Lights, Coffee, ACTION!

This week’s weather theme has been GO RIDE YOUR BIKE! Today’s 80 degree weather is no different. Since Daylight Savings Time ending caught many of our friends off guard, we decided to catch up with them while they’re out riding! DC Bike Ambassadors set up friendly bicycle light sting operations around town to equip lightless bicycle riders with their very own pair of bicycle lights.


DC Bike Ambassadors set up in front of the Columbia Heights Metro on 14th Street NW…AT NIGHT!


DC Bike Ambassadors stop bicyclists on the 15th street cycletrack

DC Bike Ambassadors stop bicyclists on the 15th street cycletrack at P Street NW…AT NIGHT!

It gets dark so early these days, that 6 pm looks like midnight…AT NIGHT! Check out these handy tips about riding at night…AT NIGHT!

Aside from handing out bike lights, Ambassadors love giving out free coffee, bike maps, and law guides to our unsuspecting friends! Your smiling faces brings us joy that lasts all day long! Be on the lookout for our bicycling experts who ride around the city in bright red Ambassador shirts spreading the love of bicycling to all.


DC Bike Ambassadors give a bicyclist a cup of coffee and a new copy of the DC Bike Law Guide


Want to become a DC Bike Ambassador? Email for upcoming trainings.


Un-Protected Bikeways: Why is DC Still Undercutting Safety?

For every new trail, bike lane, and policy that makes the region a better place to bike, there are committed advocates working in their communities, with government officials, and WABA staff to improve our streets for people who bike. Here is an update from Joe Allen, a DC and Montgomery County advocate.

The protected bikeways throughout much of downtown DC have contributed to great increases in people bicycling.  These new bicycle facilities have a physical barrier as well as horizontal separation from moving vehicle traffic.  Protected bikeways offer improvements in safety, predictability, and comfort for the average person.  Unfortunately, the record for DC in maintaining protection of these bikeways during building or roadway construction is horrible despite a law requiring them to do so.  What happens when construction or other reasons impact these bikeways will impact their long term success.

People riding in these new facilities expect a continuity in the level of comfort and skill required to reach their destination safely.  Therefore, a major challenge for developing such lanes downtown is finding a solution for construction projects that require the sidewalk and curb lane closures.  Often years of thought and engineering go into the protected bikeway design to minimize conflicts and maintain separation.  This hard work should not be erased when roadwork happens.  Given the type of riders attracted to these lanes, who prefer not to mix with traffic, even a periodic one-block disruption could discourage future use.  The DC Council agreed in 2013 and passed a law requiring the Office of Permits to work with the DC Bikeways Coordinator in approving traffic plans for construction zones that provide safe accommodation for bicyclists and pedestrians. The law mandated that plans provide an equivalent bicycle facility wherever possible and a stepwise approach that maintains safety when space is tight.

Read about the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013

What has been the record of Office of Permits since this law was passed and regulations were issued?  One only has to look at comments about the protected bikeways to see the law is regularly ignored, or even worse, implemented in ways that actually increase risk to people riding bicycles.  The stepwise approach that is supposed to prioritize safety over maintaining parking lanes and travel lane widths often does the opposite.  In some cases, accommodation is provided for people on bicycle but not people walking with the obvious result, people walking in the bikeway.  More often though, sidewalk detours are provided, but people on bicycle must quickly merge into mixed traffic. Nowhere has this more true than the M St. NW protected bikeway.  There are currently three construction projects on the protected bikeway, each which violate the spirit if not the letter of the law and regulations.  The traffic plans for these construction projects were approved by the Office of Permits. However, the approvals are in violation of the law and conflict with very clear direction by DDOT on how these projects should preserve and not eliminate the protection for people on bicycles.

M St. NW and 20th St. NW

M and 20th St. NW. Note the turning vehicle.

The worst implementation yet occurred during the past few weeks on the M St. protected bikeway at 20th St. NW.  The signage emphasizes the very violation of the law: “Bikeway Closed”.  A pedestrian passage is maintained on the same side of the street as the bikeway despite an available sidewalk on the opposite side of the street and the parking lane on the opposite side of the street is left intact.  The result is people on bicycles must merge at the last minute in the middle of an intersection.  The traffic plan goes further and closes the right hand turn lane to cars for no apparent reason, eliminating the predictable mixing zone developed to reduce conflicts and avoid right hand turning cars crossing in the path of bicycles.  The return to the protected bikeway is at the entrance to a parking garage which regularly blocks the protected bikeway in the morning as the valet parks cars.  The plan fails at a number of levels.  There is no predictable, safe path maintained and the safety of people on bicycle is actually significantly harmed by merging cars and bikes at the worst possible place.  The plan encourages cars to cross the path of bicycles and vice versa.  During two brief morning spent observing the result, I caught on camera at least three near miss conflicts of cars turning into bicycles as well as regular failure to leave safe passing distance for bicycles that finally made it into the auto travel lane.  To add insult to injury, two additional closures and detours occur within the next four blocks, including conflicting detour and closure signs posted at M St. NW and New Hampshire St. NW.  The signs at this intersection give conflicting directions regarding use of a correctly posted protected detour and an illegal closure two blocks away (including use of “Share the Road” sign rather than “May Take Full Lane”)..

