Take Action: Arlington considers cuts to trail snow removal, trail lights, and more

Snow-covered Arlington trail (Photo credit: Raymond Crew)

The Arlington County Board is considering budget cuts to eliminate snow plowing of popular trails, resources to improve the county’s streetlight and trail light maintenance, and funding for street repaving.

Trail Plowing

Since late 2014, Arlington County has prioritized treating and plowing its major multi-use trails after heavy snowfall. Thanks to the advocacy of WABA members and the leadership of the County Board, Arlington treats 10 miles of county trails at the same snow removal priority and response time as primary arterial streets. When road crews head out to plow the major auto thoroughfares, another small crew tackles the bicycle arteries. Even when it snows, Arlingtonians can expect a safe, low-stress bike route. This approach sets a progressive example for the region to follow.

Unfortunately, funding for this cherished plowing initiative is under threat. In a deviation from the typical yearly budget process, the County Board is considering $11.1 million in optional budget cuts, including eliminating funding for the staff and equipment for priority trail snow removal. For a yearly savings of just $50,700, (0.003% of the total budget) Arlington would only plow trails after all county parking lots and all DPR assigned street routes are clear. The safety of Arlington’s bike commuters should rate higher than parking lots.

The results of these cuts would be dramatic, and disappointingly familiar. When it snows, unplowed trails become impassable for days as snow melts and refreezes, and trail use drops to near zero. Those who regularly use trails to get to work or get around instead pack onto already crowded buses, trains, ride on hazardous roads or drive until conditions improve. Arlington decided in 2014 that there was a better way, and we should not go backwards for such small cost savings.

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Trail Lights & Repaving Budget also under threat

The Board is also considering cutting planned improvements to the County’s streetlight and trail light maintenance program. The plan would have added staff and resources to improve response times for street and trail light repairs from 30 days to 3 days for routine outages and from 4 months to 1 month for major underground repairs. We all take lights for granted until they stop working. On streets, broken lights limit visibility and make bicyclists and pedestrians more vulnerable. On trails, broken lights in underpasses and tunnels discourage using the trail at night. Funding the planned increase ($830,000) would result in more reliable lighting on streets and trails countywide and create capacity to catch up on a large backlog of major repair needs.

Finally, the Board is considering reducing a repaving budget by $325,000. Paving county roads brings large benefits to drivers and bicyclists, especially on quieter neighborhood streets, but it is also responsible for many of the new bike lanes that are striped every year. Compared to long term capital road projects, which involve years of planning and construction, road repaving presents an opportunity to change lane striping to add bike lanes at a fraction of the cost. Reducing this budget will slow the pace of needed repaving.

Will you tell the County Board that you want to preserve funding for priority trail plowing, streetlight repair and repaving? Use our action tool to email the board and make your voice heard. Use our sample message or explain why you support priority trail plowing in your own words.

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A Measureable Impact on Trail Use

For a snapshot of the impact that quickly plowing trails can have on trail use, we can look to data collected by Arlington’s extensive automated trail counters after snow events. From January 23 – 24, the DC area got 17.8 inches of snow. Comparing the trail counts on snow days from a counter on the Custis Trail in Roslyn (which was plowed) to a counter on the Mount Vernon Trail near the 14th St Bridge (which was not plowed) reveals what you might expect: where trails were plowed, people used them. Where they were not plowed, use was nearly zero. Twitter reports show that the Custis trail was plowed by January 24th.

Use of the Custis trail, which was plowed, climbed steadily after the 1/23 snowfall.

The Mount Vernon Trail, which was not plowed, saw very little use until 1/30

Temperature records show that it was significantly warmer when trail counts began to climb again on the Mount Vernon Trail.

By February 2nd, counts on both trails climbed back to very similar daily counts. But by then, far more people had taken trips on the Custis Trail. Between 1/23 and 2/2 only 2,136 people were counted using the Mount Vernon Trail near the 14th St Bridge. In that same time, 5,335 people were counted on the Custis Trail.

Weigh In

Tell the County Board to reject the proposed cuts to trail snow plowing, streetlight repair, and repaving. Click here to send the board an email. You can also use the County’s online budget feedback form. Next week, we invite you to join our Arlington Action Committee in attending the Tuesday Budget Hearing (details) to show your support for these important County services.

To review the whole budget, go to the County’s FY18 budget page. Click here to review the full list of recently proposed cuts.

