January 20, 2010

VDOT to reopen closed rest areas

Just heard about this one. Per today's CTB resolution, VDOT plans to reopen its closed rest areas by mid-April, according to this brief. These were the 19 rest areas they closed last summer due to budget cuts. The new Governor (sworn in this past Saturday) vowed to make reopening them a priority, and apparently it worked.

Which is fine by me. Because the Welcome Center on westbound 66 near Manassas was my usual stop for picking up state highway maps...

January 13, 2010

Alexandria Bike Meeting Followup

The city has updated the LocalMotion webpage to include the material from Monday night's meeting:

2009 Year in Review. Which I just noticed is organized via the "5 E's" that the League of American Bicyclists uses.

Meeting notes. Taken by one of the city staff members present. Looking at the sign-up sheet, I was pretty close on meeting attendence. Excluding city staff, the guest speakers, and Councilwoman Hughes, there were 20 people at the meeting.

The Presentation given at the meeting. Of note:

- Page 9, the prioritization criteria the Transportation Commission uses.
- Page 10, FY 2011 CMAQ/RSTP-funded projects. The city originally expected to get $3 million, but MWCOG gave only $2.5 million instead.
- Pages 12 and 13 reference the draft Strategic Plan goals/initiatives associated with bikes/peds.
- Page 17 shows some of the bike counts the city did on the Mount Vernon Trail.
- Page 20 shows planned specs for bicycle parking lockers and shelters.
- Page 21 has the planned 2010 projects, including the locations for the Rapid Flash Beacons that I'd missed catching at the meeting.
- Page 25 has typicals of the planned wayfinding signage. I was a little off on the height...the specs show a 6ft height for the signs.
- Page 27 has upcoming events, including dates and topics for the Confident City Cycling classes being offered this spring.

[EDIT: in addition to the 2008 bike/ped crash maps on pages 15-16 of the presentation, I found this earlier map showing bike/ped crashes between 2004 and 2006.]

January 12, 2010

Alexandria Pedestrian and Bicycle Citizens Group Meeting - January 11, 2010.

Last night was the year's first meeting of the Alexandria Pedestrian and Bicycle Citizens Group. This is an informal meeting held every other month by which city staff can provide information on city projects and plans and solicit input and comment from Alexandria citizens regarding walking and bicycling. These meetings are headed by Yon Lambert, one of the city's Transporation Planners and part of the city's Transportation & Environmental Services Department.

This was my first time attending the group's meeting, having been invited by Dave Levy (vice-president of BikeWalk Alexandria), whom I'd met the week before at an Alexandria Transportation Commission meeting. Also in attendence was Bruce Dwyer, one of WABA's volunteers and an Alexandria resident.

There were a large number of people in attendence. From what I gathered, typically these meetings have about 5-10 citizens attending. Last night's meeting had over 20. Too early to tell whether this is a sign of the resurgence in bicycling or simply an anomaly.

In part because of the large number of attendees, the meeting started off with an introduction about the group and its purpose and also a brief "2009 Year in Review" regarding city bicycle and pedestrian accomplishments in 2009. The year in review is still in draft format, but will be posted to the city's LocalMotion website once finalized. Here are a few of the highlights:

- Although there was a slight increase in bicycle crashes over 2008 (21 vs. 19), there was a decrease in pedestrian crashes (49 vs 57), and for the second year in a row there were zero fatalities.
- Opening of the Active Transportation Lane on the Wilson Bridge on June 6, an event that I also participated in.
- A "road diet" and inclusion of a climbing lane on West Braddock Rd.
- Rehabilitation and resurfacing of the Holmes Run Trail between Duke St and North Ripley.

A brief mention was also made of the previous meeting, a joint meeting with Arlington's Bicycle Advisory Group back in September, but Alexandria staff felt it was very data heavy and so did not go into a lot of detail on it. Minutes of this meeting are posted on TheWashCycle.

There were two guest speakers at the meeting. The first was John Kamoroske, a longtime Alexandria resident (over 50 years) and the chair of the Alexandria Planning Commission. He gave a brief overview of the Planning Commission and its function, how citizens can provide input to improve small area plans (including Potomac Yards and the Waterfront...but studies that are underway), and also spoke about Transportation Management Plans (TMP's) and how they are a potential source, albeit a small source (only about $3 million citywide in 2009), of funding for bike/ped improvements in the vicinity of a given TMP.

The second guest speaker was Jayme Blakesly. By day, he is a lawyer with the Federal Transit Administration and a bicycle commuter. By evening, he is an Alexandria resident and is the vice-chair and one of the citizen representatives of the Alexandria Transportation Commission, which advises the City Countil on transportation issues. Jayme gave a brief overview of the Transportation Commission, including the Long Range Plan and CIP planning process and prioritization criteria, along with showing several slides from the Transportation Commission meeting from last week (which I also attended).

