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A narrower L Street cycletrack could keep drivers out

The L Street cycletrack has made it easier to bike across downtown DC, but it's wide enough that drivers often park or drive in it, endangering cyclists. But slightly adjusting the buffer between the cycletrack and the travel lanes could keep them out.

A truck and cyclist in the L Street cycletrack. Photo from Who's Blocking the L St. Bike Lane Today?.

Yesterday evening, I witnessed a crash in the cycletrack. A driver drove between the flexposts that separate the cycletrack from the travel lanes, well before the mixing zone where there's a gap to let drivers enter the left-turn lane, and crashed into a cyclist. The cyclist was okay; the driver admitted his responsibility in the crash, and police gave him a ticket.

However, bicyclists remain susceptible to collisions with drivers who willfully cross into the cycletrack between the flexposts. There is, however, an inexpensive and easy solution to prevent this from happening: make it too narrow to accommodate a car or truck.

This would solve both the problem of illegal parking and prevent drivers from using the cycletrack as a cut-through. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) would simply need to paint a slightly wider buffer zone and move the flexposts over a few feet. The cycletrack would remain amply wide for bicycle use, while keeping cars or trucks out.

In the long term, DDOT officials have proposed building a permanent curb between the cycletrack and the the travel lanes. Additionally, they might consider a separate traffic signal phase for bicycles and automobile traffic, and whether "mixing zones" are really in the best interest of cyclists and motorists.

But for now, a narrower cycletrack, even one separated by simple flexposts, would prove a safer space for cyclists.

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. 


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Agreed. It is too wide (I usually ride in the right-most 10% of it ) and the flex posts are ugly and ineffective.

by jonglix on Nov 8, 2013 12:11 pm • linkreport

The L Street cycletrack is one-way, which does facilitate a narrower lane. However, it would make it more difficult for faster cyclists to pass slower ones.

by engrish_major on Nov 8, 2013 12:12 pm • linkreport

This is a 'Dutch-inspired cycletrack' yet the Dutch certainly would not recognize it. Add a curb for separation and a signal phase for bicycles, then it will be much safer and effective.

by Craig on Nov 8, 2013 12:13 pm • linkreport

Cement curb and more posts make sense. Wider lane width, on the other hand, is very helpful as these cycletracks pick up more traffic. They make them easier to navigate with greater bike traffic. It's an interesting idea to narrow things, but not sure I'd be in favor.

by aaa on Nov 8, 2013 12:13 pm • linkreport

While certainly not the most optimal design, the cheapest and easiest way to get drivers to stop driving or parking in the bike lane is to install flex posts at closer intervals (every gap between the diagonals, not every other gap) that way cars can't fit. And tow the parked cars.

It's not rocket science.

by 7r3y3r on Nov 8, 2013 12:19 pm • linkreport

"more difficult for faster cyclists to pass slower ones."

Or just stay in line.

Yep, it was too wide and looks to much like a regular lane. The left turn cut ins don't help either.

And why doesn't 16tth st have a sepearate pedestrian single. Traffic really gets backed up there.

by charlie on Nov 8, 2013 12:24 pm • linkreport

Benjamin, I have one word for you: "Zebras"

by fongfong on Nov 8, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

@7r3y3r: Absolutely. Why is this not obvious?

by dcd on Nov 8, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport

Wouuld a narrower lane separated by a cement buffer/curb prevent it from being plowed in the winter? A nice feature of the flexiposts is that they can be removed and reinstalled to accommodate snow removal. It may not be perfect, but the lane would be a dumping ground for snow ice, and then trash following a major storm.

by Mike on Nov 8, 2013 1:16 pm • linkreport

No, do not narrow. Deny entry to Motor Vehicles. Plastic bollard replacements already need replacements. Plastic bollards ineffective.

Or just stay in line.

No, this crap-tastically implemented "cycle track" is meant for all ages and abilities. There is a large speed differential between cyclists now. As it fills up (and if it's fixed..2 sides of the same coin), and maybe gets some parents w/ children or older folks using it, the width will be needed to prevent collisions.

by thump on Nov 8, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

@ Craig:This is a 'Dutch-inspired cycletrack' yet the Dutch certainly would not recognize it.

Yeah. Because the Dutch are not stupid enough to put bike lanes on the left side of the road.

There is nothing that I recognize as Dutch about this bike-lane.

In fact, most separated bike-lanes in Holland are to the right of the parking lane.

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by Jasper on Nov 8, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

Decriminalize removing the rear view mirror on cars and trucks parked in the L Street cycletrack.

by Crickey7 on Nov 8, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

The city ultimately needs separated and dedicated bike tunnels and paths. The easiest place to build such a corridor is using Rock Creek and similar valleys.

The north-south routes have the most cross streets, making the grade separation using tunnels and valleys much more valuable north-south, while east west blocks in DC are much longer, slashing the number of intersection for bicycles to cross, but street level bike lanes do not prevent vehicles illegally parking in the bike lane.

