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MARC’s chief engineer wants to allow bikes on some weekend trains

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is seriously looking at how to accommodate passengers who want to bring ordinary bicycles aboard a Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train. A background briefing by top MARC officials last week left bicycle advocates with the distinct impression that they want bikes to be allowed on some weekend trains within the next year or so.

MTA officials have long maintained that the combination of high speeds and full trains prevented them from allowing bikes. At a meeting three years ago in Washington , advocates pressed the matter with Simon Taylor (Assistant Administrator of MTA) and John Hovatter (Director of MARC and Maryland Commuter Bus operations). The officials made it clear that there was no real prospect for bikes on trains anytime soon.

Yet they also told us that MARC was planning for weekend service, and that bikes “should” be allowed if that service started. At the time, weekend trains seemed like a remote possibility. But now they are a reality, and MARC officials are evaluating options for allowing bikes aboard some weekend trains.

Why MARC Does not Allow Bike on Trains

MTA explained its reluctance to allow bikes on trains to several advocates at the 2011 meeting. MTA has long said that allowing bikes on trains is economically infeasible. Federal safety rules require bicycles to be securely tied down on trains running faster than 70 mph, lest they become a projectile in a crash, they said.

On the Penn Line, trains exceed 70 mph along most segments except in Baltimore. On some stretches, the trains exceed 110 mph when pulled by electric locomotives. MTA engineers have been unable to devise means for quickly securing bikes without permanently removing 3 to 5 seats from the car for every pair of bikes that could be potentially accommodated. With full trains, that is not a tradeoff that MARC is willing to make.

The Camden and Brunswick Line trains are not so full, so removing a few seats in favor of bike racks might be reasonable for those trains. But MARC rotates all train sets (except for the electric locomotives) between the three lines, so modifying cars for those two CSX lines would make Penn Line trains even more crowded.

Could MARC allow bikes on the Camden and Brunswick lines with the existing configuration of the trains? Given that WMATA allows bikes on off-peak Metrorail trains, it might seem safe to do so. But MARC officials countered that the CSX track is much poorer, resulting in side-to-side jostling which can cause bikes to slip out of the hands of the owner and strike another passenger. The low platforms at almost every station was another problem. None of these problems are insurmountable, but in MTA’s mind, they seemed to all add up to make bikes more trouble than they are worth.

Signs of a Possible Breakthrough

Last year’s increase in the fuel tax provided additional funds for transportation, making it possible to finally add weekend service. Last summer, I reminded Mr. Hovatter that he had indicated that “bikes should be allowed“ when weekend service starts, because the trains will not be crowded. I asked if he could provide us with an update of his thinking. He responded:

I would suggest we wait a few months to see how it is working and how many passengers we will be hauling. We are only running 3 car train sets to start off. If the trains are packed, and we hope they are, I doubt we will be able to handle any bikes, except the folding ones that we allow right now. Check back with us when it starts.

I was not encouraged by that response, but other members of Maryland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (MBPAC) were more optimistic. Greg Hinchliffe, who represents Baltimore on the committee, pressed MDOT’s Michael Jackson to set up a meeting with MARC officials and MBPAC.

As soon as the meeting began, it was clear that something had changed. Rather than listen to cyclist pleas for better service, MARC started the meeting with a presentation by Erich Kolig, its Chief Mechanical Officer. His presentation started with a bit of a lampoon of MARC’s existing policy: With a perfect deadpan, he showed the MARC web site:

Here is our bicycle policy: “Due to safety concerns, MARC’s bicycle policy allows for the transportation of folding bicycles only…However, folding bikes are no longer restricted to those carried in a case.” You see, we do have a bicycle policy [loud laughter by all the advocates and Mr. Jackson].

Mr. Kolig then explained that he thinks the weekend service and MARC’s capital equipment upgrades provide an opportunity to start carrying bikes on some trains. While the trains have attracted more passengers than expected, they still carry fewer people than the weekday trains. His presentation included illustrations depicting how bikes can be safely stored aboard the trains. He had clearly thought through how to do it, and how to keep the cost low enough to make it economically feasible.

MARC officials asked the advocates to not reveal any details of the proposal.

Mr. Hovatter seemed favorably disposed to the proposal, although he did not promise that MARC will actually implement it. The decision to go forward is a few steps above his pay grade. And some unanticipated problems may arise, since railroads are highly regulated and MARC owns neither the track nor the largest stations on the Penn Line.

We hope that the Maryland Department of Transportation will approve Mr. Kolig’s recommendation and at least start a pilot project with bikes on weekend trains, as soon as practicable. WABA stands ready to assist MTA officials on any aspect where obtaining the cyclist perspective might be useful.

