Montgomery County Endorses Vision Zero

vision zero campaign banner

The Montgomery County Council has introduced a resolution in support of Vision Zero.  Members of the Council held a press conference on January 19th to announce their support for the program, which is aimed at ending traffic-related deaths and serious injuries.

On Monday, February 1st, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Action Committee for Transit and WABA sent the Montgomery County Council a letter in support (Letter in PDF) of Vision Zero. The letter also calls on the Council to set a target date for zero traffic-deaths. A target year for achieving Vision Zero is necessary to keep up the pressure and urgency this issue deserves.

Mayor Bowser in Washington, DC committed to achieving Vision Zero by 2024 last year. In December 2015, the mayor’s administration released an ambitious two-year action plan for Vision Zero. Montgomery County will begin the planning process shortly, with a final plan release for later this year.

For Vision Zero to work, public investments in traffic engineering, enforcement and education must be aligned with a data-driven approach to meeting its goal. Everyone deserves to travel freely by car, foot, transit and bike without the risk of being killed.

2015 was an especially tragic year for road users in Montgomery County. Frank Towers died on his new bike crossing Veirs Mill Road on the Matthew Henson Trail. In Bethesda, Tim Holden was struck and killed by a driver while on his morning ride. And, Montgomery County Police Officer Noah Leotta was killed by drunk driver during a traffic stop. In total, over 80 people died in traffic crashes on County streets in 2015. Each person leaves behind a grieving family and a devastated community. We can stop traffic violence.

Thank you to the Montgomery County Council for their leadership on traffic safety issue and WABA is committed to being an engaged partner in addressing this critical community issue.

 

 

How D.C. intends to handle Crash Data under Vision Zero

Last summer, the WABA advocacy team submitted a paper to Mayor Bowser making the case for why, as part of Vision Zero, the District should:

  1. Collect more accurate crash data,
  2. Integrate crash data with medical data, and
  3. Improve the accessibility of crash data.

We believe accurate and accessible data are the bedrock of a data-driven policy like Vision Zero. Thus, a key first step in Vision Zero should be modernizing the District’s crash data collection, integration, and disclosure practices to align with national standards and best practices.

You can read the full text of our paper here.

DDOT responded to our letter last fall to say that they are currently modernizing the collection of data by migrating the MPD records system to one that meets Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria requirements, by including the contributing factors that are related to crashes involving people walking, biking and driving.

DDOT will be aided by the work of the Traffic Records Coordinating Committee (TRCC), a multi-agency group that works to produce timely, accurate, accessible traffic records data, including development of an Injury Surveillance Information System that provides hospital data collection and vital records data.

Further, DDOT agrees that crash data must be transparent and open as possible (while protecting sensitive information). Under Vision Zero, raw data will be available to the public in multiple formats at opendata.dc.gov.  The agency will also publish geo-spatial analysis of safety-related citations issued and adjudicated, compile and analyze safety and injury data at all DC public school and charter school locations, and form a Safety Review Task Force to evaluate the engineering of the roads that had fatal and severe injury crashes to take a proactive approach to safety.

You can read full response from DDOT here.

 

The next steps towards Vision Zero

Blocked bike lane by USPS

Just before the holidays, D.C. took two important steps toward implementing Vision Zero: Mayor Bowser released the Vision Zero Action Plan, and the D.C. Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles proposed rules  that increase penalties for drivers who endanger public safety by violating traffic laws. The proposed rules are an important aspect of the Mayor’s Vision Zero initiative, which recognizes that increasing penalties to curtail dangerous driving is an essential part of the broader city-wide effort to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2024. 

WABA fully supports Mayor Bowser’s Vision Zero goal, including the proposed rules, which would crack down on speeding, failing to come to a complete stop before turning right on red, parking in bike lanes, dooring, and other dangerous behaviors that put road users at risk.  Current penalties in the District for the most dangerous and egregious driving behaviors are generally far too low to serve as a deterrent, and in some cases are entirely non-existent. 

