March 2020 Advocacy Update

If you rely on your bicycle for essential transportation, you’ve probably encountered some additional challenges in the last couple of weeks.  Governors Hogan and Northam, and Mayor Bowser officially directed residents in DC, MD, and VA to stay at home. In all three states, bicycling is an approved form of recreation, and bike shops are considered essential businesses. Despite these modest victories and the returning spring weather, we urge you to do your part—do not make unnecessary trips, and always maintain 6 feet from others while out

If you are out for an essential trip or safe recreation, you’ve probably met with some of the same issues we have: closed roads, trails that are uncomfortably busy in this time of social distancing, and drivers who see the lack of traffic as an invitation to speed.

Before we dig into some of the specific problems we’re working to fix, it’s worth addressing the underlying structural failures that have put our region in this situation. Riding a bicycle during this pandemic feels frustrating and dangerous for the same reasons it does when we’re not in the midst of a global health crisis: for half a century, our region’s decision makers have focused resources on moving cars, not people. People who bike and walk have been squeezed into the margins of public space to make room for more driving. We know this squeeze has long term repercussions for the climate (or not so long, at this point). But in this moment we’re also seeing the scary and immediate public health consequences of decades of car-centric planning.

Here’s what we’re working on right now:

Reopening Potomac River Crossings.

After crowds squeezed onto the narrow paths and sidewalks around the Tidal Basin earlier this month, the US Park Police and Metropolitan Police Department closed a number of streets and sidewalks through East and West Potomac Park. This closure includes the Memorial Bridge and access to and from the 14th St. Bridge trail. If you need to cross the Potomac River by bike or foot, your options are Key Bridge at Georgetown, the very narrow Theodore Roosevelt Bridge at the Kennedy Center or the Wilson Bridge in Alexandria which has no low-stress connection into DC. All three of these bridges are miles out of the way. 

We are in conversations with DDOT, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the National Park Service to reopen the 14th Street Bridge and Memorial Bridge to bicycling commuter traffic. If you are a bike commuter who needs to cross the Potomac River to get to essential work, please get in touch: advocacy@waba.org

Looking beyond the current crisis, we’re continuing to advocate for more and better river crossings like the Long Bridge, an improved Roosevelt Bridge sidepath, trail connections to the Wilson Bridge, and others

Mitigating Trail Crowding

We’ve checked in with the data folks from around the region and the numbers back up what you’ve probably already seen: on-street bike traffic is down, but trails are much busier than usual, even for springtime. 

This uptick in traffic is not surprising. As the various Stay-at-Home orders are careful to acknowledge, exercise is important to maintaining physical and mental health. But gyms, as well as many local and regional parks, are closed. That leaves trails as the only place where many people feel safe being active and outdoors. 

The way to keep people healthy and safe in this situation is to make more space for people. Trails are narrow, roads are wide. 

We’re talking to folks at the National Park Service about closing park roads in ways that don’t limit neighborhood access to parks. Obvious examples include Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park, Fort Dupont Drive, Fort Hunt, and Hains Point. 

Take a look at this blog post for what you can do individually to keep yourself and others safe while riding.

What about creating some Open Streets?

By now you have probably seen stories about cities that are taking advantage of reduced traffic to make space for people who need to get around on foot and bike to spread out. We are inspired by Bogota, Mexico City, Philadelphia, and New York City for installing temporary protected bike lanes and closing entire streets to driving. Many of us look around at our crowded trails, narrow sidewalks and empty streets and ask “why not here?”

In the District:

We’ve had a number of conversations with DDOT staff on this topic over the past week and encountered a frustrating tradeoff: street reconfigurations, even temporary ones, require a lot of staff resources to plan and execute. These resources are limited already, and agency staff say their priority is keeping current bike lane and trail projects on track, rather than pausing and redirecting staff time to temporary infrastructure.  It’s tempting to say “it’s easy! just put up cones!” but the reality of our streets and driving culture is that doing so is simply not safe on most streets.

