Changes underway, planned along Pershing in Arlington

 

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There are more than a half-dozen bike-relevant projects underway, or in various stages of planning, in the Arlington Boulevard corridor.

Arlington County has been working on the Pershing Drive Complete Street project for over 5 years, and while the actual work has begun, a manufacturing issue put it on hold. This project goes beyond the 2018 pilot that

was implemented on Pershing Drive between Washington Boulevard and North Barton Street in October 2018. The pilot installation includes the addition of pedestrian/streetscape enhancements, protected bike lanes, and bus service efficiencies to improve safety for all roadway users. The pilot is expected to remain in place for several years.

However the needed supplies arrived last month and work resumed and will continue for a little longer. There's no specific bike facilities here, but it does include general traffic calming like bulbouts and realignments. 

Meanwhile in the same area, they've completed the redesign of the Washington Boulevard intersection and awarded a contract for that project, which is an expansion of the same project. Work should begin this summer.  Again, no specific bike component, but general traffic calming should make it safer for all. 

DES-Pershing-Dr-Washington_Blvd_intersection

On the east end of Pershing, the General Land Use Plan (GLUP) Study for the Day's Inn site south of Pershing Drive at Arlington Boulevard was reviewed by the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) completing a necessary step for rezoning. The Day's Inn site redevelopment would likely result in a new section of the Arlington Blvd Trail where the trail meets Pershing and currently is routed through a parking lot.

White's Ferry may be saved, what this means for cyclists

image from www.buckyandhisbike.net

Back in December, White's Ferry was closed in part because a cable was destroyed during a Christmas Day flood and in part because of a dispute over landing rights on the Virginia side. After negotiations to reopen it failed, the owners of the ferry sold it to a Virginia businessman and preservation, who will now try to negotiate a deal. I won't bore you with the details, but you can follow the links if you want to know who said what and who offered whom how much money and why a deal is needed and why no one can agree.

The reason this all matters, of course, is that the ferry serves as a connection between the W&OD Trail and the C&O Canal Towpath and many cyclists use it to make a loop (although I've never used the towpath for that loop). It's the only crossing for cyclists between Chain Bridge and the Point of Rocks Bridge - a distance of 40 miles. I've never biked across that latter bridge, which is beautiful, but as it only has 3 foot wide sidewalks, seems less than ideal anyway (not that that is really an alternative to the ferry).

It wasn't cheap and the pricing always bothered me. It cost $3 to take a bike across, but only $5 for a car. And if a driver bought one of their blue books with multiple tickets the price was less than $3 per trip (and less than taking a bike). But whatever - monopoly's gonna monopoly. 

A non-operating ferry is bad for cyclists. Opening it would be better. But perhaps the ideal situation would be for some government entity to take it over. They'd be more interested in cutting prices for cyclists and pedestrians - though the argument for that might be weak since I doubt there are many (any?) people who commute over the ferry by bike or on foot.

Another option is a small human-powered ferry, but I can't see why anyone would intervene to build one when the main constituency for the ferry is drivers. 

And while I'm reluctant to support new car infrastructure, a one-lane, alternating traffic bridge with a bike/ped lane - like the Union Arch Bridge over Cabin John -  might even be better. Toll it for drivers and make it free for cyclists, pedestrians, transit and emergency vehicles. We could try to set the toll so that car traffic remains the same or at some other sustainable level. 

We should start attaching points to speed camera tickets

Right now if someone gets a speeding ticket in DC they incur 3-5 points on their license. Unless that ticket is camera-enforced, then they don't get any points assessed. [Surprisingly, there are no points for running lights or stop signs] When I've asked about it, I've been told we can't because of the Constitution or the presumption of innocence. The problem with that is that other places do it.

WSJ2

And if Arizona, if someone amasses many tickets, the police will go to their home.

Identifying the driver takes some work - they use the driver's license photo for the registered owner, and if that doesn't work they send out the ticket and give the owner a chance to identify the driver. Which they sometimes do. It's not just AZ either. Both California and Oregon do this. 

Attaching the tickets to drivers instead of cars, would also result in the insurance rates of bad drivers going up. Which is how the system should work - although some states (MD and VA included) forbid this.

If we started giving points for camera tickets then we might need to lower the penalty (as enforcement goes up, the penalty should go down), but the incentive to slow down and drive safer would remain. 

DDOT plans to add protected bike lanes to West Virginia Avenue this year.