Jim Titus is a bicycling advocate and member of WABA’s Board of Directors from Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Contraflow Bike Lanes Coming to G and I Streets NE

g-st-ne-contraflow

Freshly painted contraflow bike lane on G Street NE

Now that winter is mostly behind us, DDOT can begin painting new bike lanes. In February, we shared the proposed bike lane installation plan for 2014. Among the planned lanes were new contraflow bikes lanes on G and I streets NE from 2nd Street NE to Maryland/Florida Ave NE. Now that it’s warm enough to stripe pavement markings, DDOT has gotten installation of these lanes underway.

Bike lanes throughout the city are generally 5 feet wide and placed on the far right of the street, next to on-street parking. People riding bikes in the lanes travel in the same direction as the cars to the left. Contraflow bike lanes allow bicyclists to ride in the opposite direction of traffic.

G and I streets are narrow one-way streets on Capitol Hill that see low volumes of traffic. After community outreach with the two affected ANCs, the decision was made to install long contraflow lanes on the streets. (See the considered alternatives in a Greater Greater Washington blog post.) Shared lane markings (sharrows) are being installed in the center of travel lane for bicyclists traveling in the direction of traffic. The contraflow lanes are being placed on the far left side of the street and will be striped with a double yellow line. Bicyclists traveling in the opposite direction of traffic will use the 5-foot wide contraflow lane. The project also includes signs warning drivers that bicyclists are using the one-way streets in two directions.

Generally, contraflow lanes are installed with a painted buffer or are physically separated from traffic. There is a one block example of a parking-buffered contraflow lane on the 200 block of R Street NE near the Met Branch Trail. G and I streets are too narrow to float parking away from the curb and place the buffered contraflow in that space. Neighbors objected to losing parking to provide the necessary space for buffered contraflow lanes.

gi2g

gi2iTypical blocks of G & I Streets NE with sharrows and 5 foot contraflow bikes lanes. 

G and I streets were chosen for improvements to help provide an additional route for bicyclists traveling east and west in the H Street NE corridor. The streetcar tracks on H Street NE have caused a large number of crashes, including some very serious injuries, for bicyclists. Adding contraflow bike lanes to G and I streets creates two new east-west routes along the H St corridor.

Unfortunately, DDOT began installation of traffic signs related to the contraflow lanes back in December; this confused drivers and bicyclists alike. The yellow warning signs and small stop signs were installed four months ago, but the pavement markings didn’t begin to go in until last week. DDOT should have kept the signs covered until the bike lanes were painted. An especially harsh winter pushed the installation later expected, but the poor timing of the sign installation demonstrates that DDOT needs to plan better for construction of bike facilities.

DDOT will monitor the bicycling traffic and traffic operation on G and I streets. Its engineers will assess the contraflow bike lanes’ effectiveness and safety. Learn more about the project from DDOT. In a city with many narrow one-way streets, contraflow bike lanes are another tool for connecting the bicycle network where the conditions are just right.

While hard to know for sure, we believe the contraflow lanes on G and I streets are the longest continuous contraflow bike lanes in the country. It’s great to see them finally be installed, especially as the busy spring bike season begins.

DDOT Proposes Bike Improvements for Florida Avenue NE

florida-ave-ne-alt-3On Thurs.,  April 3, the District Department of Transportation held its third and final meeting for the Florida Avenue NE Multi-Modal Study. After a rash of crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists, the surrounding neighborhoods called on DDOT to make safety improvements that would slow the speeds of drivers, upgrade sidewalks, and add bicycling facilities.

The area of study is Florida Avenue NE from New York Avenue NE to 14th Street NE. Also being considered for improvements are 6th Street NE from K Street to Penn Avenue in Florida Market, and West Virginia Avenue NE north from Florida Avenue alongside Galludet University. Greater Greater Washington has an in-depth discussion of the proposed alternatives, which area also available on the project website.

There are three major alternatives (and a few sub-alternatives) for Florida Avenue NE. Determining what is the most bicycle-friendly option is a bit of a challenge at first glance. All alternatives include wider sidewalks, additional crosswalks, and more street trees. We have examined the all of the proposed alternatives and have concluded that the following elements are the best for bicyclists:

Florida Avenue NE

  • Alternative 3 with buffered bike lanes from 3rd Street NE to 6th Street NE
  • Alternative 3A with 5-foot bikes lanes from 6th Street NE to West Virginia Avenue
  • Alternative 3 with 5-foot bike lanes from West Virginia Avenue to 14th Street NE

6th Street NE

  • Alternative 2 with cycletracks north of Florida Avenue NE and bikes lanes to the south

West Virginia Avenue NE

  • Alternative 2 with bike lanes north of Florida Avenue NE

This is a planning study. It will lead to design work, engineering, and, finally, construction. Currently, DDOT has proposed painted buffered bike lanes and cycletracks throughout these alternatives. Painted lanes were successful in demonstrating cycletracks in D.C. would attract new riders by providing a safer and more comfortable place to ride. Now is the time to build permanent, protected bike lane lanes with curbs, concrete, and planted buffers.

