Summer Advocacy Roundup

Exploring a missing trail connection along Route 1 in Hyattsville

Exploring a missing trail connection along Route 1 in Hyattsville

 

Low-Stress Bike Network

Prince George’s County Trails Master Plan

Brief Explanation: The county’s Trails Master Plan (still in draft form), identifies how Prince George’s County intends to build and manage nearly 400 miles of new trails. The plan takes the mileage of primary trails (trails that are mostly paved, with high-quality design features, a park-like experience, and used for both recreation and transportation) from 65 to 293 miles, and secondary trails (connectors, along roads, or within neighborhoods) from 110 to nearly 400 miles.

Current Status: The public comment period for the draft plan has closed, but we will provide further opportunities for engagement as the process moves forward.

Campaign Launch— Finish the Trolley Trail

Brief Explanation: A half mile separates the Rhode Island Trolley Trail in Hyattsville from the rest of the Anacostia Tributary Trail network. It’s a half mile that stands in the way of a regional trail system connecting Beltsville and Bladensburg, College Park and Capitol Hill, Silver Spring and Southeast Washington. It’s a half mile that isolates communities and makes getting around by bike or foot more difficult and dangerous. It’s a half mile blocking economic development and opportunity.

Current Status: The Maryland-National Capital Parks Planning Commission has a design for a trail connection that would bridge this gap. Right now, it’s just that—a plan on paper, waiting in a desk drawer for someone to take it out and make it real. A united community demanding action can make this happen.

Action to Take: The Prince George’s Acton Committee meets the second Tuesday of the month at the Hyattsville Municipal Building (4310 Gallatin St. Hyattsville) at 7:30 pm. Click here for more information and to sign the petition.

Beach Drive Rehabilitation

Brief Explanation: National Park Service (NPS) recently announced that construction on the much-anticipated rehabilitation of Beach Drive and the adjacent trail will begin after Labor Day of this year. The construction project will happen in four stages, beginning in the south and working north. While Beach Drive will be closed to car traffic in both directions for the segment under construction, bicyclists and pedestrians will still be able to travel through the corridor. While the road is being reconstructed, the trail will remain open, and when the road is completed but not yet open to car traffic, and the trail is being reconstructed, then bicyclists and pedestrians will have access to the road.

Current Status:  The funding is allocated, the engineering designs are complete, and the contract has been awarded. You can see a project map on our April 2015 update, and find more information on the NPS project website.

Action to Take: National Park Service is hosting a public information meeting on August 18 at the Petworth Neighborhood Library at 6:30 pm. Join us and learn more about this exciting project!

Monroe Street Bridge and MBT

Brief Explanation: The Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) will eventually connect Union Station to Silver Spring Maryland. For years, advocates were told that the time for routing the trail under the Monroe Street Bridge through a tunnel behind the west abutment would come when the bridge was ready to be rehabilitated.

Current Status: The time for bridge rehabilitation has come. But the tunnel for the trail is off the table.  The scope of the bridge rehabilitation does include the installation of a traffic signal at 8th and Monroe Streets. In its current condition, this intersection is unsafe for trail users because of low visibility for cars coming eastbound over the bridge and lack of crosswalk alignment with the trail.

Action to Take: We are still waiting for the intersection designs, but we want to hear from you. What would it take for you to feel completely safe at the intersection of 8th and Monroe Streets NE? What have you seen work in other places? Take this quick survey and share your ideas with us.

New York Avenue Trail

Brief Explanation: The District’s 2005 Bicycle Master Plan includes plans for a trail along New York Avenue that would connect NoMa to the National Arboretum, serving all the neighborhoods in between. New development along the corridor, specifically in NoMa and Ivy City, is renewing interest in the trail concept.

Current Status: WABA will work closely with DDOT, Rails To Trails Conservancy, and other stakeholders to move the trail development process forward. But there’s a significant possibility that this could get complicated. Virginia Railway Express (VRE), a commuter rail service linking DC and Northern Virginia, has plans to relocate its railcar storage in light of the expansion of Union Station. Their chosen location is from 4th Street NE to 16th Street NE- right below New York Avenue, right where the concept plan routes the trail.

Action to Take: Scroll to the bottom of this blog post to sign up for updates.

Updates to Trail Rules in Maryland

Brief Explanation: The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) is updating its Park Rules and Regulations. Good changes have been proposed, including when trails close, speed limits for bicycles on trails, who has to yield the right of way at trail crossings, and whether e-assist bikes are allowed. You can read the whole discussion draft, and a set of policy alternatives, on the M-NCPPC website.

