DDOT and DOES hosting Commuter Benefits Information Sessions

I'm a little late to this, and I didn't go (this blog post is starting out swimmingly) but DDOT and DOES have hosted another Commuter Benefits Information Sessions  to help employers understand the 2016 Commuter Benefits Law. That law requires organizations with 20 or more employees to offer pre-tax or subsidized commuter benefits.

That would have included pre-tax bicycle commuter benefits, but - well - Congress killed that.  

Businesses that provide their employees with $20 per month to cover the expense of commuting by bicycle would also no longer be able to write off the benefit under the tax bill. Without that incentive, the relatively few employers offering the benefit may discontinue it, said Ken McLeod, policy director for the League of American Bicyclists.

Bicyclists can use the benefit to offset the cost of a new bicycle or pay for helmets, locks, lights or maintenance like new tires, McLeod said. The money doesn't count toward employee earnings, he said.

Getting rid of the bicycle benefit, which was adopted in 2009, would save the government a relatively low $5 million a year, McLeod said. By comparison, the parking benefit costs the government about $7.3 billion a year in foregone taxes, according to a report by TransitCenter, a transit advocacy group.

$5 million a year surprises me. I think when the bill went into effect they thought it would cost $1 million. I guess it's either a roaring success or a failure (depending on your perspective). I really wish they would have studied the program to see if it was cost-effective, but....that ship has maybe sailed. 

The House version of the tax bill retained the benefit, but the Senate version eliminated it even though more than 1,500 bicyclists contacted members of the Senate Finance Committee to try to persuade them to keep the write-off, he said.

"Growth in commuting by bicycle contributes to reducing congestion, promoting good health and supporting a low-cost mode of transportation for all Americans," 20 bicycle, community, and sports and outdoor industry groups said in a letter to the committee's chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and senior Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.

What bothers bicyclists the most, McLeod said, isn't so much the money, but "just that it feels like the federal government doesn't support biking.

"I don't know if that is something the legislators meant to express," he said, "but that's something we're definitely hearing."

Still, employers can still comply with the DC law by offering a bicycle commuter a reimbursement of bicycling costs

I don't know if they'll do another one, but I do know that the link to the goDCgo page on the Commuter Benefits Law is broken.

2018 Maryland Bike legislation

I'm tired, so here's a big cut and paste

Below is a list of our agenda items followed by one action that you can take to be involved in the process.

Vulnerable Road User Law

As stated by the League of American Bicyclists, Vulnerable Road User (VRU) Laws provide important legal protection to bicyclists and other persons who are not protected by steel cages. VRU laws operate on the principle of general deterrence – by providing an increased penalty for certain road behaviors that lead to the serious injury or death of certain road users people will be deterred from doing those behaviors around those users. The proposal would increase the potential penalties under existing traffic laws for killing or seriously injuring a vulnerable road user and require an appearance in court.

Vulnerable road users are all of us — walkers, cyclists, wheelchair users, children on training wheels, a parent pushing a stroller, or someone with a disability. These users don’t have the safety protections that a vehicle affords and are therefore especially vulnerable to death or serious injury when struck by a car. Nine States (CT, DE, FL, HI, OR, UT, VT, WA) have VRU laws and since we fully expect Maryland to be the bike friendliest state in the country, this law is necessary moving forward.

The Maryland Vulnerable Road User Law is currently being drafted and will be introduced in both the House and the Senate.

Safe Passing

On October 5th, the Governor of Delaware signed the Bicycle Friendly Delaware Act into law. This act is essentially a comprehensive safe passing law and is a model for our efforts here in Maryland. Most notably is a provision to require motorists to change lanes (including when there is a double yellow line) when passing bicycles when travel lanes are too narrow for side-by-side sharing. We are also working to eliminate the requirement that cyclists ride “As close as practicable to the right-hand edge of the roadway” and replace it with the Delaware language which says “far enough to the right as judged safe by the operator to facilitate the movement of such overtaking vehicles unless the bicycle operator determines that other conditions make it unsafe to do so.

A Safe Passing Law is currently being drafted and will be introduced in both the House and the Senate.

Complete Streets

As explained by Smart Growth America, A Complete Streets approach integrates people and place in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of our transportation networks. This helps to ensure streets are safe for people of all ages and abilities, balance the needs of different modes, and support local land uses, economies, cultures, and natural environments.

