Back in 2014, the District adopted the final rules to implement the provisions of the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013, which required construction projects to treat blocking a bike lane or sidewalk in the same way as blocking a traffic lane - meaning they need a permit and a safe accommodation plan. This is serious business because according to a 2015 paper
Almost 17% of work zone fatalities involved a pedestrian or bicyclist. The authors’ evaluation of 219 ped/bike crashes that occurred in Wisconsin work zones over a 10 year period indicates that many of the crashes involve workers on foot,
discontinuous or inadequate physical accommodations, or construction‐related visual obstructions.
Approximately 120 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed in work zones in the United States each year. Approximately 2% of all pedestrian/bicyclist deaths occurred in work zones....about 93% involved pedestrians and the remaining 7% involved bicyclists.
At the time of adoption they wrote:
The new rules require any construction site that blocks a sidewalk or bicycle lane to provide a safe route for pedestrians and bicyclists through or around the work zone. This safe route must be equal to the accommodation that was blocked, such as providing a bike lane that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic if a protected bike lane is blocked. Also, the safe pedestrian or bicycle route must be free of obstructions and surface hazards such as loose gravel or uneven surfaces, and must follow the path of the original pedestrian or bicycle route as closely as is practical.
You can see the actual regulations here.
The routing for a safe accommodation for bicyclists shall replicate the safety level of the existing bicycle route, such as by providing, a route that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic if a protected bicycle lane is blocked or providing a route that is for the exclusive use by bicyclists if a bicycle lane is blocked whenever feasible; a route which is free of obstructions and surface hazards, such as construction equipment, construction materials, debris, holes, mud, loose gravel, milled surfaces and uneven pavement; and a route that does not share a covered or open walkway with pedestrians.
Needless to say, they don't always hit the mark - or they let the "whenever feasible" part do a lot of work. The intersection of L and 15th Streets NW in downtown D.C., where the massive demolition of the old Washington Post building resulted in the closure of a sidewalk and protected bike lane and traffic lane, stands out in people's mind, even as that project has wound down and the protected bike lanes restored (which are very nice last I saw). In 2016, WAMU reported
Safety advocates contend the regulations are largely ignored across the city until people speak up and complain, garnering the attention of DDOT’s permit inspectors.
DDOT officials say the charges are not true. On the contrary, they say a team of nearly 30 inspectors and supervisors aggressively police construction sites and work with contractors and real estate developers to foster compliance.
And from what I've seen on Twitter and my own riding around, things have not gotten much better. DDOT has created a tool to manage work zones and all the complexities involved in permitting and safe accommodations that tries to take safety and mobility into account. It also considers LOS. This powerpoint presentation might give you some more information on it, but it doesn't seem to be in the right format, and it clearly is meant to be presented only.
Anyway, things got so bad that WABA put a post last year on how to report construction-related bike lane blockages.
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).
They also put information about it in the new bike law guide.
In a 2017 presentation on pedestrian and bicycle safe accommodation, DDOT stated that
- Maintaining the existing or creating an equivalent bike lane is most convenient and always preferred when feasible and safe, as determined by DDOT
- Merging a separated bike lane into a travel lane is the least preferred alternative other than closing a bike lane all together. It will be approved as a last resort only if
- There is insufficient space on the roadway to maintain the existing bike facility and
- travel and parking cannot be reduced further without creating an unsafe roadway condition as determined by DDOT
That presentation calls the L Street plan "a case study in trade offs and limitations", but also notes that they try to enforce standard designs based on the situation such as a mid-block cycletrack or contraflow lane closure (page 13).
This is good practice according to the 2015 study mentioned above. They recommend standardized designs that are considered early in the process, not as some tack-on at the end. This can allow for temporary easements if needed, or the construction of a sidewalk on the other side of the street before construction instead of after. They also recommend
- Use of more traffic control devices like plastic fencing
- Low-cost surfacing re‐usable textured plastic panels that can be placed over grass or dirt for a limited duration.
- In some cases the ped/bike impacts of construction can be reduced by using newer, minimally invasive, construction techniques
- Creative use of alternatives - like modifying an alley to be a bicycle detour.
- Use of temporary bicycle and pedestrian lighting
I feel like the 2013 law is good (Thanks Will!) and the regulations are good. But somewhere in the safe accommodation plan or enforcement area we're coming up a bit short. But if we want to achieve VisionZero, then we're going to need to figure out where - and how to fix it.