That Was Fast! A New, Safer Trail Crossing in Bethesda!

Great news for riders, walkers, and all users of the Capital Crescent Trail! Crews began work on Thursday (Jan 5) on major safety improvements to the Capital Crescent Trail crossing at Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda. Using flex posts, lane striping, and new signage, Little Falls Parkway is reduced to one travel lane in each direction, down from two, west of Hillandale Rd. Soon, signs will be in place to reduce the speed limit from 35mph to 25mph. These changes, made with relatively inexpensive materials, will dramatically reduce the chances of crashes, fatalities, and serious injuries at this busy trail intersection.


After these changes were announced, WABA circulated a petition to area residents and trail users offering an opportunity to thank county staff and elected leaders for taking quick action to prevent future crashes. As of Friday, January 6, 291 area residents signed on with enthusiastic support for the change.

Michael Riley, Director of Parks, Montgomery Parks
Casey Anderson, Chair, Montgomery County Planning Board

Thank you for taking fast and decisive action to make the Capital Crescent Trail at Little Falls Parkway safe for everyone. You and your staff deserve enormous credit for your quick work to prevent future crashes at this intersection with this road diet and speed reduction.

291 Signatures (Click here to see the petition responses)

We applaud the county leaders and staff involved in this decision. Their action recognizes that this intersection’s design creates a crash hazard that puts vulnerable road users and drivers at unnecessary risk. The solution puts the focus on what factors contribute to crashes (multi-lane crossing, visibility, speed) rather than who deserves the most blame. We hope that this case serves as a catalyst for safety upgrades to similar intersections across the county.

Click here to read more about the changes.

Want to show your gratitude? Sign onto the above petition here.

Montgomery County is Fixing the Capital Crescent Trail Crossing of Little Falls Parkway

On October 17, Ned Gaylin was hit and killed crossing Little Falls Parkway while out for a morning ride on the Capital Crescent Trail. This past  Wednesday, Montgomery Parks announced that it is taking swift action to dramatically reduce the risk of fatal crashes at this busy trail intersection.

Anyone who has walked or ridden the Capital Crescent Trail into Bethesda knows the Little Falls Parkway crossing. It is one of only two at-grade road crossings between Bethesda and Georgetown. After a sharp turn, the trail emerges from woods to an unsignalized crosswalk across four lanes of traffic. Signs remind drivers to be on the lookout for trail users and trail users to use caution before entering the crosswalk. However, the road is designed as a highway with two wide lanes in each direction and a 35 mile per hour speed limit.

As built, this intersection is a recipe for disaster. In September 2016, 87,000 walkers, joggers, and bicyclists passed through this intersection. A safe crossing requires every player to be fully attentive, know their responsibilities, and carry them out without mistake. A person walking or biking must approach the crosswalk with caution. She must be sure not to enter the crosswalk in the immediate path of an oncoming car. Four lanes of drivers must see her, must recognize their responsibility to yield, then slow down and come to a stop.

Now consider what actually happens on our roadways at any given time: add a litany of distractions and competing motivations. Drivers, facing wide lanes, a high speed limit and an attention grabbing green light down the road do not want to slow down. Bicyclists don’t want to lose their momentum and start again from a dead stop. Pedestrians do not want to wait for a break in traffic. Everyone is in a hurry. In practice, most people do the right thing, but we need a road designed to minimize conflicts and reduce the risk of harm, acknowledging that not all humans behave perfectly at all times.

Road diet plans from Montgomery Parks. Purple lines indicate new striping. Purple circles indicate flex posts.

A Fix is on the Way

Wednesday night, Montgomery Parks, which maintains Little Falls Parkway and the Capital Crescent Trail, announced new changes to Little Falls Parkway which will simplify crossing interactions and dramatically reduce the chance of crashes that could cause a fatal or serious injury. A road diet on Little Falls will reduce the parkway to one lane in each direction between Hillandale Road and Fairfax Rd. The speed limit will be lowered from 35 mph to 25 mph in the same area. Signage, flex posts, and pavement markings will give drivers ample warning for this new configuration and speed reduction.

