An Update on Bike Friendly Ballston

Bike Friendly Ballston Graphic 2 wide

Protected bike lanes on Quincy St are taking small steps forward,  but it’s complicated, says Arlington’s transportation department.

On Monday, September 19, WABA’s Arlington Action Committee hosted an update from Arlington County staff on their progress designing a protected bike lane on N. Quincy St. in Ballston. Staff presented work done so far, a summary of the constraints and trade-offs for upgrading Quincy’s existing bike lanes, and a preliminary design concept for a few key blocks.

Since November 2015, the Action Committee has worked with local residents, business owners, and civic associations to build support for a north-south, protected bike lane to link the Custis Trail to points into Ballston. Six months ago, after an outpouring of support, the County Board directed Arlington’s County Manager to develop concepts for protected bike lanes on Quincy St. Now, Department of Transportation staff have taken a close look at the corridor and identified an important opportunity and key challenges to weigh as the design moves forward. We were delighted to spend the evening discussing the study with Arlington Director of Transportation Dennis Leach, Design Engineer Team Supervisor Dan Nabors and other staff. Here is what we learned on Monday:

A Repaving Opportunity

A large section of Quincy Street, from Glebe Road to Fairfax Drive, is in rough shape and is already slated for repaving next year. Since repaving is often the largest cost for a bike lane project, this is an ideal time to consider how the road can be restriped  once new pavement is installed.

To take advantage of this cost-saving opportunity, staff have focussed on designing this 0.4 mile section through Ballston’s densest blocks. Beginning with a survey of existing conditions, striping configurations, curb to curb distances, and road geometry, they identified some constraints that require careful design moving forward.

Space Constraints and Other Challenges

In a dense urban area like Ballston, space for moving people around is limited. Roads and sidewalks are flanked by rows of buildings atop a tangle of public and private land. Upgrading bike lanes requires additional space on the road to safely separate bicyclists from car traffic. And while it may seem simple to upgrade a lane on one block, the same amount of road space is needed on every block.

Dimensions for on block of Quincy St. from Wilson to 9th N

Dimensions for on block of Quincy St. from Wilson to 9th N. Click to download full doc

Quincy St. is not a uniform width from one block to the next. The distance between curbs ranges from 41 feet to over 70 feet at some intersections, allowing for traffic lanes, turn lanes, curbside parking, the existing unprotected bike lanes, and sidewalk extensions. This variability makes it difficult to create a single street design that fits on every block. And where the street narrows, an engineer can only squeeze bike, traffic, and parking lanes so much.

In narrow blocks, we face a question of priorities. Should the County use limited public space to encourage more people to travel by bike or should it dedicate public space to car parking? To create a fully protected bike lane, some parking must be removed. Yet to retain every parking space, only minor bike lane improvements are possible on most blocks.

Another complication that limits available road space are the frequent curb extensions or “nubs” along Quincy St. This common traffic calming treatment extends a sidewalk into the road at mid-block crossings and intersections to improve pedestrian visibility and shorten crossing distances. Despite their benefits, curb extensions create more fluctuations in road width and complicate bike lane design on narrow roads. Fortunately, protected bike lanes can offer similar benefits to pedestrians, but installing them may require tearing up concrete, which increases construction costs.

Preliminary Design Concept

To illustrate some of the trade-offs, County staff presented one of many possible concepts for protected bike lanes on Quincy St. from Glebe Road to Fairfax Drive. The image below shows a protected bike lane running against each curb and separated from moving traffic by flex posts, parked cars, and a painted buffer area. This design offers a low-stress, separated place to ride that can reduce speeding, reduce bicyclists riding on sidewalks, discourage parking in bike lanes, and attract more tentative riders with a low-stress, trail-like experience. Click here to download the full design (pdf).

Potential protected bike lane concept and parking impacts (pdf)

Potential protected bike lane concept and parking impacts. Click to download full document pdf

On some blocks, these upgrades would require changes to on-street parking. Orange areas indicate existing parking that would remain. Green shows additional space for parking. Red shows areas where existing parking would need to be removed. Under this draft concept, some blocks would retain all current street parking, while others might see reductions in street parking. It is worth noting that parking studies of each block show relatively low parking utilization and that a surplus would still remain if some spaces were eliminated. Furthermore, Quincy St. boasts numerous off-street garages and parking lots along the corridor.

Potential parking impacts for a block on the corridor

Potential parking impacts for a block on the corridor

Experience a Quincy Street Protected Bike Lane at Saturday’s Arlington Fun Ride

On October 1st, we are teaming up with Phoenix Bikes to create a pop up protected bike lane on Quincy Street to show what a low-stress bike lane could do for Ballston. Last year’s ride was a huge success, and this year participants of all ages can feel the joy of a protected lane on their way from the Custis Trail to the Ballston pit stop at the Central Library. The ride is fun for the whole family, offers a distance for every rider, and supports a great cause! Learn more and Register Here!

