Is construction blocking your bike lane? Here’s our how-to on making sure contractors are following their Traffic Control Plan, and how to report problems.
You may have noticed. . . the bike lanes we’ve worked so hard to get built over the years are frequently closed or unusable because of construction, road maintenance, and utility work. Beyond being annoying and scary, these closures are also frequently illegal.
What does the law require?
DC law requires that when a bike lane or sidewalk is closed for construction, an equally safe accommodation, free of hazards and debris, must be provided. This has been the law since 2013. Unfortunately, we know from experience that violations occur around the city on a daily basis.
This has real consequences. Closing a bike lane— especially without adequate signage— forces bicyclists to quickly merge into a shared traffic lane with motor vehicles, putting bicyclists in danger, upsetting drivers, and discouraging less confident bicyclists from riding at all.
The District is experiencing a construction boom with no end in sight. Bicycling is more popular than ever. It is essential that the city keep bicyclists safe where construction impacts bike infrastructure. That won’t happen without advocacy.
We’ve created an online reporting form to walk you through the information DDOT needs to investigate the suspected violation.
Why report violations?
Short term, we want dangerous conditions on the roadways fixed as quickly as possible so no one gets hurt, and so bicyclists have confidence that when they set out by bike, the protected lanes they rely on will be available and safe.
Long term, WABA and DDOT will use this reporting data to help identify recurring problems and repeat permit violators. This will help with developing systemic solutions— like trainings, permit guidance and targeted enforcement.
Things to report:
Any time construction closes a protected bike lane, trail or sidewalk, the contractor must provide a route through the construction area that equivalent to the level of protection of what is being closed (subject to a few exceptions covered below). So, in the most basic sense, if it’s a protected bike lane, like this:
it should have a protected accommodation, like this:
Note on the far left behind the fencing is the original protected bike lane. Everything has been shifted right to make a sidewalk and bike lane from taking over a lane of traffic.
If it is a striped bike lane like this:
There should be a separate place on the road for the exclusive use of bicyclists.
In the example above, the bike lane is shifted to the left, marked by traffic cones.
The accommodation should be free of obstructions and debris.
Sometimes, there simply isn’t enough space to provide an equivalent accommodation. However, before providing a less than equivalent accommodation, the city must first close an adjacent lane of parking (if there is one) or close a lane of traffic.
So, if an equivalent accommodation has not been provided, but there is still an adjacent row of parking, or more than one lane of vehicle traffic open in either direction, the Safe Accommodations law is being violated.
Should I report this? A flow chart:
(click image for a larger version)
Don’t overthink it. The point of the law is to keep bicyclists and pedestrians safe. If it seems unsafe, it probably isn’t compliant with the law.
How to report violations in DC
We’ve created an online reporting form to walk you through the information DDOT needs to investigate the suspected violation.
Fill out the required questions (email, date, construction site address, etc).
When you submit the form, it will send you an automated email response. If you are able to snap a few pictures of the site you are reporting, reply to that confirmation email and upload your photos as an attachment.
The form will generate a report to the Public Space Regulatory Administration staff, who are responsible for approving and inspecting the traffic control plans in public space permits. They have the authority to shut down a construction site if it is violating the safe accommodations law.
You can use the email chain from the confirmation email to follow up with WABA and DDOT as-needed.
Want to know more?
Check out the slides from our Safe Accommodations Training:
Still have questions? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Background:On March 18th, WABA sent a formal letter to DDOT to point out that the traffic control plan for the Carr Properties permit as issued was not compliant with the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013 or accompanying safe accommodation regulations. We proposed three compliant traffic control plan (TCP) alternatives that would have maintained the protected bike lane. DDOT met with us to explain in detail the reasons they did not think any of our suggestions were feasible. They issued an official written response with this letter. At the root of agency’s argument is something called Level of Service, which is a measurement of how freely cars move on roads and through intersections. DDOT has made clear that the agency prioritized Level of Service metrics when deciding to skip over the safest options for accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians. DDOT’s letter states: “traffic analysis performed during the TCP review process indicated that taking another lane of travel would have resulted in failing levels of service at the intersections of both 16th and L street and 17th and L street NW.” (Emphasis added). Using a Level of Service analysis in this context is contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the safe accommodations law and regulations. It’s also worth noting that “failing levels of service” is not as catastrophic as it might sound. An F grade at an intersection means that… it takes a little longer to drive through the intersection.
