Mile Markers coming to the Metropolitan Branch Trail

MBT Coffee Hour 12.12.2014Over the past few weeks, a series of troubling incidents on the Metropolitan Branch Trail have again raised questions of user safety on this popular urban trail. Though counter data show an average of 1200 trail users each day since April, recent incidents and the law enforcement response to them have justifiably shaken the confidence of regular trail users.

Two weeks ago, WABA sat down with leadership from District Department of Transportation (DDOT), Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), Office of Uniform Communication (OUC), and DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) to address these concerns. As a result, DDOT will install mile markers throughout the trail backed by changes to the 911 computer dispatch system to ensure a timely and direct law enforcement response to 911 calls.

Why is location so difficult?

When someone dials 911 to report an incident, pinpointing an accurate location is one of the first priorities for the dispatcher. For places on the street grid, this is easy. The dispatcher has a vast database of city addresses and landmarks at their fingertips for quick action to an emergency.

Locations on trails are much more difficult to pinpoint because they do not easily map onto the street grid. To send help to the right place, the caller must have some idea of where they are and the dispatcher must have a record of that location. A caller may know they are on the Met Branch Trail, but have few useful landmarks to communicate where. On the other end, the 911 dispatcher’s system requires a valid address or a selection from a limited number of hand coded points along the trail. In an emergency, even half a mile is too large a margin for error.

Shortly after the MBT opened in 2010, DDOT installed street signs along the trail to help trail users orient themselves to the street grid. At the same time, the Office of Unified Communication, which runs the 911 call center and the location database it uses, identified a number of possible landmarks along the trail. Trail access points such as the ramp at M St and the cross streets of R St, T St, and 8th St. were coded into the 911 location database. In theory, a caller could identify any street crossing and the dispatcher would be able to work with that.

What works in theory is failing in practice. Police and emergency responders cannot help if they are sent to the wrong place.

A solution is on the way

Mile markers may resemble this

Mile markers may resemble this

Two weeks ago, WABA helped convene a meeting with the leaders from the OUC, MPD and DDOT to walk through the 911 response issues we have seen and heard about. A quick review of recent cases showed that confusion on location, both by caller and dispatcher, is far too frequent. Trail users have too few reliable landmarks and dispatchers have an incomplete list of street intersections and access points.

The solution: DDOT will install mile markers along the full length of the Met Branch Trail. In addition to giving trail users a clear message on where they are, every marker will be entered into OUC’s location database. No longer will callers and dispatchers have to go back and for on which metro station is in the distance or which street is closest. Mile marker 1.7 on the Met Branch Trail will suffice. Signs are designed for every 1/10 of a mile and should start going up soon.

Trail safety remains a priority

Mile markers and better 911 response are crucial, long needed improvements for the Met Branch Trail. But, signs alone cannot erase the concerns of trail users and neighbors. We are encouraged by more frequent police presence on the trail and greater awareness of the trail’s specific challenges by MPD’s leadership. Law enforcement must be an integral part of ensuring the trail remains a safe place to be.

In the coming weeks, the NoMa BID will be releasing its final report to conclude the Safety and Access study which began earlier this spring. It will include a number of recommendations for the short and medium term which could do a lot to make the MBT an even better, more popular community resource. More activities, more eyes, better neighborhood connections and, of course, more miles will ensure the MBT’s continued success.

Construction Starting on 15th St Bike Lane Northern Extension

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A short but very important extension of the 15th St NW protected bike lane. Photo provided by DDOT.

The 15th Street NW protected bike lane is about get a little longer and a whole lot prettier. Last night, this District Department of Transportation updated the community of their final designs for the intersection of 15th St, New Hampshire Ave, W St and Florida Ave NW. The final plans will extend the two-way protected bike lane from V St. NW to W St NW and will be separated from traffic by granite curbs. The bike lane will also incorporate curbed pedestrian refuge islands between the bike lane and travel lanes to provide a safe place to wait for people walking.

