County Council members challenges Planning Board's CCT decision

Three Montgomery County Council members are questioning the local Planning Board’s decision to abandon a temporary road-lane reduction and realign the Capital Crescent Trail’s crossing with Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda.

In June, the planning board voted to get rid of the road diet on Little Falls Parkway and move the Capital Crescent Trail to the intersection. This month om Hucker, Evan Glass and Hans Riemer of the county council wrote a letter to the planning board saying that it flies in the face of the Vision Zero commitment. I'm not sure how much this will do, since the planning board doesn't have to listen to the Council, and it's not even an official position of the council, but it's nice. 

It's worth noting that Park & Planning commissioned a traffic study, which generated best practice recommendations. It recommended the road diet. 

Installation of the interim road diet along Little Falls Parkway approaching the Capital Crescent Trail was quantitatively shown to significantly improve safety at the trail crossing while also minimizing adverse impacts to vehicular operations along the corridor. The interim road diet has eliminated the multi-lane threat, slowed vehicle speeds through this segment of Little Falls Parkway, and increased visibility between trail users and drivers....

Unlike all other alternatives, signalization of the trail crossing introduces delay to trail users (approximately 30 seconds on average), where they currently have none. Our analysis showed that the additional signal phase for trail users is also projected to increase travel times along the corridor for vehicular traffic by approximately 13 seconds over pre-road diet conditions. These increases in delay for all users may result in non-compliance in the form of violations of the “no right turn on red” restriction for vehicles and “jay walking” by trail users, potentially degrading the safety benefits of signalization.

Conclusion: By eliminating the multi-lane threat, reducing vehicle speeds and increasing motorist and trail user awareness, the road diet has been effective in improving safety for trail users. Significant reduction in conflicts and crashes from 12 in the two-year prior to the road diet down to 5 in the two years post-road diet. “Severity” of conflicts appears reduced due to slower vehicle speeds. Compliance of drivers yielding to trail users is very high and wait times for trail users are very low.

City officials say the road change won’t happen until at least another year, and it's possible the planning board could change its mind. 

In other CCT news, Purple Line Transit Partners says that the 4.3 mile expansion to the trail being built in conjunction with the Purple Line could open before the Purple Line. 

“We could conceivably start looking at ways to open the trail before the Purple Line is open,” he said. “There could be times we have to close it again when construction crews have to come in and finish some landscaping.”

I don’t think they’re saying the CCT will open before the Purple Line construction is finished, but that it COULD open, at times, before the Purple Line is running (because there will be some time between completion of construction and operation). 

WB&A trail completion in sight, expansion being seriously considered

I wrote a post on GGW Washington about this. 

In search of a safer Mount Vernon Trail, comment now

GWPKWY Boards_7.10.198

Last month, the NPS hosted a safety meeting on the GW Parkway/Vt. Vernon Trail and VA State Senator Scott Surovell submitted some very well thought out comments. He notes that the two main problems are traffic volume, which is up following the 2005 round of BRAC, and speed. He therefore supports

Speed cameras - Yes. A 100 times yes. He reminds NPS that former congress member Dick Armey (TX) and VA Governor Jim Gilmore complained about them in 2001, and that they were then removed. But he points out what many said at the time - they were wrong. He proposes a concession contract to get around rules about spending and revenue. 

A shocking 70-80% of drivers speed and NPS did not even measure speeds at the 35-mph stretch between Belle Haven Road and Belleview Boulevard.

Careful use of traffic diets - he supports them, but wants NPS to be cautious about them, with some experiments first

Mount Vernon Trail - The trail is unsafe. It's too narrow and has too many turns and blind corners. People are getting injured frequently. Root heave is making the surface unsafe. He recommends maintenance and perhaps a separate study.  In the short term he recommends letting cyclists back in the road - at least on the slower portions or where traffic is light; and closing part of the Parkway on weekends as is done in Rock Creek Park. Great suggestions. Back in 2006, WABA met with NPS to discuss ways to make the trail safer, but a study of the complete trail and of a possible expansion north, with an eye towards improvements and safety would be a great thing. 

