Making a Street Safe for All

On Thursday, May 5th of 2016, a person commuting on a bike was struck by a car while trying to cross Duke Street at West Taylor Run Parkway in Alexandria, Virginia. The condition of the victim remains very serious at the time of this writing.

What caused this near-fatality? The police are still investigating, but bad road design must share the blame. The crash site on Duke has more in common with a highway than with a street by a residential area.

Duke Street between West Taylor Run Parkway (left) and the Telegraph Road Interchange (right).

Duke Street between West Taylor Run Parkway (left) and the Telegraph Road Interchange (right).

Duke has multiple lanes, high speed merges, an absence of bike facilities and infrequent crosswalks. It is extraordinarily dangerous for anyone not enshrouded in a ton of steel. Yet it separates a residential area to the north from a city-owned soccer field to the south. It is remarkable that a child has not been struck here, so far.

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The current lane configuration on Duke Street at West Taylor Run Parkway. This is what kids from the neighborhood have to cross to reach a soccer field.

The width of Duke Street at West Taylor Run Parkway is seven lanes, including turn lanes. That does not include the two-lane service road running parallel to Duke. Just to the east is a grade-separated interchange that feeds traffic onto a limited access section of Telegraph Road. That, in turn, leads to a section of the Capital Beltway that was widened during the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.

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Telegraph Road (center) in Alexandria functions as a limited access connector between Duke Street (top) and the Capital Beltway/I-95/I-495 (bottom). For much of the early part of this century the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) worked on widening Telegraph as part of the rebuilding of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac River a couple of miles to the east. No changes were made to Duke Street.

The crosswalk at West Taylor Run Parkway is the only one on Duke Street for a ¾ mile stretch. To the north lie residences; to the south is a soccer field and various commercial land uses. A push-to-walk button, popularly known as a “beg button,” is in place at this crosswalk.

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This reconstruction of Duke Street would give more priority to those walking or biking by reducing the number of vehicle lanes to be crossed.

What might this section of Duke Street look like if it were made safer for those walking or on bikes? By default, those in cars would lose priority, but this would benefit surrounding neighborhoods tremendously. Cut-through traffic accessing the Beltway during the afternoon rush hour puts a serious strain on the neighborhoods to the north. If such traffic is thwarted, residents benefit in terms of both safety and property values, as nobody likes living next to a jammed, polluting road.

Duke & West Taylor Run

An aerial view of a reimagined Duke Street at West Taylor Run Parkway. Note how Duke Street is essentially converted from a highway to an urban boulevard.

This plan is entirely my own and I do not claim perfection, but it is a starting point for coming up with a desperately-needed fix. Note that one lane westbound is removed. This will require traffic exiting northbound Telegraph Road onto Duke Street via the loop ramp (see picture above) to come to a complete halt, rather than simply race into their own lane. That’s a good thing, as a crosswalk with frequently-damaged flashing beacons is located at the end of the ramp. Drivers have a hard time adjusting from 45 MPH down to a full stop when they aren’t expecting it. Requiring a full stop at all times makes matters more predictable.

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There are supposed to be two flashing beacons at this crosswalk along westbound Duke at the ramp exiting northbound Telegraph. It keeps getting obliterated by motorists who, when surprised by unexpected stopping of vehicles in front of them, veer off the road. Anything in their way is hit, whether a sign or a person waiting to cross.

A fully-separated, bi-directional separated bikeway is located on the north side of Duke. Currently, there is no real provision for people on bikes, other than a few meaningless sharrows. A separated bikeway also extends across Duke at East Taylor Run Parkway. It heads towards a tunnel under the nearby railyard, though that tunnel’s access must also be re-engineered as it features a stair.

Note that the service road on the north side of Duke is severely truncated. Its purpose is to provide access to adjacent businesses. With Duke Street calmer, a complete parallel route would no longer be necessary. This also eliminates complex, and unworkable, intersections such as that where the service road currently meets West Taylor Run Parkway.

