ahead.

This makes riding a bike feel very safe, which is probably why it is rare to see people wearing helmets. On the beach, the pedestrian and bike path is plenty wide to accommodate everyone, even at the busiest times. Finding a bike rack there as well as everywhere else in the city is also a breeze, with some located right on the boardwalk leading onto the sand.


Bike parking in front of Antonio Gaudi's Casa Batllo.

At the Arc de Triomf and neighboring Ciutadella Park, wide sidewalks and dedicated bike lanes make getting around easy, fast and safe. In the Gothic District, typically narrow one way streets in the oldest part of town mean that biking and walking are the only fast way to get around.

The only place you have to get off your bike (which is very much worth doing!) is the the famous La Rambla, the main street in the old town. The reason you have to dismount is not cars or buses, but throngs of people. La Rambla is not a pedestrian only mall, like those in many downtowns around the US and world, because it has one lane on each side for car traffic but it has a wide strip in the middle reserved for foot traffic, of which there is plenty.

In the photo below, the car lanes are visible on each side, along with the Metro entrance located at the end of La Rambla. During our visit, we didn't go into the underground, but Metro stops were plentiful and well-marked.


The north end of La Rambla. Metro station in foreground.

Nearly seven miles of bike riding made it clear that bike is the best way to get around Barcelona. We encountered some road construction with clearly marked the detours for cyclists and cars alike, showing that both are valued and considered during traffic disruptions. We also saw the Barcelona tram, which made me think about the multiple modes you could easily use in the city.


One of Barcelona's trams.

By bike, you can also get to the Montjuic Castle and the old Olympic Stadium, which are on a hill overlooking the city. Bikeways and connecting bike lanes along the beach make for a quick ride with plenty of sightseeing. Instead of climbing the hill to the castle, you can ride the Teleferic de Montjuic—a gondola operated by the same company that runs the Metro and bus service (fare system is separate for the gondola though).

In this instance, a gondola seemed like the perfect mode to take you to the top and back quickly and efficiently. It also gives riders an amazing panoramic view of the city and a cyclist time to rest the legs.

On the way to return our rentals we enjoyed more sights and sounds of the city. At this point, you notice that most car traffic was fairly confined to a few large boulevards, and in those places room is almost always reserved on the side or in the middle for bikeways and walkways. The central gathering places for people almost always seem to be planned around bikes and pedestrians, with cars being an afterthought.


Image from Google Maps.

In Barcelona, it was obvious that planning for bike riders, giving wide sidewalks to pedestrians, and connecting all those facilities with well marked and signaled infrastructure encouraged people to use those modes. Combining that with mass transit like a subway, light rail, or buses (even gondola, where it's useful!) can get people moving effectively and create more livable and beautiful city landscapes.

In a lot of our region's densely-populated areas already have bike lanes, but there isn't always separation from car traffic. And that's what makes the biggest difference. In Barcelona, it feels as though all but the busiest streets are for bikes and people rather than just cars.

Roads


Pedestrian tunnels would not make DC's streets better for walking

DC is looking at ways to make city streets safer in and around Petworth and Brightwood. At least one neighborhood official thinks the best way to do that is to put pedestrians in tunnels—yes, tunnels. But tunnels make for longer trips for people on foot, can encourage crime, and don't really make dangerous streets any safer.


No. Photo by Matt Niemi on Flickr.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) put together the Rock Creek East Livability Study to come up with ideas and recommendations to improve safety and accessibility for streets in the area north of the Petworth Metro station, east of Rock Creek Park, and west of North Capitol Street.

These places are dense, walkable, and home to many people who do a lot of walking and biking. But they're also primarily designed for cars: the roads are wide, with intersection designs meant for fast turns that encourage drivers to look for gaps in traffic rather than crossing pedestrians.

The final results of the study came out in August, and they included suggestions for things like bike lanes, traffic calming, and intersection designs that are more pedestrian-focused. DDOT engineers hope that different street designs will bring driving speeds down and make people feel safer walking or biking in the neighborhood.

Two major traffic circles, Grant and Sherman, got special treatment in the study. Right now, both have two lanes for cars and none for bikes. Petworth residents have long complained about speeding through the circles and how it makes crossing them on foot to go straight across a dicey proposition. DDOT looked at traffic volumes and determined that each circle could probably stand to have only one driving lane, which would mean room for bike lanes and shorter crosswalks.


Grant Circle Today. Better parking, bike lanes, and wider sidewalks are proposed. Image from Google Maps.

An ANC commissioner says tunnels would be better

Petworth Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C commissioner Talib-Din Uqdah is not a fan of the plan. He thinks the ideas proposed as a result of the study would negatively affect traffic in the area too much. In an attempt to explain to Petworth News' Drew Schneider that he is concerned about the dangers pedestrians face, he suggested that DDOT should dig tunnels underneath Grant Circle for pedestrians to use:

Since I'm now living in a city nostalgic for days past—street cars and "barn-dancing" (sic) at downtown intersections—why don't we consider bringing back the underground walkways that would take you from one side of a busy street, intersection or "circle," to another?

