PHOTOS: Washington D.C.’s Model Transportation Investments Paying Dividends

Washington D.C. has, perhaps, the nation’s most prosperous and booming urban economy. It is a city that has also become defined by its highly educated, young workforce.

Over the past decade or so, the nation’s capital has also been transforming its transport network in a way to make it more multi-modal and improve mobility.

One of the most striking things upon arriving in Washington D.C. is the sheer number of bike lanes. And not just bike lanes, but protected bike lanes. As many cities have begun noticing in recent years, striped bike lanes next to moving traffic are not enough, and that protected bike lanes that separate cyclists from moving traffic with bollards or on-street parking are far superior.

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As a result, you see many of the newer bike lanes in Washington D.C. receiving this treatment, and many of the older lanes being transitioned over, as possible, to protected facilities. To this end, it should come as no surprise that the city has one of the nation’s highest percentages of people commuting by bike.

In addition to that, Washington D.C. launched North America’s first bikeshare system in 2008 when SmartBike DC opened with 120 bikes at 10 stations. After some initial struggles, a new system called Capital Bikeshare was launched in September 2010 and currently boasts more than 2,500 bikes at more than 300 stations.

This new system extends beyond the District of Columbia into three additional nearby jurisdictions and stands as one of three biggest bikeshare systems in the United States along with New York City’s CitiBike and Chicago’s Divvy.

I used Capital Bikeshare to make an approximate two-mile trip from near the U Street Metro Station to Washington Union Station. The journey was a breeze and preferable, to me at least, to using a taxi or the city’s well-functioning transit system.

Upon arriving at Union Station I met a friend to check out one of Washington D.C.’s other marque transportation projects at this time. The H Street/Benning Road modern streetcar line terminates here and extends approximately 2.4 miles to the east, and is part of a larger 37-mile streetcar network that will include five lines in total.

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The $137 million starter line is in the final stages of construction, with train vehicles and their drivers currently being tested and trained along its route. Project officials expect it to open to riders in early 2015.

Walking the route was not all that pleasant thanks to the hot temperatures and only brief areas of shade along the busy street, which serves a bevy of transit operations including Megabus, Greyhound and Bolt intercity buses, articulated city buses and now the streetcar. Fortunately a mid-afternoon stop at a local Mexican eatery, with plenty of guacamole to go around, made the overheated outing more tolerable.

While H Street is a largely a hit-or-miss commercial corridor, its immediately surrounding residential streets are expectedly charming and offer a good foundation from which to build. Some development has already begun to spring up along the line, including a slew of residential projects and a 41,000-square-foot grocery store. There are also signs of renewed interest in many existing buildings that have new restaurants and shops opening up within them.

Of course not everything that is happening in Washington D.C. is related to infrastructure or transportation enhancements. There is, overall, just an extraordinary amount of new construction taking place and a far-reaching sense of vitality. One cannot help but think that there is at least some connection between these policy decisions and investments, and vibrancy on the ground.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 39 photos were taken by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy between Wednesday, September 3 and Friday, September 5.

Are ‘poor doors’ the best affordable housing practice in America?

Affordable housing is always a hot-button issue. In cities like Cincinnati it typically revolves around some communities believing that they have too much affordable housing, with others also claiming that there is not enough affordable housing out there to meet the need. What it ultimately boils down to is a location and distribution issue.

In the case of larger cities where housing prices are incredibly higher, a different discussion takes place. In New York City, for example, providing affordable housing units can buy a developer increased density rights, but some have taken to creating separate entrances for the lower income residents. While such practices have been widely condemned, is it an example of the best practice currently in place in America? More from Next City:

Of course, it is disgusting to even have to express that every resident should enter through a main entrance, an entrance of dignity. The idea of residents entering some type of back alley or service door to their home is unacceptable. In making this the focus, we are being distracted into an attention-grabbing and very visual battle — we can picture the different door. But we are losing sight of the context I have outlined here. As far as inclusion goes, for better or for worse, the poor door is about as good as the U.S. gets precisely because many of the people expressing outrage over the poor door would not support any of the set aside schemes outlined above at the ballot box.

 

Initial $2M Phase of Cincy Bike Share On-Pace for September Opening

Cincinnati Bike Share Station MapCincinnati city officials and community leaders are expected to gather at Fountain Square Tuesday morning to unveil the first of Cincy Bike Share’s 35 stations. The ceremony will mark the official start to construction of Ohio’s second and largest bike share system.

