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DDOT seeks community input on R Street bike improvements

The R Street NW bike lane is an important east-west thoroughfare for cyclists in DC, stretching from Massachusetts Avenue NW to Florida Avenue NW. The only gap remaining is 6 blocks between Florida Avenue and the Metropolitan Branch Trail. DDOT hopes to fill this gap soon.

Photo by nolantreadway on Flickr.

On Saturday morning, local ANC Commissioners hosted representatives from DDOT to meet with residents of Eckington and Bloomingdale to discuss their proposal to complete the direct connection for cyclists between the MBT and Rock Creek Park.

The proposal calls for a combination of sharrows and protected bike lanes between Florida Avenue and the MBT along R Street. According to DDOT representatives, the choice of sharrows, rather than bike lanes, was one of necessity because much of R Street through Bloomingdale and Eckington carries two-way traffic rather than one-way, rendering the street too narrow to incorporate bike lanes.

R Street is one-way eastbound on the block between 2nd Street NE and 3rd Street NE. Westbound cyclists cannot legally remain on R Street, and either have to go out of their way, or bike on the sidewalk here. The proposal calls for a separated contraflow bike lane on this block. This design is similar to that of 15th Street NW, where a lane of parking provides a buffer between cyclists and traffic.

Segment of project from Eckington Place to 3rd Street, NE.

One goal of this project is to increase safety for both cyclists and drivers, especially for drivers on southbound 2nd Street NE, where the column of parked cars would obscure their ability to see oncoming cyclists.

Among residents in attendance, the proposal for sharrows along R Street was uncontroversial. Residents noted the unobtrusive nature of the markings, a sample of which was displayed by DDOT representatives, and that the sharrows will provide another welcome impetus for motorists in the area to slow down and be mindful of bicyclists and pedestrians (speed humps are already installed on this stretch of R Street).

Photo by nolantreadway on Flickr.

Of more concern to the gathered residents was the overall traffic volume in the neighborhood, particularly the truck traffic emanating from industrial areas along the MBT and railroad tracks, as well as from the FedEx facility at Florida and New York Avenues NE.

The ANC Commissioners present spoke of past agreements with these companies to limit the use of local streets for through-traffic, and how those agreements have been forgotten or ignored over the years. They also noted the difficultly of imposing weight-restrictions on R Street because of its status as a major east-west route and collector street.

Ultimately, attendees and DDOT representatives recognized the value of sharrows is more symbolic than physical. Unlike separated bike lanes, sharrows don't provide any physical protection to cyclists, who are still vulnerable to dooring or being squeezed by traffic.

Still, the sharrows provide an important psychological benefit, letting drivers know bicyclists are present and have a right to the road, and letting cyclists know they are welcome on the street.

As the next step in their process for community input and approval, DDOT will present at an upcoming ANC meeting. The ANC may hold a vote on the issue, though such a vote is not required for DDOT to move forward.

If approved, the project itself will be relatively inexpensive. Each sharrow marking runs about $75 and costs another $75 to install. Approximately two markings in each direction will be installed per block. Barring significant opposition within the community, DDOT representatives estimated the project could be completed before Thanksgiving.

Nolan Treadway is Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for district 5C-07, covering parts of Woodridge and Langdon neighborhoods in Northeast DC. By day Nolan works at Netroots Nation and by night he hangs out with his wife, Joan, their daughter. 
Jay Corbalis lives and bikes in DC, where he is the Manager of Planning and Communications for the Capitol Riverfront BID. Before joining the BID Jay worked to promote smart growth at LOCUS and NJ Future. He has a bachelor's degree in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University and is pursuing a Masters in Real Estate Development at Georgetown. 


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Thanks for this info, Nolan and Jay. I understand the sharrows appear to be acceptable (thankfully). Are the contraflow lanes part of the same proposal/plan? I would love to see those implemented before Thanksgiving too. Or will the sharrows go forward separately from contraflow lanes?

by J.T. on Sep 26, 2011 11:37 am • linkreport

Yeah, the counter-flow lanes and sharrows would go in at the same time.

by Nolan on Sep 26, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

We need better education on what sharrows mean. I don't think they are as obvious as some people think. I've run into a few people who don't know what they mean. I was confused the first time I saw them. That education *can't* just focus on the neighborhoods they are installed in. Visitors need to be able to understand what they mean.

by Kate W on Sep 26, 2011 11:42 am • linkreport

@Kate W

I agree and I apologize if Jay and I didn't convey that in our post. I was not sure what sharrows were before going into the meeting.