The proposed rules would bring the District’s penalties in line with those of comparable U.S. cities. We support these proposed rules as an important part of a much broader action plan that includes improvements to enforcement, education, and street design.

Support New Rules for Vision Zero

Highlights of the proposed rules:

Speeding

Proposed Change: Increased fines for speeding in excess of 25 mph from $300 to $1000, and the fine for criminal speeding from $300 to $500.

Why WABA supports it:  Speed kills. According to AAA research, a person struck by a vehicle at 30 mph is 74 times more likely to be killed than a person struck by a vehicle going 25 mph.

The District’s default speed limit for residential streets is 25 mph. Between 2010 and 2014, more than half of traffic fatalities in the District occurred on streets with a 25 mph speed limit.  A motorist traveling through a populated neighborhood at 25 mph over the speed limit is going 50 mph or faster. This is reckless, deadly behavior that should be punished severely.

Right Turns on Red

Proposed Change: Increased fines from $50 to $200 for failing to come to a complete stop at a red light before turning, failing to yield the right of way to vehicles or pedestrians, or violating a “No Turn on Red” sign.

Why WABA supports it: D.C. law requires drivers make a full stop and yield the right of way to pedestrians and other vehicles before turning right at a red light.  In practice, drivers often do not come to a full stop behind the stop bar or even slow down before making a right turn on red. The requirement for drivers to stop at an intersection before making a right turn on red is so the driver can take the time to ensure that no pedestrians are in the crosswalk, because the pedestrian has the right of way. Drivers making unsafe turns at red lights also puts any drivers or bicyclists proceeding with the right of way on perpendicular streets at unacceptable risk.

Parking in a Bike Lane

Proposed Change: Increased fines for stopping, standing or parking in a bike lane, from $65 to $300 (for commercial trucks) or $200 (for all other motor vehicles).

Why WABA supports it: Drivers who block bike lanes, even temporarily, create hazards for all road users by forcing bicyclists to merge suddenly into a regular traffic lane. This all-too-common experience in the District discourages inexperienced or apprehensive riders from riding their bikes. It is currently illegal in the District to stop, stand, or park in a bike lane. However, the number of vehicles that continue to do so demonstrates that the current fine is not a sufficient deterrent, especially for commercial delivery drivers and taxis, for whom the fines for parking in bike lanes are treated as a cost of doing business.

Dooring

Proposed Change: Increased fines for opening a vehicle door into traffic in a way that presents a danger to others, from $25 to $100.

Why WABA supports it: The act of opening a car door into the path of a bicycle or other vehicle is one of the most common causes of injuries to bicyclists. The best way to end dooring is to redesign our streets so that bike lanes are physically separated from traffic and parked cars. In the meantime, the penalty for creating this dangerous situation for cyclists should be strengthened.

The following chart summarizes the full set of proposed changes: (click the image to see a larger version)

Proposed Regs Table

We note that increasing fines in a vacuum will not lead to the types of safety improvements we need to end traffic fatalities and serious injuries. Traffic fines are an effective deterrent when the likelihood of enforcement is high. For Vision Zero to work, Metropolitan Police Department must increase traffic enforcement for all road behaviors that endanger others. All too often, enforcement is concentrated during targeted campaigns, but is lacking the rest of the time.

Moreover, the public must know what the fines are and where the money goes. Though not in the regulations, WABA supports directing funds raised from traffic safety violations towards Vision Zero projects, like enforcement, education and engineering— not the general fund. The city should post signs about traffic fines and use public education campaigns to communicate with road users.

Under these proposals, every road user has a choice: support Vision Zero by behaving like a responsible citizen who values human life, or support Vision Zero with fines. Anyone who wishes to avoid paying a fine may do so by simply obeying the law.

