Sunday, November 16, 2014

Commonwealth Transportation Board Fall 2014 Hearing Statement

Commonwealth Transportation Board

Fall 2014 Hearing for Northern Virginia, October 16, 2014

Statement by Allen Muchnick, board member

Virginia Bicycling Federation (VBF)

Over the past two decades, VDOT--with the CTB’s support and guidance--has made commendable progress in advancing bicycling and walking across Virginia as “fundamental travel modes and integral components of an efficient transportation network    The ongoing implementation of VDOT’s 2004 “Policy for Integrating Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodations” has begun to improve our Commonwealth’s livability, prosperity, equity, and sustainability, but--after the neglect of bicycling and walking for many decades--the needs are vast.

Non-motorists have directly supplied Virginia’s highway funds via the state sales tax since 1987, but last year’s substantial increase in sales and other non-motorist taxes for statewide and regional transportation projects now warrants a far greater allocation of transportation revenues and resources to bicycling, walking, and public transportation.

The expansion of highway capacity while neglecting and, in fact, impeding walking, bicycling, and public transportation for many decades has created some of the nation’s worst traffic congestion.  To cost effectively reduce traffic congestion, the CTB must implement projects that increase walking, bicycling, and transit trips, whereas highway capacity expansions, which induce more driving and auto-dependent sprawl, are usually counterproductive.  A Northern Virginia Bicycle Advisory Committee should be established immediately to prioritize bicycling improvements for funding.  Rail services should provide roll-on bicycle access, and public rail-corridor investments, such as the Southeast High Speed Rail project, should incorporate shared-use paths (known as rails with trails), especially on river crossings.

In 1982, VDOT distinguished itself by establishing two AASHTO-designated cross-state bicycle routes—US Bike Routes 1 and 76.   Unfortunately, due to Prince William County’s urbanization and access restrictions at Fort Belvoir since 2001, US Bike Route 1 has been severed and elsewhere rendered hostile for bicycling for well over a decade.   We commend VDOT staff for recently obtaining the resources to complete a detailed route evaluation for realigning US Bike Route 1 through the NoVA District and for submitting route realignment applications for AASHTO’s approval.  With the completion of those tasks and the installation of vital route signage, the VDOT NoVA District should expeditiously improve bicycling conditions along the realigned route with cost-effective roadway retrofits.  In particular:

Retrofit 4-foot or wider paved shoulders along all of Fleetwood and Aden Rds in southern Prince William County.  These two-lane roadways, with AADTs around 5,000 each, are currently inhospitable-- and potentially treacherous—for bicycling, especially during peak travel times. 
Restripe Hoadly Rd in central Prince William County with continuous and properly designed bike lanes.  In general, this should be inexpensive and readily feasible since ample roadway right-of-way exists, although some existing soft shoulders may need reconstruction.
Retrofit Old Bridge Rd to better accommodate on-road bicycling, especially between Tanyard Hill Rd and Minnieville Rd. 

In closing, I’ll add that rehabilitating the 20-year-old shared-use path along much of the Prince William Parkway is another pressing bicycle transportation need in Prince William County.   While this path is overdue for repaving, the many jarring transverse pavement cracks should be fixed first.

Thank you for your consideration.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bicycle Advisory Bodies in the DC Region

This article surveys bicycle advisory bodies in metropolitan Washington.  Most governmental activity related to bicycling occurs at the locality level, and most county and city governments in our region have designated a bicycle advisory body that offers citizen advice and feedback on government policy, programs, projects related to bicycling.  The advisory body members may or may not be formally appointed by local elected or agency officials, but the meetings are open to everyone, and newcomers are often warmly welcomed and encouraged to participate as fully as appropriate.

Arlington BAC Film Screening, March 2011 (Photo Credit: Steve Offutt)
If you seek to participate in bicycling advocacy, attending the meetings of your local bicycle advisory body is generally the best place to start.  Here you will meet the local agency staff and leading citizen advocates who work on bicycling policies, programs, and projects and learn about specific projects and issues currently under consideration as well as adopted bicycle facility plans and upcoming project-funding opportunities.

Every locality is different, but most bicycle advisory bodies meet monthly on a set weekday evening.  Use the web links below to learn more about the bicycle advisory body in your locality. 

If something is missing or incorrect, please let me know at allenmuchnick AT yahoo DOT com . 

District of Columbia:  The DC Bicycle Advisory Council meets on the first Wednesday of odd-numbered months, typically in Room 1117 of One Judiciary Square (441 4th Street, NW) from 6 pm to 8 pm.

