Greater Greater Washington

DC has too few dedicated east-west bike pathways

While DC's bicycling network has grown, there still aren't a lot of crosstown connections. In fact, there are no protected east-west bicycle routes in the whole third of the District north of Florida Avenue. Cyclists need more of these, as well as north-south routes to form a grid of dedicated paths.


Bike lanes around a northern section of DC. Image from Google Maps.

Much of DC's bicycle infrastructure, like trails, dedicated bikeways, and bike lanes concentrates in the downtown core, primarily south of Florida Avenue. DDOT's official bicycle map, last updated in 2011, shows that outside of downtown, most bicycle facilities run north-south.

Unless they are willing to ride on six-lane, shoulder-free roads with fast-moving traffic, cyclists have no way to traverse the northern part of Rock Creek Park, where only a freeway-like portion of Military Road crosses the park.

The same goes for Irving Street and Michigan Avenue, the only direct paths from Columbia Heights to Brookland across the vast acreage of McMillan Reservoir and Sand Filtration Site, the Washington Hospital Center, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

"East-west mobility for bicyclists in the northern neighborhoods of DC can be a significant challenge," said Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Advocacy Coordinator Greg Billing. "Large campuses, parks, hospitals and cemeteries limit the available east-west connections. The MoveDC plan calls for high quality bicycle facilities from neighborhoods to downtown and better connections between the neighborhoods."

That plan recommends some form of dedicated bikeway along Irving Street, as well as for a cycletrack on Military Road.

A route between Columbia Heights and Brookland would connect two vibrant neighborhoods and serve an area that will gain population as the McMillan site and part of the Armed Forces Retirement Home property redevelop.


Google Maps' bicycle directions from the Columbia Heights Metro to the Brookland-CUA Metro. Image from Google Maps. Click for interactive version.

Currently, both the DDOT map and Google Maps advise cyclists to use Irving Street between Brookland and Columbia Heights. However, between Park Place NW and the Catholic University campus, Irving Street is a busy six-lane near-freeway with no shoulder. Cyclists have to navigate among drivers merging on and off at the massive cloverleaf intersection with North Capitol Street.

However, the right-of-way through this section seems wide enough for DDOT to add a protected cycle track or trail. One possibility is a cycle track in a protected median down the middle of Irving Street, which would avoid dangerous crossings of the off-ramps at the Irving and North Capitol cloverleaf. Another is to have a trail parallel the existing sidewalk on the south side of Irving Street.


Google Maps street view of Irving Street between First and North Capitol Streets NW.

Worsening traffic congestion is a major concern at the McMillan site. The area has infrequent bus service and is far from a Metro station, but improving bicycle access could provide an important alternative to driving, reducing the traffic impact of new development.

Military Road NW across Rock Creek Park is a similar case. Tilden Street and Park Road to the south, and Wise Road, Beach Drive, and Kalmia Road to the north, are more bike-friendly ways to cross the park. But they're far out of the way for neighborhoods on either side.

According to DDOT Bicycle Program Coordinator Mike Goodno, DDOT controls the road itself and a handful of feet on either side. The National Park Service would have to okay any further widening. DDOT has not yet studied whether there is room to add a cycletrack on Military within the right-of-way it controls.


Google Maps Street View of Military Road NW through Rock Creek Park.

The only other connection through Rock Creek Park that is further along in the planning process is the Klingle Trail, which will connect the Rock Creek trail to Woodley Road NW. DDOT completed an Environmental Assessment in 2011.

As activity centers outside the downtown area grow and travel patterns become less centralized, we must enable cyclists and transit users to get across town as easily as drivers. A grid-like, interconnected network of bike routes would make that possible.

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DC neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College, he is a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable transportation, and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGW are his own. 

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Amen. Some bike lanes on the diagonal streets are needed too.

by Ben on Apr 25, 2014 12:13 pm • linkreport

I've frequently thought Irving above the Hospital could use a road diet. I've NEVER seen heavy traffic there, but regularly see cars going well above the speed limit. I tried biking there once and wouldn't do it again. South of the hospital is a little better, but traffic is still too fast and I wouldn't recommend it for anyone but an experienced city cyclist.