Queen City Bike says that the process will move quickly, with two to three stations being installed daily until all 35 stations planned for Downtown and Uptown are built. At the same time, there will be a volunteer effort to assemble the system’s 300 bikes.

“We hope to assemble at least 200 bike share bikes by Friday,” said Frank Henson, President of Queen City Bike, and member of Cincy Bike Share’s Board of Trustees. “This is being done by area volunteer mechanics under the supervision of B-Cycle.”

The aggressive schedule puts the system on track to open by early September, which is not far off the initial goal of opening by August.

The progress comes after Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) announced $1.1 million to more than half of the initial $2 million in upfront capital costs. At the time, Cincy Bike Share director, Jason Barron, said the commitment from the City of Cincinnati was critical in not only getting things moving, but also showing the private sector that it is all for real.

“The mayor’s commitment makes the project a true public private partnership,” Barron told UrbanCincy in April. “The City’s commitment is important to the private funders we have been speaking to, and I believe that it will unlock the last bit of funds that we need.”

Bike share systems have been growing in popularity in North America over recent years. While the most notable are Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare, Chicago’s Divvy and New York City’s Citi Bike, there are now dozens of other cities operating similar systems. The large number and established time period of operations now has given planners a chance to examine empirical data to see what works best.

The more complexities you add to a mode of transportation’s functionality, the less likely someone is to choose that given mode for their trip. This is something that is true across all modes of transportation. As a result, the station density and space contingency calculations have proven to be consistent indicators for a bike share system’s success or failure.

Studies have found that a higher station density is better, and that a target should be approximately 28 stations per square mile. For a city like Cincinnati, that averages out to be a station every couple of blocks. However, the number and placement of Cincy Bike Share stations will be much lower than this target.

When examining of each of the 35 station locations, the system’s station density can be calculated in two different ways. The first would look at just the immediate area in which the stations are located. The second would look at the intended service area for those stations. Naturally, the latter is a bit more subjective.

In the case of the first scenario, the Downtown/OTR portion of the system would have approximately 15 stations per square mile, while the Uptown portion would have 10. Overall, the system in its entirety would average out to a respectable 13 stations per square mile.

But under the more second scenario that factors for intended service area these numbers drop. In this case, Downtown/OTR would fall to 12 stations per square mile, and Uptown would plummet approximately four stations per square mile. Overall, the system total would average out to be nearly stations per square mile.

It is important to note that neither of these scenarios includes the Union Terminal station in its calculation since it is an outlier and would clearly skew the results. Furthermore, Downtown/OTR and Uptown were separated in their calculations since many planners and observers concede that the two areas will most likely operate in isolation of one another.

The point is to ensure that there are consistently stations within a short distance of one another so that if one station is full or empty, another station is close by for the potential user. If that user encounters such a situation, however, it is most likely that the potential user will avoid using bike share altogether and instead opt for a different mode.

One of the ways this can be combatted is through the use of real-time tracking technology that allows users to see exactly how many bikes or stalls are available at any station at any given time. This, of course, only aids those with access to data plans on compatible smart phones, and those who think to use it.

In order to fix the problem of full or empty stations, system operators perform ‘bike balancing’ which moves excess bikes from one station to another that is low on bikes. This balancing act proves to be one of the most costly elements of operating a bike share system. In Chicago and bigger cities they utilize small vans to move the bikes around. But in Salt Lake City, where their GREENBike system is quite small, they utilize trailers hitched to the back of other bikes.

As a result of this complex balancing act, and potential barrier to users, another key element of bike share systems is a space contingency at each station. What this means is that if a station has a capacity for 10 bikes, it should not be stocked with 10 bikes. Instead, data suggests that about a 50% space contingency is ideal.

In Cincinnati’s case, Cincy Bike Share will have enough bikes for there to be roughly nine docked at each of the system’s 35 stations. If the system were to fall in line with this 50% space contingency, which would mean that an additional four to five stalls should be available at any given time, meaning each station should have a total of 13-14 stalls. This, however, is not the case.

Cincinnati’s typical station will have 10 stalls, and thus only have a 10% space contingency. Cincy Bike Share officials have not yet commented as to how this will be mitigated, but a potential solution would be simply to not deploy all 300 bikes at once – something that seems reasonable since bikes will need to rotate in and out for repairs. In this case, a more appropriate number of bikes to be in use at any given time might be 240.

