Move DC is a Big Vision with a Slow Start

Shiny new protected bike lane on 6th St NE

Shiny new protected bike lane on 6th St NE (photo: Mike Goodno, DDOT)

DDOT released the final Move DC transportation plan last week. The District plans to make a significant investment in bicycling to support growth over the next 25 years. Along with the final plan, DDOT produced a two-year action agenda to get a jump start in implementation. The Move DC plan is giant step forward for bicycling in DC, but the document’s Action Agenda is a timid start.

The final plan is over 173 pages so we haven’t dug too much into the details yet. The final plan looks a lot like the draft plan from June. With the city projected to add 100,000 new residents in the coming years, DDOT  acknowleges that the District can’t accomodate that many new cars, and sets a 25% mode share for walking and bicycling.

To accomplish this growth, DDOT proposes to expand the bicycling network by more than 200 miles over the next 25 years. The complete network would be over 343 miles of dedicate bicycle infrastructure. Beyond trails and bike lanes, Move DC calls for a range of other initiatives including:

  • expanding bikesharing,
  • more public education,
  • increased coordination on enforcement,
  • and lots more policy recommendations beyond physical infrastructure.

Released alongside the Move DC plan, the Action Agenda is a two-year blueprint for the agency. Bike elements include:

  1. Complete Klingle and Kenilworth Anacostia Riverwalk Trail projects and advance Rock Creek and Metropolitan Branch Trail projects (Item 1.5)
  2. Install or upgrade 15 miles of on-street bicycle facilities (Item 1.6)
  3. Study east side of downtown bicycle facility improvements (Item 2.2)
  4. Determine East-West Crosstown Multimodal Study needs and identify solutions (Item 2.4)
  5. Complete review of existing bicycle laws and identify opportunities for changes (Item 3.1)
  6. Complete revisions to the Design and Engineering Manual (Item 3.40
  7. Create TravelSmart program to develop tailored transportation choices for District residents (Item 4.5)
  8. Fully train DDOT staff on multimodal design (item 6.4)

We are glad to see several long-planned trail projects moving forward (item 1), but it’s worth noting that they would likely follow a similar timeline in the absence of the Move DC plan.  Expectations for new on-street bike infrastructure (item 2), on the other hand, have been scaled down, from 10 new miles of bike lanes per year in the District’s 2005 Bicycle Master Plan to 7.5 miles per year in the Move DC Plan. This is a disappointment, but also a realistic average of what the agency has been able to get done over the past few years. That said, as you can see in the photo above, the new bike lanes are both better —more of them will be physically protected from car traffic— and harder to build, as the District has captured most of the low-hanging fruit, and many new bike lanes will require more comprehensive street redesigns that will involve reducing car lanes or parking spaces.

All told,  Move DC is a comprehensive, well vetted plan for improving and encouraging bicycling. DDOT began the public process 18 months ago and made extraordinary efforts to involve the community. Move DC represents a shared vision for transportation. We’re glad that the District has invested in developing such a robust plan, and we look forward to its implementation.

Also

The Bicycle Segment of this plan is good because bicyclists showed up and shared their thoughts at every step of the process. A huge WABA thank you to all of our members and supporters who submitted comments, testified at hearings, showed up at public meetings, and participated in the process!

 

Yay! DDOT Releases Final Safe Accommodation Regulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Details About DDOT’s Streetcar Regulations

Not a perfect setup, but a bike ban is not the solution.

Not a perfect setup, but a bike ban is not the solution.

Based on a day of answering questions from members and reporters about yesterday’s blog post, here are a few details and clarifications about the proposed regulation that would ban bicyclists from using the streetcar guideway:

  1. WABA does not oppose the streetcar. We do oppose an overly broad regulation that singles out bicycles as the only vehicles prohibited from a portion of public roadways.  We aren’t asking to delay the streetcar or make major changes to the already-built project. We are insisting that this proposed guideway bike ban not be included in the final regulations.
  2. This is the first time we’ve seen DDOT intentionally and directly proposed a rule violating its own complete streets policy by telling a mode of transportation user that parts of the public roadway network is off-limits. We believe in Complete Streets and will hold DDOT accountable for following its policy.
  3. That said, this is not merely a “slippery slope” argument. This regulation won’t just apply to H Street, NE. Once it’s on the books, it will apply to all future streetcar projects —presently planned to be a 37 mile network—unless the regulation is actively changed. That’s 37 miles of street lane that cyclists will be banned from using.
  4. The contraflow bike lanes on G and I Streets are a great way to avoid riding on H St (WABA proposed them!),  but their presence does not make riding on H unnecessary.
  5. Not every future streetcar route will have such easy alternative routes. Unless DDOT is going to promise to provide them. In which case, let’s put that in the regulations.
  6. The regulation applies to the guideway, not necessarily the whole road. DDOT helpfully clarified their intent on Facebook yesterday, but in the regulations the guideway is not as clearly defined as it should be, and a Facebook post is not helpful as a regulatory document.  Additionally, along the H St-Benning Road corridor the guideway shifts from the outer lane to the inner lane, which translates to a requirement that bicyclists switch lanes mid-block across tracks. This isn’t really any better.