by Jon on Apr 25, 2014 12:31 pm • linkreport

The Klingle Valley trail will be a great addition and valuable connection from Rock Creek to the Cathedral area. However, enthusiasts shouldn't consider it yet a done deal. The proponents of building a road rather than a trail through Klingle are still active and seize on every cost estimate and detail to decry as wasteful Klingle's use as an intended recreational trail. Never mind that (1) there is sewer and utility infrastructure repairs that are required regardless of whether Klingle is a trail or a road and (2) the fact that a road there would be enormously expensive to construct and maintain. (An old road there was closed nearly 30 years ago because it kept washing out and DDOT couldn't fix it.) The road proponents may try to use the upcoming mayoral election to advance their agenda, so conservationists, bike enthusiasts and others should also make their voices heard and urge DC political leaders to move forward with the walking and bike trail through Klingle Valley.

by Sarah on Apr 25, 2014 12:34 pm • linkreport

Porter is one of the steeper hills in DC though so I usually take Calvert instead but it would be a great place for a bike lane there for just that reason because it's slower going.

by BTA on Apr 25, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

I'm always surprised to see the bike racks at Medstar Washington and Children's so full bc the surrounding area is so hostile by bike. I'd love to bike my son to appointments there but it seems so incredibly unsafe.

by thump on Apr 25, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

Seems it would be easy to take an Irving lane and appropriate it for a protected bike lane. I'm sure drivers would howl. When DDOT took a Pennsylvania Ave lane for the cycle track, drivers howled and DDOT relented, instead pushing cyclists into the center median. Now there are constant near misses and conflicts between pedestrians and bikes on Penn.

DDOT needs to get a backbone to stand up to drivers who complain about care lane conversion to bike lanes.

by CyclistButt on Apr 25, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

Harvard would be really convenient as well there are already a few bikeshare stations along there and it connections better to Adams Morgan. It's too narrow for two lanes anyway but probably enough for a bikelane and maybe a contraflow cycle track if they took out parking on one side (yeah I know..).

by BTA on Apr 25, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

Getting across Rock Creek Park north of Calvert is pretty intimidating. Tilden has bike lanes west of Rock Creek Park, but if you're heading east, after the street turns into Park Rd there's one lane each way, no shoulder or sidewalk, and getting up that hill (especially on a heavy CaBi bike) is slow going and cars will inevitably try to pass very close due to the narrow street. Porter's at least wider but vehicle speeds are higher. I usually take the detour down to Calvert.

by dand on Apr 25, 2014 1:24 pm • linkreport

I would love any of these cross-town bike routes - Military Road represents a much shallower hill in and out of the park than Tilden Street (which I have never tried to bike, but gives any Car2Go I take up there a serious workout), and I'd love an easier way to get from the Petworth/Columbia Heights/Park View area to points east. Those dark green "trails" around the Washington Hospital Center are, to my recollection, all sidewalks and the one time I tried biking from Petworth to Brentwood, it was either slow going on a fairly narrow sidewalk or an uncomfortably dangerous (for my taste) ride on the street.

It's a shame, because netiher Brookland/Brentwood, nor Cleveland Park/Van Ness are terribly far from the central part of DC, but getting to either often involves traveling out of the way for those of us without cars. Added bike infrastructure would be lovely.

by Abby on Apr 25, 2014 1:36 pm • linkreport

@ Sarah

Bet your bottom dollar that if Bowser is elected she will nix Broad Branch from being a bike lane. Her NIMBY friends are all over this issue and have made it known to her.

It would be nice to push Gray on approving the bike lane option and spending some money on getting plans drawn.

by fongfong on Apr 25, 2014 1:38 pm • linkreport

These are great ideas. I'd add the Fort Circle Trail as another much needed east-west route through areas of the city that don't have much decent bike infrastructure.

by AKDC on Apr 25, 2014 1:47 pm • linkreport

Somewhat off topic, but there's also a major lack of east-west bus routes in DC. It would be great to see more of a focus on east-west transportation on a few different modes of transportation.

by Alex on Apr 25, 2014 2:13 pm • linkreport

Great ideas, and very needed! DDOT certainly needs to grow a backbone on some of these. Besides the L, M, and 1st St NE cycle tracks, which took ages to complete, very little has happened in terms of high-quality infrastructure since Klein left. Everything else in on the back burner, and DDOT contents itself to say that sidewalks, like what we have on Irving and on the mall, are "cycle tracks". What a joke.

