Bike lanes could let cyclists avoid H Street streetcar tracks
Between heavy car traffic and the upcoming streetcar, H Street can be an intimidating place for some bicyclists. DDOT wants to give them an alternative with new bike lanes on parallel streets.
Mike Goodno, bike planner for the District Department of Transportation, has prepared several options for G and I streets NE. Among the proposals are contraflow bike lanes, which would allow two-way bicycle travel on what are now one-way streets. This gives bicyclists an alternative to riding on H Street.
DDOT's 2005 Bicycle Master Plan already includes bike lanes for G and I streets. Parts of the plan are already in place, like bike lanes on 2nd, 4th, and 6th Streets NE. A larger DDOT reconstruction and safety project is also looking at bike lanes on Maryland Avenue.
Streetcar tracks can be hazardous for bicyclists because bicycle tires can slip on the rails or get stuck in them, causing riders to fall. That doesn't mean bikes and streetcars can't coexist, and many world cities have extensive bike and streetcar networks. Small design features can help cyclists better cross streetcar tracks at an angle that minimizes danger, for instance.
But especially for cyclists less experienced riding around streetcar lines, the tracks pose a hazard. M. Loren Copsey has seen many crashes as owner of The Daily Rider, a bike shop on H Street. He says that they have had "numerous customers come into the shop directly after a fall with injuries and damaged bikes."
Last week, Copsey says he "saw a cyclist in the streetcar lane get caught and thrown over the handlebars. The first thing he said was that he was glad there wasn't a vehicle behind him when he fell. Thankfully he wasn't injured."
DDOT has a two-pronged approach to keeping bicyclists safe in this corridor. One is to educate riders on the dangers streetcar tracks can pose. Warning signs could go at Capital Bikeshare stations or be painted on to the roadway itself. There are currently some text-only signs on lightposts, but some could be replaced by more graphic warnings like this one in Portland.
The other way is to offer bicyclists the choice of another nearby route. That's what Arlington County is doing along the future Columbia Pike streetcar line. They're turning two parallel streets, one on either side of Columbia Pike, into "bike boulevards," low-speed streets designed to give bicyclists an alternative to a busier street where there isn't room for bike lanes.
Today, G and I streets are about 30 feet wide and contain 2 7-foot parking lanes and one 16-foot travel lane, which is wider than a normal 9-foot travel lane. DDOT is looking at 4 ways to use that extra space for bicyclists:
Option 1 paints sharrows in the primary direction of travel, with no provision for bicyclists to travel in the opposite direction. This is only a small step above a "no build" option. Riders could need up to a 4-block detour to legally reach a destination if they don't want to ride at all on H Street.
Option 2 also paints sharrows in the primary direction and adds a contraflow bike lane on the left side of the roadway, between parked cars and the primary travel lane. Any drivers trying to park would need to cross the bike lane. However, drivers will not be backing into the lane, improving visibility. The hazard of doors opening into the bike lane would be less because they would be passenger doors, which open less often.
Option 3 converts parking to be diagonal along only one side of the street, with a contraflow bike lane on the opposite side. Cars would not need to cross into this area, so bollards or a curb could protect it from the rest of traffic. This option may be the safest configuration for bicyclists, but would take away some parking spaces.
Option 4 converts both streets to 2-way traffic, with painted sharrows in each direction. In addition to allowing biking in both directions, this change could alleviate congestion in the area by reducing the number of turns and increasing the number of alternative routes to H Street. However, this option may increase the chances drivers would hit parked cars.
These options could also help residents find parking spaces. Each block has between 24 and 30 spaces today. Under options 1, 2 and 4, no on-street parking spaces would disappear, while option 3 would mean 4-6 fewer spaces on each block.
Streetcars and bikes happily coexist in cities from Philadelphia to Amsterdam, and they can in DC as well. On some future streetcar corridors, there may be room for bicyclists to get their own lanes. Meanwhile, in areas like H Street where there isn't room for bike lanes, it's good to provide an alternative route for those bicyclists who may not feel safe riding on a busy street.
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