We recognize that DDOT is trying to balance interests in the safety of bicyclists and the functionality of streetcars. We have raised concerns about bicyclist safety near streetcar tracks at every stage of this project, and DDOT has consistently punted on making design changes to address the problem. Now, they’ve come to the end of the design without addressing it and have no more engineering options available, so they’ve moved on to regulatory options.

We know that H Street is not a great place to bike. But its present configuration wasn’t handed down by the gods. DDOT built it like it is, knowing it wouldn’t be good for bikes, and should be held accountable for making what improvements are possible and for ensuring that future streetcar routes are built in a way that makes safe space for bikes. Allowing the agency to set the default position to “eliminating bicyclists from roadways” rather than “accommodating bicyclists on roadways” will allow DDOT to continue with unsafe designs that ignore their responsibility to make DC’s streets safe for all.

DDOT is accepting public comments on the proposed regulations until September 27th. You can submit comments here.

DDOT Proposes Bike Ban Wherever Streetcars Operate

“Bike Prohibited” could be the next version of this sign. Photo source: mvjantzen

DDOT’s proposed streetcar regulations, released last week, prohibit “riding a bicycle within a streetcar guideway, except to cross the street.” On H St Northeast, that guideway is the entire street, effective banning biking on this popular corridor. This is a problem.

For years, WABA and others have raised concerns about the interaction of streetcars and bicycles and suggested a range of both equipment and communication best practices to improve the situation. Rather than seriously pursing these solutions, DDOT is proposing to ban bikes.

Tell DDOT Not to Ban Bikes

Streetcar tracks can pose a legitimate hazard to bicyclists, but banning bikes is not an acceptable solution. Please contact DDOT immediately, and demand that this bike ban be removed from the regulations before they are made final.

This restriction is not just a bad idea, it contradicts DDOT’s own Complete Streets Policy, which explicitly requires:

“All transportation and other public space projects shall accommodate and balance the choice, safety, and convenience of all users of the transportation system including pedestrians, users with disabilities, bicyclists, transit users, motorized vehicles and freight carriers, and users with unique situations that limit their ability to use specific motorized or non-motorized modes to ensure that all users, especially the most vulnerable can travel safely, conveniently and efficiently within the right of way.”

Bicycles and streetcars share space in cities across the world. There are a variety of technical and design solutions to this problem. It is past time for DDOT to commit to learning about and using these sorts of solutions rather than banning an entire mode of transportation from the road.

DDOT’s Safe Accommodation Rules Are Pretty Good.

Construction blocking the M St Cycletrack

We’ll see less of this sort of thing in the future.
(photo by @mstbiketrack)

Last week, DDOT released its draft regulations for construction projects that block sidewalks and bike infrastructure. The regulations require:

“A safe and convenient route for pedestrians and bicyclists that ensures an accommodation through or around a work zone that is equal to the accommodation that was provided to pedestrians and bicyclists before the blockage of the sidewalk, bicycle lane, or other public bicycle path.”

These new rules are required by the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013, which WABA worked hard to pass.  By and large, they’re quite good.

You can read WABA’s official comments on the rules here, many of which are small but important wording changes, but here’s a short version:

Minimum Design Standards. The rules that apply to blocking car lanes have objective standards for things like lane width. As written, bicycle accommodation is only required to be “equal in level of safety” to the affected bicycle facility. We would like to see explicit, objective standards provided here.

More clarity about how the rules apply to trails.  Trails are technically included in the regulations as a “Public Bicycle Path,” but safely accommodating a blocked bike trail presents different challenges than a blocked bike lane. We’d like to see the language amended to state:

“The method for providing the safe trail accommodation for bicyclists shall require construction of a detour of similar width and character adjacent to the impacted trail, or as a last resort, detouring bicyclists onto the nearest roadway, in which case the detour shall replicate, as closely as practicable, the level of safety found on the bicycle route being blocked.”

Ongoing Maintenance: As written, the rules don’t explicitly require the construction company or whoever is blocking the bike infrastructure to maintain the temporary facility once it is built. We would like to see this requirement made explicit.

If you would like to add your own comments on these rules, you can do so here.

 

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

 

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]?