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Will Montgomery County Botch the Streets in a Model Suburban Retrofit?

Old Georgetown Road in White Flint today. Photo: Dan Reed/flickr via ##http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/24343/how-a-road-in-white-flint-is-like-a-ski-area/##GGW##

Old Georgetown Road in White Flint today. Montgomery County doesn’t want to add safety improvements for biking and walking until people change their travel habits. Photo: Dan Reed/Flickr via GGW

Four years ago, White Flint, a neighborhood of North Bethesda, Maryland, most known for its shopping mall, caught the attention of urbanists around the nation with a proposal to reimagine car-oriented suburban streets as a walkable, mixed-use, transit-oriented neighborhood. Montgomery County adopted a plan for the town that would narrow its wide arterial roadways and make them safe and accommodating for transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians. It was hailed as a model for other suburbs around the nation looking to become less sprawling and more walkable.

But now, the county is quietly trying to undo much of the good work in the 2010 plan — namely, the street designs. The most recent design shared by the Montgomery County DOT showed a reversal of previous promises. Rather than bring Old Georgetown Road down from six car lanes to four, adding curbside bike lanes on each side as well as a bike/pedestrian path that fits into a larger trail loop, the new plan would actually make the road wider by adding turn lanes for motor vehicles. The bike lanes or shared-use path are scuttled as well.

Ramona Bell-Pearson, assistant chief administrative officer with the Montgomery County Executive, assured Streetsblog, “Everything that’s required in the master plan for Old Georgetown Road is what’s being designed.” But the plan specifies that that segment of the street will be four lanes wide and have bike lanes and a shared-use path. Bell-Pearson wouldn’t confirm that those elements will be in the final plan.

The county insists that the master plan is still under development and that the street design recently shared with stakeholders is far from final. Meanwhile, county and state officials say that the land use changes have to precede any overhaul of the streets. State Highway Administration studies say the wider configuration is still needed to avoid “Christmas-time traffic backup.”

Andy Scott, director of the Maryland DOT’s Office of Real Estate, grew up in nearby Rockville. He says a lot of White Flint still looks like it did in the eighties, when he was in high school, working at an Erol’s video store in a strip mall on Old Georgetown Road. To grab a bite across the street, he had to traverse “acres of asphalt parking lot and cross a busy highway.” He tried it on foot one time, and it was so unnatural he never did it again. The redevelopment will change all that.

Scott says the concern about Old Georgetown Road is just a “hiccup,” a miscommunication in what’s otherwise a visionary project. The streets will change, he says, but in a certain sequence. ”There’s a balance in building out the transportation infrastructure and the development that’s going to shift people to walking, biking, transit ridership — but it doesn’t happen overnight,” Scott said. “It was carefully phased both on the development side and the transportation infrastructure side.”

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Eyes on the Street: The Evolution of the Bergen Street Protected Bike Lane

Photo: Gary Eckstein

Photo: Gary Eckstein

What began as an ad hoc fix for a bike lane chronically clogged by cars has become permanent after DOT installed a block-long barrier on the Bergen Street bike lane in front of the 78th Precinct in Prospect Heights.

It started more than two years ago when Ian Dutton moved some leftover ConEd cones a few feet into Bergen Street to cordon off the bike lane for cyclists:

Photo: Ian Dutton

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An Open Invite for Diane Savino to See NYC Streets From a Bike Saddle

After State Senator Diane Savino’s remarks about yelling at bicyclists to “find a fucking bike lane” ricocheted around online NYC media yesterday, we’re hearing that some constituents and other New Yorkers have contacted her to see if she’s up for getting a bicycle rider’s perspective on city streets.

State Senator Diane Savino represents northern Staten Island and parts of southwest Brooklyn.

State Senator Diane Savino represents northern Staten Island and parts of southwest Brooklyn.

It’s pretty tough to find a bike lane when the bike network is as threadbare as Staten Island’s, and the few lanes that do exist are constantly obstructed by parked cars. And it’s probably been a very long time since Savino saw city streets from behind handlebars instead of a windshield. In this interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that aired a few years ago, Savino suggested biking to Shea Stadium using basically the same route you would take in a car — a lot of highway service roads with no bike lanes.

Here’s an invitation to Savino from Brooklyn Spoke author Doug Gordon (lightly edited for the blog — here’s the original):

Dear Senator Savino,

As a father of two young children, I was very disturbed by your recent comments on Facebook in which you admitted to swearing at cyclists from your car and telling them to get in a bike lane.

I ride my children to school almost every day and then head to work. We bike to swim lessons, gymnastics, birthday parties, parks, and to the grocery store. With or without my children, I have been harassed many times by drivers who think New York City’s streets belong solely to them. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing – riding in a bike lane or legally exiting a bike lane to make a turn or avoid an obstruction such as a parked car – there is truly nothing I can do to stop an angry driver who simply doesn’t like bicycles from getting upset with me.

