We chat with D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier about the city's strategy to combat the spike in violent crime taking place in the nation's capital.
The region’s roads are making more room for commuters on two wheels this fall. More than 1,000 rental bikes will be launched under the Capital Bikeshare program next month. New signals for cyclists are sprouting up on streets and bike paths, and cities are carving out new trails from Arlington to Montgomery County. Kojo joins the region’s cycling chiefs to discuss the developments and how they’ll impact commuters on four wheels.
- Gail Tait-Nouri Montgomery County Bike Coordinator
- David Goodman Bicycle & Pedestrian Programs Manager, Arlington County
- Jim Sebastian Bicycle Coordinator, DC Department of Transportation
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIf you're a four-wheeled commuter, get ready for more of the two-wheeled kind this fall. September marks the roll out of Capital Bikeshare, a program that will spread more than 1,000 red rental bikes across Metro stations in D.C. and Arlington. It's one of many changes coming to the region's sprawling bike system in downtown D.C. Cyclists are seeing new traffic signals just for them. And in Arlington, officials are using new devices to count every rider on some of their busiest trails all over the region.
MR. KOJO NNAMDINew bike paths, bike lanes, and something called sharrows are cropping up to make getting from here to there a little, well, greener. But can we all share the roads safely, and for that matter, sanely? Joining us in the studio to discuss that is Gail Tait-Nouri, who is Bikeway coordinator for Montgomery County. Thank you for joining us.
MS. GAIL TAIT-NOURIThank you.
NNAMDIAlso with us is David Goodman. He's bicycle and pedestrian programs manager for Arlington County. David, thank you, for joining us.
MR. DAVID GOODMANNice to be here.
NNAMDIAnd, Jim Sebastian is back. He is bicycle program coordinator for the District Department of Transportations bicycle program. Jim, good to see you again.
MR. JIM SEBASTIANThank you.
NNAMDISeptember is a big month for the region's cyclist. Jim, tell us about the new Capital Bikeshare program that's launching at the end of the month.
SEBASTIANYeah, this is going to be very exciting. We have a system now about a 100 bikes at 10 stations, and we're going to expand that along with Arlington tenfold to a -- over 100 stations and over 1,000 bikes. And it's going to be launching the middle to the end of September. And we have already opened registration. You can go to capitalbikeshare.com and sign up if you are one of the first 2,000 members. We've got about 800 so far. You can be a founding member and get a T-shirt and a special key.
NNAMDIWhat kind of safety considerations and preparations has the city had to make to get ready for this program?
SEBASTIANWell, we've been working on safety for a long time. You know, we've put in almost 50 miles of bike lanes in the last nine years. We have an annual safety campaign educational awareness campaign that we do with Arlington and Montgomery County and the rest of our partners in the region called Street Smart. We also have a full time -- somebody called a bicycle ambassador -- that's out interacting with bicyclists, telling them essentially how to behave. And we also have volunteers that he recruits. And if you'd like to know more about that, you can let us know and become a volunteer bicycle ambassador to help spread the word. We also try to -- along with our partners at the police department -- try to crack down on motorists, who are infringing on bicycle and pedestrian rights.
NNAMDIBy the way, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Will you be using the new Capital Bikeshare program? 800-433-8850. If you have questions or comments about it, you can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. I guess I need to clarify that it's only D.C. and Arlington for the time being that are taking part in the September launch. Gail Tait-Nouri, you're waiting to start the Bikeshare program in Montgomery County, right?
TAIT-NOURIYes, we are. We've just finished our regional application for a federal grant, jointly with Fairfax and Arlington and the District. Also, we're working with our own cities to come a park in Rockville -- all looking to participate in this great program.
NNAMDIComing on board at some point in the future. David, is the Bikeshare program extensive enough for residents of Arlington to really take advantage of it, or are certain parts of Arlington likely to benefit more than others?
GOODMANWell, Kojo, the first phase is going to be rolled out in Crystal City and Pentagon City. That's where funding allowed us to roll out the first phase, so we're going to have about, I believe, 114 bikes at 10 stations in the Pentagon City. In Crystal City areas, we're hoping that if funding becomes available pretty soon -- maybe through the tracker grant program that Gail mentioned -- we'll be rolling them out in the Rosslyn to Ballston Corridor.
NNAMDIJim, this summer, the city opened new bike lanes on Pennsylvania, half of them with great fanfare. What has the response been from bikers?
SEBASTIANBicyclists love the -- love that lane, and they want more like it. We've seen an increase in the number of bicycles there. Folks are really excited about that and want to know what we're doing next.
