Council approves updates to pedestrian and bicycle master plan

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By Chris Teale (File photo)

City council approved a raft of safety improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists in an update of the city’s transportation master plan at its public hearing last weekend. The proposal passed 6-0, with City Councilor Paul Smedberg absent.

Included in the plan for the first time is a proposal to develop a Vision Zero policy and program for the city, in keeping with neighboring jurisdictions that have done the same. Vision Zero began in Sweden in 1997, and is a multi-national traffic safety project that aims to achieve no fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic. A version of the project was approved in 2015 for Washington, D.C.

Jennifer Hovis, chairwoman of the ad hoc pedestrian and bicycle master plan advisory committee, emphasized the importance of Vision Zero for improving road safety in the city.

“By the end of the two years [of the committee’s work], Vision Zero has really grown into a well-recognized initiative, and the committee did feel strongly it is something that should be front and center of the project,” she said.

Carrie Sanders, acting deputy director of the city’s department of transportation and environmental services, said Vision Zero also helps lower driver speeds and maintain the feel of neighborhood roads. The next step for the program will be for staff to outline the framework, budget and staffing needed so that it can be successful.

The transportation master plan chapter of the city’s overall master plan was originally approved in 2008, and envisions the use of alternative forms of transit beyond cars. City staff updated the pedestrian and bicycle master plan after a number of projects over the past few years, including the approval of several small area plans, the expansion of Capital Bikeshare into the city and adoption of the Complete Streets policy to ensure safety for all users.

The plan provides a roadmap for potential improvements without going into specific details, as a design process is required for each individual project. It proposes more than 88 miles of new bicycle facilities, including 44 miles of dedicated bike lanes and 36 miles of shared lanes. It also recommends eight miles of new bike trails, with continuous connections to major destinations like Potomac Yard, the Mount Vernon Trail, Mark Center and various Metro stations.

An extensive bicycle network is proposed for Duke Street, including shared roadways on side streets like Wheeler Avenue and dedicated bike lanes that connect Duke Street to some of its ancillary roads. City Councilor Del Pepper expressed concerns about taking parking places away from residents to accommodate the proposed new facilities.

“You have to protect those side areas, because these folks have no place to park their cars,” she said. “They need that protected area.”

Pepper said she hoped that the trees that line some sections of Duke Street will be preserved and factored into discussions, particularly as conversation continues around a proposed bus transitway in the area.

“They are the few things that turn Duke Street into something rather nice,” Pepper said. “Otherwise, it’s quite unattractive. There are parts of it that are truly beautiful, like when you get into Old Town, but also around the Beatley Library straight on out to Landmark. There you have something really pretty, and that didn’t just happen.”

The master plan also suggests sidewalk improvements in various areas of the city where sidewalks are still lacking, including along upper King Street near Interstate-395. Vice Mayor Justin Wilson suggested further conversations about some smaller sidewalk projects across the city that would complete the sidewalk network. He mentioned that some property owners might need to be brought on board, as their property line may have prevented a sidewalk being installed before.

“It seems like as we talk about funding going forward and implementation, we need to be mindful of setting aside a portion of that kind of sidewalk money to deal with the little projects that frankly are going to be so impactful for a small neighborhood,” he said.

City Councilor John Chapman agreed, and said that neighborhood civic associations could be brought on board to help staff reach out to neighbors who may be affected. Sanders said staff is looking into a petition process for residents to ask for neighborhood sidewalks to be connected, something that Chapman said needed to be managed properly to avoid neighbors “ganging up” on one another.

Mayor Allison Silberberg suggested further engagement with residents during the design phase for projects to ensure the inclusion of adding more grass and other features when sidewalks are revamped. Hovis added that the ad hoc committee recommended having a report card that would show the public the progress on implementation of the plan.

Council’s unanimous approval means the ordinance amending the pedestrian and bicycle chapter will come before it at a May legislative meeting for final assent.

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