The D.C. Council will hold hearings on the proposed regulations on Friday, January 8, 2016 at 11am in room 500 of the Wilson Building. D.C. residents wishing to provide testimony at the hearing should contact Ms. Aukima Benjamin at 202-724-8062 or via email at abenjamin@dccouncil.us.

Support New Rules for Vision Zero

If you would like help with your testimony, email a draft before 12pm Thursday to advocacy@waba.org, and we will be in touch.

Mayor Bowser Releases the Vision Zero Action Plan!!

Vision Zero Cover

Just before the holidays, Mayor Bowser released the greatly anticipated Vision Zero Action Plan. WABA has been actively engaged in advocating for Vision Zero over the past two years and is pleased that the Mayor is moving ahead with her commitments to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2024. The plan details strategies for using education, enforcement, engineering, and data evaluation to prevent death and injuries on the roads.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  1. Codifying safe streets law that prioritizes the safety of the most vulnerable users, designing streets that self-enforce a safe speed, and increasing enforcement and protection for pedestrians and bicyclists in work zones.
  2. Protecting vulnerable road users by expanding and upgrading the sidewalk network by filling 40 blocks of gaps and the bicycle network by installing or upgrading 20 miles of on-street bicycle facilities.
  3. Cracking down on dangerous driving through targeted enforcement and increased penalties for drunk, distracted, and dangerous driving,  and creating arterial, neighborhood, and other safe zones with lower speed limits.
  4. Establishing a public location for all crash and safety data on the Vision Zero website. The city will also publish geospatial analysis of safety-related citations issued and adjudicated and hold quarterly safety meetings to refine enforcement strategies based on safety outcomes.

As part of the District’s strategy, the D.C. Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles has proposed regulations to increase penalties for drivers who endanger public safety by violating traffic laws. (More on that next week.)

In 2016, WABA will be working with stakeholders to ensure these programs are implemented, and hold our leaders accountable to the bold vision they represent. We will also be working to get commitments to Vision Zero from leaders in other jurisdictions in the Washington region. We are on our way, and this is a great step forward!

Hey! 100% of our advocacy is funded by contributions from people like you. Want to help make a region wide vision zero a reality? Donate today!

Last Week’s Council Hearing: Resounding Support For Bike Bills

Last Tuesday, the DC Council considered four bills that propose a host of significant improvements for street safety, including: street design policies, crash reporting, open data, bicycle / pedestrian prioritization areas, and aggressive measures to curb life-threatening behavior—like distracted, impaired, and aggressive driving. Although the news coverage focused on a “stop-as-yield” provision for bicyclists, the proposed bills cover a huge range of improvements that have the support of a diverse set of stakeholders.

The Hearing

Supporters of safe streets came out in full force to support the bills. Councilmembers heard testimony from a wide range of bicycle, pedestrian, insurance and automotive advocates on the merits of the proposals.  Fifteen public witnesses shared personal and heartfelt stories about their experiences, clearly underscoring how much work remains to be done to prevent the tragedies we have become accustomed to on our roads.

With more than thirty wide-ranging policy changes on the table, it is telling that not a single witness raised strong objections in testimony. Every witness, even the automotive and insurance lobbies, supported stiffer penalties for dangerous and impaired driving, a codified complete streets policy, and prioritizing the safety of vulnerable road users. Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Charles Allen, Brandon Todd, and Elisa Silverman each made firm commitments to changing our approach to street safety.  Charles Allen (Ward 6) stated that we “must stop thinking of roads as only for cars,” because “safety must be more important than convenience.”

These bills are likely to move forward quickly. After the holiday recess, we expect to see the proposals combined into a single bill, followed by a vote to move it out of committee.

For a full breakdown on the merits of each proposal, click here to read WABA’s full written testimony, For great coverage of the hearing from WABA member and twitter user @darsal and others, click here.

You can submit comments on these bills until Dec. 22.

Send comments

What is Stop-as-Yield all about?

