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Posts about Bike Lanes

Transit


Instead of buses that drive over traffic jams, let's just not have traffic jams

A video of a bus that skirts traffic congestion by literally driving over cars has made its way around the internet this week. It's a bold idea, but it raises the question: Why simply deal with congestion when we can just get rid of it?

Chinese engineers debuted a scale model of the Transit Elevated Bus at last week's High Tech Expo in Beijing. The vehicle would carry over 1000 passengers, and effectively form a tunnel above cars, moving forward regardless of what's happening below.

Other purported perks of the "straddle bus" include that it would have its own right of way (the un-used air above the cars), and that drivers couldn't get stuck behind it—sensors would alert drivers if they drift too close to the bus, or if their vehicle is too tall to travel underneath it.

But is this really worth building? And would it really help streets function more efficiently? While it might first seem like the elevated bus would solve the problem of congestion, this idea is implicitly treating congestion as though it's here to stay, and that we might as well just try to work around all the cars on the road rather than find ways to give people other ways to travel.

Traffic jams aren't a given

The thing is, congestion isn't guaranteed; it's far more fluid than it appears, and it comes and goes depending on how we manage traffic.

This is evidenced by the growing list of cities that have started getting rid of their highways—even when some predict chaos and gridlock because there won't be as much space for cars, things work out just fine.

Locally we're seeing the same with road diets and roads that have gotten or will get bike and transit lanes.

We don't need the straddle bus to get rid of congestion. The solution already exists: Rather than building an eight-lane highway and running a futuristic moving tunnel with seats on top over it, let's just give two of those lanes to regular buses and watch congestion go down.

We already have the technology we need

It can sometimes be far too easy to forget about the tools we already have at our disposal, instead pushing for new inventions and technology to revolutionize how we travel. The hyperloop will supposedly get us across California in 30 minutes, and Personal Rapid Transit will apparently be devoid of all the pitfalls that doomed the Columbia Pike Streetcar.

But we already have what we need. We can build bus lanes and bike lanes, and do more to encourage people to drive less rather than give them options for driving more. We don't have to become the Jetsons to solve the problem.

Bicycling


10 big ideas for making Arlington even more bike-friendly

Arlington is one of the best places in Virginia for getting around by bike, partly because the county has been willing to push the envelope on designing streets to be bike-friendly. With the current bike plan up for an overhaul this winter, here are 10 ideas for how Arlington can continue toward building a world-class bike network.


Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

The current Bicycle Element of Arlington's Master Transportation Plan was written between 2005 and 2007, then adopted in 2008.

These are the plan's four major pieces:

  1. Policies: The current plan sets a number of policy goals, from infrastructure-oriented ones like "complete the bikeway network," to cultural, like "create a community culture that embraces bicycle use as a mainstream travel mode." Each policy includes several actions which provide the high-level guidelines for supporting cycling in Arlington, and they're supposed to guide county staff.
  2. A proposed network: There's a proposed network in the current plan - it lays out all of the streets where bike infrastructure is proposed plus an assortment of recommended routes on quiet neighborhood streets. Unfortunately, it's riddled with gaps, and many of the parts that are contiguous are only that way because they're connected by sharrows. This is a major weakness of the existing plan, as it focused on what was easy and cheap rather than on what would create a robust network. When the going got tough, the street got sharrows.
  3. Specific projects: The plan lists out a series of projects for bringing the network together. But aside from stating a loose time frame (long-term, medium-term, or short-term), the plan doesn't say which should get priority, what the schedule for building them should be, how much they might cost, or where the money to pay for them might come from.
  4. Design standards and a Maintenance Plan: This part of the plan is a product of its time. It outlines how wide bike lanes should be, how trails should be built, what materials to use, and more. The listed standards are state-of-the-art... for 2007. Protected bikeways get no mention because they didn't really exist in the US back then.
It's time for a new plan

Since the plan was written, Arlington has implemented the vast majority of the network that the plan laid out. The Shirlington Connector has gone in beneath I-395, as have many miles of bike lanes as well as signs that direct riders through a bunch of quiet neighborhood bike routes. There's also a completed design of the Washington Boulevard Trail.