I ask you to kindly join me and my children, along with any other families who would like to come, on a short bike ride. It might be helpful for you to experience what it feels like to bike on New York City streets. Please respond with a date and time that’s convenient for you and I’ll gladly help work out the details.

Let’s see if something good can come out of all this. A few years ago, Savino’s boyfriend, State Senator Jeff Klein, had his own angry encounter with a cyclist go public, but more recently he’s been instrumental in moving important street safety legislation through Albany. Thanks in no small part to Klein, NYC now has a lower citywide speed limit and an automated speed enforcement program.

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Diane Savino: “Hey, Find a F—ing Bike Lane and Get in It”

When someone is seriously hurt in traffic, which happens several times a day in New York, it should prompt an effort to figure out exactly what happened and prevent it from happening again. For some reason, though, when a motorist does the injuring, it usually gets a collective shrug from police and the NYC press corps. Then, in the rare instance when a cyclist inflicts grave injuries, the response tends to bypass truth-seeking and detour rapidly into blanket generalizations about everyone who bikes.

After cyclist Jason Marshall struck and killed Jill Tarlov on the Central Park loop last week, the actions of one individual have justified, in certain quarters (like the New Yorker website), sweeping assumptions about “bicyclists’ self-righteousness.” In other corners of the internet, it’s an occasion to vent aggression at all cyclists.

A recent Facebook post from Mike McGuire, who judging by his LinkedIn profile and Twitter bio is deeply embedded in New York City politics, mistakenly accuses Eben Weiss (a.k.a. Bike Snob) and, by extension, “the bike community” of blaming the victim in the Central Park crash. If you read Weiss’s post, you’ll see that he was, in fact, assigning responsibility to the cyclist.

What makes McGuire’s post noteworthy is what happened next — an exchange with State Senator Diane Savino, who represents northern Staten Island and parts of southwest Brooklyn:

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Streetsblog contacted Savino for an explanation of her statements on Facebook. Her office declined to comment.

We’re left with this back-and-forth as a record of how some members of New York’s political class talk about people who bike, when they’re among friends.

Update: Savino told the Daily News that her comment was made in jest. But she is serious about safety and Vision Zero, and that’s why something must be done about cyclists who are “moving sometimes at 40 miles an hour.” Be warned: She expects some type of action in Albany next session to legislate bike safety, but she doesn’t intend to introduce it herself.

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#MinimumGrid: Toronto Advocates Move Politicians Beyond Bike Platitudes

Bike advocates are putting these questions to Toronto mayoral candidates. Image: #MinimumGrid

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Almost all urban politicians will tell you they think bikes are great. But only some actually do anything to make biking more popular.

In Toronto’s current mayoral and city council election, a new political campaign is focusing candidates on a transportation policy issue that actually matters: a proposed 200-kilometer (124-mile) citywide network of all-ages bikeways.

The campaign, led by advocacy group Cycle Toronto, was given its name by international walking-bicycling advocate Gil Peñalosa. It’s called “#MinimumGrid.” And it seems to be working: Last week, 80 percent of responding city council candidates, including more than half of the council’s incumbents, said they supported building such a system by 2018.

Speaking this month at the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh, Peñalosa (a Toronto resident) explained the concept: to move cities from symbolic investments in bike transportation to truly transformative ones.

“We focus on the nice-to-have,” Peñalosa said in his keynote address at the conference. “Signage, maps, parking, bike racks, shelters. Does anyone not bike because they don’t have maps?”

Those amenities “might make it nicer for the 1 or 2 percent” who currently bike regularly, he said. But “nice-to-haves” won’t deliver the broader public benefits that can come from actually making biking mainstream.

“What are the must-haves?” Peñalosa went on. “Two things. One is we have to lower the speed in the neighborhoods. And two, we need to create a network. A minimum grid.”
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Garodnick Endorses Complete Streets for Fifth and Sixth Avenues

The next time someone tries to tell you that complete street designs with pedestrian islands and protected bike lanes are controversial, point them to what’s happening on Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Avenues in Manhattan, where a united coalition of parents, business owners, elected officials, and community boards are begging DOT to design streets in the image of the already-remade First, Second, Eighth, and Ninth Avenues.

Think Fifth Avenue could be safer and better for bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians? Dan Garodnick does. Photo: Canon/Flickr

Think Fifth Avenue could be safer and better for bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians? Dan Garodnick does. Photo: Canon/Flickr

Advocates for a redesigned Fifth and Sixth Avenues are furthest along. Last week, they secured the endorsement of Council Member Dan Garodnick. ”Complete streets help to reduce the conflicts that exist every day between cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians in Midtown Manhattan,” Garodnick said in a statement. “The Department of Transportation should be looking to repeat their most successful strategies wherever they can, and Fifth and Sixth Avenues — with significant crashes annually — are ripe for review.”