Northern Virginia Localities

Alexandria VA:  The Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee generally meets on the third Monday of each month, from 7 pm to 9 pm, at the Durant Center, 1605 Cameron St, Alexandria.

Arlington VA:  The Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee usually meets on the first Monday of each month (except September), from 7 pm to 9 pm, at 2100 Clarendon Blvd, Arlington, in the Azalea conference room off the ground floor lobby.  Documents and meeting minutes are archived here. 

Fairfax County VA:  The Fairfax County Trails and Sidewalks Committee normally meets on the second Wednesday of each month at the Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Pkwy, starting at 7 pm.  The meeting room varies.

Herndon VA:  The Town of Herndon was had a Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee.  If interested, contact Councilmember Charlie Waddell, 703-435-6805 or charlie.waddell AT herndon-va DOT gov .

Loudoun County VA:  Loudoun currently lacks a bicycle advisory committee, but Bike Loudoun, the local advocacy organization, has long sought one.

Reston VA:  The Reston Association has a Pedestrian and Bicycling Advisory Committee which generally meets on the second Wednesday of the month.

Prince William County VA:  Currently, Prince William has neither a bicycle advisory committee nor a dedicated bicycling advocacy group, but the nonprofit Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition includes bicycling activities.

Vienna VA:  The Town of Vienna Bicycle Advisory Committee meets monthly on the third Thursday, at 8 pm, at the Vienna Community Center, 120 Cherry St SE.

Suburban Maryland Localities
Frederick City and County MD:  The County lacks a bicycle advisory committee, but the City of Frederick Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee meets at 6:30 pm on the first Tuesday of most months at 140 West Patrick St.  For more information, email FBPAC AT cityoffrederick DOT com .

Howard County MD:  Howard County does not yet have a bicycle advisory committee, but Bike HoCo has helped the County draft its first Bicycle Transportation Master Plan.

Montgomery County MD:  The Montgomery County Bicycle Action Group (MCBAG) usually meets on the third Thursday of each month from 7 pm to 9 pm, alternating between a Rockville and a Gaithersburg location.  Meeting participation via telephone is also an option.

Prince Georges County MD:  The Bicycle and Trails Advisory Group (BTAG), staffed by the County’s planning agency, meets quarterly during the work week.  For more information, contact Fred Shaffer at 301-952-3661 or fred.shaffer AT ppd.mncppc DOT org.

Rockville MD:  The City of Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee meets at 7 pm on the first Wednesday of each month in the Diamondback Terrapin Conference Room of Rockville’s City Hall.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Alexandria VA Creates Dangerous Door-Zone Bike Lanes

The City of Alexandria, Virginia has just resurfaced Quantrell Avenue, a short neighborhood street in the city's far west end, and is in the process of striping the roadway to create treacherous, substandard, and completely unnecessary door-zone bike lanes.

Quantrell Avenue runs through a relatively high-density residential neighborhood for only one or two blocks--between the stub end of Lincolnia Road (where it's also fed by a one-way local exit ramp from I-395) and N Beauregard St (a four-lane arterial with a wide landscaped median that provides a vital east-west bicycling alternative to I-395).  I haven't checked how Quantrell Ave is functionally classified by the City, but it primarily provides access to the mutlifamily dwellings lining Quantrell Ave and two neighboring streets (N Armistead St and the stub end of Lincolnia Rd) while also serving as a parking facility for the many vehicles of local residents that cannot be accommodated in the adjacent residential parking lots.

Quantrell Ave is served by both Metro and DASH buses, but every bus stop is used for on-street car parking, forcing the buses to stop in the travel lanes and block all other same-direction traffic.  While the traffic volume on Quantrell Ave is fairly high, due to the adjacent residential density, the street has a 25 MPH posted speed limit, and average vehicle speeds are much lower than that, due to the narrow roadway and limited sight distances, the many vehicles entering and exiting parking spaces and parking lots, stopped buses, the stop signs at Lincolnia Rd and at N Armistead St, and the traffic light at the intersection with N Beauregard St.

The Quantrell Ave roadway is just over 42 feet wide from curb face to curb face.  As seen in this 
Google Maps street view, the street accommodates parallel on-street parking at the curbs and one travel lane in each direction.

After the recent resurfacing, Quantrell Ave was striped last week with the left bike lane stripe a mere 12 feet from the curb face, providing a 5-foot wide bike lane space adjacent to a 7-foot wide (substandard) parking lane.  While these dimensions may still be the minimum sanctioned by the AASHTO Guide to the Development of Bicycle Facilities, this space is seriously inadequate wherever parking density and turnover is high, as along Quantrell Ave.

