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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.

Palisades Citizens Association Trail Survey

From the PCA Trail Committee

Over the last several months, the PCA Trails Committee has worked to create a survey that will gather the opinions of the Palisades Community, Foxhall Village and the immediate DC vicinity with regards to the future of the area that is commonly referred to as “the Glen Echo Trolley trail”.  This area runs from Georgetown University to Galena Pl (One block NW of Arizona Ave).   

This survey was put together by 10 individuals who live in the Palisades Community. Each of the committee members brought a unique perspective to the trail.  We feel that the members of this committee brought a variety of opinions that are reflective of the community at large.  We hope you agree.

This survey has 15 questions about the Right of Way, including potential bridges, trail surface options and general maintenance concerns.  There is space in the survey to comment and propose doing nothing to the trail.  We hope that each citizen will carefully review each of the questions and participate in the survey.

For those who would like to tour the East end of the trail, join us for a guided walk of the Foundry Branch Bridge & Georgetown Entrance Bridge November 2nd and 8th. Visit for details.

The survey will begin on Oct 15 and conclude Jan 15th 2015.    The survey is online at

For those who are unable to complete the survey online, please contact the PCA website and arrangements can be made for an alternative method of submission.

After the survey closes we will have a general meeting with the community to discuss the results and talk about the next steps.

DDOT is installing curbs on L Street Cycletrack

As promised


WABA Membership Drive - Renew this week to receive a t-shirt!


Bicycling has become an essential part of how many people in our region get to work, get exercise, have fun, and spend time outdoors! As a region we have made great strides in improving the experience for bicyclist, but we are not done yet and we cannot settle.

This year for our annual membership drive we encourage you to voice your support for continued improvement in our region by sharing your voice and becoming a WABA Member. The theme this year, I bike. I vote. & I’m a WABA Member, aims to get our region talking about the future of our bicycling infrastructure on the eve of election season.

If you join or renew with WABA during the week of October 13-17 you will get a limited edition “I bike. I vote. & I’m a WABA Member” t-shirt.*

*First 500 people guaranteed a shirt, after which a second printing may run depending on demand.

Trolley Trail to Anacostia Trails connection

Last week it was mentioned that work began on closing the Trolley Trail gap between College Park and Hyattsville and that a bridge over the railroad tracks there could create an additional connection between it and the Anacostia Tributary Trails. 

Well, here's the M2 Masterplan that shows what such a connection might look like (if we imagine the bridge too).  The bridge will connect the Trolley Trail to Rivertech Court. An existing bike trail connects Rivertech Court to the end of Taylor Road. Turning left on Tuckerman will take cyclists to 51st Avenue where a future trail connection would connect cyclists to the existing spur trail along Haig Drive and from there to the Northeast Branch trail. Once done, some signage and possible some sharrows, would be all one needs. Perhaps equally important is that it connects directly to the Purple Line station along River Road.

Speaking of the Purple Line. Is it going over NE Branch on it's own bridge? I wonder if there's an opportuity to create a trail spur to the east side of the river (and even along it for some distance. 

In other trolley trail news, PG County Councilman Eric Olson reports that

The trail will be complete north of Franklins up through College Park in a year. The section between Armentrout Drive and Franklins is at 30 percent design.

Franklin's is at Farragut Street in Hyattsville, and Armentrout Drive is where the Northwest Branch Trail is (and it's the limit of the trolley right-of-way that isn't Rhode Island Avenue). The northern end of the trail is at Holland Drive in Beltsville, though the northern section is really bike lanes. That's a nice linear trail, with several connections to the Anacostia Trails.

I'd be surprised and impressed if the trail were ever extended to the end of the trolley line along the Patuxent in Laurel. But it would be great to get bike lanes/cycletrack on Rhode Island all the way to the Met Branch Trail.

Feast day for Madonna del Ghisallo

In addition to being Columbus Day it's the feast day for Madonna del Ghisallo, the patroness of cyclists. So feast up. 

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