DDOT is accepting feedback through an online survey. The deadline for completing the survey is next Tuesday, April 15. Submit your comments and support for a safer and more bikeable Florida Avenue NE.

Bikesharing Commuter Benefit to Be Introduced Tomorrow

Photo credit: Mr.TinDC

Tomorrow is a big day for bikesharing in Congress.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York will introduce an amendment that allows commuters to pay for bikesharing with their transportation benefits. Last summer, the IRS ruled that paying for bikesharing was not allowed under the bike commuting fringe benefit. This amendment will fix this issue and allow commuters to pay bikesharing-related expenses with their benefits.

The Senate Finance Committee will vote on a tax extender package tomorrow that includes commuter parity, giving those who take the bus the same tax breaks given to those who drive. In January, the maximum transit benefit was cut in half to $130 per month,  while the parking tax subsidy stayed steady at $250 per month.

In a statement released by his office, Schumer says, “Bike share programs are an efficient, healthy, and clean form of mass transportation, and they should be treated the same way under the tax code as we treat car and mass transit commuters. It makes no sense for cars, trains, buses, and private bicycles to be covered by this program but not bike shares, and this legislation will fix that.”

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia is co-sponsoring the amendment.

According to the League of American Bicyclists, the amendment will have the following effects:

  • Last summer, the IRS ruled that costs associated with bike share memberships were not eligible under the commuter benefit statute as currently drafted. This amendment would change that.
  • Specifically, it adds bikeshare costs to the list of recognized expenses eligible for the transportation fringe benefit.
  • Like the Bike Commuter Benefit (for those who ride their own bike to work), employees using a bikeshare program to commute to work would now be eligible to receive $20 per month on a tax-free basis from their employer to subsidize their bikesshare membership.

Please take one minute and ask your Senator to support the bikesharing commuter amendment now.

Attend the Great MoCo Bicycle Summit

On Sat., April 5, Montgomery County residents can join Councilmember Hans Riemer, MoBike, and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association for the Great MoCo Bike Summit.

The summit kicks off with a family bike ride from Silver Spring to Bethesda and will discuss the future of biking in Montgomery County, from Bikeshare to next-generation infrastructure. Read more about it here.

Montgomery County has emerged one of the most exciting grounds for new cycling innovation in the D.C. area. This first-ever summit to discuss the future of biking there will provide important insight on how Montgomery County can become a world-class area for biking for transportation.

“Our goal as a county must be to encourage biking—to work, to run errands, and for recreation. To do that, we must expand our bikeways and make them safe for the average person who wants to bike. That’s my goal and I know the goal of Councilmember Riemer,” says Councilmember Roger Berliner, Chair of the County’s Transportation and Environment Committee and a speaker at the summit..

The summit will be held at the Jane Lawson Rec Center, 4301 Willow Lane, Bethesda. Panels start at 10 a.m. The ride starts at 9:15 a.m. at the Silver Spring Metro station. To RSVP for the Great MoCo Bike Summit, click here. See the event on Facebook here.

Bonds’ Office Clarifies Bike Lane “Moratorium” Comments

During today’s D.C. Council oversight hearing of the District Department of Transportation, WABA executive director Shane Farthing, Coalition for Smarter Growth policy director Cheryl Cort, and Greater Greater Washington editor David Alpert asked for clarification from Anita Bonds’ office on her comments regarding bike lanes.

As reported by Greater Greater Washington, Bonds called for a “moratorium” on bike lanes. GGW writes:

At a forum last night, Councilmember Anita Bonds advocated for a “moratorium” on any bike lanes in residential neighborhoods, and also for rules requiring all bicycles to have license plates. According to tweets by Keith Ivey, she opposes the lanes because of the impact on parking.

Brittany Madison, from Bonds’ office, sent this statement with regard to the councilmember’s comments:

Councilmember Bonds has not called for a city-wide moratorium on the establishment of new bike lanes, she is pro bike and pro dedicated bike lanes.  Bonds supports bike lanes throughout the major corridors of the District, however she is not in favor of dedicated bike lanes on narrow streets within residential neighborhoods until an updated comprehensive plan is drafted.  Bonds believes the city needs to have an up-to-date comprehensive bike lane plan that all residents are aware of; likewise, she is aware that Move DC is working on a draft bike lane plan an looks forward to reviewing it and meeting with relevant stakeholders to continue this discussion. 

Alexandria City Council Votes Unanimously to Support King Street Traffic Calming

After seven hours of public testimony, the seven-member Alexandria City Council unanimously approved, by passing a supporting resolution, the King Street traffic calming project at its March 15 meeting.

