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Le Tour d’Alexandria Library

On Saturday, October 25, 2014, Alexandria Library is hosting its second annual bicycle tour of all Alexandria Library locations. Bring your bike and join library staff for a leisurely 2-hour loop starting and ending at Duncan Branch Library, 2501 Commonwealth Ave. Registration is required. Visit more information and to register online.

(see, it's not all craziness in Alexandria)

Bikes on Some MARC Trains Seems Imminent

You may recall that the Maryland Transportation Authority has been seriously thinking about allowing standard bikes on some MARC trains, but asked advocates not to talk about the details.  Now MDOT is talking about the details.  In a statement cleared for release to the public, Michael Jackson described an October 9 show-and-tell with advocates at Frederick, Maryland, at the October 10 meeting of the Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee:

Attendees included representatives from Bike Maryland, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, the Virginia Bicycle Federation and staff from MDOT as well as staff from MARC and their consultants. The meeting was held at their Frederick rail yard. Attendees were invited to bring bicycles to carry on-board a modified rail car with half of the seats removed. A bicycle rack and luggage rack had been installed. Invitees assessed the modifications and gave feedback to MARC staff.

MARC intends to outfit the car with enough racks to carry 25 bicycles and to identify the outside of the bike cars with prominent graphics. Service is expected to be limited initially to weekend service on the Penn line and begin by the end of the year.

Jim Titus represents Prince George's County on the Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and is on the board of WABA. The comments here do not represent the official views of either organization.

Jim Graham proposes banning sidewalk cycling along streets with bike lanes

You can read all about it at GGW.  Here's my thoughts about it.

The DC code allowing cyclist on the sidewalk goes back to DC's original traffic regulations from 1972 and 1974 and has it's roots in the Uniform Vehicle Code, which in 1968 added a stipulation that cars were not allowed on the sidewalk.  I'm not sure what DC's traffic laws were like before then, but even back then it included the ban within the CBD. The primary reason for the CBD ban, as I understand it, was to deal with the problem of bike messengers on the sidewalks. The ban on sidewalk cycling (if back issues of Dr. Gridlock are any indication) was not enforced and was never successful, even when messengers were required to have license plates on their bikes. The problem was such that in the late 1980's Ward 6 Councilmember Nadine Winters proposed regulations for the bike messengers, including requiring them to be licensed, pass a safety course and wear visible ID numbers. But with the decline of bike messengers in DC, the perceived need for such regulations has largely disappeared. But the CBD sidewalk ban remains.

The only way to make a ban work is to have more enforcement, but If more enforcement is planned, then this law isn't needed. That's because the kind of behavior that supporters of this ban wish to make illegal is already illegal. Current law says that cyclists may use the sidewalk "so long as the rider does not create a hazard." Ergo, hazardous sidewalk cycling is already illegal. What this law does is make non-hazardous sidewalk cycling illegal.
The only reason for this would be the pretense that enforcement would be easier. But the logic behind making non-hazardous sidewalk cycling illegal because it would be easier to enforce is questionable to say the least. It reminds of the old vaudeville joke where one man is looking for his wallet and another offers to help. After some time, the second asks "Where did you lose it?" and the first says "Over there in the woods." "Well then why are we looking for it over here" the second asks angrily. "Because the lighting is better." Why are we going to ticket non-hazardous cycling? Because the lighting is better.
Furthermore, there is already a process to ban sidewalk cycling on streets where it makes sense.  The Mayor can ban sidewalk cycling on any street with a simple order. And he can do so with input from DDOT and MPD. Instead of creating a blanket rule that may or may not work in every situation. Under current law, the default is no ban, with the Mayor able to overrule that. The new law changes it to a ban, with the Mayor able to overrule that. 
Sidewalk cycling is not ideal, but for some cyclists and at some times it is a totally adequate option, and possibly even the best one. Rather than changing behavior by forcing less confident cyclists off the sidewalk (even as young as 13 years old), we should be enticing cyclists off the sidewalk with better facilities.  This law replaces an individual cyclist's judgement about the safety, their comfort and the current conditions on the road with that of the Council's who has no insight into any of those things. It forces cyclists to either break the law, do something that makes them uncomfortable or not bike. Which of these is an appealing outcome?
Bans do not get cyclists off the sidewalks, but bike lanes, and to a much larger extent, cycletracks do. That's where efforts should be focused.
Graham's bill is unlikely to achieve the goals he seeks. The 4 year old example of a bad outcome that he cites isn't even applicable. That happened in an alley, not a sidewalk. And it didn't happen next to a bike lane. And it isn't even clear that the cyclist was at fault in the crash (though they did flee the scene afterward). There's no data to back up the need for this - just the fact that Graham has received a lot of complaints. How many bike crashes are there on DC sidewalks? Where are they occurring? Next to bike lanes? Don't know. Don't care. But a study carried about by DDOT from 1997-99 showed a total of 29 bicycle-pedestrian crashes over a two year period. A follow up study from 2000-2002 also showed 29 bike-ped crashes involving 30 pedestrians (and one bike-bus-pedestrian crash). Many of these were not on the sidewalk.  
Not only will this do little to reduce sidewalk cycling, I doubt such a bill will "help to encourage the construction of even more bicycle lanes for the safety of all" but if that's something he's interested in (and it would be a new interest for him) then there are better ways to get that outcome. 
The most dangerous part of his press release, and the part that makes me glad he's leaving office is this part "I think it’s time that rather than riding on sidewalks, bicyclists and others be required to use bike lanes" Oh no, no. no. Mandatory bike lane laws are a very bad idea. Even worse than the law Graham has proposed. 
Just to add fuel to the fire, in a very timely post Streetsblog has a report on how sidewalk bans in NYC have been disproportionately enforced on black and latino cyclists.  