A tunnel from Washington Circle straight north under 23rd Street, to Rock Creek, and bike bridge to the current bike path would drastically simplify bike commutes to the West End. There are many valley spurs and turns on Rock Creek, requiring bike tunnels and bridges to both minimize the distance ridden each commute, and safety for bike riders, but combined could serve many neighborhoods, such as Kalorama, upper Geogretown, Burleith, Glover Park, Cathedral Heights, upper Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, Adams Morgan, Lanier Heights, Mount Pleasant, Cleveland Park, Crestwood, Van Ness, Forest Hills, Chevy Chase DC, and Brightwood.

The same separated and dedicated right of way tunnels and valleys would have to be shared in single master plan with express streetcar lines, connecting many neighborhoods along the Rock Creek valley to the West End, while minimizing impact on nature. A bike and express streetcar lines under Woodley Park's bridges, would permit connection to both the Red line Metro, and connection to future streetcar line terminating at Woodley Park, requiring only an elevator to connect up the hill to the entrance to both systems, and perhaps a tunnel down from the valley express streetcar line, to the Woodley Park Red line station lower mezzanine.

An bike and express streetcar line spoke to Van Ness, would permit connection to many different extension of both bike and streetcar lines, such as to the upper Mass Ave DC AU College of Law, and Utah and Western Ave via Nebraska Ave, to connect more people to downtown via rail mass transit and bike lanes.

From the West End / Washington Circle, an L street bike tunnel East - West, parallel to the planned streetcar lines on K Street, would safely connect this bike super highway to most of downtown to the Convention Center. From there, further bike tunnels just below the street could be built, north and south on 7thStreetNW/Georgia Ave to L'Enfant Plaza, SW Waterfront, and Silver Spring, and connect further East under K Street, because the streetcar line moves south to H Street at the Convention Center. Another bike tunnel north-south could be built on 11thStreetNE/SE, to connect to Anacostia.

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 8, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

More flexible posts and ticketing is a good place to start.

Possibly driveways can be less inviting for lane changes, e.g. moving a post to the left a bit after each driveway, and making the gap for cars going into the driveway narrower. And tolerate trucks standing in left most general travel lane off peak.

by JimT on Nov 8, 2013 1:27 pm • linkreport

Can someone explain to me why this is a one-way track? Considering how crowded the sidewalks get in the downtown area and given that they have the space for it, why not make it a two-way path in the style of 15th St? Seems like it would cut down on cyclists cutting up the sidewalk to get to streets that flow in their direction.

by Matt on Nov 8, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

Not likely to be many kids on L St as is. I was excited when it went in because my kids go to the doctor at 21st and K, and since driving/parking there is a disaster, I like to bike them there in the trailer. I thought the cycletrack would be a huge improvement, but it actually makes it much less safe.

The trailer is too wide to go through the bollards that are (sometimes) placed at the beginning of the blocks. And it's even worse at intersections where cars can go left - there is nowhere near enough space in between a car going left and a car going straight, even if both cars are driving exactly as they should be.

by Jon on Nov 8, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

@Matt, it is one-way because a one-way cycle track a block away on M Street is planned (construction should have already started on it).

by bobco85 on Nov 8, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

@Matt--it's supposed to be paired with a track going in the opposite direction on M Street, which has been delayed (DDOT is truly the most competent!).

by Dan Miller on Nov 8, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

Yup, almost got clocked by a car on Wednesday.

by kken on Nov 8, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

Thanks Dan and bobco85! Much appreciated - and can't wait for that M Street path now!

by Matt on Nov 8, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

@jon. The gaps at intersections are wide enough for a standard trailer. At the mixing zones you can just ride in the middle of the lane.

by JimT on Nov 8, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

@JimT -

They weren't wide enough when I tried. I have a Burley two seater. And if riding in the middle of the lane is the correct approach at the mixing zone, then the mixing zone design is broken.

by Jon on Nov 8, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

Technically, riders going straight through the intersection are supposed to ride in the green painted area. The other lane is for left turning vehicles only.

There are so very many problems w/ this facility and DDOT's approach to bikes in general.

by thump on Nov 8, 2013 2:25 pm • linkreport

@engrish_major: if you need to ride faster (e.g. greater than 20 mph), ride with the automobile traffic. That's what I tend to do if the cycletrack is busy. It's also how I make right turns most of the time: merge back into traffic.

by randomduck on Nov 8, 2013 2:28 pm • linkreport

Perfect, the bollards where cyclists are supposed to enter are too narrow for bike trailers, but the bollards between the bike and car lanes are wide enough for a car!

Break out the design awards!

by Joey on Nov 8, 2013 2:32 pm • linkreport


I don't think this is practical. We need space for passing in the cycle track. Around 6-7' there is plenty of passing room and it's not wide enough for cars.

by Joey on Nov 8, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

laser beams

by NE John on Nov 8, 2013 2:35 pm • linkreport

@randomduck: Usually when I'm riding on L Street, it's during rush hour, and I can go much faster in the bike lanes than in the car lanes, which are packed with cars. But there's usually the (going to stereotype here) occasional Cabi rider who is riding very slowly in the bike lane, and it is nice to have the space to pass on their left.

by engrish_major on Nov 8, 2013 2:36 pm • linkreport

@fongfong, I agree. Short of a raised curb or sidewalk level cycle-track, ZEBRA dividers should work well here; no Fine Arts Commission to contend with (?). That or halve the plastic bollard distances.

by CDL on Nov 8, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

Why shouldn't cyclists pass slower cyclists? You've got 3 lanes on L street to enable cars to do it.

by drumz on Nov 8, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

@thump: if you want to pass a line of cars, of course you have to move right into that narrow green pocket lane. But what is the harm of taking the whole lane, especially if you are wide?

by JimT on Nov 8, 2013 3:10 pm • linkreport

Apply reflective paint.

