A Quiet Trail Ranger Tuesday

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During the government shutdown, wouldn’t it be nice if our Trail Rangers could just tell us which of D.C.’s National Park Service-controlled trails are open and which are closed from their daily patrols?

Since July, WABA’s team of Trail Rangers has been riding the D.C. trails, conducting cleanups, reporting maintenance issues, helping trail users, and generally making our trails a nicer place to be. We’re proud of this program and wish it could have continued longer, but funding for the program expired with the city’s fiscal year, at 11:59 p.m. last night.

Our outgoing Trail Rangers will have a chance to say their goodbyes here on the blog in the coming days. But I’ve gotten a number of questions about the effect of various trail closures on their activities and on their ability to provide updates on trail closures from their patrols. We will do our best to report information as we learn it. Unfortunately, the Trail Rangers are no longer available to help.

D.C. Office of Police Complaints Issues Follow-Up on Police Enforcement of Biking Laws

Biking Police

The DC Office of Police Complaints has issued a follow-up report on the Metropolitan Police Department’s efforts to improve in the enforcement of laws related to bicycling. You can find a bit of background and the original 2011 OPC report here.

The report has an excessive focus on the single “riding abreast” citation, rather than general issues related to wrongful citations and officer knowledge of biking laws. But it also contains a number of further findings,

The OPC finds that “there is no evidence of any widespread problem with officers erroneously issuing riding abreast tickets within the past few years.”  We agree that there is no “widespread” problem, because the issuance of this citation is not “widespread.”  However, there is a high likelihood of the citation lacking proper basis if it is issued. However, we do not want to over-emphasize this particular issue. Our choice of the “riding abreast” citation to conduct our own analysis was based on two factors: (1) The ability to get a manageable sample size to analyze given limited resources, and (2) conditions that do not require a significant judgment call to determine whether the issuing officer was mistaken about the fundamental meaning of the law.  Our goal was to use evidence of officers’ lack of understanding of this law to show the overall need for better training—not to overemphasize the importance of this relatively minor regulation. The report seems to recognize this need for better overall training, stating “there are additional measures that can be taken to ensure both that patrol officers are properly enforcing the regulations and that MPD supervisors are quickly identifying areas of the law where offices need more training.” We appreciate OPC’s recognition that the concerns with the “riding abreast” citation are indicative of a larger concern, and we look forward to MPD’s response for this call for improvements.

OPC requested three years of crash reports from MPD and was provided with just shy of two years of data, from January 2011 through November 2012. Based on a random sampling of 120 reports, OPC found that cyclists involved in crashes were interviewed at the scene only 63 percent of the time, with only one report including the interview of a cyclist subsequently at a hospital. OPC recommends that MPD improve its reporting by including the narrative each party told the officer rather than an unattributed synopsis. Additionally, OPC encourages MPD to better use its system of receiving supplemental information after the investigating officer’s shift ends and of recording witness statements.

In addition to these investigative findings, OPC reviewed MPD’s performance in implementing the original reports’s four recommendations, which were:

  1. Change its method of investigating bicycle-motor vehicle crashes in order to provide appropriate safeguards for bicyclists and revise General Order 401.03 to allow officers to keep reports open until necessary statements are received;
  2. Include a bicycle-specific field on the PD-10 crash report form;
  3. Better train officers on the applicable bicycling laws to ensure that they are properly enforcing bike regulations; and
  4. Increase participation in the DC Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC).

OPC found that (1) MPD had amended its General Order, but had not allowed reports to remain pending until all necessary statements were taken; (2) rejected the OPC’s suggestion to include a field for bicycles on the crash report form; (3) taken some steps to improve training including roll call training and the provision of WABA booklets; and (4) improved its engagement with the BAC.

We agree with the fourth finding and appreciate the involvement of the officers who routinely attend the BAC and its Safety Committee, and who often work with WABA on safety initiatives. However, the other three findings are unacceptable. The only two structural recommendations of the OPC—to allow crash reports to be left open to allow time for injured witness statements and to include bicycles on crash report forms as an available type of vehicle for data tracking and consistency—were both rejected. The recommendation for further training has simply not been implemented at a scale commensurate with the need.