Sadly, since Bowser has committed herself to nothing, she can't be held accountable for not doing anything. We need to push her to actually take a position on something. If it's against cycling, we can then say "hey, let's elect someone who actually wants the city to move forward."

by TransitSnob on Apr 25, 2014 2:16 pm • linkreport

Amen to this article. I live in Columbia Heights (Fairmont) and getting west into Adams Morgan and points beyond is difficult. Columbia is busy and treacherous (I often bike with my young son on the back) without a protected lane. I'd love to see something to connect into Adams Morgan, and through that, the Calvert lanes and the bridge...Also, E/W Rock Creek crossings are terrible and absolutely deserve a full, separated lane.

by alpinepaq on Apr 25, 2014 2:20 pm • linkreport

"Now there are constant near misses and conflicts between pedestrians and bikes on Penn."

That might have more to do with the fact that 42% of Pa ave bike lanes ignore their red lights.

by JackieD on Apr 25, 2014 2:22 pm • linkreport

"Bike lane cyclists"

by JackieD on Apr 25, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

When DDOT took a Pennsylvania Ave lane for the cycle track, drivers howled and DDOT relented, instead pushing cyclists into the center median. Now there are constant near misses and conflicts between pedestrians and bikes on Penn.

I recall a lot of traffic problems on Pennsylvania Ave as a result of the original plan of taking the entire lane, particularly during rush hour. Part of the issue was confused drivers who did not know the lane was bicycle-only, as it was considerably wider than most bike lanes. Since Pennsylvania Ave is a heavily trafficked route for drivers (much more so than cyclists), it is important for DDOT to consider the impacts on all the users.

I've not personally had any near-misses with pedestrians, but I have seen near-misses with cyclists who run the stop lights when peds are legally crossing.

As for the east-west routes discussed in the article... I agree. But I would like to see attention to bike lanes in the more congested parts of Columbia Heights, where it is difficult to ride on the sidewalk. If I'm going to bike near WHC or Brookland then I'll use the sidewalk. Unless a lane is protected, it's not going to be very safe for cyclists.

by Scoot on Apr 25, 2014 2:33 pm • linkreport

1. FWIW, Irving Street is 6 lanes but it's not busy. It's a perfect candidate for a road diet incorporating a high quality cycle track.

2. wrt Military Road, http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2013/04/i-dream-of-cycletrack-across-rock-creek.html

The city should create a planned network of bikeways as part of the next iteration of a bicycle master plan and east-west connections, in particular the need for a high quality crossing east-west north of Taylor Street should be one of the key priorities.

3. The Fort Circle Trail as mentioned above is mentioned as one of the 6 key priorities in that "Capital Space" "plan" (I don't think it rises to the definition of a "master" plan in any case) but parks and transportation planning aren't coordinated very well.

... one of my ideas was to get "DC" to host an edition of the every two year "American Trails" conference as a way to bring more attention to the need to do metropolitan scale planning, coordination, and "hurry upedness" on these issues.

http://www.americantrails.org/2013/

it's related to my point that bike accessibility needs to be planned at 6-7 scales:

1. one mile zones from transit stations, schools, and commercial districts.
2. 3 mile radii from commercial districts/town centers
3. along radial corridors
4. between radial corridors
5. intra-city/intra-county bikeway network
6. connections between jurisdictions
7. metropolitan bikeway network

by Richard Layman on Apr 25, 2014 2:34 pm • linkreport

@JackieD
That might have more to do with the fact that 42% of Pa ave bike lane cyclists ignore their red lights.

Actually, it's because AAA outcry led DDOT to install the lanes going right through the pedestrian refuge in the middle of Pennsylvania Ave.

by MLD on Apr 25, 2014 2:37 pm • linkreport

It's not just bike access - whether driving, walking, or taking transit, crosstown connections are miserable.

by CP on Apr 25, 2014 2:45 pm • linkreport

Scoot, the original Penn Ave cycletracks were never actually opened. They were cancelled before installation was complete, so we can't really judge whether or not they worked. That drivers found them confusing would be expected in such a situation. But had they been opened, I'm confident drivers would have come to understand them.

But it is not true that there were a lot of traffic problems when it was installed. AAA complained about them. That is not the same thing.

by David C on Apr 25, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

I agree with Alex. There is also lack of good east-west bus connections in the city. GGWash, please write about this! It amazes me how many articles you guys can make up about bike lanes but remain mute on bus service infrastructure issues in the city.

by Ivy1 on Apr 25, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport

Irving might be 6 lanes in some parts but it's only 3 lanes through Columbia Heights and has pretty heavy bus traffic.

by BTA on Apr 25, 2014 3:04 pm • linkreport

David C. They were canceled before installation was complete, but they were still used during installation. As I recall, DDOT wanted to put up bollards as a temporary fix, but just ended up narrowing the lane instead. You're right that there's no way to know whether users would have adjusted to the new design, but I'm not making a judgment call on whether they worked or not.

