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DDOT agrees to repave 15th Street cycle track

15th Street bike commuters, don't worry about getting those shock absorbers installed. Following months of appeals from the community and elected officials, DC will repave the 15th Street cycle track.

Photo by the author.

The 2-way 15th street cycle track was DC's first protected bike lane and now carries hundreds of bike commuters during rush hour. When it opened in 2009, then-mayor Adrian Fenty and Councilmember Jack Evans rode SmartBikes down it for reporters.

However, the cycle track has long needed maintenance. The parked cars that once occupied the lanes dripped gas and oil that eroded the asphalt, creating a bumpy bicycling surface. When the cycle track was changed from one-way to two-way, the southbound lane contained part of the street's brick trim edge, which is also bumpy but avoidable. Cyclists often have to choose between protecting their tires or protecting themselves by trying not to swerve into oncoming riders.

Last fall, I held a Dupont-Logan bike safety meeting with Noah Smith and Chris Linn, where we asked the District Dpeartment of Transportation's Mike Goodno and George Branyan to address this problem. The agency's Asset Management team inspected the cycletrack and put in a work order (WO#356774) on October 26, almost 8 months ago.

As an ANC commissioner who campaigned to solve this problem, I was prematurely pleased with this quick response. Since I was elected, Noah Smith, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and I kept reminding the agency about it.

Over the winter and spring, I went out to the cycle track and talked to cyclists. All agreed that DDOT did a wonderful thing by installing the track, but such a popular lane needs to be in better shape. Most complained about the unsafe bumpy conditions and several even said they had blown tires because of them.

We related these stories to DDOT without any progress. I even spoke to WAMU about it. "I've heard from people who've had near accidents because they were avoiding potholes," I said. "I heard from a father-to-be who wants to take his infant to daycare by bike but he's afraid all the bumpiness would be bad for the baby." (The audio story link includes a cute quote from a toddler and dad on the cycle track complaining about riding over the "camels" and their many "humps.")

Finally, Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT's Associate Director for Policy, Planning, and Sustainability, committed to repave the track this year. "It was always intended for us to come back and resurface it, but it's taken us a few years," he told WAMU.

After further appeals from myself and Councilmembers Jack Evans and Mary Cheh, DDOT agreed to move up the project and potentially start within the next month, according to Zimbabwe. We have proposed that the work start during the slow July 4 week and that the schedule avoid disrupting rush hour. To help protect pedestrians and drivers as well as bicycle riders, we have asked for better signage at all intersections, especially the almost-hidden alleyways off of 15th Street.

In the future, everyone involved would also like to see bike-specific traffic signals to prevent confusion and increase efficient traffic flows. This was among the recommendations from a recent study that evaluated the 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes.

The DDOT planners are also studying whether they can widen the lane slightly, so cyclists don't have to ride on the brick "gutter pan." Right now, Zimbabwe said in an email, it's not possible to narrow the car lanes any further, but they can readjust how they use the 11 feet between the edge of the parking lane and the curb.

Now, there is a 3-foot striped buffer, then a 4-foot northbound lane, and a 4-foot southbound lane that includes the bricks. Zimbabwe said, "We're still working out how we would address [this issue], but we could narrow the buffer a little bit or restripe the 7' of bike lane excluding the gutter pan as 3'6" in each direction, or leave as is since the repaving will address the asphalt/brick connection and make that better."

Zimbabwe said he and Goodno would appreciate hearing from riders about which they would prefer. Please post your thoughts in the comments.