Increased Enforcement - Calls for more enforcement of speed limits on the roadway and on the trail (15mph if you're wondering) and for a ban on e-scooters on the trail. [I disagree on the scooter ban]. 

There are other suggestions I've omitted because they don't really matter to cyclists and trail users, but lots of them are good ideas. 

Surovell and FABB both argue that the road has become unsafe, largely due to speeding. 'FABB is looking more for speed cameras and round-a-bouts, and a road diet as a third solution. Road diets usually take away a driving lane and have more bike and pedestrian spaces. Either way, these will impede the government employee driving to the office at Fort Belvoir." FABB and the Alexandria BPAC are doing a ride and picnic on August 18th in conjunction with the safety study for those interested in getting a hands-on informed opinion. 

Comments are being accepted until Aug 21

DDOT Presents the Palisades Trolley Trail

PalisadesSurface

Last month, DDOT presented options on the Palisades Trolley Trail that envisions a trail connecting neighborhoods along the Potomac River with Georgetown and with the Capital Crescent Trail. How good those connections will be, and how much the trail will cost, will depend on which options are chosen.

The Palisades Trolley Trail is a proposed path along the long-abandoned trolley bed of the Cabin John Trolley and it has a long history. That trolley once went from the Georgetown Car Barn to Glen Echo and the Cabin John Bridge. After the streetcar ceased operations in 1962 the rail bed sat vacant, but there were initial plans to build a road, the Palisades Parkway, on it. Neighbors started using the ROW to store boats, campers and cars and others used it to dump trash illegally, so the city told Roy O. Chalk, the owner, to do something about it and he built a fence to block local access.  Neighbors complained about that too, so the District started making plans to buy it for a trail.  By 1976 local planners had penciled in a bike trail on the right-of-way all the way to Glen Echo. A few years later, the District decided they needed the land to build a water main and they planned to build the two projects together. But a 1981 NIMBY operation led to the DC portion of the trail being shelved based on a close neighborhood vote. Despite the setback, District planners continued to include a trail on the ROW in several planning documents over the following 40 years. DC condemned the land in 1982 and bought it in 1983 for $8 million for the water main.  The Maryland portion was dropped from planning documents in the recent Montgomery County Bicycle Plan because planners thought it was duplicative of the MacArthur Boulevard bike path, but they still plan a connection from the Capital Crescent Trail to the Brookmont neighborhood. 

1976plan

Map of planned bike routes in 1976

But now, like John Rambo and Emperor Palpatine, the trail is back from the 80's. 

WMATA, which got the trestle and other property after requesting guardianship of it from the courts in 1997, recently decided to raze the streetcar trestle over Foundry Branch which has become a hazard and closed the trail underneath it. It is the last of the trestles in DC and the potential loss of it, along with a growing advocacy push for the trail, prompted DDOT to dust off the idea and begin a feasibility study. The Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) denied WMATA a raze permit last fall, which they appealed, and in March the Mayor's Agent issued a continuance on the appeal until October 1st for DDOT to finish their study. 

The trail presented at the second public meeting would be an 11' wide trail of various materials running from Georgetown to Galena Place. Most of the trail would have either a crushed gravel surface or a porous pavement, but the short portion east of Foundry Branch would be paved with asphalt. The trail would have the usual amenities but in the area next to the reservoir, where the District owns more land, there would be park-style amenities like benches and gardens. The trail would cost about $4 million not counting bridges ($6-$9 million) a connection to the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) ($500k) or the Arizona Avenue Bridge project. 

PalisadesTrailmap

At Foundry Branch, they identified four options to get from Foxhall Road to the city. One uses a widened sidewalk along Canal Street and the others use a new bridge over the branch. For those that go over the branch, one ramps down to Canal, another connects to Fowler's Road and a 3rd goes over Fowler's at the old streetcar abutment and then along the land between Canal and the University to connect to Prospect Street. The last option, option 4, is my preferred option (though it's the most expensive and difficult one). 