While it may seem like a minor accomplishment to extent of the protected bike lane one block. This extension is critical to extending the lane further north to Euclid St. DDOT refused to reconfigure 15th St NW from W St to Euclid St NW to a two-way protected bike lane from the bizarre double bike lane, until this project was finished. This project is the missing block and will pave the way for a full extension of the bike lanes to Euclid (pun intended).

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Final design for the new 15th St, New Hampshire Ave , Florida Ave and W St NW intersection. Photo provided by DDOT.

Beyond the new protected bike lane, the project will replace the dangerous slip lane from 15th Street to Florida Ave with a new pocket park. The new street will incorporate low impact development (LID) to manage stormwater and shorten all of the crosswalks with curb extensions. The new intersection will be a vast improvement for all.

Construction will start in the next few weeks and it’s expected to be complete by the end of the year. Weather and other delays could push the completion past December, but should not take more than 6 months. Access for bikes will be maintained during construction in the current northbound direction.

Go to a Vision Zero Pop-Up Event

vision zero campaign bannerTraffic fatalities and serious injuries are preventable. Vision Zero aims to end all traffic-related deaths and serious injuries in DC by 2024.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is holding 10 public events across DC’s eight wards over the next two weeks. DDOT wants your input and ideas about to achieve Vision Zero in DC. Give your input by attending one of the events in the next two weeks.

Mayor Bowser announced her administration’s commitment to Vision Zero during her first one hundred days. DDOT is now coordinating a wide range of DC Government agencies to develop a two-year action plan. The Vision Zero Action Plan will apply effective use of data, education, enforcement, and engineering to achieve the goal of eliminating traffic deaths in DC by 2024. The Action Plan will be released to the public in September.

The Vision Zero Awareness Events will take place between now and August 1. Here are the times, locations and dates for the events:

Date Ward Locations Time
7/15/2015 6 Eighth and H Streets, NE 3:30 pm – 6:00 pm
7/16/2015 3 Cleveland Park Metro Station, NW 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm
7/18/2015 1 14th Street and Irving Street, NW 11:00 pm – 1:30 pm
7/21/2015 4 Takoma Metro Station, NW 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm
7/23/2015 8 Anacostia Metro Station, SE 3:30 pm – 6:00 pm
7/25/2015 2 M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, NW 11:00 pm – 1:30 pm
7/27/2015 2 Seventh and H Streets, NW 3:30 pm – 6:00 pm
7/29/2015 7 Minnesota Avenue Metro Station, NE 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm
7/28/2015 5 Rhode Island Ave Metro Station, NE 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm
8/1/2015 6 Eastern Market Metro Station, SE 11:00 am – 2:30 pm

Can’t make an event? Give your input online now.

Add your safety issues Vision Zero Map by visiting http://visionzero.ddot.dc.gov/VisionZero/. To find out more about Vision Zero visit www.DCVisionZero.com.

Action Committees Get Some Coaching from the Pros

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Two weeks ago, advocates from around the region gathered at the WABA office for a weekend of Winning Campaigns Training with the Alliance for Biking and Walking. Starting with a handful of issues and potential solutions, we walked through the process of building an articulate and targeted campaign plan to guide each effort to success.

Last year, WABA launched Action Committees in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties to put our energetic, local advocate base to work on campaigns to improve biking in each county. With two campaigns making great strides, we launched a committee in Arlington County this spring and hope share their campaign soon. Each group is led by passionate local advocates and driven by the energy, insight, and participation of your neighbors, coworkers, and friends who want to make their communities more bikeable.

The weekend’s Winning Campaigns Training was all about helping these passionate advocates achieve success. Experts from the Alliance for Biking and Walking shared their insights and key tools that help shape effective, winnable campaigns across the country. They helped us clearly define the issue at hand, identify key decision makers, target communication and build meaningful coalitions. Most of all, they gave our advocates renewed focus, inspiration, and a new way to frame and plan future campaigns. Thanks so much to our friends at the Alliance for Biking and Walking for making this weekend happen.

