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See the plans for the L Street cycle track

The project to build a cycle track on L Street is moving ahead. DDOT sent over their latest plans for the lane, which will give people on bicycles more pleasant and safer-feeling way to travel eastbound from New Hampshire Avenue to 12th Street.

Images from DDOT. Click for full version.

DDOT has said they plan to build the lane this summer. The plans are at the 65% design phase, which means that most of the details are clear but there still may be changes. Do you see anything DDOT should consider adjusting?

L Street currently has 4 lanes. The cycle track will occupy 1 lane, on the north side, which is the left as you travel down L. The other curb lane, on the right or south side, will allow parking and loading outside rush periods and will be a travel lane during rush.

Where cars can turn left from L, the lane uses the "mixing zone" design, where left-turning cars merge into the bike lane and mix with bikes approaching the intersection. There are also "bike boxes" at each corner, letting cyclists move in front of waiting traffic, such as when they plan to turn right.

The lane will have flexible posts all along the length, to remind drivers not to drive in the lane. As with all of the new bicycle facilities, some people will be confused at first, and there will be some complaints from drivers and/or cyclists.

We've found that while neither is perfect, the 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes now work very well, and have contributed to more and more people biking in DC. DDOT will learn from those, and from the L Street lane. It will make changes to these lanes and future ones.

This lane will only help people ride eastbound. To head west, people have to mix with traffic on M Street or use other routes. DDOT plans a lane on M, though officials have not given a timeframe for that one. Hopefully it can follow soon after L Street.

With this and future lanes, people will feel much more comfortable commuting or running errands downtown by bike, making cycling safer for everyone and reducing the level of car traffic on our roads.

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. 


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Does anyone know -- is the bike track just one-way? The arrows make it look that way (west to east). If so, is there a plan for a track in the other direction on another street?

by JMS on Mar 28, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

So sorry -- I should have read more completely. The article answers my questions. Please delete these two comments, so as to not waste anyone's time.

by JMS on Mar 28, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

The one way signs at 18th and 21st are both pointing in the wrong direction so there's no need for bike boxes at those two lights because you can't turn right.

by alan on Mar 28, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

Concerned with the mixed lane at left turns.. You know there are going to be plenty of problems - they don't do that on the 15th St cycletrack, why do it here? Also not a fan of only installing one way (though I enjoy cycling down M much more than L) at a time.. Why not just make L two way? Eleven feet is plenty wide for two lanes, no?

In general though, I'm excited they are truly moving forward with this. Can't wait to ride down it this summer. :)

by Laura on Mar 28, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

Er, 18th and 20th. Sorry.

by alan on Mar 28, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

Congrats to DDOT, this looks awesome. I'll be interested to see how the mixing left turns work out.

by MLD on Mar 28, 2012 3:03 pm • linkreport

@Laura -- I wonder if, by using two one-way cycle tracks (on L and M), the biking experience will be smoother with respect to the timing of traffic signals. I know that's one of my pet peeves of riding south on the 15th street track... I can rarely go more than a couple of blocks before hitting a red light.

by Jacques on Mar 28, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

I'm disappointed that the city is not making a stronger effort to eliminate one-way streets in general. A two-way street (allowing automobile and cyclist traffic to go both ways) would help calm traffic.

L Street is a drag strip now. That won't change with this design, and I'd be concerned about cars speeding up to get into the left turn lane at corners and colliding with cyclists.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 28, 2012 3:11 pm • linkreport

The left turn lanes are fine... if cyclists and drivers know how to use them, and who would have the right-of-way, but I don't see that happening.

I also don't see the reason for the bike boxes at intersections. If cyclists are staying in the bike lane, why line up in front of traffic?

I have no problem with it being one way, but as with many bike lanes in D.C., salmon biking will be a problem because some cyclists are too lazy to go a block to a correct bike lane.

This plan also seems to separate cyclists and traffic too much. Neither L or M are particularly fast moving boulevards (in my opinion) and this will lead to drivers yelling at any bikes in "their" lanes. This seems to be more bike segregation. Would I be prevented from merging right into traffic for a right turn?