The proposed change would allow bicyclists in very specific situations to treat stop signs as yield signs.  Many drivers report confusion about current law for bicyclists. A change to the stop law would reflect current practice by many drivers and bicyclists. The following chart compares what behavior is illegal or legal under current law and what would change if the proposed legislation were enacted.

Bicyclist action Potential for endangering other road users? Status under current traffic law Status under proposed law
Riding through four-way stop without stopping or looking with a vehicle stopped at the cross street. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through two-way stop without stopping or looking with a vehicle present or proceeding in the opposite direction. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a red traffic light without stopping. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a four-way or two-way stop without stopping when another vehicle is approaching at the same time. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a stop sign with a pedestrian crossing or preparing to cross the street. Yes Illegal Illegal
Riding through a four-way stop without other vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians present. No Illegal Legal

WABA supports stop-as-yield because it would focus scarce traffic enforcement resources on road user behaviors that post real risks to others — including distracted driving, driving under the influence, and failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians. Studies show that jurisdictions that have implemented stop-as-yield laws have seen a decrease in crashes.

Of the eighteen proposals in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015, this is one of the few that faces opposition. The Metropolitan Police Department, AAA Mid-Atlantic, and the District Department of Transportation each expressed reservations about implementing this provision, citing concerns that it would lead to confusion about the law.

 

There’s Still Time to Voice your Support For These Bills

The hearing is over, but the official record for this legislative package will remain open for comments until December 22nd. If you believe, as we do, that streets should be designed to prioritize safety for the most vulnerable, that driving carries enormous responsibility to protect the people and communities on our roads, and that safe travel is more important than fast travel, submit comments to the record.Of all the great provisions in these bills, stop-as-yield is the most vulnerable, and the most likely to be left out of a final version. If you would like to see stop-as-yield implemented in DC, include that in your comments.

Send comments

Better bike laws before the DC Council next week

CIMG0316

Three important pieces of legislation will be considered by the DC City Council Committee of Transportation and the Environment December 8th.

  1. B21-0335, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015;
  2. B21-0383, the Vision Zero Act of 2015; and
  3. B21-0021, the Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act of 2015

Adoption of these bills would represent a major step forward in the District of Columbia’s stated goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries by the year 2024. These bills would make the streets of the District safer and friendlier for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike, enshrining the important principle that streets are for people. These bills would also enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors and improve the economy and environment of the District of Columbia.

Over the past year, we’ve worked hard to bring these bills to the table. Now we need you to show your Councilmembers on the transportation committee that you support these bills and the bold vision they represent. 

Submit Comments Here

Here’s a rundown of the key issues addressed by the bills.

(Believe it or not, this is the short version…)

Complete Streets Policy:

One of the most important sections of both the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act and the Vision Zero Act relates to complete streets policies.

Each bill lists the principles and purposes of the city’s complete streets policy. The Vision Zero Act would “ensure the safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, users of mass transit, people with disabilities, the elderly, motorists, freight providers, and emergency responders.” (p. 2, l. 19.) The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act includes similar language. (p. 8, l. 183.)

In order to actually change the status quo and create streets for people, the complete streets policy should elevate the safety and convenience of pedestrians, bicyclists, users of mass transit, people with disabilities, and the elderly over the convenience of motorists and freight providers.

The Vision Zero Act would specifically require facilities for all users to be included in any construction, reconstruction, retrofit, repaving, and rehabilitation of a street. (p. 3, l. 16.) This means that DDOT would presumptively install bicycle lanes or separated cycle tracks any time it repaved a street that did not previously have such facilities. WABA strongly supports this provision and recommends its inclusion in any transportation safety legislation that is adopted.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas:

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would require DDOT to designate priority areas where the area is used heavily by bicyclists and pedestrians and the area has a high number of collisions. DDOT would be required to make improvements to traffic patterns and infrastructure in priority areas to enhance bicyclist and pedestrian safety. WABA strongly supports this program and recommends its inclusion in any transportation safety legislation that is adopted.

