Thursday, January 8, 2015

Bike-Related Bills in the 2015 Virginia General Assembly

Manassas-Area Delegation to the Virginia General Assembly
Public Hearing for the 2015 Legislative Session, January 8, 2015
Statement by Allen Muchnick, Virginia Bicycling Federation board member

Good evening, legislators.  I’m Allen Muchnick, a long-time Northern Virginian, now living in the City of Manassas.   I’ve followed the General Assembly in several capacities for two decades, but I’m speaking tonight only on bicycle-related legislation.

For the past six years, the Virginia Bicycling Federation has sought to improve justice for bicyclists injured by negligent motorists by proposing minor changes to conform a few Virginia traffic laws to those of most other states.   While our proposed changes are simple, straightforward, and nonpartisan, they’ve repeatedly encountered unwarranted partisan opposition.   Please help ensure that this doesn’t happen again this year.

A one-word change to Virginia’s “Following Too Closely” law, Code of Virginia § 46.2-816, would cover bicyclists and other road users not inside a motor vehicle when rear-ended by a negligent following motorist.   In 2014, HB 82, patroned by now-Congresswoman Comstock and co-patroned by Delegates Lopez, Hugo, and Rust, passed in the House with only 28 Nays, but was killed in the Senate Transportation Committee, which had previously reported similar legislation in 2011, 2012, and 2013.  For 2015, the same legislation will be patroned by Delegate Bill DeSteph of Virginia Beach as HB 1342 and separately in a Senate Bill by Senator Bryce Reeves of Fredericksburg.   Thank you, Senator Colgan, for supporting this legislation on four separate occasions.   I ask Delegate Miller to support this legislation in the House.

Virginia remains one of a handful of states that does not prohibit motor vehicle occupants from opening a vehicle door “adjacent to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so.”  SB 882 patroned by Senator Chap Petersen would create a simple $100 traffic infraction, not subject to driver demerit points and not applicable to emergency responders, for doing so.  In 2013 and 2014, similar bills were passed by the Senate, only to be killed in House Transportation.   With bike lanes adjacent to parking lanes in many urban communities in Virginia, a law that requires auto occupants to look for traffic before opening their door is more important than ever.  Thank you, Senator Colgan, for supporting this legislation in the past.  Please support SB 882 this year.

In 2014, Virginia finally enacted a simple Code change that requires drivers to a leave a three-foot or wider buffer whenever passing a bicyclist.   This year, Senators Alexander and Reeves will each file bills to allow drivers to carefully cross a double-yellow line to pass a pedestrian, a human-powered device, or a stopped or slow-moving vehicle, something that’s already a common Virginia driving practice.  Please support this simple and practical legislation.  The number of Senator Alexander’s bill is SB 781.

Finally, please support HB 1402, patroned by Delegate Loupassi, which would not reduce highway maintenance payments to localities that have implemented road diets, whereby the space occupied by two conventional travel lanes is reallocated as two bike lanes plus, typically, a two-way-left-turn lane.  Road diets have been an effective tool for retrofitting bike lanes in Northern Virginia while improving capacity and safety for motor vehicles and should not be discouraged.

Thank you for considering my requests, and best wishes for a productive legislative session.

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.