Virginia State Bicycle Policy Plan
Comments by Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB)
September 1, 2010

Thank you to those at VDOT and others who have championed this document to bring it into existence. The Virginia Bicycle Policy Plan will go a long way toward making Virginia more bicycle friendly. We applaud the effort that has gone into producing the draft plan and recommendations and we look forward to its implementation throughout the Commonwealth.

We have the following comments on the policy plan:

1. Comments on Document Content

Chapter 1 Executive Summary

Page 4
The sentence "In addition, bicycling is a mode of travel that creates no emissions" could be expanded to reflect the very low impact of bicycles on the transportation infrastructure. Maintenance of the infrastructure is a major issue in Virginia and it is worth highlighting the fact that bikes do the best job in preserving facilities.

It is noted at the start of the second paragraph that this is the first of three plans. It would be useful to list and discuss the nature of the proposed additional plans both as a reference and to allow a better understanding of the future direction of bicycling policy planning in Virginia.

Page 6
"VDOT's planning, design, and maintenance staff should receive training and guidance". VDOT construction managers should also be included in the list, as their work has a significant impact on bicycling access and safety. Suggest expanding the last line of the first paragraph: "in order to ensure they are able to design and maintain roadways" to include 'operate' and 'construct'.

Chapter 2 Introduction, Vision, and Goals

Page 7
The paragraph "Virginia is for bicyclists..." does not mention safety which is an important fundamental factor for bicycling in the Commonwealth.

Suggest expanding Goal 1: Increase the use of bicycling in Virginia [by a full and diverse range of the population] for all trip purposes

Page 8
The sentence "a lack of bicycle facilities in locations with heavy, higher speed traffic makes bicycling difficult for all but the most confident riders" could be expanded to state that these conditions can discourage potential riding altogether as they create situations where the routes are effectively discontinuous. This better illustrates the full impact of this type of existing condition in Virginia. At times the current low riding rates in some locations are used as justification for not providing future bicycling facilities without acknowledgement of the reasons behind the low rates.

Chapter 3: Existing Conditions

Page 10
The discussion of existing conditions in Virginia would be more complete and provide better insight into the issues if the following topics were added:

The first paragraph under Current Levels of Bicycling focuses solely on households without bicycles or only a single vehicle. These are only a small portion of the people who use bicycles for transportation and this is too narrow a focus: bicycling is a mode of transportation for households with multiple cars also. It is likely in Virginia, that most people who bike to work or for other trips also own cars but are choosing to use a bicycle for that particular trip. Suggest modified sentence: "Throughout Virginia there are households that can't afford an automobile, have chosen to live in an area with a well-developed multimodal transportation system and choose not to own an automobile, or choose to leave the car at home and travel instead by bicycle for health, environmental, financial, or other reasons for some of their trips." It might be interesting to add a figure for the number of bicycles already owned in Virginia relative to the population or to mention that more bicycles are sold in the U.S. each year than cars.

It would enhance the understanding of bicycling in Virginia to not focus solely on the minority without cars but to expand on the idea that bicycling is a viable mode of transportation for many Virginians. This is a much larger population of bike riders in Virginia.

"A recent statewide survey showed that approximately 20 percent of the Commonwealth's residents ride bikes." It is unclear what this statement means: does it mean that these residents ride bikes regularly and does this include such types of riding as recreational and sport? Does it include the entire population such as children and the elderly?

Page 11
First para. last sentence - "...said they would sometimes commute by bicycle if there were safe bike lanes." This is from the Harris Poll data. While we cannot locate the original Harris Poll data reference, others who have cited it, such as the FHWA University Course on Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation use the term "facilities" not "lanes." Facilities is more generic and is preferred as it does not preclude paved shoulders or wide curb lanes. Also, we question the use of the word "commute" -- in the FHWA discussion, they just say "bicycle (v.)". The majority of trips, particularly short trips, in the community are for purposes other than commuting.

