Greater Greater Washington

Fix the 14th Street bridge bike connection with 3 easy steps

Over 1,800 bicyclists crossed the 14th Street bridge on Sept. 13th, 2011, and that number has no doubt increased by now, but the connection between the bridge and the 15th Street cycletrack simply does not accommodate the level of traffic that uses it.


The I-395 sign support creates a hazard pinch point. Photo from WABA.

Most cyclists riding on the bridge in the morning rush are coming from Virginia to major employment hubs: Federal Triangle, downtown DC, and Capitol Hill. Those "in the know" riders are conditioned to the fractured connection between the 14th Street bridge and the 15th Street cycletrack. That's not typically the case with new riders and visitors to the city don't know about, or can't find, this important connection.

Improving it would also allow cyclists from the bridge to easily access DC's growing network of protected bike lanes outside of 15th Street, including those on Pennsylvania Avenue, L Street NW, and, soon, M Street NW. Extending the 15th Street cycletrack would give cyclists access to downtown bike lanes and multi-use paths on the National Mall.

Three easy projects would help to better connect the 14th Street Bridge to the 15th Street cycletracks.

Extend the 15th cycletrack one block south, to Constitution Avenue

Currently, the cycletrack on 15th Street NW ends at Pennsylvania Avenue. Bicyclists headed south are dumped onto a wide street with many tour buses and fast-moving traffic. Less experienced riders often choose the sidewalk, which has heavy pedestrian traffic and is often filled with vendors selling T-shirts and hats. DDOT's original cycletrack plans included an extension one block south, but that was never built. So let's build it!

Sign the route

The National Mall is filled with multi-use sidewalks to view our national memorials. There is plenty of space on these paths that pedestrians and bicyclists can share. But new riders and tourists do not know the bike routes across the Mall. Wayfinding signs communication the bike route for those traveling between the 15th Street cycletrack to 14th Street Bridge should be installed.

Those signs should also tell pedestrians to be aware of the presence of bicyclists. Bicyclists who feel comfortable using the road can still do so, but signing the route would give an alternative to inexperienced riders.

Fix the path to the bridge and multi-use sidewalks around the Tidal Basin

The paved path from the Jefferson Memorial to the 14th Street bridge needs serious repair. The 8-foot width is insufficient, and DDOT long ago placed an interstate sign support directly in the path of trail users. The path needs to be widened to at least 12 feet, and the sign needs to be moved.

Also, the multi-use sidepaths around the Tidal Basin, between the bridge, need attention. There are a pinch points and issues with desired riding lines, especially at intersection of 15th Street SW and Maine Avenue SW. Fixing these small issues would go a long way for improving the riding experience.


Image from Google Maps. Click for interactive version.

The 14th Street Bridge is a major river crossing for area bicyclists coming to downtown from Virginia. Now is the time to finish the connection with a few immediate fixes.

Cross-posted at WABA Quick Release.

Gregory Billing is Advocacy Coordinator at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.  

Comments

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Thanks for posting this as it as it is a major bike thoroughfare. The cycle track from 15th really does need to be extended to Constitution. I wonder if NPS or whomever could move the t-shirt vendors across (or onto) the sidewalk in this area so that it doesn't block the bike lane.

by aaa on Jan 10, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

This is great. I live in Mt. Pleasant and work in Arlington. I'd love to bike when it gets warmer but crossing the bridges kind of puts me off. I could save almost $150 a month and get some exercise in. Is the Key better?

by Alan B. on Jan 10, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

@Alan B. The Key Bridge is monumentally worse. I cross it daily on my Arl to Bethesda commute, and the connections on the north side, particularly to the Capital Crescent, are far more dangerous than the 14th St Bridge to the cycletrack.

by james on Jan 10, 2013 1:55 pm • linkreport

Alan B. Which part of Arlington do you work in?

If it's Rosslyn/Ballston then definitely do the Key. If its crystal city or similar you could do the key and then the GW trail but its longer.

Try them out on weekends leading up to when you'd want to start riding.

On topic: Why stop the cycle track at constitution and why not try to stripe something all the way to independence?

by drumz on Jan 10, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

Definite yes to extending the 15th street lane down to constitution. That road is so wide between PA ave and constitution - 3 southbound lanes (one of which always has the t-shirt and hotdog carts) and 3 northbound lanes (I think one is for parking).

Maybe they didn't build it because it would have upset all the tshirt vendors? Seriously, there are usually like 4 or 5 of them on that stretch. Extremely wide street: http://goo.gl/hpK19

by Nick on Jan 10, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

Less experienced riders often choose the sidewalk

Which is illegal Downtown.

There is plenty of space on these paths that pedestrians and bicyclists can share.

But it's not legal.

