Saturday, February 25, 2012

Comment in Response to 14th Street Bridge Corridor Draft EIS

This is my response to the 14th Street BridgeCorridor Draft EIS. Comments are Due March 5.

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My comments are a product of a couple hours of time - and I am out of time.  Please feel free to use this, file these comments as your own, revise them, correct them - heck you can even ignore them :-) 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this EIS for the 14th Street Corridor.
Bicycle commuting is a growing means of transportation in the Washington D.C. area.  Washington D.C., Arlington, VA, and Alexandria, VA have been identified as Bike Friendly Communities, and many of the businesses and federal agencies in the area have been identified as Bike Friendly Businesses. Bicycles crossing the 14th Street bridge come from Washington D.C., Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Vienna, and Fairfax.
Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance (Oct. 5, 2009), calls on all federal agencies to reduce their greenhouse emissions by 28 percent.  Pursuant to this EO, the Interagency Task Force on Bicycling and Active Transportation issued its report Implementing a Successful Bicycle and Active Commuting Program in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area.  The task force continues to promote cycling and active commuting.
In the mean time, Arlington County, Washington, D.C. and other jurisdictions have established the Capital Bikeshare program, a wildly successful short term bike rental program that has dramatically increased bicycle traffic in the area.
In short, bicycle traffic is an important part of our transportation system, and it is growing significantly.

Bicycle traffic has a positive environmental impact.  Bicycle traffic gets cars off the road, reduces green house gases, reduces petroleum debris that is dropped from motor vehicles, requires less infrastructure per transportation vehicle, and requires less upkeep expenses of that infrastructure over time (bikes do less damage to the transportation vehicle than far heavier cars, trucks, and buses).

For bicycle commuting to be effective, it must be safe and bicycle routes must be efficient.  Cyclists are their own vehicle engines; while a car can easily go out of its way without taxing the human occupant, requiring cyclists to go out of their way do to poor route planning is demanding on the human engine, and greatly reduces the incentive to bike.  Properly designed infrastructure is vital to successfully supporting bicycle commuting.
Likewise, while cars and trucks have elaborate safety features including large frames and airbags, cyclists are exposed.  The risk of dangerous infrastructure is experience on cyclists immediately, through damage to their body.  Since cyclists are so exposed to risk, safe cycling infrastructure is highly important to a successful bicycle transportation system.

Current cycling infrastructure is becoming congested.  During off peak, this past winter, cycling traffic was steady and regular.  During peak season, bike paths become highly congested, with bicycle cues at intersections exceeding the car cues at the same intersection.  Overcongested bicycle routes become dangerous as cycling traffic struggles to navigate overloaded routes.

We greatly applaud and support the consideration of bicycle infrastructure as an important part of the solution.  Below are a number of suggestions supporting the goals of this EIS.  These suggestions will help reduce congestion, enhance safety, and improve traffic operations in the Corridor.  Improvements in the bicycle infrastructure can dramatically increase bicycle traffic over these routes.
There appears to be three final bicycle options under consideration.  We support all of these options.
AA-1 Improve bicycle and pedestrian access to the Mason Bridge by making improvements at each end of the bridge
AA-2 Construct separated bicycle/pedestrian crossing of the Potomac River and add a grade-separated bicycle crossing of George Washington Memorial Parkway as proposed by Arlington County
AA-3 Create integrated (DC-VA-NPS) bicycle system, including signing for commuters and other destination bikers

