Expect fewer delays

DC Washington construction ROW credit WABAAn open bicycle lane and clearly marked pedestrian walkway, such as this one in in D.C., are the exception, not the norm during construction projects. Keeping bicycle lanes free during short-term construction projects also help maintain the safety and efficiency of bicycle networks. Photo: Washington Area Bicycle Association

This post is the third in a series of case studies about Complete Streets people, places, and projects. Follow the full series over the next several weeks.

People on foot and bike are often pushed to the wayside during construction projects. New policies in Washington D.C. and Chicago could change that.

Construction tends to be a disruptive affair. The noise, dust, and traffic delays associated with construction of new buildings (or repairs to existing structures) and projects to repair water, sewer, or other utilities in the right of way can make anyone traveling through the neighborhood frustrated. For people who are bicycling, walking, or taking transit, however, construction can be more than a nuisance. These projects often block bicycle lanes and sidewalks, or relocate bus stops, forcing people to walk or bicycle dangerously close to or in moving traffic. Such situations are especially dangerous for people in wheelchairs or with walkers, and for people with a low vision. Drivers may not expect to be sharing space with people walking—and in some cases can’t see them when adequate lighting isn’t maintained through the evening hours.

A smart, effective policy to accommodate people walking and bicycling through construction areas improves street safety for everyone. In Washington D.C., the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) adopted regulations for accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians in October of 2014. The regulations were a result of a law adopted that earlier that year, thanks in part to the advocacy of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. DDOT’s regulations require the creation of a “safe and convenient” route that is “equal to the accommodation that was provided to pedestrians and bicyclists before the blockage of the sidewalk, bicycle lane, or other public bicycle path.”

The signature element in DDOT’s regulations is a hierarchy of accommodation types to ensure that the safest and most convenient options are considered first. Before a bicycle lane is rerouted on an alternative street, DDOT has to consider three other options to keep the bicycle route on the street. The first option is to temporarily remove parking to keep the bicycle lane open. That’s followed by an option to shift or narrow traffic lanes. If that doesn’t work, then a traffic lane will be closed to keep the bicycle lane on the street. The bicycle lane is only rerouted if the first three options won’t work. DDOT’s regulations also emphasize some existing DDOT regulations for prioritizing pedestrian routes. Pedestrians, for example, are only directed to a sidewalk on the other side of the street as a “last resort”. To ensure that the rules are followed, DDOT’s Director reviews the traffic management plan in each construction permit application. The traffic management plan must also include plans for signage that clearly designate routes for people on bike and foot.

Other cities also have rules for pedestrian and bicycle accommodation. The City of Chicago updated its regulations for openings, repair, and construction in the public right of way in 2014. Chicago’s regulations do not designate a hierarchy of accommodations, but set guidelines for bicycle and pedestrian detours. Temporary sidewalks and ramps should be at least four feet of continuous, clear space. For construction downtown, where the volume of foot traffic is always high, the guidelines suggest minimum widths of six feet. The regulations advise for bicycle detours that “minimize adverse travel” and mandate that developers replace bicycle racks and lanes after construction. While it may seem silly to mandate that the replacement of existing infrastructure, crosswalks and bicycle lanes have been known to disappear during construction projects all across the country.

The new policies in Washington, D.C. and Chicago recognize that people walking and bicycling are part of the transportation system. Ensuring that their needs are accommodated—and sometimes prioritized—during construction is further recognition that bicycle and pedestrian networks are not simply a nice perk, they are an essential part of our public right-of-way.

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This case study was written by Hanna Kite.

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