Benning Road Streetcar Plans miss opportunities to improve biking and walking.

Map of the proposed streetcar extension. Image from DDOT.

Map of the proposed streetcar extension. Image from DDOT.

In February, the H St Benning Streetcar line finally rolled into service, and now moves thousands of passengers along the 2.2 mile corridor each day. Work continues on plans to extend the streetcar across the Anacostia River to the Benning Road Metro and towards Georgetown. This week, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is hosting two public meetings to take comments on Environmental Assessments for both plans. If implemented well, these projects present important opportunities to expand bicycle access in the Benning Rd and K St. corridors. Without attention to key details, though, they pose serious threats to safety and access. We encourage bicyclists to attend and speak up to push them in the right direction.

Benning Extension EA Hearing
Thursday, May 19 6 – 8 pm
Department of Employment Services, 4058 Minnesota Ave NE

Union Station to Georgetown Streetcar Public Meeting
Tuesday, May 17 6 – 8 pm
Carnegie Library, 801 K Street NW

On Benning Road, DDOT should learn from past mistakes and make the most of this opportunity

The addition of streetcars to H St. and Benning Rd created some serious safety issues for bicyclists. Running streetcars along the right side of the street places tracks exactly where bicyclists ride, increasing the risk of bicyclists catching a tire in the tracks and crashing. It does not take a statistician to understand this risk. Just take a walk down H St. The installation of parallel bike lanes on G St and I St provided a workaround, but these don’t solve the problem because they don’t serve the whole corridor, or deliver a bicyclist directly to her H St. destination. The Benning extension is an opportunity to learn from these shortcomings and improve the long overlooked Benning Rd corridor to be safe and accessible to bikes.

The Benning Road Streetcar extension spans nearly 2 miles of Benning Road, from Oklahoma Ave to East Capitol Street at the Benning Metro. The study covers three bridges, a crash-prone intersection at Benning Rd and Minnesota Ave, two metro stations, connections to and from 295, and the regional Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. The corridor connects commercial areas, parks and recreation centers, schools, industrial areas and rapidly growing resident populations

With between 4 and 8 traffic lanes, Benning Rd is dominated by the automobile. The road carries an average of 26,000 daily car trips with highest volumes west of the DC-295 viaduct near MInnesota Ave. Pedestrians and bicycle accommodations are laughable, with crumbling sidewalks as narrow as 2 feet, crossing distances up to 90 feet, and a single 5 foot shared path on the viaduct that crosses over DC-295.

So, while the purpose of the project is to extend the streetcar, it is also about fixing bridges, improving unsafe intersections, and creating safe and convenient places to bike and walk. The two build alternatives represent a small step towards better bicycle access, but due to numerous compromises, are not nearly good enough. If built according to these plans, the Benning Road corridor will remain an unsafe place where very few people can to walk or bike.

The Build Alternatives

Narrowed from a wide variety of designs, DDOT is proposing two build alternatives for public comment. Both are very similar except that Alternative 1 runs the streetcar in the right curb lane, while Alternative 2 runs streetcars in the center lanes. Both alternatives would extend the streetcar to the Benning Metro Station in mixed traffic lanes. Both alternatives include sidewalk improvements, a 6-10 foot multi-use trail from the Anacostia River to 38th St NE, slight changes to bridge access, complete reconstruction of the DC-295 viaduct, and slight modifications to the Minnesota & Benning intersection. Neither alternative includes a new bike facility on Benning Road east of Minnesota Ave, neither proposes a road diet where one makes sense, and consequently, neither creates ideal bicycle facilities that comply with appropriate standards.

For full details on the Build Alternatives, see Chapter 2 of the draft EA

Improvements are Needed

Typical section of Benning Road east of Minnesota Ave

Without a more convenient alternative, streetcar tracks make biking less safe

The placement of streetcar tracks in the road has serious implications for bicyclist safety throughout the corridor. Running streetcars curbside east of Minnesota Ave without upgrading the street with a trail or protected bike lane will all but guarantee an increase in track-related bicycle crashes. This would be a repeat of H Street’s mistakes. Since there is no useful parallel route proposed, Alternative 1 will decrease both safety and access for bicyclists. The Environmental Assessment fails to recognize this significant impact. Running the streetcar in the center lane, as in Alternative 2, lessens, but does not eliminate, the track-related crash risk.

cycletrack section

The two way protected bike lane is a good idea, but needs improvement

Both build alternatives provide an option for a two way protected bike lane (cycletrack) between Kingman Island and 36th St NE to separate bicyclists from pedestrians traveling between the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and the DC-295 viaduct. It is a good idea, and would remove a single eastbound lane, allowing for a slightly shorter pedestrian crossing. However, at only 8.5 feet wide, it is too narrow to accommodate two directions of bike travel. And, with only a 6 inch buffer and rubber curbs separating bicyclists from cars speeding by at and above the 35 mph speed limit, this design is unsafe, substandard, and unacceptable. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) bikeway standards, which DDOT endorses and helped develop, call for 12 feet (8 feet only in constrained sections) and a 3 foot buffer for a two way cycletrack. This proposal is 6 feet too narrow.