We will continue to review the report and determine next steps to ensure that the flaws still highlighted by this follow-up report are addressed, and we look forward to the opportunity to raise these issues again before the Public Safety Committee.

Photo by Flickr user rho-bin

An Update on the South Capitol Bridge

 

On Tuesday night, DDOT held a well-attended meeting to update residents on the status of the South Capitol Bridge planning. Previously, WABA raised a number of concerns about the the project’s scale, accommodations for bicyclists, and contribution to overall connectivity for bicycling.  We have met several times with DDOT’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative team, and we’re pleased to report that the majority of our concerns about the bridge and connectivity to and from the bridge have been addressed.

The bridge will have a 10-foot wide two-way cycletrack on each side. The cycletracks will be physically separated from automobile traffic, and will connect directly to the Anacostia and eventual South Capitol trails. For additional details, see Washcycle’s post here. Renderings of the bridge are available at DCist.

We still believe that the overall scale of the bridge may be too large and that traffic volumes should be re-analyzed in light of the recent opening of the new 11th Street bridge. Additionally, the monumental ovals prioritize aesthetics over traffic flow, safety, or community connectivity. But given the overall scale, we feel that DDOT has done well in listening to the needs of the bicycling community and designing solutions.

It is important to remember that these designs are roughly 30 percent of the total design work. From this point, DDOT will select a design-build contractor to complete the design and construct the bridge. That means that 70 percent of the design work is still to come. The chosen contractor will be motivated to be on time and under budget—not necessarily to involve the community or continue efforts to accommodate all modes of travel.

Many thanks to those who attended the meeting to represent the interests of bicyclists. See the presentation given by DDOT below the jump.

South Capitol Street Corridor Project: 7/30/13 Project Information Update Meeting Presentation

Rendering via DDOT via DCist

Who’s Implementing D.C.’s Bike/Ped Infrastructure? Anyone?

District Department of Transportation (DDOT) project managers are hard at work on a lot of roadway projects, but they’re not in charge of repaving the 15th Street cycle track, or finishing the Metropolitan Branch Trail, or one of many other bicycle projects waiting for action.

The agency segregates its bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure into the planning group, which means a lot of projects get done slowly or not at all–and only if the planners take on the role of project manager as well.

Currently, DDOT comprises the Office of the Director and 6 administrations. These are:

  • Infrastructure Project Management Administration (IPMA): Building and repairing roads and bridges
  • Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration (PPSA): Creating plans, reviewing development proposals
  • Progressive Transportation Services Administration (PTSA): Circulator, streetcars, working with WMATA
  • Public Space Regulations Administration (PSRA): Permits for sidewalk cafes and other uses of public space
  • Transportation Operations Administration (TOA): Traffic signal timing, signs, parking meters, etc.
  • Urban Forestry Administration (UFA): Trees!

Though all administrations overlap with each other at times, only the first two, IPMA and PPSA, are relevant to DDOT’s struggles completing bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

IPMA designs, builds, and maintains transportation-related things, but every person dealing with bike/ped infrastructure is part of PPSA. Those designing and constructing are not responsible for bike/ped work, and the bike/ped people are not in the division that does construction project management or on-the-ground work.

On paper, there is a clear distinction in the administration roles. PPSA “establishes broad strategic goals to guide multi-modal program development, the policies necessary to implement such goals, and ensure compliance through plan review and permitting.” It is meant to be the transportation planning portion of DDOT, conducting such efforts as the MoveDC initiative, reviewing development plans in pre-development review meetings, and doing big-picture planning for all modes of travel.

Meanwhile, IPMA “is responsible for the design, engineering and construction of roadways, bridges, traffic signals and alley projects in the District of Columbia.”

2010 11 16 - 1403 - Washington DC - 15th St Bikeway from P St

In theory, PPSA plans and IMPA implements. That, however, assumes that PPSA also has the authority to set the order of priority for IPMA’s implementation. It does not.