We suggest that the paragraph entitled "Commuting by Bicycle" be revised to reflect the broader range of transportation by bikes. Our new suggested title is "Trips by Bicycle". As mentioned, previously only a minority of shorter trips in the community are commuting trips. There are many people who never commute anywhere but still use bikes for transportation. Concentrating on commuting overlooks the broad and diverse range of the population and their travel characteristics.

The note on Table 2 could be added to the paragraph text and could be turned into a discussion of the range of trips in the community. It would be useful to also discuss the population and its different travel characteristics. For example, historically women's travel patterns are different than men's as a consequence of their responsibilities and work choices. Similarly, travel differs by stage in life and socio-economic group. Discussing work and commuting trips covers only a slice of the population at a particular life stage.

Page 12
Last sentence, "formally designated [as] bike route. - Remove "as" In addition, suggest adding the abbreviation for the Washington and Old Dominion Trail (W&OD) as that is how it is commonly known.

Page 13
In the section about combining bicycling with transit, suggest adding a discussion about bringing bikes onto the Metro system during weekday non-peak hours as well as weekends. It might be useful to note where the W&OD intersects with the Metro system as this is a popular combination for some multi-modal trips.

Page 14 & 15
Do the agencies listed, track bicycle crash data for trails, side paths, and shared-use paths when the incident does not happen at a public road crossing? If not who collects the data? "Future changes in crash data will need to be evaluated with respect to any changes in the level of bicycling in Virginia": in order for the data to reflect changes in relation to levels of bicycling, it will also need to include the data for those riding on trails, side paths and shared-use paths that may not be included in public road crash data.

Chapter 4: Current Programs and Policies

Page 16
There are a number of documents listed as having been reviewed as part of this plan preparation. The following documents also reflect polices and design issues that have impact on safe bicycling as well as the design of bicycling accommodations in Virginia:

Will these documents also be included in the project review? The access management and secondary street acceptance programs are both relatively to Virginia and their implementation impact the design of cross street, intersections and entrances which all have implications for bicycling. The Work Area Protection Manual addresses the topic of safety and access for bikes during construction projects which is an ongoing issue for many using bicycle.

Page 19
"Shoulder Pavement Program" - The 2-foot wide paved shoulder that is added during road resurfacing through the Shoulder Pavement Program is not very useful for cyclists, and actually sets up for unsafe riding conditions. Per the AASHTO Bike Guide "Paved shoulders should be at least 1.2 m (4 feet) wide to accommodate bicycle travel." Also per AASHTO, essential bicycle operating space is 40 inches minimum with a minimum operating width of 48 inches to accommodate forward movement. This width is required to maintain balance at low speeds or in windy conditions, to accommodate maneuvers around debris and hardware in the road as well as to allow passing. In addition, this width of pavement is required to increase the comfort level of many cyclists and encourage use of the facilities. If the road environment is stressful (i.e. high speeds, guardrail, cub, etc.) even more pavement may be required. If the paved shoulder is to be less than 4 feet in width, suggest not striping the lane edge and creating a very narrow shoulder but instead adding the pavement and creating a wider outside lane.

Page 19-20
Does the Strategic Highway Safety Plan only address the need to educate non-motorized users or does it also recognize the critical need to educate motorists about bicycling safety and the need to watch for cyclists? It would be useful to add any programs available for motorized-user education.

Page 20
Under the Policy for Integrating Bicycle Accommodations, the first bullet discusses the need for guidelines for coordinating with localities that encourage bicycle plans. Will bicycle plans need to be adopted by a locality to be considered? Will a Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) be required before VDOT will consider adding certain types of bicycling facilities or facilities in a particular location? The language does not make it clear how important a role the BMP may or may not play in the installation of facilities in a community. Communities should not be prevented form having safe bicycle facilities because they have not implemented a BMP.

Page 21
The Secondary Street Acceptance Requirements (SSAR) are important for facilitating future travel by cyclists via neighborhood streets. Current neighborhood road designs often cause bicyclists to travel on arterials. The paragraph on the SSAR does not make any mention of a mechanism through which the bicycling considerations will be reviewed or considered in the new designs. With land use decisions made at the local level, there needs to be some sort of specific step early in the design process where bicycling guidance is provided and bicycling design needs can be added to projects and where projects can be reviewed.