Current Status: WABA supporters submitted a strong showing of public comments on the proposed rules during the comment period.  Additional public meetings will likely be scheduled in the fall.

Action to Take: Click here to send an email to M-NCPPC to make sure that trails stay open when people need them, that parents can haul their kids to school on them, and that no one gets ticketed for riding their bicycle at a reasonable speed.

Veirs Mill + Matthew Henson Trail Crossing— Still Not Safe.

Brief Explanation: On Sunday July 17th, Oscar Mauricio Gutierrez Osorio, 31 of Silver Spring, was killed crossing Viers Mill Road in Silver Spring where the Matthew Henson Trail crosses a high speed Maryland State Highway. The exact details of the deadly crash involving Mr. Osorio are not public, but the trail crossing is a known safety hazard. This is the same location where Frank Towers, 19 was killed in December 2016,  just days after receiving a new bike for Christmas.

Current Status: WABA reached out to local and state elected representatives, and transportation officials requesting action, as we did after Frank Tower’s death. On Thursday, July 21st, the entire Montgomery County Council sent a letter to Maryland Governor Hogan, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn and Maryland State Highway Administrator Greg Johnson requesting immediate prioritization of trail crossing improvements. The letter calls out the current dangerous conditions and the need for immediate action. On July 29th, the delegation from Maryland’s 19th District sent a letter to Maryland State Highway Administrator Greg Johnson requesting immediate corrective action at the Matthew Henson Trail crossing of Veirs Mill Road.

Action to Take: Maryland residents: write or call Governor Hogan, Transportation Secretary Rahn, and MD State Highway Administrator Johnson, as well as your state delegates and county representatives. Tell them that the status quo is not working and demand effective solutions.

Bike Routes for Commuting Around Red Line Safetrack Closures

Brief Explanation: WABA and Montgomery County Department Of Transportation hosted two events to help new commuters learn safe routes to avoid red line disruptions.

Current Status: Resources for biking around upcoming safetrack surges are here.

Action to take: Avoid hassle and delays by biking!

Crosstown Study

Brief Explanation: Getting from Columbia Heights to Brookland is a frustrating experience on a bike. It’s not a whole lot better on a bus, and really not great in a car either. DDOT is conducting a study aimed at improving travel through this corridor for all modes.

Current Status: At present DDOT has two concepts for this project. You can read more about them here.

Action to Take: The comment period for the current concept plans has closed, but another community meeting will be scheduled in September. Project updates and timelines will be posted here.

Street Calming and Bike Lanes for Maryland Ave NE

Brief Explanation: More than six years ago, the D.C. Council gave DDOT money to make a long stretch of Maryland Avenue, NE safer for pedestrians and cyclists.  DDOT used that money to establish a new initiative that it called the “Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Safety Project.”  That initiative included implementing a road diet along Maryland Avenue and installing bike lanes, wider medians, and curb bump-outs. Mayor Bowser, DDOT Director Dormsjo, and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen have made Maryland Avenue a priority, and they have been pushing to get the project done. You can read more about the history of the Maryland Avenue Project here.

Current Status: A recent community meeting held to explore DDOT’s 30% design plans for the project turned acrimonious. While meant to be a chance for residents and neighbors to get a detailed look at the design for the street and offer constructive feedback to improve the project, the packed library meeting rooms were instead filled with heated concerns about parking. We’ve seen this movie before.

Action to Take:  The DDOT employees responsible for this project are George Branyan and Ali Shakeri (george.branyan@dc.govali.shakeri@dc.gov). If you live, work, or bike around the project area, please send them an email letting them know you support this project and want to see it move forward.

Bike Laws

Contributory Negligence

Brief Explanation: The D.C. Council voted unanimously to approve the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2015  as part of the consent agenda. This vote is a huge step towards final passage of the bill, and is the result of years of organizing efforts. In spite of roadblocks, delay, and concerted opposition from AAA and the insurance lobby, we’re the closest we’ve ever been to changing the unfair doctrine of contributory negligence for vulnerable road users.

Current Status: The bill has now cleared a major obstacle to passage. The Council will vote on the bill a second time in late September / early October, after which it will require a signature by Mayor Bowser, (who sent a congratulatory tweet to Councilmember Cheh after the successful first vote) and will undergo a 30 day Congressional review.

Action to Take: We aren’t taking anything for granted. We will stay vigilant through the final stages of the process to ensure there are no surprises, and keep you updated along the way.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act Passed!

Brief Explanation: On June 28, the D.C. Council voted unanimously for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Amendment Act of 2016 (B21-335). Mayor Bowser signed the bill in late July. The legislation is the culmination of the efforts of the Bicycle Pedestrian Working Group convened by Councilmember Cheh last summer, on which our Executive Director Greg Billing served.  It contains all kinds of good stuff, including open source crash data, bicycle and pedestrian priority areas, and codifying Complete Streets.

