Guest Post: Merry Christmas, DDOT.

Editor’s Note: This letter is written by Laura Montiel, grieving mother of Malik Habib. Malik was killed on H Street NE in a traffic crash in June 2018. This is hard to read, and a heartbreaking reminder of why WABA’s work matters. Hug your loved ones. Be kind to your neighbors. Drive slowly. Dear DDOT, As many folks are hustling and bustling about this holiday season, my thought as a grieving mother is “All I want for Christmas is YOU.” I will never eat pancakes with Malik on Christmas morning again… Wow, how he loved eating stacks and stacks of pancakes drowned in syrup. I will never receive that big Christmas present he joked about giving “when I make it… because I will.”

Malik and his brother Cyrus, Christmas 2003. Photo courtesy of their mother Laura.

I used to identify myself proudly as a single mother of two, Malik and Cyrus Habib. My son Malik was killed on June 23rd while riding his bike near the streetcar tracks at 3rd and H Street NE. After the tragedy, folks commented on social media and in the news how the tracks of the streetcar have been a concern since 2014. I have stood at that corner and witnessed Transportation Madness: buses are coming down the hill at racing speeds, pedestrians are crossing the roads with construction going on behind them, there’s a lack of signage, and scooters and bikes have no place to ride. The streetcar tracks add more danger to this intersection. My son was a victim of this poorly planned infrastructure. Reports indicate that you, DDOT, knew about the dangers and streetcar tracks and did nothing. Six months after my son’s death the only changes made were the installation of a bike lane that begins mid-route, painted green and flex post to guide bicyclist to nowhere… because there is no continuation of that bike lane on the other side. If I were new to the city like Malik was, I would still be unsafe with the addition of this new colored green bike lane. It insults me. To add onto my grief, I am frustrated. I have spoken out many times and relived my son’s tragic crash again and again in hopes that my story can somehow make a difference. Are you listening? As we are here at the end of 2018, entering a New Year, I try to see how many changes have been made to make Vision Zero a reality in DC. Sadly, I don’t see much. DDOT, my wish for Christmas is that the city reevaluates the safety of that intersection at 3rd and H Streets NE. It needs additional signage, enforced speed limits, a well-lit bike crossing, and parking enforcement. Another idea is to take away street parking on one side of the road to make way for a safe bike route, one that doesn’t start and end and actually provides a safe route. And can DDOT please address the streetcar flange fillers that supposedly were being researched? We were supposed to have an update by now. 

Malik’s ghost bike memorial on H St NE.

So was Malik’s death preventable? You ask yourself that on Christmas morning. If you were part of the administration that has ignored bike safety, I forgive you. I just ask that in 2019, you do a better job of making Vision Zero a reality. Malik loved playing football, writing music, debating politics, reading, eating, and most of all, being with his family. I know he is with me always, so I believe that my strength to write these words come from him. I am his mother and gave him birth, but he gave me life! I miss his humor, his free spirit, and kindness so much. Merry Christmas, Malik. Love, Mom

Benning Road Streetcar Plans miss opportunities to improve biking and walking.

Map of the proposed streetcar extension. Image from DDOT.

Map of the proposed streetcar extension. Image from DDOT.

UpdateRead WABA’s full comments here. In February, the H St Benning Streetcar line finally rolled into service, and now moves thousands of passengers along the 2.2 mile corridor each day. Work continues on plans to extend the streetcar across the Anacostia River to the Benning Road Metro and towards Georgetown. This week, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is hosting two public meetings to take comments on Environmental Assessments for both plans. If implemented well, these projects present important opportunities to expand bicycle access in the Benning Rd and K St. corridors. Without attention to key details, though, they pose serious threats to safety and access. We encourage bicyclists to attend and speak up to push them in the right direction. Benning Extension EA Hearing Thursday, May 19 6 – 8 pm Department of Employment Services, 4058 Minnesota Ave NE Union Station to Georgetown Streetcar Public Meeting Tuesday, May 17 6 – 8 pm Carnegie Library, 801 K Street NW

On Benning Road, DDOT should learn from past mistakes and make the most of this opportunity