I'm glad they're saying this is on 65% done.

by @SamuelMoore on Mar 28, 2012 3:15 pm • linkreport

The key to success of course is the left turn control for motor vehicles. This is different from 15th in one significant aspect: aside from intersections, 15th doesn't have as much turning traffic as L Street. 15th has its share of alleys and "half" streets, but those are much less frequently used than the many entries to parking garages and alleys along L. As a result, motorists along L are less likely to be familiar with moving cyclists than residents along 15th.

What's happening mid-block between 21st and 20th, in front of For Eyes, with the "Begin Left Turn Lane" sign? Is that stretch leading up to 20th shared between bikes and cars? Why not separated and signal controlled like on 15th? There are already left-turn signal controlled intersections on L (e.g. at Connecticut).

Same comment at 18th, but doubly so, as there are two motor vehicle lanes going left, increasing visibility issues.

There was another "Begin Left Turn Lane" sign that seemed to be too far in advance of the separator.

by Jack Love on Mar 28, 2012 3:30 pm • linkreport

Why is it on the left? Why not put the parked cars on the left, and the bikes on the right?

by Jasper on Mar 28, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

Fully separated cycle tracks are often better placed on the left side of one-way streets because it avoids conflicts with buses and taxis (which often discharge in the bike lane or if not, which require disembarking passengers to walk across the bike lane).

by Matt Johnson on Mar 28, 2012 3:34 pm • linkreport

If I'm in the cycletrack, coming up on an intersection with a left turn and there are a line of cars.. the light turns green, but there are pedestrians.. do I just have to wait for 2 cars to get through before the light changes again? More likely I imagine cyclists will enter the traffic lanes, which will cause confusion, agression..

Like I said earlier, I like it, but the more I look at and think about it, the more I'm glad it's only 65% done. Those turns worry me.

by Laura on Mar 28, 2012 3:34 pm • linkreport

This does look nice, and a good start. It's hard not to admire this without then launching into a wishlist of what should come next. So here goes...

Obviously there will be pressure to get a westbound lane going. The idea of westbound M is good.

I'm also curious what happens outside downtown (west of 25th and east of 12th St.):

- Georgetown could be more bike friendly.

- Also, a huge hurdle for cyclists (and local drivers and pedestrians) is the mess created by Florida and New York Avenues and North Capitol St., which cuts off Northwest DC from NoMa, the Met Branch Trail, and the rest of Northeast. It's all good for Maryland commuters who want to get through the area as quickly as possible, but harms neighborhoods on either side of the mess. A safe crossing at M or N or P St. would do wonders.

by Ward 1 Guy on Mar 28, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

That is some of last non metered parking in the area. On weekends it is getting impossible to park.

With the space they are using, why not two way

by Charlie on Mar 28, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

These mixing zones are no different than most bike lanes in DC where the car merges into the bike lane before turning right. The car has the right of way, and cyclists are not supposed to pass on the right...

by @SamuelMoore on Mar 28, 2012 3:45 pm • linkreport

There are *12* bike boxes in this plan. That's what, 6 times more than we have in the entire region right now? Cool aspect.

by BeyondDC on Mar 28, 2012 3:47 pm • linkreport

The cycle track will be one way given that the traffic flow is only one way.

by hellyhellms on Mar 28, 2012 3:48 pm • linkreport

hellyhellms: Your comment makes no sense. The cycletrack on 15th St. NW is two-way, and automotive flow is one-way.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 28, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

hellyhellms: That really doesn't prove anything. 15th Street is one-way but has a two-way cycle track. That said, it's clear from the plans this will be a one-way track.

by BeyondDC on Mar 28, 2012 3:53 pm • linkreport

Geoffrey, taking out one-way streets is a horrible idea. They are now often the only efficient ways through the District for drivers and bikers alike. They don't take anything away from pedestrians. If you feel people are going too fast, that's a case for more speeding enforcement, not for reducing system capacity for no other benefit.

