Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


Bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue will benefit everyone

Tonight, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D will vote on a proposal to add bike lanes to Tunlaw Road and New Mexico Avenue between Calvert Street and Nebraska Avenue in Northwest DC. The lanes will benefit cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians alike.


Rendering of proposed bike lane on New Mexico Avenue from Greg Billing of WABA.

New Mexico and Tunlaw form the only connection between two dense but transit-poor neighborhoods, Glover Park and Wesley Heights, and American University and the Department of Homeland Security's campus at Ward Circle.

While New Mexico Avenue is currently signed as a bicycle route, it has no dedicated space for cyclists. Each street has only one lane in each direction, meaning that drivers often get stuck behind bicyclists pedaling up the steep hill on New Mexico near Nebraska Avenue.


Portion of the DC bicycle map showing the New Mexico/Tunlaw route. Click for full map (large PDF).

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) proposes adding a mix of painted bike lanes and sharrows, as the corridor's width changes several times. They do not plan to take away any parking spaces, though planners say they may have to narrow the travel lanes to 10 feet in order to make room for a bike lane.

Portion of plans along the hill, with a bike lane for slow climbing cyclists and sharrows for those riding downhill. Image from DDOT; click for full plans (PDF).

Some have been skeptical about bike lanes

ANC 3B, representing Glover Park and Cathedral Heights, voted to support the proposed bike lanes in February 2011. But ANC 3D, which covers Wesley Heights, Foxhall, and Palisades, voted against it a month earlier. Then-chairman Tom Smith urged DDOT to work closely with the community before going forward.

Since then, current ANC 3D commissioners Mike Gold and Joe Wisniewski and the DC bicycling community have worked with DDOT to improve the plan. Mike Goodno from DDOT's bicycle facilities team discussed it at the board's May meeting, while commissioners held a site visit on New Mexico Avenue with DDOT representatives and local bike commuters in June. DDOT staffers revealed that month that after working with the public, they've decided not to remove any parking spaces on New Mexico Avenue.

However, some residents and ANC commissioners remain skeptical of the DDOT proposal. Many are concerned that bike lanes will add to a sense of chaos in the area and make it more difficult to turn off and onto New Mexico Avenue.

There are also numerous concerns about how the bike lane will coexist with the Foxhall Square commercial center, where delivery trucks frequently park illegally for long stretches in the bus zone. But this an issue with enforcement, not bikes. The building has 3 loading docks in the back and a wide driveway on the side that delivery trucks could use. ANC 3D should press to resolve this, as the illegal deliveries already block a bus zone as well as the sidewalk.

Bicycle lanes will create order, not chaos

We know from experience that drivers can share the road with cyclists. DDOT has built on-street bike lanes throughout the city, most with minimal disruption or confusion. This shouldn't be a contentious proposal, as no travel lanes or parking spaces are being lost. ANC 3D has pressed DDOT for answers and compromise at 3 public meetings, and DDOT has responded and adjusted its plans to address citizen concerns.

Rather than create chaos, the bike lane helps to create order. Cyclists get a dedicated right of way, keeping them safe and separate from drivers, which is particularly important on the steep hill south of Nebraska Avenue where the speed difference between the two modes is the greatest.

It will also keep cyclists off the sidewalk, making it safer for pedestrians, especially senior citizens and young children. And by making the area more attractive for walking and biking, fewer people will drive, leaving more road space for those who prefer to drive.

DC has embarked on an ambitious program to add bike lanes and infrastructure throughout the city, and New Mexico Avenue and Tunlaw Road are an important part of making a citywide network. ANC 3D has done its job deliberating about this issue and hosting community meetings, and DDOT has done its job being responsive and improving its proposal. Now it is time for ANC 3D to support this worthwhile proposal to improve bicycle infrastructure in Ward 3.

Brian McEntee writes the blog Tales From the Sharrows, where he talks about his daily bicycle commute from Capitol Hill to American University or many other subjects. 
Nick Keenan grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Washington in the early 1990s. He is interested in public education and sustainability. He lives in Palisades with his wife and three children. 

Comments

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1. I agree with that bike lanes can be a win win for cars and bikes.

2. The real issue are turns and getting off/on the streets. It is unclear how that would apply with this project.

3. NM seems pretty low density and is a good candidate for a bike lane.

by charlie on Jul 10, 2013 10:36 am • linkreport

So the opposition to the bike lanes is out of concern for cyclists safety from the danerous road? I wonder where that danger comes from?

