Success: No bike ban on streetcar guideways

Good news! DDOT released a second draft of proposed rules regarding streetcars today. This draft no longer includes language banning bicycles from the streetcar guideway.

This is good news for several reasons:

  • It means that this poorly thought out policy won’t be implemented.
  • It avoids setting a precedent that would allow the District to ignore its own Complete Streets policy
  • It reaffirms that the public input process, though frustrating at times, does work. More than 800 of you sent emails to DDOT on this issue, and the agency listened.

This change to the regulations successfully addresses a policy problem, but it doesn’t resolve the underlying design flaw: if you’re not careful, streetcar tracks can be tricky when you are on a bicycle. Keep an eye on where your wheels are, and if you’re riding near the H Street line, consider taking parallel streets when you can. Impress your friends by showing off the nifty contraflow bike lanes on G and I Streets Northeast!

It’s worth noting, too, that WABA caught the proposed bike ban in the first place because we have full time advocacy staff whose job it is to read all this fine print. If you appreciate that work, consider becoming a member or making a donation. We can’t do it without your support!

Proposed Sidewalk Biking Ban: Bad Bill, Good Opportunity.

Yesterday, Councilmember Jim Graham introduced a bill that would ban bicyclists from riding on the sidewalk in the District wherever there is a bike lane in the same direction. In the accompanying press release, Graham cites as a reason for the bill the death of 78-year old Quan Chu, who was struck by a bicyclist while walking with his wife. This event was tragic, but it did not take place on a sidewalk.

We recognize that as more people bike and walk in the District, it is important to have clear norms for interactions between bicyclists and pedestrians to keep people safe. We also recognize that the present regulation of bicyclists on the sidewalk makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

For those who don’t know, the present system is to:

  1. prohibit bikes in an arbitrarily shaped “Central Business District,”
  2. place no signage telling anyone where that is,
  3. place bike parking and actual bikeshare stations on the sidewalks in that zone, then
  4. occasionally have MPD ticket bicyclists for using the bike infrastructure the District placed on the sidewalk in the area where the District prohibits sidewalk riding.

It is tempting to simply oppose Graham’s bill because it’s out of touch with the realities of urban riding—we need safe alternatives for novice cyclists when bike lanes are blocked or other safety needs would lead a cyclist to leave the roadway.  But simply opposing any legislation to deal with the sidewalk issue would be a missed opportunity to improve and rationalize the District’s regulation of the relationship between bicyclists and pedestrians.

To do that, we need to insist on evidence-based policy that accounts for real behaviors and real safety needs. We can’t just assume that because a bike lane exists, bicycling there is safe at all times. Similarly, we can’t just assume that because a sidewalk exists, bicycling is unsafe there at all times. Rather, we need to dig into the details and plan for pedestrians and bicyclists with a data-driven approach that accounts for congestion levels and actual safety.

We need to avoid the hyperbolic rhetoric about crashes that, while sad, are not relevant to the bill. And we need to avoid the knee-jerk reaction to take away portions of the public space from vulnerable users due to unsubstantiated fears and biases. Instead, let’s invest our energy in taking policy steps that would actually make pedestrians safer on the sidewalks and bicyclists safer on physically protected infrastructure.

We would like to work with our legislators and pedestrian advocates to improve the District’s regulation of public space for public safety. But this bill presents a lazy one-size-fits-all approach that assumes a bike lane is “good enough” to foreclose other options for people who bike, and we know that simply isn’t how things work in the real world. At a minimum, the bill should be amended to only ban sidewalk riding where there is a physically protected, unobstructed bike lane (also called a cycletrack). But we would prefer an approach that involved DDOT’s bicycle and pedestrian staff in examining sidewalk widths, bike/ped travel rates, and congestion to more sensibly address the issue.

Adding this bike-lane-based ban to the current silly system only makes the system sillier–ensuring that it won’t be enforced or paid attention by anyone. I challenge Councilmember Graham and his colleagues on the Council, if this issue is an issue they wish to focus on, to invest the effort to produce a bill that will rationalize our policy and improve public safety.

This bill doesn’t do that, and WABA therefore opposes it. But we remain eager to participate in crafting a bill that would address Councilmember Graham’s underlying concern in a more comprehensive and data-driven way, in hopes of improving safety for all.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep our focus on the solutions for the hundreds of pedestrians and bicyclists hit and injured by automobiles each year in the District (427 at the time of this writing). We invite our elected officials to take a leadership role in solving that problem as well.

Become a WABA Member: Support our Advocacy Work

you-bike-you-vote

This week is our 2014 WABA Member Drive. On the blog, we’re highlighting the work your membership supports.

Join or renew now!