Trumpet interchange at Telegraph & Duke

Note how the vertices of the intersections of ramps with Duke Street are tightened. This requires either a full stop or a dramatic slowing by motorists. Motorist behavior would become much more consistent, leading to fewer flashing beacons being smashed.

My plan bans most left turns onto Duke from streets southbound out of the neighborhood to the north. The one that remains would not be able to access southbound Telegraph directly. While this means that residents would have to go a bit further in order to access legal U-turn points, their neighborhood would see cut-through traffic eliminated via this added delay. This is an effective practice well-vetted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

At the crash site, itself, the right turn lane from westbound Duke to northbound West Taylor Run is eliminated. With the service road truncated, it is no longer required. As stated previously, one westbound through-lane on Duke is gone. That makes the crosswalk on Duke shorter. Additionally, the beginning of the ramp from eastbound Duke to southbound Telegraph Road begins further to the east. This discourages drivers entering the ramp from accelerating to high speed, as they have a tighter turn to negotiate as they head onto Telegraph.

Although I left it in, the far-right lane on Duke accessing this ramp could be eliminated and further calm eastbound Duke traffic. Its role is purely for stacking capacity. That can no longer take precedence over the safety of vulnerable street users, now that the city has adopted Vision Zero and Complete Streets.

In light of this crash, will the city take quick action to make Duke Street safe via a plan such as mine? On paper, the answer should be yes, due to policy positions staked out by Alexandria’s City Council. The new Pedestrian/Bicycle chapter of the city’s Transportation Master Plan embraces Vision Zero. The city council adopted a Complete Streets resolution in 2011. These positions led to Alexandria being named a Silver level bike-friendly city by the League of American Bicyclists.

But work will not soon begin on fixing the street around the crash site. At least one councilmember is on record stating that she wants to slow down the process of building bike facilities on Duke while discussions continue on proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for Duke Street, otherwise known as the Corridor B Transitway.

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Note how people who bike are relegated to an off-Duke facility that is to be “examined.”

Corridor B will run in mixed traffic for much of its length. That mixed flow generally comes to a halt just west of the crash’s location, so the “R” in “BRT” is questionable. Mixed flow BRT projects are subject to the same congestion delays as normal bus services. That eliminates much of the benefit such systems use to attract ridership. However, where Duke is at least six lanes wide, the BRT will get dedicated right of way. That includes Duke Street between the Telegraph Road interchange and West Taylor Run Parkway. But don’t go planning any trips on it, as no timeline for construction, or even funding, exists.

The question boils down to this: should major changes to make Duke Street safe for all users be put off for years in anticipation of a mixed-flow BRT scheme. Or should the city go ahead and implement its Vision Zero and Complete Streets policies as soon as possible by reconstructing dangerous portions of Duke Street, such as the crash site, even if it means foregoing BRT?

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Mayors and members of Council have received requests to reactivate or replace this broken red light camera and expand coverage to both sides of Duke Street. No actions or even studies have been forthcoming.

The Alexandria city government is already well aware of the risk posed by motorist behavior at this intersection. Red light cameras were installed here over 10 years ago, but they are not functioning. Even if they were reactivated, the high-speed road design is still a risk to the public.

The need to do something is critical. As with all fixes designed to make streets safer, the question is whether there is sufficient political will push aside an obstructing priority. If the obstructing priority is an unfunded BRT plan that indefinitely delays the protection human life, so be it.

A Road Diet for the George Washington Memorial Parkway

In 1932, the southern section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP) opened to traffic. Conceived as a means to ease tourist access to George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, it morphed throughout the latter part of the 20th century into a motorist commuter route for far-flung suburbanites heading to the District of Columbia. Both the road and the adjacent Mount Vernon Trail are maintained by the National Park Service (NPS), whose mission is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources” of the United States. You will not find anywhere in its mission statement that it is to provide fast, convenient commuter routes for the suburbs of Washington, DC.

This is the George Washington Memorial Parkway today: four high-speed lanes, no traffic lights, controlled access, and a narrow multiuser trail parallel to the roadway. All of this is next to the Potomac River.

