DDOT’s Project to Automate I-395’s Air Rights Tunnel

A worker stands atop a vast network of air ducts inside the Air Rights Tunnel that help draw out harmful gases (for example, carbon monoxide) in the tunnel.

DDOT has a plan to not only improve the condition of the District’s tunnels, but to make them more energy efficient as well.  The Air Rights Tunnel—which channels I-395 under H Street, K Street, and Massachusetts Avenue NW—has received upgrades in order to become automated.

DDOT is doing away with fluorescent lighting in the Air Rights Tunnel.  The new lighting system is calibrated to increase or decrease output as needed in the day and at night. Also, the new lights are fixed to the walls instead of being strung in line down the ceiling of the structure. 

Another new addition to the Air Rights Tunnel is that the large fans—which are used to ventilate the tunnel—have been programmed to adjust their output to deal with the increased carbon monoxide that is produced during periods of roadway congestion. This will increase visibility, and decrease harmful gases for travelers inside the tunnel.

The Massachusetts Avenue NW bridge over I-395 and the Air Rights Tunnel.

The Massachusetts Avenue NW bridge over I-395 and the Air Rights Tunnel.

DDOT rehabilitated some critical pieces of infrastructure that lie atop the Air Rights Tunnel as well. The bridges on K Street, H Street, and Massachusetts Avenue NW that run over the tunnel were restored as part of the project.

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M Street Cycle Track Installation Now Underway

This week DDOT broke ground on the M Street protected bike lane (aka cycle track).

DDOT crews installing M Street cycle rack

DDOT crews installing median on Rhode Island Avenue NW for the M Street Cycle Track

Our crews began by installing a median on the south side of Rhode Island Avenue NW (east of Connecticut Avenue NW) that will serve as a buffer to separate vehicular traffic from the lane (see picture at right). Next week, weather permitting, we will begin work on M Street NW near 14th Street and New Hampshire Avenue.

We’re installing the cycle track lane as a “retrofit” which will not require for the entire roadway to be resurfaced. To install the lane existing markings will be removed and replaced with new markings for the bike lane. We specifically chose to implement the M Street cycle track as a “retrofit” to allow for time to evaluate the design and operations before making permanent changes to the roadway.

Although our schedule will be largely driven by weather conditions, we are eager to complete the lane within four to six weeks.

If it rains or snows installation activities will likely shutdown for the day and may delay the completion date. At a minimum, pavement temperature conditions must be at least 40°F to allow for concrete and pavement pours to cure and for pavement markings to properly adhere to the roadway surface.

We thank the community for their support while the lane is under construction and remind cyclists to be please avoid using the lane until it is fully completed.

About the M Street Cycle Track

The M Street cycle track, with a buffer of parked cars and flexible posts, will span over a mile on the north side of M Street NW, between 14th Street and 28th Street, and will serve as the westbound compliment to the eastbound cycle track on L Street NW. On the 1500 block of M Street NW, the lane will be installed as a “traditional” bike lane. Green paint will also be used for much of the block to increase the visibility of the lane.

For more information about DDOT’s Bicycle Program please visit this link.

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Parking in District Now Easier for Carshare Users

The District was an early proponent of carsharing as an innovative way to help reduce traffic congestion and competition for parking spaces. In an effort to make carsharing even easier, the District Department of Transportation is offering a new program where carshare companies can purchase a permit that will allow members more flexibility when it comes to parking their carshare vehicle.

Zipcar has obtained these permits for their entire DC fleet. Starting today, Zipcar members will now be able to park in Residential Parking Permit (RPP) zones while they are using Zipcar vehicles, which are all registered in the District of Columbia and carry DC license plates. In the past, Zipcar members have been unable to temporarily park near their home if they live on an RPP street.

An additional benefit to the program is that members will not have to pay at parking meters. Approximately 40 percent of parking transactions in the District are now made by phone – a process that is not convenient for individuals using a carshare vehicle.

All Zipcar vehicles, more than 825 of them, will still have home parking spaces to which they must be returned at the end of a member’s reservation. This includes 40 on-street parking spaces identified with orange carsharing poles.

