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Posts about Bike Lanes

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?

Bicycling


N Street NW has new bike lanes

If you've biked down N Street just north of Thomas Circle recently, your ride may have been more convenient than it used to be thanks to new contraflow lanes. Even though the lanes only stretch two blocks on either side of 14th street, they provide valuable new options for travelling east-west in this part of downtown.


Image from Google Maps.

Previously, these two blocks only allowed for one way traffic heading towards 14th street. The new lanes make two connections possible:

1.Cyclists can go east on the 1300 block of N, making for a straight shot connection from 14th Street to the NoMa metro. Even though most of N doesn't have painted lanes, the low amount of vehicle traffic allows for a relatively low-stress connection between two important parts of the city core.


The new contraflow lanes, looking east along N Street NW. Photo by Matt Friedman.

2.Being able to go west on the 1400 block of N allows for an easier connection to the M Street protected bikeway, which currently ends on the western side of where Massachusetts Avenue meets Thomas Circle. Before, biking from 14th and N to the M Street bikeway required navigating Thomas Circle.


Looking west along N Street. Photo by Matt Friedman.

N Street joins a handful of other contraflow lanes that have been popping up around the city, like those on G and I Streets NE.

This relatively quick and easy project shows that DC hasn't yet run out of "low-hanging fruit" for places to install bicycle infrastructure. These contraflow lanes are fairly non-disruptive to both parking and car traffic.

What other streets might be ripe for this treatment?

Bicycling


Capital Bikeshare members ride here, bike lanes or not

Over half of the miles that Capital Bikeshare members ride are on streets without any sort of bike lanes. This map shows you which of those streets are the most popular:


Heat map of where Cabi members ride when there aren't bike lanes. Image from Mobility Lab.

Jon Wergin, of Arlington's Mobility Lab, put together the map after checking out data from GPS trackers on a number of CaBi Bikes, which showed what specific routes riders actually took between taking and returning a bike.

Wergin then separated data from riders who were regular CaBi members and those who were casual, less frequent users. Wergin's map focuses on the regular users, as the more casual ones overwhelmingly stuck to off-road paths close to the Mall and Monuments.

Only about 10% of DC's roadways have some sort of cycling infrastructure, but those routes still got about 1/3 of the bike traffic from regular CaBi members. Even more frequently, though, regular riders took the most direct route possible, which is why the long state avenues seem to have some of heaviest usage. Thick bands dominate Massachussetts, Florida, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania Avenues. M Street in Georgetown, K street near NOMA, and 14th in Columbia Heights also see heavy usage.

Some of these streets are due for new bike infrastructure in the next few years. Louisiana Avenue is slated for protected lanes that would connect existing protected lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue and First Street NE, and new bike lanes might also go in west of the White House.

But plans for Massachussetts and Florida Avenues are more vague. This map shows that DDOT may want to think about more specific plans for these and other roads since they're proving popular with cyclists, even without bike lanes.

What do you notice about the map? Tell us in the comments.

Public Spaces


Using tape, paper, and potted plants, Arlington built a temporary bikeway

On June 11, Arlington closed a block of bustling Wilson Boulevard for what organizers called the Active Streets Festival. There were bike-oriented games and activities, plus a collection of temporary bikeways "built" with tape, paper, and potted plants.


Pop-up protected bikeway. Photo by BikeArlington.

The festival took place during the Air Force Association cycling race, when many Arlington streets were closed anyway. The Active Streets Festival gave Arlingtonians who weren't racing something bike-related to take part in.

Planners "built" a series of temporary bike lanes, all on the block of Wilson Boulevard between Washington Boulevard and 10th Street North.

On one section, a row of potted plants formed the barrier for a protected bike lane. On another, a row of parked cars did the same. Elsewhere, washable homemade green "paint" and a thick roll of tape formed a green bike lane, a buffered bike lane, and sharrows.


Pop-up green lane and buffered bike lane. Photo by BikeArlington.

By using easy-to-set-up and easy-to-take-down temporary materials, Arlington planners tangibly showed residents what Wilson Boulevard might look like if its street space were allocated differently. There's no proposal to change Wilson permanently, but the example can be instructive for future projects on other streets.


