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DC learns from L Street with M Street bike lane design

DC's next cycle track is slated to open this August, along M Street in downtown DC. The M Street lane will serve people riding westbound, complementing the eastbound-only cycle track a block away on L Street.

Lots of people use the L Street lane, but cars and trucks frequently block it, and the mixing zones where cars cross the bike lane to turn can be confusing. Planners are learning from how L Street works, and will try some different designs on M.

Proposed M Street cycle track at 17th Street, NW. Image by DDOT.

The bike lane itself will be slightly narrower, and a row of parking will separate the bike lane from the general travel lanes in some places. Mike Goodno, bike planner for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), expressed hope these elements will dissuade people from driving or parking in the lane.

Both lanes are on the north side of their respective streets, which means that while L Street's is on the left, the M Street bike lane will be on the right. In addition to full-time parking along most of the lane, blocks where M Street is wider will also have part-time parking on the south side.

Because there's an extra lane in between, the mixing zones on M Street will be totally different. Instead of the gradual merge of L Street, drivers will turn toward the bike lane at a sharper angle, and are supposed to yield to bikes before crossing into the right turn lane. New York uses a similar arrangement for its Grand Street cycle track.

Mixing zones on L (left) and New York's Grand Street (right). Photos from Streetsblog.

One trade-off is there's no more green paint in the mixing zone. However, the spaces in front of driveways will be green, to make it clear to drivers they're not supposed to stop in the bike lane.

At some corners, like 22nd Street, there won't be a mixing zone. Instead, drivers cross the cycle track during an exclusive signal phase, like on 15th Street.

According to Goodno, many of the changes come simply because M Street is wider than L, offering more room to try different options for the lane. If they work well, some could make their way back to L Street.

DDOT will present its plans and accept public comments at a public meeting on Wednesday, May 15, 6:30-8:30 pm at the West End Library.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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I don't know how much it'd help, but it's worth considering a "Right Turns Yield to Bikes" sign or something along those lines.

by Gavin on May 3, 2013 1:26 pm • linkreport

Any idea why it will be on the right side? Do more people turn south than turn north from M Street?

Otherwise, I would think that it is easier to yield to someone on the left than to a cyclist in your blind spot. When merging left on L street, a driver can see the entire cycle track behind her. But when merging right, the car behind her could obstruct the view of most of the cycle track. Of course people deal with this every day along ordinary bike lanes, but at least one has much more leeway on when to make the lane change.

by JimT on May 3, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

"Any idea why it will be on the right side? Do more people turn south than turn north from M Street?"

In a word, yes.

I hope they figure out the timing, several of the cross streets need pedestrian only signals as well.

by charlie on May 3, 2013 2:18 pm • linkreport

Yay! This will be a big improvement. Though $5 the stretch between GTown and New Hampshire Avenue will have some very annoying salmons.

by Steven Harrell on May 3, 2013 2:26 pm • linkreport

can we put a speed bump on the "yield lines" so that cars don't barrel through?

by guest1 on May 3, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

I'm willing to give it a try, but the lack of green paint at the turn lanes makes me really rather nervous as a bicyclist. I like the L St. arrangement because it seems to make it clear to motorists that they're crossing paths with another mode of transport, whereas the the M St. arrangement makes it look to me like like the cars have the right of way when turning and that the bicyclists need to yield to the cars. Not an ideal arrangement for a bike lane. But, like I said, I'm willing to give it a try.

by David T. on May 3, 2013 2:52 pm • linkreport

For those interested in this project, WABA is holding a "Walk the Tracks" event Monday at 6:30pm to allow folks to look at the project area and plans with DDOT's Mike Goodno. It's not a substitute for attending DDOT's public meeting, but you can come learn the details and better understand the plans.

We'll meet at 6:30 at Thomas Circle and walk westward.

by Shane on May 3, 2013 5:16 pm • linkreport

Despite some design issues, big fan of the bike lanes. Question: do you have any actual counts on how many bikes use the L Street lanes? My office has a view right down that street, and I was shocked when I actually saw two bikers on it today -- normally is empty to the horizon.

Naturally should pick up once the westbound lane opens, but wondering if there are current counts.

by 20816 on May 3, 2013 7:36 pm • linkreport

Those merge zones are horrendous. It looks like they took the model straight out of NYC DOT. Pay them a visit to see why those merge zones are failures.

The current L street design says bikes have priority. This design means casual cyclists stay on the far right, and motorists swoop in, not yielding, and then block the crossing area.

Dont be excited about a downgrade.

by JJJJ on May 4, 2013 3:37 am • linkreport

If the green paint actually looks like that picture, I'm all for it.

by Mike on May 6, 2013 9:38 am • linkreport

This right turn looks dangerous. It seems there is a perfect solution for this, from the Netherlands. It's explained in this video, where the exact proposed design is tossed aside:

by dont_re_invent on May 6, 2013 10:27 am • linkreport

I lived and biked all over NYC until very recently. While I agree with some people that the NYC merge zone isn't the greatest solution in the world, I have to say that it's really not that bad. It's based on a Copenhagen design, where it has been very effective at getting a lot of people around on bikes safely. The video you refer to shows a design that requires a separate signal phase for cyclists and turning cars. This is ideal but VERY expensive, which is something the video referred to by @dont_re_invent fails to mention. Also, separate signal phases means that cyclists get less time to proceed through the intersection legally. Try riding down 9th Ave, south of 31st St in NYC, and you'll see what I mean.

In general, this is a very positive step for cycling in DC. I can't wait to ride it.

by Jacob on May 6, 2013 10:41 am • linkreport

Jacob, I don't understand where the "VERY expensive" greater cost for bike signaling comes from. The highly successful 15th street track uses the pedestrian lead interval signals as bike signals. Most of DC has lead signals built in already, although I don't know about L and M specifically. Put up a "bicycles use pedestrian signal" sign and reprogram the timing to lengthen the lead and you're done. The L Street track isn't deserted because of lack of demand. It's deserted because it is confusing and intimidating to novice bicyclists and experienced bicyclists are better off taking a lane. The M Street plan for merge zones is going to be just as intimidating and just as deserted, although at least maybe they won't drop random taxi stands in the way?

What's really frustrating about these designs and their lack of forgiveness for novice riders is that the increased bicycle traffic on 15th is truly mixed with novices and hardcore riders. The more comfortable newbies are riding, the more safer we all are due to the safety in numbers effect.

by Mark on May 7, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

I just watched that Dutch junction video and it makes me incredibly sad. The design is intuitive and treats road users with forgiveness. The safety is built in and shared instead of expecting drivers to look out for lesser road users. The merging design only works when drivers take an active role and turn their head. They barely see the rest of us as it is! There is no action I can take as a cyclist in the merge scenario if an inattentive driver goes barelling through right behind my field of vision. In the Dutch junction, all parties have an opportunity to abort movement and stay in a safe zone if competing road users do not yield. Two sets of eyes are always better.

This is all nuts. Can we just fire all our city planners and fly in planners from countries that actually know what they're doing? Why do we settle for halfway solutions just because they're better than nothing?

by Mark on May 7, 2013 3:54 pm • linkreport

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