"Zebras" get go-ahead for Pennsylvania Ave bike lanes
Drivers making illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue are a danger to cyclists in the bike lanes, but a small physical barrier called a Zebra could stop them once and for all. The federal Commission on Fine Arts has given DC transportation officials permission for a trial run, but it's unclear when it'll actually happen.
In the spring, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) proposed using the Zebra, a small, round barrier made by the Spanish company Zicla, to separate cyclists and cars. On Pennsylvania Avenue, they can also prevent dangerous and illegal U-turns across the bike lanes, which have become increasingly common despite attempts to increase police enforcement.
But they also meet the aesthetic concerns of the Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), which has limited jurisdiction over how DC's federal core looks. In June, Mayor Vince Gray first announced that DDOT would work with CFA to address safety problems with the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, but CFA met several times over the summer without talking to the agency.
Last week, CFA released the consent calendar for their September meeting, which happens tomorrow. The consent calendar is made up of projects with no objections that the commission can approve without any debate. One of the projects they'll be approving is a "pilot project" to install Zebras along two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue. This is very positive news for the cycling community and bicycling commuters. The Zebras will provide protect cyclists from some of the most unpredictable and dangerous U-turn maneuvers drivers make.
However, there are still a few unanswered questions. First, the CFA referred the pilot project to the Historic Preservation Review Board for additional study. It's unclear how bike lane separators are a historic preservation issue, even on a historic street like Pennsylvania Avenue. The city's Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978 says that HPRB only has jurisdiction over buildings, building demolitions, statues, or pieces of art, and that Mayor Gray can decide whether or not HPRB has to review the Zebras. It's unknown when or if the board actually will.
Second, what criteria and metrics will DDOT use to determine the success or failure of the Zebra installation? This information has not been released yet, but is important to understanding whether Zebras should be used for the rest of Pennsylvania Avenue or other areas of DC.
Also, CFA has only recommended approving the "pilot program." If the Zebras are successful, will DDOT have to ask CFA for approval to install Zebras along the entire length of the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lane, causing more delays?
Finally, what is the timeline for construction? DDOT had previously stated that the Zebras would likely be available this month. However, DDOT has a history of delaying bike projects. With winter weather just around the corner, it is conceivable that the installation won't occur until next spring.
Regardless of the uncertainties, getting the CFA's blessing for Zebras is a major leap forward towards increased cycling safety on Pennsylvania Avenue. In the coming weeks, more information will become available concerning the road ahead and how DDOT will evaluate the pilot program.
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