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Rockville misses the forest for the trees with its plan for an 18-lane mega main street

Rockville Pike could one day become a 252-foot-wide mega boulevard with 12 car lanes, 4 bike lanes, 2 bus lanes, and over 50 feet of landscaping. But in designing a street with more than ample room for cars, bikes, and buses, planners abandon any hope the street will be walkable.


The plan for Rockville Pike. Image from Rockville.

Everybody gets a lane!

Rockville Pike is one the most important retail strip highways in the Washington region. Like most 20th Century retail roads, it’s designed for cars, and it carries a lot of them.

Rockville wants to make it a more urban main street, so planners there are drawing up a redevelopment plan. It’s a laudable goal, and it’s not easy on a high-traffic state highway like Rockville Pike.

At first glance, this plan has all the components of a good complete street design: Tree-lined sidwalks, protected bikeways, a center-running dedicated busway. Every mode gets all the street width it could possibly want.

And why not? Why go through the political headache of forcing the community to make the difficult choice between fewer car lanes versus bikes or BRT if you can fit everything in? With a mega boulevard like this, everybody gets what they want, and nobody loses. Right?

Wrong.

Walkability loses, and it’s the most important factor

At 252 feet wide, the new Rockville Pike will be practically impossible for pedestrians to cross. It will take multiple traffic light cycles and multiple minutes for anyone to cross.

Instead of a main street, Rockville will have a barrier. And that is a big problem for the rest of the plan.

Transit oriented development doesn’t work unless it’s walkable. If Rockville Pike is too wide, development on one side of the street will be effectively cut-off from development on the other side. Riders won’t be able to easily access the BRT stations. People will drive for even short trips. The concept of a community where people don’t need to drive everywhere will break down.

If you can’t walk, other multimodal options don’t work. Pedestrians are the linchpin to the whole thing.

To be sure, some level of compromise is always needed. If walkability were the only factor that mattered, all streets would be pedestrian-only. We add in car lanes, bike lanes, and transit because we have to make longer trips possible, and that’s a good thing.

But there’s a balance, and 252 feet veers so far to accommodate long distance travel that it seriously sacrifices short distance walking. In so doing, Rockville undermines the very foundation on which its redevelopment plans rest.


Make pedestrians a priority

The Pike needs to be narrower. Assuming the sidewalks, busway, and three general car lanes each direction are sacrosanct, that still leaves a lot of potential fat to trim.

Are the service roads really necessary if the plan also includes new parallel local streets? Do we really need redundant bi-direction bikeways next to both sidewalks? Could we possibly reduce the 74 feet of various landscaping, buffer, and turn lanes?

These would be difficult trade-offs, to be sure. But there are massive negative consequences to an uncrossable mega boulevard.

If Rockville wants the new Pike to work as multimodal urban place, pedestrians need to become a priority.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 

March 24th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: bike, BRT, master planning, roads/cars, transportation, urbandesign



More than 20% of people bicycle to work in some DC neighborhoods

Over 20% of commuters in Bloomingdale, Mount Pleasant, and Petworth get to work each day primarily using a bicycle. That doesn’t even include people who use bikes to reach Metro.


Bike mode share in central DC. Image from DDOT.

This fascinating map is part of the background data DDOT is preparing to study a possible protected bikeway on or around 6th Street NW.

It shows how hugely popular bicycling can be as a mode of transportation, even in the United States. What’s more, this data actually undercounts bicycle commuters by quite a lot.

It’s originally from the US Census’ American Community Survey, which only counts the mode someone uses for the longest segment of their commute. People who bicycle a short distance to reach a Metro station, then ride Metro for the rest of their commute, count as transit riders rather than bicyclists.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

February 8th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: bike, maps, transportation



America’s most bonkers bikeway is in Clearwater, Florida

What do you do if you have active freight rail tracks running down the middle of a downtown street? Add bike lanes, of course!


East Avenue, Clearwater, FL.

This is East Avenue in downtown Clearwater, Florida. It’s one of America’s most unusually multimodal streets.

On the left: A normal one-way general purpose lane with normal car traffic. In the middle: Freight rail tracks. On the right: A major regional two-way bikeway, the Pinellas Trail. What could go wrong?

Actually, it’s not as dangerous as it looks. Freight traffic on those tracks is relatively light, and extremely slow-moving. The train in this photo was moving maybe five miles per hour. And unlike cars, trains don’t suddenly change lanes. There’s zero danger of a CSX right hook.

