Safer Maryland bikeways get the green light

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Thanks to new guidelines, curb-protected or buffered bike lanes will be allowed on Maryland state roads. This change could ultimately make many roads much safer.

Eads Street in Arlington. This will now be permitted on Maryland’s state highways. Photo by the author.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) released new policy and engineering guidelines in January. They will allow more innovative and protective bike infrastructure in many rapidly urbanizing suburbs such as College Park, where Route 1 is supposed to get a bike lane but needs one that’s safe alongside high-speed traffic.

Changes add space between cars and bikes and make intersections safer

Bike lane designs can now include extra buffering, such as striped and cross-hatched lane markings, to separate bike and car traffic. And while the new guidelines don’t mention the use of flexposts, which engineers and planners around the country often use for extra visibility and “soft protection” for buffered bike lanes, SHA also doesn’t forbid them. And that’s encouraging.

The new regulations will also allow bike lanes raised up between the height of the main roadway and the curb. Raised lanes further increase the separation of people biking from motor vehicle traffic, and help prevent people from driving or parking their cars in spaces that are for people on bikes.

The guidelines also introduce designs for “bike boxes,” which allow cyclists to wait in a visible location at the head of a line of traffic and make it easier and safer to turn. Other places have been using bike boxes for several years, but they haven’t been permissible on Maryland state roads until now.

All of these new approaches to protecting and separating bike lanes from traffic on busy or high-speed roads will be better than the bike lane designs SHA is currently using. For example, the photo below shows a newly-painted bike lane on Greenbelt Road near the Capital Beltway. Would you feel safe riding your bike in that lane? Would you want children or elderly people riding in it?

An unprotected bike lane on Route 193 in Greenbelt. Photo by the author.

This is a great step, but SHA’s work is far from finished

While we applaud SHA’s new guidelines, there are still some key problems with their overall bike lane design approach.

First, building bike lanes to fit the new guidelines is still not mandatory, making the guidelines somewhat limited in scope. Even though SHA policy now allows buffered and protected bike lanes, engineers are still allowed to build narrow unprotected lanes alongside high-speed or high-traffic state roads. Protected and buffered bike lanes should be the standard, not just an option, especially where separated sidepaths are not feasible.

Noticeably absent are designs for facilities such as two-way protected bikeways, protected intersection designs, and creative ways of accommodating transit adjacent to bike lanes—since people often ride bikes between buses and the curb, it’s crucial that transit riders have easy places to cross bike lanes to get to their buses or transit vehicles.

Protected bikeways are important because while SHA rules do require new roads to include bike lanes, the typical painted bike lanes are simply too narrow for the kinds of high-speed roads where they often appear. These roads frequently have lower speed limits than the speeds people really drive, meaning that a bike lane designed for a 30-mph street would be inadequate where people are really usually traveling 40, 45, or 50.

Finally, the new guidelines are incomplete in that they don’t include illustrations and criteria for additional bike lane and intersection designs, which are very common in other urban and semi-urban areas. Navigating intersections can be tricky for cyclists—they’re where the majority of collisions happen—so it’s very important to get their design right.

For people who want to ride their bikes safely in Maryland, the new state guidelines are a strong pedal-stroke in the right direction. We hope this is the beginning many positive changes coming from SHA to incorporate and implement state-of-the-art designs that will increase the safety of people riding bikes, especially for the more densely populated and urbanizing parts of the state.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington

Upcoming Public Meetings for Bike Lanes in Fairfax County

Buffered bike lanes in Seattle, WA. Source: NACTO

On the heels of its recently passed Bike Master Plan, Fairfax County Department of Transportation is holding two public meetings for bike lane projects. The two meetings are your chance to give input and express support for these projects.

Amherst Avenue/Backlick Road Buffered Bike Lanes
Fairfax County DOT is proposing a lane diet on Amherst Avenue from Cumberland Avenue to Highland Street. A road diet would create space for a buffered bike lane for 1/2 mile. On Backlick Road, public space is constrained. The County is proposing either bike lanes or a neighborhood street route alternative. Attending the public meeting is an opportunity to support full bike lanes on Backlick Road. See the area on Google Maps here.

Meeting Details
February 10th, 2015, 7:00 pm
Lynbrook Elementary School, Cafeteria
5801 Backlick Road
Springfield, VA 22150.