Currently, the State Highway Administration has a complete streets policy it is required to comply with but other transportation agencies do not. So we are proposing that two additional agencies be required to draft and comply with a Complete Streets Policy.  MdTA which will be crucial for the ultimate design and construction of the Nice Bridge and MDOT which of course is the overall Transportation agency in the state and has a long history of protecting and promoting car dominance at the expense of all other means of transportation.

Additionally, we are supporting an initiative to create support and assistance for local governments to draft and enact their own complete streets policies.

Increasing Funding for the Maryland Bikeways Program

The Maryland Bikeways program provides state funding to expand bicycle facilities in communities across Maryland.  Funds can be used for a variety of projects including connecting existing bikeways to shopping, employment, and transit, and bike-sharing programs.  This year’s grants, totaling $20 million is comprised of approximately $2M of state funding and $18M of federal funds. 2017 Projects included key regional trail connections funding for bike racks, installing bike routes using shared arrows, and designing future projects.

The Bikeways Program is the only program that is funded through the State’s budget. Bike Maryland is seeking an additional 20 percent in state funding per year ($4 million total increase) over the next 5 years.

We will be posting regular updates and calls to action on the webpage and through emails. Keep informed and be ready to call or write your elected officials when their votes are needed.

And here's the first update.

Bike commuting in DC, demographics

A recent people for bikes blog post (and the better bike share blog post it's based on) try to tease out how bike share has increased bike commuting in the District. They make a noble effort, but there are just too many data limitations - in my opinion - to make any conclusions. But, my gut and my own observations tend to agree with the conclusions. Those being that bike share increased bike commuting across all races, but not equally. 

There's a lot of problems with the data though. First it relies on American Community Survey data and as they note

When measuring commuting habits for all demographics except gender, the ACS uses the category “taxi, motorcycle, bicycle, or other means.” Lumping in “taxi,” “motorcycle,” and “other” along with bicycles makes it harder to draw specific conclusions, especially given the rise of ridesharing during the same time period. 

Then, there's the problem that it doesn't really tell us anything about bike sharing. Bike commuting could be up because of better streets, a younger demographic, changes tastes, rising oil prices, etc...Of course, we know from Capital Bikeshare survey data that many people did start commuting by bikeshare or bikeshare and transit once they got a membership, but that's not mentioned in the articles. One thing that should help with this is that MWCOG plans to ask about bikesharing in their next "State of the Commute" Survey.

But we're not sure from ACS data how much the increase in TiMBO data is due to biking and we aren't sure how much any change in bike commuting is due to bikeshare. Still, it's good news to find out that a wide variety of people might be biking more.

image from betterbikeshare.org

(Note that the better bike share blog post claims that "DC is home to North America’s oldest bike share program." It isn't.)

Also, as my Valentine gift to you I present the video below. If someone doesn't make a CaBi version soon I will cry. Where are the Tune Ups when you need them?

 

2018 Virginia Bike legislation

There are several bills working their way through the Virginia legislature right now that are of interest to cyclists, and if you really want to know more you should follow the Virginia Bicycling Federation. But I will try to give a quick rundown of things as they stand now. (I'm skipping over some with a tenuous connection to biking). Only one "bike" bill is still alive, a distracted driving bill, so Virginia voters, now is the time to work the phones. 

HB181 was reported out of the House Courts and Justice Subcommittee 1 on a 5-1 vote. This bill provides that any person who drives a vehicle on any highway (i) in a negligent manner but does not endanger the life, limb, or property of another or (ii) while using a handheld personal communications device where such use substantially diverts the driver's attention from the operation of the vehicle is guilty of improper driving. It was later cleared the House Courts Committee by a 15-3  and then sent to the House floor, then back to the Courts Committee for another vote, which it survived 11-6.  It was then defeated on the House floor, 53-47, before being reconsidered and passing 50-47 just today. 

Failed, which is bad, in committee

SB74, expands the prohibition on using a handheld personal communication device while operating a motor vehicle unless it is being operated in a hands free manner PASSED the Senate Transportation Committee by a 9-4 vote, but then voted down in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee 11-4. 