To see how this shakes out with regard to major bike-related projects, one can look to such problematic processes as the completion of the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) or the repaving of the 15th Street cycle track.

The MBT has been planned for many years. Within the District, only the southernmost portion has been built, and construction has been stalled since the opening of that portion since 2010.

To find out why construction has been stalled, you would think to call the responsible project manager. But you won’t find a project manager within IPMA, because the only person assigned to deal with the project is within the broader planning division and has no formal authority over continued design and construction.

Why is the project not moving forward at the implementation stage? No one in the DDOT administration responsible for implementation and project management is assigned to it. Given such a vacuum, staff of the planning administration do push projects forward, but informal, internal advocacy is no substitute for a system designed to get projects done.

The issue with 15th Street is similar. PPSA staff planned the cycletrack, then implemented it through an informal process without an IPMA project manager. This resulted in a successful, well-used piece of infrastructure that now needs major repairs. But because all of DDOT’s bike/ped expertise remains within PPSA, it still falls to PPSA to do implementation-level work that should be on IPMA’s agenda.

The most recent Bicycle Master Plan gave DDOT priority over all bicycling issues rather than requiring each city agency to accommodate the needs of bicyclists. DDOT has further constrained itself by putting all bike/ped expertise in the planning division and by not assigning anyone to the implementation of bike/ped projects.

People often ask WABA why we do not send more budget alerts on DC trail issues. This is why. Budgets are rarely the primary constraint on bike infrastructure in the District. Instead, priority and personnel bandwidth issues mean that no one is made responsible for implementing bike/ped projects once they are planned.

As bike infrastructure in DC has progressed to the point where it’s more than a stripe on the roadto the point where it constitutes a standalone projectso has a portfolio of incomplete and unbuilt trails and cycletracks.

We can’t continue to depend on the informal cajoling of project planners to get IPMA to construct bike/ped projects in a timely manner. Yes, sometimes that cajoling works, as it now has in getting 15th Street repaved. But do we want a system that requires the work of WABA, the dedicated engagement of an ANC commissioner, and the political pressure of two councilmembers to ensure a high-priority project gets done?

This is not a functioning system. DDOT needs to bring individuals with the necessary expertise to IPMA and, once that expertise is in-house, leave prioritization of project timing to PPSA planners.

The current system fails to meet the needs of the bicycling community, will fail to achieve the mayor’s transportation and sustainability goals, and undermines the ability of DDOT’s planning team to actually plan and prioritize.

How Can D.C. Deal With Group-Ride Growing Pains?

Bike DC 2001

Many of you have seen the video of the cyclist struck while riding illegally during a community ride last week. We’re glad the cyclist is OK, but we’re disappointed at the way the incident and the video portray the bicycling community. I have no doubt, given the number of voicemails I have received, that this video is being used to paint cyclists as nothing but scofflaws. But it raises some serious questions about how the District is going to deal with the growth of bicycling and group rides. So far, the answer has been, in too many cases, “not very well.”

Many know that the annual BikeDC event was cancelled this year because permits could not be secured, due to restrictions that were overly burdensome individually and self-contradictory, and therefore impossible to meet. Fewer know that smaller events, including the Tour de Fat parade, were also unable to meet permitting requirements. In the case of the Tour de Fat parade, WABA went to the affected ANCs to voluntarily ask for support. Though we did receive ANC support, we were still unable to obtain a permit for the ride and were thus unable to limit motor vehicle traffic along the route or, importantly, exclude participants who might have been riding or celebrating in inappropriate ways.

Organizers of rides frequently reach out to WABA asking for assistance in making their rides safe. But if the issue is a number of riders who refuse to follow the rules that the organizers set, the organizers are left with no recourse. Anyone can ride public streets along with a group.

What is the solution?

We do not want a system in which every group ride has to get a permit. That makes a mockery of our right to bike on public streets. But that was actually suggested in some our our prior permit negotiations with the D.C. permitting taskforce—that any time multiple cyclists ride together an event permit would be required. However, the mayor’s office quickly clarified that was not the case.