EastOptions

For the Foundry Branch Bridge, there are 4 options. One is to not use it and allow WMATA to raze it. The other three rehabilitate parts and replace others. Costs of the bridge range from $2.1 to $6.3 million. But even the no bridge option costs $1.6-$1.7 million. Other bridges would be needed at Reservoir Road, Clark Place and Maddox Branch, and these would cost ~$2 each. 

At Arizona Avenue, new sidewalks, crosswalks and several hundred feet of trail could connect the Palisades Trail at a rebuilt Arizona Avenue Bridge to the CCT for another half million. 

CCTconnection

There's still a big lift to get this trail built. Agreements are needed with NPS, WMATA, the Army Corps of Engineers and Georgetown University (who reportedly does not want to trail in their front lawn). The trail has to accommodate PEPCO and DC Water. Bridges can't be built on the water main and utilities might need to be moved. There are places where erosion has created steep slopes that will require significant earth work to deal with. The bridge is in bad shape, but parts of it are still good and can hold the weight of the trail. And then of course, there's the money and the raze appeal. 

DDOT will work on a Final Design Concept and then in October (after the hold that the Mayor's Agent placed on the raze appeal has expired) they'll issue an Environmental Memorandum Report with a determination of feasibility to be issued in December. I don't know if the plan is to try and push the appeal out until after that or they're willing to take ownership of the trestle at this time or what the plan is, but I hope they have one. 

I love the whole thing and think it would be worth it, especially with the CCT connection and the route to Prospect Street, but we'll see. 

DDOT is still taking feedback, which can be sent to michael.alvino@dc.gov

17 year old cyclist hit and killed on Old Georgetown Road

A 17 year old cyclist riding on the sidewalk along Old Georgetown Road fell off his bike and into the road yesterday. He was struck and died. This incident, in addition to being a tragedy, also exemplifies why Vision Zero is needed.

Barring some new facts about the driver, this will likely be chalked up as "human error" on the part of the cyclist, but in reality, the errors came in design of the road long before the crash occurred. And the idea of VZ is that the burden of avoid fatalities should rest on the shoulders of those who design and built the system, not those who use it. 

Old Georgetown Road is a 7-lane road with narrow sidewalks, no bike facilities and no shoulders. And the sidewalk is further narrowed by no parking signs, foliage, dirt and, yesterday, trash set outside for pickup. All with the added obstacle of a driveway curb cut. [I believe this is the spot where the crash occurred and you can see the steep sidewalk angle and the no parking sign right there together.]  The victim was likely not helped by the fact that the driver was in an SUV instead of a sedan (this is another choice). 

Damn

This was the first bicycle fatality in the area since Dave Salovesh's and the first in Montgomery County since Jaimie Caceres in November. 

This road is not someplace where cyclists should be unexpected. Just a few blocks farther south, the North Bethesda Trolley Trail runs along side Old Georgetown and this crash occurred just outside a school zone. Furthermore, the County's new bike plan recommends a side path on this section. As it is now though, it's wholly inadequate. 

Montgomery County committed to Vision Zero in 2017 and is ending it's first two-year action plan this year. The goal was to cut traffic deaths by 35% this year and to zero by 2030. I'm not sure how well they're doing thus far, maybe someone else does. 

Prince George's county recently became the latest jurisdiction to commit to Vision Zero. They haven't put their plan together yet, but last I saw the goal was to cut fatalities by 50% by 2030 and to zero by 2040. Of course, the state of Maryland just set a goal of zero by 2030, so that seems to be in conflict. For reference, DC's is by 2024 and Alexandria and Arlington are aiming for 2028. I don't think Virginia has a Vision Zero goal. 

Yesterday I was on Kojo to talk about Vision Zero and while it was encouraging to have the county (where I probably do half or more of my biking) make the commitment to Vision Zero, there were other things that were not encouraging.  Prince George’s County’s Director of Public Works and Transportation Terry Bellamy still talked about human error as the cause of crashes instead of design issues.  He made it sound as though Vision Zero is just a rebranding of the efforts they were already doing, the ones that make PG County the highest road fatality county in the state (by numbers, not rate). He also said that "Distractive walking is just as bad as distractive driving" which I'm willing to be generous and assume was just clumsy statement not that he sees them as equivalent. 

