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Doubts about cycle track, concerns about process

DC's bicycle leaders aren't as sanguine as I was about DDOT's fifth option for 15th Street. WABA's Eric Gilliland wonders if there's enough room for the contraflow lane:

Image by Brave Heart on Flickr.
I think that you will need a wider buffer median between parking and the southbound bike lane. That could be accomplished by reducing the west side parking lane to 7 feet. A 5 foot bike lane next to a 7ft parking lane on what will still likely be a higher speed road doesn't seem to be sufficient. Also, I'd like to see how parking is treated at the intersections on the west side of the road. Given the counterflow bike lane, greater sight distances will be necessary.
Jeff Peel, of the League of American Bicyclists, is also skeptical, and replied with some questions:
  • How does DDOT propose to maintain the separated counterflow lane given that a street sweeper cannot reach beyond the quick-curbs?
  • What if any measures are being taken to make sure the church at 15th and T(?) does not continue to double park on Sundays, which would block the northbound bike lane?
  • How would the intersections be engineered to minimize conflict with the obscured counter flow bike traffic?
  • How will the counterflow lane be signalized? How will bike traffic turning south to east properly and safely make their turns?
  • What engineering efforts would be made to make sure cyclists can safely enter the counter flow lane from U Street?
  • How will the success or failure of this experimental facility be evaluated so that the city does not end up with other half-hearted designs such as the shared bus/bike lane or Thomas Circle bike lanes?
I don't know all the science about cycle tracks and contraflow bike lanes. We want to spend our money on safety improvements that actually improve safety. At the same time, I want to see some cycle tracks in DC, in places and ways that actually work. Is this the place, or elsewhere? With the excess capacity, 15th seems to be a good spot to give it a try. Of course, we should try our best to do it right.

Dupont ANC Commissioner Victor Wexler questioned why DDOT has abandoned two-way operation. "I do not think we should let [two-way] die based on this vague impression [of strong opposition]. I thought the two-way option was well received. And just how was this clear consensus (or lack thereof) determined? I do not seem to recall one."

Many of New York's recent innovations only happened because NYC DOT ignored the critics. They went ahead and plunked a plaza down in the Meatpacking District with much less analysis, planning, or input than we've had for 15th Street. They shared ideas and listened to residents, but didn't go through a year-long planning process. They just stuck some temporary barriers in, looked at how it affected traffic, and then built a permanent plaza.

DDOT's planners obviously feel like they are getting attacked when they try to make a street better. At the same time, residents and advocates feel that plans change unexpectedly and unpredictably. Is 55% (the level of support for two-way) enough, or not enough? What is enough? I can certainly see how Chris Ziemann felt there wasn't consensus, but setting policy by polling doesn't lead to the best plans. Neighbors often can't reach consensus on issues, especially difficult ones like road engineering where most participants aren't experts.

DDOT seems to primarily make decisions in one of two modes: either they don't reveal plans until it's too late for input, or they try to build consensus and end up backing off ideas, both good and bad, in the face of opposition, as on 17th Street.

We need a better process. The Zoning Commission doesn't decide a zoning variance in secret, nor do they take a poll. There's a well-defined process. First, they publish a proposal. Second, there's a hearing. And third, after careful consideration, they make a decision. Same for the BZA and the Office of Planning. The Council even does this, much of the time.

DDOT needs such a process. The goal isn't to listen more, or listen less, but listen consistently. Announce that a decision will be made. Post the details online and tell the ANC. Then hold a meeting. Finally, decide.

The irony, of course, is that on 15th Street, Chris Ziemann is actually doing something pretty close. He announced some options, solicited feedback, and held a hearing. Now he's soliciting another round of feedback. Next, I want DDOT to issue a recommendation that they feel is the best solution. It may not be what the most people want, or what generates the fewest complaints. It should be what's actually right for the area.

I don't know if a cycle track is safer or not. Reasonable people disagree. DDOT planners should review the available research, listen to our intelligent bicycle leaders who make good points, and make a decision. I believe two-way operation is better. Reasonable people also disagree on that. Again, I'd like DDOT to review the research and make a decision. Neighbor feedback is important to ensure that they thoroughly understand the facts on the ground. But this isn't a referendum. Whether, in the end, they agree with me or not, I want them to do not what's most popular, but what's right.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


amen, david. the traffic engineers at ddot need to realize, at the end of the day, that this isn't a popularity contest. do what works. people will complain for a day or two regardless, then they'll shut up and get used to it...

by IMGoph on Nov 11, 2008 12:00 am • linkreport

David, I was actually incorrect in my email response this afternoon- a separated facility is included in the master plan and planned to run from Independence to V Street. I also want to go on record as saying that I support the use of separated facilities and cycletracks where their application is appropriate.

While not included in the current plan, I feel New Hampshire Ave. is a better place to "experiment" with such a design given its slow moving, low traffic nature, and as we've seen, already being used in such a manner by cyclists. Also, as Eric's comments pointed out, hitting (near)the minimum of AASHTO and DDOT design guidelines doesn't give much confidence in the outcome. NYC's 9th St cycletrack is 10' wide with a much wider median-something similar could be accomplished with reducing Option 5's travel lanes from 3 to 2. DDOT would also do well to take a cue from Portland on their education and enforcement efforts around their bike box installations.

I agree that DDOT needs a better policy for public input, and Chris Ziemann had done well soliciting feedback without one. Perhaps that will come with new leadership at DDOT, if and when Moneme's permanent replacement is found.

by jeff on Nov 11, 2008 12:20 am • linkreport

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