The campaign has already received backing from Council Member Corey Johnson and Community Boards 2, 4, and 5. It’s also gathered the support of numerous business improvement districts and small businesses. Next month, Transportation Alternatives is hosting a “walk, bike, shop” event along Fifth and Sixth Avenues to thank local merchants for their support [PDF]. Next up: securing meetings with Council Members Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez, who cover the area’s final southernmost blocks.

That momentum has spilled westward, where an effort led by parents and staff at PS 41 to expand the West Village slow zone has grown into a complete streets campaign for Seventh Avenue. Last Thursday, CB 2′s full board followed the lead of its transportation committee by unanimously endorsing a resolution asking DOT to study a complete streets redesign for Seventh Avenue, Seventh Avenue South, and Varick Street. In passing what could be considered a model resolution for boards wanting safer arterial streets [PDF], CB 2 asked DOT to consider pedestrian islands, narrowed car lanes, protected bike lanes, bus lanes, bus bulbs, leading pedestrian intervals, and split-phase traffic signals.

Seventh Avenue is also likely to come up at the next meeting of CB 4′s transportation committee, which covers the avenue through Chelsea, scheduled for October 15.

“There’s so much support from the community boards, from the electeds, that DOT will really have the chance to be bold,” said Transportation Alternatives organizer Tom Devito. “It’s clearly a testament to a shift in the belief in what our streets are for.”

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U.S. DOT to Publish Its Own Manual on Protected Bike Lanes

FHWA's Dan Goodman pointed to before-and-after images from New York's First Avenue retrofit to show how separated bike lanes can improve safety. Photos: ##http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/42/First_Avenue_in_New_York_by_David_Shankbone.jpg##Wikimedia## and ##http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Downtown-First-Avenue.jpg##Streetsblog NYC##

FHWA’s Dan Goodman pointed to before-and-after images from New York’s First Avenue redesign to show how protected bike lanes can improve safety. Photos: David Shankbone/Wikimedia and NYC DOT

Before the end of this year, the Federal Highway Administration will release its own guidance on designing protected bike lanes.

The agency’s positions on bicycling infrastructure has matured in recent years. Until recently, U.S. DOT’s policy was simple adherence to outdated and stodgy manuals like AASHTO’s Green Book and FHWA’s own Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) — neither of which included protected bike lanes.

In 2010, the department developed a policy stating that “every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems” and that they should “go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.” That was the first hint that the agency was looking beyond the Green Book and the MUTCD, which were (let’s face it) the very minimum of standards.

The department’s new strategic plan, released last year, emphasized pedestrian and bicycle safety and highlighted the need to create connected walking and biking networks that work for all ages and abilities, which is also a focus of the secretary’s new bike/ped safety initiative.

Then last year the agency explicitly endorsed “design flexibility,” unshackling engineers from the AASHTO and MUTCD “bibles” and encouraging them to take a look at the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ urban bikeway guide and the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ manual on walkability.

Now, with a secretary at the helm who’s determined to make bike and pedestrian safety his signature issue, the agency is going further. First, the next edition of the MUTCD (expected to be released in 2016 or 2017) will have a slew of new signage and markings recommendations for bicycling. FHWA’s Dan Goodman told an audience at Pro-Walk Pro-Bike earlier this month that the updated MUTCD is expected to have everything from signage indicating how bikes should make two-stage turns using bike boxes to stripes extending bike lanes through intersections — and, of course, guidance on buffered and protected bike lanes.

But perhaps more important than the changes to the MUTCD is the fact that FHWA is publishing its own manual dedicated to the design of protected bike lanes. (Despite the fact that the guide will deal exclusively with bike lanes that are protected from traffic with some kind of vertical barrier — not just paint — they still insist on calling the designs “separated” but not “protected” bike lanes, out of recognition of the fact that even what passes for “protection” in the U.S. these days — like flexible plastic bollards — don’t offer much protection against a moving car. Streetsblog calls these lanes “protected,” however, as a way to distinguish them from regular painted lanes, which are also “separated” from traffic.)

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DMV Scrambles to Contain Scandal of Wrongful Bike Penalties

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Last Friday, New York State DMV responded to mounting evidence that it has been systematically cheating cyclists by imposing motorist-only surcharges and license points for bicycling violations, contrary to state law. The problem was first brought to DMV’s attention on August 12, in a Streetsblog post. DMV admitted that it was violating the law and agreed to refund the improper surcharge to two cyclists, but did not indicate that it would do the same for other cyclists, or change its procedures going forward.