Cincinnati’s bikes are expected to be available for use 24 hours a day, and will most likely be available for use year-round. Cincy Bike Share will be responsible for setting the rate structure, which is not final yet, but annual memberships are pegged at $75 to $85 and daily passes between $6 to $8.

Uptown was originally envisioned as a second phase to the system; but now that it is being included in the initial rollout, it leaves an expansion to Northern Kentucky as the next logical choice.

More details are expected to be announced at the press event later in the week.

Should ‘Kathy Plates’ Be Added to Roebling Suspension Bridge?

In the spirit of throwing new ideas out there, UrbanCincy would like to propose installing Kathy Plates on the Roebling Suspension Bridge in order to improve the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists using the 148-year-old span.

The idea first came to mind when we hosted our Bikes+Brews ride in May 2013. The route took our group of approximately 20 cyclists across the bridge. Following the law, and protecting the safety of pedestrians also using the bridge, we rode across with automobile traffic.

Those familiar with the Roebling Suspension Bridge know that it is somewhat famous for the humming sound it makes as you drive across. Well, this sound is created by the friction between each vehicle’s tires and the grated bridge deck. That same deck that evokes such a pleasant and memorable sound, also can at times redirect a car slightly as it navigates the numerous grooves.

This also occurs for people traveling across the bridge on bicycles, although to a much greater effect due to the lighter weight of the bike compared to the car.

This same phenomenon exists on dozens of Chicago’s famous bascule bridges. The bascule bridge type was invented in Chicago and proved to be an engineering innovation still paying dividends more than 100 years later. The design, however, requires a delicate management of the bridge’s weight distribution – even a new coat of paint has the potential to throw things out of whack.

Chicago has seen an explosion in the number of people using bicycles as their form of transportation, and, as a result, saw many cyclists crashing on the bridges due to the grooves in the grated bridge decks and their joints that are similar to what exist on Cincinnati’s famed Roebling Suspension Bridge.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) came up with a solution that aimed to remedy the safety hazard while also respecting the delicate balancing act required to make bascule bridges go up and down.

That solution is the ‘Kathy Plate’ application, which is named after activist Kathy Schubert, who lobbied for the plates after she had crashed on Chicago’s LaSalle Street Bridge.

It is a fiberglass plate that is affixed to the bridge deck where bicyclists would be riding, thus creating a smooth and consistent surface without throwing off the bridge’s weight distribution.

Mike Amsden, Assistant Director of Transportation Planning with CDOT, told UrbanCincy that the city initially used steel plates or concrete infill, but has since switched to the fiberglass alternative due to its lower cost and lighter weight. As of today, Chicago has one bridge with steel plates, seven with concrete infill, and five with the new fiberglass plate option.

Amsden says that CDOT first began using the fiberglass plates more than two years ago, and has not yet needed to replace any of them – even with Chicago’s harsh winters.

“The open grate bascule bridges can be very slippery, especially when wet,” Amsden explained. “Because bridges can be such a barrier to bicycling, we’re putting extra emphasis on making our bridges bicycle friendly.”

CDOT says that they incorporate these fiberglass plates on any bike lane project that crosses a bridge, and uses the concrete infill option on bridges that are being reconstructed, regardless of whether a bike lane crosses the bridge.

“We match the plate width to the approaching and departing bike lane width,” said Amsden. “So, as you can see on Dearborn, it’s a wide two-way bike land, so the plates are much wider.”

There are no marked bike lanes approaching or departing from the Roebling Suspension Bridge, but cyclists typically use the congested and winding sidewalks cantilevered outside of the bridge columns.

A simple application of these fiberglass plates in each direction could help to improve safety and mobility on Cincinnati’s most iconic bridge.

According to Queen City Bike, it is something they said they would like to research further and consider for potential application on the Roebling Suspension Bridge.

Chicago Serves as a Model for Midwestern Cities Looking to Bolster Bicycling

For the past few years anyone with an interest in bicycling has seen their Facebook and Twitter feeds stuffed daily with bike lane and bike share project updates from cities around the United States. Much of that news has come from our northern neighbor Chicago, where its first of 100 planned miles of protected bike lanes opened in 2012.

In 2013 Chicago also launched the nation’s third-largest bike share program, a 300-station network sprawling across large sections of the city. Then, in early 2014, construction began on the $60 million Navy Pier Flyover, an elevated structure that will speed Lakefront Trail bicycle traffic over the Chicago River and the congested Navy Pier tourist area.