Your membership directly supports our advocacy work. We spend time in meetings, planning sessions, conference calls, and legislative sessions to try to get the best bicycle infrastructure and support for our region.

Here are some of our major victories over the past year:

 

  • MCDOT Rescinds Capital Crescent Trail Request: In August the Montgomery County Department of Transportation quietly requested that the Maryland Transit Administration remove a tunnel under Jones Mill Road for the Capital Crescent Trail, despite a long-standing plan to build a completely grade-separated trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring along the Purple Line. WABA asked members in Montgomery County to contact the County Council asking to keep the safe trail crossing. MCDOT rescinded their request and the tunnel will be built.
  • Safe Accommodations during Construction in DC: The Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013 includes a provision which requires future construction permits to provide “safe accommodations” for bicyclists and pedestrians.
  • A Rebuilt Rock Creek Park Trail is One Step Closer: At the end of June, the District Department of Transportation released the Final Environmental Assessment for the rehabilitation of the Rock Creek Park Multi-Use Trail. The final design could not be completed without this environmental document, which was holding up construction. DDOT and NPS can now finalize the design, and construction could begin in some sections as early as next year.

More victories are ahead with your support! The first 500 people to join or renew this week will receive a limited edition “I bike. I vote. @ I’m a WABA Member” t-shirts. T-shirts can be picked up on October 17 from 5:30-8:00 PM at Beirgarten Haus on H st. or will be shipped the week after.

Yay! DDOT Releases Final Safe Accommodation Regulations

IMG_1232

Capital Bikeshare shows how to maintain safe accommodations for bicyclists while they install a new station at 15th & L Streets NW.

DDOT released final regulations for safe accommodations of bicyclists and pedestrians during construction. Future public space permits issued by the city must maintain access for people traveling by foot or bike. A growing number of District residents and visitor rely on walking and biking everyday. Bike lane and sidewalk closures create hazardous situations and have a discouraging effect. With proper enforcement, the final rules should go a long way to maintaining safe access for people walking and biking.

Overall, the regulations are pretty good. Draft regulations were released in August and there have not been any substantive changes between draft and final.

The regulations give an explicit order of priority for providing safe accommodations:

  • Priority one would be to have no impact on existing bike lanes. This could be achieved by keeping construction activities restricted to the parking lane.
  • If that’s not possible, the next best choice is narrowing or reducing other travel lanes as long as at least one remains open.
  • The next option would be to create a shared-lane.
  • Finally, as a last resort, a detour could be set-up. Any detour option would need to replicate the existing infrastructure as practicably possible. Again, the overarching goal would be to simply reduce impacting the existing bike lanes.

The Bicycle Safety Amendment of 2013 became law in the beginning of 2014. WABA worked hard to with DC Council on this law. After it’s passage, this legislation triggered the rulemaking process. The law compels city agencies changes regulations for new permits that effect sidewalks, bike lanes and paths. Future permits must provide “safe accommodation for pedestrians and bicyclists” during construction. DDOT completed the task in less than a year.

Thank you DDOT!  We look forward to working together on enforcement of these new regulations. Safe passage during construction makes walking and biking a more reliable mode of transportation.

Seatbelts Everyone! Explore the WB&A Rail Trail

On Saturday, Oct 11 at 1:00 pm, join WABA for a field trip into PG County to the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Trail.  With summer just behind us and hints of fall colors on every tree, now is the perfect time to get out for a trail ride.  Join us for a relaxed, family friendly ride, a look at an exciting emerging rail trail, and a discussion of the possibilities for connecting the trail to the District.

Join Us

As you move from busy urban areas towards quiet suburbs, the places you want to go tend to be farther from each other.  As destinations spread out, roads get wider, faster, and more like highways, and if you get around by bike, just getting to the grocery can be tricky.  Traffic calming, bike lanes, and side paths are essential, but they cannot compete with the joys of a rail trail.  The Washington Baltimore & Annapolis Trail is still a work in progress, but is already a fantastic bike highway.

The WB&A runs a total of 10.25 paved miles over two discontinuous stretches in Maryland’s PG and Anne Arundel Counties.  It follows the route of the long abandoned WB&A Electric railroad offering a direct path from Glen Dale to the Patuxent River, then to Odenton.  Though a 1.4 mile gap remains between the two built segments, the built portions through quiet woods and open sunlight are already a dream to ride.  And don’t forget the bridges and tunnels that whisk riders past those busy roads.

On Saturday, we will meet at the end of the PG County segment near the Patuxent River and bike westward towards DC, then turn around and head back.  Along the way, we’ll discuss the trail’s history, current holdups, and some possible connections towards DC.  This will be a completely off street and relaxed ride, so feel encouraged to pile the family in the car to join in.

