DDOT trains contractors, utililty companies on how to work around bike infrastructure.

Matthew Marcou, Associate Director of the Public Space Regulation Administration at the District Department of Transportation, explains to staff from public agencies, utilities, and construction contractors how to properly detour the 15th St Protected Bike Lane.

After three years of work, The District Department of Transportation has released guidelines that advise Public Space Permit applicants how to properly accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians during construction or other road closures. You can read the guidelines here (PDF). These guidelines are one of the final missing pieces in the agency’s implementation of the Safe Accommodations element of the 2013 Bicycle Safety Amendment Act. 2013 may seem like a long time ago, but DDOT’s Safe Accommodations regulations are some of the most progressive in the country. Without other cities to use as models, the agency had to start more or less from scratch.

In addition to the written guidelines, DDOT developed several typical scenarios for construction teams to follow (below), and hosted the first of several live-traffic training sessions.

An illustration of how to properly detour bicyclists around work in a two way protected bike lane.

These trainings are a big step towards ensuring that bicyclists and pedestrians can move safely past the city’s ever present construction, and WABA is glad to hear that DDOT will hold more of them.

Is construction blocking your bike lane? Here’s our how-to on making sure contractors are following their Traffic Control Plan, and how to report problems.

 

How to report construction blocking your bike lane in DC

You may have noticed. . . the bike lanes we’ve worked so hard to get built over the years are frequently closed or unusable because of construction, road maintenance, and utility work. Beyond being annoying and scary, these closures are also frequently illegal.

What does the law require?

DC law requires that when a bike lane or sidewalk is closed for construction, an equally safe accommodation, free of hazards and debris, must be provided. This has been the law since 2013. Unfortunately, we know from experience that violations occur around the city on a daily basis.

This has real consequences. Closing a bike lane— especially without adequate signage— forces bicyclists to quickly merge into a shared traffic lane with motor vehicles, putting bicyclists in danger, upsetting drivers, and discouraging less confident bicyclists from riding at all.

The District is experiencing a construction boom with no end in sight. Bicycling is more popular than ever. It is essential that the city keep bicyclists safe where construction impacts bike infrastructure. That won’t happen without advocacy.

We’ve created an online reporting form to walk you through the information DDOT needs to investigate the suspected violation.

report a problem

Why report violations?

Short term, we want dangerous conditions on the roadways fixed as quickly as possible so no one gets hurt, and so bicyclists have confidence that when they set out by bike, the protected lanes they rely on will be available and safe.

Long term, WABA and DDOT will use this reporting data to help identify recurring problems and repeat permit violators. This will help with developing systemic solutions— like trainings, permit guidance and targeted enforcement.

Things to report:

Any time construction closes a protected bike lane, trail or sidewalk, the contractor must provide a route through the construction area that equivalent to the level of protection of what is being closed (subject to a few exceptions covered below). So, in the most basic sense, if it’s a protected bike lane, like this:

it should have a protected accommodation, like this:

Note on the far left behind the fencing is the original protected bike lane. Everything has been shifted right to make a sidewalk and bike lane from taking over a lane of traffic.

 

If it is a striped bike lane like this:

There should be a separate place on the road for the exclusive use of bicyclists.

In the example above, the bike lane is shifted to the left, marked by traffic cones.

The accommodation should be free of obstructions and debris.

unlike this…

and this:

and this.

Exceptions:

Sometimes, there simply isn’t enough space to provide an equivalent accommodation. However, before providing a less than equivalent accommodation, the city must first close an adjacent lane of parking (if there is one) or close a lane of traffic.

So, if an equivalent accommodation has not been provided, but there is still an adjacent row of parking, or more than one lane of vehicle traffic open in either direction, the Safe Accommodations law is being violated.

Should I report this? A flow chart:

(click image for a larger version)

 

Don’t overthink it. The point of the law is to keep bicyclists and pedestrians safe. If it seems unsafe, it probably isn’t compliant with the law.

How to report violations in DC

We’ve created an online reporting form to walk you through the information DDOT needs to investigate the suspected violation.

Fill out the required questions (email, date, construction site address, etc).

When you submit the form, it will send you an automated email response. If you are able to snap a few pictures of the site you are reporting, reply to that confirmation email and upload your photos as an attachment.

The form will generate a report to the Public Space Regulatory Administration staff, who are responsible for approving and inspecting the traffic control plans in public space permits. They have the authority to shut down a construction site if it is violating the safe accommodations law.

You can use the email chain from the confirmation email to follow up with WABA and DDOT as-needed.

report a problem

Want to know more?

Check out the slides from our Safe Accommodations Training:

Still have questions? Send an email to advocacy@waba.org.

