Let’s Extend the 15th St NW Protected Bike Lane to Constitution Ave

This guest post is written by Cheryl Hawkins, a WABA Member from Washington, DC. Have an advocacy issue you’d like to write about for our blog? Contact us at advocacy@waba.org.

During my daily commute from Takoma neighborhood to Crystal City I think I ride on every form of bicycle infrastructure – shared streets, bike lanes, and off-street paths. I also have the privilege to ride along nearly the entire length of the 15th St. NW protected bike lane (also known as a cycle track) and I absolutely adore it. I would say many other cyclists agree, since the protected bike lane is usually filled with long lines of cyclists on my evening commute home. I recently heard someone from out-of-town who was riding in the bike lane comment that she had “never been in a bicycle traffic jam before.”

The reasons the protected bike lane is popular are obvious – separation from automobile lanes means a much safer and more comfortable ride. According to DDOT counts, between 300-400 people travel the lanes during the morning and evening rush hours. The additional separation created by the white flex-posts and hashed areas make it less likely for a person riding to be injured by a car door than when riding in the bike lanes that run between parked cars and car lanes. The protected bike lane provides a fast, direct route for people riding bikes through the center of the District.

While not perfect, the 15th St. protected bike lanes is far superior to sharrows and standard bike lanes. I also prefer the protected bike lane to narrow, shared-use paths like Mount Vernon trail because the space is dedicated to bike riders. Pedestrians have their own separate space on the wide sidewalk.

I feel incredibly lucky to have the 15th St. protected bike lane as part of my route to work, but where the protected bike lane ends on Pennsylvania Ave. is the absolute worse part of my entire commute. The block of 15th St. between Pennsylvania Ave. and Constitution Ave. is chaotic, and frightening at times, for cyclists traveling in both directions. People riding south along this block in the mornings have to contend with vendors parking their trailers, forcing the cyclists into the left traffic lane while fast moving traffic coming down the hill bears down on them. Cyclists traveling southbound in the evenings have to worry about getting crushed between the enormous tour buses leaving the right lane and the heavy automobile traffic that fills the block. For northbound cyclists, it is confusing how to best connect to the protected bike lane once reaching Pennsylvania because it is on the opposite side of the street. There are many different variations to connect from the northbound lanes into the protected bike lanes and no one does it the same causing confusion for bicyclists and drivers alike.

I have been yelled at by drivers to “get into the bike lane,” and have had some close calls with passing cars that violate the legally required three feet buffer. Sidewalks and paths on National Park Service property are technically shared-used and it is legal for people to ride bikes on them. However, the parallel sidewalk on 15th St. between Pennsylvania Ave. and Constitution Ave. is not Park Service property, but a DC sidewalk and within the Central Business District where sidewalk riding is illegal. For this one block bicyclists are forced to mix with car traffic which confuses, and possibly upsets, drivers when they observe cyclists on the sidewalk one block away.

This one dangerous block demonstrates a difficulty in the developing bicycle infrastructure – the gaps. The gaps are where bike lanes and protected bike lanes end and bicyclists are forced to mix with cars. For drivers the sudden appearance of people on bikes in their lanes is an annoyance, which some respond to with rather risky behavior. For bicyclists the end of a bike lanes can be nerve racking. There may be alternative routes to and from the National Mall from the 15th St protected bike lane to avoid this dangerous spot, but the most direct and convenient route is obvious.

The main opposition to the extension of the 15th St. protected bicycle lane to Constitution Ave. will be from the tour bus operators and the few food and souvenir vendor trailers that currently park on the west side of the street. The parking lane will be repurposed in order to accommodate the protected bike lane extension. The vendor spaces could easily be moved to the other side of 15th St. and the tour buses already have several drop-off/pick-up locations one block over on 14th St. NW. The safety and mobility of daily District bike commuters and bikeshare riders should not be secondary to the convenience of t-shirt vendors.

