Yesterday, long-simmering displeasure with the pattern of illegal u-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes netted considerable media attention from NBC4. Reporter Mark Segraves was most interested in a video by Bill Walsh of a police officer actually pulling someone over for u-turning. However, this is far from standard; more often, drivers u-turn with impunity.
It has been difficult for WABA to get information about Pennsylvania Avenue. We know that the bollards that once lined the cycletrack would be removed for the winter, due to the threat of snow as well as plans for the inauguration. We know that DDOT was working on ideas for better, and perhaps more, bollards. But as to why the bollards have been left in a pile and not been reinstalled? We’re as perplexed as everyone else. Additionally, we haven’t gotten a clear description of exactly what sort of enforcement MPD has done since it and DMV agreed that u-turns were illegal.
After Justin Antos counted and documented thirty U-turns in thirty minutes on Pennsylvania Avenue, I forwarded his photos to Mayor Vince Gray’s office with a request for explanation and assistance. I received the following response:
MPD and DDOT have been working to improve enforcement and protection. It’s my understanding that flexposts are on the way to replace the ones that have come down, and that DDOT is working with the Federal Highway Administration, the Planning Commission, and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to find a suitable perimeter divider. We’re hopeful that the divider we’ve presented to them will be accepted. If they are, we will move quickly to install.
As of today, MPD has written approximately 62 improper turn citations and approximately 70 warnings. Prior to yesterday, we were doing targeted enforcement during selected rush hours and special events. Today’s AM Officer observed no violations and wrote zero citations during the scheduled enforcement. It should be noted that yesterday was a special situation because of the sinkhole at 14th and Pennsylvania. Our resources were deployed to direct traffic around this traffic blockage. Moreover, some where cars were allowed to turn around on PA Avenue to mitigate what was a significant traffic/public safety incident.
As you are aware, Pennsylvania Avenue is a special case because of the intersecting jurisdictions. But, we remain committed to expanding cycling in the District and making our streets safe for those who use bicycles.
We now know that the new flexposts are on the way and that DDOT is engaged with the federal planning and fine arts entities that have a say in what happens on Pennsylvania Avenue. We hope that these conversations—especially those involving the Commission on Fine Arts—will be open to the local, affected public. If they aren’t, we’ll find other ways to ensure the CFA understands that its decisions could place the community in physical danger.
We also know that MPD is doing enforcement. I think we can all agree that when a guy with a camera can document thirty instances of unlawful behavior in thirty minutes—and repeat the exercise daily—that enforcement mechanism is failing. But enforcement exists. That said, we want to see it improved, and we want to better understand its timing and method so that we are better able to communicate to the bicycling community what is being done.
From a policy standpoint, the worst possible result would bicyclists losing so much confidence in the safety of biking facilities like Pennsylvania Avenue that those facilities fail to enable more people to bike safely. We are on the verge of that with Pennsylvania Avenue’s bike lanes, and we need prompt improvements to both the infrastructure and enforcement mechanisms. Either alone won’t be good enough.
In the meantime, we need DDOT to rush the procurement of those new flexposts, or put the old ones back until the new ones arrive. Installing a flexpost isn’t a big job. It’s OK to do it twice to prevent crashes and save lives.
Image via DDOT on Flickr
2012 Kittleson & Associates Report (Washington DC)
Bike boxes, bicycle signals and sharrows were installed at the 6 leg intersection of New Hampshire Ave/16th St/U St NW.: after the installation, crashes increased from 4 in 4 years to 5 crashes in 13 months. Per month, that is the equivalent of more than 4 times the number of crashes. The report notes no increase in bicycle volumes.
Pennsylvania center cycletrack: after the installation, crashes increased from 9 in 4 years to 16 crashes in 14 months - 6 times more crashes per month. Taking into account the fact that bicycle volume tripled, crashes still increased by a factor of 2.
15th St NW left side cycletrack: after installation, crashes increased from 20 in 4 years to 13 crashes in 14 months - over twice as many crashes per month. Taking into account the fact that cyclist volumes doubled, this represents an increase in crashes of 10%.
Strangely, despite these significant increases in crashes, the report states that the bicycle facilities "improved conditions for cycling". If this is an improvement, perhaps installing anti-personnel mines every few hundred yards or so might make a bigger 'improvement'.
Question - are there existing/could there be red light cameras that also capture u-turns? DC is obviously pro-technology in terms of enforcement, maybe that can be applied here as well?
"It should be noted that yesterday was a special situation because of the sinkhole at 14th and Pennsylvania. Our resources were deployed to direct traffic around this traffic blockage. Moreover, some where cars were allowed to turn around on PA Avenue to mitigate what was a significant traffic/public safety incident." - Mayor Vince Gray Anyone know if the 30 U-turns in 30 minutes occurred on the day of diverting traffic from the sinkhole? If so, we should avoid using this stat as being typical. Regardless, I now avoid Pennsylvania Ave. Instead I take E Street, which has a bike lane. I was almost hit by a U-turner on Penn Ave.
John Pickett- I took a picture of 2 police cars parked in the 1100 block of the lanes at 9:10 pm last night. They didn't even leave their hazards on as a warning to cyclists.
Typical DC politics for you. (Sarcasm) Bike lane bollards have EVERYTHING to do with arts and nothing to do with actual safety. *eyeroll* (/Sarcasm) It should be a no brainer that CFA should defer to someone else.
as guerrilla and gutsy as Gabe Klein's move to plant the flag for cycling on Pa. Ave. was, getting hard to escape conclusion that Pa. Ave. has become DC cycling's Vietnam. That median was used for automobile parking when streetcars were flying up and down the road. Permanent curbs have never been in it. Susoect that's what it requires to end the U turns and opportunistic parking. If CFA and cops say no to that, this is going to be a continuous problem and the mayor is ... the mayor.
Seems like a great moment for some advocacy targeting the mayor's office. Should we expect a letter to send along soon?
It doesn't help the city's credibility when police use the bike lanes for parking. This happens routinely. The reality doesn't match the mayor's words.
from my experience some cabbies seem to be out on the streets to test our emergency cycling skills. don't tell me i'm wrong!
Almost had a cab hit me doing this yesterday. Just turned around in the middle of the road as though I wasn't even there.