Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Bike Safety

Bicycling


An interactive map will make Montgomery more bike-friendly

Casey Anderson, the chair of Montgomery County's planning board, says he wants the best bike plan any place US city has ever seen. The county's interactive Cycling Concerns Bicycle Atlas is a tool for gathering the feedback it needs to make that happen.


Image from Montgomery County. Click for the interactive version.

The primary goal of the County Bike Plan is to move from a world where only 1% of the population feels comfortable riding (high stress roadways) to one where those who tolerate moderate (10%) or low stress (50%) also feel comfortable riding. Importantly, it also recognizes that there is a substantial minority that will never get on a bike.


Image from M-NCPPC.

This effort began with the Second Great MoCo Bike Summit, and has been part of a series of community meetings where Board Chairman Casey Anderson and planner David Anspacher led attendees through a discussion of common cycling issues and defined the four levels of stress.

Unlike a similar atlas unveiled in Fairfax County this spring, which asked cyclists to identify routes they'd like to see bike lanes on, Montgomery's map asks users to note problem areas within the county's existing network, such as poor or missing connections, unsafe sewer grates, and concerns with road conditions.

The map will remain up indefinitely. The county has already started using feedback from the atlas to address immediate concerns. The plan should be complete in 2017, and it will include recommendations about specific bike facilities to be built.

Hundreds of people have already used the map,, and the county is asking them to keep it up. Users can also rate and comment other users' feedback directly on the map.

There will be one more community meeting to discuss the Bike Plan on Tuesday, October 6, at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

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Public Spaces


Ask GGW: Could biking between the C&O to the W&OD bike paths be safer?

At White's Ferry in Leesburg, it's a short distance between two of our region's most popular bike trails: the C&O Canal Towpath, which runs along the Potomac River from DC to Cumberland, Maryland, and Virginia's Washington & Old Dominion Trail. But to get from one to the other, cyclists have to ride along Route 15, which is dangerous.


Base image from Google Maps.

One of our readers wants to know if it's possible to create a safer connection.

Is there anyway to make it safer to connect the C&O to the W&OD bike paths? White's Ferry is a great place to cross but Route 15 North is treacherous, especially if you are heading south into Leesburg. I have inquired about this but have either been told "improvements have been made," or just stonewalled altogether.
The Loudoun County planning department has has looked at the issue, but it's taken a long time to arrive at a solution. Patricia Turner, the Co-Chair of BikeLoudoun, gives us some background:
In 1999 the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) presented an application to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors via the Virginia's Transportation Enhancement Program, to create a Leesburg-to-White's Ferry Bikeway. It proposed retrofitting an 8-foot wide, 1.4 mile shoulder along both sides of US Route 15.

The application for combined federal and state funding (with a percentage match from Loudoun County) was extensive and detailed, and contained scores of supporting letters from citizens and business owners. It also included 12 pages of petition signatures. But alas, the application was turned down, as I remember primarily because the actual cost was re-estimated to be much higher than originally stated.

David Cranor notes that the Loudoun County Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Master Plan, adopted in 2003, addressed the issues of crossing into White's Ferry. The plan stated that, "Linkages to the C&O Canal, including access to White's Ferry, are in need of improvement", and that "Improvements to Route 15, just north and south of the Town [of Leesburg], are underway. On the south side of the Town, a multi-use trail on the west side of Route 15 is planned, and on the north side, to White's Ferry, wide shoulders are being paved to accommodate bicycles."

The trail on the west side of Route 15 was never built. The plan also discussed creating a better connection to Ball's Bluff Battlefield Regional Park and then adding a Riverside trail from there to White's Ferry. This also never happened.

One of the more interesting suggestions in the plan was to add another ferry somewhere other than White's Ferry:

The Plan also proposes consideration of new bicycle and pedestrian only ferry services. Two locations have been identified for further study, the old Edward's Ferry Crossing and Algonkian Regional Park. These could be public or private operations and start as only limited seasonal and/or weekend services.
Turner also mentions that the issue is even more compelling now that it has been sixteen years since WABA brought the application for the Loudoun to White's Ferry Bikeway to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.

A new solution is in the works

A group in Loudoun is currently working on completing county gaps in the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. It's headed up by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, and supported by the National Park Service, Loudoun's Department of Parks, and others.