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At a recent ANC meeting, DDOT announced plans to speed up the West Virginia Avenue (WVA) road diet completing the 2-phase project about a year earlier than originally announced. Work will start in the spring of 2021 and finish up by summer.  Phase 2 was to complete in 2022, but now will also be built this year

The project will remove a travel lane from WVA in order to add the two 8' wide PBLs. Phase I will build the northern section from Mt. Olivet to New York Avenue (NYA) and Phase II will build south of there to Florida Avenue where it will connect to the new bike lanes on that road. In the middle, DDOT plans to add bike lanes heading west on Mt. Olivet. And someday they plan to build a bike trail along NYA, though maybe not as far east as WVA. 

WVAPBLs

Very exciting stuff. As a former rail road corridor, WVA is a nice flat route making it perfect for biking and bike lanes have been something DC aspired to have there since at least the 2005 plan. They're calling these protected bike lanes, but it's unclear what the protection will be (barriers? flexposts? flexposts and curb stops?). Regardless it will be a step up from what's there now. 

Broad Branch deemed too narrow for bike lane, but will get a sidewalk

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Not gonna happen

DDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have been working on the rehabilitation of Broad Branch Road between Linnean Avenue and Beach Drive since 2011. The project has been slowed by the narrow right-of-way of the road, desires to widen it to accommodate a sidewalk and/or a bike lane and limitations on the ability to do that caused by potential encroachments by the project on Rock Creek Park and Embassy lands owned and occupied by Sovereign Nations. In October they released a Revised Draft Environmental Assessment that includes a preferred alternative that's a modified version of one of the candidates presented in the original EA. This one avoids all encroachments on Embassy properties and further minimizes encroachments on Rock Creek Park.

Map

In the end, the right-of-way was found to be too narrow to include two traffic lanes, a climbing lane for bikes and a sidewalk. It doesn't seem they were able to get access to any of the embassy lands and that RCP was reluctant to give up more than a few feet in a few tight areas. 

With the road connecting to the Rock Creek Trail on on end and climbing up to the west for more than a mile, bike facilities on this road would create many new connections. 

Alternative 4 had a bike lane on the uphill/east side of the road to serve as a climbing lane, while cyclists heading downhill would take the lane. This was the widest and most expensive option (though only a small amount more expensive than the preferred alternative. 

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The alternative they chose is basically the same, but with the bike lane gone. The 10' rain garden is only found on the northern section between Linean and 27th, where the ROW is wider.  The preferred alternative is identical to the original Candidate Build Alternative 3 with the exception of the width of sidewalks in front of the sovereign nation lands. To minimize encroachments onto NPS lands on the east side of the roadway at these locations, the sidewalks along the embassy properties were reduced to a 5-foot width.

There's no doubt that the preferred alternative would be better than the status quo. It has a sidewalk - which cyclists are legally allowed to use - and storm water runoff facilities; but it's really unfortunate that adjacent landowners couldn't be convinced to allow for a safer street. Unfortunately none of the relevant countries are Vision Zero leaders, but you'd think Italy might support a climbing lane. 

Land use permission aside, the true missed opportunity here comes from the assumed operational needs - that the road needs two traffic lanes. I'm no expert, but even on the busiest section of Broad Branch, the section closest to Rock Creek, the traffic is less than half of what it is on Beach Drive (6500 vehicles a day vs 13100). And on the north end traffic is less than half of what it is on the south. Beach Drive is a two-lane road, so why not make Broad Branch a one lane, one-way road to free up space for active transportation? There aren't that many destinations along the road - and many of them are the embassies who clearly don't think extra capacity is needed anyway - so there aren't that many people being inconvenienced. 

A one way, one-lane road going in the south/downhill direction would allow

  1. downhill cyclists to merge with automobile traffic, just as was planned in the bike lane option
  2. 6-8 feet for a protected climbing lane in the uphill direction,
  3. a 6 foot wide sidewalk the whole way, without taking land from NPS
  4. a slightly reduced footprint, moving the trail away from Broad Branch. 

Cyclist gutter

Unfortunately, the comment period on the Draft EA came and went in the fall. The final EA will come out in the Spring. I'm gonna be disappointed. 

(Aside: I love the way this changes over time

On a similar note, Bingham Drive in RCP has been closed for several years now for a sewer rehabilitation project that was supposed to be finished last year. During that time it was significantly damaged during an August 2018 rain storm (remind you of anything). Since then DDOE and NPS have become more worried about storm water management. What if roads, but less? DC Water and NPS could reduce the impervious area and make biking better by replacing the road and adjacent trail with a one-lane road (uphill this time) and an adjacent 10 foot bi-directional bikeway. Together the one lane roads could act like a pair of lanes - one bringing people into the park, and the other bringing them out - though they are pretty far apart along Beach Drive. 

There was a time when NPS was very concerned about all the car traffic in the Park. This is one way to reduce it - with many added benefits. 