Kishan Putta is a Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner who is also an avid District cyclist and health reform advocate. He has lived on 16th Street for several years with his wife Divya. He is also an active board member of Friends of Stead Park. You can find out more and contact him at


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The bumps don't bother me as much as the visibility of the traffic signals. Approaching R St northbound is the worst, but all the trees north of P could use some trimming. And my number one request would be to redo lanes north of V so you don't have to switch sides.

by Jon Renaut on Jun 17, 2013 1:07 pm • linkreport

This is very good news. Especially south of Rhode Island, the lane is ridiculously bumpy and very uncomfortable.

by Gavin on Jun 17, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

"everyone involved would also like to see bike-specific traffic signals to prevent confusion"

The confusion being referred to:

@Jon Renaut,

I agree with redoing the lanes. Not only would it help connectivity if the lanes north of Euclid were on the left, but it would also put the bike lanes on the passenger door side of parked vehicles, reducing the chances of being doored greatly. That said, I never have a difficult time merging over before Euclid. There are usually plenty of openings or slow moving traffic to allow for easy merges.

by UrbanEngineer on Jun 17, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

Southbound cycling is a challenge because the lights are timed for cars going north. This is especially a problem if you are going south and want to turn left. I think traffic lights for bicycles (like at the 16/U intersection) would be a good idea at the busier intersections and it would be nice if there were an opportunity or turn arrow for bicycles going south.
Has anyone else had this problem or have better ideas?

by Nick on Jun 17, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

Kudos, Kishan! I've been really frustrated by this for a long time and as an expecting mom I've been concerned that I might have to stop biking this route for safety reasons. I ride this route every day and can honestly say I've never noticed the brick gutter pan, so I'd say if this will delay the repaving, I'd say leave it as is. But if there's an easy fix, by all means. The places I have the most problems on this route are mostly in the downtown K street area (cars turning into bikes or blocking the intersection) and people coming in and out of parking garages. I'd also agree with the tree trimming problem mentioned above.

by Sahada on Jun 17, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

With all due respect to Zimbabwe, I call BS on not being able to narrow car travel lanes. If I understand correctly, the parking lanes and travel lanes are 10' now. Why can't we do 9 foot lanes? Why can't we do 9' parking? There is space, but not the will to reallocate it to non-auto use.
I'd argue that width is the biggest problem w/ 15th Street. Yeah, the bumpiness sucks, but most of the bumpiest bits are on the S-B side where you have to ride in the gutter. I don't even bother heading S-B on 15th anymore but instead use 17th.

by thump on Jun 17, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

Thump, I dont think any city in the US has 9 foot lanes.... 9.5 is the smallest.

However, parking can definitely go down to 8 feet with no problem.

If the parking is indeed 10 feet, id narrow to 8 and give 1.5 feet to the south lane and .5 feet to the north bike lane.

by JJJ on Jun 17, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

Great news, Kishan! I love the 15th St bike lane, but the southbound lane has gotten to be almost unusable.

by Trisha on Jun 17, 2013 1:50 pm • linkreport

Hallelujah. My rear end looks forward to the repaving.

by aaa on Jun 17, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

Joggers have started, um, sharing the bike lanes on 15th Street, more and more. Are there any written regulations pertaining to bike lanes? If so, what are the rules, if any, regarding the presence of other-than-bicycles? They're annoying to me, but if they are perfectly within their rights to be there, there's nothing I can do.

by Jazzy on Jun 17, 2013 1:56 pm • linkreport

@Sahada, I definitely notice the bricks when I ride here. You lose about 6" of the lane at precisely the point where it's most congested. I'd be glad to see them go away.

by Gavin on Jun 17, 2013 1:56 pm • linkreport

If I can suggest something unorthodox, I wonder if anything can be done to encourage pedestrians to keep out of the lane. I've seen pedestrians hanging out in the bike lane, especially at crossings. Generally, pedestrians seem to be less aware of traffic in the lane.

by Gavin on Jun 17, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

@Jazzy, it's not just me, then!

by Gavin on Jun 17, 2013 2:00 pm • linkreport

I just googled it.

It's a discussion thread.

There was discussion about this recently on the Capitol Hill listserve. Somebody wrote to the Mayor's office and got this response:
Dear Friend:

Thank you for contacting the Executive Office of the Mayor to inquire whether pedestrians are allowed in on-street bike lanes in the District.