But other than that, you are right. And so are Alan and james. Key Bridge is terrible, because you can't cross (the road) on either side of the bridge. Which is also true for Memorial Bridge. And quite frankly, I don't even know if you can get across the Roosevelt bridge.

In general, it is a major hassle to get across any bridge in DC. By car because there are poor, if any, road signs. And on foot or two wheels, because none of the Potomac Bridges had pedestrians or bikes in mind when designed.

BTW: Pet peeve: There was a crash yesterday on Key Bridge (not the jumper, that was the day before). They cleaned the roadway nicely, and dumped a piece of a bumper and some glass and dirt on the side-walk. Thanks!

by Jasper on Jan 10, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

Rather a stange date to choose as your baseline data -- 9/13/2001.

by charlie on Jan 10, 2013 2:04 pm • linkreport

Uhh... it says 2011 charlie.

by MLD on Jan 10, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

I feel like that sidewalk which I guess is a "multi-use path" at the Tidal Basin is too narrow. Instead of widening it, it seems to me that NPS should redesign the high-speed roadway situations there on Maine Avenue and East Basin Drive to have a safe and comfortable 2-way cycle route, ideally mostly as 2-way cycle track but maybe some can be in mixed traffic but less harrowing than what's there now.

by David Alpert on Jan 10, 2013 2:16 pm • linkreport

Great points. I'd add the need to provide a better alternative for inbound cyclists from 14th St bridge along Basin/Ohio Drive. I don't like riding on sidewalks, ever, but that's the only alternative there outside of an insane salmon route or going the long way around through Potomac Park.

by Dave on Jan 10, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

@Jasper

That bumper was still there on my bike commute this AM, saw the crash happen yesterday. People drive incredibly unsafely on that very wide bridge.

About a month ago, there had been an overnight crash and a part of the jersey barrier was pushed over into the bike lane on the north side of the bridge, with glass and debris all over. I'm not sure who is responsible for maintaining the bridge (USPP? ArlCo?) but they don't do a great job.

by james on Jan 10, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

I read it as 2001 as well, but figured it to be a random coincidence.

I was worried about the Key Bridge because having driven across it I feel like it's crazy getting on and off even in a car. I'm in Courthouse so really there is no alternative to Key unless I go way out of my way and at that point i'll stick to Metro.

by Alan B. on Jan 10, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

For some historical context, David and I posted an article on the same issue last spring.

The existing path connection on the DC side definitely needs to be rebuilt...that's one of the proposals from the 14th St Bridge EIS. The problem comes in the connection from there north. There's the existing NPS path, but it's twisty, crowded, and a narrow connection at Maine and 15th. I talked with Jim Sebastian last year on this, and at the time any significant improvement would require NPS land and/or approval, which was considered pretty much impossible at the time.

It'd be theoretically possible, without needing NPS approval, for DDOT to extend the path off the bridge about 250 feet east, to about here. Any further improvement north involves dealing with NPS.

@Jasper: I have it on pretty good authority that, while biking on the sidewalk is illegal downtown, this prohibition does not extend to those "sidewalks" under NPS jurisdiction. So you can legally ride on the "sidewalk" along the west side of 15th between Maine and Pennsylvania because it's an NPS path. I usually do when heading northbound. Southbound I tend to stick to the street.

by Froggie on Jan 10, 2013 2:34 pm • linkreport

Thanks -- please move the vendors! We need that lane for transportation, not commerce. The vendors can somewhere else that isn't such a transportation choke point.

by Greenbelt on Jan 10, 2013 3:54 pm • linkreport

Just extend the cycletrack all the way south to the bridge. For the most part, the existing streets are wide enough to handle it with only minor modifications, and the level of bike traffic certainly is high enough to justify it. Of course, I suspect that NPS has some sort of jurisdiction over most of that area, so that pretty much guarantees it won't happen, but a guy can dream...

by MM on Jan 10, 2013 3:58 pm • linkreport

How about building actual sidewalks and bike paths on the bridge. Most of the bridges in DC are impossible to pass on foot; with the crap that happen on the Key Bridge the other day there should be multiple alternatives to getting across rivers, creeks, parks/forest and highways.

by kk on Jan 10, 2013 4:21 pm • linkreport

@ james:About a month ago, there had been an overnight crash and a part of the jersey barrier was pushed over into the bike lane on the north side of the bridge, with glass and debris all over.

Yeah, but that was fixed in a day, and I understand why that takes some time. You can't really lift up such a concrete block.

@ Froggie:I have it on pretty good authority that, while biking on the sidewalk is illegal downtown, this prohibition does not extend to those "sidewalks" under NPS jurisdiction.