AA-1 Improve bicycle and pedestrian access to the Mason Bridge by making improvements at each end of the bridge.
Currently both ends of the bridge present problems and dangers to bicycle traffic.
Crossing the bridge East Side,
·      Bicycles come to the end of the bridge and must navigate a very narrow path with a highway sign pole immediately in front of them.  The pole is a danger and the path is too narrow to support two way traffic. The ground at the sign pole demonstrates that pedestrians and cycle traffic have taken to going over the ground, creating a dirt path, in order to avoid collisions on the narrow paved path.
·      After the sign pole, the path continues to be narrow paved path, dumping into East Basin Dr on difficult 90 degree turns
·      The curb cut into East Basin Dr is granite, which is slippery to bicycle traffic when went
·      Bicycle traffic is now on East Basin Drive east bound, going the wrong way on a one way road (there is no alternative).
·      After this one block, bicycle traffic goes up another problematic granite curb cut onto the sidewalk – placing cycling traffic in immediate and dangerous proximity to tourists.
·      Currently bicycle traffic passes the Jefferson Memorial on this sidewalk, and reaches a constructions zone, which forces them back into the road.  This is at the intersection of Ohio Dr.  The curb cut here is granite which is slippery when wet.
·      When bicycle traffic reaches Maine Ave, bicycle traffic confronts an almost impossible traffic situation. 
·      In the NW corner of the intersection, over Ohio Dr, there is no traffic signal at all.  Traffic comes continuously from the north.  Cyclists must simply jump gaps in rush hour traffic in the hope of not getting hit.
·      To cross Maine Ave east bound, there is no pedestrian triggered light.  Cycle traffic must simply wait for some car to trigger the light cycle.
·      In the NE corner of the intersection is a ramp that goes under the US Financial Management Services.  There is no pedestrian trigger for the cross walk.  Pedestrians and cyclists can sit here for very long times waiting for the light to cycle; generally pedestrians and cyclists get frustrated and jump the light.  When the light does turn to red, because of the odd and confusing placement of the light, car traffic on the ramp does not stop.
In sum, from the edge of the 14th street bridge to a successful crossing of Maine Ave is a gauntlet of poorly designed and dangerous traffic situations.  To the experienced rider, this is dangerous.  To the novice rider, this is confusing, frequently resulting is cyclist ending up in dangerous locations such as up on the 14th car traffic lanes.
In order to improve bicycle traffic at this end of the bridge, bicycles need to be provided a safe route all the way across Maine Ave, one that does not run them through tourist traffic.
Ideally bicycle traffic could follow the bridge infrastructure and reach the east side of Maine Ave without crossing roads or going through tourists.  Just like Arlington’s recommendation for crossing the GW, the Maine Street crossing for bicycles should not be at grade.
We note that near Maine Ave and Ohio Drive currently is an old abandoned train bridge.  While the train bridge has been reclaimed as a pedestrian traffic, it is all but unused because both sides of the bridge are problematic.  One is a steep set of stairs (with a weak attempt at ADA compliance through an elevator thing).  The other end, instead of placing you down on Maine Ave East side, deposits you up near the front door of the Mandarin Hotel.  The bridge goes almost entirely unused and is wasted.

Crossing the Bridge West Side
·      Cyclists come to west end of the 14th St bridge and are forced to take a sharp curve to the right.  While the curve itself is not problematic, it is a blind curve – visibility of traffic coming up the ramp is obscured creating a risk of collision.  Further, because of the wall / fence, bicycles cannot lean into the curve as would be required.  This creates a dangerous and unpredictable situation.
·      Bicycle traffic then comes down a hill where it is confronted with a T in the path.  Up river and Down river both require an dangerous 90 degree turn.  While NPS has added some asphalt to the intersection in response to cyclists comments, cyclists can still be seen jumping the path and biking over the grass in order to avoid the turn.  This causes environmental damage and is dangerous.  This T in the path needs to be revised to accommodate bicycle commuting traffic.
·      Cyclists at this point have two choices: they can go up river over a mile to the first possible destination – well its not actually a destination – but the Memorial bridge.  Its approximately two miles up river before a cyclists can actually enter Arlington.  Down River is not much better; approximately 1.5 miles down river is the first access into Crystal City.  Arlington’s proposal to have a bridge at the end of the 14th Street bridge that leads into Arlington would greatly facilitate bicycle traffic, reducing travel times, and creating greater incentives for bicyclists.