In fact, the rail tracks are effectively a buffer between the bikeway and car lane. They make a bigger buffer than normal buffered bike lanes get. In a weird way, the tracks are a sort of protection.

So it’s totally bonkers. But maybe it works.

What do you think?

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

January 13th, 2016 | Permalink
Tags: bike, fun, transportation, urbandesign



America’s biking paradise may actually be in… Michigan?

This is Main Street on Mackinac Island, in Lake Huron, Michigan. It’s a Michigan state highway, M-185, and it’s car-free year round.


Photo from Google.

M-185 encircles Mackinac Island, and forms the main street of the island’s town.

There’s no bridge to Mackinac Island. Visitors access it via airplane or ferry. With a lot of tourists but not many cars, M-185 has been car free since 1898.

I’ve never been there, but it looks pretty impressive in photos.

Have you been to Mackinac? Tell me what you think in comments at GGW.


The density of parked bikes looks like the Netherlands. Photo by Jasperdo on Flickr.


Photo by Jasperdo on Flickr.


Photo by Jasperdo on Flickr.


Bike for rent. Photo by ellenm1 on Flickr.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

October 19th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, galleries, transportation



Video proof neon clothes don’t stop careless drivers from driving into people

Have you ever seen a traffic safety campaign that reprimands you for not wearing bright colors every time you cross the street? Of course you have. Here’s video proof that’s a load of bollocks.


In this viral video, a careless SUV driver rolls into a neon-clad police officer. There’s no ambiguity as to who’s at fault. The officer was stopped still, in broad daylight, and wearing the holy grail of bright clothes: a reflective vest. The SUV driver simply didn’t stop when he or she should have. Thankfully it all happens at slow speed, so it doesn’t appear the officer was hurt.

But this is a clear illustration of why it’s wrong to lecture pedestrians about wearing bright colors. It’s not reasonable to demand that everyone wear bright yellow every time they’re outside a car. But it is absolutely reasonable to demand that drivers not carelessly drive into people, no matter what anyone is wearing.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

October 15th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, pedestrians, roads/cars, transportation



Fairfax City will install its first bike lane

There will soon be a bona fide bike lane between downtown Fairfax and George Mason University, the first in Fairfax City.


Fairfax City’s first bike lane, location map and proposed design. Images from the City of Fairfax.

On September 29, the Fairfax City Council approved a one year pilot program to test a three block bike lane on University Drive, the street that connects downtown Fairfax to the largest university in Virginia.

The bike lane will begin just south of downtown Fairfax, and will run south as far as Armstrong Street. There, it will meet George Mason Boulevard, where Fairfax installed its first sharrows a few years ago.

Crews will restripe University Drive this autumn, to change its configuration from having two car lanes in each direction, to having one car lane each way, a central turn lane, and bike lanes next to each curb.

A baby step

This bike lane, and its associated road diet, is a nice baby step for a community that’s never given bikes much thought.

But a baby step it is. Not only did officials promise to reevaluate and possibly remove the bike lane after one year, but they significantly shortened it from the original proposal.

At one point, planners had hoped to stripe the bike lane north through downtown Fairfax, as far as Layton Hall Drive. Unfortunately, that was a no-go.


Map of the approved bike lane, canceled portion, and existing sharrows. Map by the author, using base map from Google.

A natural location

Fairfax City isn’t a big community. It’s located roughly between I-66 and George Mason University, and its historic downtown is one of the more walkable places in Northern Virginia outside the Beltway.

With a walkable downtown and a big university, it’s a natural for better bike infrastructure.

Unfortunately, decades of suburban road design have left most of Fairfax City just as car-dependent as surrounding Fairfax County. Now, that’s beginning to change. But ever so slowly.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

October 13th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, transportation



Copenhagen proves bikes can work in the suburbs

One common criticism of bicycling is that it’s all well and good for dense core cities, but isn’t a serious transportation option in suburban areas. Suburbs in other countries prove that’s wrong.


Bike parking at Friheden Street transit stop in suburban Copenhagen. Photo from Google.

The photo above is from Friheden Street station, in suburban Copenhagen. And look at all those beautiful bike racks. How did they get there?

One of the most important uses for bicycles is as a last mile tool, to get from one’s home to a transit station, or from a transit station to one’s final destination.

Anywhere you have a transit station with a lot of other buildings a mile or two away, bikes can help connect one to the other. That includes suburbs.

If you provide the necessary infrastructure, and treat bicycling like a serious option, people will use it.