The addition of streetcars to H St. and Benning Rd created some serious safety issues for bicyclists. Running streetcars along the right side of the street places tracks exactly where bicyclists ride, increasing the risk of bicyclists catching a tire in the tracks and crashing. It does not take a statistician to understand this risk. Just take a walk down H St. The installation of parallel bike lanes on G St and I St provided a workaround, but these don’t solve the problem because they don’t serve the whole corridor, or deliver a bicyclist directly to her H St. destination. The Benning extension is an opportunity to learn from these shortcomings and improve the long overlooked Benning Rd corridor to be safe and accessible to bikes. The Benning Road Streetcar extension spans nearly 2 miles of Benning Road, from Oklahoma Ave to East Capitol Street at the Benning Metro. The study covers three bridges, a crash-prone intersection at Benning Rd and Minnesota Ave, two metro stations, connections to and from 295, and the regional Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. The corridor connects commercial areas, parks and recreation centers, schools, industrial areas and rapidly growing resident populations With between 4 and 8 traffic lanes, Benning Rd is dominated by the automobile. The road carries an average of 26,000 daily car trips with highest volumes west of the DC-295 viaduct near MInnesota Ave. Pedestrians and bicycle accommodations are laughable, with crumbling sidewalks as narrow as 2 feet, crossing distances up to 90 feet, and a single 5 foot shared path on the viaduct that crosses over DC-295. So, while the purpose of the project is to extend the streetcar, it is also about fixing bridges, improving unsafe intersections, and creating safe and convenient places to bike and walk. The two build alternatives represent a small step towards better bicycle access, but due to numerous compromises, are not nearly good enough. If built according to these plans, the Benning Road corridor will remain an unsafe place where very few people can to walk or bike.

The Build Alternatives

Narrowed from a wide variety of designs, DDOT is proposing two build alternatives for public comment. Both are very similar except that Alternative 1 runs the streetcar in the right curb lane, while Alternative 2 runs streetcars in the center lanes. Both alternatives would extend the streetcar to the Benning Metro Station in mixed traffic lanes. Both alternatives include sidewalk improvements, a 6-10 foot multi-use trail from the Anacostia River to 38th St NE, slight changes to bridge access, complete reconstruction of the DC-295 viaduct, and slight modifications to the Minnesota & Benning intersection. Neither alternative includes a new bike facility on Benning Road east of Minnesota Ave, neither proposes a road diet where one makes sense, and consequently, neither creates ideal bicycle facilities that comply with appropriate standards. For full details on the Build Alternatives, see Chapter 2 of the draft EA

Improvements are Needed

Typical section of Benning Road east of Minnesota Ave

Without a more convenient alternative, streetcar tracks make biking less safe

The placement of streetcar tracks in the road has serious implications for bicyclist safety throughout the corridor. Running streetcars curbside east of Minnesota Ave without upgrading the street with a trail or protected bike lane will all but guarantee an increase in track-related bicycle crashes. This would be a repeat of H Street’s mistakes. Since there is no useful parallel route proposed, Alternative 1 will decrease both safety and access for bicyclists. The Environmental Assessment fails to recognize this significant impact. Running the streetcar in the center lane, as in Alternative 2, lessens, but does not eliminate, the track-related crash risk.

cycletrack section

The two way protected bike lane is a good idea, but needs improvement

Both build alternatives provide an option for a two way protected bike lane (cycletrack) between Kingman Island and 36th St NE to separate bicyclists from pedestrians traveling between the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and the DC-295 viaduct. It is a good idea, and would remove a single eastbound lane, allowing for a slightly shorter pedestrian crossing. However, at only 9.5 feet wide, it is too narrow to accommodate two directions of bike travel. And, with only a 6 inch buffer and rubber curbs separating bicyclists from cars speeding by at and above the 35 mph speed limit, this design is unsafe, substandard, and unacceptable. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) bikeway standards, which DDOT endorses and helped develop, call for 12 feet (8 feet only in constrained sections) and a 3 foot buffer for a two way cycletrack. This proposal is 6 feet too narrow.
Benning Rd is 90 feet across at many intersections