For anyone who gets this far and is still curious, 'Bike Sharrows' are for 'Shared Lane Markings' in lanes that are used by both cars and bikes. It's essentially the picture of the little biking guy and arrows on the pavement. (more info: )

All that said, the best way to help it enter our vocabulary, is to keep using it.

by Nolan on Sep 26, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

Calling this an "east-west" route is misleading. For much of it, it's a "west" route, as it is one way.

East-west travel in this part of the District is awful in general, whether you are in a car, bus, or on a bike. The diagonal RI, NY, and FL avenues dominate. The one-way streets make things worse and confusing (and htey are not consistently one-way or alternating in a predictable pattern).

I think this whole area is ready for a re-design that is aimed at moving people within the city rather than through it. All due respect to the authors, but this seems like a lot of discussion to end up with just sharrows here and there. The only thing that caught my eye was the mention of a counterflow lane. I think this paragraph needs elaboration:

R Street is one-way eastbound on the block between 2nd Street NE and 3rd Street NE. Westbound cyclists cannot legally remain on R Street, and either have to go out of their way, or bike on the sidewalk here. The proposal calls for a separated contraflow bike lane on this block. This design is similar to that of 15th Street NW, where a lane of parking provides a buffer between cyclists and traffic.

by Ward 1 Guy on Sep 26, 2011 11:48 am • linkreport

@Ward 1 Guy

You can see some photos I took of the plans for the bike land and sharrows here:

I can't argue with your idea of a more holistic analysis of east-west thoroughfares of DC, but the point of the post was to just cover the meeting and something of that nature would probably need it's own post.

FWIW, when I lived in Bloomingdale and attended American University, one of my favorite routes to get there was R Street (going west, and Q Street coming back), so it's definitely a major east-west route through that part of the city.

by Nolan on Sep 26, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

In my experience, east/west connectivity in that part of town is really bad. I live in NE and will generally take the MBT up to R St to get anywhere east of NoMa (to include Golden Triangle/Foggy Bottom).

Has anyone heard any updates on the proposed facilities on K St. east of Mt. Vernon Sq. or the seperated M St. facilities?

by chuck on Sep 26, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport

I already bike on this part of R St all the time. It's a pretty quiet street, and I've never felt unsafe.

by andrew on Sep 26, 2011 12:29 pm • linkreport

Mass Ave NW to Florida Ave NW is hardly a major thoroughfare for anything, but my ex-embassy friend Englehump and I can be seen walking there certain evenings, usually sharing a bowl and some important conversation. He might not have a bike though, what with the hump and all. Clothes don't fit him well as he also has a gap of sorts, but don't be unduly alarmed and please consider Englehump's needs in your future planning plans.

by andrewi31 on Sep 26, 2011 2:14 pm • linkreport

What about the L&M cycletracks!?!

I say keep the pressure on DDOT to move forward with this long overdue improvement even if that's not what the meeting is explicitly about. Don't let DDOT pacify bikers with a few sharrows here or there and then let them claim that they've done plenty for bikers.

by Falls Church on Sep 26, 2011 3:19 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

I don't think it's an either/or deal here. This meeting was to just talk to neighbors about changes they could be seeing on their streets.

In fact, I suspect if this goes well, it could help build support (albeit limited) for more of this infrastructure throughout DC.

by Nolan on Sep 26, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

This is nice, but if they decide to close the sidewalk next to the bike lane, as they've done on 15th street NW by the Dept. of Treasury, it will become a bike-ped hazard magnet.

What's up with that Greater Greater, can you find out the skinny on that situation and fill in us readers?

by sherman miller on Sep 26, 2011 3:37 pm • linkreport

@sherman miller

I can ask around about the 15th street issue around Treasury, but I would bet it has to do with security (theater).

on R Street, I want to be clear that there is no plan to ANYTHING to the sidewalks with this counter-flow lane.

by Nolan on Sep 26, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

I don't think it's an either/or deal here. This meeting was to just talk to neighbors about changes they could be seeing on their streets.

