Why is the L Street protected bike lane closed?

On the eve of Bike to Work Day, the protected bike lane on L Street NW went from being the spine of a low-stress bike network to a dangerous mixing zone with automobiles and heavy trucks.

Carr Properties, the company redeveloping the old Washington Post building, made the switch from demolition phase of their traffic control plan to the construction phase.

What you see now on the 1500 block of L St is what we will have for more than two years, unless we manage to break through DDOTs conviction that this constitutes a safe accommodation for bicyclists equal to a protected bike lane.

Background:

On March 18th, WABA sent a formal letter to DDOT to point out that the traffic control plan for the Carr Properties permit as issued was not compliant with the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013 or accompanying safe accommodation regulations. We proposed three compliant traffic control plan (TCP) alternatives that would have maintained the protected bike lane.  DDOT met with us to explain in detail the reasons they did not think any of our suggestions were feasible. They issued an official written response with this letter

At the root of agency’s argument is something called Level of Service, which is a measurement of how freely cars move on roads and through intersections. DDOT has made clear that the agency prioritized Level of Service metrics when deciding to skip over the safest options for accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians. DDOT’s letter states: “traffic analysis performed during the TCP review process indicated that taking another lane of travel would have resulted in failing levels of service at the intersections of both 16th and L street and 17th and L street NW.”  (Emphasis added). Using a Level of Service analysis in this context is contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the safe accommodations law and regulations.

It’s also worth noting that “failing levels of service” is not as catastrophic as it might sound. An F grade at an intersection means that… it takes a little longer to drive through the intersection.

So what exactly is a Level of Service Analysis?

Level of Service (“LOS”) is a performance metric for streets and roads that uses a scale of A-F to describe the amount of congestion a roadway or intersection experiences. It was originally used to rate interstate freeways during the highway boom of the 1950s and 60s.  At a certain point, traffic engineers began applying this standard to the rest of our street network. The problem with this is that most streets do not exist solely to move traffic through an area (like a highway), but rather, to serve homes, businesses, schools, churches, parks, and the people who live alongside them. Yet, in the pursuit of high LOS rankings, traffic engineers widen streets, remove parking, limit crosswalks, and deploy other strategies that make streets less safe for bicyclists and pedestrians, and less inviting in general.

Eliminating traffic congestion is not legally mandated; it is a self-imposed requirement that has become entrenched in the traffic engineering canon. A laser-focus on LOS street design for the hours of peak use encourages the overbuilding of streets for the remaining 22 hours of the day. In this case, LOS analysis has been used to justify non-compliance with the requirement to provide accommodations that replicate the safety level of the existing bicycle route.

What did DDOT get wrong here?

Under the Safe Accommodation regulations, DDOT is required to provide a protected bike lane adjacent to the motor vehicle lane as long as one motor vehicle lane can be maintained in the same direction of travel. The regulations are clear that safety accommodations for bicyclists should be afforded according to a prioritized scheme:

The method for providing the safe accommodation for bicyclists shall be prioritized as follows:

(1)       Closing a parking lane and keeping the adjacent bicycle lane open;

(2)       Shifting the bicycle lane to a location on the same roadway to by-pass the work zone, and if necessary, shifting and narrowing the adjacent motor vehicle traffic lanes; provided the adjacent motor vehicle travel lanes shall be maintained at no less than ten feet (10 ft.) wide;

(3)       Closing the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane to provide space for a bicycle lane; provided that a minimum of one (1) motor vehicle travel lane shall remain in the same direction of travel;

(4)       Merging the bicycle lane and the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane into a shared travel lane adjacent to the work zone, installing sharrow lane markings in the shared travel lane and installing work zone signage directing bicyclists to merge into the shared travel lane; provided the shared travel lane shall be maintained at no less than thirteen feet (13 ft.) wide; and

(5)       As a last resort, detouring bicyclists onto an adjacent roadway, in which case the detour route shall replicate, as closely as practicable, the level of safety found on the bicycle route being blocked.