A BikeArlington worker lays down strips of tape to create the buffered bike lane. Photo by BikeArlington.

Tangible benefits aside, the whole thing was a heck of a lot of fun.


Wilson Boulevard with its pop-up bike lanes in place. Photo by BikeArlington.

Bicycling


Some Silver Spring residents are against bike lanes that haven't even been proposed yet

Big plans for bike routes in Montgomery County are underway, and Silver Spring is a focal point. When one group of neighbors learned that the county is studying the possibility of a new bike lane near their homes—a far cry from considering any actual plans in detail—they immediately voiced vehement opposition that overstates the downsides and understates the benefits of bike lanes.


Sharrows at the intersection of Silver Spring Avenue and Fenton Street. Bike lanes on Fenton could make the area even more bike-friendly. Photo by Dan Reed.

Silver Spring has been designated as a Bike and Pedestrian Priority Area, meaning it's getting extra funding for bike infrastructure improvements. So far this has resulted in plans for separated bike lanes on Spring and Cedar Streets, with construction set to begin this year.


Planned Spring/Cedar Street bike lanes. Map from MCDOT.

In addition to these and other planned lanes, Montgomery's department of transportation has examined important downtown Silver Spring corridors. For example, there has been mention of studying possible bike lanes along Fenton Street, which could conceivably be implemented in conjunction with a massive PEPCO dig project on Fenton Street that will take place in the next several years.

But even with the study not underway yet, some nearby residents expressed loud opposition to any possible bike lanes. They created a petition with the following claims (all the capital letters are part of the original):

  1. Not necessary because there is CURRENTLY A DESIGNATED COMMUNITY BIKE ROUTE—"Grove Street Bike Route"—THAT PARALLELS FENTON STREET along Cedar Street, Bonifant Street, Grove Street and Woodbury Drive.
  2. A Fenton bike lane REMOVES PARKING and DELIVERY TRUCK LOADING AREAS from the Fenton Village businesses.
  3. A Fenton bike lane INCREASES MORE UNWANTED PARKING ON NEIGHBORHOOD ROADWAYS (Bonifant Street, Easley Street, Thayer Ave, Silver Spring Ave and Grove Street) because Fenton Village customers will seek parking on the neighborhood roadways adjacent to Fenton Street instead of in parking structures.
  4. A Fenton bike lane FORCES MORE UNWANTED LARGE DELIVERY TRUCKS, INCLUDING 18 WHEELERS, ON NEIGHBORHOOD ROADWAYS adjacent to Fenton Street for loading / unloading to businesses in Fenton Village.
  5. A Fenton bike lane INCREASES TRAFFIC ON THE NEIGHBORHOOD ROADWAYS, particularly on narrow Grove Street, a neighborhood roadway outside the Silver Spring CBD.
This level of vehement opposition is out of proportion to any impacts of possible bike lanes. Many of the concerns are also misplaced. To address all of them:
  1. The current bike route goes through minor neighborhood streets and consists almost entirely of sharrows since it would never have enough bike traffic to warrant protected lanes. Lanes on Fenton would serve as a much better connector for the Downtown Silver Spring bike network and would also make it easier to get to shops and residences along Fenton.
  2. There are four public parking decks and three public lots within a block of this route, in addition to adjacent private lots for shoppers. We should definitely work to develop strategies to better direct people to parking if that is a concern, but there is no shortage of parking. Moreover, MCDOT plans to carry out a parking study to identify any issues with parking in and around the Fenton Street corridor, with any findings informing the ultimate proposal.


    Public parking garages (in green) and lots (in orange) along Fenton Street. Image from Montgomery County.
  3. Parking in nearby residential neighborhoods is easily addressed with neighborhood parking permits, which Montgomery County seems to enforce quite well. East Silver Spring already has such a system, and it seems to work smoothly.
  4. We should definitely have a discussion about how best to accommodate delivery trucks, but there's no need for that to start with "NO BIKE LANES!!"
  5. Fenton is already quite congested at rush hours, and it's not at all clear how bike lanes would divert more traffic. More importantly, MCDOT plans to carry out a traffic study before making any proposal. And finally, a wealth of previous research has shown that well-designed bike lanes don't cause congestion.
In many cities both in the US and abroad, merchants have been shown to overestimate both the proportion of their customers arriving by car and the negative impacts of removing street parking spaces. In city after city, researchers have found little evidence of any negative effect of new bike lanes, and in some cities they have found significant increases in sales.