Because of challenges stemming from both topography and land ownership, some of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail in Loudoun will veer away from the Potomac River and onto paved paths. The committee is considering an alternative route from White's Ferry to the W&OD that would cross Route 15 into subdivisions and link to downtown Leesburg.

This route would enable riders to safely reach the W&OD Trail in town without having to use Route 15.

There is considerable interest from cyclists to make a route that would circle from DC along the C&O to out to Poolesville, Maryland, cross the Potomac at White's Ferry, and connect to the W&OD for a return trip.


C&O Canal towpath winding near the Potomac River. Photo from the National Park Service.

Turner says BikeLoudoun believes such a route would increase county tourism, providing economic benefits to Leesburg and surrounding areas. Easements and funding issues will have to be addressed in order to make this a reality, however, and the plan has yet to be introduced to the county Board of Supervisors.

"This fall, we hope to get on the docket of the Transportation and Land Use Committee to present the concept," says Turner. "With their support, the plan will go before the entire Board for discussion and approval."

More and more frequently, BikeLoudoun gets frequent requests for information about a bicycle connection from White's Ferry Road to Leesburg, and Turner is hopeful that the long-awaited route will be realized in the near future.

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll pose a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing ask@ggwash.org. Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

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Bicycling


Cyclists have long been asking for a safer Pennsylvania Avenue. It's coming next month.

The stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue between 13th and 15th Street NW is particularly dangerous for cyclists because it doesn't have barriers to stop drivers from making illegal U-turns across the median bikeway. These U-turns are unfortunately a common occurance and put on bikes at risk. But that will change in September.


A U-turning driver strikes a cyclist on Pennsylvania Avenue. Image from David Garber on Twitter.

WAMU's Martin Di Caro delivered the news this morning, and Greater Greater Washington contributor David Cranor wrote about it on TheWashCycle.

"DDOT intends to install the bike lane barriers between 13th and 15th Streets in September," Di Caro reported, "finally protecting the entire length of Washington's premier downtown cycle track."

U-turns at 13 ½ Street, which is just outside the Wilson Building, DC's government headquarters, may also become legal. But it's much safer to limit U-turns to an intersection rather than leaving open the possibility of doing it in the middle of the street.

Last week, we ran a post wondering if the stretch of Pennsylvania without barriers is that way because it's the two blocks where DC councilmembers park.

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Bicycling


This area road is now a lot more bike-friendly

A few years ago, a stretch of Riggs Road in Chillum, an area in northwest Prince George's County, went down from six lanes to four. Bike and parking lanes went into the extra space. The result was a practical example of how to make over-built arterial highways more useful for all residents.


The curb lanes of Riggs Road were repurposed for bike lanes and parking. Photo by the author.

Converting Riggs Road was easy

Since the early 1960's, Riggs Road has been a standard six-lane arterial highway, which is common throughout the parts of Maryland that border DC. After repaving the road in 2010, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) decided to re-stripe the curb lanes between Sargent Road and Chillum Road as bike lanes with adjacent parking.


Riggs Road between Sargent and Chillum Roads. Base image from Google Maps.

The right lanes were 12 feet wide, and they became five-foot bike lanes and seven-foot parking lanes. All of the changes took place within the existing roadway, so there was no construction or curb moving necessary.


Riggs Road bike lane approaching Ray Road. Photo by the author.

What about the traffic?

Prior to the narrowing, this stretch of Riggs averaged 24,000 vehicles per-day. In the four years since the SHA narrowed the road (2011-2014), its average dropped to fewer than 19,000 vehicles per-day.

Sargent Road and New Hampshire Avenue, the two arterial roads that run parallel to Riggs, have not seen gains in traffic volumes since Riggs lost two travel lanes. It appears that 5,000 auto trips on Riggs Road simply went away after the repurposing of the curb lanes. In other words, there was a 20% drop in traffic when two car travel lanes went away.


This part of Riggs Road has seen a 20% decrease in traffic since the lanes were repurposed for bikes and parking. Photo by the author.

There's still room for improvement

While the bike lanes are an excellent addition to the road, the design could be tweaked to make cycling more comfortable.