We would like to see the bill revised to provide that DDOT shall actually implement, and not just recommend, safety changes to the priority areas.

Open Access to Data and Information:

WABA strongly supports open access to crash and road safety data. Accurate, complete, and accessible data will help the District accomplish many of the goals of its Vision Zero Initiative by:

  • Identifying high priority streets, intersections and neighborhoods for safety improvements;
  • Analyzing the effects of street design features;
  • Creating more accurate benchmarks for measuring the District’s Vision Zero performance over time;
  • Enabling public health practitioners to develop a greater understanding of the relationship between crash variables and medical outcomes; and
  • Promoting transparency and ensuring the public’s ready access to important safety information.

WABA has encouraged the Mayor’s office, DDOT, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the City Council to modernize the District’s crash data collection, integration and disclosure policies in three ways:

  1. Updating the crash intake form of the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) to better align with national minimum standards so that the circumstances of a crash are captured accurately at the scene of the crash;
  2. Integrating crash data with medical data so that the physical outcomes of people injured in a crash are reflected in the record of the crash; and
  3. Disclosing crash data automatically, in a timely and intuitive manner.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would take important steps to further these goals by mandating DDOT to publish on its website monthly collision data. One factor required to be disclosed for each crash is the “apparent human factor or factors that contributed to the collision, including intoxication, driver inattention or distraction, speeding, failure to yield, and use of cell phones or other mobile devices.” Unfortunately, it is WABA’s experience that crashes can also be caused by a driver’s intent, recklessness, or aggressive driving. Accordingly, this list should be expanded to include those potential contributing factors.

The bill should require MPD to disclose the number and location of tickets issued to motor vehicle drivers for parking, idling, or driving in a bike lane. Like moving violations and unlike most parking violations, parking, idling, or driving in a bike lane creates a safety hazard. Cars and trucks obstructing bike lanes cause bicyclists to merge into car traffic, sometimes abruptly, and sometimes directly into the path of a speeding driver. This is an all-too-common experience for bicyclists in the District, one that discourages inexperienced or apprehensive riders from riding their bikes. A requirement to disclose the number of tickets issued for parking, idling, or driving in bike lanes would send an important message that enforcement is needed in this area, and would allow the City Council and the public to monitor levels of enforcement.

Finally, DDOT and MPD crash data has often been released in static reports that do not enable the public to sort the underlying data to produce maps and charts. Therefore, all crash safety data subject to the disclosure provisions of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act should be disclosed in a format that is easy to read and should be downloadable by the public.

Submit Comments

Stop as Yield:

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would permit a bicyclist approaching a stop sign or steady red light to cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping if there are no vehicles with the right of way in or approaching the intersection.  WABA supports this provision because it would focus scarce traffic enforcement resources on road user behaviors that pose real risks to others – including distracted driving, driving under the influence, speeding, and failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians.

Curbing Dangerous Driving:

The three bills being considered would improve the safety of our streets by defining new moving violations, strengthening the enforcement of existing violations, and revising education programs.