The protected bike lane was initially installed as a pilot project by DDOT. Without a doubt, the pilot has been a resounding success with many thousands of people rely on it daily. The original pilot plan from 2010 included the one-block extension south but was later scrapped when there was political pushback from vendors. The need for the extension is now abundantly clear. Currently, DDOT has included the extension of the 15th St. protected bike lane to Constitution Ave. in the District’s draft long range transportation plan MoveDC. The project is listed as a Tier 1 project which means it is top priority.

DDOT needs to continue improving the bicycling network to support the rapidly growing number of daily riders with a focus on extending the current network of lanes citywide, and removing any gaps in the routes. DDOT should work quickly to complete the extension of the 15th St. cycle track to Constitution Ave. as soon as possible.

 Sign the petition to extend the 15th St. Protected Bike Lane

 

DC Dept. of Public Works Testing Side Underrun Guards

DPW Side Underrun Guard Pilot

DC DPW is piloting side underrun guards on a few vehicles. Photo credit: DC DPW

The District Department of Public Works (DPW) is piloting a few designs of side underrun guards on a some of their large vehicles. Underrun guards are installed to limit the likelihood a bicyclist or pedestrian would be pulled underneath a vehicle when a crash occurs. DPW is testing a few different prototype designs and will be evaluating them over the coming months. There is no immediate schedule for when all vehicles would be outfitted.

The Bicycle Safety Enhancement Act of 2008 requires the Mayor to “equip all District-owned, heavy-duty vehicles side-underrun guards to prevent bicyclists, other vehicles, or pedestrians from sliding under rear wheels” (full legislation on DC Council website). WABA advocated for this law after the tragic death of Alice Swanson in Dupont Circle who was killed by a turning privately owned truck. The mandate was unfunded for a few years until 2012 at the urging of DC Council. We would like to thank DPW for working through all of the challenges to implement this element of the 2008 law and we would like to express our encouragement for full implementation.

Tiny Steps Toward Reality for Met Branch North

Image Credit: mvjantzen

Preliminary engineering and design of the northern section of the Met Branch Trail between the Fort Totten transfer station to the Tacoma Metro Station (technically called Phase 2) kicked off this month. DDOT provided this juicy news during their update at July meeting of the DC Bicycle Advisory Council (DC-BAC).  The preliminary engineering and design phase will bring the plans to 30% of complete. It’s a small but important step forward. For a sense of where this fits into the whole project, here’s a handy chart:

The engineering firm RK&K is the primary contractor on this project with the Toole Design Group as a subcontractor for trail design. A timeline of when this phase will be complete is not finalized yet.  After this work, the trail design needs to be 100% complete before a construction contract could be awarded and actual trail building to begin. All of these dates are unknown.

This is definite forward progress on the MBT. But, still no answer to Councilmember Mary Cheh famous question: “Will I be alive [when the trail is finished]?

A Day In The Life Of A D.C. Bike Ambassador

All smiles and waves this morning at Florida Ave NW and R St. NW. We delivered two messages to two types of road users: drivers  received, “Good morning, consider bicycling!” and bicyclists, “Hello, thanks for biking responsibly!”

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Bike ambassadors make a tangible impact on the streets of Washington, D.C. Interested in getting involved with the Bike Ambassador program?

Our next Bike Ambassador orientation is tomorrow, July 15th at the WABA office. Click here to learn more or contact Jon Gonzalez, the D.C. Bike Ambassador program coordinator, at jon.gonzalez@waba.org for more details.

Ride to the Washington Post

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If you’re free for your lunch break, local bicyclist Mike Forster has organized a bike ride to the Washington Post in response to the Courtland Milloy column. You can read WABA’s full response to the column on our blog.

Click here to view the event page for today’s ride. WABA is not formally officiated with this event, but we recognize the strong reaction to the column at-issue, and wanted to let our supporters know this event is happening.