NNAMDIHave there been any safety issues with bicyclists entering and exiting those bike lanes safely?
SEBASTIANYeah, it's taking a little bit of education. We -- like I said, we had our bicycle ambassador down there trying to train people. We've had information on our website, was also -- been giving out fact sheets on how to behave. But essentially for the motors and the bicyclists, you just follow the signals. And we set up signals so that you -- the turning cars will not conflict with the bicyclists who are going straight. That's the main potential conflict. For those who don't know, we have the bike lanes actually in the middle of the street on Pennsylvania Avenue. And we also have a little bit of friction with pedestrians, but, you know, just like we talked about at the beginning of the hour, there's a lot of users of our transportation system. And we all have to get along. We have a limited amount of space. And bicycling and walking are very efficient modes of transportation. And we all have to share that space.
NNAMDIWill we be seeing bike lanes opening up on more streets any time soon?
SEBASTIANSure. Sure. We've been putting in bike lanes every year for the last nine years or so. And we've put in 3 miles already this year. We're hoping to get to 10 by the end of the year. We've rolling out some more bike lanes around the city and have a special extension of our cycle trackers separated bike lane of 15th Street that some people are using now. And the Dupont Circle area, we're looking to take that all the way on from where it is. Off from the U Street area down to Pennsylvania Avenue. So people will be able to bicycle separated from traffic, completely separated from traffic, and, you know, that's not always the solution. We still are going to have, you know, regular bike lanes and even streets with no bike lanes where everyone's sharing the road.
SEBASTIANBut this kind of facility -- just like trails -- they bring out a much bigger diversity of users, you know. In our 15 segments which is less than a mile, we've seen children out. We've seen families. We've seen people in wheelchairs. I mean, this is really a way to encourage more bicycling. Then once they build their confidence, they can move to the other facilities, like bike lanes are just sharing the road.
NNAMDIOn to Paul in Washington, D.C. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULHi. I live in D.C. I work in the Crystal City. And I've been the using the SmartBike since they introduce it on the District. And I use it on the weekend. And I depend on it for commuting because I work part-time in the city, so I think it's great. The new program -- now, I'll be able to commute to work, I hope. But the fees -- I have an issue with fees. I think they are a little too high. And then you have to read them carefully because it's a -- the fees are compounded on top each other. That's the only comment I have otherwise.
NNAMDIDavid, is there any simple way to explain the fee structure?
GOODMANIt's a -- It's designed to encourage short trips.
NNAMDIFirst half hour's free for them.
GOODMANFirst half hour free, exactly.
NNAMDIYes. Love it.
GOODMANYeah, so the idea is that if you're going to hang on to the bike for longer periods of time, you may not be using it for short little (word?) around the neighborhood. You've probably using it for a longer trip. And that's not really what the system is designed for. It's for short little hops. You'll notice the stations are very close together in the neighborhoods that they exist in. That they're -- the station is very close together. So it's very convenient to use it in that way. So the way you pay for it is designed to encourage the shorter trips drop by for bike. Pick it up again later if you need it again later. That probably makes more sense than hanging onto it for the whole day.
NNAMDIWe're talking about bicycling in the DMV, the District of Maryland and Virginia, with Gail Tait-Nouri, bikeway coordinator for Montgomery County. Jim Sebastian is bicycle program coordinator for the District Department of Transportation's bicycle program. And David Goodman is bicycle and pedestrian programs manager for Arlington County. The biking-related news we've been discussing, the Bikeshare program, new bike lanes in downtown D.C. and more, points to an increasing emphasis on an urban area wherein motorists and cyclist really share the road. Talk a little about the challenges you face as you work to carve out space for bikers in the region. First, you, Gail.
TAIT-NOURISurely, Montgomery County does have a lot of challenges where urban and suburban and we are growing daily. We are -- we take a progressive approach. We recognize that there is a need to address alternative modes of transportation and not just single occupant vehicles. We have many smart growth initiatives. And we want to make Montgomery County a great place to work, live and recreate. So when we are trying to implement our multiple types of bicycle facilities, we come up with many challenges.
TAIT-NOURIOur commuter corridors are already densely developed. Our right-of-ways are narrow. We have traffic congestion. We have significant environmental considerations. We addressed our citizens' concerns. And then we come up with unexpected issues such as -- we have quite a few federal facilities as all of our satellites communities do. And they have significant security issues when we are trying to use the space as Jim talked about. It is -- we are constantly coming up with these challenges.
NNAMDIMacArthur Boulevard is a particular point of concern for you in Montgomery County. There's a lot of apparent misunderstanding between cyclist and motorist on that road. Tell us about what you're doing to address some of those concerns.