In the discussion about Virginia Design Manuals and Guidance, additional topics and issues that impact bicycling design and incorporation of bicycling facilities into projects include:

In the discussion of the Road Design Manual, there is a reference to "the importance of evaluating the need for bicycle facilities as part of the initial roadway investigation." This is a critical step in deciding about bicycling accommodations for the design. Further information on this topic would be useful such as what are the methods employed to determine future need, who makes the determination and what standards are employed, how this information is documented and how the public can comment on the decision, etc. It is important to ensure that the determination is not made in an arbitrary fashion and that the fact that it is currently very difficult to bicycle in many locations in Virginia not be used to determine future demand for bicycling for a that particular location.

Page 22
Does the Maintenance Best Practices Manual address issues related to snow removal also on bicycle facilities? Snow and its management causes many issues for bicyclists in Virginia. Frequently snow is piled on facilities used by bicyclists. Snow can take weeks to melt causing facilities to be unusable long after the storm is over. In addition, piling of snow in the area of intersections and entrances can cause sight distance problems which are a issue for bicycling. After melting, this plowed snow frequently leaves behind sand and gravel on bicycling facilities that makes braking difficult for bicyclists.

In the textbox discussion of the shared responsibility between VDOT and local jurisdictions for maintenance, it is unclear who would be responsible for shared-use paths.

Manual of the Structure and Bridge Division: How are bicycling facilities addressed in relation to tunnel design? Is there another manual that addresses the topic?

Chapter 5: Program and Policy Recommendations

Page 24
1.1: Supplemental Bicycle Design Policies and Procedures -- There is discussion regarding the need to provide further guidance about determining the appropriate type of bicycle accommodation. However, in addition, there needs to be guidance provided on how design decisions regarding the road facilities for the motorized transportation have an impact on bicycling and the safety of bicyclists. For example the selection of the road design speed, the size of the turning radii, the configuration of the intersection particularly the right and left turns, double right turns, etc. all have an impact on bicyclists' safety.

Page 25
Action 1.3a - Strongly support narrowing travel lanes to 10 feet to allow for bike facilities.

Suggest modifying the action text to include wide curb lanes: "VDOT should consider issuing an Instructional and Informational Memorandum (IIM) that encourages the inclusion of bike lanes [or wide curb lanes] during road reconstruction and resurfacing projects..."

Road diets - Do VDOT Secondary Road Allocation Funds decrease for a given segment of road when the number of motorized-travel lanes are reduced to create bike lanes (as in a road diet)? In the calculation formula for this funding, bike lane miles should be included in the calculation of total lane miles as since they are also travel lanes. Otherwise, a situation could result where there is local reluctance to support a road diet conversion because of concern regarding loss of funding allocations despite the safety improvement and resulting decrease in crashes that could be achieved.

Page 27
1.7 System Preservation and General Maintenance -- Suggest modifying the sentence: "At times, existing bicycle accommodations are eliminated or obstructed in the course of maintenance or construction". In addition, provisions to prevent obstruction of bicycling accommodations should be added to the proposed actions.

Under Action 1.7c, suggest clarifying what is covered by the term "routine maintenance". Does it include snow removal, pavement repairs, regular sweeping and debris removal?

1.8 Shoulder Maintenance Funding:
Action 1.8a does not mention identifying locations that would be used bicyclists if a paved shoulder were added. In many locations, the reason there are no bicyclists is because only the most confident of cyclists is willing to take that route.

Suggest new action, 1.8b VDOT will track the 2% shoulder maintenance amount to ensure it is consistently and appropriately applied in each District.

Suggest new action, 1.8c VDOT will provide the annual shoulder pavement schedule to localities in time for them to provide feedback on locations for possible road diets, wide curb lanes, or paved shoulders for bicyclists.

Action 1.9a, update of Traffic Calming Guide: Are there common examples that could be used? As well as ensuring the bicycling provisions are included, the value of including bicycling in the design because of the proven calming effect that it has on traffic, should be encouraged and recognized as part of the fundamental design.