We’d also like to thank you for being a member and enabling our efforts to push back against those who threaten bicyclist safety. We are only able to be here to stand up for bicyclists because of your financial support and commitment. Click here to join or donate if you haven’t already.

 

Setting the Record Straight re: Milloy’s “Bullies”

We still have that sign. We still mean it. Thanks for not hitting us because the newspaper says it’s OK.

Yesterday, The Washington Post published a column by Courtland Milloy that attempts to justify the violent assault of bicyclists by motorists, writing: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.” The “egregious” behavior Milloy cites is simply slowing his car’s progress between stoplights.

This piece of rhetoric is both irresponsible and incorrect. Encouraging, or at least condoning, acts of violence has no place in civil discourse, and I am appalled that our hometown paper has published such a statement. We have, of course, grown accustomed to journalists and columnists who resort to bike-versus-car tropes to fill column space. However, this attempt to justify assault as a mere cost of doing business for motorists is well beyond the pale.

Those who might take Milloy’s counsel and share his sick calculation that bicyclists’ temporary slowing of motorists is worth attacking those bicyclists should know that his facts are wrong. Intentionally assaulting a bicyclist carries a much stiffer penalty than the $500 he cites. So even his readers who lack the moral judgment to recognize that assaulting a bicyclist with a motor vehicle is a barbaric, criminal act should know that his advice is flawed.

Throughout this column, Milloy does his best to avoid resorting to facts and data in favor of regurgitating simplistic, inaccurate, and pejorative stereotypes. Those who bike are labeled “bullies” and “terrorists” without explanation, and Milloy intentionally mischaracterizes and maligns programs that WABA has undertaken in our efforts to minimize the conflicts between drivers and cyclists on the roadways.

Rather than attempt to debate Milloy’s specious mental construction of the new-white-millenial-bully-terrorist-pedicabber laughing maniacally as he simultaneously displaces elderly churchgoers, threatens downtown pedestrians, and terrorizes motorists, I will focus on setting the record straight on the work that the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) actually does to make our roadways, sidewalks, and trails safer. (For those looking for the point-by-point rebuttal, I refer you to Aaron Wiener’s City Paper article and Washcycle’s response.)

Milloy is correct that much of our work is focused on improving roadway infrastructure to accommodate more than automobiles. That includes changes to our roadways that provide dedicated space for people who bike, including bike lanes and protected bikeways. Bicyclists are neither cars nor pedestrians, and in the District the number of people biking has moved the conversation well beyond the question of whether there needs to be space for people who bike, and on to how to provide it in a safe manner. At one time, Milloy seemed to recognize the need for this dedicated space for bicyclists, as his own 1998 account of biking after his license was suspended for excessive speeding included being caught in the common bicyclist’s catch-22 in which you are welcome on neither the roadway nor the sidewalk, and there is no third option. WABA unapologetically works to get that third option built into our public space.

Infrastructure is not the only key to integrating the growing number of bicyclists safely into the District’s transportation network, however. For things to function properly, rules and laws must be written appropriately for each mode of travel, and people must be encouraged or compelled to follow those laws. As biking grows, WABA advocates for laws that clarify the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists where physical differences justify departure from standard vehicular rules. However, our greater role is in encouraging safe and lawful behavior on the roadways through our education programming and Bike Ambassador program. This year alone, WABA has taught safe cycling to over 3,000 bicyclists, with a curriculum that emphasizes riding predictably and lawfully.

Meanwhile, our Bike Ambassador program works to engage with those who are not inclined to attend WABA’s education program on the streets. The program uses mobile signage, light and bell giveaways, explanatory flyers detailing bike laws and safety tips, and other forms of quick communication to encourage bicyclists to ride safely and motorists to respect that right. In his column, Milloy focuses on the words “bike ninja,” which is slang for a bicyclist who wears dark clothes and no lights while riding at night, and uses it as a catch-all for all sorts of belligerent, but irrelevant, behavior. What Milloy pillories in his column is an effort by the team of Bike Ambassadors who volunteer their time to give out lights to cyclists who would otherwise ride home after an evening movie without any.

