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

More Support for a Low Stress Louisiana Ave

Support is growing quickly for a protected bike lane on Louisiana Avenue to fill a major gap in downtown DC’s low stress bike lane network. Since June, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) have received requests from DC Councilmember Charles Allen, ANC 6C, and even members of the Congressional Bike Caucus, urging swift action and support for a protected bike lane on Louisiana Avenue between existing lanes on First Street NE and Pennsylvania Ave. Following these requests, DDOT and AOC staff have already conducted a preliminary site visit to explore possibilities.

Louisiana Ave in red is a missing link in a much larger protected bike lane network in green

Earlier this week, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton added her support in a letter to DDOT Director Dormsjo and Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers.

“A protected bike lane between Union Station and the U.S. Capitol Grounds on Louisiana Avenue would improve safety and provide a vital link between already existing bike lanes in the area,” she wrote. “Union Station and the U.S. Capitol are separated by multi-lane roadways with fast-moving traffic, which poses safety risks to the residents, workers, and visitors destined for Union Station, the U.S. Capitol, and points beyond. DDOT Has already constructed protected bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue NW and First Street NE and throughout the city. Filling in the missing link on Louisiana Avenue NE would help complete this network of bicycle lanes.” Read the full letter here.

We are grateful to have the support of Congresswoman Norton for a project with benefits for countless DC’s residents, workers, and visitors. More updates on this campaign as it progresses. Read more about the proposal here

Un-Protected Bikeways: Why is DC Still Undercutting Safety?

For every new trail, bike lane, and policy that makes the region a better place to bike, there are committed advocates working in their communities, with government officials, and WABA staff to improve our streets for people who bike. Here is an update from Joe Allen, a DC and Montgomery County advocate.

The protected bikeways throughout much of downtown DC have contributed to great increases in people bicycling.  These new bicycle facilities have a physical barrier as well as horizontal separation from moving vehicle traffic.  Protected bikeways offer improvements in safety, predictability, and comfort for the average person.  Unfortunately, the record for DC in maintaining protection of these bikeways during building or roadway construction is horrible despite a law requiring them to do so.  What happens when construction or other reasons impact these bikeways will impact their long term success.

People riding in these new facilities expect a continuity in the level of comfort and skill required to reach their destination safely.  Therefore, a major challenge for developing such lanes downtown is finding a solution for construction projects that require the sidewalk and curb lane closures.  Often years of thought and engineering go into the protected bikeway design to minimize conflicts and maintain separation.  This hard work should not be erased when roadwork happens.  Given the type of riders attracted to these lanes, who prefer not to mix with traffic, even a periodic one-block disruption could discourage future use.  The DC Council agreed in 2013 and passed a law requiring the Office of Permits to work with the DC Bikeways Coordinator in approving traffic plans for construction zones that provide safe accommodation for bicyclists and pedestrians. The law mandated that plans provide an equivalent bicycle facility wherever possible and a stepwise approach that maintains safety when space is tight.

Read about the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013

What has been the record of Office of Permits since this law was passed and regulations were issued?  One only has to look at comments about the protected bikeways to see the law is regularly ignored, or even worse, implemented in ways that actually increase risk to people riding bicycles.  The stepwise approach that is supposed to prioritize safety over maintaining parking lanes and travel lane widths often does the opposite.  In some cases, accommodation is provided for people on bicycle but not people walking with the obvious result, people walking in the bikeway.  More often though, sidewalk detours are provided, but people on bicycle must quickly merge into mixed traffic. Nowhere has this more true than the M St. NW protected bikeway.  There are currently three construction projects on the protected bikeway, each which violate the spirit if not the letter of the law and regulations.  The traffic plans for these construction projects were approved by the Office of Permits. However, the approvals are in violation of the law and conflict with very clear direction by DDOT on how these projects should preserve and not eliminate the protection for people on bicycles.

M St. NW and 20th St. NW

M and 20th St. NW. Note the turning vehicle.

The worst implementation yet occurred during the past few weeks on the M St. protected bikeway at 20th St. NW.  The signage emphasizes the very violation of the law: “Bikeway Closed”.  A pedestrian passage is maintained on the same side of the street as the bikeway despite an available sidewalk on the opposite side of the street and the parking lane on the opposite side of the street is left intact.  The result is people on bicycles must merge at the last minute in the middle of an intersection.  The traffic plan goes further and closes the right hand turn lane to cars for no apparent reason, eliminating the predictable mixing zone developed to reduce conflicts and avoid right hand turning cars crossing in the path of bicycles.  The return to the protected bikeway is at the entrance to a parking garage which regularly blocks the protected bikeway in the morning as the valet parks cars.  The plan fails at a number of levels.  There is no predictable, safe path maintained and the safety of people on bicycle is actually significantly harmed by merging cars and bikes at the worst possible place.  The plan encourages cars to cross the path of bicycles and vice versa.  During two brief morning spent observing the result, I caught on camera at least three near miss conflicts of cars turning into bicycles as well as regular failure to leave safe passing distance for bicycles that finally made it into the auto travel lane.  To add insult to injury, two additional closures and detours occur within the next four blocks, including conflicting detour and closure signs posted at M St. NW and New Hampshire St. NW.  The signs at this intersection give conflicting directions regarding use of a correctly posted protected detour and an illegal closure two blocks away (including use of “Share the Road” sign rather than “May Take Full Lane”)..