Benning Rd is 90 feet across at many intersections

Benning Rd is 90 feet across at many intersections. Image from Google

Explore a road diet

Benning road is a busy auto corridor, carrying tens of thousands of auto trips each day from DC-295 into downtown. At 8 traffic lanes and a 35 mph speed limit, it is a formidable barrier to cross and an unpleasant, unsafe place to bike or walk. Adding the streetcar to this corridor without shorter street crossings, traffic calming, and lane reductions, misses an important opportunity to change travel behavior. DDOT should seriously study the impacts of removing both an eastbound and westbound lane along the entire corridor. This would allow for uncompromised bike and pedestrian facilities, additional space for greenery and stormwater management and fewer barriers to using the new streetcar as more people move to the area.

Implement MoveDC following  design standards

MoveDC, the District’s long range transportation plan, calls for a bicycle and pedestrian trail on Benning Road from Oklahoma Ave to East Capitol St NE as a Tier 1 priority. At a minimum, this trail must be 10 feet wide and be designed to accommodate both bicyclists and pedestrians. Narrowing the trail at intersections and transit stops, or forcing sharp turns at intersections are  not acceptable solutions when the corridor is over one hundred feet wide. Furthermore, the actuated (“beg button”) signal crossing at 36th street works against the goal of making the corridor accessible and safe for bicyclists and pedestrians, since the inconvenience of these signals encourage crossing against the light. Both build alternatives would only build half of the planned trail. If not now, when will the trail be built all the way to East Capital St?

Attend and Submit Comments

On Thursday, May 19, DDOT is hosting a public hearing to collect comments on the draft Environmental Assessment. Please consider attending and providing testimony. DDOT will also accept written comments until June 2. More info here.

The Park Service Has a Plan for a Seamless Trail Network—And it’s Good

better bike trails

We’ve got some great trails in our region, but they don’t all connect to each other.

So imagine with us for a minute: seamless trail connections to monuments, to rivers, to parks, and to the places we need to get to every day. A network that doesn’t leave gaps at bridges and busy road crossings, where people on foot or on bikes can connect in an easy, low-stress way to all of the places that make our region great.

That’s the vision that National Park Service (NPS) has laid out in the National Capital Region Draft Paved Trails Study, released in April.

Sign the Petition!

The study includes a set of goals and 120 capital and programmatic recommendations, in addition to a framework for prioritizing regional funding of trail-related projects. We are thrilled that the Park Service has taken this on, and pleased with the results.

So what’s in the study, and why are we giving NPS a round of applause?

Here is just a small sample of the priority projects:

  • Extension of the existing cycle track south on 15th Street from Pennsylvania Avenue, NW to the 14th Street Bridge. (You know, that connection we’ve been asking for for years?)
  • A feasibility study for a cycle track or trail along the Military Road, NW right of way, from Glover Road, NW to 16th Street, NW.
  • A feasibility study for an extension of the Suitland Parkway Trail from the D.C./Maryland line to Henson Creek Trail.
  • Improved wayfinding and standardized signage so that it’s easier to navigate the trails system.
  • The development of comprehensive trail design standards and guidelines for the region that address trail width, snow removal, clearances, safety features, and more.
  • Fixing numerous bridge access problems, including the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, Tidal Basin Inlet Bridge, and 14th Street Bridge.
  • Connecting the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to the Wilson Bridge, by way of Blue Plains and Oxon Hill Farm.

Sign the Petition!

WABA is pleased that NPS is being so strategic about the quality and connectivity of paved trails in the National Capital Region. These are important corridors for commuting, running errands, recreating, exercising, and connecting to our natural surroundings. For those of us who believe that the best way to experience the National Parks is by bike or on foot, this is a welcome investment in a connected, world-class trail network.

High-volume corridors, many of which are vital commuting routes, warrant special design, maintenance and operational considerations. With this plan, NPS is acknowledging that these trails are transportation systems, and should be treated as such. This represents a major paradigm shift for NPS.

Why does this stage in the process matter?