  1. Ignition Interlock Devices—The Vision Zero Act would require a person who has been convicted of certain drunk driving offenses to install an ignition interlock device. (p. 6, l. 15.) WABA supports this requirement, and believes it should be strengthened with an enforcement provision. Currently, the only consequence of failing to install a required ignition interlock device appears to be an extension of the mandatory term for which the device is required to be installed.
  2. Drunk Driving Penalties—The Vision Zero Act would increase penalties for drunk driving offenses.   (p. 7, l. 21.) WABA supports these provisions.
  3. For-Hire Vehicle Operator Training—The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would revise for-hire vehicle operating training and taxi operator training to add training in specific traffic concepts, including the rights and safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. (p. 12, l. 276.) WABA fully supports these revisions, which will help educate our city’s most active and frequent drivers on the rights of the most vulnerable road users.
  4. Repeat Offenders—The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would provide an escalating series of fines for repeat offenders of serious driving violations, including entering crosswalks, crossing through a red light, failing to yield the right of way, or parking or idling on a sidewalk or bike lane. (p. 14, l. 322.) WABA supports this provision, but believes it could be strengthened by clarifying that separate violations of two different offenses on the list would also trigger increased penalties.
  5. Distracted Driving—The three bills being considered would address some of the flaws of the Distracted Driving Safety Act of 2004.First, the Vision Zero Act would amend the law to increase the penalty for distracted driving from a $100 fine with no points to a $500 fine plus two traffic points. (p. 9, l. 1.) The fine and points would be suspended upon the purchase of a hands-free accessory.Second, the Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act would amend the law by keeping the $100 base fine, but providing an escalating series of fines for repeated violations within an 18 month period, including a suspension of the driver’s license for the third violation. (p. 2, l. 41.) Points would not be assessed for a single violation that did not contribute to a crash, but may be assessed for a subsequent violation that occurs within an 18 month period, regardless of whether the violations contributed to a crash. (p. 2, l. 55.) There would be no suspension of a fine or points for the purchase of a hands-free accessory.Third, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act would amend the law to further limit the situations in which a person could use a mobile telephone while operating a vehicle. (p. 15, l. 347.)WABA supports adopting a combination of all three bills. The base penalty for distracted driving should be increased to include higher fines and traffic points, because a $100 fine is far too low to be a deterrent. Moreover, drivers should not be free of punishment for purchasing a hands-free device, since research now shows that hands-free phone use is nearly as distracting as handheld phone use. Rather, an increase in the penalties applicable to repeat offenses should provide first-time violators with the incentive to comply with the law in the future. Finally, the scope of proscribed conduct should be expanded to include all situations where a driver is operating a motor vehicle other than an emergency.
  6. Aggressive Driving—WABA supports the creation of an aggressive driving offense for drivers who commit three or more specified dangerous offenses at the same time or during a continuous period of driving one mile. (Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act, p. 15, l. 352.) Given the seriousness and number of offenses underlying an aggressive driving violation, we believe the proposed penalty of two traffic points and a $200 fine is too low and should be increased.

What’s Missing:

  1. Speeding LegislationUnfortunately, none of the bills being considered would lower the speed limit on the city’s residential streets from 25 mph to 20 mph, despite widespread recognition that speeding is one of the most important determinants of traffic injuries and deaths.  Cities larger and more congested than the District of Columbia have adopted lower speed limits. The evidence is clear that lower speed limits save lives:
    • A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the risk of severe injury for a pedestrian hit at 23 mph is 25 percent. At 31 mph, the risk of severe injury increases to 50 percent. At 39 mph, the rate of severe injury jumps to 75 percent.
    • According to AAA research, a person is 74 times more likely to be killed if struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph than at 25 mph.WABA urges the City Council to pass legislation lowering the speed limit on residential streets to 20 mph.
  2. No Right Turn on Red—Pedestrians are especially vulnerable to crashes by drivers making quick and dangerous right turns at red lights. Drivers are violating the pedestrians’ right of way if they turn through an intersection with a pedestrian present. Often, drivers do not come to a full stop behind the stop bar or slow down before making a right turn on red. There should be an increased application of or a city-wide adoption of No Right Turn on Red.
  3. Increased Fines for Parking in Bike Lanes—Parking, standing, or stopping in bike lanes causes a dangerous situation for bicyclists and drivers. When a bike lane is blocked, even temporarily, bicyclists are forced to merge into a regular traffic lane. This sudden need to merge out of a bike lane and into mixed traffic often creates a safety hazard for drivers and bicyclists.

It is illegal under District law to stop, stand, or park in a bike lane. The penalty is $65 per violation. In 2013, the District issued 4,200 tickets for unlawful parking and standing in bike lanes. The number of vehicles that continue to park in bike lanes demonstrates that this fine is clearly not a sufficient deterrent, especially for commercial delivery drivers.