Kingstowne Village Parkway Bike Lanes
The County is proposing a road diet with bike lanes on Kingstown Village Parkway from Beulah Street to Hayfield Street. See the area on Google Maps here.

Meeting Details
February 18th, 2015, 7:00 PM
Kingstowne’s Thomas Center
6090 Kingstowne Village Parkway
Alexandria, VA 22315.

 

Public Meeting Tonight on C&O Canal Park’s Proposed Fee Increases

C&O Canal towpath near Slackwater. Photo credit: Rudi Riet

The National Park Service announced yesterday that they will be hosting a public meeting to discuss their proposed fee hikes (PDF) for access to and amenities on the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The C&O Canal is a public park that stretches from Georgetown in Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, MD.

While most of the meetings on the subject are outside the Washington region, Tonight’s meeting will be held at the Washington Waldorf School, 4800 Sangamore Rd. in Bethesda from 7pm to 8:30pm.

We encourage all bicyclists to attend, ask questions, and voice any concerns about the proposal.

WABA is working with NPS to learn more about the proposal, but we oppose regressive fees that would limit access for biking, walking, and enjoying the public park. NPS Director Jarvis has tasked all parks with considering such revenue-generating activities, so we are working throughout the region to respond to these fee proposals. Presently, public comment periods are open for the Prince William Forest Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway, and the C&O Canal.

If you bike on the C&O Canal towpath, you will likely be affected by this proposal. Please consider attending the meeting tonight.

Meeting Details
What
: National Park Service meeting on proposed fee increases for
C&O Canal National Historic Park
When: 7pm – 8:30pm, Thursday, February 5th
Where: Washington Waldorf School, 4800 Sangamore Rd., Bethesda, MD
Google Map Directions

A Path Forward for the WB&A Trail

The Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Trail (WB&A) in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties promises to be everything that a first class rail trail can be. Following the path of an abandoned commuter rail line of the same name, the WB&A cuts a remarkably linear route through woods and suburban neighborhoods from Glenn Dale to Odenton, MD. And while officials have been struggling for more than 15 years over the best place to cross the Patuxent River (another story), the bridge and tunnel bypasses already built make the trail a delightful reprieve from riding in traffic. Looking to the future, the WB&A could become the eastern spoke of the Washington area’s robust trail network. Just over 10 discontinuous miles of trails are already built; the hard work remains to connect it to other trails and the District of Columbia.

Give it a destination.  Extend the WB&A

Starting at the eastern trail terminus in Prince George’s County, today, the trail covers 5.6 miles to… well not much.  At Annapolis Road (MD 450), the trail ends, falling short of the District of Columbia line by nearly seven miles. At this intersection, a paved side path on Annapolis Road links to the Folly Branch trail to the north and a shopping center and Bowie Town Center to the east.  These connections are useful, but they serve better as feeders to the main trunk line rather than extensions.  To fully realize this trail’s potential as a recreation and commuter route, it needs a direct connection to the regional trail network. It must be extended west, and the first big hurdles are crossing US 50 and the Capital Beltway.

MD-704 is no place for trail traffic, but it could be

Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. (MD-704), which follows the same old rail right of way, is the best, direct link to the District of Columbia / Maryland border, but in its current configuration it is anything but ideal for trail users. With as many as eight traffic lanes, MD 704 is a divided highway with narrow to non-existent shoulders, high speed ramps to and from US-50 and the Capital Beltway, and traffic speeds that are typically 40 – 60 mph. While “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs warn drivers to expect bicyclists on the roadway, the road itself is inhospitable, dangerous, and sadly fatal for even the most confident bicyclists. Without sidewalks or convenient alternatives, the message is clear “Bike Somewhere Else.” Riding on the road should always be an option, but separated facilities are needed to accommodate and encourage trail traffic.

MD-704

Would you ride on this road? MD-704 at I-495 from Google Street View

This proposed 2.4 mile side path would provide both a place to walk and a far more welcoming alternative to riding with car traffic between the current end of the WB&A at Annapolis Road and Ardwick Ardmore Road. Once past US-50 and I-495, future trail extensions become possible.  Ultimately, it could connect to the New Carrollton Metro, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail through Cheverly, and extended to the District along MD-704 to the Marvin Gaye Trail.