Join Us


This is the third and final tour of our future trails series this fall.  We are grateful to our good friends at REI for making this series possible.  Be on the lookout for future trail advocacy and events later this fall.  Read more about our trails advocacy partnership with REI.

WABA’s Future Trails Tour Series

September 20 – Unbuilt Met Branch Trail Walking Tour
October 4 – Southeast DC’s Unbuilt Trails Bike Tour
October 11 – Washington Annapolis & Baltimore Trail Bike Tour

No Tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail at Wisconsin Ave

The Bethesda tunnel. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Plans have fallen through for a Capital Crescent Trail tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave in downtown Bethesda. Montgomery County attempted to facilitate a redevelopment of the Apex Building that would have allowed a large and more efficient Purple Line light rail station and trail tunnel. In a closed session several weeks ago the County Council, at the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett, decided not to move forward with this attempt.

WABA is disappointed that the county has abandoned these plans. The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most travelled multi-use trails in the county, and the Purple Line transit project is a once-in-a-lifetime investment in better trail infrastructure. Redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed for the best possible station and trail.

The construction of the Purple Line will connect the Capital Crescent Trail to Silver Spring and will upgrade all trail crossings along the corrdidor, which is why WABA supported the project. The loss of a grade-separated crossing where one already exists is a significant compromise and loss. Wisconsin Avenue is the busiest road in downtown Bethesda. More than 1.3 million people use the trail annually. An at-grade crossing of this road is not an acceptable long term solution.

Repeat, there will be no trail tunnel.

A redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to design a larger, more efficient Bethesda Purple Line station with better multimodal facilities. A new building above the station would be considerably taller and denser. The plans also included a bicycle and pedestrian tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave for the Capital Crescent Trail.

With this latest news, the MTA will go forward with the original plan for the project: when construction begins in late 2015, the existing trail tunnel will be closed and the light rail station will be built in that space. The completed station will include a very narrow pedestrian (and walking bicycle) entrance from Woodmont Ave. The Capital Crescent Trail will follow a surface route described below.

Now what happens to the Trail?

Plans for the Purple Line have always included the construction of an additional “surface route” for the Capital Crescent Trail through downtown Bethesda. You can think of the surface as the “business route” and the tunnel as the “express route”. The Montgomery County Dept. of Transportation is developing the plans for the surface route right now. The Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) and WABA have been involved for over a year with a stakeholders group advising MCDOT on their plans. With the tunnel now off the table, the surface route will carry all of the traffic on the Capital Crescent Trail.

The stakes are now much higher for the design and execution of this surface route. Councilmember Roger Berliner has tasked MCDOT to build a “gold standard” trail experience for the at-grade crossing of Wisconsin Avenue. MCDOT is hoping to have draft plans to present to the public later this fall, finish designs and begin construction by next summer. This sounds like an aggressive timeline because it is one—the surface route must be completed before construction starts on the Purple Line, as the tunnel will be closed. We will post notice about a public meeting here when the information becomes available.

What next for the trail?

WABA has been working for more than two decades on the Capital Crescent Trail. The trail is a well loved community resource which provides an important recreation, fitness and transportation benefit to visitors and residents of all ages. The vision has always been a seamless trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring. While the Purple Line will complete a major gap in the trail, it leaves behind a new one.

We are disappointed by this loss of an tunnel option and hope that County officials exhausted all options before making this decision. We expect a safe, grade-separated crossing of the trail at Wisconsin Avenue to be the long-term solution.

Tell Montgomery County you want a safe trail crossing

Tell Fairfax County to Adopt the Bike Master Plan

Fairfax County currently does not have a bike master plan. And that’s not good.

The proposed Bike Master Plan contains recommendations for developing a comprehensive bicycle network. It also includes guidelines for bike-friendly programs and policies. The plan vision is “Meeting the safety, access, and mobility needs of bicyclists today, while encouraging more people to bicycle in the future…making Fairfax County bicycle friendly and bicycle safe.” Without a master plan, Fairfax County Department of Transportation has fallen behind in implementing bicycling improvements.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the county’s Bicycle Master Plan (Phase II) on Wednesday, October 1 at 8:15 p.m. There needs to be a strong showing by residents who support the plan. Please consider attending the public hearing to show your support for the plan.

Details about the October 1st hearing can be found online here. You can sign up to testify at the Planning Commission using this form. The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on October 28. Look for another WABA email alert prior to that hearing.

We are also asking cyclists to sign the FABB Bicycle Master Plan petition urging the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to approve the plan.

This petition is from the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, a sponsored project of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association