Advocacy Behind the Scenes

Photo credit brixton under Creative Commons

A big part of successful advocacy is simply paying attention. The bureaucratic processes that bring about change are often slow, and can start quietly. Our team of advocacy staff and network of volunteers are always on the lookout for opportunities to have an impact, even if it takes a while. We work to make sure that better biking is part of the conversation from the beginning, not an afterthought.

If you subscribe to our advocacy action alerts, you know that we sometimes ask you to share your thoughts with a decisionmaker about the value of bike friendly infrastructure, laws and policy. Those action alerts are only one of many tools in an advocacy toolbox, and usually not the first one we reach for.

Often, a simple letter can start a project on the right path. Here are some of WABA’s comments and testimony from the past few months.

Georgetown Boathouse Zone EA

National Park Service (NPS) is examining sites along the Georgetown waterfront near the southern terminus of the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) for development a series of boathouses that would cater to non-motorized boating (including rowing, paddling and stand-up paddle boarding). The project affects bicycle traffic in and around the area. NPS acknowledges that “the current configuration of the CCT and its connection to Georgetown do not provide safe and compatible access for pedestrians and cyclists with motorized vehicles to and through the Zone.”

The timing of the EA aligns with work that DDOT and Georgetown BID are doing to improve the K/Water Street corridor, which includes a protected bike lane to connect the CCT with the Rock Creek Park Trail.

Read our full comments here.

Oxon Cove Hiker-Biker Trail EA

NPS, in cooperation with DDOT, proposes to construct a multi-use hiker-biker trail in Oxon Cove Park. In our comments we recommend a seamless connection between the future South Capitol Street Trail and the proposed new trail. We also note that the Oxon Hill Farm Trail (which begins just off of South Capitol St and continues south into Oxon Cove Park) is in poor shape. This vital connection is functionally unusable to many because it lacks bridges and the trail is poorly maintained.

Read our full comments here.

Public Scoping for North George Washington Memorial Parkway EA

The National Park service is in the early stages of an Environmental Assessment for reconstruction of a significant portion of the northern George Washington Parkway. This is an important opportunity to consider how the parkway and the land around it could better accommodate and ensure the safety of people biking and walking.

Read our full comments here.

Long Bridge Phase II

DDOT is exploring options to replace the century-old Long Bridge, which carries freight and passenger rail from Northern Virginia into downtown DC. Though the study’s scope is currently focussed only on expanding the number of railroad tracks across the Potomac river, we make the case for including a high quality bike and pedestrian trail on the new bridge.

Read our full comments here.

Bethesda Downtown Master Plan

In October, Montgomery County Council held a final round of hearings on the updated Bethesda Downtown Master Plan. The plan is a long term guide to future density, land use, parks and transportation, and includes an impressive Bethesda bicycle network of protected bike lanes, trail access improvements, and standard bike lanes. Joe Allen, Co-Chair of our Montgomery County Action Committee, delivered WABA’s testimony at the hearing.

Read our full testimony here.

Roundtable on the Provision of 911 Services in DC

The DC Council’s Judiciary Committee held a roundtable to discuss 911 services. WABA submitted testimony raising ongoing concerns about the limitations of DC’s 911 dispatch system which delay or prevent emergency response to emergencies on off-street trails.

Read our full testimony here.

 Photo: brixton on Flickr

Meet the Capital Trails Coalition!

WABA is thrilled to announce an initiative we’ve been hard at work on for the past year.

On Thursday, Oct. 13 we will stand with our partners along the Mount Vernon Trail to announce the creation of the Capital Trails Coalition, a collaboration of public and private organizations, agencies, and citizen volunteers working to advance completion of an interconnected network of multi-use trails for metropolitan Washington, DC.

The Coalition convenes and coordinates among the public and private stakeholders who are critical to accomplishing the vision of an interconnected network.

In addition, the Capital Trails Coalition continually works to identify trail funding, broaden the base of support, and cultivate widespread consensus that a capital trail network is a regional priority.

As more and more people rely on bicycles to get where they’re going, it’s important to ensure that our bike network is connected, easy to use, and easy to navigate.

WABA is proud to serve as a partner in the Capital Trails Coalition. We are committed to the vision of a completed regional trail network and are very, very excited to have such a powerhouse team of agencies, nonprofits and corporate partners to work with.

The Coalition has been meeting regularly since the 2015 Trails Symposium last November and has made tremendous progress, including establishing a steering committee, three working groups, developing governance structures and a graphic identity. We have begun the gritty work of defining the trails system and establishing criteria for inclusion in the network.