This is the George Washington Memorial Parkway today: four high-speed lanes, no traffic lights, controlled access, and a narrow multiuser trail parallel to the roadway. All of this is next to the Potomac River.

Average daily traffic (ADT) volumes on the GWMP within the last few years have been approximately 16,000 vehicles, a number that isn’t huge but certainly lessens the road’s original scenic purpose. Birdsong is impossible to hear with the din of SUVs in the background.

Note how close the four lanes of traffic are to the trail on the right. Also, note that no crosswalks are present at this busy intersection. Nor are there any signals to stop traffic for people crossing on foot or by bike.

Note how close the four lanes of traffic are to the trail on the right. Also, note that no crosswalks are present at this busy intersection. Nor are there any signals to stop traffic for people crossing on foot or by bike.

That ADT number is also well within the 20,000 ADT set as the maximum for the practical implementation of a road diet as decreed by the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). That FHWA maximum is, itself, arbitrarily low based on real-world observations. For example, no significant increase in regional congestion was caused by the 2015 closure of two lanes on the far more heavily used Memorial Bridge just to the north.

Parallel to the four-lane GWMP is the Mount Vernon Trail, a winding, narrow multiuser trail. In recent years, this trail has become a major commuter route for people who bike to and from DC. Upwards of 2000 bikes per day hit the trail, despite the trail’s narrowness.

People who walk and bike must share this trail, as signs along the road prohibit bicycles from the road. Interestingly, the federal code governing the road’s usage doesn’t reference bicycles explicitly. Nor does the code prohibit changes to the amount of space on the roadway given over to motorists.

Bikes are not allowed on the lightly-traveled parkway. Instead, they are forced onto the adjacent Mount Vernon Trail.

Bikes are not allowed on the lightly-traveled parkway. Instead, they are forced onto the adjacent Mount Vernon Trail.

Recently, the National Park Service released its National Capital Region Draft Paved Trail Study for comment. The study is an update of the 1990 plan written in an era when bicycling in the US was less of an everyday transportation mode and more of a recreational activity. The plan tends to view the trails in isolation. There’s no mention of what mode will get priority when there is conflict, such as when people on bikes or on foot must cross the road for access to trails. It also does not address the feasibility of road diets that would balance out mode space on routes like the southern section of the GWMP.

Does it make sense that cars on the southern section (below Alexandria) of the GWMP are given four lanes of space while bikes and pedestrians are crammed onto the narrow, winding MVT? Both are major commuter routes, but whereas the MVT is overcrowded at 2000 ADT, the GWMP is half-empty at 16,000 ADT. In essence, the trail is under-built, while the road is over-built.

If the draft paved trail plan truly acknowledged the modern and future needs of this particular route, discussion of a road diet on the GWMP would be on the table. The road could easily be shrunk to one vehicle lane in each direction with adjacent buffered bike lanes. The MVT could be given over entirely to people who walk, eliminating potentially hazardous bike-pedestrian conflicts.

A road diet on the GWMP would leave two lanes for motorists, buffered bike lanes on the remaining space, and leave the Mount Vernon Trail exclusively for use by those on foot.

A road diet on the GWMP would leave two lanes for motorists, buffered bike lanes on the remaining space, and leave the Mount Vernon Trail exclusively for use by those on foot.

This is not without precedent. In 2001 the state of New York closed two out of four lanes on the Robert Moses Parkway in the Niagara Falls region. As with the GWMP, this highway was controlled access with an eye towards enhancing tourist traffic while providing access to scenic beauty. Instead, it proved to be such a failure in all regards that local advocates didn’t stop with a road diet. They pushed through a plan to remove it entirely for at least a two mile stretch. If the state of New York can pull this off, despite actually having a mandate to provide speedy transportation options, why can’t the National Park Service?

The Robert Moses Parkway in the Niagara River region was very similar to the George Washington Parkway, until a road diet was implemented. Now a two-mile portion will be removed to allow better river access.