Yes, that’s a suburb

Unlike central Copenhagen, which is dense and difficult to drive a car through, the area around Friheden Street is suburban and relatively low density. Actually it looks a lot communities around the Washington Beltway.


Residential Friheden. Photo from Google.

Compare these two aerial photos, taken at about the same scale. The first image shows the area around Friheden Street station. The second shows Kensington, in suburban Washington.


Suburban Copenhagen. Photo from Google.


Suburban Washington. Photo from Google.

They look pretty analogous. Not exactly the same, to be sure; Friheden has a few apartment buildings sprinkled in, and its S-train station offers better service than Kensington’s MARC station. But they’re not so dissimilar as to be completely alien. They’re siblings, if not quite twins.

I admit I’ve never been to Friheden Street. I’ve never even been to Denmark. Frankly I have no idea if it’s a pleasant community, or what the less desirable things about it may be. I’m sure there are trade-offs to it, compared to an American suburb.

But I happened to be on Google Earth looking at Copenhagen, which is famously a bike paradise, and wondered what its suburbs look like. I turned on Google’s transit layer and started looking at the areas around suburban stations. Friheden Street just happens to be one I zoomed in on.

And look at all those beautiful bike racks.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

August 31st, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, transportation



Crowdsource safety problems on DC streets with this interactive Vision Zero map

Do you know of a safety problem on a DC street? If so, tell DDOT about it using the interactive Vision Zero map. It allows residents to click a location and type in notes to describe problems.


Image from DDOT.

This new map is part of DC’s Vision Zero Initiative, which aims to eliminate all fatalities and serious injuries in the transportation system.

The map lets you add notations for a wide variety of safety problems. There are separate categories for driver, pedestrian, and cyclist problems, with several options available for each. You can also scroll around DC to see what your neighbors have submitted.

It’s a neat tool. I’ve already submitted a handful of problems.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 1st, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, pedestrians, roads/cars, transportation



CaBi cures downtown dockblocking with new bike corrals

One of the biggest problems limiting growth of Capital Bikeshare in DC has been that downtown docks fill up early in the morning rush hour. That won’t be a problem after Thursday, when two new bikeshare corrals open, offering unlimited bikeshare parking.


Bike corral at the 2013 Obama inauguration. Photo by jantos on Flickr.

The two parking corrals will be at 13th and New York Avenue near Metro Center, and at 21st and I near Foggy Bottom. Once the regular bike docks fill up, a Capital Bikeshare staffer will be on hand to accept bikes and log out riders.

The bike corrals will be open every weekday morning this summer, beginning Thursday, May 14, and ending in September. If the service proves popular, CaBi may extend it into autumn.

Corrals will only be open during the morning rush hour, and only at those two locations.

Bigger redistribution truck

The corrals aren’t the only Capital Bikeshare improvement coming this week. The agency has also acquired a larger redistribution van, allowing them to move bikes from full stations to empty ones more quickly.

There’s no word yet on just how big the new bigger redistribution van is, but check out what Montreal uses:


Montreal redistribution truck.

Hooray for more reliable bikeshare!

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 

May 12th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, transportation



A bikeable suburban highway? One Ohio town pulled it off

Wide suburban highways lined with big boxes and strip malls aren’t usually places one finds protected bikeways. But Stringtown Road in Grove City, Ohio is such a place. Check it out:


Stringtown Road.

Since a curb protects the bikeway from the road, it’s technically a sidepath, a sidewalk that’s for bikes instead of pedestrians.

And as you can see in photos from Google Street View, it’s nicer than riding in the street with fast-moving cars, but it’s still not exactly pleasant.

Huge curb cuts interrupt the bikeway, so cars don’t need to slow down much before pulling into the giant parking lots lining the road. There’s certainly a risk that careless drivers will turn without watching, and hit people on bikes.

But that’s a risk that will exist for any car-oriented highway. At least this one puts the bike lane front and center, just about as visible as it can be.

There are some sidepaths along large roads in the DC area, like Route 50 in Arlington or along Benning Road near RFK, but those aren’t commercial highways lined with shops, and their sidepaths aren’t right against the curb like Stringtown’s. This particular layout is pretty unusual.

As more and more suburban communities evolve to become more multimodal, experiments like this will help everyone around the country understand what works and what doesn’t. Grove City is near Columbus, where it’s not the only suburb experimenting with urban retrofits.

What do you think? Will this design work? Comment at Greater Greater Washington to talk about it.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

March 27th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, transportation, urbandesign



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