6th Annual Tweed Ride is November 2

From the promotional email

Dandies! Quaintrelles. After much deliberation, our adventures in tweed are set to continue! Last year's ride was one of our best. The bash that followed was our wildest! I'm arranging some of the elements that have made this thing sort of a legend. 2014 will be no different. Autumn leaves are already falling and it's time to get excited about another beautiful experience.

If you haven't been secretly planning your tweed ensemble in anticipation of this year's ride, there's plenty of time to hunt down the things you'll need.

1. Retro clothing. It's everywhere now because classic style is back!
2. Bike. Pretty much everyone in this city rides one. Right? We are everywhere.
3. Your dancing feet. Remember those?

Alexandrians and the Bike Reich

There's quite a back and forth going on the LTTE section of the Alexandria Times.

It started in August with a letter from someone who saw many cyclists running stop signs on Union Street and wrote a letter demanding an end to the cycling anarachy

In response, bike advocate Jonathan Krall, wrote to criticize the promotion of "an offensive stereotype."

The idea that cyclists are somehow less law-abiding than others on our roads is a stereotype that has no basis in fact. Studies show that people who ride actually react to the “danger” of cycling (another myth) by being more cautious rather than reckless. For example, a years-long study of alcohol-related crashes showed that non-cyclists were twice as likely to be drunk as cyclists in car-bicycle or cyclist-pedestrian collisions.
Sadly, this stereotype is so pervasive that even many cyclists believe it. Nevertheless, when it is repeated by the media or by our elected leaders, this shameful stereotyping reflects badly on us all.

Another writer the same week asked why Alexandria was spending money on bike facilities when the city has been "in a tight fiscal environment for the last six years." She advocates spending time figuring out how to lower property taxes and also wishes the city would spend more on fire equipment and public employee salaries. She also has noticed that cyclists run stop signs and stop lights. I think the fiscal answer to her question is that spending money on new bike facilities - especially where they replace extra-wide roads or curb-side parking - increases mobility and capacity on area roads at a rather low cost, while also improving health and the environment. All the alternatives of achieving these goals are likely more expensive, as is the cost of doing nothing. 

The next week a pair of letters also criticized cyclists. One person took a hard-line "follow the law" approach and called for heightened enforcement of all road users - but mostly cyclists, and for cyclists to be issued points on their license so that they can no longer drive, which would result in more cycling. I think that 100% enforcement of the law (tickets for 1mph over the limit, 3-foot passing violations, etc...) for all users would likely be a net win for cyclists, so I'm not going to stand in the way of complete and equitable enforcement. But really, that's not what this is about. 

The final letter compares Alexandria's proposal to create bike lanes on Cameron and Prince Streets to the Nazi party's use of the Riechstag fire to create Nazi Germany (no, I'm not kidding). The claim is that the stated need for the bike lanes is to get cyclists off the sidewalks, a problem Alexandria created by legalizing sidewalk cycling. The analogy fails in many ways (the Nazis didn't start the fire, for example), but the main criticism is that the city's decision to build bike lanes on these streets does not represent a power grab. It has always had that power. The writer asks

Why would they legalize riding bicycles on the sidewalk unless City Hall considered it safe and desirable?