The traffic on Riggs moves rather quickly within a few feet of people using the bike lanes. The road is signed for 35 MPH, but it seemed like most drivers were travelling at 40 or above. I found myself riding towards the right when possible to put some space between myself and the traffic.

Where parked cars are adjacent to the bike lane, cyclists are stuck in the driver's side door zone, with the only alternative being to move into to the travel lane or ride on the sidewalk.


Today, Riggs' bike lane protects parked cars. It could be the other way around.

Swap the bike lane and parking lane

Riggs Road's bike lane would be a lot safer if the parking lane sat between it and moving cars. Like the initial change, making this switch wouldn't require widening or altering curbs.

When the SHA restriped Riggs Road, they did not change the width of the remaining travel lanes. Cutting the four remaining travel lanes to ten feet rather than 11 would slow traffic, making the space more comfortable for people using the road for something other than driving.


Currently, a cross section of Riggs Road between Sargent and Chillum Roads looks like this. Image created by the author on StreetMix.


How Riggs Road could look if the parking lane and bike lane were switched. Image created by the author on StreetMix.

While these bike lanes could be better, they accommodate cyclists far better than most arterial highways in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which lack designated space for bikes. Other lightly-used six-lane highways in the DC area could be ideal candidates for an inexpensive and accommodating change like the one Riggs Road got.

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Bicycling


We can make our roads a lot more bike-friendly. Here's how

For the past 40 years, planners have thought the best way to deal with cyclists was to treat them like vehicles. But that policy has left only "fearless" cyclists using the roads. Bikes don't have to remain a rarely-used alternative. We can change the paradigm.


The oldest official bike lane in America in Davis, CA. Photo by Phillip Barron on Flickr.

Today, relatively few people commute by bike, though with new protected bike facilities in many cities, that's starting to change. At StreetsCamp, Jess Zdeb of Toole Design showed how to appeal to a broader base.

Zdeb taught attendees of her session about the past, present, and future of bicycle infrastructure.

While these days, America is only just now cottoning on to the idea of the protected bike intersection (several cities are currently in a race to install the first one in the United States), the concept actually dates back to the 1970s.

John Forester introduced the idea of "vehicular cycling," or treating cyclists as drivers. This led to the world we live in today, where "strong and fearless" riders are often the only ones brave enough to venture out on the roads, and we have only a 1% mode share for cyclists.

Zdeb then introduced a modern method of bicycle network analysis, based on how hard or stressful it is to ride in a given area. The Level of Traffic Stress methodology ranks streets based on the stress level that cyclists experience. Montgomery County's Bike Plan, currently underway, is using this methodology.

Zdeb pointed out how important it can be to consider pilot projects when proposing new infrastructure. They can help residents realize what the results of these projects would actually do for their communities. Recently, Toole Design helped facilitate a demonstration project in Columbia that showed how effective protected bike lanes could be in the community. That could help Columbia decide to build a permanent facility like this.

Zdeb says if we really want to get the majority of people to bike, we have to install protected infrastructure. Treating cyclists like vehicles—and exposing them to high levels of traffic stress—doesn't appeal to most people.

You may not believe it, but after WWII, the Dutch rebuilt their cities to be a lot like those in the US. It was only after they decided that too many people were dying on those kinds of roads that they started separating bicycle infrastructure and became the cycling haven that we know today. The change saved a lot of lives.

Those of us in the States could have made a similar decision, but we opted to continue driving. Zdeb summed it up with her most-tweeted comment of the whole presentation:

Cities to watch in the future for big bicycle projects, according to Zdeb, include Seattle, Boston and Cambridge, and cities participating in the Vision Zero Initiative.

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Roads


Crowdsource safety problems on DC streets with this interactive Vision Zero map

Do you know of a safety problem on a DC street? If so, tell DDOT about it using the interactive Vision Zero map. It allows residents to click a location and type in notes to describe problems.


Image from DDOT.

This new map is part of DC's Vision Zero Initiative, which aims to eliminate all fatalities and serious injuries in the transportation system.

The map lets you add notations for a wide variety of safety problems. There are separate categories for driver, pedestrian, and cyclist problems, with several options available for each. You can also scroll around DC to see what your neighbors have submitted.

It's a neat tool. I've already submitted a handful of problems.

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