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


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


March 21, 2016


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.

‘Maintenance Funding for Bike Lanes’ to Full House Transpo Committee; ‘Dooring’ to Courts of Justice Committee

SB669, the Maintenance Reimbursement for Bike Lanes bill, was heard in House Transportation SubComm3 this morning at 7:30. Chaired by Del. Greg Habeeb of Salem, and with Del. Garrett of Lynchburg sitting as a Committee member (and not as Chair, as he is on Sub Comm 1), I was surprised that there was no move to Table or Pass the bill by, but only a discussion regarding whether they should Refer the bill to the full Committee, or Report it. Since Del. Garrett had been (and I think, is still) opposed to the bill, it was decided to REFER it, a distinction I don’t think matters that much, since the bill will get a full hearing in front of the FULL Committee in either case, on Tuesday, 3/1 at 8:30. I am encouraged at this turn of events, since it is obvious that some behind the scenes contacts have been made that appear to have improved the climate considerably for this bill, as noted by the comments of some hitherto opposed or luke warm Delegates.

Then SB117, the Dooring bill, was heard before the Full House Transportation Committee (but only with 13, then 14 members of the 22 in attendance since the Education Committee was meeting across the hall and a number of the Trans Comm members and our patron Sen. Petersen were over there). Del. Habeeb (just a Committee member, and not the Chair on the Full Committee) who is an attorney and obviously looked to by the others on the Committee as their legal expert, expressed several concerns about the legal ramifications of this bill. At length, Sen. Petersen came in from the other meeting and he & Del. Habeeb discussed Habeeb’s concerns very cordially before the entire committee, leaving all parties in agreement (since there was no real desire expressed to kill the bill) that it should be referred to either the Civil or Criminal SubCommittee of the Courts of Justice Committee (Monday & Wed., 1/2 hour after adjournment) and then to the Full Courts of Justice Committee to get the legal concerns worked out prior to sending the bill to the Full House for final passage. We appeared to have several converts from their opposing positions expressed at earlier meetings, including Del. Minchew who stated that he had recently almost been doored while riding his motorcycle, so again I am cautiously optimistic as we go forward to the next step in the process.