OMg. Nothing can be easy in DC, can it? Makes sense. Nevertheless, every biking brochure about DC, and every CaBi map say you can't bike there.
The bumper should have been cleaned with the rest of the junk.

by Jasper on Jan 10, 2013 4:25 pm • linkreport

Some other connections that desperately need improvement:

-Between Key Bridge and Mount Vernon and Custis Trails, dicussed here:

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/12248/redesign-could-improve-dangerous-rosslyn-intersection/#comments

-A better approach between the Capital Crescent Trail and Key Bridge, which does not require walking one's bike up steep flights of steps between K Street and 34th & M.

-Improved connection and signage between continuation of CCT along Georgetown waterfront to Rock Creek & Potomac Trail at Thompson's Boathouse/Virginia Avenue.

-Better signage to southbound Mount Vernon Trail coming from the north side of the Memorial Bridge.

-A paved, signed path from the CCT just east of the Macarthur Boulevard tunnel, to Macarthur Boulevard at Sangamore Road, with signs marking the route along the streets of Brookmont (Maryland Avenue, Broad Street, Valley Road) down to the Lock 6 Bridge to the C&O Canal Towpath.

-A paved path between the CCT and the C&O Canal Towpath at the Arizona Avenue bridge.

by Frank IBC on Jan 10, 2013 5:49 pm • linkreport

I've looked into bike commuting over this bridge from Virginia to the Navy Yard area (and prior to that, the Capitol Hill area), and a few times I've taken a casual ride I came over the bridge and had no idea where bikes should go after that. In the end, I ended up just walking around the Jefferson and heading back home. Now, I think my best bet for bike commuting is if they complete the bike paths from the Wilson Bridge up through to the Capitol S bridge. I'll hold my breath for that one to finish.

Other considerations, mostly distance, have kept me from actually trying this commute, so when I bike I use my locker at the local Metro station. But I was definitely in the category of confused once I got over the bridge.

by Another Josh on Jan 10, 2013 6:08 pm • linkreport

FWIW, signage should be #1. It's pretty f*ing incredible how bad bikeway signage is in the city. There is signage on routes. There is no signage off-routes pointing people to bikeway routes.

Of course, I think bikeways signage should also be branded. DDOT probably thinks that what they produce is branded, but I don't think it really qualifies.

2. Too as I have pointed out before, I think the Bethesda Trolley Trail signage is the only signage I've seen that "alludes" to a metropolitan "system" of "bikeways" by putting it on a map.

That's kinda related to the (very good) points Frank IBC makes, in terms of the necessary linkages within a true metropolitan bikeways system.

Basically, the point is we don't have a connected metropolitan bikeways system.

3. If you haven't already seen it, check out the signage at the trailhead in York, PA. It explains their Heritage Trail, how it came about, where it goes, etc. I thought I had uploaded photos to my Flickr, I guess I'll have to do so.

The York and Bethesda Trolley Trail examples are the best I've seen in terms of trail signage.

- Bethesda TT, map sign, http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/4815455189/

- BTT, interpretation sign (Twinbrook Metro for both),
http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/4815455193/in/photostream/

4. Other trails or city bike routes have better branded signage. E.g. SF or Baltimore, but I like words and graphics, and I think the Baltimore design is too subtle.

This is halfway. Directed branded sign, but not other information about route, etc.

- http://ifyounevertri.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/photo1-7.jpg

Oh, check out this website: bikewaysignage.org

5. Related to 1, but you didn't mention it, is map signage specifically. I've seen a photo of this from Austin, but I've never seen it in person. Maybe David C. has more experience with the context.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/2233775856/

by Richard Layman on Jan 10, 2013 6:10 pm • linkreport

Like others have said, fixing that choke point at the freeway sign would be nice (maybe they could build out the berm), but as is, the 14th street bridge is far and away the superior crossing of the Potomac above all others. If budgets limit what we can fix, I would toss that money at Key bridge.

What would be *really* nice would be for a Virginia side connection to the south sidepath of the Roosevelt bridge that starts here http://goo.gl/maps/D3sWZ, provding a much more direct center Arlington axis to center DC axis. The north span's swing north has got to be further than the 1/3 mile out of the way that was problematic of the 11th street bridge. (and of course it's narrow and filled with traffic debris)

by Kolohe on Jan 10, 2013 7:37 pm • linkreport

"I've looked into bike commuting over this bridge from Virginia to the Navy Yard area (and prior to that, the Capitol Hill area"

This is close to my commute (though my destination is on the far side of the Anacostia).

it's very easy in the morning (because they're ain't no tourists) to head up the sidewalk passed the Jeff Memorial, cross over the road (to the right) at the first crosswalk, then make a right onto Maine Avenue (still on the sidewalk) and follow the new riverfront path till the fish market, then onto water street all the way to Police station and then to path that takes you to the Titanic memorial and dumps you off near Fort McNair. Take that road straight a few blocks to the ball park, go around that, and you're at the Navy Yard.