To learn more about what WABA’s Action Committees are doing near you and learn how to get involved, click here.

Stop Blocking Access to Pennsylvania Ave Plaza, says Rep. Norton

Closed Pennsylvania Ave Plaza

An all to familiar sight: Pennsylvania Ave Plaza by the White House closed to people walking and biking in November 2014.

If you bike around the White House regularly, you’ve probably had this happen to you: the Pennsylvania Ave plaza by the White House is frequently closed to people on foot and on bike, often without notice or any clear or safe detour. Congresswomen Norton (D-D.C.) sent a letter to US Secret Service and National Park Service leadership asking for a meeting to discuss this issue.

Unannounced closures force people to make long detours by foot or bike. Bicyclists are routed onto congested sidewalks (where it is illegal to ride) or down one-way streets in the wrong direction. Obviously the top issue for US Secret Service is ensuring the security of the White House,  but these long closures without safe options for pedestrians or people on bikes are not acceptable. The agency needs to work with the District to find a better solution to this problem.

We thank the Congresswomen for addressing this quality of life and transportation issue that affects both residents and visitors. Read the full press release and the letter to US Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy and NPS Director Jon Jarvis  here.

Capital Crescent Trail to be extended

photo by Erica Flock

photo by Erica Flock

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) recently announced the Purple Line light rail project in suburban Maryland will move forward, ending months of deliberation. As part of this rail project, the popular Capital Crescent Trail will be extended from its current endpoint in Bethesda to downtown Silver Spring.

Completion of the Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring is a major WABA advocacy priority. These two economic centers of Montgomery County are only 4.5 miles apart, but lack a direct and low-stress bike connection. The trail will be completely separated from motor vehicle traffic, even at intersections. This will require a number of new bridges and a tunnel. When complete, you’ll be able to ride your bike from Bethesda to Silver Spring in about 20 minutes at a comfortable pace.

Montgomery County is responsible for the cost of the trail project, about $55 million.  The County has budgeted funding for the trail in the last five Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budgets. The County is committed to completing the trail with the Purple Line.

Governor Hogan’s approval of the Purple Line project is contingent on reducing Maryland’s  state contribution from about $700 million to $168 million. This reduction would come from a mix of sources. The Maryland Transit Administration is looking at changes to the overall project to reduce the cost. The Governor is asking Montgomery and Prince George’s County to increase their contribution. And finally, the Governor will ask the private teams bidding on the project to increase their capital contribution. The details of this arrangement were not announced.

Though Montgomery County will be looking to find additional funding for their contribution to the Purple Line, we expect their commitment to completing the Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring will be honored and the trail funding will remain in place.

You can read our analysis of the Purple Line / Capital Crescent Trail project here.

Not so fast…

Despite recent forward progress on the “Motor Vehicle Recovery Act of 2015,” the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary is delaying work on the bill until the fall. Last week, we announced the bill would have a markup hearing before the Council’s summer recess, but today, the Committee on the Judiciary’s mark-up hearing agenda did not include it. The bill will have to wait until the fall when the Council returns from recess.

The Judiciary Committee cited other remaining business before the committee as the reason for the delay. While tight schedules are understandable, delaying this bill will directly impact hundreds of District residents over the next few months. There at least 3-4 crashes every day involving a pedestrian or bicyclist in D.C. Many of these injured victims will be denied recovery of damages and medical expenses because of the current law.

The “Motor Vehicle Recovery Act of 2015” will abolish the unfair and out-of-date negligence standard that allows insurance companies to deny injured victim’s claims after a crash with a driver. We are disappointed to see progress on this important piece of legislation delayed until September.

Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5 – D) is the chair of the Judiciary Committee. If you wish to express your opinion about the delay of this bill, please send him an email or call his office at (202) 724-8028. Learn more about this issue and WABA’s campaign to make the law fair for vulnerable road users involved in crashes