For now, in most places, we think this is the right call. We are frustrated by the resource and staffing limitations that have led to this tradeoff, but given the constraints, we think building permanent places to bike is more important than building ones that will be dismantled in a few months. This public health crisis will end, and when it does we want biking and walking to be better than they are now.

Speaking of which, our 20×20 campaign is still going. Groups are meeting online and projects are moving forward. Get involved here.

In Maryland and Virginia

Local and state transportation agencies face many of the same resource challenges as the District, but we see a number of opportunities for suburban jurisdictions to take the same approach that we are asking of the Park Service: make additional space on roads in and around recreational spaces to accommodate the additional demand for places to safely bike, walk, and run. Montgomery County has already extended its Sunday Sligo Creek Parkway closures to include Friday and Saturday.

We are compiling a specific list of street closure recommendations to share with each jurisdiction. Please email us if you have specific suggestions: advocacy@waba.org

Planning for Future Emergencies

This crisis has highlighted how much our region’s emergency planning has failed to account for the safety and mobility of the hundreds of thousands of people who live here and do not own cars. 

When the next crisis happens, whether it’s disease or terrorism or something else, governments across the region need to have plans in place to keep people outside of cars safe. Emergency situation or not, being able to cross a river, move safely through your neighborhood, and take care of your family should not be contingent on your ability to afford an automobile.

We are coordinating with regional advocates to move this emergency planning forward.

How To Get A Bike Rack

We get a lot of questions about bike parking. If you are wondering how to have bike parking installed somewhere, here’s a quick breakdown. To request bike parking in public space:

  • In Alexandria, use this web tool.
  • In Arlington, use this form.
  • In Fairfax County, call (703) 877-5600
  • In Montgomery County, fill out and mail the form on this page
  • Prince Georges County does not have a way to request bike parking, but some of the cities within the county do. We recommend calling your city hall directly.

In DC:

  1. If the space is in a Business Improvement District, start by calling your BID.
  2. If you’re not in a BID or your BID doesn’t help you, call 311 and put in a public rack request.
  3. If you are a business and want to install your own racks in public space, you’ll need to purchase your own racks (be sure they comply with DDOT’s design guidelines), get a permit for each installation (like any other public space construction/installation), and find a contractor with the necessary tools (a hammer drill) to do the installation.

Regulations and guidelines for bike parking in private space (which includes things like store parking lots and apartment buildings) vary across jurisdictions.

Biking during COVID-19

Note: Everything in this post could change very quickly. We’re doing our best to stay up on current guidance, but we’re not public health experts, so please follow recommendations from your local government and the CDC.

Are you allowed to ride your bike?

Provisionally, yes. Bicycling is included in lists of allowable recreation in Maryland, DC, and Virginia.

Should you ride your bike?

That depends. If you have symptoms or believe you may have been exposed to the Coronavirus, please stay inside. If you need help or supplies, here are some groups offering support. If you just need some exercise, the internet is full of indoor cross training regimens (here’s one, here’s another) for bicycling that will make you faster and stronger when it’s safe to be out in public again. (Just maybe be mindful of your downstairs neighbors if you’re doing jumping jacks). 

If you are not in one of the above categories, there are safe ways to be outside and on a bicycle, whether you need to because your job is considered essential or for physical and emotional health.

Here are our guidelines:

You are responsible for the safety and health of everybody around you.

Pass pedestrians and other bicyclists with at least 6 feet (or more if you’re moving fast) of space every single time. At intersections stop before the intersection to leave 6 feet between you and folks using the crosswalk. At narrow places, slow down enough to be 100% sure that no one is coming in the other direction.

No snot rockets. 

No nose schmearing with your gloves. 

No spitting. 

No high fives. 🙁

Ride quieter routes or at quieter times. 

If you do not have a required destination, try for a meandering route that doesn’t include a popular destination or try and go for an off-peak time. Trails are extremely busy right now: data from regional trail and bike lane counters shows that trail traffic is quietest before 8am, and that fewer people are riding on streets and bike lanes. 

If you’re going out at dawn or in the dark, make sure you have lights.