Current Status: The Act will become DC law at the end of August after 30 day period of Congressional review.

Advocacy 101 Training—Join us!

Brief Explanation: The training, hosted by WABA’s advocacy team, is for Prince George’s folks interested in making their community more bike-friendly. We’ll explore how decisions are made in the County, dive into some of the fundamental tools and approaches to influencing those decisions, and see how we, as individuals or groups, can push Prince George’s County to be more bike-friendly. (You don’t have to be a Prince George’s county resident to attend, but it will be Prince George’s focused.)

9am-1 pm Saturday August 27th
Hyattsville Municipal Building
4310 Gallatin St. Hyattsville, MD.

Action to Take: Register for the training!

 

Matthew Henson Trail Crossing at Viers Mill Road is Still Deadly

On Sunday July 17th, Oscar Mauricio Gutierrez Osorio, 31 of Silver Spring, was killed crossing Viers Mill Road in Silver Spring where the Matthew Henson Trail crosses a high speed Maryland State Highway, according to the Washington Post. The exact details of the deadly crash involving Mr. Osorio are not public, but the trail crossing is a known safety hazard. This is the same location where Frank Towers, 19 was killed in December 2016,  just days after receiving a new bike for Christmas.

Trail users must cross 7 lanes of traffic where drivers regularly exceed the 45 mph speed limit. For reference, a person walking or biking struck by a driver at 40 mph or greater has an 80 percent chance of dying. At this trail location, there is no traffic light requiring drivers to stop for people walking and biking across the road. Compounding the problem, the trail crosses Viers Mill Road at the bottom of a hill with poor sight lines.

After the death of Frank Towers, the Maryland State Highway Administration “improved” the trail crossing with overhead flashing yellow lights which must be activated by trail users. The crosswalk beg button provides visual and audio cues that the yellow lights are active which was a deficiency of the previous design. This was a flawed approach from the beginning, as yellow lights only require drivers to exercise caution, but not to stop. Any design that requires less than a full stop will continue to cause safety issues. WABA pleaded with engineers to design and constructed a traffic light or HAWK signal which would require drivers to come to a full stop. The request was denied, now with deadly consequences.

Montgomery County is committed to Vision Zero. This is the principle that we must design our streets so that no person (bicyclist, pedestrian or driver) will be killed while using them. This requires that policy makers and traffic engineers be ultimately accountable for design decisions made in our transportation system. People make mistakes when they use our streets, but streets should be designed to be so safe that those mistakes aren’t deadly.

Following Sunday’s crash, WABA reached out to local and state elected representatives, and transportation officials requesting action. On Thursday, July 21st, the entire Montgomery County Council sent a letter to Maryland Governor Hogan, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn and Maryland State Highway Administrator Greg Johnson requesting immediate prioritization of trail crossing improvements. The letter calls out the current dangerous conditions and the need for immediate action.

Fixing the Matthew Henson Trail crossing at Viers Mill Road is just the beginning. This needs to happen now to prevent future injuries and death at this location. But there are dozens of other trail crossings in the Montgomery and Prince George’s County that need attention too. We need the leadership of the Maryland State Highway Administration to work with localities to protect vulnerable road users by focusing on critical street and trail crossings. This means prioritizing the life and safety of people walking and biking over the convenience of people driving.

No one should die walking or biking across the street.

July 29th, 2016 Update: The delegation from Maryland’s 19th District sent a letter to Maryland State Highway Administrator Greg Johnson requesting immediate corrective action at the Matthew Henson Trail crossing of Veirs Mill Road.  A special thank you Senator Manno (D-19th) for organizing this action on this important community safety issue.

The MBT One Step Closer to Completion

Last night, the Met Branch Trail got one step closer to completion.

Before beginning construction on the 0.6 mile portion of the Met Branch Trail in Silver Spring, Maryland – the section across from the Montgomery College Campus on Fenton Street and King Street and along the CSXT Railroad to Ripley Street- Montgomery County was required to hold a public hearing, so area residents gathered on a misty Wednesday evening to learn more about the trail design and submit their feedback. When this segment is finished, the 1.1 mile Maryland portion of the Met Branch will be complete.

One highlight of the design is the 14-foot wide bridge that will allow trail users to cross Georgia Avenue far above the busy corridor. This above-grade crossing is an absolute necessity from a safety perspective, and Montgomery County sets the right precedent by ensuring that the bridge is an non-negotiable absolute.