Personally, as someone who is on foot most of the time, I think red-light enforcement should be a WAY higher priority than speed enforcement. Almost all of my near misses come at the hands of people who blatantly run red lights.

by dal20402 on Mar 28, 2012 3:54 pm • linkreport

I think two-way would be welcome in theory, but is the 8' alloted to the bike travel lane enough space? How wide are the 15th Street lanes?

by OctaviusIII on Mar 28, 2012 3:58 pm • linkreport

dal20402: Ah, but there's a point you gloss over in your comment - you mention speeding enforcement, but the fact is that turning a street from one-way back to two-way traffic is a very effective form of speeding enforcement.

When motorists are aware that they have to be concerned about traffic moving in two directions, they're apt to drive more cautiously than those on a one-way street who are not actively thinking about opposing traffic.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 28, 2012 3:59 pm • linkreport

The district is doing something right?

Who would've thunked.

by HogWash on Mar 28, 2012 4:02 pm • linkreport

These mixing zones are no different than most bike lanes in DC where the car merges into the bike lane before turning right. The car has the right of way, and cyclists are not supposed to pass on the right...

Bikes have the right-of-way when cars merge to turn right and are not expected to get out of the way to let a car merge in. You're mistaking right-of-way for "I should be able to travel forward in a straight line in this lane without anyone ever pulling in front of me ever."

by MLD on Mar 28, 2012 4:05 pm • linkreport

Count me against making the L St cycle track 2-way. I much dislike 15th for that very reason.

We'll see how the mixing zone approach works. I would have preferred that motorists just remain in their lane and get a left arrow to turn (while the cycletrack has a red) as part of the signal phase.

Why is it that DC feels compelled with every new bike infrastructure to take a new approach? Can't we just agree on what is best practice and do it the that way everywhere?

by JeffB on Mar 28, 2012 4:16 pm • linkreport

Geoffrey, that may be true, but it's not worth it. If you doubt me, just try biking east through the District on L Street and then on K Street, or south on 9th Street and then on 7th Street. A trip that may take three minutes on one of the one-way streets with well-timed signals will take you ten minutes on the equivalent two-way street, where you can't time the signals for efficient travel nearly as effectively.

Pedestrian- and bike-friendly road design does not require bringing traffic to a total halt, which getting rid of the one-way streets would do.

Another alternative is what Portland does. They have a downtown grid made up almost entirely of one-way streets, but the signals are timed for traffic moving at about 20 mph. Drivers learn there is usually no point in going faster, but the efficiency benefits of the one-way streets remain.

by dal20402 on Mar 28, 2012 4:17 pm • linkreport


Doesn't finding the best practice first require that we try out available options and THEN decide what's best?

You've already decided that left turn arrows are best but personally I disagree and I think this method could have some advantages.

by MLD on Mar 28, 2012 4:24 pm • linkreport

Can we do something to alert pedestrians that they should not stand in the bike lanes as they attempt to cross (southbound) at intersections? I had to give a heads up to 4 oblivious peds (+1 walking on bike lane instead of sidewalk...) today on 15thStNW.

by Crash on Mar 28, 2012 4:29 pm • linkreport

@ Matt Johnson: Fully separated cycle tracks are often better placed on the left side of one-way streets because it avoids conflicts with buses and taxis (which often discharge in the bike lane or if not, which require disembarking passengers to walk across the bike lane).

The solution is to put the bus stops and parked cars between the bike lane and the cars.

Like this:

View Larger Map

by Jasper on Mar 28, 2012 4:35 pm • linkreport

I like to think we are a generation behind Portland and Portland is a generation behind some European practices. So we in DC shouldn't have to be in an experimentation phase.

I'd like to see planning done with a first priority on mass transit, second priority on pedestrians and cyclists and then focus on the needs of motorists. By directing left turning motorists block the cycle track and not a travel lane we can see who the city is still prioritizing.