M St. Protected Bikeway and New Hampshire St. NW - two Blocks from 20th St. NW closure

M and New Hampshire St. NW – two Blocks from 20th St. NW closure

I have captured these violations of bikeway closures on 15th and L St. during the past year on several occasions and the response from DC government officials has always been polite.  They acknowledge such traffic plans should not be permitted and state that the permit office will learn over time but are overwhelmed with the volume of construction requests.  DDOT recently issued further guidance for bicycle lane closures and acceptable traffic management plans. Yet, it is unacceptable that a law has been passed, regulations have been issued, and requirements to coordinate with the DC Bikeways Coordinator outlined, and bikeway closures which should be a last option are regularly instituted as the first option.

Bicycling as a means to get from point A to B has become a new norm thanks in part to the building a protected bike network.  However, the new norm also requires recognizing the responsibility to maintain protected bikeways according to the law.  DC would rarely close a commuter arterial to cars on a daily basis for weeks on end or force cars onto the sidewalk or into narrow alleys not designed for auto traffic.  DC can and should do better, and it should not require a lawsuit for the government to uphold its own laws.

Joe Allen is a WABA member and chair of WABA’s Action Committee for Montgomery County.

Photo Recap: Ward 4 Bike Ride with Councilmember Todd

D.C. Councilmember Brandon Todd, WABA, and 50 Ward 4 residents toured the several Ward 4 neighborhoods by bike on Sunday afternoon. The 5 mile ride featured the longest bike lanes in the ward on Kansas Ave NW and the future Met Branch Trail. Riding the route also highlighted areas for future upgrades to the bicycle network including potential protected bike lanes on New Hampshire Ave NW. Thank you to Councilmember Todd for participating in the event and we look forward to working together with the community to improve bicycling in Ward 4.

Let’s build protected bike lanes on 6th St NW!

There’s been a lot of press in the past few days about a local church’s threat to sue the city over proposed protected bike lanes on 6th Street NW.

Here’s the Background.

In February 2015, as part of MoveDC, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) began a multi-step process to create a north/south protected bike lane linking the eastern part of DC from the Ledroit Park/Howard/Shaw neighborhoods to Pennsylvania Avenue and downtown.  While there are multiple east-west dedicated bike lanes across the city, currently, the only contiguous north-south protected lane is 15th Street NW.

In the first phase of the process, DDOT considered each of the streets from 4th through 9th for the bike lane project.  4th and 8th Streets were eliminated because they were not continuous to downtown. 7th Street was deemed a “high impact” option, because of a host of factors, including transit operations, events, and loading zones.  From there, DDOT put together 4 preliminary design options for 5th, 6th, and 9th Streets.  DDOT is now at the end of a 3-month multi-stakeholder outreach and feedback process to affected communities along the proposed bicycle corridor. DDOT officials have met independently with every church along the corridor.

This objection is about parking spaces.

The United House of Prayer objects to the bike lane proposal because it would reduce some (not all!) of the parking space available near the church.  Currently, on Sundays, the city allows diagonal back-in parking on 6th Street between P Street and L Street.  The proposed plan would modify parking on the west side of 6th Street to the standard parallel parking found throughout the city.  In a letter to the Director of DDOT, UHOP’s lawyer claimed the plan infringed upon the church’s “constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom and equal protection of the laws.”

While the magnitude of this claim strikes us as rather extraordinary in the context of a bike lane project, we will leave the Constitutional law arguments to the experts.

What we do know: 6th Street NW needs a safe place for people on bicycles.

1.  There is a huge demand for a safe bike route linking the eastern part of DC north to south. Initial studies show that more than 10% of commutes from the U Street and Shaw neighborhoods are made by bike. And if people who want to bike felt safer on the roads, this percentage would almost certainly increase. (For a point of reference, approximately 300-400 cyclists/hour use the 15th street protected bike lane during peak hours).

2. Safe bike routes make getting around and living in the city more affordable for low-income residents and those who can’t afford the expenses associated with car ownership, like fuel, registration, insurance, maintenance, and repairs.

3.  Reducing traffic lanes can make streets safer for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike.  Moving to fewer lanes—right-sizing the road—will shorten crosswalks for pedestrians and encourage safer driving speeds at or below the speed limit.