Since 2008, WABA has urged the County to extend the WB&A Trail west along MD-704. Since 2011, building a trail along MD-704 has been at the top of the County’s bike and pedestrians transportation funding priorities for Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA). Now, it seems that Maryland SHA is on board, and even offering funds for planning and construction. It is time to replace this dangerous bike route with a trail.

Remind elected officials that this is important

Priority lists are one thing, action is another. For three years, we have seen progress delayed because details need to be worked out between the County, SHA, and other local agencies. Now, with SHA committed and money on the table, it is time for elected officials to step up and do their part.  Now is not the time for the back burner.

Last week, WABA sent a letter to County Executive Baker urging him to make this project a true priority, and today we ask that you do the same.  Click the link below to tell Executive Baker and Councilmember Andrewa Harrison to make improving bicycle access on MD-704 a reality.

Ask County officials to make the WB&A Trail a priority 

DC Judge Upholds Three Foot Law; Case Highlights Need for Contrib Reform

Last week in the District’s small claims court, Judge Michael O’Keefe made a significant ruling for District bicyclists. In the incident at-issue, a driver passed a cyclist too closely, leading to a crash that caused minor injuries and property damage for the cyclist.

  • MPD failed to cite the driver for passing too closely. In fact, MPD initially cited the cyclist.
  • The US Attorney’s office declined to bring any criminal charges against the driver whatsoever.
  • The relevant insurer wrongly declined to pay the cyclist’s damages, citing his contributory negligence for being in the road and failing to move out of the way of the unsafe driver.

After months of work prodding these three entities to do their jobs and coming up empty, the cyclist was left with no recourse but to bring a civil case himself.  Despite knowing that his damages exceeded its $5000 limit, he chose to proceed in the District’s small claims civil court. Pursuing a small claim was actually his only choice, as he was unable to secure an attorney willing to represent him due to the relatively low amount at stake and the prior, incorrect, decisions of MPD and the insurer.

Because the incident was caught on a handlebar-mounted camera, the facts of the incident were minimally disputed, and the court was able to focus squarely on the law. WABA provided expert testimony on the application of DC traffic laws to bicyclists, with topics ranging from the purpose and usage of “sharrows” to the details of the three foot passing law.

Ultimately, based on the video and his reading of the law, Judge O’Keefe ruled in favor of the cyclist. The judge found that the driver had violated the three-foot passing law and that this aggressive pass caused the resulting harms.

When will police start enforcing the three foot passing Law? 

This case showed that the three foot passing law can play a role in helping cyclists secure civil recovery for damages. That is good. But it is not the law’s intended purpose. The law is meant to enable police to ticket motorists who unsafely pass bicyclists. It is meant to impose consequences on unsafe behavior and, ultimately, to make bicyclists safer.

In this case, the cyclist showed the same video of the same behavior to District police officers as he showed to the Superior Court Judge. If it was good enough for the judge, why wasn’t it good enough for the officer? What will it take for local police to actually enforce safe passing laws that now exist in the District, Maryland, and Virginia? And in the District, what will it take for the US Attorney’s office to pursue charges against drivers who illegally harm cyclists?

When will insurers properly apply the law to cyclists? 

Initially, the insurance company denied the cyclist’s claim outright, stating that he was contributorily negligent for failing to move out of the way of the motorist. First, that’s a grossly incorrect understanding of the law. (We can say that with certainty now that Judge O’Keefe has weighed in.) But because of contributory negligence, that misunderstanding is as far as the insurer has to go. If it can find any fault on the cyclist’s part, it doesn’t even have to look at the motorist’s behavior. It just denies the claim, using a misreading of the law as the trigger to apply contributory negligence as a knockout rule.

Last week, Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced a bill in D.C. Council to address this issue. The Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015, if passed, would change D.C. law so that the contributory negligence of a bicyclist or pedestrian could not be used to deny coverage so long as he or she was 50% or less responsible for his or her own injuries.

This would mean that contributory negligence would no longer be a “knockout rule.” Insurers might still get the law wrong–though we hope the industry will recognize the need for improvement and offer training on bicycling law–but under the proposed rule, the insurer would still be required to examine the fault of other parties and determine the responsibility of each party.

Conclusion

There is a lot to unpack in this case but it’s clear that many of the systems in place to protect bicyclists are broken. With little recourse, crash victims find themselves fighting, rather than working with, the institutions that are supposed to bring justice.