In essence, NPS is laying out the next 20 years of work in regards to paved trails under their jurisdiction. Now is your time to show your support and encourage adoption of all of the recommendations. 

Will you stand with us and tell NPS you support the recommendations outlined in the Paved Trails Study?

Sign the Petition!

Your voice matters, especially right now. From bridge connections to wayfinding signage to snow removal, the recommendations in the Paved Trails Study will elevate the regional trail network from “almost great” to truly incredible. The comment period closes on May 19, so take action today.

The Washington region needs  a connected, easily-accessible trail network. Now is the time to let NPS know that you support their recommendations!

Sign the Petition!

Want to read the study or submit additional comments to NPS? You can find that information here.

Multi-modal Memorial Bridge?

In the spring of 2013 the National Park Service initiated the public process to rehabilitate the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  The partial closure and rehabilitation of the bridge represents a huge opportunity to rethink how the bridge operates in the context of the city’s transportation network.  Unfortunately, instead of seizing this opportunity, the Park Service defined the scope of the project extremely narrowly— focusing on arcane questions about upgrades to the “bascule spans” (the parts of the bridge that make it work as a drawbridge).

Does anyone actually care about what structure engineering methods NPS uses to rehabilitate bascule spans? Probably not. What we do care about is the fact that millions of visitors and commuters cross Arlington Memorial Bridge annually by foot, bike, and car. As bicycle and pedestrian travel rapidly increases region-wide, it’s time to rethink how all transportation modes on the bridge are accommodated.

The bridge is 90 feet wide with six car travel lanes and two 15-foot sidewalks. The speed limit for vehicles on the bridge is 30 miles per hour, with drivers often dangerously exceeding the legal limit. During busy tourist seasons, the sidewalks are full of visitors walking between the National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery. Sidewalk congestion is complicated by bicyclists and pedestrians sharing limited space.  

The opportunity:

During construction, the bridge will be partially closed. Two years ago, after an initial study on regional traffic patterns, traffic engineers determined that a closure of one of the three lanes in each direction would only minimally impact traffic on other bridges that cross the Potomac River.  This has been borne out by experience: since late last fall, the Memorial bridge has been operating with a total of four travel lanes, without any resulting traffic armageddon.

The third vehicle lane in both directions should be permanently repurposed as a single protected travel lane for bicycle traffic. This would provide dedicated space for pedestrians on the sidewalk, and a safe, unobstructed passage across the bridge for bicyclists.  

The bridge rehabilitation is a chance for NPS to be forward-thinking about design. The National Mall is planning to build a visitor center at the Vietnam War Memorial, which will likely increase travel between the Vietnam War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, as it is a short walk or ride between the two, and serviced on both sides of the bridge by Capital Bikeshare stations. There are also plans to redesign the Lincoln Circle (aka: the bike/ped no-man’s land between the Lincoln Memorial and the Memorial bridge on the D.C. side).

The viewshed in both directions along the bridge is highly valued and should be honored. Through this process, the Park Service could and should be considering designs for dedicated space for bicyclists that fits the aesthetic of the bridge, like low decorative planters or concrete curbs.

WABA and supporters raised these issues nearly three years ago.

Unfortunately, the Park Service has not listened, and continues to move forward with an Environmental Assessment structured to protect the status quo. There is another comment period closing on Monday, May 16th. Take a moment to submit comments telling NPS you want this project to address not just the bridge’s structure, but how the bridge functions in city life, by creating dedicated protected bike lanes and safe connections for walking and biking to and from the bridge.

Submit comments on the project site website using this link.

Introducing Signal Financial Credit Union, a Leadership Level Business Member!

WABA’s Business Members understand the importance of a community that bicycles. Their membership supports our advocacy, outreach and education. Our business members are committed to a sustainable future of our region and are adding their voice to a growing number of bicycle-friendly businesses supporting WABA. Today meet Signal Financial Credit Union.

Signal Logo only

Did you know that if you “Bike with WABA, you can Bank with Signal?”

We are happy to partner with Signal Financial Federal Credit Union, one of the largest Metro area credit unions since 1947.

Just like physical fitness, financial fitness is a lifetime commitment that offers great long-term rewards. When your finances are in order, the rest of your life can seem manageable. On the other hand, when your finances are not secure, it can make life seem overwhelming. Signal Financial’s priority is to help members reach their financial goals by providing them with the tools and information they need to make smart and successful financial decisions. The earlier you start the better!

Signal Financial offers a wide rage of products, including checking and savings accounts, credit and debit cards, IRAs, money market accounts, share certificates, consumer and mortgage loans, mutual funds, and electronic services, such as online banking, remote deposit and mobile apps.