But a number of groups have also pushed the county to update its old plan, including several of its own advisory commissions. County staff are supposed to follow the county's plans, and without an updated bike plan, staff are on tenuous ground if they try to proceed with building protected bikeways or adding additional bike facilities beyond the disjointed network that is currently laid out.

In other words, as development projects move forward in Arlington, building bike infrastructure to accompany it is going to be difficult unless the Master Transportation Plan calls for it.

As part of the budget process, the county board has directed staff to report back this fall with an outline of how to update the plan. Here are 10 suggestions could help make Arlington a place where everyone who is interested in riding a bike can feel safe and comfortable doing so.

1. Set tangible goals

The goals set out in the current bike plan are generally vague and include things like being "one of the nation's best places to bicycle." The only concrete goals listed were to double the percentage of bike commuters between the 2000 and 2010 Census and to achieve the League of American Bicyclists' gold level Bicycle Friendly Community status by 2011. The problem with both of those goals is that it was impossible to tell whether the plan was sufficient to achieve either of them (it turns out, it was not).

Tangible and measurable goals would go a long way toward shaping a plan that can achieve its overarching goals. One example might be "A complete, connected, low-stress bike network that extends to within 1/4 mile of every residence and business in Arlington by 2030". That is the kind of actionable goal that you can create a plan around, and use for measuring success.

2. Build a complete, connected network

Arlington's current bike plan proposed a network based primarily on what could be accomplished cheaply and easily. If a street didn't have room for bike lanes without removing parking or travel lanes, the plan recommended sharrows no matter how important the connection was in the overall network. It also glossed over street crossings, often having designated bikeways cross major high-speed arterial streets without any accommodation like a HAWK signal or full traffic signal.

With support for cycling and sustainable transportation growing over the last decade, Arlington's new plan could aim higher—for a network that makes sense, that gets you everywhere you might want to go, and does so efficiently.

3. Use modern, low-stress infrastructure

Protected bikeways aren't mentioned anywhere in the existing plan, largely because they didn't really exist in the United States at the time, or at least weren't popular. The existing plan from the late 00s predates the 15th Street and Pennsylvania Ave protected bikeways in DC, and came together when sharrows were new and exciting infrastructure.

A new plan can incorporate all of the innovation and new research that has taken place around bike infrastructure since the mid-2000s. We now know that it takes more than just paint for people to feel safe on our streets, especially on larger main roads. It could supplement Arlington's existing abundance of quiet neighborhood streets with protected bikeways and additional signalized street crossings to support travel along and across arterial streets.

4. Give cost estimates

The existing plan lays out a list of projects, but with no indication of what each will cost. Going into sufficient detail to get a very accurate cost is likely well beyond the scope of a plan and those estimates would likely change significantly overtime, but there is great value in at least determining the order of magnitude of the proposal's cost. Will a project cost thousands of dollars? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?

5. Give criteria for setting priorities

After laying out a proposed network and figuring out what projects are needed to achieve that network, the next step is prioritization. Which projects do you do first? Which will do the most to achieve your tangible goals, and which projects get you the most bang for your buck? This is another reason cost estimates are important.

Every 2 years, the county puts together a 10 year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). This is essentially the county's planned budget for major infrastructure investment—building new parks, buying new buses, repaving streets, replacing water mains and much more. If it's a major capital investment, it gets laid out in the CIP. If it isn't in the CIP, it's not on anyone's radar to get built in the next decade.

Having a prioritized list of bike projects and a clear picture of why those projects are most important would help greatly when determining which projects need to go into the CIP, when they should be scheduled for and how much needs to be budgeted.

6. Have a plan for land acquisition

In many places, it is difficult to achieve a safe, efficient, or comprehensive bicycle network because the county simply doesn't own land in the place where it needs a connection. The Columbia Pike Bicycle Boulevards are a great example of this. They are intended to provide a bike-friendly street that parallels the not-at-all bike-friendly Columbia Pike, but they don't continue as far as they need to to provide a legitimate alternative to Columbia Pike, because the land needed is in private hands.