Coming up in the 50's and 60's, the city's earlier solution for pedestrian safety was to construct these underground walkways many of us used. I believe they are all closed-off now, Dupont Circle being the exception...Just something to think about—a win-win for the pedestrian and above ground modes of travel—cost should not be a consideration; all what price do we put on safety?

Here are the problems with pedestrian tunnels

It might seem like tunnels (and bridges) are a no-brainer way to get people across busy streets. There are, after all, places where they do just that, like on trails that cross over rail lines or interstates. But by and large, there are very good reasons for not making them part of our cities.


This pedestrian bridge over I-495 in Annandale makes sense. But over city streets? Not so much. Image from Google Streetview.

Simply re-routing people away from one or two intersections certainly doesn't mean dangerous driving will stop (it could increase since there'd be even fewer people around), and there are still plenty of other people crossing the streets that don't have tunnels.

Meanwhile, simple physics says that with a tunnel, you not only have to walk the distance to your destination, but also up or down the equivalent of a story. It also seems perverse to make walking harder and more inconvenient under the pretext of keeping people safe, especially when other safe options do the same job with less effort.

Moreover, unless you are talking about a lot of pedestrians using a particular tunnel at all hours, you have to deal with other safety concerns about potential crime. Tunnels and bridges that are out of the way of police cars driving by make many people feel unsafe and loathe to use a particular piece of infrastructure. If people feel unsafe walking down a dark tunnel alone at night, they'll decide to take their chances with speeding cars.

And despite Mr. Uqdah's assertion that "cost should not be a consideration" that is simply not true. DDOT and the city certainly do not have unlimited funds, and tunnels of any type are very expensive.


Randolph Street in Petworth. Photo by Rob on Flickr

Traffic calming helps drivers too

Another bad assumption is that traffic calming is just frustrating drivers for the sake of helping others feel good. That's simply not true. Reduced collision rates on calm streets are an obvious benefit for drivers.

Meanwhile, the fears that slower speeds (which usually just brings things down to the speed limit) just lead to increased congestion have not been borne out across the city.

Time and time again, it has been clear that a low-cost solution like traffic calming has great results for everyone when they travel, whether it's on foot or by car. We should get away from the assumption that a tunnel or bridge is far safer than the street.

Something as simple as walking around the neighborhood should not involve elaborate infrastructure plans. Walking is good for people as individuals, it's good for the city, it's good for business, and it's good for a safe and vibrant city. If people do not want to walk because they feel unsafe on the street, then it's going to be very hard to convince them to walk somewhere else.

Suggesting tunnels as a way to keep traffic moving implies that people on foot as mere obstacles for drivers. Tunnels would make the urban environment hostile to the people that live and work there.

Bicycling


These two new short bike lanes, called "pocket lanes," help traffic flow and keep cyclists safe

There are some unusual new bike lanes at two intersections in DC. They keep traffic moving more smoothly and protect cyclists from a dangerous situation: where they're going straight but a driver to their left is turning right.


Photo by Mike Goodno, DDOT's bike lane designer.

The District Department of Transportation recently installed "pocket lanes" on southbound 2nd Street NE at Massachusetts Avenue and at Hawaii Avenue and Taylor Street NE. A type of through bike lane that's less than a block long and doesn't continue on the other side of the intersection, they sit between the lane for going straight or turning left and the right turn lane.

Pocket lanes have several uses, and they make intersections more efficient for everyone. For starters, they keep people on bikes who are heading straight through an intersection from having to wait behind a queue of left-turning vehicles, whose drivers are in turn waiting for a break in oncoming traffic. They also keep drivers from having to wait in line behind a cyclist who's traveling straight.

Another benefit is that they give people on bikes their own space that's to the left of right-turning traffic, which prevents a situation known as the "right hook." The "right hook" occurs when a driver who's turning right hits a cyclist riding on the right hand side of traffic and going straight.

With the 2nd Street example, traffic often backs up there because there's only one lane for either continuing straight on 2nd or turning left onto Massachusetts. The pocket lane allows cyclists to ride past the backed up traffic, and to be to the left of cars turning right. Here's what the intersection looked like before the new pocket lane:


Image from Google Maps.

Here's a shot of the pocket lane at Hawaii and Taylor:


Photo by Mike Goodno.

These lanes work when engineers can narrow the adjacent travel lanes to fit a pocket lane beside a right-turn only lane. Protected bike lanes are still the safest option, but in places where space is constrained this can make cycling more efficient and possibly safer.

DDOT is actively looking for more locations where they can add pocket lanes. If you have suggestions, contact Mike Goodno (mike.goodno@dc.gov).