What we need is the ability to work with enforcement officials interested in balancing in a flexible way the safety of events with functioning roadways. Perhaps the one fortunate thing to come from this ridiculous demonstration of bad behavior is that Sgt. Terry Thorne, who has worked productively with WABA on numerous bicyclist safety issues, contacted us to figure out a way forward.

I will be contacting a number of groups with a specific interest in this issue to participate in a discussion with Sgt. Thorne and MPD to work out a reasonable approach to ensuring that community ride events can take place, and that MPD can focus its efforts on public safety.

That said, WABA does not support additional restrictions on group rides. We already have a permitting system with so much red tape and so many fuzzy “security” standards that only large and well-heeled fundraising rides and races can be held. Community events are either cancelled or left to operate on their own. But we do look forward to an open conversation with police about how we can better work together to find a balance that helps ensure the safety of group bike rides.

To that end, I will be reaching out to a number of ride leaders in the coming week to discuss the issue further. If you operate a group ride and want to be included in this conversation, email us at advocacy@waba.org to be on the list.

We don’t need any more viral videos of bad behavior, and we especially don’t need any more people hit by cars on group rides. Let’s work together and find a solution that meets the needs of bicyclists that WABA and ride leaders can collectively get behind.

Photo by Flickr user Mr. T in DC

Update from the Mayor’s Office on Pennsylvania Avenue

Pennsylvania Avenue Bike Lanes

Remember the bollards?

Yesterday, long-simmering displeasure with the pattern of illegal u-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes netted considerable media attention from NBC4. Reporter Mark Segraves was most interested in a video by Bill Walsh of a police officer actually pulling someone over for u-turning. However, this is far from standard; more often, drivers u-turn with impunity.

It has been difficult for WABA to get information about Pennsylvania Avenue. We know that the bollards that once lined the cycletrack would be removed for the winter, due to the threat of snow as well as plans for the inauguration. We know that DDOT was working on ideas for better, and perhaps more, bollards. But as to why the bollards have been left in a pile and not been reinstalled? We’re as perplexed as everyone else. Additionally, we haven’t gotten a clear description of exactly what sort of enforcement MPD has done since it and DMV agreed that u-turns were illegal.

After Justin Antos counted and documented thirty U-turns in thirty minutes on Pennsylvania Avenue, I forwarded his photos to Mayor Vince Gray’s office with a request for explanation and assistance. I received the following response:

MPD and DDOT have been working to improve enforcement and protection. It’s my understanding that flexposts are on the way to replace the ones that have come down, and that DDOT is working with the Federal Highway Administration, the Planning Commission, and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to find a suitable perimeter divider. We’re hopeful that the divider we’ve presented to them will be accepted. If they are, we will move quickly to install.

As of today, MPD has written approximately 62 improper turn citations and approximately 70 warnings.  Prior to yesterday, we were doing targeted enforcement during selected rush hours and special events.  Today’s AM Officer observed no violations and wrote zero citations during the scheduled enforcement. It should be noted that yesterday was a special situation because of the sinkhole at 14th and Pennsylvania. Our resources were deployed to direct traffic around this traffic blockage.  Moreover, some where cars were allowed to turn around on PA Avenue to mitigate what was a significant traffic/public safety incident.

As you are aware, Pennsylvania Avenue is a special case because of the intersecting jurisdictions. But, we remain committed to expanding cycling in the District and making our streets safe for those who use bicycles.

We now know that the new flexposts are on the way and that DDOT is engaged with the federal planning and fine arts entities that have a say in what happens on Pennsylvania Avenue. We hope that these conversations—especially those involving the Commission on Fine Arts—will be open to the local, affected public. If they aren’t, we’ll find other ways to ensure the CFA understands that its decisions could place the community in physical danger.

We also know that MPD is doing enforcement. I think we can all agree that when a guy with a camera can document thirty instances of unlawful behavior in thirty minutes—and repeat the exercise daily—that enforcement mechanism is failing. But enforcement exists. That said, we want to see it improved, and we want to better understand its timing and method so that we are better able to communicate to the bicycling community what is being done.