It's crashes like yesterday's that shows how bad design is such a large part of the problem, and how far we have to go. Local and state governments are committing to fixing these problems and making our roads safe, and time will tell if they have the backbone for it, but so far there are as many reasons to be discouraged as encouraged. 

TPB approves new projects in DC and Maryland

Last week, the Transportation Planning Board (TPB) voted to approve Transportation Alternatives (TA) Set Aside funding for several small bicycle and pedestrian projects in the area. The Transportation Alternatives Set Aside (TA Set Aside) Program was established by federal law to fund a variety of smaller-scale transportation projects such as pedestrian and bicycle facilities, trails, safe routes to school (SRTS) projects, community improvements, and environmental mitigation.

In Maryland the four projects included bike lanes near two Metro Transit stations, one in Rockville and the other at Capital Heights and others fund sidewalks. 

The Chamber Avenue Green Street/Complete Street Project in Capitol Heights will create a road diet on along the Chambers Avenue-Capitol Heights Boulevard-Davey Street corridor, to add sidewalks and bike lanes. It will also build new street lighting, improved pedestrian crossings, and new pedestrian lighting. (This parallels a Watts Branch Tributary and I'd like to see them daylight some of that stream and move some of it out of it's concrete channel. Then put a trail and some tree cover in the corridor for a little linear park/Metrorail connection, but that's all out of scope.)

Chambers

The University Park Elementary School Safe Routes to School Plan in the Town of University Park entails the design of infrastructure work including sidewalk improvements, traffic calming and speed reduction improvements and pedestrian and bicycle crossing improvements to provide safe access to the University Park Elementary School. 

The Takoma Park Safe Routes to School Improvements in the City of Takoma Park will fund educational programs including a Crosswalk Simulation Activity and Bike Rodeo. A new feature of the Takoma Park programming is the iCan Shine Camp, which will teach biking skills for students with disabilities. 

The North Stonestreet Avenue: Street and Sidewalk Improvements in the City of Rockville will design street and sidewalk improvements along Park Road (between North Stonestreet Avenue and South Stonestreet Avenue) and N. Stonestreet Ave (between Park Road and Lincoln Avenue). Improvements will include wider sidewalks, a new intersection alignment, and bike lanes. 

DC is a little different. The TAP money is not supposed to be available to states - only local governments - and so for years they didn't know if they could award money to DDOT, but a recent ruling decided that in this case they could act as a local government. Nonetheless, DDOT still only acts as the sponsor and let's local groups apply. Unfortunately, this year only three did and their total request ($695,000) was less than the full amount DC gets allocated ($1.15 M), so they had to roll money over to next year. And one of the three projects approved is primarily related to historic preservation of Union Station. We need other groups to get involved in competing for this money, so if you work with a BID or some other possible applicant (?) start thinking about what you could do.

The two other projects this year were:

Prather’s Alley Safety Improvements in Mount Vernon Triangle. This project will design and construct a series of traffic calming measures in the alleyway. 

PathersAlley

The Protected Mobility Lanes on M Street, SE project would fund design for bi-directional protected mobility lanes on M Street, SE, giving bicyclists and scooters much-needed streamlined and protected east-west access from the 11th Street Bridge to Half Street, SE, the heart of the Capitol Riverfront. The project would be approximately one mile in length and would remove a vehicular travel lane, narrowing the M Street crossing for pedestrians. Creating safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians will be essential for the accomplishment of Vision Zero goal of eliminating pedestrian deaths in the District.

MStreet MStreetMap

 

The TPB also discussed the Nice-Middleton Bridge over the Potomac south of DC. As has been discussed here, the original plan for the replacement of this bridge include a bike/ped lane, but it was deemed too expensive and so MTA wants to remove it. The bridge will cost $769 million and the state has cut tolls twice in the last 5 years, but the bike/ped path is something they can't afford (?). 