Finally, I want to directly address Milloy’s scattered but consistent efforts to cast bicycling as the realm of “newly arrived white millenials” and somehow not for the longtime residents, black residents, Ward 8 residents, etc. Apparently “bikes versus cars” is not the only “us versus them” conflict worth trotting back out in print.

Milloy cites the fact that in the past, black juveniles on bikes were routinely stopped by police for trifling bike infractions in order to detain them, search them, or harass them. What Milloy neglects to mention is that the laws used to justify those stops are no longer on the books. They were successfully challenged by WABA and repealed nearly a decade ago, with the strong support of Councilmember Mendelson.

He also fails to note that WABA’s first formal outreach program was one designed to improve bicycling conditions and grow ridership east of the Anacostia River, with efforts centered squarely in Ward 8. In recent years, in that ward alone, WABA has held over a dozen classes, countless rides and events, and nearly thirty free bike repair clinics at which we have repaired several hundred bikes and led their owners on fun, casual, community rides. Undoubtedly, there are barriers to bicycling in Ward 8 that we must work together to overcome. WABA is working to overcome them and make the streets safer—especially in Ward 8 where the need for affordable mobility is perhaps most acute.

To Milloy, the facts seem not to matter, as his arguments are constructed to tear down a cartoon bicycling “terrorist” that bears little resemblance to real people who ride their bikes in the District: black, white, Latino, or otherwise. Certainly, one can build a composite of the worst behaviors encountered over time and attribute those behaviors to every person who rides a bike—but that is not journalism or even fair characterization. It is lazy stereotyping.

At no point does Mr. Milloy engage with the human side of biking or speak to any people who actually bike. By engaging only with his conceptual cartoon bike-terrorist, Milloy can excuse and justify violence against real people on bikes. He does not fear for his safety, the safety of his spouse, the safety of his children. He does not know the fear that stays with you for days after being threatened on the roadway by the angry driver of a machine weighing a ton. He does not know the fear that creeps into your throat when a bike-commuting family member is a half-hour late arriving home.

Every day, I talk to bicyclists who have been in crashes and try to help them deal with the experience. Less often, I speak to the families of those who have been in more serious crashes and are not able to speak for themselves. I have painted ghost bike memorials for cyclists black and white alike. I have placed them across the region and on both sides of the river, from Germantown to Southern Avenue. I have prayed at the vigils with churches and families, black and white alike.

In those moments, everyone is able to focus on the human tragedy and join together to call for the improvements that might keep the next human tragedy from occurring. In those moments it seems so silly that we cannot reconfigure simple pavement and white lines in a way that serves the safety of people, not just the speed of cars. The choice is not an abstract one.

Mr. Milloy: I encourage you to reflect upon your attempt to justify violence against your fellow citizens simply because they choose to travel by bike. In taking this stance, you adopt the cause of the comparatively strong against the comparatively weak and encourage them to use that strength to commit violence against the weak.

If that is the sort of man you are, I understand why you might have difficulty understanding programs like the ones that we run to broaden the appeal of bicycling, make every bicyclist safer, and encourage a safer roadway culture. From your position of strength this all seems silly. For us, all these programs and initiatives and attempts to calm the rhetoric—even the existence of a collective group of bicyclists like WABA—is a form self defense against roads, laws, and an enforcement system that do not yet protect us, and against people who share your views and will take your encouragement literally.

 

Become a WABA Instructor

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WABA’s 2012 class of Instructors.

We are proud to announce the 2014 WABA Education Instructor training program. This is a unique opportunity to join one of the country’s most prominent and successful bike education programs that has been featured in The Washington Post and on NPR in 2013. You’ll get paid to teach adults and kids throughout the region how to make the most of their time on a bike.