The Robert Moses Parkway in the Niagara River region was very similar to the George Washington Parkway, until a road diet was implemented. Now a two-mile portion will be removed to allow better river access.

NPS has an opportunity to shift its focus in the National Capital region away from an old-school, road-centric mindset to a more sustainable approach that also recognizes the changing commuter habits of younger generations. If you agree, send the National Park Service your comments via their comment page. You have until May 19th to do so. After that, you may have to wait another quarter-century to get your input to them.

Public Meetings for Your Input — Transportation Projects That Are Recommended for Funding

RELEASE: IMMEDIATE

CONTACT: Tamara Rollison 804-786-2715, Tamara.Rollison@vdot.virginia.gov

CO-93310

March 21, 2016

YOUR INPUT IS NEEDED ON VIRGINIA TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS THAT ARE SCORED AND RECOMMENDED FOR FUNDING

RICHMOND – The public is invited to share comments on transportation projects that have been scored and recommended for funding through Virginia’s new data-driven, prioritization process. This process was used to score nearly 300 transportation projects proposed by localities and regional planning bodies across the state. The scoring is a key part of a new law, referred to as House Bill 2, to invest limited tax dollars in the right transportation projects.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board will consider public comments as it develops the Six-Year Improvement Program (FY 2017-2022). The program allocates public funds to highway, road, bridge, rail, bicycle, pedestrian and public transportation projects. The CTB will select the final list of scored projects to be included in the six-year program following public meetings listed below. [click to continue…]

What Gets Counted, Counts: FHWA Announces New Safety Performance Measures, Including Bicycle-Pedestrian Safety

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) today published new safety performance measures as part of its national safety program, calling for state and regional targets to help reduce highway deaths and injuries, including for the first time, those among people walking and bicycling. The new regulations call for improved data on roadway features and a consistent definition of serious injuries.

“The Department has been working hard with communities around the country to reduce the growing number of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Having a uniform national performance measure will help us all work together to save lives.”

The addition of bicycle-pedestrian performance measures is an acknowledgement that non-motorized safety is of particular concern and improving conditions and safety for bicycling and walking will help create an integrated, intermodal transportation system that provides travelers with real choices.

The safety performance measures come as part of new rules to implement the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) performance management requirements for safety and update the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP). Major provisions involve requirements for all states to evaluate and report more effectively on surface transportation safety across the country.

“Together, the rules will enhance a data-driven approach to making safety decisions, improve collaboration across a wide range of safety partners, and provide transparency for the American public,” said Federal Highway Administrator Gregory Nadeau. “Most importantly, the rules will help save lives as states set and report on safety targets.”

The regulations will require reporting on the number and rate of all traffic fatalities and serious injuries, as well as a combined non-motorized pedestrian and bicycle injury and fatality measure. States and regional targets and progress on all five measures will be available through a public reporting system and will be aggregated at the national level. State departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations will be required to use the information in their investment programming and will be accountable to achieving annual their targets. The final rule also simplifies the method of determining target achievement.

These rules implement not only the MAP-21 requirements, but also modifications called for by the more recent Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. With the recent increase in roadway deaths, the new approach to FHWA safety programs is timely. It also marks an important change in the management of the Federal-Aid highway program to become performance-driven.

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Read More

Finally, a Little Accountability for State DOTs on Bike and Pedestrian Safety (Streetsblog USA)

2016 Legislative Wrap-Up: Dooring Bill Passes, Bike Lane Bill Fails

Not the finish to the Session we had hoped for after the Dooring bill (SB117) passed the House Floor by a 70-25 vote (although we did have a flurry of vote changes posted, with Del. Kaye Kory of Falls Church who had been out sick when the vote was taken notifying the Clerk that she had intended to vote Yea, as did Del. Patrick Hope of Arlington, who also had been recorded as Absent), while Del. Chris Peace of eastern Hanover & New Kent changed his vote from Nay to Yea

On the minus side of the ledger, Del. Buddy Fowler stated that he had intended to vote Nay, but was recorded as a Yea while Del. Charles Poindexter of Glade Hill, who had been recorded as Absent, notified that he had intended to vote Nay.