Anyway, this helps get bikes out of the way. I'm pretty sure that NM Ave isn't so unique that all of a sudden all users will forget how to interact with one another while riding.

by drumz on Jul 10, 2013 10:44 am • linkreport

While ANCs deal with hyper-local issues, this particular effort impacts residents across the Ward (and city) as it provides an important transportation link between Tenleytown, AU Park, Spring Valley and Glover Park. While separated bike lanes would be better, even the paint-on-the-street solution provided here will help install order and safety on the public thoroughfare.

I really hope 3D supports the DDOT proposal.

by Andrew on Jul 10, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

This proposal is a no-brainer, let's hope it gets lots of support!

by MLD on Jul 10, 2013 10:48 am • linkreport

Good post. Since the elimination of the N8 route, there are no direct bus routes between Ward 3's densest neighborhood (Glover Park) and one of DC's biggest private-sector employers (American University) that has approximately 10,000 students. Additionally, the sidewalk along Glover Archbold Park is mostly unlit next to the National Park Service land and this can be potentially dangerous for students walking to/from campus at night.

Essentially, without any transit connection and with a potentially unsafe path for pedestrians, if ANC 3D opposes this, American University students and staff will have almost no choice but to drive between campus and Glover Park.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 10, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

Those with their ears to the ground believe this vote will be close, with many members still on the fence. It would be fabulous for those who cycle in this part of town to show up and talk about your personal concerns and experiences cycling in areas where there are no bike lanes. Commissioners need to know they are responsible for the safety of the citizenry, and this is best expressed in person.

by Steve Seelig on Jul 10, 2013 11:09 am • linkreport

Unfortunately, I'm not sure the vote will be close. Having been to a couple of the meetings, few of the Commissioners have spoken favorably of it, and the one supporter from 2011 (Kent Slowinski) seems poised to withdraw his support.

For whatever reason, the Commissioners and a number of residents believe that the bike lane would cause problems that, in fact, already exist, or somehow exacerbate those problems. Neither seems true. (Indeed, even the prior plans, which would result in 13 fewer parking spaces took away parking only between Garfield Street and Glover Park, yet that was somehow a big concern.)

by ah on Jul 10, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport

It's immensely depressing that such a low impact project like this is controversial in the first place.

by TM on Jul 10, 2013 11:26 am • linkreport

What happens if the ANC says no? ANCs are Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. DDOT should listen to them, but if planners have spent a lot of time talking to commissioners about their concerns and have adjusted the plan to address the concerns as best they can, it seems DDOT ought to move forward either way.

by David Alpert on Jul 10, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

Talk about a no-brainer. How can this even in the slightest be controversial? I liken this to a parking lot with no painted lines at all vs. one with clearly marked stalls. Which one do you think is more orderly?

by Craig on Jul 10, 2013 11:31 am • linkreport

Wish this would have been there 3 years ago when I biked up New Mexico daily. The whole area definitely needs more bike infrastructure and this is a great step.

by Rafi on Jul 10, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

@David:

I support a dedicated lane for the entire length of New Mexico Avenue but one compromise that should be considered is having a dedicated bike lane on the uphill side of NM Ave from the intersection of New Mexico/Tunlaw to Chef Geoff's. From the Chef Geoff's shopping area to the New Mexico/Nebraska Ave, where there is concern about trucks at the loading docks, there could be sharrows in the interim (until American University's Nebraska Avenue campus is completed).

This is better than having the proposed lanes defeated or spending another four years debating this (the NM Ave lanes were proposed in the 2009 Glover Park Transportation Study).

by 202_cyclist on Jul 10, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

@David

That is the $64K question. We are hopeful DDOT sees it your way particularly if the two abutting ANCs are supportive. If Mary Cheh were to endorse it, that would be a huge help.

@ah

I'd not draw any conclusions about how this will go. In fact, the notion is that the ANC will first vote to address the loading dock issue, which is cited as the main reason the bike lane won't work. They will then vote on the bike lane.

Showing up and speaking up matters.

by Steve Seelig on Jul 10, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

@Steve:

It will be important for supporters of the NM Ave lanes to stress that if there isn't safe, convenient, bicycle infrastructure here and there isn't transit (these opponents aren't doing anything to restore the N8 bus route) then when American University expands by more than a thousand students as per its 2010 campus plan, and as Glover Park continues to expand, these people will have no other choice but to drive. This will create more local congestion and more demand for parking.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 10, 2013 11:44 am • linkreport

202 Cyclist:. . . From the Chef Geoff's shopping area to the New Mexico/Nebraska Ave, where there is concern about trucks at the loading docks, there could be sharrows in the interim (until American University's Nebraska Avenue campus is completed).