TAIT-NOURIYes. MacArthur Boulevard is a typical commuter corridor in Montgomery County. We have a fairly narrow roadway and it has a high volume of bicycle and automobile commuters. We also have a bike trail on the side of the roadway. However, our commuters who are traveling in the 20 to 30 mile-per-hour speed arena want to use the roadway, which, because they're classified as vehicles, they can. And they want to get to work just as quickly as everyone else. So they have to share the road with our vehicles.
TAIT-NOURISo what we're doing is we've worked with the community and the cyclists, and we are going to add shoulders to MacArthur Boulevard, the entire length. They will not be extremely wide shoulders because we do have environmental concerns on MacArthur Boulevard. But they will be shoulders in both directions so that vehicle and the bicycle can share, and then the bike trail can be used by our less experienced cyclists or recreational cyclists and our youths.
NNAMDIAnd we're going to have to take a short -- well, before we take that break, since we're talking Montgomery County for a second, this we got from Lynn in Clarksburg, Md. "How do we get more bike-friendly roads in northern Montgomery County in rural areas that do not have shoulders or wide lanes and are not part of a master plan when there's a lot of traffic? We have some dangerous situations with cars passing too closely. The county highway services is repaving some of the roads this year but will not consider adding a few feet on each side of the road. I have gone back and forth with emails to the traffic engineers." Any solutions to this problem, Gail?
TAIT-NOURIYes. We have been working with our traffic engineers and our highway services maintenance folks. And we have tried to add shoulders when we can. We evaluate each resurfacing project on an independent -- individual basis and we are working with them to either widen or provide additional bikeable space where we can, and if we can't, we are putting them on a list for future consideration for widening.
TAIT-NOURIGoing to take that short break now. If you have already called, stay on the line. If you haven’t yet, you can still call, 800-433-8850. Or go to our website, raise a question or make a comment there. It's kojoshow.org. I am Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe are talking bicycling and new initiatives about biking in the Washington area with David Goodman, bicycle and pedestrian programs manager for Arlington County, Gail Tait-Nouri, bikeway coordinator for Montgomery County, and Jim Sebastian, bicycle program coordinator for the District's Department of Transportation's bicycle programs. Jim, David, we know bicycles have arrived when we are starting to see the first traffic signals for bicyclists in the District of Columbia. Where are the first ones being installed?
SEBASTIANWe're doing a pilot study right now at 16th and U. We had a problem there with people riding the wrong way up New Hampshire to get through the intersection. And what we did was we built a counterflow bicycle lane to help legitimize that, that movement that bikes were doing. And when they get to the intersection, what they do is they wait for the signal. They have to stop on a certain spot just like a car, will pick up the -- the magnetic detector will pick up their bike, and then a few seconds later, the light will turn and then they can proceed through the intersection. So it's just another way to make bicycling a little bit easier in D.C.
NNAMDIDavid, you also have news on the signal front?
GOODMANYeah, well, bike signals are still considered experimental if you could believe that. So in order to use them, at least in Virginia, we need to get approval of the Federal Highway Administration. So we formally have applied for experimental status at two locations on the Custis Trail, which a lot of bike commuters use. It runs along Lee Highway and then runs along I-66. In the section that runs along Lee Highway, there tend to be a lot of bicycle/pedestrian conflicts, bicycle/automobile conflicts at intersections and so we're applying for two locations, one at Scott Street and the other one at Oak Street. Thank you. I just remembered. And we're looking to get those installed this week, this fall.
NNAMDIAt the beginning of the year, Arlington announced a major bicycle initiative. Can you bring up -- bring us up to date on what's been happening?
GOODMANA lot -- a lot of things. We've got -- our county board chair has decided that this is an important initiative, and so we've been working on a pretty ambitious plan. It covers everything from encouragement and education to engineering projects, evaluation -- which is the bike counters that you mentioned earlier -- and some enforcement, which is basically the Street Smart campaign that Jim mentioned earlier. We've got about 25 miles of bike lanes around the county right now. And we're looking to expand that pretty significantly this year, possibly about another 8 1/2 miles of bike lanes and sharrows, which -- we could talk about sharrows and...
NNAMDIYeah, well, since you brought it up, let's talk about it right now because for many of us, that's a fairly unfamiliar word. The new buzzword, ladies and gentlemen, sharrows. What are sharrows?