An unusual amount of late weighing in for one bill, as the Delegates involved apparently want to make sure it is known which side of the vote they were on, even though it didn’t change the result, which with all the votes counted as they wanted would appear to be 72-26, with two not voting.

Not such a good result with SB669, the “Maintenance Reimbursement for Bike Lanes” bill, after it was reported out of House Transportation 18-1, passed by for the day FIVE TIMES on the House Floor, then referred to Appropriations, who then re-referred it to House Transportation after it had met for the last time for this Session, so it goes into the book as “Continued to 2017 in Transportation”.

In short, the people I have talked to, who should be knowledgeable, but admit that they have never seen a bill run into the treatment this one has received, feel that the bill HAS BEEN KILLED, although with lots of fancy footwork and language to make it appear to the contrary, without a vote having been taken.

According to my sources, the bill would have to start over from scratch in the next session, particularly since the patron, Sen. Ken Alexander, has announced that he is resigning at the conclusion of this session to run for Mayor of Norfolk.

I think we just have to chalk it up to bad timing, with an innocent, relatively minor, bill backed by the Administration, and with a Democrat patron who was being pressured to change his vote in the controversy over the Judges, which ran into a solid wall of opposition from the leadership of the House, who then shunted it to every possible by-pass, without letting it be voted on. Definitely a situation that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as it’s not much fun to be this closely involved in this level of partisan wrangling.

Dooring Bill Passes House; Bike Lane Bill “Passed By”

SB117/the Dooring bill passed the House today by a 70-25 vote. RABA people from Hanover county may want to send Del. Chris Peace a message and those from Powhatan a message to Del. Lee Ware expressing their surprise and disappointment that they voted in opposition to a common sense bicycling safety bill. Everyone else in the RABA area can THANK their Delegates for supporting the bill, and it really would be helpful in the future if they would take the trouble to do so.

My personal thanks to all who took the trouble to send messages to their Legislators, as it obviously helped to get the bill through.

SB669/the Maintenance Reimbursement for Bike Lanes bill was “passed by for the day” for the 3rd successive day today, which would indicate that it may be in the process of being held hostage as a bargaining chip in some partisan negotiations between the House leadership and the Governor (since it is an Administration backed bill) and/or Sen. Alexander of Norfolk, the bill’s Democrat patron. It’s painful to see a bill be subjected to this apparently partisan treatment, but we have the rest of the week to see how this situation plays out. Hopefully, the bill will be permitted to be voted on before the Legislative session concludes at the end of this week.

Dooring Bill Clears Committee, Now Up for House Vote

A half hour after adjournment today turned out to be around 2:45 as the House ran long as it tries to wrap up business before the deadline.

The bills coming out of the Criminal SubComm of House Courts of Justice were heard first in the full Committee and then the bills from the Civil SubComm which is where we had been heard on Monday. As usual, Sen. Petersen did a nice relaxed presentation of SB117, the Dooring bill, and as he noted since this was the 5th time he had given it, many of the members had heard it previously in the Transportation Committees or the SubComms of this one. Chairman Albo asked if the patron had any witnesses and Sen. Petersen pointed to me sitting off to the side, so I started by saying that I also had given this pitch a number of times, also to a number of the members on this Committee. [click to continue…]

SB669 Maintenance Funding & Road Diet Bill Clears Transpo Committee, Now Up for House Vote

SB 669/the highway maintenance reimbursement for bike lanes bill was heard just after 8:30 in the House Transportation Committee this morning. Sen. Alexander of Norfolk did a good job of presenting it, and a number of witnesses including Nick Donohue (Deputy Secy of Transportation), Thelma Drake for the City of Norfolk, Trip Pollard of Partnership for Smarter Growth, a representative of the city of Portsmouth, and me, spoke in support . Del. Greg Habeeb of Salem gave some background regarding how the bill (and his opinion of it) had changed since it was first introduced and how he was now solidly in support of it. Surprisingly, Del. Scott Garrett of Lynchburg chimed in with similar sentiments, as did Del. Randy Minchew of Loudoun. [click to continue…]

Please Write to Your Delegate If You Haven’t Already!