In part because VDOT may have required it, but also to serve young and less confident cyclists. Sidewalk cycling can be safe - though not at the same speed as riding in the road - , and while more desirable than driving, is not as desirable as biking in the road.  So the other reason for the change in law was to support young and less confident cyclists. 

And why would City Hall use discouraging cyclists from using sidewalks as a justification for more bicycle lanes so soon after they allowed said cyclists on sidewalks?

I don't think the goal is to discourage sidewalk cycling, it's to encourage cycling in the roadway. And surely that is only part of the justification of the law. It is not unusual for places to allow sidewalk cycling while also trying to encourage people not to do it. In fact we allow all kinds of activities (smoking, drinking, watching Dance Moms, etc...) that we might simultaneously want to discourage people from doing.

Update: And there's more.

Following this article about how WABA and the BPAC have been doing outreach to encourage better behavior among cyclists, and this letter about how we're all scofflaws, there was another flurry of letters.  One argued that he saw more bad behavior from cyclists on Union Street than from drivers. 

Our old friend, Capital Bikeshare slayer and bike registration fan Kathryn Papp, wrote a letter that called into question the validity of the count data the city is relying on, because by publishing the time and place of counts through requests for volunteers, they are encouraging cyclists to inflate the county by riding in those places at those times. I'm not sure cyclists are that interested in inflating the counts.

Another writer makes the argument that applying to cyclists laws written for drivers may not always make sense. 

And Krall again writes in, this time to support the public process and criticize those who try to subvert it by spreading false rumors. 

Route 1 Ft. Belvoir Railroad Bridge removed

The old railroad bridge over Route 1 at Fort Belvoir was removed late last month. This was part of the old Newington-Ft. Belvoir Railroad or the "The U.S. Army Railroad, Fort Belvoir, Va." a 4-5 mile long railroad built in 1917 that supplied coal and equipment to the base as well as serving as troop transport right up to the Korean War. Rail operation ceased in 1993 and VRE has at times talked or running commuter trains on it all the way to Route 1. But Route 1 is being widened so the old railroad bridge has to go.

Back in 2008 I suggested that the ROW could be used to build a bike trail from the Fort to the Franconia Springfield Metro Station. It's still a workable idea, but another Route 1 crossing would obviously be needed.

It's not clear what is to be done with the old bridge, if any thing at all. 

Wilder's insurance denied his claim because cyclists should avoid crashes with lawbreaking drivers

Shane Farthing of WABA has a good long essay on the messed up standard by which cyclists in DC must operate in order to seek relief from insurance companies and the courts. In it he has a denial letter to Evan Wilder, who many may remember was passed too closely by a driver who then slammed on his brakes resulting in Wilder hitting the truck from behind. In it they say that he contributed to the crash by failing to keep a careful look-out. Here's the video for thos who are unaware. The whole thing is a good read.

New NoVa Transportation projects will connect, build and improve bike trails

When the Humpback Bridge was rebuilt back in 2010-11, it not only widened and straightened the Mount Vernon Trail it also included two underpasses for trail users. One goes to the Marina and LBJ memorial and the other dead ends about 100 yards after going under the MVT. 

But thanks to new regional transportation project funding that dead end will soon connect to Boundary Channel Drive creating a critical new connection between Arlington and the Mt. Vernon Trail. As part of the 2015 Q1 funding, the Boundary Channel exchange project will get $4.335M to "Constructs two roundabouts at the terminus of the ramps from I-395 to Boundary Channel Drive, which eliminate redundant traffic ramps to/from I-395. In addition, the project will create multi-modal connections to/from the District of Columbia that will promote alternate modes of commuting into and out of the district(sic)." 

But wait, there's more.

  • Funding will go towards the Crystal City Multi-modal center that will, among other things, add bicycle parking.
  • Columbia Pike between Fairfax County and Four Mile Run will be reconfigured for multi-modal travel.
  • A Belmont Ridge Road project in Loudoun County will include a structure to carry the W&OD trail over the road (Which should help these ladies)
  • Route 1 and Route 28 in Prince William County will get multi-use trails along side them.

Ghost Town: A review of DC area bike fatalities

Part 1 in a series

Since 1987, over 100 DC area cyclists have died in motor vehicle crashes. This map shows where they were.1 And there's just one intersection in the region which had two separate fatal crashes. 