One trail supporter analyzed the design as “95% Awesome.” The five percent in question? The access around the B&O Train Station. Because of concerns from the station’s owner, Maryland Preservation Inc. (MPI), the trail deviates from a direct route along the rail corridor and zig-zags on the edge of the property instead.

This zig-zag alignment seems manageable, and we thank the county for patience in working with MPI, and providing them multiple alignment options in an effort to move the project forward. From the trail user’s perspective, it’s not perfect, and certainly a straighter shot would be preferred, but the proposed alignment represents a compromise for which the county deserves a “thank you.”

We were reminded by a few supporters that this trail will transform how we interact with our surroundings. Jeff Kohn recalled a bike ride he took with his young son to Bethesda, and he reports not being able to identify a safe way to get there. “I wouldn’t try that again, I didn’t feel safe,” he said. “But once the trail is done, I’ll ride it frequently.”

Many in the room could relate to Michelle Terry’s experience of fear for her own well-being on Fenton Street, having to share the road with fast traffic and large trucks. Her front tire was clipped by a car, and while she wasn’t physically hurt, it scared her enough to keep her off her bike for a few days. And as a regular bike commuter, that means a lot. She’s awaiting the trail because it means a safer commute. “Building the trail isn’t just about recreation. It’s about public safety,” she said.

The construction bid will go out soon for Phase I, and construction is estimated to begin June 2016, with an estimated completion date of August 2016. Phase II will begin November 2017, the section west of Selim Road, which includes the bridge over Georgia Ave., will begin in November 2018 and phase completion is estimated for November 2019.

The record remains open until May 24 at 7 p.m. If you’d like to submit your comments to the record, email Gaila Lescinskiene at gaila.lescinskiene@montgomerycountymd.gov.

The Purple Line Is a Go—And We’re Pumped

photo by Erica Flock

The soon-to-be longer Capital Crescent Trail. Photo by Erica Flock

On Wednesday morning, Maryland’s Board of Public Works approved a contract for a team of companies to build, operate and maintain the Purple Line, a 16-mile transit line that will link the Red, Green, and Orange lines in the Maryland suburbs.

So why does something as administrative as contract approval have us smiling? The Purple Line project includes substantial improvements to the region’s trail network.

Here’s what the Purple Line means for the trail system:

  • Paved and extended: The trail segment known as the Georgetown Branch Trail will be widened, paved, and extended into downtown Silver Spring.  Currently, the off-road section of this corridor is unpaved and underused, and the on-road section is unprotected and difficult to navigate. The continuous trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring will be rebranded as part of the Capital Crescent Trail.
  • Grade-separated from motor vehicles: This means that at street crossings at roads like Connecticut Ave and Jones Mill Road, long waits, blind corners, and narrow sidewalks will be replaced by bridges.
  • Connections: When completed, Silver Spring will be an important trail crossroads with direct links to Georgetown (via the Capital Crescent Trail), the National Mall (via the Metropolitan Branch Trail), and the Sligo Creek Trail (via the Silver Spring Green Trail).
  • Transit Access: Trail users will benefit from improved trail access around transit stations, which is good news for multi-modal travelers in both Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties.
  • Momentum: Purple Line service cannot start until the trail is complete, which keeps the pressure on to get the trail built.

WABA has been working for more than two decades on making the vision of a seamless trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring a reality. The Purple Line will make substantial improvements to a portion of that route, transforming the Georgetown Branch Trail segment into a safe, viable transportation and recreation connection between two of the county’s hubs of activity (Bethesda and Silver Spring).

A paved trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring could not happen without completion of the Purple line. This project will contribute significantly to the regional trail network in Montgomery County, and is one of the many ways the region’s trail network is growing. We applaud Governor Hogan for moving the Purple Line project forward and the Montgomery County Council for their long support for the trail and commitment to funding for it.

WABA will continue to track progress on the development of the trail, and will keep you informed along the way.

—For a deep dive into the details of the trail changes and improvements, see here.

Bike Bills in Maryland’s 2016 Legislative Session

Woodglen Drive Protected Bike Lane image from Montgomery Planning

The Maryland State Legislature is in the midst of its short session, and bike legislation under consideration needs a boost of support from the bicycling community.  Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are leaders on bicycle issues, but many changes have to happen at the state level. It only takes a minute to send a letter of support to your representatives, and it makes a big difference when they hear from you.

Take action

Below are the bills that need your support.