SB46/ STOP for a pedestrian in a marked Crosswalk, failed in the Senate Transportation Committee on a party line vote

SB87 this year’s Vulnerable Road User bill, failed in the Senate Transportation Committee on a party line vote

SB919 which provides that a motor vehicle driver whose carelessness causes serious bodily injury to a vulnerable road user would be guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor, failed in the Senate Transportation Committee on a party line vote

SB88 No passing by a motor vehicle driving in a bike lane, failed in the Senate Transportation Committee on a party line vote

SB97 No person shall operate a moving motor vehicle with an animal on their lap failed to receive a motion to report

HB207 Creates a penalty for operating a vehicle after failing to clear accumulated snow or ice from it, failed in the House Transportation Subcommittee on a party line vote

HB464 Driver must STOP for a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk, failed in the House Transportation Subcommittee on a party line vote

HB308 which would prohibit motor vehicles from passing in bike lanes, failed in the House Transportation Subcommittee on a party line vote

Failed, which is good

HB428, which would establish a minimum speed limit of 45 mph on all limited access highways in the state was pulled by its author

Frederick Douglass 200 Birthday - Oxon Run Trail ribbon cutting and bridge grounbreaking

Frederick Douglass' 200th birthday this year, and to make sure he remains an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and he continues to be recognized more and more the District is celebrating all week

Today, at noon, there will be a groundbreaking for the new Frederick Douglass Bridge held just west of the existing bridge at noon.

The work is part of the South Capitol Street Corridor Project, the largest public infrastructure project in the history of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), which is managing the project. The project includes replacement of the 68-year-old Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge and reconstruction of the Suitland Parkway/I-295 interchange.

This is a BIG project that will greatly improve biking across the river (it will feature Eighteen-foot wide shared bicycle/pedestrian paths on both sides of the bridge with four pedestrian overlooks) and in the area. DDOT had two kick-off meetings in November. 

This year they plan to start East Oval construction, construct a new I-295 Ramp, widen the median on South Capitol Street and Start West Oval construction.

Screenshot 2018-02-12 at 11.38.51 PM

Then on Saturday, the city will cut the ribbon on the new Oxon Run Trails with a Frederick Douglass 5k

Join Mayor Muriel Bowser and DC residents for the 1st Annual Frederick Douglass 5K to celebrate his 200 years of life and legacy!  This will also be the official ribbon cutting for the new Oxon Run Trail

Commemorate his 200th birthday by running this fun event at the newly renovated Oxon Run Park Trail!

If you haven't seen the trails yet, you should and it's hard to imagine a better opportunity. 

Trails are part of cuts for Montgomery County budget shortfall

Montgomery County is drawing up a savings plan in response to a budget shortfall of nearly $120 million, and it should be no surprise that this means a cut to capital improvement projects in the Department of Parks and Recreation. And that means trails. 

In January, the County Executive released a recommended FY19 Capital Budget and six-year FY19-24 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) that would require a 10.9% reduction in Parks CIP funding. This results in quite a few cuts, and a few of these impact trails. 

The Mathew Henson-Wheaton Trail Collector has been delayed at a savings of $170,000. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that's a reference to the proposed trail along the Northwest Branch from Wheaton Regional park to the Matthew Henson Trail. 

To save $530,000 several projects are delayed, including bridge replacements along the Sligo Creek Trail.

$30,000 is cut by reducing the time and ability of staff to design, map, construct and build natural trail projects. 

It appears that some other projects will be spared. Some of the standalone projects will continue to receive funding if they are far along or see high use. The North Branch Trail, a project that will pave and move a natural surface trail from Lake Bernard Frank to Muncaster Mill Road, is the highest such priority standalone project. 

North Branch Trail

The Little Bennett Regional Park Trail Connector is listed as the #7 standalone project priority.

This project develops a facility plan for a hard-surface trail approximately one mile in length and located on the east side of Frederick Road, MD Route 355 in Clarksburg, Maryland.  The trail is planned to connect the existing asphalt trail from Snowden Farm Parkway near Little Bennett Regional Park Maintenance Yard to the south entry of the proposed Day Use Area 

Bennett

Meanwhile the Magruder Branch Trail Extension is #10 on the priority list

This project extends the existing Magruder Branch Trail located in the Magruder Branch Stream Valley Park from its current terminus at Valley Park Drive northward to the Damascus Town Center.  The existing trail is 3.1 miles in length, and this project extends the trail an additional 0.75 mile.

Bobo's oat bars

I was recently sent a box of Bobo's oat bars, with the promise they are "cycling fuel." I don't know about that, but they are pretty tasty. 