In the above map, red pins show crashes in an intersection, yellow in the roadway, black in a crosswalk, blue on the shoulder of the roadway, orange on a sidewalk, green in a bike lane, or white where the location was not available.2

These fatalities have occurred in every jurisdiction, on busy highways and quiet neighborhood streets, and on every part of the roadway from sidewalks to traffic lanes.

The real "Intersection of Doom" is at Gaithersburg's edge

The intersection of Lee Highway and North Lynn Street, where drivers make a right turn across cyclists' path coming off the Mount Vernon Trail, gets much coverage as the "Intersection of Doom." But fortunately, I found no actual bicycle fatalities there.

Nor were there any where the Mt. Vernon Trail connections cross the George Washington Parkway, another harrowing experience for cyclists and a big problem spot that needs fixing. But there was one location where two separate fatal bike crashes occurred.

In 1997, a driver hit 15-year-old Alexis Smith on her bicycle in the crosswalk as she crossed the ramp from Great Seneca Highway to Sam Eig Highway, just west of the end of I-370 in Montgomery County. Then in 2009, another driver hit and killed Codi Alexander, 16 at the same spot. However, Montgomery County wasn't the place with the most fatal bike crashes.

Prince George's has the most deaths by far

Of the seven jurisdictions I looked at, Prince George's had the most fatalities, with 36. Here is the full list:

Prince George's 36
District of Columbia 25
Montgomery 21
Fairfax 19
Alexandria 2
Falls Church 2
Arlington 2

Some of the variation might be explained by population and square mileage, but Prince George's County is neither the largest nor the most populous. And comparisons get more complicated because DC's surge of daytime population means that considering its resident population understates the amount of exposure cyclists have there.

Most fatal crashes happen at intersections

If we combine fatalities listed as in the intersection and in the crosswalk, it shows that more than half of all fatal crashes happen at intersections. (Some crashes listed as on sidewalks or in bike lanes also may be at intersections.)1

Intersection 37
Roadway 36
Crosswalk 20
Shoulder 7
Bike lane 3
Sidewalk 2
Unknown 1

Where this data comes from

I assembled this list and map from two main sources: media reports and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Most media reports are newspaper accounts available on highbeam, which is why they only go back to 1987. These accounts are usually very accurate and reliable. I only flagged one possible error during the review.

However, these are not particularly comprehensive. Only 53% of all fatal bike crashes get reported in newspapers, and usually as only one story about the fatal crash itself. Occasionally a reporter will follow up with a second item once authorities release the victim's name. For a particularly sensational story, there may coverage all the way through a trial and sentencing. Most media accounts, however, just end with a line saying something like, "Police are continuing to investigate the incident."

The NHTSA FARS data, on the other hand, is significantly more comprehensive but riddled with a vast array of errors. It also only goes back to 1994. Some of the errors come from problems with the forms themselves, while people filling them out introduce others.

These errors ranged from trivial cases, such as mislabeling a female fatality as male, to nonsensical cases where a bike fatality was coded as "Safety Belt Used Improperly," to the outright misleading case where a cyclist was mislabeled as a pedestrian. But 98% of the fatalities with media accounts also appeared in FARS.

Still, FARS data under-counts total bike fatalities because it does not include crashes on driveways or parking lots or crashes that don't involve a motor vehicle. I identified 15 such fatalities. In addition, the United States Park Police apparently doesn't submit FARS forms to the NHTSA, as crashes they investigated don't appear. Nor do bike deaths that arise from medical conditions such as heat stroke or from murder (except in the one case where the murder weapon was a car). So while the FARS data is more comprehensive, it is not complete.

The map above includes every bike fatality identified except for one that had an unworkable location description.3 

The original version of this post failed to count one Arlington fatality. Part of the reason for this was that the two Arlington County fatalites both occurred on the same day, May 8th, but in different years. 

Crossposted at GreaterGreaterWashington

1 Prior to 2001, all FARS location data is reported in the form of road designator and milemarker. Starting in 2001 GPS coordinates are also included. Maryland and Virginia report the road designator by an official route number that may not be well known (Cherrywood Lane in PG County, for example, is MU 40). DC, God bless them, reports the actual name of the street as used on streetsigns. As a result, locations for Maryland and Virginia FARS-only derived data prior to 2001 is approximate.

2 Roadway fatalities are those that occur in travel lanes away from intersections.

That one was reported to FARS as being on county road 0123 in Montgomery County, but there is no 123 in Montgomery County. There is one in Prince George's County. So either the county was coded wrong (33 instead of 31, for example) or the road was.

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