Indian Head Rail Trail Extension Feasibility Study

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Charles County is studying a possible connection between two rail trails, the Indian Head Rail Trail in White Plains and the Three Notch Trail south of Hughesville. On the map above, the orange line is the Indian Head, the blue line is the Three Notch and the study area is between them. At this point, they're looking for input from residents and trail users via a survey and an interactive map - both accessible at this link

I've been on parts of both trails, but can't claim to be too familiar with the area in between. It's a great idea to make both trails better and I commend their ambition.

Montgomery County's Open Parkways Program should extend after the pandemic

image from d1dph1psyatsfa.cloudfront.net

Starting last year, Montgomery Parks started closing (or opening, from a certain point of view) sections of parkways to give people more room to get out an exercise during the pandemic, since Covid closed many of the indoor spaces people used in the Beforetimes. When we get through this, they should consider expanding the closures in the Aftertimes as well. 

In the Beforetimes, part of Sligo Creek was recreationalized from dawn to dusk on Sundays to create more recreational space. But in April they closed Sligo Creek Parkway from New Hampshire Avenue to Piney Branch Road Friday through Sunday. It was so popular that they expanded to the recreationalization to the portion between Forest Glen Road and University Boulevard. The next week, it was expanded again

  • Little Falls Parkway from Massachusetts Ave. to Arlington Rd. (1.3 miles)
  • Beach Drive from Connecticut Avenue to Knowles Avenue (2.7 miles)

They also kept them "open" for Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. And the closures were popular.

sensors detected about 147,000 visits to Little Falls Parkway since April, but that was only an approximate number. The number of people peaked in May. Now, 10,000 to 15,000 people go to Little Falls Parkway each month.

The began to roll that back in December, specifically on Little Falls Parkway. And the rollback was also attributed to Covid

Trails Master Planner and Trails Program Supervisor Darren Flusche said the change was largely due to logistics and staff capacity. With county COVID-19 numbers on the rise, the Operations Crew and Park Police now only have two-thirds of the usual number of people working at once to allow for social distancing.

The department decided that closing Little Falls Parkway to motor vehicles made too many demands on the staff, he said.

“It’s not something that we want to do,” he said about the decision to reopen Little Falls Parkway to motor vehicles. 

Part of the problem with Little Falls Parkway is the lack of gates which makes closure harder. The solution here is just to add some gates to LFP. 

The Open Spaces program has been wildly popular. It's gotten people outside exercising and socializing and even made active transportation easier. The County should take a good hard look at it before they roll it all the way back. Weekend closures of these parkways - even without a pandemic - would put more park into the parkways. 

Redevelopment of hotel site could improve the Arlington Blvd Trail

The Arlington Boulevard Trail is one of the oldest in Northern Virginia, having first opened in 1974, but even back then there was always a discontinuous section at the Day's Inn just south of Pershing Avenue. With that property being reviewed for a Special General Land Use Plan there's an opportunity to move the trail out of the parking lot and onto a real trail. 

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The trail currently is a painted dual-direction bike lane on Wainwright Road. It's OK for cycling but not great and even worse for pedestrians. 

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One of the draft principles of the plan is to "Improve the Arlington Boulevard Trail in this location, ensuring trail connectivity and safety, while providing improved landscaping appropriate for trail edges."

A shared-use path through here would make better use of the land, and be in keeping with the Public Spaces Master Plan. The next LRPC meeting will take place on January 27th

NTSB bicycle safety report

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The National Transportation Safety Board recently issued its first bicycle safety report in 47 years.

Among those bicyclists involved in crashes with motor vehicles, 15% were hospitalized, treated and transferred, or held for observation, indicating a serious injury level. In comparison, only 7% of bicyclists in other crashes received the same treatments. This difference suggests that crashes between motor vehicles and bicycles produce more severe injury outcomes for the bicyclists.

You don't say?!

The report was written in response to recent studies that showed a percentage decline in motor vehicle fatalities, yet an increase in deaths of vulnerable road users as well as some other disturbing trends. NTSB admitted that the annually reported number of fatalities were just a floor and acknowledged they didn't really know for sure if they included all the deaths, and likewise that they likely underestimate the level of bicycling activity in the United States. They also conceded that the injury data was almost meaningless. 