Note the red yard stick on the pavement in the photos.  These photos were taken on July 28 prior to the installation of any bike lane symbols.  On July 29, directional arrows to guide bicyclists were installed in the bike lane space.  The bike lane symbols will probably be installed very soon, if not today (July 30).

As documented by John S Allen here, the door zone of most motor vehicles found parked on U.S. streets ranges from 110 to 120 inches from the curb face, with the door zones of some vehicles even wider. With the combined 144 inches of bike lane and parking lane space on Quantrell Ave, bicyclists must keep their tire track no more than approximately 12 inches to the right of the left bike lane stripe for the right edge of their handbar to barely clear the majority of opened car doors.  Riding this close to car doors, however, leaves no safety margin for either the bicyclist being startled by a suddenly opened car door or for the bicyclist's natural wobble, not to mention any momentary inattention by the bicyclist.

On Quantrell Ave, however, this unsafe situation is compounded by the striping of very narrow 9-foot travel lanes, the minimum width allowed by the AAHSTO Green Book.  (Indeed, if the two travel lanes were any wider than 9 feet, the new "minimal width" bike lane and parking lane combination would be precluded by all accepted bike lane guidance.)  Consequently, if a bicyclist is suddenly startled by an opening car door, s/he could readily be struck by an overtaking vehicle in the adjacent travel lane.

To avoid the very real threat of a "dooring" collision, bicyclists should always track at least five feet from parked motor vehicles, placing their right handlebar at least four feet away.  To do this on Quantrell, bicyclists must either straddle the left bike lane stripe, risking a side-swipe collision with motor vehicles overtaking them in the narrow 9-foot travel lane, or ride entirely within the travel lane, ignoring the bike lane  completely and risking the wrath of motorists who are upset that the bicyclist is not in his or her "proper" place.

The new bike lanes on Quantrell Ave have no utility or useful purpose.  The typical motor vehicle here is not traveling much faster than most bicyclists and is often slowing or stopping for parking, turning, or entering vehicles; for stopped buses and crossing pedestrians; and for the traffic signal at N Beauregard St.  No connecting bike lanes exist or are safely feasible on the two connected neighborhood streets (namely, N Armistead St and the stub end of Lincolnia Road), and the City has no current plans to install bike lanes on N Beauregard St, a vital four-lane arterial for bicycling with a wide landscaped median and a 35 MPH posted speed limit and where bike lanes, at least in the uphill direction, are both warranted and relatively feasible.

The best solution to accommodate bicycling on Quantrell Ave is both simple and practically free:  Rather than install bike lane markings in the door zone, install shared-lane markings (aka sharrows) centered in the recently narrowed 9-foot travel lanes, to direct bicyclists to use the roadway as lawful drivers and completely clear of the door-zone hazard.  This solution would significantly benefit pedestrians and bus riders by helping to calm traffic.  It would also reduce the risk of car-bike crashes at intersections and driveways, by improving the visibility and vantage of bicyclists on the roadway at those crucial locations.  The risk of roadway crashes between bicyclists and pedestrians would also be reduced, both near and between intersections.

One simple change to reduce motorist speeds and improve safely for everyone on Quantrell Ave would be to install a stop sign for the traffic that enters Quantrell from the I-395 exit ramp.  Currently, this traffic is given the right of way over both traffic entering Quantrell by turning left from Lincolnia Rd and traffic turning right from southbound Quantrell onto Lincolnia.   An alternative, but more expensive, solution would be to install a small roundabout at this intersection and require all entering traffic to yield to the traffic that is already in the roundabout.

A decade ago, before the advent of shared-lane markings, such door-zone bike lane installations were often (wrongly) excused as an earnest, if misguided, attempt to accommodate traffic-averse bicyclists.  With the widespread use of sharrows, however, the Quantrell Ave bike lanes can be seen for what they truly are; namely, traffic-engineering malpractice.

The City of Alexandria should promptly fix this treacherous facility before bicyclists are seriously injured by it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Drivers Due Care (HB 784, 2012) Talking Points

(Version #1: 1/20/12)

1) Bill Objectives:  This bill would require drivers of motor vehicles to exercise “due care” to avoid colliding with pedestrians and persons propelling human-powered vehicles, even when the driver has the right of way.  If enacted, this “due care” requirement should reduce the numbers of fatalities and serious injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists by helping to educate motorists that they have a legal duty to avoid colliding with pedestrians and bicyclists whenever feasible.  This bill would also help improve justice for pedestrians and bicyclists who are injured or killed by a driver who could have avoided the collision if he or she had devoted full time and attention to the task of driving. 