Two bills of interest to cyclists are in final committee hearings this week.  They’ve both been passed by the Senate.

SB669, “maintenance funding for bike lanes,” a road diet bill, was heard by the House Transportation Committee at 8:30 AM Tuesday.  It was Reported Out of committee 18-1, and is now up for House vote.

SB117, the dooring bill, was heard by the House Courts of Justice Committee on Wednesday afternoon. It has also Reported Out, and is now up for a House vote.

If you haven’t written to your delegate, please do it now.  To make it easy, you can use WABA’s automated message.

“Thanks to everybody who has helped so far! We’re getting close. Let’s see if we can get it across the finish line.”  –Bud Vye

Dooring Bill Clears “Courts” Subcommittee, Full Committee Hearing This Wed.

SB117, the Dooring bill, was listed for hearing in the House Courts of Justice Criminal Law SubCommittee today, 1/2 hour after Adjournment of the House, and immediately after the Ethics SubComm heard the 3 bills on its docket. Since all bills being heard were Senate bills and the Senate session was running long, the SubComm assembled but waited about an hour before the Senators who were patroning the bills began to appear.

Our Patron, Sen. Petersen, appeared about 2:45 and began to present the bill when Del. Albo (the Chair of Courts of Justice, who was sitting as a member of the Criminal SubComm) realized that he had assigned the bill to the wrong SubComm, when he had intended to assign it to the Civil Laws SubComm.

Stopping Sen. Petersen in mid presentation, and collecting copies of the bill from all the Criminal SubComm members, he said “We’re going across the hall” and led our small entourage over to where the Civil SubComm was meeting. Excusing himself to Sen. Black of Leesburg, who was presenting a bill, Del. Albo went up to Chairman Habeeb, who was conducting the meeting, handed him the copies of the bill, told him “you are going to handle this one over here” and went back across the hall to the Criminal SubComm. The SubComm members all got a big kick out of this, but soon settled back to let Sen. Black continue with his bill. As soon as it was finished, and unhappily for him, laid on the table, Sen. Petersen started over again with the Dooring bill.

Never having seen anything quite like it in 15 years of doing this, I wasn’t quite sure what kind of reception we were going to get, but there were mostly familiar faces up there on the SubCom who seemed to be in a good mood. Sen. Petersen did a nice job of presenting, which was well received. I was first speaking in support, followed by Champe Burnley, and then Lisa Guthrie representing the Transit Assn.

Some discussion followed regarding how much of a fine the infraction should carry and some legal technicalities, before it was Moved to Report and Seconded by two of the Democrats (which caused me some brief concern that it might be treated as a partisan issue). It was not, however, as the three D’s (McClellan, Toscano, & Krizek) were joined by Chairman Habeeb and Loupassi, Minchew, and Miyares to carry by a 7-3 vote, with only Kilgore, Leftwich, & Campbell opposed. Now its on to the Full Courts of Justice Committee on Wednesday, a half hour after House Adjournment, where I’m cautiously optimistic we can get reported out to the House floor for final passage.

It would be helpful if the RABA folks could thank deljmcclellan@house.virginia.gov & delmloupassi@house.virginia.gov for their support, while the Northern VA folks do the same for delrminchew@house.virginia.gov and delpkrizek@house.virginia.gov the western folks for delghabeeb@house.virginia.gov and deldtoscano@house.virginia.gov and the Tidewater people for deljmiyares@house.virginia.gov

I know they will appreciate hearing that someone appreciates their support of the bill and hopes that they will continue to do so in the Full Committee on Wednesday and hopefully, on the floor shortly after.

Thanks to everybody who has helped so far! We’re getting close. Let’s see if we can get it across the finish line.