In late April, Dutch cycling experts met with DC area planners, engineers, and feds to look at cycling conditions in the West End neighborhood. They all teamed up to draft a plan that would build connections to trails and add new segments of on-street bikeways, all with the goal of creating a safe, easy-to-use cycling network.
The Netherlands are the world’s gold standard for bike infrastructure. Photo by Christopher Porter on Flickr.
The Dutch Cycling Embassy is a public-private partnership that serves economic development and foreign policy goals of the Dutch government, exporting their safe, convenient, and mainstream cycling culture to the world through infrastructure design expertise. The Royal Netherlands Embassy brought this initiative to DC in 2010 for a “ThinkBike” workshop focusing on L and M Street.
The “Dutch way” emphasizes clear infrastructure design criteria to create a “joyful” cycling experience. The Netherlands is the western world’s most successful country at actually getting people onto bikes. Unlike in the US where we often plan bikeways only where we can fit them in without upsetting too many drivers, in the Netherlands, the safety and convenience of cyclists get full treatment.
Dr. Peter Furth of Northeastern University, who teaches an annual summer course on bicycle infrastructure design that takes American civil engineering students to the Netherlands, pioneered translation of this vision to our side of the Atlantic through his “Level of Traffic Stress” typology in the United States.
DC has sometimes struggled to build the kinds of bike lanes that are commonplace in the Netherlands. The Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, from concept to present day, have generated five pages of posts on GGWash alone through multiple redesigns, tweaks, and controversies. The L and M Street NW bikeway that were the focus of the 2010 ThinkBike workshop have also struggled (quoth contributor Dan Malouff: “They’re almost Dutch. Almost.”).
Workshop attendees first considered the dangers of biking in DC
There’s clearly more to learn. Last month, the Cycling Embassy returned to take a look at the West End, along with over 50 local bicycle planners, advocates, experts, and policy professionals. Many staff from USDOT were in attendance, even as their boss was trying out a bike in Amsterdam.
The emphasis was sober rather than joyful, with the DDOT professionals emphasizing the need to make roads safer. Virginia Tech planning students presented an analysis of bike crashes that showed clear problems with the key north-south connections to the West End (21st Street NW and 17th Street NW) and the core east-west spine of the neighborhood, Pennsylvania Avenue.
Participants also noted an opportunity to substantially increase connectivity to the regional trail network, through improved wayfinding and short segments of infrastructure upgrades to and from trail connections to Rock Creek, the Capital Crescent Trail, the Roosevelt Memorial Bridge (aka I-66), and the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
However, increasing connections to low-stress cycling would likely necessitate serious work on Virginia Avenue, lest more crash hotspots bloom.
A map of the 194 West End bicycle crashes between 2010 and mid-2015. Data from DDOT, map by Virginia Tech urban/regional planning studio spring 2016 students.
The result was a world-class bike plan… but will it actually happen?
The final proposed network conference attendees came up at the end of the workshop included an ambitious wish list of new protected bikeways on DC’s streets, including the notorious Washington Circle.
It is worth noting that the corridors identified and prioritized by this workshop, including Pennsylvania Avenue, Virginia Avenue, G Street, 17th Street, 21st Street, and 22nd Street NW, correlate almost exactly with the vision of MoveDC, DDOT’s long-term transportation plan.
It’s nice to see that at the planning level, a plan DC already came up with was already on the same page as the Dutch. It remains to be seen, though, what we can achieve at the design level. Workshop participants cycled the study area, measured rights of way, and sketched potential designs. In the safety of a workshop of cycling experts, parking was removed left and right, and a bike lane never had to give way to a bioretention swale.
In the real world, there are more diverse stakeholders and tradeoffs when space is at a premium, as it is in a neighborhood where real estate is doing “phenomenally well.” And at the edges of our study area, we didn’t dare tell the Dutch about our “trails” with unmarked connections and crossings, broken pavement, narrow, crowded surfaces, and dead-end trailheads.
Trail connections are (hopefully) the next step
The region’s missing piece is connections from streets to our longer bike trails. WABA has recently invested in advocacy capacity to advance this, and the National Park Service just dropped a mic: a Paved Trails Study complete with a regional vision, specific segments delineated, measurable goals, and capital recommendations.
The report acknowledges the NPS has no trail design standards, recommends developing some, and proposes a National Capital Trail (hellooooo “Bicycle Beltway!”).
If you care about trails in our area, check it out and submit comments. The comment period is open until May 19.