The TPB was asked to update the regional plan so that they can pursue a low-interest loan, but also to allow the bidding to go forward without the bike/ped lane. That lane would be included if the price was low enough, but not if it was too high. 

The approval on an unusually contentious 17-7 vote allows Maryland to move forward with an application for a large low-interest federal loan crucial to the project’s financing plan. It came over concerns that the state has worked to cut a promised bike and pedestrian path from the project.

The Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Transportation Authority said the path is still possible when a final contract is awarded this fall, but only if bids from contractors are low enough.

Maryland is now only promising though that bikes will be able to use the bridge in some way — even if it means riding with highway traffic.

Charles County Commissioners’ President Reuben Collins pleaded with the state to include the path to help tourism, provide another connection between Maryland and Virginia, and effectively plan for the 100-year life span of the bridge

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendeslon said it was an abdication of responsibility for the region’s Transportation Planning Board to allow the bridge project to move forward for federal support without the bike path, since the majority wanted the path but many members felt they could not let it get in the way of the bridge project.

The whole affair was so disappointing that Eric Brenner, the chair of the Maryland Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee, resigned in protest. He accused the Hogan Administration of unilaterally breaking their previous commitment of a barrier-separated path on the bridge without cause, and compared it to the dropping of the trail along the Inter-County Connector.  He accused them of threatening Charles County with no bridge if they don't support the revised language dropping the path. 

Many speakers at the meeting spoke out against the removal of the path. Some said we should not let procurement drive policy. Charles Allen pushed back on the notion that people wouldn't use the path, and noted that even if they don't in the short time, things will look very differently as the bridge ages.  

Alexandria Seeks Input on their Mobility Plan

image from ehq-production-us-california.imgix.net

Alexandria is going to update their 2008 Transportation Master Plan with a 2019 Alexandria Mobility Plan (AMP) and they're looking for input. The AMP will update the vision and goals, objectives, and priority strategies to guide the City on transportation plans over the next 5 to 10 years. There are 6 key plan elements: understanding new technology, reducing congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, managing curb space, balancing needs, increasing transit use and supporting the needs and safety of pedestrians and cyclists (emphasis mine). 

Work started last year, with recommendations to be ready by the spring. Readers should know that since the 2008 plan was created, there's been a 2016 update to the Bicycle and Pedestrian portion, and one of the goals of the AMP is to incorporate that into the Master Plan. 

You can get involved right now, by filling out their survey (closes August 14, so hop hop). 

While Montgomery County installs new bike lanes, WABA calls for more

Montgomery County is busy installing buffered bike lanes, upgrading others to protected and building a protected intersection in Silver Spring, but WABA wants them to start work on a protected bike lane on Fenton too. 

MoCo is already making plans to extend the "Purple Pathway" at the north end of the trail (below) as well as buffered lanes on Dixon, but WABA wants them to plan and build protected bike lanes and pedestrian improvements on Fenton through downtown. They have a petition you can sign, but you already missed their happy hour on it. 

Fenton

A PBL on Fenton makes a lot of sense and will work well with the Met Branch Trail once that's finished. 

Meanwhile, they've also started work on the Frederick Road Bike Path. This will build a side path along Frederick Road in the Clarksburg area.

image from pbs.twimg.com

Is there place in our hearts for sharrows and flexposts?

Bike advocates have spent the last five decades stepping up their requests. They started out asking for the right to ride on sidewalks in the 1960's, but gradually moved on to asking for signed bike routes, bike lanes ("Just a little paint") and now protected bike lanes. The case for the safety and utility of protected bike lanes is impossible to deny, but is there still a place for paint and the dreaded flexposts?

I've noticed often that when new facilities are installed they're quickly criticized for not being protected, or for being protected but still having cars parked in them.  "Flexposts aren't protection," "Flexposts are useless,"  "Sharrows are bullshit" or other such statements are made. "Paint is not protection" is another favorite. 