4.  WABA learned from a recent Freedom of Information Act Request to the Metropolitan Police Department that in 2014 alone, 12 crashes involving bicycles and motor vehicles occurred on 6th St NW between Florida Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue with enough significant injury or damage to property to warrant a police report. This number does not include unreported crashes, or crashes that did not result in a police report.

5. CityMarket at O (on 8th Street) has more than 200 secure parking spaces available every day.

6.  The Mt. Vernon/Convention Center Metro (with direct service to Maryland and Virginia suburbs) is one block away on 7th Street NW.

7.  Creating circuitous detours around any single objecting party ignores the way people on bikes travel, as well as the goals of the project, which already considered those routes in a broader, city-wide context, and eliminated parallel street routes for legitimate planning and safety reasons.

8. 6th Street carries less than 20,000 cars per day, as measured by DDOT in multiple locations, which is acceptable under Federal Highway Administration guidelines for reducing the number of travel lanes.

To show your support for protected bike lanes on 6th street:

  1. Attend a public meeting.  DDOT will hold an open house for public input this Thursday, Oct. 22 from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the Watha D Daniel/Shaw branch of the D.C. Public Library.  We recommend getting there early; space will be limited.
  2. Write a letter of support to the Bike Lane Study Project Team.
  3. Become a WABA member or renew your membership.  Our members provide the resources to engage in campaigns for safer streets.  If you join or renew this week during our membership drive, you’ll also get an awesome “Stress Less” t-shirt!

Meet Tamara Evans, our new Advocacy Director


We are so pleased to welcome Tamara Evans as WABA’s new Advocacy Director!

Tamara has spent her career working to protect the environment as a grassroots organizer, a program manager, a trainings director, and an attorney.  She believes in the viability of active transportation and in providing safe, beautiful options for people to access the city and the outdoors. We’re thrilled to have her on board!

Originally from the midwest, Tamara has lived and biked in D.C. nearly ten years, and has been thrilled by the progress the region has made towards being bike-friendly. She is pleased to now join the organization that has been an integral part of those positive changes. She looks forward to working with WABA members and supporters to continue advocating for the laws, enforcement, infrastructure, and connectivity that will make Washington a truly world class city for cyclists.

Legislation to watch this fall in the D.C. Council

BTWD 2015 -Colin_0133 (1) (1)

The Council of the District of Columbia’s legislative session is in full swing with four bills relevant to bicycling. Here are brief summaries of each bill and links to the full legislative language. We will be tracking the progress as these bill move forward (or don’t).

  1. Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015 (B21-0335)

    This bill reflects the consensus recommendations of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Working Group, (convened by Councilmember Cheh and co-chaired by WABA and AAA Mid-Atlantic) which was formed to assist the Council in reforming the District’s laws, regulations, and policies to improve road safety.  It includes improvements to crash data reporting, adopts a Complete Streets policy, creates pedestrian and bicycle priority zones, adopts “stop as yield” (a modified version of the Idaho stop law) for bicycles, clarifies that existing laws prohibiting opening doors into traffic apply to bicycles, and a host of other safety improvements.

  2. Vision Zero Act of 2015 (B21-0383)

    Mayor Bowser’s bill codifies aspects of the District’s Vision Zero plan. The bill makes the Complete Streets policy law; bans the use of ATVs and dirt bikes on D.C. streets; establishes an ignition interlock device program for repeat DUI offenders; changes fines and jail sentences of drunk drivers; increases fines for distracted driving from $100 to $500 and adds two points.

  3. Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015 (B21-0004)

    If passed, this bill will bring D.C. negligence laws out of the dark ages and more in line with the majority of states. Under current D.C. law, a bicyclist injured in a crash cannot collect damages if she is found to have been in any way at fault, even if the other party bears a disproportionate amount of blame. As a result, insurance companies routinely deny claims resulting from crashes, leaving injured bicyclists with few options. Under the proposed bill, contributory negligence could not be used to deny coverage to a bicyclist or pedestrian who was 50% or less responsible for her injuries. It also explicitly retains the doctrine of joint and several liability— a primary concern for the D.C. Trial Lawyers Association that contributed to an earlier version of the bill being tabled in 2014.

  4. Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act of 2015 (B21-0021)

    This bill, introduced by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, strengthens the penalties for distracted driving. Under the proposed law, the first violation would result in a $100 fine, with fines escalating for repeat violations over an 18 month period. The second violation in an 18 month period would be a $200. Any further violations would incur a $400 fine and suspension of license and vehicle registration for 60 to 180 days. Points could be assessed for a second violation within 18 months even if the violation did not result in an accident.

WABA will give periodic updates on bills via our blog (–you’re reading it right now!). We will also be sending out targeted action alerts to our members and supporters who live in the district. Sign-up for email updates and action alerts here.