If you do ride on a trail, remember that pedestrians always have the right of way, so plan on pulling off the trail to maintain a safe social distance. 

Some inspiration: Find the weirdest thing you can in your neighborhood. Seek out a new favorite tree. Is it more fun to ride up or down the steepest hill in your neighborhood?

Make a plan.

Many parks and trails are closed, as are most trail-side park services like restrooms and water fountains. Many businesses are also closed or operating in a limited way. Make sure you have all the water, and snacks, and tools  you will need for your ride. 

Play it safe.

Take it slow, pay attention, don’t go off any jumps. Now is not the time to push your limits or take a big risk. Emergency rooms are overburdened already, and if you show up with a broken collarbone because you tried to learn a Danny MacCaskill trick, you’re taking time from doctors and nurses who need to be treating people who are sick. 

Stay close to home.

Country roads and wilderness adventures may feel tempting, but rural medical resources are even more strained right now. 

Disinfect and isolate your outdoor gear.

Clean your handlebars and other contact points when you get home. At this point, it is reasonable caution to keep shoes, bikes, clothes that have been outside isolated or washed after you’ve been outside. 

Ride alone, or with your household.

Do not ride in a group that is not your household. Period. If you are feeling competitive, take it to Strava. If you need to socialize, put together a photo scavenger hunt with your friends or maybe plan a digital ride with your friends, ride at the same time and share interesting photos?

Hang out with us on the internet.

Biking is still a great solo transportation and recreation option for many people. Has it been a bit since you’ve ridden? We have weekly webinars on and online meetups at waba.org/fun. Give us a call at (202) 430-6385 or outreach@waba.org if you have route planning or general biking questions. (If you need mechanical support, call your local bike shop.)

Where Can I Park My Bike?

When it comes to parking your bike, there are a lot of options. Rackspotter is a nifty, crowd-sourced tool that shows all of the bike racks in an area. This can cut out some of the guesswork about the availability and placement of a rack at your destination.

Where can a bike be locked?

While locking your bike to a rack is always the ideal scenario, sometimes there aren’t enough racks available. At other times, the racks might be full. In these situations, it’s important to keep in mind where you can and can’t park. When in doubt, WABA recommends keeping in mind the local laws, which vary slightly across DC, Arlington, and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. Other than bike racks, these generally make it OK to lock your bike to sign posts and parking meters. However, you should avoid locking up to: 

  • Fire hydrants
  • Police and fire call boxes
  • Electric traffic signal poles
  • Bus stop signs
  • Stair railings
  • Signs or poles located within 25 ft. of an intersection
  • Trees
  • Private fences

When you do lock your bike, it’s important to secure your bike in a way that doesn’t obstruct pedestrian movement. This means avoiding railings for stairs or ramps and areas that are likely to be blocked, even if they fall outside the places prohibited for parking.

Where can I park a dockless bikeshare bike?

The same rules apply as parking your own bike. First try to find a rack for the dockless bikeshare. If one isn’t available, then park the bike in such a way that keeps the sidewalk accessible for pedestrian movement.

If you’re an individual to procure bike racks for your living space or a business wanting racks for your storefront, be sure to check out our guide on how to get one!

Bikes on Bus and Rail

Sometimes you need to take your bike on the train or bus. Biking is a great way to connect that last block or mile between a transit stop and your destination, or a great way to get to a trail for a recreational ride. Maybe you’ve got a flat tire you don’t want to deal with, or it’s just been on a long ride and want another way to get home. Here’s how to do it:

Bikes on Metrorail

For your own safety and those around you, it’s best to take the elevator down to the platform. When the train arrives, wait for everyone else to get off before attempting to board. When you do board, be sure to do it from the outside doors rather than the center door. While on the train, do your best to avoid blocking aisles and doors. Some railcar segments end in a little nook that offers a great way to stabilize yourself and your bike while keeping your bike out of the way of other people. 