Good point but if someone who's going to attend this meeting could use this opportunity to ask a couple of pointed questions to DDOT on L&M cycletracks, that would be nice. It would keep the momentum and pressure on that issue rolling and hopefully they will get the message that no one has forgotten about it.

by Falls Church on Sep 26, 2011 3:50 pm • linkreport

I was riding on the sidewalk on R a few weeks back on the one-way block btw 2nd and 3rd and some punk hit me in the face and tried to steal by bike at knifepoint. Long story short, he got a ride in a squad car and I still have my bike.

If wasn't penned in on the sidewalk and had that contraflow lane to ride in, it probably would have been less dramatic. I'm all for this plan.

Be careful out there!

by Pat O on Sep 26, 2011 4:05 pm • linkreport

re: 15th street - contacts in the biking community tell us that the conversion to pedestrian use was caused by sidewalk damage during the earthquake. Interestingly enough, the Treasury no longer needs a security guard 24/7 on the east side. They slap up an ugly chain link fence and a sign that says tells pedestrians not to use the bike lane. The fence works but the sign fails.

re: Sharrows - OK, but what does a biker do when they end? Slap on a jet pack and lift off? The worse street marking in the city is at Madison and 14th NW. The street marking says that sharrows end ... so now it is ok to hit bikers?

re: Sharrows (2) - Does this mean that on other streets cars don't have to share?

by tour guide on Sep 26, 2011 5:12 pm • linkreport

@nolan appreciate very much your going to the meeting and writing up -- we need more people who do stuff like that. I hope we can crack open this east-west problem.

by Ward 1 Guy on Sep 26, 2011 5:59 pm • linkreport

OK, but what does a biker do when they end? Slap on a jet pack and lift off?

They continue on as normal. But without the aid of sharrows.

The street marking says that sharrows end ... so now it is ok to hit bikers?

Obviously not.

re: Sharrows (2) - Does this mean that on other streets cars don't have to share?

Obviously not.

You're leaving DDOT with only one option - no sharrows or bike lanes. Because putting in all the sharrows and bike lanes needed citywide overnight is not an option. And you seem that to believe that any interim solution gives drivers free reign to mow down cyclists.

So now we have no on road bike markings, even though they're proven to get more people to bike and in so doing make roads safer. Is that much of a solution?

by David C on Sep 26, 2011 11:04 pm • linkreport

It's too bad eliminating some on-street parking is not an option.

I ride this stretch (an often all the way to 14th) and the only change I would like to see is cutting a channel in the speed bumps for cyclists. I use a cargo bike (carrying an infant) and have to slow to 3-4mph when going over the speed bumps. I'm usually taking the entire lane because of the bike's width, and cars get antsy sometimes. They often end up racing around me at the first opportunity, and then quickly slowing for the upcoming speed bump.

by jefe on Sep 27, 2011 12:46 pm • linkreport

Jefe -- agreed! Those humps are terrible on my heavy commuter bike. I'm not carrying an infant, but more than one they've caused an unbalanced pack on my rear rack to dislodge itself. This morning, somehow, it caused my phone to bounce out of my messenger bag (still trying to figure that one out) and luckily no one was behind me to run it over.

Coupled with the terrible state of the road (in NE, anyway), these really are a hazard.

by Elle on Sep 27, 2011 10:27 pm • linkreport

I like the contraflow lane there a lot! I've tried going around a few times, but the big high school and the even bigger hill in Eckington mean that it's quite a considerable detour (at least 10-15 minutes) just to obey the various one-way restrictions. Every time since, I've just ended up on the sidewalk for that block or two, which is perfectly legal but feels terribly rude especially given the tight dimensions in that neighborhood.

Re: 15th St. I wouldn't mind the Treasury fence if there were actual construction going on, but as far as I can tell nothing's happening besides inconveniencing a whole lot of people. The attitude that "sure, they'll just walk on the other side of the block" shows just how car-headed these construction plans usually are; they wouldn't think of suddenly closing half of a freeway for a few years without doing major detour preparation, but somehow people on sidewalks and bike lanes don't deserve such consideration.

The other thing that I can't figure out is how I'm supposed to get past the Lafayette Park security gate, from Madison Place to Vermont Ave. Just a curb cut on that bulb-out would facilitate sidewalk-jumping, if that gate is to remain permanently shut (as the current Caution tape would seem to indicate).

by Payton on Oct 3, 2011 2:35 pm • linkreport

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