From a policy standpoint, the worst possible result would bicyclists losing so much confidence in the safety of biking facilities like Pennsylvania Avenue that those facilities fail to enable more people to bike safely. We are on the verge of that with Pennsylvania Avenue’s bike lanes, and we need prompt improvements to both the infrastructure and enforcement mechanisms. Either alone won’t be good enough.

In the meantime, we need DDOT to rush the procurement of those new flexposts, or put the old ones back until the new ones arrive. Installing a flexpost isn’t  a big job. It’s OK to do it twice to prevent crashes and save lives.

Image via DDOT on Flickr

The Lesson From Bike to Work Day: Regionalism

Ballston Pit Stop - Washington DC Bike to Work Day - WABA table

Last Friday’s Bike to Work Day was a great success, setting a new record for registered riders and number of pit stops.  Thanks to the beautiful weather and great activities provided by pit stop sponsors, the over 14,500 riders who came out were treated to a fantastic celebration of biking to work.

This weekend, I started looking through Bike to Work Day’s final registration tallies and data. And all figures pointed in the same direction: Bicycling is growing in the entire region, so we need to continue our ability to grow our regional advocacy approach accordingly. Hopefully, the expansion of our advocacy work in recent years and the launch this winter of our suburban outreach program has helped to dispel any remaining notion that WABA is only about biking in D.C.

We have increased our efforts in suburban jurisdictions, just as Bike to Work Day has expanded its pit stop offerings away from downtown and into all parts of the region. We can see the results. Bike to Work Day’s top three overall pit stops were evenly spread: one in Virginia (Rosslyn), one in Maryland (Bethesda), and one in the District (Freedom Plaza). This makes sense given the region’s employment density, and, in my view, reflects that the decision by the Bike to Work Day organizers to better cover the region with pit stop opportunities was the correct one. What we lose in the optics of everyone in a giant gathering at a single location, we gain back in overall growth and attraction of new riders throughout the region who want pit stops convenient to their commutes.

Of course, no discussion of regionalism in transportation can go far without addressing the elephant in the room: WMATA.  Previously, though it’s engaged on transportation issues that affect bicyclist and pedestrians, WMATA had played a limited role in Bike to Work Day.  Since the completion of its excellent Bicyclist & Pedestrian Access Study, WMATA has taken steps to further encourage integration of bicycling and Metrorail/Metrobus commuting. This year, it hosted two pit stops at two Metro stations, West Hyattsville and Cheverly. The choice of these stations was especially important, because they’re in areas of relatively low Bike to Work Day registration. Additionally, West Hyattsville is a major destination for Spanish-speaking bike commuters who are more difficult to reach through traditional marketing, outreach, and education channels; Cheverly is in the region east of the city that notably underserved in biking infrastructure. WMATA’s pit stops didn’t break attendance records, but they helped us  broaden the event demographically and geographically and provide additional outreach on bicycling to communities we might not have reached otherwise.

Next year, we hope to work further with WMATA to encourage non-cyclists to try bicycling by better marketing the multi-modal commute—and ensuring that people understand that biking to Metro counts for Bike to Work Day.

Finally, the final tally did allow us to compare participation by jurisdiction to see where we have more work to do to encourage greater bike commuting.  In total, Virginia had the most registered riders, followed by the District, with Maryland slightly behind. Given the relative populations of the jurisdictions, we would like to see higher numbers from Maryland relative to the District and Virginia. These Bike to Work Day numbers confirmed a concerning trend we’ve already recognized in our own membership and supporter data. As a result, in the past week we have submitted proposals to Montgomery and Prince George’s County to expand education and outreach activities, in hopes of growing ridership in Maryland. One measure of our success will be next year’s state-level breakdown of Bike to Work Day data.

Thank you to everyone who registered and rode on Friday. We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t be a statistic,” implying that “being a statistic” is only applied to bad outcomes.  In biking, where our governments are often unwilling or unable to invest in generating the data and statistics that would help us make the case that bicycling is important to the region’s transportation, health, and economy, being a statistic—especially on Bike to Work Day—is incredibly helpful.