Additionally, through the program, you will become certified as a League Cycling Instructor (LCI), enabling you to teach bike education anywhere in the country and/or to host your own classes as an independent instructor.

You’re invited to apply for one of a limited number of Instructor trainee positions this fall. The application is not long, but please take the time to think about your answers and use them as your opportunity to make the case for yourself.

Click here to fill out your 2014 WABA Education Instructor application!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a WABA Education Instructor?

WABA Education Instructors are enthusiastic local individuals who combine their love of bicycling and aptitude for teaching to help run one of the best Adult Bike Education programs in the country. Anyone can apply using this form, and from those applications, we will select 12-16 people to be our Instructor class for 2014.

Do WABA Education Instructors get paid?

Yes! Once Instructors have completed their Trainee period (seven hours of teaching), they are paid a rate of $50/hour for any classes they teach with WABA.

What is the time commitment for WABA Education Instructors?

The training program involves 3-4 mandatory events,  including weekly online assignments, a 9-hour class on a Saturday (tentatively scheduled for 9/13) and a weekend-long seminar (tentatively scheduled for October). We estimate that the total required time is somewhere around 40-50 hours (including time spent on homework) between August and November. Once you complete the Seminar, you will have to attend two WABA adult classes (totaling seven hours) as a Trainee. After that, however, your commitment level is up to you. Over 90 percent of our classes are held on weekend mornings and are 3.5 hours long.

What happens if I am chosen as one of the WABA Education Instructor candidates?

You receive the following:

  • A guaranteed spot in an Instructors-only Traffic Skills 101 class, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 13. ($75 value)
  • A guaranteed spot in WABA’s League Cycling Instructor (LCI) Seminar, tentatively scheduled for October 10-12. NOTE: This application is the ONLY way to attend this Seminar. ($300 value)
  • A WABA Instructor polo shirt. ($20 value)
  • A 1-year WABA membership OR renewal. ($35 value)
  • Payment at the $50/hour Instructor rate for any classes taught with us after you successfully complete your Trainee period.

And in exchange:

  • You must commit to the dates for ALL classes in the Instructor training program.
  • You must commit to completing your Trainee requirements (seven hours of instruction) in your first year as an LCI.
  • You must join the League of American Bicyclists, if you are not already a member.
  • You must complete the Traffic Skills 101 course with a score of 85 percent or higher.
  • You must agree to wear a helmet at all classes and while teaching.

We think that seems like a pretty fair trade.

What are the dates and times that I should know about?

July 8 – Applications begin
August 1 – Applications end
August 11 (Tentative) – Instructor Candidates notified
September 13 – Traffic Skills 101
October 10-12 – League Cycling Instructor (LCI) Seminar

What does it cost to become a WABA Education Instructor?

Completing the application form is free, of course. If you are selected as one of our fifteen candidates, you will be asked to pay for membership in the League of American Bicyclists ($40) in order to obtain your League Cycling Instructor certification.  Additionally, you are responsible for all transportation, food/beverage, and bike upkeep costs incurred while in the training program, and as a WABA Education Instructor thereafter (except where otherwise noted). WABA will cover the rest of the costs (see above list).

I completed WABA’s City Cycling course(s). Can I skip the Traffic Skills 101 requirement?

Sorry, but no. Traffic Skills 101 includes both a written evaluation and an on-bike evaluation that you must pass with a score of 85 percent or higher in order to be allowed into the LCI Seminar. While WABA’s classes cover some of the same material, the only way to take these evaluations with us is through this WABA Education Instructor training program.

What happens if I am accepted as a candidate, but fail to meet the 85% score requirement at the Traffic Skills 101 course?

It is possible for this to happen, though we will do our best to ensure that you reach the required score. If you do not meet the League’s requirement for the Seminar, we cannot allow you to continue. We will offer you a spot in the next LCI Seminar that is hosted by WABA, and will work with you to bring your score up.

Click here to fill out your 2014 WABA Education Instructor application!

Thanks for applying, and good luck!