Benning Rd is 90 feet across at many intersections. Image from Google

Explore a road diet

Benning road is a busy auto corridor, carrying tens of thousands of auto trips each day from DC-295 into downtown. At 8 traffic lanes and a 35 mph speed limit, it is a formidable barrier to cross and an unpleasant, unsafe place to bike or walk. Adding the streetcar to this corridor without shorter street crossings, traffic calming, and lane reductions, misses an important opportunity to change travel behavior. DDOT should seriously study the impacts of removing both an eastbound and westbound lane along the entire corridor. This would allow for uncompromised bike and pedestrian facilities, additional space for greenery and stormwater management and fewer barriers to using the new streetcar as more people move to the area.

Implement MoveDC following  design standards

MoveDC, the District’s long range transportation plan, calls for a bicycle and pedestrian trail on Benning Road from Oklahoma Ave to East Capitol St NE as a Tier 1 priority. At a minimum, this trail must be 10 feet wide and be designed to accommodate both bicyclists and pedestrians. Narrowing the trail at intersections and transit stops, or forcing sharp turns at intersections are  not acceptable solutions when the corridor is over one hundred feet wide. Furthermore, the actuated (“beg button”) signal crossing at 36th street works against the goal of making the corridor accessible and safe for bicyclists and pedestrians, since the inconvenience of these signals encourage crossing against the light. Both build alternatives would only build half of the planned trail. If not now, when will the trail be built all the way to East Capital St?

Attend and Submit Comments

On Thursday, May 19, DDOT is hosting a public hearing to collect comments on the draft Environmental Assessment. Please consider attending and providing testimony. DDOT will also accept written comments until June 2. More info here.

Success: No bike ban on streetcar guideways

Good news! DDOT released a second draft of proposed rules regarding streetcars today. This draft no longer includes language banning bicycles from the streetcar guideway. This is good news for several reasons:
  • It means that this poorly thought out policy won’t be implemented.
  • It avoids setting a precedent that would allow the District to ignore its own Complete Streets policy
  • It reaffirms that the public input process, though frustrating at times, does work. More than 800 of you sent emails to DDOT on this issue, and the agency listened.
This change to the regulations successfully addresses a policy problem, but it doesn’t resolve the underlying design flaw: if you’re not careful, streetcar tracks can be tricky when you are on a bicycle. Keep an eye on where your wheels are, and if you’re riding near the H Street line, consider taking parallel streets when you can. Impress your friends by showing off the nifty contraflow bike lanes on G and I Streets Northeast! It’s worth noting, too, that WABA caught the proposed bike ban in the first place because we have full time advocacy staff whose job it is to read all this fine print. If you appreciate that work, consider becoming a member or making a donation. We can’t do it without your support!

More Details About DDOT’s Streetcar Regulations

Not a perfect setup, but a bike ban is not the solution.

Not a perfect setup, but a bike ban is not the solution.