But there is a lot to be done! And we are excited to share the news of the Coalition’s formation so that we can begin talking to the public about the trail network and garnering feedback and input.

For more information, and to sign up for updates, visit capitaltrailscoalition.org.

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.

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.

Beach Drive Rehabilitation is Finally Here

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The green heart pulsing through Washington DC is Rock Creek Park, but for bicyclists, the current trail conditions are less than ideal- but not for much longer.

Big changes are on the horizon for Rock Creek Park, especially Beach Drive and the adjacent paved trail. National Park Service (NPS) recently announced that construction on the much-anticipated rehabilitation project that WABA has been advocating for for years will begin after Labor Day of this year! There is a huge demand for this project. More than 2500 WABA supporters demanded rehabilitation back in 2014, and many have fought for years prior to prioritize this project with NPS and other relevant agencies.

The construction project will happen in four stages, beginning in the south and working north, and various agencies have their roles in effort. The first wave of construction is managed by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)- Eastern Lands Division. FHWA will rebuild the trail along Beach Drive on the east side of the creek. District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will tackle the trail sections west of the creek and a trail extension on Piney Branch Parkway. DDOT’s trail construction will come after FHWA is done with their work.

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.

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.

National Park Service is hosting a public information meeting on July 28 at the Cleveland Park Library. Join us and learn more about this exciting project!

 

A Trail Along New York Avenue in Northeast DC? Yes, Please.

On a toasty Friday afternoon, over 30 trail enthusiasts came out for a two-mile walk along the proposed New York Avenue Trail in Northeast DC. This trail would connect NoMa to the National Arboretum and the neighborhoods in between, and bicyclists in the surrounding area are thrilled to hear more separated infrastructure could be in their futures.

A trail within the New York Avenue corridor is not a new idea. In fact, it was included in the District’s 2005 Bicycle Master Plan, and thanks to development along the corridor, specifically in NoMa and Ivy City, there is renewed interest in the trail concept.

Trail Rendering courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

The group, including representatives from the Bicycle Advisory Committee, local businesses, nonprofits and interested citizens, started out from Union Market. After navigating to Florida and 4th St. NE, trail development professionals from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), who completed a concept plan of the corridor which was released this January, described the connections that could happen to the south, linking up with the Metropolitan Branch Trail and providing access to NoMa. We peeked down the way to the Uline Arena, where the new REI store will open this fall, and Matt Liddle, REI’s Mid-Atlantic Manager spoke to the benefits that REI sees in having bicycle and pedestrian connectivity not just to their store, but throughout the entire city.

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We headed north to a tunnel that burrows under New York Avenue. Eli Griffen from RTC shared the opportunities and challenges associated with using the tunnel as part of the trail alignment. The proposed trail would follow the railroad tracks eastward, but without a trail to walk on, the group walked along a dirt path along New York Avenue. The heavy car and truck volume (and high speeds) was a stark reminder of how unpleasant (and for many, unsafe) the arterial would be to ride, and underlined the importance of having alternative options for walking and biking along the corridor.

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As we reached Ivy City, we were joined by Andrea Gourdine from Douglas Development, who talked to participants about Douglas’s involvement in the project and why they see trails and other bike infrastructure as central to their work. Erik Kugler from BicycleSpace shared why they chose to open a store in Ivy City and what a trail connection would mean for him and his business.

While the idea of the corridor itself could be transformative, other visionaries including Robert Looper III, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for Single Member District 5C03 – Fort Lincoln, see the potential to go even further east. Looper spoke about his view for what the corridor could be, and the positive impact it would have on his constituents. Continuing the trail along the New York Avenue corridor could open up biking and walking options to neighborhoods beyond the current study area.

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WABA will work closely with DDOT, RTC and other stakeholders to move the trail development process forward. But that’s not to say that it will be easy- there’s a significant possibility that this could get quite complicated. Virginia Railway Express (VRE), a commuter rail service linking DC and Northern Virginia, has plans to relocate it’s 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. Learn more about the proposal here

What is clear is that New York Avenue is quickly becoming a residential and retail destination, and that both private developers and the city are significantly investing in the corridor. The planned trail connection will bring safe multimodal infrastructure to the community and should be built.

WABA would like to extend a special thank you to DDOT Trail Planner Michael Alvino for joining us for the walk and answering technical questions along the way, and to all of the event participants for spending their Friday afternoon with us.


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