Thank County Leaders For Taking Action

Each of these changes will make Little Falls Parkway safer for drivers and trail users. The road diet will remove the outside travel lanes, which shortens the crossing distance and makes trail users more visible as they approach the crosswalk. Drivers will approach the intersection more slowly, which shortens the distance a car travels before coming to stop after the driver hits the brakes.

Going to one lane also prevents the cause of many fatal crashes on multilane roads, in which one driver yields and comes to a stop, but the driver in an adjacent lane does not stop because the crossing person is obscured behind the stopped car. Under Maryland law, drivers must stop at an unsignalized crosswalk if a vehicle in an adjacent lane is already stopped for a pedestrian, but in practice, many drivers don’t do so. This is a chronic problem on Little Falls Parkway. Going from two lanes to one lane will eliminate the problem entirely.

If a crash does happen, it will be at a lower speed, and that means fewer and less severe injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists. Studies show that when a driver traveling at 40 mph hits a person it will result in a fatality 90% of the time, but just 10% of the time at 20 mph. Speed kills, and road design has an enormous impact on speeding. By changing the speed limit and narrowing the road, drivers are more likely to comply.

Some will object to these changes, raising concerns about increased traffic and delay on the parkway. However, road diets like the one proposed often accommodate as many vehicles as the wider road they replace by creating a separated space for turning vehicles and eliminating weaving. Moreover, this will keep people from getting hurt, which ought to be the priority. Empirical research shows that road diets reduce overall crashes, including car on car crashes by 29%. Elevating safety over speed is just the right thing to do. At a time when Montgomery County is working to increase safe transportation options and creating a Vision Zero action plan to eliminate all traffic fatalities, we cannot turn a blind eye to safety for the sake of a few seconds of delay.

For the full details, see the plans here.

Rapid Implementation Saves Lives

Starting later this month, Montgomery Parks will implement these changes using relatively cheap materials like lane striping, flex posts and signage. New York City took a similar approach, using paint, planters, and flex posts to test traffic calming, sidewalk widening, pedestrian refuges, and intersection changes. Many of these inexpensive installations are now cast in concrete after a pilot phase. County staff are studying a permanent fix on Little Falls, but planning could easily take years and millions of dollars to install a signal, re-route the trail to another intersection or redesign the road. In the meantime, this fix will immediately make the crossing safe for millions of trail users each year.

Help Us Thank Montgomery Parks for Swift Action

When tragedy strikes, excuses are never in short supply and decisive action to change the status quo is often met with opposition. Montgomery Parks and the Planning Board deserve enormous credit for their quick work to prevent future crashes on the Capital Crescent Trail. Please sign our petition to thank the department staff and Montgomery County leaders for their action.

Thank County Leaders For Taking Action

Advocacy Behind the Scenes

Photo credit brixton under Creative Commons

A big part of successful advocacy is simply paying attention. The bureaucratic processes that bring about change are often slow, and can start quietly. Our team of advocacy staff and network of volunteers are always on the lookout for opportunities to have an impact, even if it takes a while. We work to make sure that better biking is part of the conversation from the beginning, not an afterthought.

If you subscribe to our advocacy action alerts, you know that we sometimes ask you to share your thoughts with a decisionmaker about the value of bike friendly infrastructure, laws and policy. Those action alerts are only one of many tools in an advocacy toolbox, and usually not the first one we reach for.

Often, a simple letter can start a project on the right path. Here are some of WABA’s comments and testimony from the past few months.

Georgetown Boathouse Zone EA

National Park Service (NPS) is examining sites along the Georgetown waterfront near the southern terminus of the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) for development a series of boathouses that would cater to non-motorized boating (including rowing, paddling and stand-up paddle boarding). The project affects bicycle traffic in and around the area. NPS acknowledges that “the current configuration of the CCT and its connection to Georgetown do not provide safe and compatible access for pedestrians and cyclists with motorized vehicles to and through the Zone.”