On September 2, State Senator Brad Hoylman wrote a letter to DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala demanding that she respond to the August 12 charges against the DMV in Streetsblog. Then on September 17, I filed suit against the DMV on behalf of six cyclists as putative representatives of a statewide class of thousands of cyclists who faced excessive and improper penalties for bicycling violations.

DMV finally broke its month-long silence by responding to Senator Hoylman in a letter delivered last Friday. Commissioner Fiala’s letter details DMV’s extensive efforts to identify all of the cyclists affected by improper ticket coding. DMV says it has reviewed 25 years’ worth of bicycle traffic tickets — including 50,000 bicycle tickets issued in the last five years alone.

Commissioner Fiala states that DMV has taken the following steps to remedy the “regrettable” miscoding of bicycle tickets:

  • Paying refunds to 84 cyclists improperly required to pay motorist-only surcharges
  • Removing penalty points improperly applied to the licenses of 222 cyclists
  • Recoding 570 pending tickets issued for cycling violations that had been miscoded as motor vehicle violations
  • Making plans to issue a memo to law enforcement officials to reduce the incidence of future miscoding of cycling tickets
  • Making plans to change internal DMV procedures used to identify bicycle tickets
  • Making plans to add language to form UT-60 and to the DMV website to advise cyclists that they are not subject to surcharges or penalty points

These are important and welcome steps to help correct the problem. Cyclists owe great thanks to Senator Hoylman for focusing Commissioner Fiala’s attention on the problem, and to the commissioner for her willingness to admit mistakes and to take the problem seriously.

Nonetheless, it appears that DMV’s efforts have only scratched the surface.

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Mayor Bill Peduto Wants to “Leapfrog” Your City on Bicycling and Livability

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is putting the rest of the United States on notice. His city is on the rise, and he fully intends to keep it that way.

For the first time in over half a century, Pittsburgh is expecting an increase in residents as the number of people moving back to the city grows. Complete streets policies are high on Peduto’s agenda for managing this growth and making the city more attractive. Earlier this month, the ProWalk ProBike ProPlace conference took place in Pittsburgh, and the energy of the city was on full display. So was Peduto, who was very active at the event.

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Mayor Bill Peduto soaks up some rays at Park(ing) Day 2014. Photo: City of Pittsburgh

Peduto is now at the forefront of a new wave of American mayors who understand how reforming the design and function of urban streets is key to growing a city. When talking to him, it’s clear right off the bat that he’s well-versed in urbanism and the history of cities. Even so, he wants to learn more. This summer, he went on a study tour with The Green Lane Project to check out the best bike infrastructure Copenhagen has to offer.

Local advocates have high hopes for Peduto’s administration, which has already delivered some high-profile improvements. According to the latest stats, Pittsburgh has the 11th highest bike mode share in the country, and there is solid momentum to build on that. Pittsburgh recently implemented its first true protected bike lanes downtown, part of Peduto’s push to create a more multi-modal city.

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NYC Bike Commuting Doubled Since 2009, While Solo Driving Dropped

Trends in how New Yorkers get to work are moving in the right direction. Twice as many New Yorkers went to work by bike last year as in 2009, according to US Census data out today, while transit usage rose 3 percent and driving alone to work dropped 9 percent.

Each year, the Census asks a large sample of Americans to choose the single mode of transportation they most often use to get to and from work. Last year, 1.21 percent of New Yorkers said they usually commute by bike, up from 0.61 percent in 2009. The estimated number of regular bike commuters in New York City is up from 22,619 in 2009 to 46,065 last year, give or take about 4,500 to account for the margin of error [XLS].

Bicycling has the most room to grow of any mode in NYC, but transit commuting is also on the rise. More than 56 percent of New Yorkers — that’s nearly 2.2 million people – commute by transit, up 3 percent from 2009. That increase came as the percentage of residents commuting alone by car dropped to 21.4 percent, down 9 percent from 2009. Even as the population has grown, the number of New Yorkers driving solo to work has dropped from 876,953 in 2009 to 814,612 last year.

New York is still behind the pack of major cities leading the country in bike commute rates. In Portland, Oregon, 5.9 percent of residents go to work by bike, while it’s 4.5 percent in Washington, DC, 3.8 percent in San Francisco, 2.3 percent in Philadelphia, and 1.9 percent in Boston. New York is closing in on the only city of comparable size with a higher bike mode-share — Chicago, where 1.4 percent of residents commute by bike.

In terms of the rate of increase, New York is outpacing the smaller cities too, with bike commuting doubling since 2009. (DC was the only other major city to post a larger gain.) According to the Census, New York now has about the same number of bike commuters as Portland and DC combined.

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