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DDOT Upgrades Transportation Online Permitting System

The District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) Transportation Online Permitting System (TOPS) is getting a facelift: the redesigned TOPS—which goes live on Thursday, November 7, 2013—offers public space permit applicants a more streamlined experience.

The remodeled site offers users a more intuitive interface and frontloads a lot of important features so that visitors can find information about permit fees and conditions; required documents; kiosk locations; and permit types up-front, without having to log-in to the site.

An example of all the information that the new TOPS site offers about construction / excavation permits.

An example of all the information that the new TOPS site offers about construction / excavation permits.

For registered users, the TOPS site offers more useful tools as well. A glossary helps familiarize users with technical language. An interactive map features different layers (for example, permitted public space  projects, street tree locations) that can be toggled on and off by the user, street-view capabilities, and a tool that allows users to measure public space dimensions in an area.

DDOT’s new TOPS site not only provides users with a smoother, easier-to-navigate online tool for all their public space permitting needs, it also allows the agency to more efficiently process the influx of public space permits it receives. TOPS allows DDOT staff to review submitted documents electronically and provide revisions and stamp their approval electronically as well. DDOT has processed more than 90,000 public space permits in the last three fiscal years.

For more details about TOPS please visit tops.ddot.dc.gov.   To contact DDOT’s Public Space Permits Center please call (202) 442-4670.

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DDOT’s Keeping Pace With Increased Development, Permit Applications

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For a while, the District has been one of the hottest localities in the country for development projects.

Currently, there are more than 60 cranes hanging over construction sites in the city. The District has also become a “Top 10 City” for density of population per square mile in the nation. This break-neck development leads to increased economic opportunities (2,174 construction jobs and 1,419 permanent jobs were estimated to have been created by the 19 large-scale development projects that were completed in FY 2013).

With all of these factors in play, DDOT is running full-steam ahead trying to keep pace with the public space permits that all of this continuing development requires. In the past three fiscal years, the agency has been getting exponentially better at “getting it done.”

  • FY 2011 – 22,658 permits issued
  • FY 2012 – 30,621 permits issued
  • FY 2013 – 39,594 permits issued

This equates to 92,873 permits issued in the last three fiscal years and a 75 percent increase in permits issued between FY 2011 and FY 2013. These figures are sizeable, especially when compared to amount of permits issued by similarly-sized cities: Baltimore issued 7,133 permits in FY 2012; Denver issued 11,760 in the same fiscal year.

Despite shouldering such a heavy workload, DDOT’s Public Space Regulations Administration (PSRA) does not sacrifice customer service. In fact, their efforts at serving District residents and visitors throughout the public space permit process might be more noteworthy than their Samson-esque efforts of keeping pace with development in the District.

For more than a year, PSRA has helped DDOT receive “A”-level marks under Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s Grade DC initiative, which ranks District agencies’ customer service competency. In FY 2013 alone, PSRA had 167,000 customer service “touches,” which combines customers served through permits reviewed, calls received, inspections, and office walk-ins.

DDOT is doing everything it can to welcome new development, and the opportunities it brings, to the District.

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UFA Combing the District to Save Bees

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DDOT’s Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) is on a new quest to help save bees in the District. Bees play a significant role as they pollinate over 80% of our vegetables and fruit plants and without them we would have a very limited food supply.  With the number of honeybees continuing to decline in northern America UFA is exploring how to sustain a healthy population of bees in the District.

As part of a pilot program that was launched two years ago UFA now has nine bee hives located throughout the District.

The idea to keep and maintain these bee hives came about after UFA was tasked with removing a swarm of bees from local neighborhoods. With guidance from a local bee keeper UFA was able to successfully capture these bees and allow them to form their own colonies.

The members of UFA team assembled the hives, participated in internal staff trainings for bee keeping and have partnered with various community groups to locate and maintain the hives throughout the District. The host sites for the hives include community gardens, green rooftops and parks.

The Earth Conservation Corps, whose mission entails empowering at-risk youth to reclaim their communities and their lives, partnered with UFA to host a hive and is educating youth on the significance of bees and training them on bee keeping practices.

Now in their second year, the bee colonies have matured and for the first time UFA, in partnership with the District’s Franciscan Monastery, were able to harvest honey from the bees. About 15 cups were produced and bottled.  As this initiative grows UFA hopes to be able to harvest a larger yield of honey to donate to local community food banks.