Advocacy Training: Construction Permits, Bike Lanes, and Safe Accommodations

 

Tired of seeing bike lanes closed by construction?

You may have noticed . . . the bike lanes we’ve advocated so hard for over the years are frequently closed or unusable because of construction, road maintenance, and utility work.

DC law requires that when a bike lane is closed for construction, an equally safe accommodation, free of hazards and debris, must be provided. This has been the law since 2013. Unfortunately, we know from experience that violations occur around the city on a daily basis.

This has real consequences. Closing a bike lane— especially without warning— forces bicyclists to quickly merge into a shared traffic lane with motor vehicles, putting bicyclists in danger, upsetting drivers, and discouraging less confident bicyclists from riding at all.

The District is experiencing a construction boom with no end in sight. Bicycling is more popular than ever. It is essential that the city do all it can to keep bicyclists safe where construction impacts bike infrastructure. If the past 4 years are any indication, that won’t happen without advocacy.

Will you help?

On Wednesday, we’re hosting a training where you can learn more about the safe accommodations law, how to identify and report violations, and other ways to advocate for short and long term solutions to the problem.

Sign up here.

What: Advocacy training
Where: WABA headquarters: 2599 Ontario Rd NW, Washington DC 20009
Date: April 12, 2017
Time: 6:30PM – 8:30PM

Hope to see you there.

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.

 

No safe accommodations on L Street for more than two years.

Side walk closed L St

Two projects that WABA worked for years to bring to fruition, the L St Protected Bike Lane and passage of the Safe Accommodations law and accompanying regulations, have been undermined by a permit issued by DDOT for the old Washington Post building site construction.

Several weeks ago, WABA sent a formal letter to DDOT outlining our concerns over the traffic control permit issued to Carr Properties for the project, noting that DDOT, under its own regulations, is required to provide accommodations to bicyclists and pedestrians that are equal to the level of protection that is being disrupted by the construction. The permit issued for this project completely eliminates the protected bike lane and the sidewalk on the north side of the street, while leaving two vehicle lanes open. For more than two years, the publicly accessible portions of L Street will consist of a 13 foot motor vehicle lane (with “sharrows”—the stenciled paint indicating the lane is to be shared with bicyclists), an 11 foot motor vehicle lane (no longer used for automobile parking), and the southern sidewalk.

Here’s why it matters.

As we explain in our letter, the L Street protected bike lane is a key part of the city’s transportation infrastructure. Because of the physical separation from traffic, a protected bike lane attracts people who would not necessarily be willing to ride on a street with no infrastructure.  Following completion of the protected bike lane in 2013, bike ridership on L Street exploded, increasing 65 percent within the protected bike lane’s first year of installation. The 1500 block section of the L St protected bike lane is a particularly important piece of the network because it intersects with the 15th Street north-south protected bike lane, which is itself connected to the westbound M Street protected bike lane. Without a safe L Street protected bike lane, the utility of the M Street protected bike lane is also diminished.

The City Council anticipated the problems that would ensue if the city’s bike lanes were made unsafe because of construction like this project. After repeated bike lane and sidewalk closures, the Council unanimously passed the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act in 2013. The Act provides, among other things, that “The Mayor shall require permittees blocking a sidewalk, bicycle lane, or other pedestrian or bicycle path to provide a safe accommodation for pedestrians and bicyclists.” DDOT testified in favor of the legislation. The following year, DDOT proposed and finalized regulations implementing the Act.

DDOT’s regulations define a safe accommodation for bicyclists in three ways.

First, the regulations define the term “safe accommodation” as 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.” (Emphasis added). Second, the regulations state that the routing for a safe accommodation for bicyclists “shall replicate the safety level of the existing bicycle route.” Finally, the regulations state that a safe accommodation to bicyclists must be provided by prioritizing methods, in this order from highest priority to lowest priority:

  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; 
  3. Closing the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane to provide space for a bicycle lane; provided that a minimum of one motor vehicle travel lane shall remain;
  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.

Collectively, DDOT’s regulations provide a clear and comprehensive scheme that must be followed when DDOT considers a permit application for a developer to close a bike lane: the developer’s plan must provide an accommodation that is “equal to” the closed lane, the accommodation must “replicate the safety level of” the closed lane, and DDOT must select the highest priority option for a safe accommodation that is possible under the terms of the regulations.

DDOT approved a traffic control plan for the construction phase of Carr Properties’ project that violates the Act and DDOT’s regulations.