Land needed to extend bicycle boulevards. Areas in pink cannot be built without additional land. Map from Arlington County, modified by the author.

There currently isn't a defined mechanism for the county to acquire land for transportation purposes. The updated bike plan should determine what parcels are needed, prioritize them and create a mechanism for the county to watch for these to come on the market and acquire them.

7. Include a plan for Vision Zero

Safety is the #1 reason that people don't ride bikes. Building out a low-stress bicycle network is part of addressing safety, but it isn't enough. The updated bike plan should lay out a multi-pronged, inter-departmental plan for eliminating bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries that includes street design, street operations, enforcement, education, and outreach.

8. Focus on equity

Despite the stereotype of rich white men in lycra, many people who bike for transportation do so out of necessity to get to their jobs in a cost-effective manner. Sadly, those voices are rarely heard at planning meetings or in county board rooms. The bike plan should address this problem head-on and ensure that the planning process seeks out those missing voices and that facilities and amenities are distributed in an equitable manner.

9. Include a schedule

If the plan includes tangible goals, a proposed network and a prioritized list of projects with preliminary cost estimates, the plan can also include a schedule for implementation. The process of determining the schedule would bring the community face to face with the realities of budget for implementation vs time to implement the plan, which is a very important conversation to have. Nobody wants to spend six months building out a robust plan around a shared vision and then find out that the budget we've created for implementation means it won't be complete until 2050.

10. Add new trails

In many ways trails are the highways of the bicycle network. They have mode-separated crossings and many of them are long-distance routes that traverse jurisdictions. Arlingtonians love their trails and want more of them. In a recent statistically-valid survey, Arlingtonians listed paved trails as the most important recreational amenity.


Survey graphic by Arlington County.

Despite this, Arlington has built very few new sections of trail in recent memory. The updated bike plan should look for opportunities to expand the trail network, especially when it can add connectivity to existing trails across the region. With the recent release of the National Park Service's Draft Paved Trails Plan, it appears Arlington may have a willing partner for the first time in many years. Now may be the best opportunity we have to build a trail connection to the south side of the Roosevelt Bridge, better connect Iwo Jima to the Mount Vernon Trail, build the long-delayed 110 Trail or even build a better connection from Arlington to the Capital Crescent Trail which is so close and yet so difficult to reach from much of Arlington.

What else?

What are your big ideas for Arlington's new bike plan? What does it need to succeed?

Bicycling


15th Street's protected bikeway is back!

It's a Bike to Work Day miracle! For the last few months, demolition of the old Washington Post building has squeezed people on both bikes and foot into the same narrow space. But as of this morning, there's both a protected bikeway and a sidewalk, meaning there's a safe way for everyone to travel.


A new protected bikeway on 15th Street. Photo by the author.

When Carr Properties started demolishing the old Washington Post building, at 15th and L NW, it was supposed to set up two separate temporary paths along 15th, one to replace the closed sidewalk and one to replace the closed bikeway. What actually went up, however, was just a single narrow chute. While there were signs saying it was only for bikes, people used it for walking because it was the only option on that side of the street.

This morning, though, I noticed both a temporary sidewalk and protected bikeway, with a barrier in between, running on 15th between L and M Streets. And on L, there are sharrows that make it clear that people on bikes can use the full lane—that may not be as nice as the protected bikeway, but it can work on a temporary basis.

Nice work, DDOT! This is great news for people who depend on the city's bike infrastructure to get around. Now, they don't have to deal with a major gap in the network, which people were fearing would last for the estimated construction time of two years.

The city, and the region, still has a ways to go in terms of providing safe paths for everyone when construction comes along. But this development, made possible by a little paint and some bollards that make things clear, is an encouraging sign.

Bicycling


Green means go (for bike lanes)

Washington is one of many cities going green, literally: green paint is becoming a go-to way to make bike lanes stand out so that using the street is safer for everyone.


The bike lanes along 14th Street NW, between V and U Streets, just turned green. Photo by Rodney Hunter.

The latest green lanes in DC were just painted on 14th Street NW between V and U streets. But that's just the latest in what has been regularly happening in DC for the past few years. Why has the city gone green for bike lanes all of a sudden?