Cyclists can adapt as it is in their DNA from having always adapted to a car-centric world. But can the motorists keep up with all these different implementations?

by JeffB on Mar 28, 2012 4:36 pm • linkreport

Why not start two blocks away at the start of L and 25th right by the Trader Joe's? There are a lot of bikers who ride over there now that have to deal with either super-narrow sidewalks or two lanes from Penn merging into a single lane of L (during non-rush hour). Seems to me you want to cater to the individuals using the service and that would be the logical place to start.

by jc on Mar 28, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

jc: I wholeheartedly agree with you. My bet is, with the coming reconstruction of the entire block that the West End library is located on, DDOT doesn't want to mess with striping a cycletrack there, since the road will probably be narrowed for construction for at least a year.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 28, 2012 4:43 pm • linkreport


If you look at the left edge of the diagram it lists it as being in another project and shows a shared left-turn lane so I think Geoffrey is right.

Maybe they are planning to add that section later.

by MLD on Mar 28, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

God I love the Penn Cycle Track... except when cops park in it, outside the Wilson/Reagan buildings...

by Jeff on Mar 28, 2012 5:00 pm • linkreport

I though the west end project died.

The problem is the intersecton of L and New Hamshire. It is a real mess, and traffic gets very caught there. Combination of tricky turn, bad merges and bad light patterns. Fix that before you worry about a cycletrack. L is also a lot narrower there.

by charlie on Mar 28, 2012 5:19 pm • linkreport

I'd rather DDOT focus on a 2-way cycletrack on M Street, as was proposed during the ThinkBike workshop a year-and-a-half ago. Besides there already being precedent for a 2-way cycletrack on a 1-way street (signal timing notwithstanding), M Street has farther reach than L. L is hamstrung by the 3rd St tunnel...M isn't (though both are hamstrung by New York Ave). M also directly connects with 2 Metro stations (Mt. Vernon Sq and NoMA/Florida Ave), vice 1 for L (Farragut North).

by Froggie on Mar 28, 2012 5:27 pm • linkreport

I'm also concerned with the shared left turn lanes. The best aspect of the 15th St cycletrack is the protection from turning traffic. The design here should be the same.

by jonglix on Mar 28, 2012 5:35 pm • linkreport

The West End project has not died. It is still moving forward in the slow way that development projects do until suddenly cranes and construction trucks show up.

by David Alpert on Mar 28, 2012 5:42 pm • linkreport

This is hilarious! It is great, sure, but the bike boxes are on the wrong side of the intersection. If you are going to turn RIGHT from a LEFT-configured bike line, the place you need a bike box is on the CROSSING street, in front of the cars waiting there (as illustrated in the more normal case here ) so you can cross when the light changes. And of course bikes should be able to pass left-turning vehicles waiting for pedestrians to their right - why not mark the roadway for that?

by egk on Mar 28, 2012 5:57 pm • linkreport

I agree that they should just make L cycletrack two way. First of all, who knows when the M cycletrack will ever get done. If they make L two-way, we'll have a cycle track in both directions right away. Second, in a nod to our driver friends, it seems like we'd be taking away less space for cars by making L two-way rather than separate cycletracks on L&M.

I also agree that the cycletrack needs to be extended to Penn. There are two primary east-bound routes that are used by bikers -- M St and the Canal. Coming off of M going eastbound, you go down Penn for a couple blocks and it would be great to pickup the L cycletracks right there. Coming from the Canal, you take the ramp up to Penn and end up similarly a couple blocks from L.

On the east side, the cycletrack ends at 11th. There needs to be some kind of bike facility that gets you from 11/L to the coming bike lane at 9/K. That way, you can get to Mt. Vernon and H St.

by Falls Church on Mar 28, 2012 6:21 pm • linkreport

I conjecture that the one-way cycletrack approach is selected because it comes at the expense of parking; there are only 3 lanes through the choke points anyway and that will be preserved. The 2-way cycle track would come at the expense of motor vehicle capacity. With the one-way cycle track, and the mixing zone, the left through lane will generally flow, unless several turning cars are waiting for pedestrians. With a two-way cycle track, the mixing zone is not an option, so traffic will not flow through the left through lane whenever there is a single car waiting to make a left turn and a red left-turn signal. The 2-way cycle track will also have a red light more of the time.