In May I spent part of a vacation day biking 35 miles around Chicago to see its various recent bicycling improvements for myself. This ride included The Loop, parts of the Lakefront Trail, and various residential areas where bike lanes have been recently created.

Dearborn Street Two-Way Protected Bike Lane
This two-way protected bike lane opened on the otherwise one-way Dearborn Street in November 2012, and is among the most talked-about new bike lanes in the country. It occupies a 10-foot wide strip on the west side of this major north-south street, with bikes separated from vehicular traffic by bollards and on-street parking.

To manage conflicts between two-way bike and one-way automobile movements, bicycle traffic is controlled by dedicated signals at about a dozen intersections in The Loop.

I biked the length of this protected lane in both directions beginning at about 4:50pm on a weekday. It was immediately obvious that travel in the lane during rush hour was not particularly fast or orderly — pedestrians often stepped into the bike lane to hail cabs or to cross Dearborn Street mid-block. At cross-streets, bicycle traffic was sometimes unable to proceed when signaled due to surges of pedestrians or gridlocked traffic.

Bicyclist behavior within the protected lane was more chaotic than I expected.

Commuters riding their own bikes often passed slower Divvy bikes and northbound bikers sometimes drifted between the protected bike lane and Dearborn’s vehicular lanes. I observed a handful of northbound bicyclists ignoring the protected bike lane altogether, instead biking in mixed vehicular traffic up Dearborn Street as they had for the past 100 years.

Divvy Bikeshare
Chicago’s “Divvy” bike share system began operation on June 28, 2013 and by year’s end the system logged over 700,000 trips. This year the system is planned to expand from 300 to 400 stations and add 1,000 bicycles to its existing fleet of 3,000.

To say that the Divvy bikes are popular would be a gross understatement – the extent to which the blue bicycles have become a ubiquitous feature of Chicago’s cityscape in their first year has no doubt silenced all critics.

To that end, the utility of shared bicycles in Chicago is aided by the city’s flat layout. Recently a writer from Seattle expressed some skepticism of a planned bike share program’s popularity in the hilly Emerald City.

Similar questions have been raised locally and intensely debated on Internet forums. The questions bear enough validity to cause many proponents of Cincy Bike Share to concede that Uptown and Downtown operations may function and serve different customers from one another.

Navy Pier Flyover
Chicago’s Lakefront Trail stretches 18 miles along the city’s lakefront, and is home to a crush of bicycle traffic unlike anything to be seen in Cincinnati or elsewhere in the Midwest. In fact, the Active Transportation Alliance claims that Lakefront Trail is the busiest in the United States with peak daily usage reaching 30,000 people at key points.

Every type of bicycle and every type of rider uses the trail, along with joggers, walkers, and inline skaters – motivating the Chicago Tribune to remark earlier this year that the Lakefront Trail is “claustrophobic and dangerous—the antithesis of the shoreline as a refuge from urban crowding.”

The Navy Pier Flyover will link the north and south halves of the trail with 16-foot wide elevated approaches to the Outer Drive Bridge. The trail will cross the Chicago River on a new structure cantilevered off the west side of the famed 77-year-old bascule bridge.

General Observations
As someone who grew up biking the monster hills and hostile commercial avenues of Cincinnati’s west side in the 1980s, riding in Chicago – even the many areas without new bike lanes — is by comparison a piece of cake. So easy in fact that it’s boring.

Virtually all of Chicago’s streets are perfectly flat, perfectly straight, and traffic moves at pretty much the same speed and in the same fashion on all of them. There is little to no sense of exploration and discovery during a bike ride around Chicago – no wonder the Lakefront Trail is so popular when a ride between any two neighborhoods has the same character as any other combination.

No Chicago bicyclist knows anything like our varied street characteristics, our innumerable odd intersections, and of course the two-mile downhill runs that can be strung together between various Cincinnati neighborhoods.

Experimenting with side streets and alternate routes between points A and B is something that keeps the avid Cincinnati bicyclist exploring the city, year after year, and familiarity with all of the hills is a point of pride.

When Cincinnati’s bike share begins later this year, and if we eventually build more protected bike lanes beyond the current Central Parkway project, no doubt bicycling will become more popular in the center city, basin neighborhoods, and across the river in Covington and Newport.

Any city, however, can paint bike lanes and buy a few thousand bike share bikes, but the endless range of leisurely or challenging rides available to the Cincinnati bicyclist is something Chicago and most other American cities will never have.