It wasn't always green

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, an early 1990's test in Portland used blue paint to see whether or not painted lanes made cyclists safer and more visible. The overall test results found that the treatment was generally popular and both drivers and cyclists felt that it helped reduce confusion and conflict.

But cities gradually started switching to green paint because blue pavement markings because blue is often the color used to mark handicapped-accessible spaces. Meanwhile, other colors like red and yellow are used to warn people or signal that something is prohibited. Before it became the color for bike lanes, it was rare to see green paint on the street.


Green Paint on First Street. Image from Google Maps.

In DC, green lanes are found in a few places. The entire First Street NE protected bikeway, which runs from Union Station through NoMa, is painted bright green. The L and M street bikeways also have green sections where there are turn lanes for cars, to make sure that bikes going straight have a path around turning vehicles.


Green Paint on L Street. Image from Google Maps.

Places where bike lanes cross turning lanes or tricky intersections are also spots where you're likely to find green paint in DC. That's the case at R Street and Rhode Island Avenue where the diagonal avenue makes for an awkwardly long intersection. And at Eye Street SW, numerous entrances have green paint so drivers know to check for cyclists and to merge carefully rather than just turning (check out this shot of I before it got green paint and a bike lane, and this one after).


Green paint along R Street across Rhode Island Avenue. The paint helps keep bikes and cars straight across a long intersection.

Other places around the region are getting in on the act as well. Arlington has painted portions of the bike lane along Clarendon Boulevard green at some of the tricky intersections and along Hayes Street near Pentagon City as well.


Green Lanes in Rosslyn. Image from from Google Maps.

Green paint has also shown up in Montgomery County, first appearing on Woodglen Drive in Bethesda.


Green Paint in Bethesda. Image from Google Maps.

Other places get the point, but they use different colors

Other countries seem to be fond of different colors, as standards in those countries have developed differently over time. Red is a popular color for bike lanes in the Netherlands and Copenhagen while painted bike lanes in the UK are probably going to be blue.

No matter the color, the intent is that a bike lane should stick out so that people know to watch out.


Blue bike lanes in London. Image from Google Maps.

At least one town in the Netherlands decided that all of those colors were too boring and decided to install LEDs that mimic the whorling patterns found in the famous Van Gogh painting Starry Night.

Still, while green seems to be a popular color for more and more bike lanes, it isn't universally beloved. Recently, automobile advertisers found themselves in a lurch when a bright green bike lane was painted in LA along a street that is often used for filming car commercials.

Hollywood's troubles and all, it appears that green lanes in the US are sticking around and will soon be a regular part of the landscape. Where should the next splash of green go in the region?

Links


Worldwide links: The most fooling

We hope you enjoyed our April Fool's coverage Friday! Like every year, dreaming these up and writing them is a fun break from the pace of everyday issues and a chance to poke a little fun at ourselves along with others. A lot of other folks came up with their own great April Fools. Here are some of our favorites.


Photo by RAF Shawbury.

Share the runway: Recognizing that it doesn't accommodate other modes, the Royal Air Force base in Shawbury, England announced it has added a bike lane on its formerly airplane-only runway. Nice.

Pedestrian freedom, Texas-style: City Observatory had a great riff on the biannual, headline-generating, methodologically-poor Texas A&M traffic study that ranks cities not on how quickly people get to work but how fast they drive to get there.

Joe Cortright, the author of one of the major debunking studies, turned the issue around for April Fool's. If the Texas study assumes the goal is to move cars as fast as possible, what about instead measuring cities on how freely pedestrians can walk without having to wait at such pesky things as stoplights? The result: the Pedestrian Pain Index.


Image by oddrob on Reddit.

Metro's new service: Reddit user oddrob posted what might be the most extensive Metro fantasy map ever. Wherever you live, your area would probably have service under this amazing map. And we just know Metro has plenty of railcars to run the service.

The best way to talk: GiveWell, which is connected to our funder Open Philanthropy Project, had my favorite of all. A very GiveWell-like writeup explained how they're embarking on a pilot project to analyze better ways of describing their evidence-based analyses. But you just have to go read the actual "test."