This approach was not really an option for 15th street since the nearest one-way southbound street is some distance away.

by Jim Titus on Mar 28, 2012 9:51 pm • linkreport

but will the cyclists 'get it' that when another vehicle is in the left turning lane waiting for a light, they will either need to stop behind that vehicle or move one (regular) lane to the right ... and stop themselves at the red light? Currently most cyclists don't seem to know that there actually is a time and a place for motor vehicles to get into what is otherwise a bikelane. They endanger themselves and others when they then swerve around to the right of the turning vehicle ... to continue straightforward. This happens constantly. Maybe more publicizing of how these lanes work is in order?

by Lance on Mar 28, 2012 11:30 pm • linkreport

I commute on L and M Streets everyday and this will be very welcome on L. M is sort of fine the way it is but I get that a lot of cyclists feel more comfortable with a dedicated lane.

by aaa on Mar 29, 2012 12:05 am • linkreport

How it should look
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

by egk on Mar 29, 2012 9:25 am • linkreport

Finally!! This is very exciting.

I love that this will be one way. The 15th street lanes are too narrow. The bike boxes should work well too. I lived in Christchurch, NZ where they had these all over and they were great. I am pretty skeptical about the left turns. I agree with others who have suggested the use of signals for turning instead.

Two main gripes:
-Definitely needs to be extended to Penn for this lane to fulfill its potential.
-I really think DC needs to use grade separation for bike lanes (put a curb between this lane and the car lane). This would really help protect cyclists and would also keep cyclists in the cycling infrastructure. I was struck by a car while riding in the Calvert St bike lane on Monday and this would certainly have been prevented if the lane were grade separated.

Still, I'm very happy this is moving forward.

by Sam on Mar 29, 2012 9:29 am • linkreport

Does anyone know if there is a mechanism for public input at this stage?

by Sam on Mar 29, 2012 9:31 am • linkreport

GEoFREY, BEYONDDC guess your right! way regardless...

by hellyhellms on Mar 29, 2012 9:49 am • linkreport

Hurrah!!! I love that things are happening to give cyclists more options in DC. I don't mind riding in the regular lanes, either, just glad to see more bike infrastructure.
Yes I'm sure there will be growing pains, and the left turning will present a danger, but then that is the case with any intersection, honestly. Vigilance always.

by ultrarunnergirl on Mar 29, 2012 10:16 am • linkreport

Looks like a sound plan...solid design!

by Pelham1861 on Mar 29, 2012 4:21 pm • linkreport

Great diagram, egk -- you're right, that's exactly how I cross a multi-lane street if I'm riding to the left.

Easy way to avoid conflict between bike riders in a left lane and drivers who want to turn left: get rid of the left turn for drivers! The 15th St cycle track desperately needs this. I've basically stopped using it. Because of the left turns by drivers, the through-light for cyclists is just a few seconds, no way for a cyclist to make more than a block or two before having to wait through a long light cycle.

Manhattan basically *never* permits left turns across traffic. Well, now left turns from L St will be across traffic. At least limit left turns to once every three blocks or so.

by Shalom on Mar 30, 2012 12:53 am • linkreport

The row of hedges near the Bruegger Bagels on 21st and L needs to go as part of this plan. Cars darting out of that garage have limited sight lines of the oncoming traffic. It will only be a matter of time before a fatal accident occurs there. Other sight line obstructions along the route need to be investigated too.

by DCAjason on Apr 28, 2012 2:14 pm • linkreport

To the east, the plan stops at 12th St, one block short of the 11th St "bike lane highway." Add bike protection for this one block to connect to the two bike lane systems. Ideally, widen the 1100 block of L St to the North to make room for extending the planned L St bike lanes. An easily and quickly implemented 25% solution would be to add bike merge and right of way signage for the length of the 1100 block as bikes maneuver in car traffic to turn left or right or go straight at 11th and Mass.

Let's all continue to press DC, DDOT, and businesses to implement more bike and pedestrian friendly infrastructure. The squeaky wheel gets the oil...

by Jeffrey on May 4, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

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