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

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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.

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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.
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    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.
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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.
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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.
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    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.

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.

Mayor Bowser Releases the Vision Zero Action Plan!!

Vision Zero Cover

Just before the holidays, Mayor Bowser released the greatly anticipated Vision Zero Action Plan. WABA has been actively engaged in advocating for Vision Zero over the past two years and is pleased that the Mayor is moving ahead with her commitments to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2024. The plan details strategies for using education, enforcement, engineering, and data evaluation to prevent death and injuries on the roads.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  1. Codifying safe streets law that prioritizes the safety of the most vulnerable users, designing streets that self-enforce a safe speed, and increasing enforcement and protection for pedestrians and bicyclists in work zones.
  2. Protecting vulnerable road users by expanding and upgrading the sidewalk network by filling 40 blocks of gaps and the bicycle network by installing or upgrading 20 miles of on-street bicycle facilities.
  3. Cracking down on dangerous driving through targeted enforcement and increased penalties for drunk, distracted, and dangerous driving,  and creating arterial, neighborhood, and other safe zones with lower speed limits.
  4. Establishing a public location for all crash and safety data on the Vision Zero website. The city will also publish geospatial analysis of safety-related citations issued and adjudicated and hold quarterly safety meetings to refine enforcement strategies based on safety outcomes.

As part of the District’s strategy, the D.C. Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles has proposed regulations to increase penalties for drivers who endanger public safety by violating traffic laws. (More on that next week.)

In 2016, WABA will be working with stakeholders to ensure these programs are implemented, and hold our leaders accountable to the bold vision they represent. We will also be working to get commitments to Vision Zero from leaders in other jurisdictions in the Washington region. We are on our way, and this is a great step forward!

Hey! 100% of our advocacy is funded by contributions from people like you. Want to help make a region wide vision zero a reality? Donate today!

Councilmember Nadeau’s Top Ward 1 Bike Lane Projects

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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.

 

Prince George’s is hiring a bike and pedestrian coordinator

Cross posted at Greater Greater Washington

Prince George’s County leads the Washington region in pedestrian deaths, and it’s behind when it comes to trails and streets that are safe and useful for people on foot and bike. To fix the problem, the county will soon hire a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator and develop a bikeway plan.

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Photo by Cindy Shebley on Flickr.

News of the hire comes from Darrell B. Mobley, Director of the County’s Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T). Mobley says his agency wants to facilitate bicycling.

More specifically, Mobley wants to make the county’s bike network more usable. While Prince George’s has a lot of trails and local streets that are perfect for bicycling, they aren’t connected well enough for bicyclists to reach a destination without riding on more hazardous state and county roads. Mobley wants to create a bicycle network across the county using trails, bike lanes and safe streets.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) and several county council members have urged DPW&T to hire a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator since Rushern Baker first became the county executive. The county posted the job this week, specifying that it’s a Planner III position that will pay between $53,000 and $97,000 per year.

The coordinator will report to Victor Weissberg, the special assistant in the director’s office who has long been responsible for representing the department on bike and pedestrian matters. According to Weissberg, the coordinator will have frequent access to both Mobley and Andre Issayans, DPW&T’s Deputy Director.

Developing a bikeway plan is likely to be one of the first tasks for the new hire, says Weissberg.

The county’s master plan of transportation shows where bike lanes and trails should be built in the very long run, but it does not address what will actually done or when. Weissberg says that creating a bikeway plan would probably require supplemental funding.

“When the county is ready, we will find the money,” says Greg Billing, director of advocacy for WABA.

Weissberg is not sure whether DPW&T will create a formal bicycle plan or something more like an internal work plan. But he promises to share drafts with the bicycle community and others as the plan is formulated.

Does the new hire signal a substantive change in county policy, or just an institutional commitment?

When Mobley was a top official at the Maryland Department of Transportation, the State Highway Administration (SHA) issued a policy declaring that bicycles would be presumed to ride on all state highways where bicycles are not explicitly prohibited, and that SHA would make at least some effort to make bicyling safer. For example, roads might get signs that told drivers that bicycles may take up the full lane.

By contrast, DPW&T has stated that some roads are not part of the bicycle network, that cyclists use these roads at their own risk, and that no “use full lane” signs would go up on such roads because doing so would encourage other cyclists to ride on them.

Mobley says that he is not ready to endorse SHA’s approach. He says that it is too soon to say that bicycles are part of the expected traffic mix on all county roads because he has not examined all of these roads. He wants to wait for the bike and pedestrian coordinator to come on board so that the county can adopt a position based on a reasoned analysis.

“Give us some time and we’ll work through these challenges,” says Mobley.

 

How many U-turns across Pennsylvania Ave bike lanes did we count in one hour?

Written by WABA Member Dave Salovesh

Too many.

Nobody thought adding safe bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue was going to be easy. Yet, just in time for Bike to Work Day 2010 they came to the center of America’s Main Street between the US Capitol and the White House. Even before marking was complete, riders saw one of the biggest challenges firsthand: drivers making U-turns across the new lanes.

Quite possibly the first U-turn on Pennsylvania Ave NW on May 7, 2010. Photo credit:

Was this the first U-turn on Pennsylvania Ave NW? Photo taken on May 7, 2010. Photo credit: Dave Salovesh

It takes time to get used to any changes, and everyone hoped this behavior would diminish as drivers became accustomed to people using this space. That was not the case, and by late 2012 drivers were observed making U-turns at the rate of almost one per minute in just one block.  D.C. Councilmembers, the Mayor, MPD, and DDOT responded with emergency regulation banning U-turns, increasing enforcement, and planning design changes to reduce driver confusion and prevent this risky infraction.

Separating bike lanes from general traffic, and keeping motor vehicles out, is the best thing cities can do to keep people bicycling safe. While there may be reasons  that options for D.C.’s roadway engineers to protect bike lanes are somewhat limited, there are solutions out there to help.

DDOT uses these methods and others to protect cyclists using protected bike lanes over D.C., and they’re very helpful. In 2013 a pilot program was approved to test zebra barriers on one block. And, in 2014 an additional study was started to evaluate the use of rubber parking stops. Preliminary results have demonstrated that both are effective at reducing U-turns and other lane incursions. DDOT uses a combination of flex-posts, rubber parking stops and concrete curbs to physically separate bike traffic from motor vehicles in other parts of the city.

13 illegal U-turns in one hour on April 23, 2015 in the 1400 block of Pennsylvania Ave NW, including one near miss.

With the return of pleasant weather we’ve seen an increase in people enjoying bicycling in D.C. Unfortunately, that has also brought an increase in crashes, and on Pennsylvania Avenue over the last two weeks there have been at least three crashes due to U-turns across the bike lanes. We documented at least 13 vehicles making U-turns across the bike lanes in 1400 block during a single hour of evening traffic.

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The third crash involving a bicyclist and U-turning driver on Pennsylvania Ave NW this spring. Photo credit: Dave Salvesh

The steps to make Pennsylvania Avenue safer from U-turns have been known for years, but have not yet been fully implemented. During that time countless crashes and near-misses have happened. Drivers persist with the mistaken understanding that this space reserved for bicycles is open for them as well. And unfortunately, many bicyclists have decided the risk is too great for them or their families. They have found alternate routes, or some may even choose other means of travel.

Now is the time for that to change. The D.C. Council, and the Mayor should push DDOT to produce a definite timeline for installing a protective barrier along the entire length of the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, as a high priority project. All the pieces are ready, the pilots and studies are complete and the need is great. We know how quickly D.C. can accomplish good work when it’s necessary. Can the safety of Pennsylvania Avenue’s bike lanes be improved before Bike Month 2015 ends?

DDOT Hosting Bike Lane Celebration Tomorrow

One of the new protected bike lane installed this year by DDOT on M St NE.

At a celebration and press event on Wednesday morning, the District Department of Transportation will celebrate a record breaking year of bike lane installation. In 2014, DDOT has installed nine miles of on-street bike lanes, including almost two miles of protected bike lanes. DDOT Director Matthew Brown and Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe will be in attendance with agency employees from planning, engineering and maintenance divisions.

The 2006 Bike Master Plan outlined a ten year plan to install a network of bike lanes city wide. The plan set an ambitious target of 10 miles of new bike lanes per year. Since 2006, DDOT has planned and painted 69 miles of marked bike lanes in all eight wards of the city. While DDOT hasn’t quite hit the lofty goal of 10 mile per year, the agency deserves a tremendous amount of credit for their hard work and commitment to improving biking so far. And the efforts have paid off; everyday bike commuting rates in DC have quadrupled in the last decade as our streets become safer and more enjoyable for biking.

The recently released Move DC plan and the accompanying two-year action agenda set a goal of 7.5 miles of new bike lanes, many of which will be protected bike lanes, for 2015 and 2016.

Bike Lane Event Details
WHEN:
  Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:00 am – 11:00 am
WHERE: Southwest Corner of 4th and Independence Avenue, SW (Google Map)

Roll into work a little late tomorrow morning and thank DDOT for their hard work this year  — we hear there might be cool swag giveaways too.