The research goals were to (1) describe fatal and nonfatal injury trends associated with bicycle crashes involving motor vehicles, (2) examine the scope and nature of bicyclist crash and injury risk factors and assess data limitations, (3) identify proven countermeasures that may be underused, (4) assess obstacles that may interfere with the full use of the identified countermeasures, and (5) explore emerging issues that are relevant to bicycling safety

Some of their findings echo things most safe streets advocates have been talking about for years: protected bike lanes and slower car speeds can reduce fatalities, road diets make roads safer. Others are somewhat novel like " allowing adaptive headlight systems and
to require evaluating headlights in real-world settings rather than in a laboratory would likely result in headlights that improve drivers’ ability to detect other road users, including bicyclists."

The report calls for the DOT to consider bicyclists and pedestrians in current and future safety research, assessments and guidelines for cars; to push for more separated bike facilities; and for more to be done to improve conspicuity of cyclists. 

They also recommend that state governments:

Require that all persons shall wear an age-appropriate bicycle helmet while riding a bicycle

So there's that. They do present many studies that back up the efficacy of helmets, but I'm not sure that helmet laws work (though they have data that implies they do). And, of course, it mandatory helmet use is a good idea for cyclists, why not pedestrians and motorists?

With conspicuity (think lights and reflectors) they note that the standards are from the 1980's but that technology has come a long way since then and that perhaps they should be updated to include LED-based lights for example. The section on car lights was interesting and new to me. 

Yet, the current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) for headlights, FMVSS 108, does not include minimum illumination distance or on-vehicle performance testing of lighting systems. Rather, manufacturers self-certify that their lights meet criteria for bulb output, using the results of component tests―that is, operating tests carried out on parts that have been removed from a vehicle. Additionally, DOT rules permit a low beam and a high beam; however, unlike European standards, they do not allow vehicles manufactured for sale in the United States to continuously adjust the light pattern and provide high-beam illumination except within a segment of the beam that is adjusted to limit glare for oncoming drivers.

They also seem bullish on technology like Collision Avoidance Systems and Vehicle-to-Pedestrian systems, which I remain hopeful about. The call for helmet laws was controversial, but I was glad to see them give so much attention to safer cars and safer roads. The US has a long way to go.

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CWL 2020: Bonus! Dueling Creek

I left one off the list, but had already written this, so then I had 13. Enjoy!

Just north of the District Boundary on the east side of the Anacostia lies Dueling Creek. Technically, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail ends at a parking lot about 700 feet from the Creek, but a small connection to it would be easy. A short trail along the stream has the potential to create some neighborhood connections, but even a short trail has some serious barriers to overcome.

DuelingCreek Trail

The mouth of the creek is in Colmar Manor Community Park, which was built on an old landfill site in the 1980's. It sits just north of Fort Lincoln Cemetery. A trail from the existing ATTS terminus to the Anacostia along the creek would have a recreational value, but if it could be extended south between the Anacostia and the Cemetery to New York Avenue, Fort Lincoln Drive and/or the Arboretum then it would have some transportation utility, more so if the New York Avenue bridge gets a bike crossing as is often suggested. 

DuelingCreek

North of the park road, the creek runs in a concrete channel passing under the low traffic streets of Lawrence and 37th before reaching the Dueling Grounds, from which the creek gets its name, and Bladensburg Road. The section of trail would be the easiest to built, but could also be considered redundant to the park road. A facility alongside the road might be easier and have less environmental impact. 

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There is some talk of this. In August, Anacostia Heritage Trails Area, Inc. and the town of Colmar Manor hosted a community planning meeting on a new Dueling Creek Heritage Trail. They considered adding a short trail segment along the lower part of the creek. They identified four possible routes between the trail and the park near Bladensburg Road.

Dueling Creek

A grade separated crossing of Blandesburg would really open up Colmar Manor to the trail; but it would be expensive, perhaps prohibitively so depending on the expected use. 

Between Bladensburg Road and the Camden Line railroad the creek runs naturally between parking before reaching a small residential area. A trail on this section would make sense on its own, since it would create a shorter connection between Cottage Terrace and the closest Bladensburg Road crosswalk. In the 2009 Port Towns plan, this area is meant to be a park, but no trail is identified along Dueling Creek at all. 

DuelingCreekPlan2

Getting across the railroad tracks is similar in difficulty to getting across Bladensburg Road. On the other side the creek is again in a concrete channel to Wells Avenue with absolutely no room on the sides. The nearest pedestrian crossings of the railroad tracks are about 1000-1700 feet away.

East of Wells, the creeks is encased in a concrete box, the top of which, with some improvement, could serve as a bike path to 35th Street. Parts of it appear to be on private property, which would be a significant complication. 

A trail from 35th to the river would be a great amenity, but it would be expensive and difficult. From the railroad to the river would be easier and useful, even it it required an at-grade crossing at an uncontrolled crosswalk. But it's not without complexities and limitations which explains why it's last on this list. 

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