1.10 Updates to Manuals:
Action 1.10a: The action item specifically calls out the new MUTCD as especially important. However, there will be many new guidelines and design recommendations in the new AASHTO Bike Guide which will need to be incorporated into existing design guidelines. Will there be a specific time limit or process for incorporation or adoption of the new AASHTO bicycling design guidelines?

Page 28
Action 2.1c: In addition, this action could be expanded to ensure that there is a mechanism to communicate information consistently to advocacy groups and stakeholders in the local district.

Page 29
2.3 Staff Qualifications, Existing:
Not only is knowledge of bicycle planning and design needed; suggest that district bicycle coordinators should be bicyclists with enough experience to understand the needs of all levels of cyclists. It is not possible for district bike coordinators to "serve as an advocate for bicyclist and pedestrian needs" without that experience. Such requirements are often included in bike coordinator position statements.

Suggest adding 'bicycling field training' as a component to training for those involved in road design. It is difficult to fully understand the difference between the operation of a bicycle and motorized vehicle without experiencing it. While it is generally assumed in road design that the designers are familiar with the operation of a motorized vehicle, many of those who are responsible for designing bicycling features may not have bicycled since childhood or on public streets, and may never had received bicycle driving instructions. A field trip to test new design features or existing conditions would be invaluable for comprehension of the issues and learning how certain designs work from the perspective of the bicyclist.

Suggest new Action, 2.3b - District bicycle coordinator and staff should be bicyclists and have experience in many bicycle riding conditions. If they are not currently bicyclists, a training program should be added.

Suggest new Action,2.3c -- State and District bicycle coordinators and staff should also become members of professional organizations such as the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycling Professionals (APBP) and have the funding to attend important annual bicycling events such as the Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. and the ProWalk ProBike conference as well as webinars and other training so that they can stay current in this developing field.

Action 2.4a: Suggest stronger recommendation: "VDOT's Bicycle and Pedestrian Program should educate VDOT staff about liability issues to overcome any false perceptions regarding liability concerns."

Local Coordination:
Action 3.1a: Catalogue of adopted bicycle master plans. This is a costly task and would be very difficult for VDOT to conduct and to maintain so that it remains accurate. Suggest it be accomplished through District bicycle advisory committees (See suggested Action 3.1c)

Page 30
Suggested New Action 3.1c: Each VDOT district should establish a bicycle advisory committee (BAC) to improve coordination and communication between local bicyclists, planning staff, and VDOT staff. District BACs would would meet several times per year to review road projects and provide general guidance on development and maintenance of bicycle facilities. BACs could also help catalogue adopted bicycle master plans.

Action 3.3a: The suggestion to distribute Youtube video segments should be expanded to include driver education about bicycling safety. VDOT could encourage more people to use bicycles for short trips by providing public service announcements, fact sheets, and other encouragement materials.

Suggested Action 3.3b: Images and Photos: Currently VDOT maintains a collection of high-quality photographs taken by VDOT staff photgraphers of newly constructed facilities on the VDOT Flickr site. It would be beneifical to expand this resource to include more photographs of new-installed bicycling facilities constructed by VDOT and also to show a diverse range of the Virginia population (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) using these facilities. These photos are sought after by those working on bicycling documents in the state and for use in local magazine articles, etc.

Page 31
3.5 Bicycle Advisory Committee:
How frequently does the BAC meet? The subsequent wording in the action item about 'encouraging' members to meet annually is unclear: Does this mean that the BAC should meet annually or that any given member should attend at least once during the year. The wording is too mild: if a member attends less frequently than once per year, they should not be occupying a spot that could be better employed on the committee. If the committee meets only annually, suggest more frequent meetings.

Information about the BAC should be placed on the VDOT website: charter, composition, meeting schedule, minutes, and other relevant information.

3.6 Coordination with Department of Education:
Suggest new Action 3.6d: Encourage biking and walking to school and ensure that children and adults have access to bicycle safety education opportunities.