HB 214Three foot passing law amendment—Currently, Maryland has a law requiring motorists to pass bicycles with at least three feet. However, under the “narrow lane” exception to this law, drivers do not have to pass with three feet where the lane is less than 14 feet wide. Most of the lanes in Maryland on which a person would want to ride a bicycle are narrower than 14 feet, making the protections of the law close to meaningless.  This bill would remove the narrow lane exception from the three foot law, so that vehicles have to give three feet when passing on all roads. Of the 28 states that have three foot passing laws, Maryland is the only one with this self-defeating exception.

HB 426: Repealing the mandatory use of bicycle infrastructure—Maryland law currently requires a person on a bicycle to use a bike lane if one is available, instead of riding in traffic lanes. This may have been a reasonable law ten years ago, but it does not make sense today, given the wide variety of skill and comfort level of people who bike, and the new types of protected infrastructure being built.  For example A 30 mph paceline should be on the roadway, not the protected bike lanes that are often used by slower moving commuters.  Protected bicycling infrastructure is a wonderful amenity that encourages folks to ride who might not feel safe doing so otherwise, but it is not for everyone. Marylanders should have a right to use their own best judgement in choosing the routes that are most appropriate for their style of riding.

SB 302/HB 864: Punitive Damages for Aggressive Drunk Driving— This bill creates a cause of action for the victim of drunk driving or her family to sue for punitive damages, something current case law precludes. Over the past five years, there were approximately 325,000 violations of driving under the influence of alcohol, 59 of which were vehicular homicide while under the influence. Victims and their families deserve the right to seek compensation for the harm they suffer when drivers make the decision to drive drunk.

Take action

Montgomery County Endorses Vision Zero

vision zero campaign banner

The Montgomery County Council has introduced a resolution in support of Vision Zero.  Members of the Council held a press conference on January 19th to announce their support for the program, which is aimed at ending traffic-related deaths and serious injuries.

On Monday, February 1st, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Action Committee for Transit and WABA sent the Montgomery County Council a letter in support (Letter in PDF) of Vision Zero. The letter also calls on the Council to set a target date for zero traffic-deaths. A target year for achieving Vision Zero is necessary to keep up the pressure and urgency this issue deserves.

Mayor Bowser in Washington, DC committed to achieving Vision Zero by 2024 last year. In December 2015, the mayor’s administration released an ambitious two-year action plan for Vision Zero. Montgomery County will begin the planning process shortly, with a final plan release for later this year.

For Vision Zero to work, public investments in traffic engineering, enforcement and education must be aligned with a data-driven approach to meeting its goal. Everyone deserves to travel freely by car, foot, transit and bike without the risk of being killed.

2015 was an especially tragic year for road users in Montgomery County. Frank Towers died on his new bike crossing Veirs Mill Road on the Matthew Henson Trail. In Bethesda, Tim Holden was struck and killed by a driver while on his morning ride. And, Montgomery County Police Officer Noah Leotta was killed by drunk driver during a traffic stop. In total, over 80 people died in traffic crashes on County streets in 2015. Each person leaves behind a grieving family and a devastated community. We can stop traffic violence.

Thank you to the Montgomery County Council for their leadership on traffic safety issue and WABA is committed to being an engaged partner in addressing this critical community issue.

 

 

Capital Crescent Trail to be extended

photo by Erica Flock

photo by Erica Flock

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) recently announced the Purple Line light rail project in suburban Maryland will move forward, ending months of deliberation. As part of this rail project, the popular Capital Crescent Trail will be extended from its current endpoint in Bethesda to downtown Silver Spring.

Completion of the Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring is a major WABA advocacy priority. These two economic centers of Montgomery County are only 4.5 miles apart, but lack a direct and low-stress bike connection. The trail will be completely separated from motor vehicle traffic, even at intersections. This will require a number of new bridges and a tunnel. When complete, you’ll be able to ride your bike from Bethesda to Silver Spring in about 20 minutes at a comfortable pace.

Montgomery County is responsible for the cost of the trail project, about $55 million.  The County has budgeted funding for the trail in the last five Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budgets. The County is committed to completing the trail with the Purple Line.

Governor Hogan’s approval of the Purple Line project is contingent on reducing Maryland’s  state contribution from about $700 million to $168 million. This reduction would come from a mix of sources. The Maryland Transit Administration is looking at changes to the overall project to reduce the cost. The Governor is asking Montgomery and Prince George’s County to increase their contribution. And finally, the Governor will ask the private teams bidding on the project to increase their capital contribution. The details of this arrangement were not announced.

Though Montgomery County will be looking to find additional funding for their contribution to the Purple Line, we expect their commitment to completing the Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring will be honored and the trail funding will remain in place.

You can read our analysis of the Purple Line / Capital Crescent Trail project here.