[At the point let me implore you good readers to be patient. Nearly without fail, when a new facility is being installed someone takes to twitter to complain about it the day after work starts, which is often before it's completed. Then a few days later, the work is completed and the thing they complained about - no protection for example - has been addressed. Do not be that person. Put all critiques under your hat for a solid week.]

I like protected bike lanes. We should build a lot more. But I also think sharrows, flexposts and buffers have their place. It's true that they're not protection, just as it is true that a banana is not a helicopter. But as long as no one tries to claim that their banana is a helicopter, it seems odd to yell that at them when they offer you one. The appropriate time to call out a flexpost as not protection is when someone tries to say it is. The mere installation of a flexpost does not warrant it. 

While I'm not going to waste my time asking for a sharrow these days, they do have utility. As do flexposts and buffers. 

image from sfbike.org

Sharrows are much maligned, possibly because they're much abused, but despite offering no protection, they have their place. On roads where, for whatever reason, there isn't room for a bike lane, they can serve three purposes - reinforce the legitimacy of bicycle traffic on the street, recommend proper bicyclist positioning, and offer directional and wayfinding guidance. Should cyclists have to "reinforce our right"? No, but we shouldn’t have to do sexual harassment training every year either. It would seem like once would do the trick. But it doesn't. So sharrows are like repeated training. A 2010 study showed that where they’re installed, cyclists ride farther to the left, as intended. And they can serve a wayfinding role, guiding cyclist between facilities, especially in places where I've seen them designed for that purpose. Sharrows can't offer protection, and have little safety benefit even when used properly, but they're not bullshit. If a DOT downgraded a plan from PBLs to sharrows, that would be bullshit; but merely using them is not. They’re not a substitute for other facilities (though they might be better than door zone bike lanes in some cases), but they’re not "worse than nothing." They are marginally better than nothing, which I understand may not be enough for some.

Buffered-bike-lane_3d_0

Buffered Bike Lanes

Buffered bike lanes often garner the "paint is not protection" complaint, which is largely true - it's not. But buffered lanes, lanes with more than a foot of painted shy space on one or both sides, can improve safety. Studies show that buffered bike lanes, especially those with flexposts "yield significant increases in perceived comfort for potential cyclists with safety concerns (the interested but concerned)." We've seen that on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where the buffered bike lanes led to more cyclists using the road, and fewer crashes (there was an issue with cars making illegal U-Turns which is pretty specific to that unusual design, but the main idea remains). Furthermore, buffers in the door zone help keep cyclists from riding too close to parked cars. And while studies are needed to determine the safety of traffic-side buffers, it seems reasonable to expect that creating space between drivers and cyclists - even if it enforced only by paint is better than not creating that space. 

Flexposts 

Finally we come to flexposts, not as hated as sharrows, but often dismissed.  As mentioned above, Flexposts put "interested but concerned" cyclists at ease.   Flexposts are also effective at preventing cars from parking on a bike lane or driving in it. When they were added to the bike lanes on 1st Street, SE the number of cars parking in the bike lane dropped to zero. They were also usefyl in limiting the number of cars driving down protected bike lanes (when they go missing, it's noticed). Again, they aren't protection, but they serve a purpose.

While we can continue to work for more PBLs, the glamorous Marshas of bike facilities, can we also learn to stop hating these other Jans?

If we do, we find that the sharrows were inside of us all along.

Another 50th Anniversary worth celebrating

On this day in 1969, the National Park Service announced that the sidewalks around the elipse would be open for bicycle riding. On Sundays only. From 9 a.m. to Noon. And only until the end of summer. This quickly became one of the "best" places to ride bikes, according to the papers. NPS was then in the process of trying to expand biking options, they'd built trails in north Rock Creek Park, part of the Ft. Circle Trail east of the rover and along the Potomac, with plans to built a trail along the length of Rock Creek (didn't quite happen), all the way around DC along the Fort Circle (also didn't happen) and down to Mt. Vernon on the Virginia side of the Potomac (did happen). Not quite walking on the Moon, but it's something. NPS unfortunately ran out of steam, and money, by 1975. 

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