Please be advised that pedestrians are not allowed in on-street bike lanes in the District, except in circumstances where an adjacent sidewalk is not present.

For further questions or concerns about this matter, please contact the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) at202-673-6813.

Here is a summary of rules pertaining to cycling & bike lanes:

From the document, "Where sidewalks are provided, it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and
upon an adjacent roadway. Where sidewalks are not provided, any pedestrian walking
along and upon a street or highway shall, when practicable, walk only on the left side
of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic, which may approach from the opposite

The actual regulation is in Title 18 of our municipal regulations:

by Jazzy on Jun 17, 2013 2:05 pm • linkreport

Given the options in the article, I would vote for leaving the lane widths as is. I don't like the idea of narrowing the buffer between the lanes and the parked cars since it increases the chances of being doored. I also don't like the idea of narrowing the bike lanes since they already feel fairly narrow. If it's possible to narrow the parking lane, as @Thump suggested, that would be my first choice.

by Laura on Jun 17, 2013 2:18 pm • linkreport

This is excellent news. Kudos to the author for his persistence, resulting in another great achievement on behalf of his constituents in a short period of time. Keep up the good work, Commissioner.

by Patrick Kennedy on Jun 17, 2013 2:40 pm • linkreport

Jazzy, note the use of the word walk. By omission, sounds like jogging is fair game (as would be skateboarding, roller blading etc)

by JJJJ on Jun 17, 2013 2:40 pm • linkreport

Jazzy, note the use of the word walk. By omission, sounds like jogging is fair game (as would be skateboarding, roller blading etc)

No. A pedestrian is anyone on foot. And "walk" means "move on foot;" you don't also have to specify that it's unlawful to "run" or "jog" or "traipse" or "shuffle" or "swagger" places.

by MLD on Jun 17, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted because it's a double post.]

by thump on Jun 17, 2013 3:00 pm • linkreport

Thump, I dont think any city in the US has 9 foot lanes

I think you're right...and I think that's part of the problem.
Let's take the Ford Excursion as an example. It's one of the largest passenger vehicles on the road at 80"(I checked large trucks and the Ford F-450 Super Duty is 96"...but how many of those are there in DC?). Most mid-sized sedans are in the 6' wide range.
So we're designing our roadways with a bunch of excess width which encourages speeding, especially when there is excess capacity (non-peak travel times). I'm saying that we need to build for a design speed instead. If we really want people to travel at human-scaled speeds in dense urban environments, than it's BS to say that we can't reduce travel lane widths. I'd also say that if big-city mayors and other politicians are serious about reducing automobile/fossil fuel use(they aren't), then they're going to need to find the political will to reallocate space to more efficient modes.

by thump on Jun 17, 2013 3:02 pm • linkreport

Sorry...didn't mean to post twice. I added a line on my second comment, but apparently didn't stop the "post comment" in time.

by thump on Jun 17, 2013 3:04 pm • linkreport

This will be an amazing improvement, as I live on Meridian Hill and use the bike lane daily.

Another issue I was always curious about is at the end of the bike track at Penn Ave. Why don't they extend the bike lane all the way to the Mall (Wash Monument, etc.).

Every time I have visitors in town I love taking them all the way down the bike track (great transect of the city). But, when we get to Penn Ave and want to go straight to the mall, we have to ride through traffic, tour bus fumes and scrubby vendors during the last block to get to the mall. Why not extend the track all the way??

by LA on Jun 17, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

Personally, I'd prefer we trying things in the following order:
a) shrink the parking spaces on both sides a little, if possible, to gain an extra foot for the bike lanes (total),

…but, if that's not possible,

b) shrink the buffer to 2 feet, and add more bollards to discourage door intrusion into the cycletrack.