Bicyclists on the Custis Trail along I-66 in Arlington (Photo by JSanchez)

Photo from last year’s Arlington Fun Ride (Photo by JSanchez)

Next Steps

While these drawings may look polished, they represent only one of many possible configurations for a Quincy St. protected bike lane. Lanes with different geometry and dimensions, or even a two-way protected bike lane, could suit the space better, and more design work needs to be done to explore those possibilities. As spring, and the start of next year’s repaving season approaches, we hope to see more solidified options and a clearer understanding of the trade-offs and benefits. We are confident that with an open dialog and opportunities for input that we can find a solution that works for Quincy St. residents, visitors, commuters, and businesses.

For more on the Bike Friendly Ballston campaign, click here.

 

Multi-modal Memorial Bridge?

In the spring of 2013 the National Park Service initiated the public process to rehabilitate the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  The partial closure and rehabilitation of the bridge represents a huge opportunity to rethink how the bridge operates in the context of the city’s transportation network.  Unfortunately, instead of seizing this opportunity, the Park Service defined the scope of the project extremely narrowly— focusing on arcane questions about upgrades to the “bascule spans” (the parts of the bridge that make it work as a drawbridge).

Does anyone actually care about what structure engineering methods NPS uses to rehabilitate bascule spans? Probably not. What we do care about is the fact that millions of visitors and commuters cross Arlington Memorial Bridge annually by foot, bike, and car. As bicycle and pedestrian travel rapidly increases region-wide, it’s time to rethink how all transportation modes on the bridge are accommodated.

The bridge is 90 feet wide with six car travel lanes and two 15-foot sidewalks. The speed limit for vehicles on the bridge is 30 miles per hour, with drivers often dangerously exceeding the legal limit. During busy tourist seasons, the sidewalks are full of visitors walking between the National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery. Sidewalk congestion is complicated by bicyclists and pedestrians sharing limited space.  

The opportunity:

During construction, the bridge will be partially closed. Two years ago, after an initial study on regional traffic patterns, traffic engineers determined that a closure of one of the three lanes in each direction would only minimally impact traffic on other bridges that cross the Potomac River.  This has been borne out by experience: since late last fall, the Memorial bridge has been operating with a total of four travel lanes, without any resulting traffic armageddon.

The third vehicle lane in both directions should be permanently repurposed as a single protected travel lane for bicycle traffic. This would provide dedicated space for pedestrians on the sidewalk, and a safe, unobstructed passage across the bridge for bicyclists.  

The bridge rehabilitation is a chance for NPS to be forward-thinking about design. The National Mall is planning to build a visitor center at the Vietnam War Memorial, which will likely increase travel between the Vietnam War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, as it is a short walk or ride between the two, and serviced on both sides of the bridge by Capital Bikeshare stations. There are also plans to redesign the Lincoln Circle (aka: the bike/ped no-man’s land between the Lincoln Memorial and the Memorial bridge on the D.C. side).

The viewshed in both directions along the bridge is highly valued and should be honored. Through this process, the Park Service could and should be considering designs for dedicated space for bicyclists that fits the aesthetic of the bridge, like low decorative planters or concrete curbs.

WABA and supporters raised these issues nearly three years ago.

Unfortunately, the Park Service has not listened, and continues to move forward with an Environmental Assessment structured to protect the status quo. There is another comment period closing on Monday, May 16th. Take a moment to submit comments telling NPS you want this project to address not just the bridge’s structure, but how the bridge functions in city life, by creating dedicated protected bike lanes and safe connections for walking and biking to and from the bridge.

Submit comments on the project site website using this link.

Bike Friendly Ballston Hits a Major Milestone

Saturday February 20th was a huge milestone for the Bike Friendly Ballston Campaign.  During the Arlington County Board’s public comment period, WABA’s Action Committee for Arlington County made our case for a protected bike lane on North Quincy Street connecting the Custis Trail to the heart of Ballston.  Gillian, the Committee’s campaign chair, spoke to a receptive County Board, outlining why a protected bike lane would improve safety, encourage ridership, bring more business into the heart of Ballston, strengthen Arlington’s economic competitiveness and provide an important north-south connection in Arlington’s bicycle network.

More than 30 campaign supporters gave up their Saturday morning to show their support, in-person for Bike Friendly Ballston.  That is addition to the 600+ who signed the petition supporting the campaign, the 10+ letters of business support, the support from two adjacent civic association, the Ballston BID, Arlington’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and Arlington’s Safe Routes to School coordinator.