Mr. Blakesly touched on two goals of the city's draft Strategic Plan:

- Goal 2. The City Respects, Protects and Enhances the Health of its Citizens and the Quality of its Natural Environment. And Initiative 3G in particular, which specifically addresses Pedestrian and Bicyclist Travel.

- Goal 3. There is an Integrated, Multimodal Transportation System that Efficiently and Effectively Gets People from Point "A" to Point "B." A multimodal transportation network that supports sustainable land use and provides internal mobility and regional connectivity for Alexandria.

He also spoke passionately about Complete Streets, which also got discussed at last week's Transportation Commission meeting, and rehashed several points about Complete Streets made at that meeting. Besides questions about how to retrofit Complete Streets into the existing street network or incorporate it into the street design manual (the latter of which being something that New York City has apparently done), Mr. Blakesly believes that Complete Streets shouldn't just be implemented as city policy but should be codified within the city's municipal code.

The next subject was on bike/ped counts on the Mount Vernon Trail. Besides the generally year-round counts that NPS does (and also posts some typical information online), the city conducted volume counts in September, not just on the Mount Vernon Trail, but also on Four Mile Run near Commonwealth Ave and on Holmes Run just north of Duke St. Naturally, these other two locations had fairly low volumes overall. The Mount Vernon numbers were significantly higher...I don't remember the specifics offhand but want to say that it's in the range of 2-4K north of Pendleton St. Another thing that struck me (and verified by the NPS graph on the above link) was the much higher usage on weekends, especially on good weather weekends. The Mount Vernon Trail sees a fair bit of commuters during the morning and evening peak, but nothing like what it sees during the middle of a weekend day, where bicycle volumes can approach 450 an hour.

I asked if city staff or NPS has taken these numbers and calculated out the Bike Level of Service (LOS) for the trail. Mr. Lambert did not have an easy answer for me, but thought that NPS did. I may try to contact NPS to see if they have that data, or I may try to get the city's counts from Mr. Lambert and do my own calculations...I have the 2000 HCM at home, which includes the methodology for calculating Bicycle LOS.

Next was discussion on the planned Holmes Run/Chambliss Crossing, which is in the final stages of planning. The crossing has long been desired by the city due to the lack of nearby stream crossings, and would connect into a trail on the Fairfax County side that extends up to Columbia Pike. At first just a crossing project, the project will now include bank stabilization and stream restoration, in part to save money by doing two separate projects at once and in part to address concerns by the local neighborhood, including their opposition to any trail crossing that would have a negative impact on the stream and its flooding potential.

TheWashCycle previously covered the adopted plan to build a Low Profile Crossing. According to city staff, this type of crossing has been deemed acceptable by the local neighborhood. The main hangup right now is with VDOT. Because of safety/ADA concerns, VDOT wants railings included on the low-profile crossing. Understandable from a safety standpoint, but it would significantly change the profile of the crossing and would also introduce potential jamming points for debris to logjam during a flood, which would impact flooding in the neighborhood, while leaving out the railings reduces this logjam/additional flooding potential. The city is in discussion with VDOT to hopefully resolve this issue.

A few miscellaneous items:

- The city's "Confident City Cycling" classes will continue. Last year, these were sponsored through WABA. Unfortunately, I missed writing down the dates that they will be held this upcoming spring.
- The city has come up with specifications for bicycle parking lockers and parking shelters. The latter looked like bike racks with an overhang similar to a bus shelter open on one side.
- There was mention of the new HAWK signal that was installed last year on Van Dorn St.
- The next BikeDC event is tentatively planned for Sunday, May 9. City staff are working with BikeDC and other organizations to see about getting one of the bike routes extended into Alexandria.

The city is in the process of installing four "Rapid Flash Beacons" at various, mid-block pedestrian crosswalks (I didn't catch the specific locations). The beacon is basically a specialized Pedestrian Crossing warning sign that, when activated, has LED lights that flash at a fast rate, bringing the motorists attention to pedestrians in the crosswalk area. The first one was installed in St. Petersburg, FL in 2004, and evidence suggests that it greatly increases vehicle compliance rates (for stopping for peds in a crosswalk), upwards of 60%. Portland, OR installed their first Rapid Flash Beacon a few months ago and has plans for more. Alexandria is pursuing them because initial results elsewhere are positive and because they cost considerably less than a HAWK signal...around $18K for the RFB vice $100K for a HAWK.