On the illegally parked cars.

by Crickey7 on Nov 8, 2013 3:59 pm • linkreport

No harm JimT, but technically it's not a legal maneuver. Non-green area is for left turns only. I've been yelled at by MPD for doing just what you're suggesting. Also, most drivers seem to believe that you MUST stay in the green area.

by thump on Nov 8, 2013 4:44 pm • linkreport

I agree; I want room to pass slower cyclists.

by Tina on Nov 8, 2013 8:04 pm • linkreport

If anyone needs the full width of that extremely wide lane to pass another cyclist theyre doing it wrong. You could narrow the lane considerably and still have room for passing. Maybe not for passing the very widest of trailers, but they're not that common.

This lane seems like a noble but failed experiment to me, but I've only ridden it in off-peak hours when I was the only cyclist in sight and there was an illegally parked vehicle on almost every block. I used to use L Street as my regular eastbound route through downtown before the cycle track and usually had no problems with it, but I realize that my tolerance for riding in traffic is higher than most.

by jimble on Nov 9, 2013 6:42 am • linkreport

@thump. If you or anyone is still tracking this, can you point me to the authority for the idea that cyclists are legally required to ride in the green pocket lane unless proceeding straight. I haven't noticed signs or pavement markings to that effect.

by JimT on Nov 9, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

I meant "if proceeding straight"

by JimT on Nov 9, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

@JimT & Thump,

There are signs along the bike lane that say "Left lane must turn left. Except bicycles".

by UrbanEngineer on Nov 9, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

The current spacing is needed for plows I think.

Just add more bollards so theres no space to pull in,e specially near the corners.

by JJJJ on Nov 10, 2013 10:56 am • linkreport

Installing curbs is more costly and difficult than some may realize because it changes the flow of storm water, so it has secondary, cascading impacts. That's why the cycletracks in NYC with curbs were so expensive to build. For the cost of building a curb here, you could build other bike infrastructure elsewhere.

Additional bollards with zebras in between seems like the most cost effective and least controversial solution.

by Falls Church on Nov 11, 2013 10:32 am • linkreport

Why not use cameras for enforcement? It's not like they aren't already all over DC. And you either are or aren't in a bike lane - no arguing over calibration, etc.

by mattotoole on Nov 11, 2013 11:17 pm • linkreport

@UrbanEngineer: Thanks. Evidently, neither Thump nor I recalled the sign--maybe the officer who admonished Thump didn't notice it either.

by JimT on Nov 12, 2013 8:54 am • linkreport

I suspect you would need huge numbers of cameras to cover the length of the bike lanes. Don't forget, jurisdictions don't really pay for the cameras, the cameras are self-financing. Cameras to cover the entire bike lane network would likely never pay for themselves.

by Crickey7 on Nov 12, 2013 8:56 am • linkreport

I'd love to see a combo pack of fixes to this problem.

1. Twice as many bollards. If there is no point where a car can get *into* the track, then there is no way for a car to park there.

2. Automatic assignment of guilt to a vehicle that strikes a cyclist in a track.

3. Automatic immunity from prosecution to a cyclist who strikes a vehicle in the track with a bike, with their person, or with an object, even if it causes damage to the vehicle (and I'd go further and say even if the damage was deliberately caused by the cyclist - if a car doesn't want their mirror lopped off, stay out of the approved-mirror-lopping zone in the track!).

4. HEAVY fines for being in the cycle track. Trucks park there because their companies tell them to just expect to get tickets doing deliveries and to deal with it. That's because the fine is $40. Raise the fine to $500. Make it $1,000 for second and subsequent violations. There is no reason in the world to be in the lane, even for just a second - you know it is not legal to be there. 100% serious about this one - if you hit them in the pocketbook, then and only then, they will stop.

5. IMMEDIATE booting and towing of cars in the lane - and once the boot goes on, it goes to impound - no excuses. This will resolve the private vehicles that park there. If you have to spend an entire afternoon going to fetch your car after a mandatory tow and several hundred bucks in fines, you will learn, fast.

6. Maybe narrow the lane a little bit so cars and trucks can't fit. But adding a real curb like they do in Copenhagen would be 1,000% better.

by ShawGuy on Nov 12, 2013 3:23 pm • linkreport

I don't know why cars - well, drivers - believe that they ought to be stopping inside the bicycle paths. It's plainly two wheeler paths - and stamped two wheeler paths. On the other hand the mentality of bicyclists may need to be assessed a tiny bit - notwithstanding autos that don't do what should be doing. You must be continually checking to see what's around you.

by Ruby T. Bruner on Nov 16, 2013 3:41 am • linkreport

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