Bikes are welcome on Metrorail during all hours of operation except a couple of holidays. Even still, WABA recommends avoiding rush hour if you can. If that’s not possible then remember to be patient, and don’t try to squeeze onto a crowded train.

Read Metro’s full rules here.

Bikes on the Bus

With the racks in front of most metro buses, it’s easy to take your bike with you. The video below offers a visual demonstration of how to operate the rack and load your bike.

While riding, be sure to keep an eye on your bike. You can try for one of the front seats or take a standing position in the space allowed. When near or approaching your stop, remind the bus driver that you’re retrieving your bike from the rack.

Bikes on the Streetcar

Bikes are even allowed on the DC Streetcar! Many of the same tips recommended for Metrorail apply, with a few differences. On the streetcar you want to board using the center door.

Tips on many things, including how to bring your bike on the streetcar.

When in doubt, check out WMATA and DC Streetcar guidelines for riding with your bike.

Places to help

This is a scary time, and I don’t need to tell you what’s keeping me up at night. At WABA, we’re worried about what it means when we can’t bring people together, and what that will mean for our budget towards the end of the year. While we don’t know what WABA’s future holds, we recognize that we’re not the people doing the lifesaving work right now. 

Our region’s healthcare workers, grocery store employees, and bus drivers are putting themselves in harm’s way to take care of us. Our fellow nonprofit organizations are doing incredible, important, and urgent work to save lives in our region. 

If you’re in a position to give today, here is a list of organizations we know are doing great work, today, to help our community in this strange and scary time:

Arlington Food Assistance Center

Arlington Thrive

Ayuda

Black Lives Matter DC

Black Swan Academy

Calvary Women’s Services

Capital Area Food Bank

CASA

Greater DC Diaper Bank

Food & Friends

Manna Food Center

Miriam’s Kitchen

Nourish Now

N Street Village

SOME

We know not everyone can give right now. That’s okay. If you are able to do so, please consider a gift to WABA, too. Our community means more to us now than ever, and your contribution is an important way to show up as we keep up the fight for more space for people on our streets. Thank you for your support.

COVID-19 Support Resources

Places you can help

See our blog post from earlier in the week.

Need a bike to get around during the pandemic?

You have a few options:

Capital Bikeshare is still operational

Bike shops are considered essential businesses in all three states and many are still open. Call first or connect on social media because they are all operating with safety precautions and slightly different procedures. 

Some local folks have put together this handy tool to help people donate bikes to people who need them. 

Stuck in your house because you or someone else in your household has symptoms?

Here are a number of volunteer organizations and mutual aid groups doing delivery and support:

Virginia: Fairfax County Request Form, Volunteer Arlington COVID-19 Care for Community page, City of Alexandria Resource List

Maryland: Montgomery County Volunteer Center , Prince George’s Food Equity Council

District of Columbia: DC Food Project

Just generally freaked out? 

Us too. Grief, trauma and instability are hitting all of us in a variety of ways. Be kind to yourself and your communities. That might be going for a bike ride or it might be curling up on the couch. We’ve got weekly virtual coffee hour and happy hour if you want to just talk with people about bikes, not bikes, or the impossibilities of doing three jobs at the same time, all the details at waba.org/fun.

Have you seen DDOT’s Plan for Florida AVE NE?

Almost eight years ago, the District Department of Transportation began looking at redesigning Florida Avenue NE, between New York Avenue and H Street NE, to address chronic speeding and an alarming pattern of severe crashes. Through studies and design iterations, plans emerged to calm traffic, create better options for biking and walking, and make more livable spaces along the corridor.

Sadly, while that planning was underway, the corridor produced unthinkable carnage and traffic violence, taking the lives and livelihood of community members and bringing grief and loss into the lives of thousands across the region. But we can also put credit where it is due—after a crash that took the life of a dear member of our BikeDC community, the DC Council and DDOT sprang into action. In just a few months, DDOT designed and installed a temporary road diet and protected bike lane on Florida Ave, which has already reduced speeding in the corridor.