Roads


This Capitol Hill throughway will get safer for bikes and pedestrians, but some say not safe enough

A dangerous stretch of Maryland Avenue NE, a street that runs diagonally through Capitol Hill, will soon narrow from four lanes to two, with a 10-foot median and painted bike lanes. The people making the changes say there isn't enough space for protected bikeways, which would separate cyclists from cars, but bike advocates disagree.


Maryland Avenue NE, where it crosses both 7th and D Streets. A cab driver ran over a pedestrian here in June 2014.

The section of Maryland Avenue between 3rd and 15th Streets has been particularly thorny for people not traveling by car. In June 2014, a driver ran over and badly injured a pedestrian in a crosswalk on the street. Despite the District's Department of Transportation adding flex posts in summer of 2014 to narrow the road and installing speed cameras in October 2015, speeding continues to be a problem.

"Even with all the new barriers, I would never risk crossing at that intersection," a resident told WAMU in 2015. "I always go down to the light because people don't stop. I have seen people not stop for walkers in the crosswalk."

Neighborhood leaders have kept pressure on DDOT to make more concrete changes, and the agency recently accelerated plans to cut the number of driving lanes on Maryland Avenue (a move known as a "road diet").

The proposed changes, which are part of a bigger effort called the Pedestrian Safety Project, will narrow the road from four 11-foot wide lanes to two by converting two lanes in each direction into painted bike lanes and building a 10-foot-wide median that becomes a dedicated left turn lane at intersections. These changes would be a big step forward, especially because as of now, cyclists have nowhere to ride except in the same lanes as cars.


Image from DDOT.

But the fact that the bike lanes are painted lanes that sit between parked cars and traffic rather than protected bikeways to the right of parked cars is frustrating to a lot of people who get around by bike, myself included.

While DDOT claims the painted bike lanes are all that can fit into the project due to space restrictions, Greg Billing, the executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, the region's biggest bike advocacy group, says "there's certainly space" for a protected bikeway.


Image from Google Maps.

Why painted lanes?

According to George Branyan, the pedestrian program coordinator at DDOT and project manager for the Maryland Avenue redesign, the current plan is to go with painted bike lanes that are five or six feet wide. A protected bikeway, he says, would have to be eight feet wide, and between the traffic lanes, the median, and the parking spaces, there just isn't space.

One response to this might be to simply make the median smaller, but Branyan says that isn't an option because at intersections, the median will become a left turn lane, meaning it can't be narrower than a travel lane.

Yes, DDOT could simply remove that dedicated left turn lane. But a big factor here is also the fact that some residents are concerned that if cars get less priority on Maryland Avenue, traffic will back up and more cars them will spill over onto surrounding streets.

Removing the left turn lane could also affect the efficiency of the X8 bus route, which travels the entirety of Maryland Ave NE between 3rd and 15th Streets.

Finally, Branyan says the combined width of the car traffic lane and painted bike lane also serves another purpose: allowing emergency vehicles to pass through traffic. With the painted bike lanes, each lane of travel is effectively 16 feet wide—meaning an emergency vehicle will be able to pass a passenger car in that space.

Not so fast—protected bikeways aren't impossible

Billing says he and his organization are fully behind a road diet for Maryland Avenue, but adds that there is in fact room for protected bikeways.

While removing parking might be politically unpopular, he says, the parked car lane (which is eight feet wide in the proposed design) could be narrower: cars are typically 6½ feet wide, so seven-foot-wide parking lanes should suffice. That'd mean an extra foot on each side of the street.

Billing also says the travel lanes themselves, which are currently slated to be 11 feet wide, could be a foot narrower. That'd provide an extra foot on each side, which is enough when you add it to the six feet currently set aside for the painted bike lanes.

Narrower travel lanes, Billing adds, would have the added bonus of being safer for pedestrians because drivers tend to drive more slowly on narrower lanes, and there'd be less distance to have to cover when walking across the road.

Let's welcome a road diet but push for the best one possible

Under the current design plan, the road's speed limit will remain 25 mph plus the lanes will get narrower. Between that and the painted bike lanes, the current plan would make Maryland Avenue safer for cyclists. But there's also space to make it a whole lot safer.

There is clearly reason to ask why DDOT can't do better by including protected bikeways in the design. Protected bikeways would further contribute to the traffic-calming effect of the design by resulting in narrower travel lanes. And they would protect cyclists from having to veer into traffic to avoid issues like double parked cars and standing vehicles.

While it has taken Capitol Hill residents and safe streets activists time to get to a concrete proposal for a safer Maryland Avenue, this new design should be the beginning of a conversation that focuses on what residents, pedestrians, and cyclists really want from their streets: do we want streets redesigned to be safer while inconveniencing cars as little as possible (as this design seems to do)? Or do we want streets redesigned to put the use and safety of pedestrians and cyclists first, even if it means impacting traffic?

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