The district should raise the penalty for illegal parking in bike lanes. Comparable cities have significantly higher fines than the District ($100 in San Francisco and New York; $115 in Chicago).

Submit Comments

If you’ve read this entire blog post, you are a bonafide bicycle law superfan, and we’ve got another ask: Sign up to testify at the hearing on Tuesday.

Are you in? Email abenjamin@dccouncil.us or call (202) 724-8062 to get a place on the speaker’s list. Then, email advocacy@waba.org to let us know you are coming. We’ll have talking points, resources, and staff available to help you write and deliver your testimony. You can also stop by the WABA office on Monday, Dec 7, between 4 pm and 7 pm to discuss in person.

Progress on Safer Suitland Road Campaign in PG County

by Phill Melton and Garrett Hennigan

Since we launched our campaign for a Safer Suitland Road in Prince George’s County last winter, we’ve been listening and gathering input from Suitland residents, community activists, and interested citizens about their hopes for what Suitland Road could be. So far, the consensus has been clear: we all want a safe street where walking and biking are easy. Since it has been a while since our last news, here is an update on where we are in this campaign.

Following our April community walk, we worked with community leaders and local organizations to find a shared list of priorities — issues like speeding traffic, crumbling or missing sidewalks, hostile riding conditions and poor lighting. In July, we shared our priorities and vision with the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) which owns and maintains the road. In a joint letter, we expressed the urgent need for reducing speeding and creating safe, protected places to walk and bike. Read the full letter here (pdf).

Our initial research showed that with the road’s width and low traffic volume, installing a protected bike lane would not be very costly, especially where repaving and restriping was already necessary. Indeed, since 2015, SHA engineers have been conducting a feasibility study exploring low cost improvements to walking and biking on this same stretch of Suitland Road. That report is finally complete, marking a major milestone in this campaign. This first look shows some encouraging possibilities. Read the full report here.

In the report, SHA found that by repurposing existing shoulders and narrowing wide travel lanes, buffered bike lanes can easily fit between Southern Avenue and Silver Hill Road. While not the protected bike lanes we were hoping for, buffered bike lanes, in which bicyclists are separated from travel lanes by a wide painted buffer, are an enormous improvement from the 18 foot lane speedways in place today. If implemented, this will be the first use of buffered bike lanes on a Maryland state road since SHA updated bikeway guidelines earlier this year. If designed well, buffered bike lanes can easily be upgraded to protected lanes in the future once maintenance-related concerns over protected bike lanes are resolved within SHA.

Buffered Bike Lane Arlington

Buffered Bike Lane in Arlington. Photo by J Sanchez

Protected Bike Lane

Protected Bike Lane in Arlington. Photo by Michael Schade

The study also explored options to add sidewalks along Suitland Road. Currently, sidewalks run less than half a mile of the 1.5 mile road, but block-long gaps, crumbling curbs and uneven ground force pedestrians into the street. Under any of the options proposed, existing sidewalks would be upgraded and repaired to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, but the study also showed that building sidewalks the remaining mile is possible, though expensive. To include expanded sidewalks in the project, the Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) needs to commit to assisting in right-of-way acquisition and 25% of construction costs. Thanks to SHA’s Sidewalk Retrofit program, the county has a terrific opportunity to make Suitland Road more walkable. We urge DPWT to step up and commit to making this road work for all users.

We are glad to see the SHA’s commitment to buffered bike lanes in this project and hope to see good walking options included as this project moves towards design and engineering. We look forward to continuing our work with the SHA, the DPWT, and, most importantly, the residents of Prince George’s County.

Click here to sign up for updates on the Safer Suitland Road campaign.

Suitland Road Bikeway Retrofit Feasibility Report

Phill Melton is an active member of Action Committee for Prince George’s County and a WABA Member