First, a 13 foot motor vehicle lane with no dedicated space for bicyclists is in no sense “equal to” the protected bike lane that existed before the demolition.  Second, the 13 foot motor vehicle lane will not “replicate the safety level of” the protected bike lane. Third, DDOT did not follow the regulations’ mandatory priority scheme when it selected a method of safe accommodation. Before it may adopt the fourth method on the regulations’ priority list, DDOT must adopt the third method on the list unless it would be impossible to do so under the terms of the regulations.

The statute and regulations do not include an exception for expediting a developer’s construction. They do not include an exception for accommodating structural issues that a developer might encounter on its own land, like the Pepco vaults underneath the Carr Properties project site. Finally, they do not include an exception for streets thought to be too important to motor vehicle travel for drivers to be inconvenienced. To the contrary, the statute specifically states that it applies to “all permittees.” DDOT and the developer must find a way to comply with the law, not stretch the law to accommodate the developer’s challenges and expose the public to risk in the process. The law has little force if it can be set aside in the circumstances where it is needed most, like this project.

WABA proposed alternatives to the traffic control plan in the permit, any of which would comply with the law and protect vulnerable roadway users.

Option 1: Installation of Temporary Sidewalk and Temporary Protected Bike Lane with Closure of One Car Lane

First, a temporary sidewalk and a temporary protected bike lane could be installed, and a lane of motor vehicle travel removed. Bicyclists and pedestrians would have safe accommodations that would be “equal to” and that would “replicate the safety of” their accommodations before the construction. All modes of transportation would be accommodated and physically separated, as they are now. Drivers could still drive down the street and, in an improvement from the current plan for the construction phase, would not have the prospect of hitting a merging bicyclist. Any excess motor vehicle traffic would naturally move to any of the nearby eastbound streets: K Street, H Street, Pennsylvania and New York Avenues, or N Street. And the developer could still use double truck loading lanes within the project site, if DDOT still wished to accommodate that request.

Option 2: Reclamation of Public Space to Provide a Sidewalk and a Protected Bike Lane With No Further Closures of Car Lanes

Second, the developer’s permit could be conditioned on the developer finding a small amount of space within the currently envisioned boundaries of the project site to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. DDOT could narrow the proposed 13 foot motor vehicle lane to 10 feet, build a temporary 7 foot wide or buffered bike lane, and use any incremental space that could be found within the project site beyond those 4 feet to build a temporary sidewalk. This option would preserve two lanes of automobile traffic, a protected bike lane, and a sidewalk. All modes of transportation would be accommodated and physically separated.

Option 3:  Reclamation of Public Space to Provide a Protected Bike Lane With No Further Closures of Car Lanes

Third, DDOT could require the developer to find only 4 feet within the project site to accommodate bicyclists but not pedestrians. The result would be similar to Option 2 above, but without a sidewalk. Option 3 is not our preferred approach because arguably it does not provide a safe accommodation to pedestrians under DDOT’s regulations.

WABA met with DDOT officials last week to discuss our concerns and our proposed solutions.

DDOT officials maintain that they are in compliance with the law and regulations requiring safe accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians. They assured us that they fought for every foot of space they have on the road, and within that space, there is simply not enough room to create safe accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists.  They believe reducing L Street to one lane of vehicle traffic would create dangerous conditions throughout the downtown area by increasing traffic volumes on parallel streets, as well as increasing traffic turns onto parallel streets. DDOT officials did not provide a satisfactory explanation for why they are imposing an analysis that prioritizes traffic flow over multi-modal safety in a situation where the law does not require, and in fact seems to explicitly reject, that approach. DDOT officials also failed to explain why this developer was granted an expedited permit that allows the double truck parking that has gobbled up so much of the public space, especially when that permit seems to be the basis for this less than stellar safety outcome.

DDOT officials did acknowledge that it would have been better to involve the public earlier in the permitting process, and indicated an inclination to improve that process in the future. They also agreed that it is time to update the Pedestrian Safety and Work Zone Standards or Construction Management manuals to reflect the agency’s  own safe accommodation regulations and the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act.

Bottom Line

A bike lane network is only as robust as its weakest link, not the average of the stress on its constituent links. Ordinary people will not use a bike lane that disappears when it is needed most on a busy street.  The likely outcome of the traffic control pattern authorized by this permit is decreased ridership and increased motor vehicle trips, to say nothing of decreased safety for those who chose to continue riding.  Rather than force the developer to find more space within the site or adjust its timeline accordingly, DDOT approved a traffic control plan that ratifies the unnecessary encroachment of public space.  This is not what we expect to see from an agency and administration committed to Vision Zero.  We hope DDOT will improve its processes for making decisions on future permit applications that would involve bike lane and sidewalk closures. We stand ready, as always, to provide our advice and viewpoints on best practices that will safely accommodate all modes of transportation.