Late last year, DDOT held a public meeting to present the 60% plans for the complete reconstruction of Florida Ave NE as well as 30% plans for the complicated intersection of Florida Ave, New York Ave, 1st St, and Eckington Pl NE. 

These plans propose many high-quality improvements to sidewalks, trees, curb-protected bike lanes and intersections, reflecting many lessons learned from the interim treatments installed last year. You can find the plans and presentation materials on the project website.

However the proposals are far from perfect. We believe DDOT can and must go further to create safe spaces for walking and biking and limit opportunities for unsafe speeding. WABA submitted detailed comments for both the corridor and intersection reconstructions. Read WABA’s full comments here. In particular, we would like to see improvements to include:

  • More aggressive traffic calming and a lower design speed
  • protected intersections especially at 4th, 6th, West Virginia Ave, and at the many intersections at New York Ave
  • Wider protected bike lanes and wider buffer from traffic
  • A wider north side sidewalk under the rail bridge to meet Union Market’s pedestrian needs
  • More complete and rational connections for people who bike across New York Ave, to the future New York Ave Trail, and further west on Florida Ave to meet the future needs of people who use the corridor

Once built (scheduled for 2021), this street design will remain in place for decades, so it is critical that the city gets it right, not just better. 

What you can do

If you want to see Florida Ave NE done right, join our 20×20 campaign to organize the support DDOT and our community leaders need to make the right call. Sign up for a 20×20 Ward group here to get started.It is still not too late to tell DDOT what you think about their plans. Take a closer look at the plans here, then click here to email constructive comments to the project team.

Meet Jonathan Kincade, Our New Communications Coordinator

Hi all! My name is Jonathan Kincade and I’m excited to be the new Communications Coordinator here at WABA.

I’m fairly new to the DC area and love its diversity of transit options. I grew up riding a mountain bike around spread-out Georgia neighborhoods and didn’t hop on my first road bike until well into adulthood. That exploration was followed by an intermittent relationship with biking and it had been a few years before I started riding again. Now I ride both to commute and just for fun. Riding a trail on a sunny day, stopping for a picnic at some point, is a fantastic way to spend a Saturday. It brings back the intrepid feelings I experienced as a kid.

As Communications Coordinator I get to link my passion for creativity with my love for doing things outside. I’m happy to be part of a team whose work often involves keeping city biking fun. I’m excited to interact with you and hear your stories too—about biking or anything else! I’m always happy to chat and can be reached at jonathan.kincade@waba.org.

Meet James Brady, Our New 20 X 20 Campaign Organizer

Hi!  My name is James Brady and I’m excited to be taking on the role of 20 X 20 Campaign Organizer with WABA.

My fascination with bicycles started  when, as a twelve year old, I saw the movie Breaking Away in 1979.  Soon after my friends and I had all managed to acquire 10-speeds with which we terrorized the city because there were no protected bike lanes and none of us understood weird concepts like “right of way.” Despite the danger of street riding without a helmet (which, to be fair, no one wore at that time) I survived to move to DC in 1992 where I have lived and worked ever since.  My background is in environmental activism so I’m happy to be able to continue combining bikes, outreach, and action like the time I organized a bicycle blockade to shut down Olympic events in Beijing. Just kidding. I mean, I did do that but that’s not what I’ll be doing here at WABA.

I’m excited to work on the 20 X 20 campaign because it’s an opportunity to support not only street safety but issues of access, opportunity, and equity in DC and the surrounding area.  As the parent of a thirteen year old who regularly bikes all over the city, I’m happy to be a part of ensuring that he and his friends have safe and protected places to ride and are as safety minded as is possible considering that they are a bunch of unsupervised thirteen year olds who believe that they are invincible.  I’m equally happy to be engaged in looking for ways to improve all forms of access in the city for all of our residents whether that means safer streets for drivers and cyclists, better walkability for pedestrians and families, or any of the many other transportation issues that DC needs to address on the regular.Our goal is to have 20 more miles of protected bike lanes in DC by the end of the year so if that seems like a campaign you’re interested in feel free to contact me at James.brady@waba.org.