M St. Protected Bikeway and New Hampshire St. NW - two Blocks from 20th St. NW closure

M and New Hampshire St. NW – two Blocks from 20th St. NW closure

I have captured these violations of bikeway closures on 15th and L St. during the past year on several occasions and the response from DC government officials has always been polite.  They acknowledge such traffic plans should not be permitted and state that the permit office will learn over time but are overwhelmed with the volume of construction requests.  DDOT recently issued further guidance for bicycle lane closures and acceptable traffic management plans. Yet, it is unacceptable that a law has been passed, regulations have been issued, and requirements to coordinate with the DC Bikeways Coordinator outlined, and bikeway closures which should be a last option are regularly instituted as the first option.

Bicycling as a means to get from point A to B has become a new norm thanks in part to the building a protected bike network.  However, the new norm also requires recognizing the responsibility to maintain protected bikeways according to the law.  DC would rarely close a commuter arterial to cars on a daily basis for weeks on end or force cars onto the sidewalk or into narrow alleys not designed for auto traffic.  DC can and should do better, and it should not require a lawsuit for the government to uphold its own laws.

Joe Allen is a WABA member and chair of WABA’s Action Committee for Montgomery County.

Photo Recap: Ward 4 Bike Ride with Councilmember Todd

D.C. Councilmember Brandon Todd, WABA, and 50 Ward 4 residents toured the several Ward 4 neighborhoods by bike on Sunday afternoon. The 5 mile ride featured the longest bike lanes in the ward on Kansas Ave NW and the future Met Branch Trail. Riding the route also highlighted areas for future upgrades to the bicycle network including potential protected bike lanes on New Hampshire Ave NW. Thank you to Councilmember Todd for participating in the event and we look forward to working together with the community to improve bicycling in Ward 4.

Legislation to watch this fall in the D.C. Council

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The Council of the District of Columbia’s legislative session is in full swing with four bills relevant to bicycling. Here are brief summaries of each bill and links to the full legislative language. We will be tracking the progress as these bill move forward (or don’t).

  1. Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015 (B21-0335)

    This bill reflects the consensus recommendations of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Working Group, (convened by Councilmember Cheh and co-chaired by WABA and AAA Mid-Atlantic) which was formed to assist the Council in reforming the District’s laws, regulations, and policies to improve road safety.  It includes improvements to crash data reporting, adopts a Complete Streets policy, creates pedestrian and bicycle priority zones, adopts “stop as yield” (a modified version of the Idaho stop law) for bicycles, clarifies that existing laws prohibiting opening doors into traffic apply to bicycles, and a host of other safety improvements.

  2. Vision Zero Act of 2015 (B21-0383)

    Mayor Bowser’s bill codifies aspects of the District’s Vision Zero plan. The bill makes the Complete Streets policy law; bans the use of ATVs and dirt bikes on D.C. streets; establishes an ignition interlock device program for repeat DUI offenders; changes fines and jail sentences of drunk drivers; increases fines for distracted driving from $100 to $500 and adds two points.

  3. Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015 (B21-0004)

    If passed, this bill will bring D.C. negligence laws out of the dark ages and more in line with the majority of states. Under current D.C. law, a bicyclist injured in a crash cannot collect damages if she is found to have been in any way at fault, even if the other party bears a disproportionate amount of blame. As a result, insurance companies routinely deny claims resulting from crashes, leaving injured bicyclists with few options. Under the proposed bill, contributory negligence could not be used to deny coverage to a bicyclist or pedestrian who was 50% or less responsible for her injuries. It also explicitly retains the doctrine of joint and several liability— a primary concern for the D.C. Trial Lawyers Association that contributed to an earlier version of the bill being tabled in 2014.

  4. Enhanced Penalties for Distracted Driving Amendment Act of 2015 (B21-0021)

    This bill, introduced by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, strengthens the penalties for distracted driving. Under the proposed law, the first violation would result in a $100 fine, with fines escalating for repeat violations over an 18 month period. The second violation in an 18 month period would be a $200. Any further violations would incur a $400 fine and suspension of license and vehicle registration for 60 to 180 days. Points could be assessed for a second violation within 18 months even if the violation did not result in an accident.

WABA will give periodic updates on bills via our blog (–you’re reading it right now!). We will also be sending out targeted action alerts to our members and supporters who live in the district. Sign-up for email updates and action alerts here.

Councilmember Nadeau’s Top Ward 1 Bike Lane Projects


Councilmember Nadeau (Ward 1) joins the DC Bike Ambassador for street outreach in Columbia Heights.

Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) sent a letter today to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Director Leif Dormsjo in support of several priority bike lane projects for Ward 1. The list of projects recognizes the needs to close important gaps in the bike lane network.

Nadeau’s letter expresses support for the construction of protected bike lanes whenever possible: “Protected bike lanes have many benefits including safety and fewer illegal parking problems, which is why I have been an advocate for them since my time as an ANC [Commissioner]. Welcoming bike lanes also discourage bicyclists from using the sidewalk instead of the street.”

The priority projects for Ward 1 are:

  • 15th St NW protected bike lane extension north from V St. NW to Euclid St NW
  • 14th St NW protected bike lane and a connection of the bike lane gap between Euclid St NW and Florida Ave NW
  • 11th St NW protected bike lane and an extension to Spring Rd (and then to Kansas Ave NW)
  • Completion of the Florida Ave streetscape project between Sherman Ave and U St NW
  • Support for the eastern downtown protected bike lane study and rapid implementation of its findings

Thank you Councilmember Nadeau for your support of safer and more convenient bicycle access in Ward 1.


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


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).


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.