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A Land Where Bikes Rule the Road

Signs in Denmark point bicyclists toward multiple routes in the area.

Signs in Denmark point bicyclists toward multiple routes in the area.

For many years, the District has been heralded as one of the best cities for bicyclists. The city’s reputation for fostering cycling has continually grown in stature: earlier this month the Huffington Post heralded D.C. as the “new U.S.  bike city to watch.”

“Of all the major U.S. cities reinvesting in human transportation, none has been making bikes work better for its people more rapidly than the nation’s capital,” said the Huffington Post.

Statistics back up this praise. More than 4 percent of commuters bike to work, which is more than double the average of 70 other cities in the  country.

Copenhagen, Denmark—which Director Terry Bellamy and DDOT’s Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration (PPSA) Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe visited as part of a five-day bike study tour of Denmark and Sweden sponsored by the Green Lane Project—is a little bit ahead of the District. Thirty-six percent of commuters in Copenhagen bike to work, making it a mecca for bike-centered transit.

copenhagen transit mode chart

In Copenhagen, cars often take secondary-billing to bicycles and public transit.  This is due to a 40-year evolution in transportation  planning in Denmark.

On Norrebrogade, a main artery in the city, 35,000 bicyclists make there way to and from the center of the city each day, physically protected by pedestrian pathways and traffic lanes by slight curbs. The bike traffic is so heavy on this road that Copenhagen transportation officials are investigating ways to ease bike congestion, a problem that rarely—if ever—needs to be solved in the U.S., although the District is starting to notice it in some places (for example, the 15th Street Cycletrack).

Bicyclists, pedestrians, and buses line Norrebrogade, which utilizes "Green Wave" signal timing to promote efficient bicycle flow.

Bicyclists, pedestrians, and buses line Norrebrogade, which utilizes “Green Wave” signal timing to promote efficient bicycle flow.

This heavy bike use is supported by a vast network of protected bike lane and innovative bike-centric signal timing techniques such as “Green Wave,” which guarantee bicyclists a steady series of green lights if they maintain a 12mph speed limit.

Cycling from Sunrise to Sunset

To soak in Copenhagen’s unique milieu, Director Bellamy, Mr. Zimbabwe and the two other members of the District’s study group (Councilmember Mary Cheh and the D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council’s Ellen Jones) routinely biked from 8 a.m. to after dinner. They rode approximately 10 miles per day, according to Mr. Zimbabwe, going to different information sessions and places of interest as Copenhageners do—with a set of wheels.

On their trek through Denmark and Sweden, the District’s contingent (which traveled with groups from Austin, Texas and Memphis, Tenn.) noticed small idiosyncrasies in the local infrastructure that further underlined the importance these two countries placed on bicycling. Railing-like “waiting bars,” for instance, were placed at intersections for bicyclists to hold steady to while waiting for a green light. The openings of trash cans on some bike routes were placed at a slight forward-leaning angle, so that bicyclists could discard their trash  while peddling. Small LED lights, which were embedded on the sides of bike lanes, would flash yellow to alert cyclists to an impending red light ahead.

A cyclist rests at a "waiting bar."

A cyclist rests at a “waiting bar.”

Although Copenhagen is a model for bike transit, Mr. Zimbabwe is quick to point out that there are some things that the Danes could learn from the District.

The District does a better job of promoting walking and public transit, he said. Pedestrians, for instance, sometimes do not have marked crosswalks to use when crossing bike paths, and have to contend with cyclists that don’t often yield.

All in all, however, Director Bellamy and Mr. Zimbabwe had a great experience in a land where bikes rule the road.

DDOT's Policy, Planning and Sustainability Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe; Director Terry Bellamy; and the D.C. Bicycle Council's Ellen Jones at Copenhagen's Nyhavn canal.

DDOT’s Policy, Planning and Sustainability Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe; Director Terry Bellamy; and the D.C. Bicycle Council’s Ellen Jones at Copenhagen’s Nyhavn canal.

“Copenhagen is one of the few places I’d go back to,” said Director Bellamy. “One of the reasons I’d go back to it is that, as a bicycle rider, the protected lanes are great.”

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