At the Saturday meeting, the city of Alexandria’s transportation and environmental service director, Rich Baier, presented a plan for improved crosswalks, bike lanes, pedestrian crossing signals, signs, and other improvements for King Street west of the Metro station. The project’s goal is to improve King Street’s conditions and make it safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and drivers. Learn more about the project here, and read about WABA’s work on it here.

Over 60 people testified at Saturday’s hearing, which lasted all day. Forty-seven community members testified in favor of the traffic-calming plans, while 17 opposed. The Alexandria Traffic and Parking Board voted in February to delay these plans and called for opponents to find more common ground. The city council’s vote on Saturday recognized city staff’s effort to find a compromise between safe streets and parking.

WABA worked closely with the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the Coalition for Smarter Growth to mobilize supporters of complete streets in Alexandria. Over 1,450 Northern Virginia residents, including 900 Alexandrians, signed a petition in support of the traffic-calming project.

Saturday’s vote by the city council represents a strong commitment to safe and complete streets in Alexandria. Many thanks to all WABA members and supporters who signed and circulated the petition and submitted testimony in favor of a safer King Street.

Read more about the King Street bike lanes from WAMU, the Washington Post, WTOP, NBC, and Fox.

Virginia’s Three-Foot Passing Bill is a Victory

Biking on Blue Grass Valley Road

On March 8, the Virginia General Assembly passed SB97, the three-foot passing bill. We are happy to report that this bill, the first pro-bike legislation in recent Virginia history, has passed.

SB97 is one of a few pro-bicycling bills in Virginia that WABA tracked and supported this legislative session, and the only one to pass. It requires vehicles to give three feet of space when passing bicyclists. This is an improvement over the current two feet.

There is a final step: Governor Terry McAuliffe has to sign the bill into law. We expect him to do this in the next two to three months.

The bill first passed the Senate Transportation Committee by a vote of 13 to one on January 15. It passed the full Senate by a vote of 31 to seven on Jan. 21. It then crossed over to the House, where the House Transportation Subcommittee #2 passed to by a vote of 52 on Feb. 24. On Feb. 27, the House Transportation Committee passed the bill by a vote of 16 to six. Finally, on March 5, the full House voted 72 to 27 to pass the bill. The full legislative records of SB97 are available online.

WABA, in coordination with the Virginia Bicycling Federation, provided strong support for SB97. We worked to get the word out about the bill, and Virginia residents responded in kind. Virginians sent over 1,800 letters to their legislators to support pro-bike legislation. In both the House and Senate, there was strong bike-partisan support for SB97. With the governor’s approval of this bill, Virginia will join 22 other states that already have a three-foot passing law in place. SB97 fixes one of the major differences in bicycling laws in the Washington area, bringing Virginia law in line with laws in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Thank you to the WABA members and supporters who fought for the passage of this bill. There were several other bicycling-related bills that did not pass in Virginia this year, and we will keep up the fight to improve conditions for cycling in the year to come.

See how your representatives voted on this bill and the other bike-related bills below the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Your Last Chance to Show You Want a Safer King Street

Are you an Alexandria or Northern Virginia resident?

This is your last chance to sign the petition supporting the King Street traffic calming project in Alexandria.

Over 800 supporters and residents of Alexandria and Northern Virginia believe the project will make King Street safer for pedestrians, transit riders, cyclists, and drivers. Join them and sign the petition now. (Please note that the petition is limited to Virginia residents.)

The petition will be delivered to the mayor and city council on Thursday. We want to double the number of signatures by Wednesday night—that’s tonight. Help us by signing the petition and sharing the link: bit.ly/1hPeNWO

Additionally, on Sat., March 15 at 9:30 a.m., the Alexandria city council will hear a presentation from city staff and public testimony about this project. It will then vote to move forward with or delay making King Street safer. Several Councilmembers have indicated they may vote to delay. A vote to delay this project is a vote against safety for all road users. Consider attending and testifying in support of the King Street traffic calming project.

Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille has said, “We don’t want people driving their cars and parking, we want people to be using bicycles and walking.” Sign the petition to hold Mayor Euille to his word.

Please send this email and petition to friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and others who want a better King Street. Here’s a link to the petition: bit.ly/1hPeNWO

Thank you for supporting safe streets for biking and walking in Alexandria.

Norton Supports Fixing the Rock Creek Park Trail

Yesterday, Tues., March 5, our Advocacy Coordinator, Greg Billing, delivered to D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s a petition you and over 2,400 others signed, asking for improvements to the Rock Creek Park Trail. A lack of any attempt to improve the trail’s well-known egregious conditions drove WABA to demand immediate action from the National Park Service and District Department of Transportation last month. Del. Norton is now asking those agencies for a progress report.

We are grateful for Congresswomen Norton’s support of the campaign to fix the Rock Creek Park Trail. Read the full press release from her office below the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

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