This case highlights the fact that the small claims court process works, but imperfectly. Winning this case required time, a tenacious cyclist, video evidence, and WABA’s presence in court. The cyclist has been without compensation for the more than six months since the crash  And even after a favorable judgement, the cyclist won’t receive full monetary recovery. The system needs to change, and it can start with the changing fundamental legal expectation that bicyclists must be without error to be compensated for injuries and damage caused by the negligence of a driver.

Councilmember Cheh Introduces Bill for Crash Victims

IMG_20141106_102541_1

Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced a bill in the D.C. Council to improve access to compensation for crash victims. Under current D.C. law, injured bicyclists and pedestrians can be completely denied compensation after a crash with a motor vehicle even if they were minimally negligent. In 2014,  Councilmember David Grosso (At-Large) introduced a similar bill, but it was ultimately tabled.

The Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015 addresses the same underlying issue of inappropriate denial of compensation to minimally negligent bicyclists, but with slightly different mechanics. 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 his or her own injuries.

When the bill is available online, we’ll provide deeper analysis and a link to the draft language. For more background about the issue of contributory negligence for crash victims, you can learn more by reading our blog post responding to the 10 most common question.

The bill was co-introduced by Councilmembers Charles Allen (Ward 6), Jack Evans (Ward 2), David Grosso (At-Large), Anita Bonds (At-Large) and co-sponsored by Yvette Alexander (Ward 7). The legislation was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, chaired by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5). The Committee must hold a public hearing on the bill and a public mark-up meeting. If the bill were to successfully make it out of committee, the full D.C. Council would then weigh in.

As the bill moves through the legislative process, we will provide updates here on the WABA Blog and our campaign page. You can also sign-up for email updates about this campaigns and we’ll be sure to alert you when action is needed.

Thank you to Councilmember Cheh and today’s co-sponsors and co-introducers for moving this important legislation.

5 Key Campaigns for 2015

We have a spectacular opportunity to make biking in our region even better in 2015.

Below are five key campaigns that we here at WABA want to advance in the coming year.

These are big ideas that can move our region beyond what most of us would have dreamed of 10 years ago, but they are within reach. If we think bigger together and invest bigger together, we can make this vision a reality in 2015.

Complete Streets: More than just a slogan

It’s a commitment to ensuring that our public spaces are for everyone. That includes designing our roads to be safe for people of every age and skill level. WABA works every day—tracking plans in all of our jurisdictions, reviewing engineering drawings, riding problem areas, working with governments—to make sure every project we touch creates safe space for everyone who bikes.

When officials try to take away the right to travel by bike, or simply design without regard for people’s needs, we push back. Your donation helps us keep pushing.

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Future Trails: More than just a hope

Our trail network is growing—we make sure it stays healthy.

Our advocacy team helps new trail projects navigate our region’s complex bureaucratic terrain. Our Trail Rangers program, family rides, outreach, and cleanups keep your favorite trail growing and thriving.

Everyone in our region should be an easy ride away from a network of safe, connected off-road trails.  Your donation helps us get there.

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Green Lanes: More than just paint

They are next-generation protected bicycling infrastructure.

Protected bike lanes encourage people to take that first ride on the street, something they might not otherwise have considered. WABA, with the support of our members, is pushing for improvements and working behind the scenes planning, designing, and advocating to get them done. Your support helps us make more people feel safe riding a bike.

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Access to Justice: More than just an abstraction

We do not lose the protections of our laws when we ride a bike.

Our legal system does not adequately protect the rights of bicyclists, and that has to change to keep pace with the growth of bicycling. We are working hard every day to change laws, educate the police, hold officials accountable, connect injured cyclists with support and to ensure that the rights we have on paper are protected on the streets.

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Vision Zero: More than just a brand.

It’s actual changes to laws, policy and road design. Vision Zero is an unequivocal stance against trading lives for speed. Every jurisdiction in our region needs to adopt it fully and quickly.

People are dying on our roadways. Until that stops—until that number is ZERO—we must work harder.

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With your help, we can change the way roads are built, the way people move, and the way the law treats bicyclists. We know we can do it. WABA has a foundation 40 years deep. With your help, we can build a region where everyone can get where they’re going on a bike. Please donate today.