Specifically, the Action Committee asked the County to bring forward several alternative designs for protected bike lanes on Quincy Street between (at a minimum) Glebe Road and the Custis Trail access north of Washington-Lee High School. The five Board members listened and commented favorably, directing staff to develop plans with a variety of possible configurations for protected bike lanes. We look forward to the results of this request and continuing the conversation about a more bike friendly corridor with the community.

For another perspective on this campaign, read the summary on the excellent TINLIZZIERIDESAGAIN blog.

To see the presentation and discussion for yourself, watch the video here (presentation 9:20, discussion 19:00). Read more about the campaign here.

A short protected bike lane could connect Ballston to the region’s trail network

On a nice day, 2,000 people bike near Ballston while using the Custis Trail. Few of them, however, use the existing North Quincy Street bike lanes to actually visit Ballston. A group of Arlington Residents thinks a protected bike lane along Quincy would change that.

The red line is the proposed bike lane along North Quincy. The green line is the Custis Trail.

The red line is the proposed bike lane along North Quincy. The green line is the Custis Trail.

The Arlington Action Committee, with support from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, has launched a campaign called Bike Friendly Ballston to try to get Arlington County to install a protected bike lane (also called a cycletrack) to connect the Custis Trail to the heart of Ballston, where people can grab lunch, play at the park, shop at the mall, or check out a book at the library.

Biking on Quincy doesn’t feel very safe

There are already standard bike lanes for most of the stretch, but they don’t feel safe. The lanes are immediately adjacent to both fast moving traffic and parking spots, where people frequently opening their car doors threaten to pitch cyclists into that fast moving traffic. The lanes disappear temporarily at Quincy’s busy intersection with Washington Boulevard, and are frequently blocked by double-parked cars and delivery trucks.

All of these factors contribute to a feeling of danger, which accounts for at least some of the drop-off in cycling activity between Arlington’s trail network and its bike lane network. A protected bike lane along Quincy would make people feel safer on a bike, reduce injuries, encourage more commerce, and provide a better link from Ballston to the regional trail network.

Quincy with a protected bike lane. Image from Streetmix.

Quincy with a protected bike lane. Image from Streetmix.

There are lots of benefits to building this

Protected bike lanes make streets safer, even for non-cylists. In New York, the 9th Avenue protected bike lane led to a 56% reduction in injuries to all street users, including a 57% reduction in injuries to people on bikes and a 29% reduction to people walking.

Even without the statistics, the safety benefits of protected bike lanes is obvious to both those who use them and those who just live near them: 80 percent of people who live near a protected bike lane project believe it increased safety on the street. For people who use them, that number is 96 percent.

Safer streets make the “interested but concerned” more comfortable with the idea of trying cycling. The average protected bike lane sees bike counts increase by 75% in its first year alone. The jump could be even higher for Quincy given the connection to a highly-used regional trail at one end and a busy retail, office, and residential neighborhood at the other.

Protected bike lanes even have something to offer troll-ish bike article commenters: in Chicago, protected bike lanes and bike-specific traffic signals significantly improved cyclist stoplight compliance, and in New York, the 9th Avenue bike lane brought with it an 84% reduction in sidewalk riding.

Why Quincy?

Without an updated bike plan in Arlington County, it is hard to say definitively what Arlington’s next bike project should be. Ideally, an updated bike plan would detail a proposed ideal bike network to strive for, as well as a prioritization scheme to aid in project selection. That said, Quincy is a key piece of the bike network in the existing plan even though the plan pre-dates the notion of a protected bike lane (at least in the US).

The Arlington Action Committee chose Quincy for several reasons:

  • It connects a major neighborhood to the trail network
  • It has a number of important community amenities including Washington-Lee High School, the Arlington Planetarium, Quincy Park, the Central Library and Mosaic Park
  • It could become phase 1 for an eventual North-South bike connector stretching across the entire county along George Mason Drive, Quincy Street and Military Road
  • Unlike many other streets in the area, it crosses Glebe Road, Wilson Blvd, Fairfax Drive and Washington Blvd at traffic signals; and it would improve the bike network in a neighborhood that lacks much bike planning thanks to itsvery-dated sector plan (circa 1980).

The next step is to talk to the County

In the two months since the Bike Friendly Ballston Campaign launched, the Arlington Action Committee has been presenting to local neighborhood associations, approaching civic groups, and talking to local businesses to build support for the project. It’s hoping to approach the County about moving forward with the project this month or next.

You can find out more about the campaign on the campaign’s web page, or sign the petition if you want to support the project.

Chris Slatt is Chair of WABA’s Action Committee for Arlington County. Cross posted on Greater Greater Washington

Bike Friendly Ballston Campaign Launch

WABA's Action Committee for Arlington County is working to make Ballston a better Place to bike

Thanks to an expansive trail network and forward-thinking investments made over the decades, Arlington County is a terrific place to ride a bike for fun, commuting, and just getting around. Trails like the Mount Vernon Trail and Custis Trail see thousands of bicycle trips per day through neighborhoods and the downtown core. Where those trails end, a growing network of quiet neighborhood streets and bike lanes take over to get people where they are going. At least, that is how it should work. Trouble is, many of those bike lanes are on busy roads with high speed traffic and high parking turnover. These streets are stressful for people who bike and unrideable for more tentative riders. It does not have to be this way.

Today, WABA’s Action Committee for Arlington County is pleased to announce its first campaign for a Bike Friendly Ballston. Our goal, make Quincy Street a welcoming entrance into a more walkable, bikeable Ballston.

The existing Quincy Street bike lanes are uncomfortably close to frequent and fast moving traffic. The bike lanes disappear at a major intersection forcing people on bicycles to merge with drivers already navigating a tricky intersection.  Delivery vehicles and double parked cars frequently block these lanes creating more merging conflicts as drivers and bicyclists try to share the same space. A redesigned Quincy Street with protected bike lanes would make a safer and more inviting place to ride. It would create a low stress connection to the nearby Custis trail. Finally, it would be the first step in a protected north-south route through central Arlington.

Read more about Bike Friendly Ballston

Kick off the Campaign with us!

On Wednesday, October 21, join our Action Committee in Ballston for a short walk on Quincy Street to see why these changes are needed. Starting at the Central Library, we will look at some of the troublesome areas and intersections that make Quincy St. an ideal place for a protected bike lane. Then, join us for drinks and discussion on the details at a local watering hole. We hope you can join us to get started on this exciting campaign. Please spread the word!

Bike Friendly Ballston Kickoff
When: Wednesday, Oct 21 6:30 pm
Where Arlington Central Library 1015 N Quincy Street

Join Us

This Thursday’s Block Party With Your PALs!

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Want to reach your
Destination faster?
Be a PAL
Avoid disaster!

Join us for our next PAL Block Party and show off our Burma Shave signs!  We’ll be holding our awesome series of signs at the intersection of Lee, Old Dominion, Military and Quincy.

Join us for 20 minutes or full the full 2 hours. It will be a good time. After the event, we’ll ride up the road a little and get a beer at Cowboy Cafe.

Click here for more details and to RSVP.

Hope to see you there,
Pete.


BikeArlington launched the PAL campaign 2 years ago with the strong sentiment that no matter who we are or how we choose to get around town, our roadways depend on a social contract that everyone is following the rules and paying attention. Whether we’re walking, driving, or biking we rely on our fellow road-users to be PALs; Predictable. Alert. Lawful.

The mission of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association is to create a healthy, more livable region by promoting bicycling for fun, fitness, and affordable transportation; advocating for better bicycling conditions and transportation choices for a healthier environment; and educating children, adults, and motorists about safe bicycling.

Public Open House for Arlington Memorial Circle Redesign on March 3rd

memorial-circle
The National Park Service is hosting a public open house on March 3rd to present rough design ideas for Arlington Memorial Circle on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The area has a long history of safety issues for Mount Vernon Trail users. NPS started the planning process back in September with an initial round of public open houses.

NPS is undertaking a Transportation Plan and an Environmental Assessment to evaluate possible reconfiguration of the road, traffic circle and trail. The goal is to improve safety and the park experience for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers, while minimizing the impact on the cultural and historical resources of the area. The planning process will take almost two years to complete. We do not expect a final decision document until the summer of 2016.

More information about the public open house, the planning process and how to give your input are included the following NPS meeting announcement:

Public Open House
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
5:00 pm to 8:00 pm
National Park Service
National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive SW
Washington DC 20242

We will present rough sketches of design concepts that were developed at a workshop that evaluated previous studies of the area, existing and projected traffic conditions including accident, speed and road/trail volumes, and the memorial character of the area. These concepts will be the foundation for the development of alternatives to be presented later in the year.  Please take this opportunity to offer your thoughts about this process and the ideas that were generated before we develop alternatives.

Comments will be accepted at the open house or may be provided online through the NPS Planning Environment, and Public Comment (PEPC) website.

On March 3rd the sketches will be posted to the project website and comments will be accepted from March 3, 2015 to March 10, 2015. You can access this site from the project website at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/mctpea Navigate from the left side of the page to Document List, then 2015 Design Concepts, and Comment on Document.