The goal of either option would be to use the extra 1 ft to allow 2 4-ft bike lanes that do not require use of the gutter.

by Rahul Mereand-Sinha on Jun 17, 2013 4:44 pm • linkreport

I agree with Rahul. Best option: narrow the parking lane. Next option: shrink the buffer but add more physical barriers. I don't see this changing anytime soon, but Thump is right--excessive width in auto traffic lanes just makes drivers speed.

The width of the southbound lane is not safe, especially when things like wet leaves start piling up in the fall, so no narrowing, please.

The joggers with earphones in make me crazy, but I can't see them being regulated. I just hope they start learning to run on the left, coming toward bikes in the same lane, so they can see even if they can't hear. I hope that as bike traffic increases, the joggers will get discouraged and go elsewhere.

by Moira on Jun 17, 2013 5:08 pm • linkreport

- Ban trucks from parking there to unload stuff.
- I've almost been hit from cars turning into it multiple times (i look 3 times minimum)

by rob on Jun 17, 2013 5:33 pm • linkreport

Cyclists should make those joggers in the bike lane aware of their presence. A sudden loud shout usually does the trick. The fact that they are often startled by the noise cannot be helped.

by aaa on Jun 17, 2013 5:34 pm • linkreport

thump, you forget that we allow massive trucks into our cities. They tend to be wider than even the biggest Ford.

MLD, but again the problem is due to omission. Look at the segway debacle. If not mentioned, its allowed.

by JJJ on Jun 17, 2013 5:55 pm • linkreport

Way to go, Kishan!

by Sam on Jun 17, 2013 6:09 pm • linkreport

@JJJ-No, I realize that we have 18 wheelers inside of cities. The trailers they pull are 8 1/2 feet wide. Do 9' lanes give them much room? No, of course not. Does that make them extremely cautious? Yes, and there's nothing wrong with that. They should be cautious and they should be going very slowly. It'll also make surrounding traffic drive more slowly.
I think of my first trip to Europe and the bus driver we had. The guy was amazing, a real professional. He had no problem navigating very narrow streets, though I'm sure he was occasionally frustrated. I remember him once having to do a KKKKKKKKKKKKK turn to reach a hotel we were staying at in Switzerland. It was a fairly busy road, but people were patient and understanding. I didn't hear one honk in the couple of minutes it took him to complete the maneuver.

by thump on Jun 18, 2013 8:07 am • linkreport

Thanks to Kishan for his hard work to get this cycle track repaved. It is a much needed improvement as I have gotten flats several times thanks to the uneven pavement. I don't think the bricks are a big problem provided the rest of the track is smooth.

by Jen on Jun 18, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

Fantastic! Riding the washboard get tiring. It's a about time. Thanks for pushing.

by Cheryl Cort on Jun 18, 2013 1:30 pm • linkreport

Excellent! This bike trail just gets more and more popular. Getting rid of the bumps would be great.

by Henry on Jun 18, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

I ride on 15th Street from Q Street to Pennsylvania Ave and back every day - and I have honestly never noticed the brick or felt like the southbound lane was too narrow. I am so excited about the repaving!

by Debra on Jun 19, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

"everyone involved would also like to see bike-specific traffic signals to prevent confusion"

The confusion being referred to:
That doesn't appear to be confusion, that appears to be a person running a red light.

There are signs up and down the cycle track that cyclists use the ped signal. This cyclist did not do so.

He may not know this, so perhaps better/bigger signage, or some instruction.. but when you see a green turn arrow that corsses over your "straight" lane... do you keep going? Seems foolish, not confused.

Glad they are finally fixing this track. Any word on whether the contra-flow lane will ever connect to W St (SB)?

by anonanon on Jun 19, 2013 12:17 pm • linkreport

I, a frequent user of this lane will happily settle for a repave job (if it ever happens!) but in reality some site specific repair ( SB above Mass. For example) would be just as good and a great deal faster and cheaper with less disruption. The margin between the bricks and pavement has never been a problem, yet the city shot hot tar on it some months ago yielding more waste.

by Kenton on Jul 31, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

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