2) Bill Summary: This bill would add a new section (§ 46.2-923.1. Drivers to exercise due care.) to the Code of Virginia, to better conform the Code of Virginia to the Uniform Vehicle Code and to the traffic codes of all but three other states.

3) Virginia Transportation Research Council Study:  The need for this legislation was uncovered in a 2007 survey of state pedestrian and bicycle laws [ ] conducted by VDOT’s Virginia Transportation Research Council (since renamed the Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research) in Charlottesville.  The resulting study report, entitled "Safe travel for Virginia's non-motorized road users: a comprehensive review of pedestrian and bicycle laws in Virginia and the United States"   [
 ] , noted on page 54 (and also in the Abstract) that Virginia is one of just four states missing an important "due care" provision which is stated in the Uniform Vehicle Code as follows:

Statutes That Are in the Uniform Vehicle Code But Not in the Code of Virginia

UVC 11-504—Drivers to exercise due care.
"Notwithstanding other provisions of this chapter or the provisions of any local ordinance, every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian or any person propelling a human powered vehicle and shall give an audible signal when necessary, and shall exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any obviously confused, incapacitated or intoxicated person."

The VTRC report also provided the following commentary:

"Although both drivers and pedestrians have a common law duty to use due care, [209] the provision as a whole would be strengthened by a statutorily enumerated duty to use due care. When assessing liability, a “due care” provision makes it clear that a driver cannot avoid liability simply because he or she had the right of way. Pedestrians are admonished not to “carelessly or maliciously interfere with the orderly passage of vehicles,”[210] not to “enter or cross an intersection in disregard of approaching traffic,”[211] and not to “step into a highway . . . at any point between intersections where [their] presence would be obscured from the vision of drivers,”[212] yet drivers are not cautioned to use reasonable care not to strike a pedestrian. Considering that in an accident, the pedestrian is likely to suffer the greatest injury, it makes sense to caution drivers to use due care all the time, not only when “entering, crossing, or turning
at intersections.”[213]"

4) Traffic Law Conformity:  This bill closely replicates § 11-504 of the Uniform Vehicle Code.  As documented on pp. 102-105 of the VTRC report, Virginia is one of only four states (with MA, SD, and WI) that does not statutorily require drivers to exercise due care at all times to avoid colliding with pedestrians and bicyclists.  (This comparison omits Michigan, which lacks statewide traffic laws altogether.)

5) Only Motorists, Not Non-Motorized Drivers, Would Be Required to Exercise Due Care:  By using the term “every driver of a motor vehicle”, instead of “every driver of a vehicle”, the proposed due care requirement, as drafted, would not apply to bicyclists or to drivers of animal-drawn vehicles.  The Virginia Bicycling Federation did not intentionally request this divergence from the Uniform Vehicle Code and is not opposed to having the due care requirement apply to “every driver of a vehicle”.  Bicyclists and animal-drawn vehicles do occasionally cause serious injury and even death to pedestrians and (other) bicyclists, and non-motorized drivers should not escape liability when they collide with pedestrians and other bicyclists due to their own failure to exercise reasonable care.

6) Relationship to Past Legislation:  No similar legislation was introduced in recent years and possibly ever before in Virginia

7) Pedestrian and Bicyclist Injuries and Fatalities:  In recent years, Virginia has averaged more than 2,400 pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and 94 pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities annually in reported traffic crashes.   Many, if not most, of these collisions could have been avoided and the severity of injuries could have been lessened if the drivers involved had devoted their full time and attention to the task of driving.  Besides helping to reduce the incidence and severity of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes, passage of this bill would help ensure that a negligent driver is at least charged with a traffic infraction which should expedite victim and estate compensation via an insurance claim and/or civil suit.

8) Driver Education:  If this change is adopted, DMV’s Virginia Drivers Manual, the state Drivers Test, Virginia drivers education curricula, and other traffic safety materials can acknowledge it, thus educating drivers of their legal duty to avoid colliding with pedestrians and bicyclists at all times, even when the driver has the right of way and the pedestrian or bicyclist is a “child or an obviously confused, incapacitated, or intoxicated person.”