We can’t thank you enough for being a living, breathing person who came out to celebrate bicycling with us.  And thank you for being a statistic who will help us demonstrate the demand for bicycling and push for better bicycling in the coming year.

Image by Flickr user MegaBeth. Join our Flickr pool!

Best Wishes & Be Safe

While we have not been contacted directly by anyone associated with the bicyclists involved in crashes this morning and therefore can offer no further detail than what the media has already reported, we offer our best wishes and support to all involved.

Anyone who needs help dealing with a bicycle crash or advice on any issue related to bicycle safety or law can reach us at advocacy@waba.org.

For the 14,000-plus people who will be riding tomorrow in celebration of Bike to Work Day—or for whatever reason—please be safe.

Success! MPI to Submit Met Branch Trail Plans for Historic Review

Last week, we learned from a Montgomery County Department of Transportation presentation to the county’s Transportation & Environment Committee that progress on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in the county had stalled due to the unwillingness of the nonprofit owner of the historic Silver Spring train station to agree to submit the trail plans for historical review with the Maryland Historic Trust.

We received word today that the landowner, Montgomery Preservation Inc., has changed its mind and will allow the plans to be reviewed by the Trust. While this is certainly not the last hurdle to overcome, it is a significant one. We appreciate the efforts of all those involved in getting this far.

Thanks to MCDOT, the T&E Committee, and Councilmember Ervin for pushing forward on the Met Branch Trail.

Of course, now it is even more important to ensure that funding for the trail is not delayed.

 

Funding for the Met Branch Trail Should Be Restored in Montgomery County’s Budget

Yesterday, representatives of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation provided the County Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee with an update on its work on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Work on the MBT been stalled for some time due to disputes over its crossing at Georgia Avenue and proposed routing that would have the trail pass by the historic Silver Spring train station. The train station is controlled by the nonprofit Montgomery Preservation Inc.

Despite protestations on its website that MPI is not stalling the project, MCDOT’s update yesterday showed that MPI is in fact preventing the project’s moving forward. Delays are attributable to MPI’s unwillingness to accommodate the master plan trail alignment, which led Montgomery County’s county executive to propose delaying the funding of the project for a year.

Fortunately, all three members of the T&E Committee—Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen, and Hans Riemer—as well as Councilmember Valerie Ervin, who is not on T&E Committee but represents the District that houses the MBT and the train station, expressed strong support for the trail as well as frustration at MPI’s unwillingness to support proposed solutions.

Specifically, because the train station is historically designated, changes must be approved by the Maryland Historic Trust.  However, only MPI—due to its control of the station–can make that submission and initiate the review. According to MCDOT, it refuses to do.

As a result, the county is being blocked from building a trail that will serve hundreds of thousands of regional residents, is included in the County master plan, and was previously supported by MPI.

During the hearing, councilmembers expressed frustration with the situation and asked the county attorney to review the situation. They hope that agreements with the county that have, over the years, given MPI control of the property and funding  will provide a way to move forward.

This impasse is unfortunate, but we appreciate the strong showing of support from the T&E Committee and Councilmember Ervin. We firmly believe that the county should assert its rights and authority over the project and the process and continue to move forward with its design, which respects both the community’s need and demand for the trail and the historic significance of the train station.

MCDOT’s Edgar Gonzalez stated that the delays stemmed from past action and that within two months the county should be prepared to move forward, with or without Montgomery Preservation Inc. Therefore, this year’s delay in funding for the trail is unjustified.

For all the complexity of MPI’s involvement and the historic land use issues surrounding the Silver Spring train station, the County’s representatives are in agreement that it is time to move forward with the Met Branch Trail. MCDOT says it will have a way to do so within two months. Montgomery County should budget accordingly by restoring funding for the trail in this year’s budget.

Watch a video of the Transportation and Environment Committee discussing the MBT (the discussion runs from 12:25 to 33:00) here.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons