Arlington Delivers a Bike Friendly(er) Ballston

Early last month, road crews set to work repaving a long stretch of N Quincy St. in Ballston. But, instead of putting it back exactly as they found it, they made it better. Quincy St. now sports almost a half mile of new, protected bike lanes between Glebe Rd and 9th St. N!

This is Awesome!

Check it out!

Tucked behind car parking and flex-posts, the new protected bike lanes create a low-stress bike connection to dozens of shops, restaurants, offices, apartments and the future Mosaic Park. Where bicyclists used to grapple with very close passing cars and parked cars blocking bike lanes, the new design gives everyone their own, orderly space on the road.

Before…

…and after!

This upgrade is the result of a lot of hard work by advocates and county staff. In late 2015, we launched our Bike Friendly Ballston campaign to build support for a low-stress, protected bike lane connection between the Custis Trail and Ballston’s commercial area. By spring 2016, we had earned support from more than 600 county residents, Ballston businesses, the Ballston Business Improvement District, and the Arlington County Board. Since then, county planners have been hard at work, collecting data, designing concepts, and negotiating the many tricky complications that arose along the way.

Making use of the new, protected bike lane in Ballston.

Help us show our gratitude!

The Quincy St. protected bike lanes are a big win for safe, low-stress bicycling in Arlington. And this project could not have happened without the creative solutions, persistence and dedication from transportation staff and county leaders. Will you help us thank them for their work?

Thank the Staff & Board!

This work completes the first half of our vision for a more bike friendly Ballston. Still to come is a protected bike lane connection extending another half-mile past the Central Library and Washington Lee High School to the Custis Trail. To learn more about the project and see the plans, visit the project page.

An Update on Bike Friendly Ballston

Bike Friendly Ballston Graphic 2 wide

Protected bike lanes on Quincy St are taking small steps forward,  but it’s complicated, says Arlington’s transportation department.

On Monday, September 19, WABA’s Arlington Action Committee hosted an update from Arlington County staff on their progress designing a protected bike lane on N. Quincy St. in Ballston. Staff presented work done so far, a summary of the constraints and trade-offs for upgrading Quincy’s existing bike lanes, and a preliminary design concept for a few key blocks.

Since November 2015, the Action Committee has worked with local residents, business owners, and civic associations to build support for a north-south, protected bike lane to link the Custis Trail to points into Ballston. Six months ago, after an outpouring of support, the County Board directed Arlington’s County Manager to develop concepts for protected bike lanes on Quincy St. Now, Department of Transportation staff have taken a close look at the corridor and identified an important opportunity and key challenges to weigh as the design moves forward. We were delighted to spend the evening discussing the study with Arlington Director of Transportation Dennis Leach, Design Engineer Team Supervisor Dan Nabors and other staff. Here is what we learned on Monday:

A Repaving Opportunity

A large section of Quincy Street, from Glebe Road to Fairfax Drive, is in rough shape and is already slated for repaving next year. Since repaving is often the largest cost for a bike lane project, this is an ideal time to consider how the road can be restriped  once new pavement is installed.

To take advantage of this cost-saving opportunity, staff have focussed on designing this 0.4 mile section through Ballston’s densest blocks. Beginning with a survey of existing conditions, striping configurations, curb to curb distances, and road geometry, they identified some constraints that require careful design moving forward.

Space Constraints and Other Challenges

In a dense urban area like Ballston, space for moving people around is limited. Roads and sidewalks are flanked by rows of buildings atop a tangle of public and private land. Upgrading bike lanes requires additional space on the road to safely separate bicyclists from car traffic. And while it may seem simple to upgrade a lane on one block, the same amount of road space is needed on every block.

Dimensions for on block of Quincy St. from Wilson to 9th N

Dimensions for on block of Quincy St. from Wilson to 9th N. Click to download full doc

Quincy St. is not a uniform width from one block to the next. The distance between curbs ranges from 41 feet to over 70 feet at some intersections, allowing for traffic lanes, turn lanes, curbside parking, the existing unprotected bike lanes, and sidewalk extensions. This variability makes it difficult to create a single street design that fits on every block. And where the street narrows, an engineer can only squeeze bike, traffic, and parking lanes so much.

In narrow blocks, we face a question of priorities. Should the County use limited public space to encourage more people to travel by bike or should it dedicate public space to car parking? To create a fully protected bike lane, some parking must be removed. Yet to retain every parking space, only minor bike lane improvements are possible on most blocks.

Another complication that limits available road space are the frequent curb extensions or “nubs” along Quincy St. This common traffic calming treatment extends a sidewalk into the road at mid-block crossings and intersections to improve pedestrian visibility and shorten crossing distances. Despite their benefits, curb extensions create more fluctuations in road width and complicate bike lane design on narrow roads. Fortunately, protected bike lanes can offer similar benefits to pedestrians, but installing them may require tearing up concrete, which increases construction costs.

Preliminary Design Concept

To illustrate some of the trade-offs, County staff presented one of many possible concepts for protected bike lanes on Quincy St. from Glebe Road to Fairfax Drive. The image below shows a protected bike lane running against each curb and separated from moving traffic by flex posts, parked cars, and a painted buffer area. This design offers a low-stress, separated place to ride that can reduce speeding, reduce bicyclists riding on sidewalks, discourage parking in bike lanes, and attract more tentative riders with a low-stress, trail-like experience. Click here to download the full design (pdf).

Potential protected bike lane concept and parking impacts (pdf)

Potential protected bike lane concept and parking impacts. Click to download full document pdf

On some blocks, these upgrades would require changes to on-street parking. Orange areas indicate existing parking that would remain. Green shows additional space for parking. Red shows areas where existing parking would need to be removed. Under this draft concept, some blocks would retain all current street parking, while others might see reductions in street parking. It is worth noting that parking studies of each block show relatively low parking utilization and that a surplus would still remain if some spaces were eliminated. Furthermore, Quincy St. boasts numerous off-street garages and parking lots along the corridor.

Potential parking impacts for a block on the corridor

Potential parking impacts for a block on the corridor

Experience a Quincy Street Protected Bike Lane at Saturday’s Arlington Fun Ride

On October 1st, we are teaming up with Phoenix Bikes to create a pop up protected bike lane on Quincy Street to show what a low-stress bike lane could do for Ballston. Last year’s ride was a huge success, and this year participants of all ages can feel the joy of a protected lane on their way from the Custis Trail to the Ballston pit stop at the Central Library. The ride is fun for the whole family, offers a distance for every rider, and supports a great cause! Learn more and Register Here!

Bicyclists on the Custis Trail along I-66 in Arlington (Photo by JSanchez)

Photo from last year’s Arlington Fun Ride (Photo by JSanchez)

Next Steps

While these drawings may look polished, they represent only one of many possible configurations for a Quincy St. protected bike lane. Lanes with different geometry and dimensions, or even a two-way protected bike lane, could suit the space better, and more design work needs to be done to explore those possibilities. As spring, and the start of next year’s repaving season approaches, we hope to see more solidified options and a clearer understanding of the trade-offs and benefits. We are confident that with an open dialog and opportunities for input that we can find a solution that works for Quincy St. residents, visitors, commuters, and businesses.

For more on the Bike Friendly Ballston campaign, click here.

 

Bike Friendly Ballston Hits a Major Milestone

Saturday February 20th was a huge milestone for the Bike Friendly Ballston Campaign.  During the Arlington County Board’s public comment period, WABA’s Action Committee for Arlington County made our case for a protected bike lane on North Quincy Street connecting the Custis Trail to the heart of Ballston.  Gillian, the Committee’s campaign chair, spoke to a receptive County Board, outlining why a protected bike lane would improve safety, encourage ridership, bring more business into the heart of Ballston, strengthen Arlington’s economic competitiveness and provide an important north-south connection in Arlington’s bicycle network.

More than 30 campaign supporters gave up their Saturday morning to show their support, in-person for Bike Friendly Ballston.  That is addition to the 600+ who signed the petition supporting the campaign, the 10+ letters of business support, the support from two adjacent civic association, the Ballston BID, Arlington’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and Arlington’s Safe Routes to School coordinator.

Specifically, the Action Committee asked the County to bring forward several alternative designs for protected bike lanes on Quincy Street between (at a minimum) Glebe Road and the Custis Trail access north of Washington-Lee High School. The five Board members listened and commented favorably, directing staff to develop plans with a variety of possible configurations for protected bike lanes. We look forward to the results of this request and continuing the conversation about a more bike friendly corridor with the community.

For another perspective on this campaign, read the summary on the excellent TINLIZZIERIDESAGAIN blog.

To see the presentation and discussion for yourself, watch the video here (presentation 9:20, discussion 19:00). Read more about the campaign here.

A short protected bike lane could connect Ballston to the region’s trail network

On a nice day, 2,000 people bike near Ballston while using the Custis Trail. Few of them, however, use the existing North Quincy Street bike lanes to actually visit Ballston. A group of Arlington Residents thinks a protected bike lane along Quincy would change that.

The red line is the proposed bike lane along North Quincy. The green line is the Custis Trail.

The red line is the proposed bike lane along North Quincy. The green line is the Custis Trail.

The Arlington Action Committee, with support from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, has launched a campaign called Bike Friendly Ballston to try to get Arlington County to install a protected bike lane (also called a cycletrack) to connect the Custis Trail to the heart of Ballston, where people can grab lunch, play at the park, shop at the mall, or check out a book at the library.

Biking on Quincy doesn’t feel very safe

There are already standard bike lanes for most of the stretch, but they don’t feel safe. The lanes are immediately adjacent to both fast moving traffic and parking spots, where people frequently opening their car doors threaten to pitch cyclists into that fast moving traffic. The lanes disappear temporarily at Quincy’s busy intersection with Washington Boulevard, and are frequently blocked by double-parked cars and delivery trucks.

All of these factors contribute to a feeling of danger, which accounts for at least some of the drop-off in cycling activity between Arlington’s trail network and its bike lane network. A protected bike lane along Quincy would make people feel safer on a bike, reduce injuries, encourage more commerce, and provide a better link from Ballston to the regional trail network.

Quincy with a protected bike lane. Image from Streetmix.

Quincy with a protected bike lane. Image from Streetmix.

There are lots of benefits to building this

Protected bike lanes make streets safer, even for non-cylists. In New York, the 9th Avenue protected bike lane led to a 56% reduction in injuries to all street users, including a 57% reduction in injuries to people on bikes and a 29% reduction to people walking.

Even without the statistics, the safety benefits of protected bike lanes is obvious to both those who use them and those who just live near them: 80 percent of people who live near a protected bike lane project believe it increased safety on the street. For people who use them, that number is 96 percent.

Safer streets make the “interested but concerned” more comfortable with the idea of trying cycling. The average protected bike lane sees bike counts increase by 75% in its first year alone. The jump could be even higher for Quincy given the connection to a highly-used regional trail at one end and a busy retail, office, and residential neighborhood at the other.

Protected bike lanes even have something to offer troll-ish bike article commenters: in Chicago, protected bike lanes and bike-specific traffic signals significantly improved cyclist stoplight compliance, and in New York, the 9th Avenue bike lane brought with it an 84% reduction in sidewalk riding.

Why Quincy?

Without an updated bike plan in Arlington County, it is hard to say definitively what Arlington’s next bike project should be. Ideally, an updated bike plan would detail a proposed ideal bike network to strive for, as well as a prioritization scheme to aid in project selection. That said, Quincy is a key piece of the bike network in the existing plan even though the plan pre-dates the notion of a protected bike lane (at least in the US).

The Arlington Action Committee chose Quincy for several reasons:

  • It connects a major neighborhood to the trail network
  • It has a number of important community amenities including Washington-Lee High School, the Arlington Planetarium, Quincy Park, the Central Library and Mosaic Park
  • It could become phase 1 for an eventual North-South bike connector stretching across the entire county along George Mason Drive, Quincy Street and Military Road
  • Unlike many other streets in the area, it crosses Glebe Road, Wilson Blvd, Fairfax Drive and Washington Blvd at traffic signals; and it would improve the bike network in a neighborhood that lacks much bike planning thanks to itsvery-dated sector plan (circa 1980).

The next step is to talk to the County

In the two months since the Bike Friendly Ballston Campaign launched, the Arlington Action Committee has been presenting to local neighborhood associations, approaching civic groups, and talking to local businesses to build support for the project. It’s hoping to approach the County about moving forward with the project this month or next.

You can find out more about the campaign on the campaign’s web page, or sign the petition if you want to support the project.

Chris Slatt is Chair of WABA’s Action Committee for Arlington County. Cross posted on Greater Greater Washington

Bike Friendly Ballston Campaign Launch

WABA's Action Committee for Arlington County is working to make Ballston a better Place to bike

Thanks to an expansive trail network and forward-thinking investments made over the decades, Arlington County is a terrific place to ride a bike for fun, commuting, and just getting around. Trails like the Mount Vernon Trail and Custis Trail see thousands of bicycle trips per day through neighborhoods and the downtown core. Where those trails end, a growing network of quiet neighborhood streets and bike lanes take over to get people where they are going. At least, that is how it should work. Trouble is, many of those bike lanes are on busy roads with high speed traffic and high parking turnover. These streets are stressful for people who bike and unrideable for more tentative riders. It does not have to be this way.

Today, WABA’s Action Committee for Arlington County is pleased to announce its first campaign for a Bike Friendly Ballston. Our goal, make Quincy Street a welcoming entrance into a more walkable, bikeable Ballston.

The existing Quincy Street bike lanes are uncomfortably close to frequent and fast moving traffic. The bike lanes disappear at a major intersection forcing people on bicycles to merge with drivers already navigating a tricky intersection.  Delivery vehicles and double parked cars frequently block these lanes creating more merging conflicts as drivers and bicyclists try to share the same space. A redesigned Quincy Street with protected bike lanes would make a safer and more inviting place to ride. It would create a low stress connection to the nearby Custis trail. Finally, it would be the first step in a protected north-south route through central Arlington.

Read more about Bike Friendly Ballston

Kick off the Campaign with us!

On Wednesday, October 21, join our Action Committee in Ballston for a short walk on Quincy Street to see why these changes are needed. Starting at the Central Library, we will look at some of the troublesome areas and intersections that make Quincy St. an ideal place for a protected bike lane. Then, join us for drinks and discussion on the details at a local watering hole. We hope you can join us to get started on this exciting campaign. Please spread the word!

Bike Friendly Ballston Kickoff
When: Wednesday, Oct 21 6:30 pm
Where Arlington Central Library 1015 N Quincy Street

Join Us