So what exactly is a Level of Service Analysis?Level of Service (“LOS”) is a performance metric for streets and roads that uses a scale of A-F to describe the amount of congestion a roadway or intersection experiences. It was originally used to rate interstate freeways during the highway boom of the 1950s and 60s. At a certain point, traffic engineers began applying this standard to the rest of our street network. The problem with this is that most streets do not exist solely to move traffic through an area (like a highway), but rather, to serve homes, businesses, schools, churches, parks, and the people who live alongside them. Yet, in the pursuit of high LOS rankings, traffic engineers widen streets, remove parking, limit crosswalks, and deploy other strategies that make streets less safe for bicyclists and pedestrians, and less inviting in general. Eliminating traffic congestion is not legally mandated; it is a self-imposed requirement that has become entrenched in the traffic engineering canon. A laser-focus on LOS street design for the hours of peak use encourages the overbuilding of streets for the remaining 22 hours of the day. In this case, LOS analysis has been used to justify non-compliance with the requirement to provide accommodations that replicate the safety level of the existing bicycle route.
What did DDOT get wrong here?Under the Safe Accommodation regulations, DDOT is required to provide a protected bike lane adjacent to the motor vehicle lane as long as one motor vehicle lane can be maintained in the same direction of travel. The regulations are clear that safety accommodations for bicyclists should be afforded according to a prioritized scheme:
The method for providing the safe accommodation for bicyclists shall be prioritized as follows: (1) Closing a parking lane and keeping the adjacent bicycle lane open; (2) Shifting the bicycle lane to a location on the same roadway to by-pass the work zone, and if necessary, shifting and narrowing the adjacent motor vehicle traffic lanes; provided the adjacent motor vehicle travel lanes shall be maintained at no less than ten feet (10 ft.) wide; (3) Closing the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane to provide space for a bicycle lane; provided that a minimum of one (1) motor vehicle travel lane shall remain in the same direction of travel; (4) Merging the bicycle lane and the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane into a shared travel lane adjacent to the work zone, installing sharrow lane markings in the shared travel lane and installing work zone signage directing bicyclists to merge into the shared travel lane; provided the shared travel lane shall be maintained at no less than thirteen feet (13 ft.) wide; and (5) As a last resort, detouring bicyclists onto an adjacent roadway, in which case the detour route shall replicate, as closely as practicable, the level of safety found on the bicycle route being blocked.There is no provision in the regulations for considering Level of Service. The safest practicable option must be selected from the list in the order provided. Currently, two lanes of traffic are open on L Street, which means that option three would be the correct selection for a safe accommodation for bicyclists on L street under the regulations.
Complete Streets and Vision ZeroDDOT adopted an internal Complete Streets policy in 2010. In all likelihood, DC Council will codify a Complete Streets policy before summer recess if/when they pass the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act Amendment of 2016 (B21-335). (More on this in an upcoming post). The concept of a Complete Streets policy is that all modes should be safely accommodated in the design of our regional streets and transit network. In order to actually change the status quo and create streets for people, the Complete Streets policy elevates the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, users of mass transit, people with disabilities, and the elderly over the convenience of motorists and freight providers. The Complete Streets policy recognizes that certain streets have “modal priorities.” This was one of the justifications for not installing bike lanes on K street, which was determined to have a transit modal priority. L St and M St were selected for protected bike lanes in part because they are alternative parallel routes to K street. With the installation of world-class protected bike lanes on L and M Streets, and considering their significance in the transportation network for crossing the city by bike, it seems clear that on these streets, bicycle traffic should be considered the modal priority. Moreover and most importantly, DC is a city pledged to Vision Zero—the initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injury on our roadways by 2024. DDOT is the agency charged with leadership over this initiative. Prioritizing Level of Service for vehicles over the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians—even on streets to which bicyclists have already been diverted— on what constitutes an essential section of the protected bicycle network— flies in the face of the goals of Vision Zero, Complete Streets, and the Move DC plan. Unfortunately, options for recourse are limited at this point. We recommend contacting the Mayor and your Councilmembers.