When we got the box, I first allowed the family's chief nutritionist to inspect them. She's a generally tough audience, but she gave them a cautious thumbs up meaning they aren't laden with sugar or things she can't identify.

The kids on the other hand were not as excited. They wouldn't eat them as snack bars - too dry, and would only grudgingly eat them if we broke them up and poured milk on them. They'd probably love them as part of one of these concoctions, but a lot of those involve adding chocolate or marshmallows or some other item that the family nutritionist frowns upon.

No worries. More for me. While these aren't protein bars, two of them – Almond Butter and Peanut Butter – have 6 grams of protein or more per bar (each bar is two servings, for those of you counting calories). Whether that's enough to be "Cycling fuel", I'll let you decide.

What I do know is that I liked the bars, and since my snacks are usually limited to fruit, nuts or yogurt, it was a nice change. They are a little bit dry, and they won't ever me mistaken for a dessert, but if you break them up and mix them with berries and they're a pretty good mid-afternoon snack. About as close to a "treat" as I'm supposed to have (but I do know where the vending machine at work is located). 

They're vegan, non-GMO, kosher, dairy-free and gluten-free. Some are nut free, and others are not, so be cautious if you have nut allergies. 

image from eatbobos.com

Army Navy Drive Complete Street Project Survey

Arlington County wants your input about the Army Navy Drive Complete Street safety improvements project. 

The proposed project will redesign Army Navy Drive as a complete street featuring pedestrian, bicycle, transit, vehicle and environmental enhancements. The project will improve local connections between the Pentagon and commercial, residential and retail services in Pentagon City and Crystal City. 

Give input here

OFF-STREET TRAILS PAVEMENT CONDITION ASSESSMENT

Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation plans to evaluate the condition of asphalt pavement on off-street trails during the month of February 2018. A specialty company will be used for this assessment and will use a modified van fitted with the pavement assessment instruments. The County’s main trail systems, including Custis Trail, Four Mile Run Trail and the Bluemont Junction Trail, will all be driven and assessed. The purpose of this assessment is to determine which sections of the trail system are most in need of resurfacing.

The trails need to only be driven one time and the total number of days for the pavement assessment work is anticipated to be 7-10 days. The month of February was selected for this pavement condition assessment due to the reduced volume of use on the trails. Work will begin after 9:00 a.m. and end by 3:00 p.m. and will not be conducted on the weekends. The pavement cannot be assessed if there is snow on the trails. The trails will not be closed for this work.  Pedestrians have the right of way, but precautions should be taken if the vehicles are encountered.  If the vehicles are encountered, please stop and move off the trail if possible to let the vehicle pass so it may evaluate conditions in the most efficient and accurate manner.    

Thank you in advance for your patience while this process is underway.

New S. Oak Street Bridge a small part of Future Tripps Run Trail

This is not much of a bike project, but Falls Church is planning a significant rehab of S. Oak Bridge over Tripps Run that will create a better connection to a trail you probably aren't using. 

Oak Street Bridge is a simple span steel beam bridge with reinforced concrete deck and concrete abutments. In 2012, Dewberry inspectors found the bridge to be in poor condition with a bridge rating of 4 out of 10. There is severe corrosion in the steel beam webs. Timber blocking was installed at locations where steel beam webs were severely corroded. Concrete deck has spalling and numerous hairline cracking with some exposed rebar. The bridge is on a yearly inspection cycle and was inspected from 2012 through 2016. The rating has not changed and there have been no major changes from the 2012 condition. All inspections recommend replacing or repairing the steel beams and concrete deck immediately. 

The repaired bridge will have a modified design with wider sidewalks and a better connection to the trail along Tripps Run.

Concept

That narrow connector trail (visible on the left) is a couple blocks long and connects S. Oak with - wait for it - Sherrow Ave.

Ok let me just stop right now and say that washcycle is now your "Sharrows on Sherrow" headquarters and I will not stop until this is a thing. 

Anyway, it might not look like much now, but the Falls Church Bike Plan calls for a trail along Tripps Run from the southern edge of town at Cavalier Trail Park to S. West Street with a short bike lane connection to the W&OD Trail. So this is a very small part of that. There are also to be bike lanes south from this bridge.

The old bridge does look dumpy.

Screenshot 2018-02-06 at 10.55.30 PM

Construction is to schedule late this year. 

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