There is no provision in the regulations for considering Level of Service. The safest practicable option must be selected from the list in the order provided. Currently, two lanes of traffic are open on L Street, which means that option three would be the correct selection for a safe accommodation for bicyclists on L street under the regulations.

Complete Streets and Vision Zero

DDOT adopted an internal Complete Streets policy in 2010. In all likelihood, DC Council will codify a Complete Streets policy before summer recess if/when they pass the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act Amendment of 2016 (B21-335). (More on this in an upcoming post). The concept of a Complete Streets policy is that all modes should be safely accommodated in the design of our regional streets and transit network.

In order to actually change the status quo and create streets for people, the Complete Streets policy elevates the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, users of mass transit, people with disabilities, and the elderly over the convenience of motorists and freight providers.

The Complete Streets policy recognizes that certain streets have “modal priorities.” This was one of the justifications for not installing bike lanes on K street, which was determined to have a transit modal priority. L St and M St were selected for protected bike lanes in part because they are alternative parallel routes to K street. With the installation of world-class protected bike lanes on L and M Streets, and considering their significance in the transportation network for crossing the city by bike, it seems clear that on these streets, bicycle traffic should be considered the modal priority.

Moreover and most importantly, DC is a city pledged to Vision Zero—the initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injury on our roadways by 2024. DDOT is the agency charged with leadership over this initiative. Prioritizing Level of Service for vehicles over the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians—even on streets to which bicyclists have already been diverted— on what constitutes an essential section of the protected bicycle network— flies in the face of the goals of Vision Zero, Complete Streets, and the Move DC plan.

Unfortunately, options for recourse are limited at this point. We recommend contacting the Mayor and your Councilmembers.

What about safe accommodations at other construction sites throughout the District?

When a contractor or developer applies for a permit to occupy public space during construction activities, they are required to submit a traffic control plan to DDOT for approval. Construction projects impacting our streets, bike lanes and sidewalks will generally fall into three categories:

1. The permit complies with the requirements of safe accommodations law and regulations, and the contractor is properly following the permit.

Remedy: Patience. This won’t last forever.

2.  DDOT has approved a legally compliant traffic control permit, but the contractor is not in compliance with the requirements of the permit as-issued.

Remedy: Contact the Public Space Regulation Administration at DDOT (202-442-4670) and report a suspected permit violation.  Take photos if you can, and be prepared to provide a street address or intersection, as well as what makes the accommodation (or lack thereof) dangerous. The public space team will send staff to inspect the construction area and may issue a stop work order until the contractor complies with the traffic control plan.

If you have time to do a little research, many approved traffic control plans are now available online at tops.ddot.dc.gov (the system can be cumbersome, so for quick requests the phone is probably your best option).  There is a “Search Permits and Applications” link at the bottom right hand corner of the landing page.  From the jump page select “Occupancy” and then submit search criteria (tracking or permit number if known is the best way—permit numbers are printed on the Emergency No Parking signs).  While not all approved Traffic Control Permits are viewable, the ones related to construction staging zones are. These are the ones most likely to include changes to sidewalks and bike lanes.

3. Contractors have been issued a legally deficient permit by DDOT.

Remedy: This is trickier, but the end result must be that DDOT amends the permit to comply with the law. WABA will be working with DDOT officials to create a guidance manual to give permitting and engineering staff at DDOT the tools they need to properly evaluate traffic control plans in permit applications for compliance with the safe accommodations requirements for bicycles.

As we all know, DC is a rapidly growing city and there are construction projects everywhere. This is all the more reason it is essential that DDOT get these permits—and their enforcement— right.

 

Closing a protected bike lane for two years is a bad idea.

Removing a protected bike lane for more than two years is a bad idea. Unfortunately, this is exactly what District officials have permitted on L St NW to allow construction at the site of the former Washington Post Building. The sidewalk will be completely closed too.

bike lane closed for two years.png

We are frankly astonished that DDOT granted this permit, given that it flies in the face of the District’s Safe Accommodations Law and its commitment to Vision Zero. You can look at the DDOT approved drawings here.

Unfortunately, because the permit has already been granted, opportunities for public input are limited. However, the developer and contractor on the project are hosting a community meeting to discuss their traffic plan. This is a chance for you to explain why the L Street protected bike lane is important to you, and why closing it for two years is not an acceptable option.

What: Community Meeting
When: Thursday, March 10,  7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Where: Lowes Madison Hotel, 1177 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20005

If you’re planning to attend, please let us know here.

A couple of points worth noting:

  • In a month or so when demolition is complete, the current lackluster accommodations for the 15th Street protected bike lane will actually improve. The protected bike lane on 15th will be maintained, and a separate space will open up for pedestrians. It’s L Street that will lose all bike and pedestrian accommodations for two years.
  • Because the permit has already been granted (which, again, what the heck DDOT?), the developer is not required to do anything about this problem. So this meeting is an asking situation, rather than a demanding situation.

We hope we’ll see you there.

Curbs Coming to DC’s Cycle Tracks

Newly installed rubber curbs on the First St. NE cycle track. Photo: @mattyCampy

Protected bike lanes (cycle tracks) are all the rage these days, especially new lanes with curbs to separate cars from bicycles. Today, DDOT contractors installed rubber parking stops along the First St. cycle track to add additional protection for bicyclists along the section south of K St. NE. The two blocks north of K St. NE are already protected with the very deluxe pre-cast concrete curbs. Within days of “opening”, drivers were already parking in the cycle track.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is currently installing two different cycle tracks downtown. They hope to have them ready in time for Friday’s Bike to Work Day. The M St. NW cycle track is a one-way bike lane protected by parking that extends from Thomas Circle to 28th St. NW (DDOT Fact Sheet, PDF) and the First St NE cycle track is a two-way bike lane from M. St. NE to G St. NE (DDOT Fact Sheet, jpg). Phase 2 of the First St. NE reconstruction which should begin soon will extend the cycle track to Massachusetts Ave. NE.

The on-going issue of drivers using the protected bike lanes for parking and truck drivers using the lanes for loading/unloading puts bicyclists in harms way. DDOT recently ramped up parking enforcement with the #parkingdirty campaign along the city’s bike lanes and cycle tracks, but the issue is still pervasive. The long term solution are physical barriers to prevent cars and trucks from entering the bike lane.

We expect to see DDOT install more rubber curbs along other existing bicycling facilities such as the L St NW cycle track and the Pennsylvania Ave. NW bike lanes. Parking in the L St. NW cycle track is still an on-going issue with hundreds of photos documented on whosblockinglsttoday.tumblr.com. On Pennsylvania Ave, cars make illegal U-turns across the bike lanes causing crashes with bicyclists. Last fall, DDOT ran a pilot test of Zebras on a one block stretch of Pennsylvania Ave. NW after a long #StopUTurnsonPenn campaign. DDOT claims to have reduced the number of U-turns across the lanes despite no official results released. Daily commuters still report U-turns across the bike lanes, including the pilot block.

The next step for the Pennsylvania Ave. NW bike lanes is curbs. National Park Service, Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), National Capital Planning Commission and DDOT all have oversight of Pennsylvania Ave. NW because of it’s national significance causing it to be a challenging street to change. That might not be an issue anymore, the May 15th Consent Calendar for the CFA includes a recommendation of “no objection to the final plans for the installation of low−profile “wheel−stop” lane separators”. With CFA approval, DDOT would be able to install rubber curbs along the entire length of Pennsylvania Ave.

Paint and plastic flexposts has allowed DDOT to test the cycle track concept. If the daily traffic jams on the 15th St. cycle track is any indication, people love DC’s protected bike lanes and want more of them. Increased enforcement of parking in bike lanes and cycle tracks is important to keeping the lanes open and safe for bicyclists but can only go so far. Physically separating and protecting bicyclists with curbs and other barriers is the solution.

 

Take a Survey about L Street

L Street Cycletrack Outreach

Portland State University is conducting a national study of protected bike lanes, asking cyclists in six cities across the country to share their experiences riding on protected bike lanes in their cities. In D.C., PSU is looking for feedback about the L Street cycletrack in particular.