AA-2 Action Alternatives 2: Construct separated bicycle/pedestrian crossing of the Potomac River and add a grade-separated bicycle crossing of GWMP as proposed by Arlington County
Currently the bicycle infrastructure in the 14th Street bridge corridor is highly used, and its use is increasing dramatically.  Capital Bikeshare traffic crossing this corridor is now almost constant.  Regular bike commuters continue to grow, with traffic even in the middle of winter being regular and constant.  During peak season and on weekends the existing bicycle infrastructure is already not adequate.  As we look into the future, the growth of cycling traffic, and the desirability of encouraging bicycle traffic as congestion reducing and environmentally friendly, we should be concerned that the existing infrastructure is not adequate.
If the option of expanding the current bridge has been ruled out, that an addition bicycle crossing of the river would seem to be a necessity to handle anticipated and desired increased bicycle traffic.  As Arlington has suggested, and as discussed with the above option, great care should be given to how such a bridge would terminate on either side of the river, including how traffic can safely cross Maine Ave, and how traffic can enter Arlington.

AA-3 Create integrated (DC-VA-NPS) bicycle system, including signing for commuters and other destination bikers.
Additional signage is prudent.  Generally, experience cyclists know how to find bicycle routes using google maps and other resources, such as those provided by WABA.
What, however, is critical, is the collision between bicycle traffic and other forms of traffic, particularly tourist traffic.  These are highly congested corridors.  Washington, D.C. is of course the Nations Capital, and the National Parks are the pride of our city.  The Cherry Blossoms create a tremendous draw to the area at its peak, while even during regular times, tourists enjoy this area.  There also a high number of locals and tourists who enjoy Hains Point. 
Well marked routes through this area can help alert those unfamiliar with the area to expect and yield as appropriate to bicycle traffic.  Where tourists and bicycles share the same routes, signs can encourage proper etiquette, such as walking on the right, signaling when passing, and when signals are given, step to the right.
This corridor experiences a high mixture of traffic: buses, cars, taxis, pedicabs, bicyclists, pedestrians, locals, tourists, and workers.  As these mix together, signage can help each participant to know where they are suppose to be and how they can navigate through safely and successfully.
Google maps provides a great resource for those who want to bike to know where the bike lanes are.  The constant stream of bikes provides great notice to others that biking is an alternative through this corridor.  Signs can help the non-bikers who are unfamiliar with the area know where the bike routes are.

These recommendations will make the bicycle infrastructure better, and improve safety.
Better bicycle infrastructure will mean that the bike routes are more closely associated to where the bicycles want to go.  A bridge into Arlington at the west end of the bridge will open an entire new area of destinations for cyclists.  Safe intersection crossings also mean faster intersection crossings, as cyclists would no longer wait for lights that they cannot trigger.
Better safer infrastructure and road crossings would mean fewer bicycle related accidents and fewer delays in traffic flows.
Better bike infrastructure, particularly on the east end of the bridge, will result in less confusion, and less of a gauntlet of run from path, to road, to sidewalk, to road, to sidewalk and through tourists.
All of this will improve bicycle access to SW Washington DC, particularly the Potomac Water front.  Currently the Waterfront accesses the 14th Street bridge through Maine street, through narrow sidewalks, bad traffic lights, and dangerous crossings.  The recommendations above would help address this.

In conclusion, the bicycle options are a vital park of the 14th St Corridor.  The 14th Street bridge supports a tremendous volume of bicycle traffic.  That bicycle traffic has a positive environmental impact.  It reduces car traffic, reduces CO2 emissions, and reduces petroleum discharge (dripping oil) in the corridor and other car related debris.  Bicycle infrastructure is cheaper to build on a per commuter basis, and it is cheaper to maintain.
In order to improve and increase bicycle traffic in the corridor, the bicycle routes at each end of the 14th Street bridge must be addressed.  Bicycles need a safe route from the end of the bridge and into the city to the east side of Maine Ave.  The more that bicycle traffic can be kept away from tourists and from motor vehicles, the better and the more the goals of this EIS can be achieved.

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