The sole current saving grace of the DC end of the 14th street bridge is that vehicle traffic, and like I said tourists, really aren't there in the morning, and in the afternoon, you can take the right lane the whole way as cars jockey to the left to get onto the freeway.

Also, I've never heard of people getting tickets on the sidewalk there, but I *have* heard of people getting tickets on bicycles going to the wrong way on Basin drive

by Kolohe on Jan 10, 2013 7:48 pm • linkreport

oh...

kk -- frankly the part over the 14th St. bridge is the best part. The connection from DC ain't great and as Kolohe points out, the connections on the other side could be a lot better.

A COUPLE YEARS AGO, I suggested to David A. and David C. and probably Wayne P. (Silver Spring Trails) that we collectively blog the suggestion that we/DC/the metropolitan area "lobby" for the next American Trails conference, now likely to be in 2015, as a way to raise the visibility and awareness of trails/bikeways issues in the metropolitan area.

I have been focusing on other things and haven't been reminding people of the idea, but it needs to be done.

Our lack of a real metropolitan bikeways program is a problem, even though bikeways are being expanded in many jurisdictions. E.g., the ART stuff is amazing, but how many years will it take to get the MBT done in both Montgomery County and from the DC-MoCO line through Fort Totten?

Or the post-ThinkDC bike workshop idea to make a cross town cycletrack on M Street to link the MBT to all the trails accessible via Georgetown/the Key Bridge.

by Richard Layman on Jan 10, 2013 9:15 pm • linkreport

and GB has seen the photos, but we should advocate for an Indy Cultural Trail equivalent crossing to get to the bridge across the roadway and amidst all the buses.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/6931624141/

(Had I been picked as the NPS Transpo Scholar, it would have been one of many recommendations I'd have made...)

by Richard Layman on Jan 10, 2013 9:18 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: The sidewalk in question, on the west side of 15th St. SW/NW, is even shown as a trail on DDOT's bike map. It's plenty wide, although the crowds get thick.

by Payton on Jan 10, 2013 11:22 pm • linkreport

Kolohe: regarding the Roosevelt Bridge path, I had come up with this a couple years back.

by Froggie on Jan 11, 2013 8:59 am • linkreport

@ Payton, Froggie: DDOT says: No biking on the side-walk on 15th from Mass to Constipation Ave.

http://ddot.dc.gov/DC/DDOT/About+DDOT/Maps/DC+Central+Business+District+-+No+Bike+Riding+Map+on+Sidewalks+Downtown

by Jasper on Jan 11, 2013 9:10 am • linkreport

The issues at the north end of the 14th Street Bridge are pretty obvious.

Northbound cyclists are pretty much forced to use sidewalks from the north end of 14th all the way to Ohio and Maine. These sidewalks are very narrow and are crawling with tourists, especially in spring. Wrong-way cycling is pretty much suicide. Observing roadway flow means a long ride all the way around the Tidal Basin.

15th Street on the backside of BEP and Holocaust is not too bad; that section is not all that busy with traffic, and both the roadway and sidewalks are rather wide. It might accommodate a bike lane marking. Likewise, 15th up to Constitution seems ok.

On the west side of 15th, between Constitution and Pennsy, is a wall of food trucks. Cycling southbound, I'm always wary of passing too close to them, just waiting for a vendor to come wandering around the backside of his rig, invisibily into my bike path.

Still though, I have to wonder how much of the official cycling policy here (such as it is) relies upon sidewalks. That's just plain nuts.

by Jack Love on Jan 11, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

Plus, the tourists like to walk three and four abreast. I don't have a problem with that (more tax dollars, thank you very much), but adding cyclists to that mix is poor planning. And it's off-putting to the visitors.

by Jack Love on Jan 11, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

"The National Mall is filled with multi-use sidewalks to view our national memorials. There is plenty of space on these paths that pedestrians and bicyclists can share."

I think this is all kinds of wrong. Granted, I use sidewalks around the city, especially in this area, but never at a commuting speed. Sidewalks should be for peds, and if you ride a bike on one, you should severely restrict your speed
to the current sidewalk load conditions.

Expecting a tourist to understand that cyclists are riding by, and expecting cyclists to keep their speed down, is foolish, wishful thinking.

by Jack Love on Jan 11, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

@Jasper: DDOT doesn't have jurisdiction over the sidewalk on the west side of 15th between Constitution and Pennsylvania. That's still NPS territory.

by Froggie on Jan 13, 2013 7:14 pm • linkreport

@Richard

Although they don't have maps on them, the neighborhood bike signs that DDOT installed in Capitol Hill last year are a great start.

by andrew on Jan 14, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

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