The university has already conducted targeted intercepts of riders on L Street, but is now opening the survey to the public to get as much feedback as possible. Take the survey here.

It should take about 10 to 20 minutes. Please complete the survey by Sat., Nov. 30. Feedback—including what works and what doesn’t—will be shared with the District Department of Transportation as well as a national audience.

PSU’s disclaimer: “Your participation in the survey is voluntary. We will protect the confidentiality of your individual survey responses. If you have concerns or problems about your participation in this study or your rights as a research subject, please contact the Human Subjects Research Review Committee, Office of Research and Strategic Partnerships, Market Center Building Suite 620, Portland State University, (503) 725-4288 / (877) 480-4400. If you have any questions about the study, contact us at (503) 725-2875 or streets@pdx.edu.”

Help The D.C. Bike Ambassadors Survey L Street

L Street Cycle Track Project

You’re likely familiar with the L Street cycletrack, D.C.’s eastbound, physically separated bike lane. The L Street cycletrack is one of a few bike lanes in D.C. that emulates the kind of infrastructure BikesBelongs’ Green Lane Project is trying to encourage across the country.

Next week (Tuesday and Thursday), the D.C. bike ambassadors will be teaming up with the District Department of Transportation and Portland State University to conduct a bicyclist survey that will indicate the effectiveness of the L Street cycletrack. We need volunteers! This is a great opportunity to get directly involved with the future of D.C.’s bike lanes. Data from this survey will be used to make the case for more L Street-style bike lanes in D.C. Read on for more information and for details on volunteering.

Overview
The Neighborhood Street Study is a national study of separated bike lanes (“cycletracks”) funded by the Green Lanes Project and the National Institute for Transportation and Communities. Researchers at Portland State University are carrying out the study in six cities across the United States, including D.C. The goals for the project are to find out how well the cycle tracks are working, how they are impacting neighborhoods, what people’s experiences are with them, and what needs to be improved. Results and findings will be shared with each city and will help improve transportation in your neighborhood and with others around the United States.

Our role in this study is to help survey the people bicycling on D.C.’s cycle tracks, specifically, L Street. We will be handing out postcards to bicyclists at two locations on the L Street cycle track, with information about the survey and instructions directing them to an online web address where they can find the survey. each postcard has a unique code so we can be confident that the respondent actually received a postcard. It’s important that actual users have their voices heard!

Next week, on Tues., June 11 and Thurs., June 13, bike ambassadors will be help DDOT conduct this survey. We will provide more detailed information upon sign-up.

Feel free to sign up for any and all dates you can help out. You won’t be out there by yourself, so don’t fret. We need folks at the following times:

  • Tuesday, June 11th from 7:30am – 10:00am
  • Tuesday, June 11th from 11:00am – 1:00pm
  • Tuesday, June 11th from 3:00pm – 5:00pm
  • Tuesday, June 11th from 5:00pm – 7:00pm
  • Thursday, June 13th from 7:30am – 10:00am
  • Thursday, June 13th from 11:00am – 1:00pm
  • Thursday, June 13th from 3:00pm – 5:00pm
  • Thursday, June 13th from 5:00pm – 7:00pm

To sign up, use this form. We appreciate your continued efforts to help make bicycling in DC more awesome each day!

For more information on the Neighborhood Street Study, check out its website. Please feel free to contact the D.C. bike ambassador, Megan McCarty (megan.mccarty@waba.org), for more information or to answer any questions.

Photo via Flickr user DDOTDC

An Evening of Outreach on L Street

As promised, D.C. bike ambassadors blanketed L Street NW last night to reach out to drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians with information on how to properly use the cycletrack. About eight ambassadors and several MPD officers distributed literature, talked to cyclists and drivers, and worked to alleviate any tension in the cycletracks. Read an additional recap on Pilut.

Do you have any burning questions about D.C.’s cycletracks? We may have answered them in our Cycletracks 101 post!

See photos of yesterday evening’s outreach initiative below (there are more on our Flickr page!):

L Street Cycletrack Outreach

L Street Cycletrack Outreach

L Street Cycletrack Outreach

The above photos were taken by Matt Kroneberger

Continue reading

Cycletracks 101

There are three cycletracks in place in D.C. More are being planned. And despite cycletracks being some of the city’s most visible infrastructure for cyclists, there’s plenty of “confusion”—or ignorance—on the part of drivers who try to park or drive in them.

This legitimately baffles pedestrians and makes it harder for bicyclists to use the cycletracks appropriately. To alleviate some of the tension, D.C. bike ambassadors will be out on L Street NW tonight to help drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians navigate the lane.
In the meantime, here’s a brief guide to D.C.’s cycletracks. Perhaps you might forward it to your favorite scofflaw driver.

What is a cycletrack?
Unlike a bike lane, a cycletrack is separated from traffic by barriers, parking lanes, or curbs. They may allow for travel in one or both directions, and cyclists may be asked to obey different signals than in driving lanes. DDOT has installed cycletracks on 15th St NW, Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and L St NW. Plans to install additional tracks on M Street NW and 1st Street NE are in the works. There is also an ongoing conversation about a cycletrack on M Street SE/SW.

Why are they all designed differently?
DDOT has the unenviable job of combining best practices from other cities with the unique demands of D.C. traffic when designing its cycle tracks. At this time, none of the tracks are permanent and each has a different design that’s supposed to be incrementally safer than the last cycletrack built. DDOT continues to fine-tune the designs and observe how riders use these routes so that D.C.’s cycletracks can one day be made permanent.

What makes a cycletrack permanent? The plastic bollards will eventually be replaced; curbs, medians, colored paint, or pavement markings will indicate that the route is intended for bicycles only. Such permanent tracks can be found in cities from Portland to New York, Montreal, and Copenhagen.

How do I know how to ride in them?
The first rule of thumb is to ride as if you were a vehicle and obey all of the laws, signals, and courtesies of the road. (Guidelines and links to regional bike laws are available on our website.)

Each cycle track has signs posted to guide cyclists at intersections. On 15th Street, obey the pedestrian signals and be sure to stop for cars turning left on a green arrow. If you need to wait to make a right turn, there is usually space in the parking lane. On L Street, be attentive when cars merge through the lane to turn left. DDOT produced these diagrams for drivers and cyclists. Check out the city’s first bicycle signal at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW and follow it as you would a regular traffic signal. (Do not follow the bike signal if you are driving a car!)

How do I make a turn out of or into a cycletrack?
In all cases, be careful when making a turn across traffic. You may need to make a right turn from a left- or centered cycletrack, and vehicular traffic may have the right-of-way. Consider the following options:

  • Wait for a pedestrian signal and cross traffic in the crosswalk.
  • Maneuver in line with the traffic waiting at the cross street. Proceed across the intersection when the light changes.
  • If you are comfortable doing so, before reaching the intersection, merge into the main roadway and over to the rightmost lane, then turn as normal. Remember to yield to oncoming traffic and be safe, if you choose this method.

Can I drive/park/idle/U-turn in a cycletrack?
No.

These offenses put cyclists at risk of being struck and forces them into the main road where they may not be safe or even want to ride. Driving, parking, idling, or U-turning across cycletracks may result in a citation or fine, on top of endangering cyclists. Contact the business or residence you plan to visit to find alternate legal parking or loading areas.

Mayor Vince Gray recently clarified that U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track are indeed illegal. They are also dangerous; most of the accidents on this road in the past year were caused by cars making illegal U-turns. It’s convenient, but illegal and unsafe.

What is being done to educate cyclists and drivers how to use the cycle tracks?
The D.C. bike ambassadors will be doing outreach tonight at the intersection of the 15th Street NW and L Street  NW cycle tracks from 5:00-6:30 p.m. Stop by to say hello! As new cycle tracks continue to be built and we all adjust to the new traffic patterns, don’t hesitate to contact dcba@waba.org with additional questions.