Suggest new Action 3.6e Provide guidance to local school districts and their facilities departments on the effect of school siting decisions on biking and walking to school. In addition, provide guidance regarding the opportunities presented for increasing biking and walking when road expansion projects are proposed in the vicinity of school properties. Biking and walking facilities will increase biking and walking, allowing school districts to save on bus operating costs.

Suggest new Action 3.6f Develop a set of policies and guidance to principals about permitting biking and walking to their school as well as guidance on how to improve conditions or make operational changes rather than limiting or banning biking and walking.

Page 32
Action 3.7b: Recommend adding community colleges to the list.

Suggest new Action 3.7d: Encourage colleges and universities and community colleges to provide bicycle safety education classes similar to League of American Bicyclist bike education classes.

Suggest new Action 3.7e: VDOT should work with colleges, universities and community colleges in Commonwealth to encourage research on bicycling issues in the Commonwealth. This could include benchmarking, testing, measuring impacts of programs. Research programs could be established in conjunction with public health departments as well as engineering and planning departments.

Action 3.8a Coordination with park agencies: Very weak recommendation. Suggest new statement such as "VDOT encourages providing non-motorized access to national, state, and local parks."

Action 3.9a: Add "VDOT supports the concept of bicycle access along rail corridors and will work with DRPT to facilitate implementation of these facilities.

Element 4 Measure and evaluate progress:
Suggest including bicycles in motorized vehicle counts as one of the recommendations (if not already being done). Also, in addition to tracking rates of bicycling, recommend tracking the diversity of who is bicycling, tracking the gender and general age range of those using facilities. In addition public health measurements could be added to the list tracking items.

Page 33
Action 4.2a: VDOT should establish a long-term pedestrian and bicycle facility inventory and counting program. Who will conduct this effort? These guidelines are very broad and will not get implemented without more detail about how it will get done. Any counting measures put in place should including looking at population diversity issues including gender and approximate age. Any counting system put in place should be per recognized national standard practices so that comparisons can be made with other states.

Chapter 6: Timeframe and Priorities

Page 34:
In the paragraph on mid-term recommendations, the second action should have wording that allows for more ambitious projects of the funding situation in the Commonwealth improves in the future.

Page 35
Action 1.5c Signs for long distance bike routes: Suggest Short or Mid term instead of Long term.

Page 37
Action 3.6b Road safety audits for schools: Suggest Short or Mid term instead of Long term.

Appendix A: Bicycle Facilities Accommodation Policy

Page 39
1. Bicycle Routes - Compatibility with Bicycling: First bullet: "The bicycle level of service for the roadway should be C or better." Some bicycle routes do not have continuous BLOS of C or better. Short stretches may need to be BLOS D. By stating that BLOS C or better must be used could prevent some bike routes from being signed that include very short LOS D sections. In Fairfax, some very bikeable routes were assigned BLOS D and these are established bike routes. Suggest changing sentence to something like "The bicycle level of service C or better for the roadway is preferred. In some cases short connecting segments of lower BLOS can be used."

The wording for the second bullet should be expanded so that there is a mechanism to fix and repair the "sudden or unexpected hazards" to allow that the roadway to continue to be considered as a bicycle route rather than eliminated from the process.

3. Bike Lanes and Paved Shoulders are Preferred:
Wide curb lanes should be included. Wide curb lanes allow sharing lanes with motorists and do not have the disadvantage of placing cyclists to the right of turning motorists. Cyclists have more flexibility regarding their position on the roadway with wide curb lanes. 14 feet is recommended minimum width for wide curb lanes.

4. Retrofitting Roadways:
Many existing roads would probably be good candidates for these treatments but it is unclear how they would become qualified.

Page 40
6. Bicycle Compatibility at Intersections: "Where appropriate, bicycle lanes should be striped though intersections and interchanges, even in locations where they are not present on the approaches. It is beneficial to provide bicycle lanes in these locations because they help bicyclists properly position themselves on the roadway, and therefore help to reduce conflicts with turning traffic." In some situations at intersections cyclists are safer taking a lane to avoid the right hook. Does research support this recommendation?

Page 41
10. Longitudinal Rumble Strips: Additional text should be added to mention the need for gaps in the rumble strips to allow crossing by bicyclists.

