On Benning Road, DDOT should learn from past mistakes and make the most of this opportunityThe 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 AlternativesNarrowed 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
Without a more convenient alternative, streetcar tracks make biking less safeThe 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.
The two way protected bike lane is a good idea, but needs improvementBoth 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.
Explore a road dietBenning 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 standardsMoveDC, 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 CommentsOn 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.