GOODMANA sharrow is a shared-use lane. So the conjunction is sharrows, and it looks like -- and a lot of the confusion stems from the -- what it looks like on the ground, it looks like a bike lane symbol with a person on a bicycle, with a couple of chevron markings along it. But it serves a slightly different function. It's not a dedicated lane. A lot of the people -- a lot of people have been very concerned that we're painting a 10-foot -- 11-foot-wide bike lanes down the middle of streets, and it's not actually the case. It's a -- as the name implies, it's a shared space. It's intended to do two things.
GOODMANOne, for cyclists, it's intended to guide cyclists in the proper positioning of their bike on a shared lane. These generally are slow-speed streets where the difference in speed between cyclists and cars is very low. Low-volume streets where cyclists shouldn't expect to see a lot of cars. So it helps in positioning themselves out of the -- what's called the door zone, where parallel parked cars tend to -- a lot -- the biggest risk, one of the big risks is when people open the door of their car. So it's to help them position them that way. And also for drivers, it's another way of reminding drivers that bicyclists are actually allowed to use the streets. Some people are not aware of that. A lot of drivers aren't aware of the fact that you are actually allowed to ride on a street, whether or not it has a chevron marking on it.
NNAMDIAre sharrows also being employed in both Montgomery County and the District of Columbia?
TAIT-NOURIYes. As a matter of fact, we are about to install our first set of sharrows on Forest Glen Road near the Forest Glen Metro. We are implementing it as a part of our stimulus funding program when we resurface the road. This should probably happen by the end of the year or the beginning of next year.
NNAMDIAnd in the District, Jim?
SEBASTIANYeah, we have a few sharrows in already. Our 15th Street project right now, the -- for those folks not in the bike lane, if you're going north, you are in a sharrow lane. And just like David said, it indicates that this lane is for both bikes and cars. We also have signs explaining that. And it's worked out fairly well. It's a different type of situation in a lane or a separate lane certainly, but it allows people to know, both the bike and the driver, that there's both types of vehicles in the lane. And it works well where we can't squeeze in a bike lane, or whether the lane is quite narrow and the bikes -- per D.C. law and most laws in most states -- are allowed where it's narrow to take the full lane.
NNAMDISo it's for bikes and cars, not if you're doing any wogging, which was a combination term developed in the '70s for walking and jogging. Here is Larry in Alexandria, Va. Larry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LARRYThanks, Kojo. I was in Montreal earlier this summer with some friends, and we ran into a system called BIXI up there, which sounds very similar to what they're planning in Washington. I was wondering if you could do some comparison. So rental is $5 for a 24-hour period. And for that $5 you could rent a bike as often as you wanted for 30 minutes at a time, and if you kept them longer, it'll cost another dollar or two, which is great.
NNAMDIWell, Larry, Jim Sebastian's response to that is busted.
SEBASTIANYou look at a very similar system to ours. It's in fact identical hardware and software. The BIXI system is becoming popular around the world and here in the U.S., and so that is the type of system we are using. We have a local operator that's going to be running it, and the pricing is very similar. Our annual membership is a little cheaper. It's $75 a year. But if you join now, it's only $50 a year. And like I said, if you sign up early, you'd get some special incentives. But, yeah, the rate is also similar to Montreal, the hourly rate. It's free for the first half hour.
SEBASTIANIt starts to ramp up after that because we really do want you to move quickly and keep the bike in circulation. If you need a bike for an hour or two or three or more, you know, we'd suggest you use your own bike. Or there are plenty of bike-rental companies you can use to go on a bike ride, but this is transit. This is public transportation basically. You wouldn't want to take the bus, take it home and keep it at your house until you're ready to leave. It's the same with the bikes. You want to keep them in circulation.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Larry. On to Gail in Arlington, Va. Gail, your turn, go ahead, please.
GAILHi. I just want to make a couple of comments. I live in Arlington, and I'd just like to say that Arlington has the best bike trails, I think, anywhere in the country. But aside from that, I want to let you know that I'm a realtor. And I recently got a referral from Boulder, Colo. from a young woman who only wanted a realtor who knows the bike trails of the D.C. metro area. I thought that was probably a unique referral because I've never had one like that, and I do cycle all the bike trails in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. And then the other thing I want to let you know is there's actually a real estate company now called Pedal to Property, which actually bike -- uses bicycles to show their clients property. Thought that that was interesting.
NNAMDIIt certainly is. Pedals to Property. Gail, thank you, for sharing that with us. Here is David Goodman.