And...: Silver Spring will landmark all its demolished buildings (Historian4Hire) ... The International Space Station goes mixed-use (Strong Towns) ... Donald Trump encourages violence against cars. (Alexandria News) ... Google builds a self-driving bike.

Bicycling


Union Station expansion plans will help train riders, cyclists, and many more

Union Station and the surrounding area is in line for a huge renovation. Amtrak just announced a design to add new space to wait for trains. Other changes in the works could extend the Metropolitan Branch Trail and make Columbus Circle more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.


Image from KGP Design Studio/Grimshaw.

On Tuesday, Amtrak released designs of the most immediate next step in its vision. It will push back the wall facing the trains, so that instead of waiting in too-small, uncomfortable pens for trains, people will have a more expansive space including a large glass wall looking out at the tracks.

But that's just the start. In the longer run, Amtrak is looking to add new entrances, lower-level concourses, and retail, and make existing platforms wider. Developer Akridge is also working on a project called Burnham Place, which would bring new office space, residential units, hotels, and retail atop the tracks directly north of Union Station.


The Metropolitan Branch Trail could one day look like this where it connects to Union Station. Renderings from Akridge.

Burnham Place would include "a green linear park connecting pedestrians and bikers north to Montgomery County in Maryland"—otherwise known as the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The trail would be built above the metro tracks, as a separated alternative to the existing protected bikeway that runs along First Street NE.

In the renderings below, the elevated park runs north behind the Union Station Bike Station on the building's west side, continuing as a tree-lined, elevated strip to the current trail just north of L Street.


Burnham Place with the MBT, looking from the south.


View of Burnham Place with the MBT, looking from the north.

The project, as rendered, would also create new connections to the trail. A pedestrian connection between the trail and 2nd Street NE would be added at K Street NE. A new segment of I Street built through Burnham Place would connect the trail to the new north-south roads in the developments as well as the new road built between Union Station and the buildings that front 2nd Street NE, such as the SEC building.

The DC Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC) has submitted comments asking for more secure bike parking. There's currently bike parking in the Bike Station at Union Station's southwest corner and at some outside racks in the same area. But sometimes there isn't enough, and what's there is notoriously theft-prone. Also, it's all in one place even though Union Station has multiple entrances—there doesn't even appear to be any bike parking in the existing parking garage.

One particular area the BAC recommended was on the north side of Columbus Circle near the existing flag poles across from Union Station.

In addition to these changes, the BAC has also discussed a complimentary idea to redesign Columbus Circle for better use, in light of Delaware Avenue and First Street NE south of D Street being closed for security reasons after September 11th.

If Delaware and First's connections to Columbus Circle were closed to automobile traffic, the roads could be narrowed, parking could move off of Massachusetts Avenue, and there'd be more space for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.


Image from Google Maps.

Delaware Avenue could become a woonerf, used by cyclists going to or from the Circle and by drivers, accessing it only from D Street, for parking. First Street could be narrowed to two lanes with angled parking on one or both sides, while leaving a space for protected bikeways.

The addition of parking to First Street would allow for the removal of curbside parking on Massachusetts Avenue between First and Second Streets NE. This block is confusing, as it features two lanes wide enough for side-by-side traffic and curbside parking. Removing the parking would allow this block to feature three or four traffic lanes and a continuation of the bike lanes from Columbus Circle. For pedestrians, the south side of the circle would feature shorter bike facility crossings at New Jersey and First, instead of the current road crossings.

The Federal Railroad Administration will host a meeting on Wednesday, March 30th to give the public a chance to review the drafted project elements for Union Station's expansion.

Bicycling


Memorial Bridge fixes could help more than just cars

Arlington Memorial Bridge needs serious repairs, or perhaps even a full replacement, in the next five years. As the National Park Service works to make that happen, there's also a chance to address some surrounding conditions that are hazardous for people on foot and on bike.


Photo by Bernt Rostad on Flickr.

NPS first sounded the alarm about the bridge last year after an inspection forced emergency repairs that partially closed the bridge, and started a ban on heavy vehicles, like buses, that's still in place today. Now, NPS says those repairs didn't do enough, and that it's inevitable that without $250 million in repairs, the bridge will be too dangerous for automobile travel by 2021.

Northern Virginia's Congressional delegation is on board with funding the effort to fix it, citing the fact that 68,000 people cross the bridge daily. Hopefully, they can convince their colleagues to join them.


Rust underneath the Memorial Bridge. Image from NPS.

The bridge is unsafe for more than just cars

Memorial Bridge bridge itself has wide sidewalks that usually allow enough room for most cyclists and pedestrians to share space. But the routes that connect to the bridge aren't safe for people on foot or bike.

In Virginia, the bridge connects to the George Washington Parkway and its accompanying trail, which is one of the region's most popular. Despite its popularity the trail has some particular challenges, namely that it intersects with the parkway—a limited access, high speed highway—in several places. Drivers are supposed to yield or stop for anyone trying to use the crosswalks, but there have been a number of crashes thanks to people rear-ending cars that were stopped to allow people to cross.


Image from Google Maps.

Issues on the DC side of the bridge stem from a confusing web of roads that force cyclists on their way to the Mall or downtown to either ride in very busy car traffic or on a narrow sidewalk.


One of the crosswalks where few drivers slow down. Image from Google Maps.

NPS has actually known about these issues longer than they have known about the bridge being in disrepair. But the agency has been resistant to do anything to fix them except in small ways where the first priority was not to slow down cars using the parkway.

Here are some ideas for fixing the bridge

NPS is straightening out some parts of the trail near Washington National Airport, where curves snake around a large tree and make it hard to see. The agency is also working to make it so cyclists don't have to travel through a busy parking lot near Teddy Roosevelt Island. But closer to the bridge itself, the trail could still get a lot safer.

One option is to create separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians on popular parts of the trail. NPS could also keep working to remove some of sharp curves and blind corners that are on the trail beyond what is being fixed at the airport. Finally, NPS needs to decide what to do about the crosswalks. If the GW Parkway is going to remain a high speed highway, then crosswalks more appropriate for a city street just won't work. Solutions might include rerouting the trail, slowing down speed limits, or even adding trail overpasses.

For the bridge itself, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) put forth its own idea for removing two car lanes and creating protected bike lanes a while back:


Diagram of a redesigned memorial bridge. Image from WABA.

Cutting the number of car lanes on the bridge would work since congestion there is pretty low. Average speeds at rush hour are higher than the speed limit, and a new bridge wouldn't need six car lanes.

The crux of the Memorial Bridge issue is safety, and that of cyclists and pedestrians shouldn't go ignored. But a safe bridge and surrounding area for them would also mean a safer place for drivers, as deciding to follow the law and share the road would become far less dangerous. Both NPS and leaders in Congress should be concerned about all bridge users.

If a concern for safety is a big reason why NPS is sounding the alarm now then they should also be using this opportunity to fix the persistent hazards that cyclists and pedestrians have faced on the trails around the bridge.

Bicycling


The new White House bike ramps just got painted lanes

Last week, bike ramps went in on the edge of Lafayette Square near the White House, giving cyclists an easier route around a Secret Service checkpoint. Yesterday, DDOT added additional pavement markings to help riders navigate the new layout.


All photos by the author.

The new striping extends roughly 30 feet from each set of ramps. Lane lines with bike stencils clearly indicate the ramps are for bicycles and reinforce which side riders should use depending on their direction of travel. Flex posts and additional signs help separate the lanes from cars going through the security checkpoint.

Combined with the ramps, these lanes help visually extend the 15th Street protected bikeway and make it clear that bikes are welcome along Lafayette Square.

It's great to see official markings for biking infrastructure on federal property, and maybe this instance will help lay the groundwork for cooperation in other federally controlled places.

For example, there aren't any signs or pavement markings directing people from the 15th Street bikeway's segment east of the White House through the bollards at Pennsylvania Avenue and where it picks back up at the new ramps. If you don't know the connection is there, there's nothing to clue you in.


Image from Google Maps.

What other federally-controlled land could use bike lane markings?

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