What about safe accommodations at other construction sites throughout the District?When a contractor or developer applies for a permit to occupy public space during construction activities, they are required to submit a traffic control plan to DDOT for approval. Construction projects impacting our streets, bike lanes and sidewalks will generally fall into three categories: 1. The permit complies with the requirements of safe accommodations law and regulations, and the contractor is properly following the permit. Remedy: Patience. This won’t last forever. 2. DDOT has approved a legally compliant traffic control permit, but the contractor is not in compliance with the requirements of the permit as-issued. Remedy: Contact the Public Space Regulation Administration at DDOT (202-442-4670) and report a suspected permit violation. Take photos if you can, and be prepared to provide a street address or intersection, as well as what makes the accommodation (or lack thereof) dangerous. The public space team will send staff to inspect the construction area and may issue a stop work order until the contractor complies with the traffic control plan. If you have time to do a little research, many approved traffic control plans are now available online at tops.ddot.dc.gov (the system can be cumbersome, so for quick requests the phone is probably your best option). There is a “Search Permits and Applications” link at the bottom right hand corner of the landing page. From the jump page select “Occupancy” and then submit search criteria (tracking or permit number if known is the best way—permit numbers are printed on the Emergency No Parking signs). While not all approved Traffic Control Permits are viewable, the ones related to construction staging zones are. These are the ones most likely to include changes to sidewalks and bike lanes. 3. Contractors have been issued a legally deficient permit by DDOT. Remedy: This is trickier, but the end result must be that DDOT amends the permit to comply with the law. WABA will be working with DDOT officials to create a guidance manual to give permitting and engineering staff at DDOT the tools they need to properly evaluate traffic control plans in permit applications for compliance with the safe accommodations requirements for bicycles. As we all know, DC is a rapidly growing city and there are construction projects everywhere. This is all the more reason it is essential that DDOT get these permits—and their enforcement— right.
Here’s why it matters.As we explain in our letter, the L Street protected bike lane is a key part of the city’s transportation infrastructure. Because of the physical separation from traffic, a protected bike lane attracts people who would not necessarily be willing to ride on a street with no infrastructure. Following completion of the protected bike lane in 2013, bike ridership on L Street exploded, increasing 65 percent within the protected bike lane’s first year of installation. The 1500 block section of the L St protected bike lane is a particularly important piece of the network because it intersects with the 15th Street north-south protected bike lane, which is itself connected to the westbound M Street protected bike lane. Without a safe L Street protected bike lane, the utility of the M Street protected bike lane is also diminished. The City Council anticipated the problems that would ensue if the city’s bike lanes were made unsafe because of construction like this project. After repeated bike lane and sidewalk closures, the Council unanimously passed the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act in 2013. The Act provides, among other things, that “The Mayor shall require permittees blocking a sidewalk, bicycle lane, or other pedestrian or bicycle path to provide a safe accommodation for pedestrians and bicyclists.” DDOT testified in favor of the legislation. The following year, DDOT proposed and finalized regulations implementing the Act.
DDOT’s regulations define a safe accommodation for bicyclists in three ways.First, the regulations define the term “safe accommodation” as a “safe and convenient route for pedestrians and bicyclists that ensures an accommodation through or around a work zone that is equal to the accommodation that was provided to pedestrians and bicyclists before the blockage of the sidewalk, bicycle lane, or other public bicycle path.” (Emphasis added). Second, the regulations state that the routing for a safe accommodation for bicyclists “shall replicate the safety level of the existing bicycle route.” Finally, the regulations state that a safe accommodation to bicyclists must be provided by prioritizing methods, in this order from highest priority to lowest priority:
- Closing a parking lane and keeping the adjacent bicycle lane open;
- Shifting the bicycle lane to a location on the same roadway to by-pass the work zone, and if necessary, shifting and narrowing the adjacent motor vehicle traffic lanes;
- Closing the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane to provide space for a bicycle lane; provided that a minimum of one motor vehicle travel lane shall remain;
- Merging the bicycle lane and the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane into a shared travel lane adjacent to the work zone, installing sharrow lane markings in the shared travel lane and installing work zone signage directing bicyclists to merge into the shared travel lane; provided the shared travel lane shall be maintained at no less than thirteen feet (13 ft.) wide; and
- As a last resort, detouring bicyclists onto an adjacent roadway, in which case the detour route shall replicate, as closely as practicable, the level of safety found on the bicycle route being blocked.