The timing of the EA aligns with work that DDOT and Georgetown BID are doing to improve the K/Water Street corridor, which includes a protected bike lane to connect the CCT with the Rock Creek Park Trail.

Read our full comments here.

Oxon Cove Hiker-Biker Trail EA

NPS, in cooperation with DDOT, proposes to construct a multi-use hiker-biker trail in Oxon Cove Park. In our comments we recommend a seamless connection between the future South Capitol Street Trail and the proposed new trail. We also note that the Oxon Hill Farm Trail (which begins just off of South Capitol St and continues south into Oxon Cove Park) is in poor shape. This vital connection is functionally unusable to many because it lacks bridges and the trail is poorly maintained.

Read our full comments here.

Public Scoping for North George Washington Memorial Parkway EA

The National Park service is in the early stages of an Environmental Assessment for reconstruction of a significant portion of the northern George Washington Parkway. This is an important opportunity to consider how the parkway and the land around it could better accommodate and ensure the safety of people biking and walking.

Read our full comments here.

Long Bridge Phase II

DDOT is exploring options to replace the century-old Long Bridge, which carries freight and passenger rail from Northern Virginia into downtown DC. Though the study’s scope is currently focussed only on expanding the number of railroad tracks across the Potomac river, we make the case for including a high quality bike and pedestrian trail on the new bridge.

Read our full comments here.

Bethesda Downtown Master Plan

In October, Montgomery County Council held a final round of hearings on the updated Bethesda Downtown Master Plan. The plan is a long term guide to future density, land use, parks and transportation, and includes an impressive Bethesda bicycle network of protected bike lanes, trail access improvements, and standard bike lanes. Joe Allen, Co-Chair of our Montgomery County Action Committee, delivered WABA’s testimony at the hearing.

Read our full testimony here.

Roundtable on the Provision of 911 Services in DC

The DC Council’s Judiciary Committee held a roundtable to discuss 911 services. WABA submitted testimony raising ongoing concerns about the limitations of DC’s 911 dispatch system which delay or prevent emergency response to emergencies on off-street trails.

Read our full testimony here.

 Photo: brixton on Flickr

New Connections: Proposed improvements between Capital Crescent and Rock Creek Park Trails

cct-from-aqueduct-bridge_kevin-posey

The southern terminus of the Capital Crescent Trail. Photo by Kevin Posey.

Last week, I had one of the nicest bike rides of the summer. I cruised blissfully down the Capital Crescent Trail, soaking in the views of the Potomac and enjoying the shady tree cover. But the transition back to the on-street bike network was a harsh one, and my trail euphoria evaporated immediately.

For those of you who have ridden or walked along the Capital Crescent Trail and finished the trip at the southern terminus in Georgetown, you probably relate to the experience.

gates-at-aqueduct-bridge_kevin-posey

The Capital Crescent Trail ends at the dead end of Water St. NW.

The K Street/Water St NW situation is a scary one for bikes. Between the U-turning buses, trucks and vehicles, frustrated rush-hour commuters, lots of back-in parking, and missing sidewalks that force people to walk in the street, there is no clear area for cyclists to position themselves to avoid conflicts. And despite thousands of people using the corridor every day, it remains a mess.

Fortunately, there’s a plan to transform the corridor into something that works for people on bikes and on foot.

The Georgetown Business Improvement District (Georgetown BID) and District Department of Transportation (DDOT) are working to provide a better solution for K Street/Water St NW (this is the road beneath the Whitehurst Freeway- it is Water St. on the western end, and turns into K St. at Wisconsin Ave.) between the southern terminus of the Capital Crescent Trail (near Potomac Boat Club) to Rock Creek Park Trail, just east of 29th St. NW.

With funding through Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) Transportation-Land Use Connections Program, the project has taken off. Since January of 2016, Georgetown BID and DDOT have been gathering information and assessing the corridor, as well as reaching out to the public and business owners. They produced the conceptual design for the corridor in June 2016, and WABA and other stakeholders recently received an on-the-ground tour of what the concept plan entails.

Here’s what we learned:

The Capital Crescent Trail is a bicycle superhighway.

  • We all know it, but the numbers back up our instinct: The CCT is a bicycle superhighway. On this year’s peak day (Labor Day), more than 3,700 people rode under the Aqueduct Bridge at the southern end of the Capital Crescent Trail. That’s a boatload of folks on two wheels. In fact, if the Capital Crescent Trail traffic was measured like a road, it would be equivalent to a collector street! We must serve bicyclists better when they enter the on-road network.
    Beneath the Aqueduct Bridge, the Southern terminus of the Capital Crescent Trail, in Georgetown.

    Beneath the Aqueduct Bridge, the Southern terminus of the Capital Crescent Trail, in Georgetown.

Things will be A LOT better for bicycling.

  • Riding with car traffic along K/Water Street is not for the faint of heart. But the concept plan includes a two-way protected bike lane on the south side of K/Water Street. By providing protected infrastructure for bicyclists, it’s clear where to ride (away from cars) and allows many more people to access the corridor by bike.
    troughs-for-protected-bike-lane_k-st-tour_-sept-16

    Georgetown BID is proposing horse troughs as potential buffers for the protected bike lane in the K St./Water St. Bicycle and Pedestrian Enhancements project.

And it will be a lot better for walking.

  • By providing protected infrastructure for bicyclists, there is a clear directive of where to ride. This will reduce the number of bicyclists within Georgetown Waterfront Park. Many ride through the Park because the on-street traffic is so unpredictable (read: dangerous).
  • The trail adjacent to K/Water Street is a fantastic connector, but is not all the way connected, and some would argue is better suited for pedestrians.
  • Additionally, the concept plan includes widening sidewalks on both sides of the street, meaning more room in front of Malmaison to drink your coffee, more space in front of Gypsy Sally’s to meet your friends before a show, and more room to simply WALK.
k-st-tour_sept-16

Will Handsfield from Georgetown BID explains the specifics of the concept plan.

But it’s not all about bicyclists and pedestrians.

  • The plan includes other enhancements that will make car traffic flow smoother, too, like the addition of a left turn lane for eastbound cars turning onto Wisconsin Avenue, and reducing the attractive nuisance of free parking spaces at the dead-end of the road, which causes significant traffic congestion.
  • Tour buses will also get a central drop off location on lower Wisconsin Avenue along with locations within a mile of Georgetown where they can reliably park and lay over.
looking-down-to-k-st-and-waterfront-park_kevin-posey

Looking down to Water St. NW and Georgetown Waterfront Park. Photo by Kevin Posey.

The concept plan is compatible with future long-term plans.

  • If/when the Streetcar makes it to Georgetown, or when additional boathouses are developed near the aqueduct by the National Park Service, the road and lane configuration can change to accommodate it. In the interim, using attractive planters as physical separation for bikes will create a cycling environment unlike anywhere else in the city.

There is an opportunity for a really neat bridge over Rock Creek at the eastern end of the corridor.

  • To connect to Rock Creek Park Trail, bicyclists would still need to squish onto a seven-foot sidewalk below an overpass, shared with pedestrians, and lacking safe sightlines. A temporary scaffolding bridge over Rock Creek where there is already a DDOT freeway overpass could be a temporary solution as NPS and others plan for a permanent bridge at the corridor’s east end. This area is nearly impossible to see from the road, but would be a vital solution for both walkers and bicyclists, and an innovative alternative to the too-narrow sidewalk that currently connects K St. walkers and bikers to the Rock Creek Park Trail.
    eastern-end-connection-to-rcp-trail_k-st-tour_sept-16

    A scaffolding bridge could span Rock Creek, an interim solution to connect the K St/Water St. improvements to the Rock Creek Park Trail.

This isn’t pie in the sky. It’s realistic, and many want to see it implemented.