With over $360 million in assets, Signal Financial serves over 26,000 members, encompassing more than 250 small to medium-sized select employer groups, members of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, as well as individuals who live, work, worship or attend school in DC or in Prince George’s County, MD (inside the beltway).

Columbia Heights_earthday

To show their support for our mission and bicyclists throughout the region, Signal offers FREE credit union membership for all WABA members, and they promote biking in and around all their branches.

They have eight full-service branches, including three in DC: the Columbia Heights Branch at 1400 Irving St. NW, the Capitol Hill Branch at 1391 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, and the CityCenterDC Branch at 1201 New York Avenue NW. For a complete list, go to www.sfonline.org.

Discover Signal today!

Do you own, work for, or patronize a business that is a good candidate for our business membership? For just $300 or $800 per year, you can show your support for a bike-friendly region and WABA’s advocacy and get all sorts of perks, including your very own blog post! Details here.

Bike to Work Day 2016: What You Should Expect

Whoa, Bike to Work Day is next week!

BTWD2016 Promo 2

Bike to Work Day is the one day each year that our region celebrates what you love to do: ride your bike! And WABA wants to make sure you register and participate in the big day!

You get to wake up a little earlier (maybe even catch a beautiful sunrise), get on a bicycle, and smile. You’ll stop by a pit stop on your way to work, enjoy a free breakfast, grab that sought after free t-shirt, and then ride your bike to work. You get to be counted as a bicyclist. You get to be part of the tremendous growth in bicycling ridership in our region.

The event is organized by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), in partnership with WABA. Check out COG’s Bike to Work Day website for helpful resources, like finding a buddy to ride with, joining a commuter convoy, and information for employers. Bike to Work Day is meant to promote bicycling as a healthy alternative to driving to work.

Each year, Bike to Work Day grows more massive. Last year, over 17,500 people registered to bike to work and each of them stopped off at one of the many pit stops along their commute. This year, there are 83(!) pit stops across DC, Maryland, and Virginia, proving just how huge BTWD really is!

So, here’s what you need to do in the next few weeks before May 20th:

1. Register. For real. It is SUPER important that you register so you can be counted as a person who bikes in the region. These numbers help show growth in ridership and will help further and direct WABA’s advocacy in the future. You can register here. If you need to figure out which pit stop is on your way to work, check out this handy map.

2. Get yer bike ready to ride. If you haven’t ridden your bike in a while, there’s still time to take it out of the garage and dust it off, give your ride some TLC (lube that chain and tighten the brakes), or take your best buddy to a local bike shop for a quick tune up (hint hint: WABA members get discounts at many local shops and coops). If you don’t have a bike, borrow one from a friend. Bicyclists are very friendly. You can also try Bikeshare or rent one from somewhere like Bike and Roll.

3. Invite a friend or coworker to ride along. Riding your bike (and drinking free coffee) is always more fun with a friend. So shoot out some texts, Gchat your office buddies, or make a few phone calls. And make sure they register too! Then make plans to meet up that morning and ride to your pit stop together.

4. If you really want to show your colors, then consider joining WABA today (or renewing your membership!) or volunteer with us. Sign up here to volunteer with WABA at your local pit stop on Bike to Work Day to help spread the bicycling love.

Want the bike of your dreams?

carforbiketrader

Last year’s 2015 Tour de Fat DC Car for Bike Trader, Alison!

Want the chance to get the bike of your dreams? All that shiny steel or light weight carbon…. Who needs a car these days anyways…

Well at this year’s Tour de Fat on Saturday, May 21st, New Belgium Brewing Company will be choosing one person to trade in their car for $2,250 to a bike shop of their choice for a brand new bicycle!

In every Tour de Fat city, one brave role model will step on stage to trade in his or her car keys and pledge to live car free for one year. Each swapper is awarded a $2,250 stipend to buy their own commuter bike and receives rock star status when the crowd goes wild in support of their commitment. Car for Bike Swappers are chosen after submitting an application describing why they are ready to give up their vehicle for the gift of two wheels.

To apply: Potential swappers must post a 2 minute video submission (it should address why you want to go car-free and commit to biking full-time) to the New Belgium Facebook Page and DC’s Tour de Fat Facebook event page. After the winning applicant is chosen they will get to build their perfect car replacement bike with the shop of their choosing. New Belgium will award the swapper $2,250 total to spend on a bike and accessories. In exchange, the trader commits to being car free for at least one year and to share their experience along the way. Vehicles for Charity will auction the cars, with proceeds benefiting local cycling organizations.