The city has preliminary designs for new bicycle/pedestrian Wayfinding signage. These signs, which will stand about 7ft high or so, would be implemented along the city's three core trail corridors: Mt Vernon, Holmes Run, and Four Mile Run. Signage along on-street facilities will continue to be in the already-existing format, which will keep it in line with recent changes to the Federal MUTCD. The city's Wayfinding Stakeholder Advisory Group is having its next meeting on January 26 at City Hall (unfortunately, a mid-morning meeting).

According to city staff, four 40 design teams have submitted proposals for the planned Four Mile Run Pedestrian-Cyclist Bridge design competition. This is the planned bike/ped bridge across Four Mile Run that will connect Commonwealth Ave to Eads St. The winner will be announced on March 27.

There was some discussion on the long-planned intersection improvements at King St and Beauregard St/Walter Reed Dr intersection. A large wall map at the meeting highlighted the latest planned design. From what I saw, the main improvements focused on better channelization, medians, and dual left turn lanes for two of the intersection legs. But one notable feature is that the plan includes bike/ped paths or sidewalks on both sides of both streets approaching the intersection. Also of note was how there has been negative pushback from the neighborhood on adding bike/ped paths to the project...the most common argument being "nobody bikes here, so why include them?".

The last main topic of disussion involved Eisenhower Ave and the two projects related to it. The first project is expected to be let to bid next month, and involves building a bicycle/pedestrian trail underneath Eisenhower Ave where it crosses Cameron Run. The trail will tie seamlessly into the Holmes Run trail to the north, and the Eisenhower Ave trail to the east, enabling bikes and pedestrians to connect between the two without having to cross Eisenhower Ave at-grade.

The second project is a much larger project, what the city is calling the Eisenhower Avenue Widening Project, though that isn't completely accurate itself given the current plans, of which there was a big map posted on the wall at the meeting. Originally a project to widen Eisenhower Ave between Stovall St and Holland Ln from 4 to 6 lanes, the project has since morphed into a "Complete Streets" project with several features:

- Landscapped median and curbs.
- Sidewalk bulb-outs at many intersections.
- The traffic circle at Holland Ln will be replaced by a standard T-intersection.
- Bike lanes on both sides of Eisenhower.
- Wider sidewalks.
- A wide combination sidewalk/shared use path along the south side of Eisenhower between Stovall St and Mill Rd. This would be an extension of the existing path to the west, would connect to the under-construction path over the Beltway at Telegraph Rd, and would also connect to a future city path to the east (more on that later).
- The "third lane" westbound is a strange part of the project. It would be interrupted by the sidewalk bulb-outs at Mill Rd, Mill Race Ln, and Swamp Fox Rd. Between Mill Rd and Mill Race Ln would be permanent on-steet parking. West of Mill Race Ln, approaching both Swamp Fox Rd and Stovall St, the lane will be a right-turn-only lane during peak hours, and on-street parking during off-peak hours.
- Between Holland Ln and Mill Rd is where the "third" lane westbound is most unique. Along this stretch, the lane would be continuous and 16ft (15ft plus 1ft gutter) wide. During peak hours, the lane would function as a general traffic lane with a 5ft bicycle lane curbside. During off-peak hours, though, the lane becomes a parallel-parking lane, with a 7-8ft bicycle lane next to the travel lane and the parking lane being curbside. Presumably, striping would allow the delination between the two configurations, but there is a very real concern about how right-turning traffic at Mill Rd would weave with through bicycle traffic. Mr. Lambert noted that this is only a preliminary configuration and is subject to change pending further refinement and/or input.

Besides that special lane and the weaving impact, there was concern from a few of the bicyclists present about how the bulb outs would affect the bicycle lane and bike traffic. However, looking closely at the map, it appears that enough street width will be provided at the bulb-out intersections to allow for a continuous bike lane without requiring bikes to merge into the right traffic lane at the bulb-outs.

[Edit...additional item I forgot] The city has a plan to build a shared use trail running southeast from the Mill Rd/Eisenhower Ave intersection. This trail would follow an easement along the old Cameron Run channel and then around the south side of the city's waterworks to connect to the south end of Payne St. By utilizing Payne St and the Franklin/Gibbon St combo, this would give bicyclists another way to get between Eisenhower Ave and the south side of Old Town and the WWB trail.

The last item of the meeting involved an upcoming support facility. An owner of one of the area bicycle courier companies (didn't catch the name) was present with handouts for the planned VeloCity Bicycle Co-op. The coop will be a non-profit organization located at 204 South Union St (along the Old Town waterfront) offering bicycle-related youth programs, do-it-yourself maintenance, training workshops, and other events. The goal is to have the Co-op open by April.

Cross-posted at TheWashCycle.