  • The corridor is included in the 2005 DDOT Bicycle Master Plan, and is some of the lowest hanging fruit at this time.
  • Part of the corridor was also identified by National Park Service as one of 18 priority projects in their recently released Paved Trails Study (It’s project C1.1: Closure of Gap on Water Street NW b/w 30th and 31st St. NW.)
  • The community around this area is clamoring for improvements! The existing conditions are undesirable, and stakeholders from all different interest groups are eager to rally together to support a way forward.
  • This can be a great example of a public/private partnership. MWCOG, Georgetown BID, and DDOT have already shown a remarkable degree of cooperation in developing the concept plan, and the BID (a private entity) has stepped forward to offer various maintenance and implementation support that could make this streetscape the gold standard for a commercial area.

 

Something to note: The improvements in the concept plan relate to a current NPS Environmental Assessment regarding non-motorized boathouses in Georgetown. NPS has five proposed sites for new or refurbished boathouses along the waterfront. The Georgetown Nonmotorized Boathouse Zone Development Plan EA is open for comments until Sept. 30. We encourage you to comment!

We thank DDOT and Georgetown BID for their work on this project, and are excited to be part of the next stage.

The Purple Line Is a Go—And We’re Pumped

photo by Erica Flock

The soon-to-be longer Capital Crescent Trail. Photo by Erica Flock

On Wednesday morning, Maryland’s Board of Public Works approved a contract for a team of companies to build, operate and maintain the Purple Line, a 16-mile transit line that will link the Red, Green, and Orange lines in the Maryland suburbs.

So why does something as administrative as contract approval have us smiling? The Purple Line project includes substantial improvements to the region’s trail network.

Here’s what the Purple Line means for the trail system:

  • Paved and extended: The trail segment known as the Georgetown Branch Trail will be widened, paved, and extended into downtown Silver Spring.  Currently, the off-road section of this corridor is unpaved and underused, and the on-road section is unprotected and difficult to navigate. The continuous trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring will be rebranded as part of the Capital Crescent Trail.
  • Grade-separated from motor vehicles: This means that at street crossings at roads like Connecticut Ave and Jones Mill Road, long waits, blind corners, and narrow sidewalks will be replaced by bridges.
  • Connections: When completed, Silver Spring will be an important trail crossroads with direct links to Georgetown (via the Capital Crescent Trail), the National Mall (via the Metropolitan Branch Trail), and the Sligo Creek Trail (via the Silver Spring Green Trail).
  • Transit Access: Trail users will benefit from improved trail access around transit stations, which is good news for multi-modal travelers in both Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties.
  • Momentum: Purple Line service cannot start until the trail is complete, which keeps the pressure on to get the trail built.

WABA has been working for more than two decades on making the vision of a seamless trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring a reality. The Purple Line will make substantial improvements to a portion of that route, transforming the Georgetown Branch Trail segment into a safe, viable transportation and recreation connection between two of the county’s hubs of activity (Bethesda and Silver Spring).

A paved trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring could not happen without completion of the Purple line. This project will contribute significantly to the regional trail network in Montgomery County, and is one of the many ways the region’s trail network is growing. We applaud Governor Hogan for moving the Purple Line project forward and the Montgomery County Council for their long support for the trail and commitment to funding for it.

WABA will continue to track progress on the development of the trail, and will keep you informed along the way.

—For a deep dive into the details of the trail changes and improvements, see 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.

Whole Foods Bethesda and WABA!

wfm_bethesda_logo-01Our friends at the Whole Foods Bethesda store, (conveniently located right on the Capital Crescent Trail) have selected WABA as the beneficiary of their next 5% day. This means that on Wednesday, April 8th, WABA will receive 5% of the store’s total receipts!  

The first 25 WABA shoppers who show their member card, buy a membership, or check in with our WABA staff to confirm status, will receive special Whole Foods swag bags, plus win other fun prizes. For all our family riders, there will be a fun scavenger hunt and healthy snacks and kids prizes too! So bring your shopping lists and get ready to stuff your panniers.

After you stock up on groceries, meet and chat with WABA staffers (and a few guest star Board members) about WABA’s work in Montgomery County.

Plus, we’ll have a table set up to hand out maps and other goodies for WABA supporters who say hi!