Based on a day of answering questions from members and reporters about yesterday’s blog post, here are a few details and clarifications about the proposed regulation that would ban bicyclists from using the streetcar guideway:
  1. WABA does not oppose the streetcar. We do oppose an overly broad regulation that singles out bicycles as the only vehicles prohibited from a portion of public roadways.  We aren’t asking to delay the streetcar or make major changes to the already-built project. We are insisting that this proposed guideway bike ban not be included in the final regulations.
  2. This is the first time we’ve seen DDOT intentionally and directly proposed a rule violating its own complete streets policy by telling a mode of transportation user that parts of the public roadway network is off-limits. We believe in Complete Streets and will hold DDOT accountable for following its policy.
  3. That said, this is not merely a “slippery slope” argument. This regulation won’t just apply to H Street, NE. Once it’s on the books, it will apply to all future streetcar projects —presently planned to be a 37 mile network—unless the regulation is actively changed. That’s 37 miles of street lane that cyclists will be banned from using.
  4. The contraflow bike lanes on G and I Streets are a great way to avoid riding on H St (WABA proposed them!),  but their presence does not make riding on H unnecessary.
  5. Not every future streetcar route will have such easy alternative routes. Unless DDOT is going to promise to provide them. In which case, let’s put that in the regulations.
  6. The regulation applies to the guideway, not necessarily the whole road. DDOT helpfully clarified their intent on Facebook yesterday, but in the regulations the guideway is not as clearly defined as it should be, and a Facebook post is not helpful as a regulatory document.  Additionally, along the H St-Benning Road corridor the guideway shifts from the outer lane to the inner lane, which translates to a requirement that bicyclists switch lanes mid-block across tracks. This isn’t really any better.
We recognize that DDOT is trying to balance interests in the safety of bicyclists and the functionality of streetcars. We have raised concerns about bicyclist safety near streetcar tracks at every stage of this project, and DDOT has consistently punted on making design changes to address the problem. Now, they’ve come to the end of the design without addressing it and have no more engineering options available, so they’ve moved on to regulatory options. We know that H Street is not a great place to bike. But its present configuration wasn’t handed down by the gods. DDOT built it like it is, knowing it wouldn’t be good for bikes, and should be held accountable for making what improvements are possible and for ensuring that future streetcar routes are built in a way that makes safe space for bikes. Allowing the agency to set the default position to “eliminating bicyclists from roadways” rather than “accommodating bicyclists on roadways” will allow DDOT to continue with unsafe designs that ignore their responsibility to make DC’s streets safe for all. DDOT is accepting public comments on the proposed regulations until September 27th. You can submit comments here.

DDOT Proposes Bike Ban Wherever Streetcars Operate

“Bike Prohibited” could be the next version of this sign. Photo source: mvjantzen

DDOT’s proposed streetcar regulations, released last week, prohibit “riding a bicycle within a streetcar guideway, except to cross the street.” On H St Northeast, that guideway is the entire street, effective banning biking on this popular corridor. This is a problem.

For years, WABA and others have raised concerns about the interaction of streetcars and bicycles and suggested a range of both equipment and communication best practices to improve the situation. Rather than seriously pursing these solutions, DDOT is proposing to ban bikes.

Tell DDOT Not to Ban Bikes

Streetcar tracks can pose a legitimate hazard to bicyclists, but banning bikes is not an acceptable solution. Please contact DDOT immediately, and demand that this bike ban be removed from the regulations before they are made final.

This restriction is not just a bad idea, it contradicts DDOT’s own Complete Streets Policy, which explicitly requires:

“All transportation and other public space projects shall accommodate and balance the choice, safety, and convenience of all users of the transportation system including pedestrians, users with disabilities, bicyclists, transit users, motorized vehicles and freight carriers, and users with unique situations that limit their ability to use specific motorized or non-motorized modes to ensure that all users, especially the most vulnerable can travel safely, conveniently and efficiently within the right of way.”

Bicycles and streetcars share space in cities across the world. There are a variety of technical and design solutions to this problem. It is past time for DDOT to commit to learning about and using these sorts of solutions rather than banning an entire mode of transportation from the road.

Streetcar Tracks

e6MXyK7ObZyMVaWZ7KTNlYi1U8M0BlyNV1r6XhihuwIThis is part of our Women & Bicycles blog series,  part of WABA’s initiative to build a stronger women’s bike community and get more women on bikes.  These posts aren’t exclusive to women, but they’re produced with and through the Women & Bicycles’ programming. Click here to learn more and get involved.  
DC Streetcars on Pennsylvania Ave

Image courtesy of Flickr user DC Streetcar

Even though  Streetcar won’t be up and running until 2015 (at the earliest), people who bike along the H Street corridor interact with the system on a regular basis. These interactions are not always friendly. Since the  installation of tracks along the H Street corridor, WABA has received many reports of bike crashes involving the tracks. Here are the three most important tips for avoiding hazardous encounters with streetcar tracks: 1. Never ride between the tracks.

Image courtesy of Flickr user SeguiMI

2. Always cross at a 90 degree angle.
Streetcar tracks

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jonathan Maus

3. Use alternative routes.  Contraflow bike lanes on G St. and I St. NE offer safe alternatives for bicyclists going east and westbound.