The opposition to these potential bike lanes also ignores that if the proposal were well-designed and implemented in conjunction with the PEPCO project, the benefits of the bike lanes could come at very low cost, with concerns about parking and congestion mitigated.

But we're never going to get that far if we allow loud opposition to shut it down before MCDOT even has the chance to make a proposal.

How to get involved

If you live in downtown Silver Spring or one of the nearby neighborhoods, you will have likely opportunities to hear from MCDOT representatives and provide feedback. Keep an eye out for meetings of your local civic associations and, should the process move forward, meetings hosted by MCDOT.

Montgomery County residents can also join the Action Committee for Transit (ACT), or sign up to receive the agency's email alerts—ACT advocates for bike and pedestrian improvements in addition to transit. Another way to stay informed about land transportation options, such as bike lanes, is to sign up for updates from the Coalition for Smarter Growth to hear about improved bicycle facilities in Silver Spring and elsewhere in the region.

Bicycling


Just blocks from the White House... new bike and bus lanes?

A new protected bikeway could go in along Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House, along with a contraflow bus lane on nearby H Street. DDOT is launching a study to review these possibilities, and is seeking public input.


DDOT is studying how to make this area more pedestrian, bike, and bus-friendly. Image from Google Maps.

The area that the Downtown West Transportation Planning Study is looking at, outlined in the image above, is basically the area immediately north of the White House. It includes Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 17th Street and Washington Circle, and H Street NW between New York and Pennsylvania Avenues.

When the 12-month study is over, DDOT will compile a few options for making travel by bike, walk, and travel by bus in the area safe, more efficient, and more inviting.

Pennsylvania Avenue Reconfiguration

Not unlike its counterpart between the White House and the US Capitol, Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House is primed to be reimagined and repurposed.

In the wake of the September 11th attacks May 1995, vehicle traffic was permanently banned along the 1600 block immediately in front of the White House (between 15th and 17th streets). Since the closure, Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House has been less of a major vehicle artery because drivers heading downtown have more efficient alternate routes (such as K Street, H Street, and Constitution Avenue).

The DDOT study will evaluate alternative ways of setting up the western segment of Pennsylvania. Each build alternative will address changes to the existing right-of-way, in which approximately 80 of the 130 feet available is currently dedicated to vehicular traffic.

New options will focus on protected bike lanes, and an enhanced streetscape to make the corridor more inviting for foot traffic. In addition, stormwater retention infrastructure will be put in place as part of plans for a full rebuild.

As the western segment of Pennsylvania Avenue falls within the Golden Triangle BID, the BID has taken an active interest in enhancing the corridor. The BID recently partnered with KGP Design Studio to develop conceptual designs for enhancements to the streetscape.

The conceptual designs are independent of DDOT, but the BID hopes DDOT will take them into consideration.


Pennsylvania Avenue how it is now, contrasted with a conceptual design provided by the Golden Triangle BID/KDG Design Studio.

In addition to fundamental transportation enhancements, the BID sees potential to make the western side of Pennsylvania Avenue a world-class destination. It connects directly to the White House, is home to many international organizations (IMF, the World Bank) and is home to a top-tier university (George Washington). Yet the current space is barren, uninviting, and underutilized.

The conceptual designs provided by the BID/KGP include fewer traffic lanes and more dedicated and protected bike lanes. The designs also present a focus on building fully integrated and connected green spaces, which would make the area more welcoming to foot traffic while also serving to better manage stormwater runoff.

Ultimately, the Golden Triangle BID envisions an enlivened boulevard that can capture and celebrate the global scope of western Pennsylvania Avenue's iconic geographical positioning.

A new bus lane on H Street

In 2013, WMATA conducted a study to evaluate options for improving bus throughput on the heavily-trafficked corridor along H and I streets west of New York Avenue. There are approximately 3,000 daily bus trips along this corridor, carrying 62,300 riders. Frequent and efficient service is extremely important.

WMATA recommended a dedicated contraflow bus lane traveling west on H street, and DDOT will consider that option as it conducts this study.


Image from WMATA.

What's next?

DDOT is hosting a public meeting Wednesday, June 15th to share draft goals and objectives, and solicit public feedback. It's from 6-8 pm, with the presentation starting at 6:30, in Room A-5 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G Street NW.

For further details, refer to the Downtown West Transportation Planning Study website.

Transit


New bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes could connect Columbia Heights and Brookland

People want more ways to get around by foot and on bike in the corridor that runs from from Columbia Heights to Brookland, and they want them to be safer. After receiving that message, DDOT drafted potential plans for making it happen.


The study area. All image from DDOT.

DDOT's Crosstown Multimodal Transportation Study focuses on an area defined by Kenyon and Harvard Streets between 16th and Park Place; Irving Street and Michigan Avenue around the Washington Hospital Center; and Michigan Avenue from the hospital center to South Dakota Avenue. Cars in the area zip along Irving and Michigan, but for people on bikes and foot, there isn't a safe or easy way to get around (a fact compounded by the congestion once drivers get to either side of the hospital).

Also, the area's transit isn't great. Both the H2 and H4 bus routes connect the Columbia Heights Metro Station, the Washington Hospital Center, and the Brookland Metro Station along the Irving/Columbia Road-Michigan Avenue corridor. However, Medstar also provides shuttle service on the same route between the hospitals and the Columbia Heights Metro every 10 minutes during rush hour and 30 minutes during other times. This service largely duplicates WMATA's service and adds additional traffic to already congested streets.

After the first public workshop about the study, nearly 700 people commented on how to address all of these issues. Back in April, DDOT unveiled three concept plans for the corridor. Here's a summary:

A new street grid

Each of DDOT's proposals suggests removing the Michigan Avenue overpass and creating a street grid west of the hospitals. Doing so would go a long way in making the area safer for people on foot and bike, as it'd get rid of unnecessary high-speed ramps and car lanes; it'd also mean chances to add new green space. How many surface streets are in that grid depends largely on where bus and bike lanes need to be.


One of the options for a new street grid.

More options for bike riders

Those who gave DDOT input were clear that they'd like to see more bike connections, and that those connections be made made up of space that's only for bikes. The proposals include a few options for doing that, from protected bikeways that run in both directions to off-street lanes next to pedestrian walkways.

Around the hospitals and toward Columbia Heights, the stronger proposals would create bike lanes in one of the existing travel or parking lanes. With one exception in one proposal, bikes and buses would not share the same lanes, and west of the hospitals, bike lanes and bus lanes would not be on the same streets.


One option is to add a bike lane along Michigan Avenue.

Dedicated bus lanes

The plans aim to improve bus service (shorter trips, specifically) by creating dedicated lanes for buses. While the extent of dedicated lanes varies among the concepts, they all suggest dedicated lanes on either Irving Street, Columbia Road, and/or Harvard Street west of the hospitals. This would be accomplished by using one lane currently used during rush hour and parking during off peak hours.


The dark blue lines are dedicated transit lanes.

No more cloverleaf

None of DDOT's three options would do away with the North Capitol Street overpass. All of them, however, would replace the freeway-style, cloverleaf-shaped ramps that run between North Capitol and Irving with more direct connections. Doing so would make it much easier to keep car speeds down and control traffic flow.


The cloverleaf is on its way out.

DDOT has scheduled its third Crosstown Study workshop for June 9th at Trinity Washington University. You can give input on the potential plans there.

In addition to the third workshop, DDOT will have two Public Engagement Events on Saturday, June 11: one in Brookland, at the Monroe Street Farmers Market (716 Monroe Street NE), and one on the west side of the Columbia Heights Metro station (3030 14th Street NW).

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?

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