9) Bicycle-Friendly State Criterion: The League of American Bicyclists evaluates state bicycling statutes as a criterion for ranking the bicycle friendliness of the 50 states. Passage of this bill would help improve Virginia’s ranking in the future which would help attract more out-of-state visitors who enjoy bicycling and/or walking to visit and spend money in Virginia.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Following Bicyclists Too Closely Talking Points

HB 1950 & HB 2124 (2013 Session)
SB 264 & HB 785 (2012 Session)
(Version #2: 1/14/13)
1) Bill Objectives: This bill would require the driver of a motor vehicle to not follow any motorized or non-motorized vehicle (including a bicycle or an animal-drawn vehicle) “more closely than is reasonable and prudent” and thereby help reduce the numbers of fatalities and serious injuries to lawful and legitimate non-motorized road users. By simply deleting the second mention of “motor” in § 46.2-816, this bill would: 1) help educate motorists to be considerate of all drivers and passengers of non-motorized vehicles, 2) make it clearly illegal to harass or endanger the driver or passengers of any legal vehicle by tailgating, and 3) help improve justice for the drivers and passengers of lawfully operating non-motorized vehicles (including bicycles) who are injured by negligent following motorists.
2) Bill Summary: This bill would merely delete a single word (i.e., the second mention of “motor”) in § 46.2-816 of the Code of Virginia, to better conform the Code of Virginia to the Uniform Vehicle Code and to the traffic codes of other states.
§ 46.2-816. Following too closely. Currently, this Code section applies only to motor vehicles following other motor vehicles, trailers, or semi-trailers. The proposed modification would extend the same standard of legal protection to the drivers and passengers of all vehicles allowed to operate on the roadway, including bicycles, mopeds, and animal-drawn vehicles. The prohibition on following too closely would still only apply to drivers of motor vehicles, so the common (and typically safe) practice of a bicyclist drafting another bicyclist would not be affected.
3) Traffic Law Conformity: Virginia appears to be the only state in which the legal protection from being followed too closely (tailgating) applies exclusively to motor vehicles. For every other state that we’ve checked, the “following too closely” statute protects the drivers and passengers of all vehicles equally.

Moreover, in at least several states, including North Carolina, California, and Arizona, the “following too closely” statute is essentially identical to the language proposed in SB 264 and HB 785; i.e., only the drivers of motor vehicles are prohibited from following other vehicles too closely.

4) Motor Vehicles Are Typically More Dangerous Than Non-Motorized Vehicles: It is reasonable to only prohibit the drivers of motor vehicles from following other vehicles too closely because the greater power and weight of motor vehicles makes motor vehicles far more likely than all other vehicles to cause serious bodily injury and property damage.

5) Bicyclist Drafting Would Not Be Prohibited: In a practice known as drafting or pace lining, road bicycling enthusiasts often follow each other very closely by mutual consent. This bill would not outlaw bicyclist drafting because only the drivers of motor vehicles would be prohibited from following other vehicles too closely. Furthermore, experienced bicyclists who draft each other by mutual consent typically do so for very long distances without crashing, so they are not following “more closely than is reasonable or prudent.”

6) Relationship to Past Legislation: During the 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions, several bills were introduced (HB 1048 Kory and SB 566 Ticer in 2010; HB 1683 Toscano and HB 2194 Ebbin and SB 928 McDougle in 2011) in which this identical “following too closely” provision was combined with legislation to increase the specified minimum distance for safely passing a bicyclist from two feet to three feet. Since the three-foot minimum safe passing distance was opposed repeatedly in the House of Delegates, and a two-foot minimum passing distance still (theoretically) projects bicyclists who are sideswiped by a passing vehicle, this bill contains the “following too closely” provision without changing “the passing too closely” provision.  For the 2013 session, SB 1060 Reeves again combines "following too closely" with "three-foot passing".
7) Bicyclist Injuries and Fatalities: Year after year, Virginia averages more than 600 bicyclist injuries and 12 bicyclist fatalities annually in reported traffic crashes. In a substantial percentage of those fatalities and serious injuries, bicyclists are hit squarely from behind by a following motor vehicle. Besides helping to reduce the incidence of such crashes, passage of this bill would help ensure that a negligent motorist is at least charged with a traffic infraction which should expedite victim and estate compensation via an insurance claim and/or civil suit.
8) Motorist Education. If this change is adopted, DMV’s Virginia Drivers Manual, the state Drivers Test, Virginia drivers education curricula, and other traffic safety materials can acknowledge it, thus educating motorists to better consider non-motorized vehicles ahead of them on the roadway.
9) Bicycle-Friendly State Criterion: The League of American Bicyclists evaluates state bicycling statutes as a criterion for ranking the bicycle friendliness of the 50 states. Passage of this bill would help improve Virginia’s ranking in the future which would help attract more out-of-state visitors who enjoy bicycling to visit and spend money in Virginia
10) Virginia Beach Legislation Request: The City of Virginia Beach requested this legislation in its Requested Code of Virginia Changes for 2010 and 2011.