GOODMANThat's terrific. We're very excited to hear that that people are looking for bike-friendly communities to live in. We're certainly trying our hardest. One of the things we're working on, as this year's bike initiative, is improving our way, finding system around the trails. We get consistently high marks for our trail system. Where it tends to break down is when people get lost on our trail system, which is unfortunately pretty easy to do 'cause we don't really have a lot of signs out there to help you figure out where you are. So if you're a local and you've been here for a little while, usually can figure it out. But we're looking to change that. We've got a pretty ambitious plan to improve way-finding signage on the trails and on our on-street networks so people can actually use their bikes to get to places that they've never been to before.
NNAMDIThis email we got from Lisa. "Do you or your guest know if there are any plans to put some kind of bike path separate from the highway on Beach Drive in Rockley Park? It's super dangerous up there with one lane for traffic in each direction, and bike riders encourage to ride in the highway." I drive that route just about every single day and wondered the same thing myself. Can you tell us anything, Jim Sebastian?
SEBASTIANYeah, that's a tough one. There is a bike trail that goes, of course, from downtown up to Broad Branch Road.
SEBASTIANAnd we are working in cooperation with the Park Service to improve that trail. Once you get north of Broad Branch, it gets really tight. There's -- it's a steep stream valley with some sensitive environmental features up there. And it's -- I -- it's really unclear whether a bike trail -- a paved, you know, bike trail would be able to fit up there. I think there's definitely interest, but for now, it's going to be -- have to be share the road. And that's why, you know...
NNAMDIAnd if you're a motorist there, you have to be patient because very often, if you try to pass a bicyclist and it's around the curve, there will be a car coming from the next direction, so a little patience is in order if you happen to be riding there.
SEBASTIANYeah, it is a park road, not a highway. I think the speed limit is 25 or 30. So be patient with the few bicyclists that are up there during rush hour, and then on the weekends, of course, it's all about walking and bicycling which is great.
NNAMDIHere is Jonathan in Hyattsville, Md. Jonathan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JONATHANHi. It's a great show. I am a huge fan of cycling. I used to ride my bike -- my two kids in my bike trailer to nursery school. And I'm trying to figure out how to approach our city council with expanding our bike pedestrian master plan, which has been incredible actually. It's a great master plan, but to incorporate more things to get kids school on bikes, things like protected lane, or even just bike lanes, but more in like neighborhoods and stuff. And I keep hitting a lot of resistance. You know, there are people who are like, well, it's just a neighborhood street. And I'm like, no. You know, it's -- the two accidents I've had as a person and commuter to work were both on neighborhood streets. And, you know, I'm trying to figure out if there's resources and other things that we could use...
NNAMDILet's see if we can get any suggestions for you. I spent my entire pre-college life riding to school on a bicycle, but that was in, like, another country. Here is Gail.
TAIT-NOURIYes. I think that your first approach should be to join the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. They are -- we have a new director of that association. They are multiregional in approach and would be able to help you with some approaches to your neighborhoods and to your town council. Also, I'm not sure if you have a local bike group, but there are some in Prince George's County that you could contact and try to work through those avenues.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jonathan. We're running out of time. Very quickly, Jim Sebastian, but here are a couple of emails you probably need to respond to. "Is biking on the sidewalk allowed in Downtown D.C.? I walk from Farragut Square to Judiciary Square and have nearly been hit several times recently." And Clod says, "What initiatives are in place to enforce the traffic laws in regard to bicycles? I nearly creamed one of the rental bikes recently on 12th Street after he totally blew off a stoplight."
SEBASTIANBicycling is not allowed downtown on the sidewalks. There's an area we call the central business district. And you can go to the DDOT website or look on one of our bike maps to find out where that is. This is basically south of Massachusetts Avenue. But regardless of where you are, the bicyclists need to yield to the pedestrians on the sidewalk even in -- if they're outside that zone.
SEBASTIANAnd in terms of traffic laws, you know, bicyclists do need to obey the same laws as motorists, of course. When they don't, they usually pay the price. So there's some incentive hopefully for the bicyclists to obey the law. But we do work with our police department. We work with trained officers every year as part of our Street Smart campaign who go out. And you target that enforcement for pedestrians and bicyclists and, you know, in relation to motorists as well. So there's -- and we do a lot of education with WABA, as Gail mentioned in our bike ambassador who works at WABA. So...
NNAMDIAfraid that's all the time we have. Jim Sebastian is bicycle program coordinator for the District's Department of Transportation's bicycle program. Jim, thank you, for joining us.
NNAMDIGail Tait-Nouri is bikeway coordinator for Montgomery Country. Gail, thank you.
TAIT-NOURIOh, thank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd David Goodman is Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs manager for Arlington County. Good to have you aboard, David.
GOODMANIt's my pleasure. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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