Proposed 11. Designing for Future Maintenance of Bicycling Facilities: Inadequate maintenance of bicycling accommodations is an on-going issue in the Commonwealth. By considering ways to reduce future maintenance needs during the design stage, those needs may be reduced.

Appendix C Travel Lane Width Reference

Page 43
Recommendation: Should add that wide curb lanes can be created by narrowing the adjacent lane. Wide curb lanes and/or shared lane markings can be used where AASHTO compliant bike lanes cannot be striped due to insufficient width. Rather than striping bike lanes in door zones, wide curb/outside lanes should be considered.

Appendix D: VDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Mission, Core Responsibilities, etc.

Page 46
In the discussion of the staffing and resource plan, suggest adding an explanation of the role of federal funds in staffing these positions and any specific federal requirements related to the program. Also, suggest adding wording about provisions for when the positions are vacant and time deadlines for restaffing them

.

2. Photo and Editorial issues

Cover
Woman cyclist in photo (lower left) is riding on wrong side of trail; woman cyclist is positioned poorly in the bike lane (hugging the curb). Since this is the cover, suggest replacing these images with better representations. However, we hope that any new images will continue to reflect the range of possible riders as these did.

Page 5
Typo in spelling of Commonwealth (third paragraph)

Page 8
Bulleted item: Bicycle Advisory Committee: second sentence: "This committee was composed "of" local..."

Page 9
Photo shows cyclists riding in a door zone bike lane. Suggest using better photo.

Page 40
"Where appropriate, bicycle lanes should be striped though intersections and interchanges, even in locations where they are not present on the approaches. It is beneficial to provide bicycle lanes in these locations because they help bicyclists properly position themselves on the roadway, and therefore help to reduce conflicts with turning traffic." "though" should be "through."

3. Additional suggested Virginia bicycling-related topics that are not included in the plan

A. Contracting and construction methods employed by VDOT
Increasingly there are different methods being employed by VDOT to construct projects. There is no discussion in the policy about how to ensure that the stated goals will be addressed consistently in the administration and policy documents for these programs and what will be done to ensure that those responsible for the design and construction of facilities under those programs will ensure that the needs of bicycling are included:

B. Funded programs around the Commonwealth There are several funded programs referenced in the document, including TE's, SRTS, HSIP, etc. It would be very useful to see how funds have been distributed or employed around the commonwealth for such programs as this would highlight areas of Virginia that are not availing of possible funds for bicycling improvements.

C. Construction limits on projects
A specific issue that arises is how the limits of the project are set and the impact that that has on the provision of the bicycling facilities. On major projects, the limits may be set to avoid addressing difficult construction issues with existing highway ramps close to the project. However, the new bicycling facilities constructed can be much less valuable because they do not extend beyond the construction limit and the existing problems at the ramp locations remain unaddressed. A possible solution is to allow extension of just the bicycle facility where appropriate.

D. DMV educational materials
Need to ensure that adequate and appropriate bicycle safety information is included in driver education and testing materials provided by the DMV.

E. Training for those who provide contracted services to VDOT
While the plan discusses providing training and guidance to VDOT staff in various departments, what about for those who provide contracted services to VDOT, sometimes for the identical services? For example, construction contractors need to be aware of the safety and access issues for bicyclists during construction. Snow removal contractors need an awareness of the issues related to piling snow that doesn't melt for weeks on bicycling facilities. Much of VDOT's work is carried out by contracted employees and there is need to ensure that two levels of standards for bicycling safety and access do not develop depending on whether the work was carried out in-house or not.

F. Modeling of bicycling recommendations at Commonwealth of Virginia facilities and encouragement of employee bicycling
VDOT should develop visitor and employee bicycle parking recommendations for all state-owned and occupied offices using national specifications for type and placement of parking facilities. Guidelines are also needed for the provision of showers and changing facilities. We recommend VDOT develop incentive programs to encourage more employees to use bicycles for transportation. VDOT should also investigate the use of bicycles for short trips by state employees and on VDOT work sites. VDOT facilities should be a model for this type of transportation mode.


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