Videos must be submitted by the Wednesday, May 18th. For questions, please email trademycarforabike@newbelgium.com.

You can check out Kristin’s Car for Bike Trader video from the 2014 DC Tour de Fat for a bit of guidance.

 

A law that blames you, instead of the driver who hit you, could soon meet its end

by and

In 2008, a driver in a minivan hit me (Tracy) when I was riding my bike on Connecticut Avenue, fracturing my pelvis in three places. The driver’s insurance company denied my claim because of a law that says if you’re even 1% at fault, you can’t collect anything. The good news? DC is moving to change this.

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At a press conference announcing the bill in 2014

Currently, DC, Maryland, and Virginia use what’s called a pure contributory negligence standard to decide who pays what damages after a vehicle collision involving someone on bike or foot. I wrote about contributory negligence in 2014, but the basic thing you need to know is that under this standard, if the person is even 1% at fault for a collision, they can’t collect anything from the other party (or parties).

Insurance companies benefit from contributory negligence because it makes it very low risk to deny a claim, since the legal standard a court would apply is so broad.

Most people, however, agree that this standard is unfair—in fact, Alabama and North Carolina are the only states aside from those in our region not to have moved to an alternative legal standard that compares the fault of the parties and allocates responsibility to pay damages according to who was more to blame, known as comparative fault.

This might all change soon

On April 21, Councilmember and Judiciary Committee chair Kenyan McDuffie brought the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016 to a vote. It passed out of Committee 3-0 and is now awaiting two votes before the full Council.

This bill would make it so a person on a bike or on foot who was contributorily negligent in a crash with a motor vehicle would still be able to collect damages if they were less than 50% at fault.

The version of the bill that came to markup had two minor but substantive changes from one that was introduced last January. First, it now includes a definition of “non-motorized user” to mean “an individual using a skateboard, non-motorized scooter, Segway, tricycle, and other similar non-powered transportation devices.” These vulnerable road users are now explicitly covered by the bill, in addition to bicyclists and pedestrians.

Secondly, the bill expressly retains the “last clear chance” doctrine, something that is already available under the law in the District. The basic idea behind last clear chance is that even if the plaintiff (the person who gets hit) is contributorily negligent, the plaintiff’s negligence is not a bar to recovery if the defendant (motorist) had the last clear chance to avoid the accident.

Reserving last clear chance will likely result in greater protection for bicyclists because in circumstances where the bicyclist is contributorily negligent, the bicyclist would still be able to recover for damages if the motorist had the last clear chance to avoid the collision.

The bill must be approved by the Committee of the Whole and receive two affirmative votes by the full Council. It would then go to the Mayor for her signature. Afterwards, the bill becomes an act and must go through the Congressional approval process before becoming law. Both votes could take place before the summer recess.

Who does contributory negligence hurt?

The contributory negligence standard is particularly hard on bicyclists, in part because the public is not well-educated about bike laws in general. But the reality is that contributory negligence is actually hard on anyone with relatively small damages to claim and/or no applicable insurance coverage (e.g. pedestrians).

Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingent fee basis, and small cases do not adequately compensate them for their time. Thus, though the cost of replacing a bike or a few thousand dollars in medical bills may be substantial for an individual, it’s not enough to attract an advocate to take on a driver’s insurance company.

Contributory negligence is hardest on low-income people

To some, the pain and damages that fall under this threshold are the difference between getting by and falling behind. There can be no doubt that this has real consequences for seniors, communities of color and low-income individuals who can’t just call in sick and watch Netflix until a back sprain heals or buy a new bike.

We know that 38% of DC households don’t have access to car. We know that 28% of trips made by DC households are by foot, and another 20% by transit (which includes some walking to access). The web of incentives and laws that we’re all traveling in every time we take a step or pedal across the street to the bus stop, or get behind the wheel of a car, directly affects our quality of life and shapes our behavior and choices.

Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced the bill. The bill’s sponsors are Councilmembers Grosso (at-large), Evans (Ward 2), Bonds (at-large), and Allen (Ward 6); Councilmember Alexander (Ward 7) is a co-sponsor.

With this legislation, the DC City Council has an opportunity to choose fairness and common sense. Let your city council member know that this matters to you: thank them for supporting the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016 or let them know you want to see their support.



Tracy Hadden Loh loves cities, infrastructure, and long walks on the beach looking for junk. She holds a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. By day, she is the director of research at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. By night, she is an activist, a military wife, a baby mama, and proud to represent Ward 1 on the Mount Rainier, MD city council.

Tamara Evans is the advocacy director for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. She lives in Mt. Pleasant.