Other than the loading docks, there's ample room on that stretch for an actual lane, because the road is wider there. The only other "challenge" is the parking entrance for the Nebraska Ave. lot . . . but keep in mind that entrance would remain under AU's plans for development of that parcel. The ANC insisted that AU have the parking entrance (underground and surface) be there rather than on the eastern side of the parcel next to Mass Ave. because residents of the apartment buildings there were concerned about increased traffic onto Mass Ave. just south of Ward Circle.

by ah on Jul 10, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

I've emailed all the relevant people to support the proposal. The objections to this proposal are just not based in reality. I do not understand them. I hope I laid out what are the facts well enough for the ANC chair and my rep to see the issue clearly. I also cc-ed Goodno at DDOT for good measure.

by RDHD on Jul 10, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

"It will also keep cyclists off the sidewalk, making it safer for pedestrians, especially senior citizens and young children. And by making the area more attractive for walking and biking, fewer people will drive, leaving more road space for those who prefer to drive."

Enough with your logic! Nobody bikes on those streets, why would you put in bike lanes there!?

Seriously though, what are their concerns about turning on and off of New Mexico Ave? This isn't rocket science. They can merge onto interstates with 60 ft long trucks going 65 mph+ but 6' foot long bicycles going 10-20 mph in a 25 mph zone is a concern? I'd really like to see what all of their concerns are, because based on this article, it's not making a whole lot of sense.

by UrbanEngineer on Jul 10, 2013 12:38 pm • linkreport

They can merge onto interstates with 60 ft long trucks going 65 mph+

Well, actually, the ones voicing this concern probably can't. They're the ones who stop on the exit ramp looking for a gap in traffic.

by ah on Jul 10, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

@Drumz So the opposition to the bike lanes is out of concern for cyclists safety from the danerous road? I wonder where that danger comes from?

I have no idea what opponents are thinking, but I'd say that the hazard probably comes from the center line. (Or the door-zone bike lane, depending on how you look at it.)

There seems to be only 15 feet between the center line and the parked cars. If you ride outside the door zone your left shoulder will probably be about one foot into the general travel lane, on average. If that SUV driver that is passing you insists on staying in her lane, you'll have about a 1-foot passing clearance. And if it's a towtruck, look out.

AASHTO and others generally assume that it takes 13 feet for a bike to share a lane side-by-side with a motor vehicle. At first glance, there appear to be 15 feet which seems like plenty of room. But with three feet in the door zone, there are really only 12 feet.

SUV's passing bikes need to cheat about two feet into the oncoming lane--but many drivers refuse to cross the double-yellow line to give safe passing clearance when they pass a cyclist who is not even entirely in the bike lane. The drivers see the bike lane, but not the door zone, so there is a bit of an optical illusion about where the bike should be.

So I'd say that at the very least, the bike lane should include the type of door zone markings that one sees in San Francicso so that drivers don't expect the bike to be entirely in the bike lane. And get rid of the center line. And maybe have no bike lane on downhill portions.

by JimT on Jul 10, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

Doesn't the diagram in the story show that there is no downhill bike lane?

by drumz on Jul 10, 2013 2:43 pm • linkreport

Doesn't the diagram in the story show that there is no downhill bike lane?

That's correct - It's only an uphill bike lane, except for the very northern part of New Mexico (from Nebraska to Macomb), where both sides get one (the street is wider).

by ah on Jul 10, 2013 2:59 pm • linkreport

I wonder if the neighborhood opposition stems from a concern that providing marked bicycle facilities will result in a *greater* number of cyclists using the route and therefore increase the diligence that drivers will have to exercise.

by JeffB on Jul 10, 2013 3:30 pm • linkreport

OK that helps. That's what I get for only looking at the first panel.

Probably still worth putting the door zone markings in that short stretch so drivers will understand why some cyclists aren't totally in the bike lane (and possibly as a reminder to cyclists that as they speed up they might move a bit left).

by JimT on Jul 10, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

It passed 5-4.

by Craig on Jul 11, 2013 12:03 am • linkreport

Thanks to everyone involved in helping get this resolution approved.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 11, 2013 8:41 am • linkreport

Here's another, medium-term idea for bike transportation. Consider adding a bike trail to Glover Archibold Park, starting at its northern point at Van Ness St. in Tenleytown and continuing to meet up with the trail by Georgetown. A bike trail could co-exist alongside an unpaved foot path in most places in the park. I suggest this now, because DC Water is going to undertake a massive project to replace sewer mains that run N-S under much of the park, which will involve sending heavy equipment into many park areas. A N-S bike path through the park, would provide trail access (and access to the trail network) for Tenleytown, AU Park, American University, Glover Park, McLean Gardens, Burleith and Georgetown Univ. Something to think about.

by Axel on Jul 11, 2013 10:56 am • linkreport

@Axel

Great idea! Has anyone suggested it to DC Water and/or George Hawkins?

by Andrew on Jul 12, 2013 10:17 am • linkreport

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