And they actually did create a lot of traffic. I don't know whether that was also a talking point from the AAA (I don't follow the AAA on a regular basis to know one way or another) but it was happening nonetheless. However, the traffic may have resulted partly from the initial confusion during installation of the wider lanes. There weren't any studies conducted (or at least not released) detailing the effects of removing a full traffic lane to know either way.

by Scoot on Apr 25, 2014 3:07 pm • linkreport

GGW is hardly "mute" on bus service issues. There were several articles about bus service this month including one yesterday about Greenbelt.

by BTA on Apr 25, 2014 3:10 pm • linkreport

Officially open? No. But the lanes had been taken from the vehicular lanes and off limits to drivers. The effect on traffic was immediate and vicious, and if memory serves, GGW was blaming congress for twisting Fentys arm.

by JackieD on Apr 25, 2014 3:16 pm • linkreport

@BTA In Greenbelt...the bus articles are few and far between, while the bike articles are constant. I wonder if any GGWash editors even ride the bus regularly. Probably not, but the editorial staff isn't very diverse anyway (another problem).

by Ivy1 on Apr 25, 2014 3:17 pm • linkreport

Er Greenbelt is part of greater Washington.

Note the editorial staff is volunteers.
Why don't you write an article?

And BTW, I ride buses (express buses in NoVa, in my case) regularly.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 25, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

Nope, no articles about buses here!

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/tag/buses/

by MLD on Apr 25, 2014 3:34 pm • linkreport

I'd love to see something innovative here on S. It's too narrow for a two-way street with today's larger cars and it's deadly for bicyclists.

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 25, 2014 3:40 pm • linkreport

Or bicyclists could just go one block away to T or R for their needs.

by MLD on Apr 25, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure what they could do on S short of removing a parking or driving lane. I just use R or T instead, both of which have bike lanes - unprotected, but still better than nothing. Even so, I'm not sure how "deadly" S is in its current state. Seems like an exaggeration.

by Scoot on Apr 25, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport

Indeed - S has pretty slow traffic because it is two-way.

by MLD on Apr 25, 2014 3:59 pm • linkreport

East-West travel is bad across almost all modes north of Calvert. Even for driving it's not that great. It does seem like cycling would be the easiest to expand, however.

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 25, 2014 4:17 pm • linkreport

Traffic on S is anything but slow and plenty of cars and trucks get mirrors knocked off passing. I live on S and bike but wouldn't bike on S for $100. Any biker in their right mind should go to R or T but that doesn't explain why some bicyclists still try S (dangerously).

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 25, 2014 4:22 pm • linkreport

@JackieD

I'm one of those cyclists who normally stops at those traffic lights on Penn. My near misses with peds come from peds standing in the center island right in the middle of the bike lane.

It's not really their fault, actually. There's nothing painted on the granite pavers showing there's a bike lane right where their standing.

The lanes need to be moved back to where they were first painted--in the inside lanes.

by CyclistButt on Apr 25, 2014 4:25 pm • linkreport

Part of the problem with E-W buses is that they crawl between 16th and North Capital. We desperately need some base lanes on that end to keep them moving. Once you hit Mt. P and parts west they move at a reasonable clip in my experience. I personally think Irving and Columbia should remove parking lanes and add bus lanes since they are the main EW corridor between Military Rd and U St. I live on a side street and honestly even if that caused a few more cars to divert to side streets, traffic moves slow enough that I don't see it being a problem.

by BTA on Apr 25, 2014 4:29 pm • linkreport

@Scoot
There were some problems. I remember those well. But some of those problems were, as you note, from drivers who didn't pay attention or didn't care. The current design in the 12th-13th stretch would help prevent the problems.

As for the heavy traffic during rush hour. Yes, there was some. For about a 45 minute period some drivers had their commute delayed by a few minutes due to losing a lane. And you're right, we should consider the impact to all users. I suggest that such an impact to drivers is worth it as (1) a way of discouraging drivers and (2) a way of encouraging cycling.

Drivers complain and they win. Seldom do the complaints of cyclists ever trump those of drivers.

by CyclistButt on Apr 25, 2014 4:31 pm • linkreport

But some of those problems were, as you note, from drivers who didn't pay attention or didn't care.

I actually did not say that they were not paying attention or didn't care. I said that they were confused. Two very different things.

by Scoot on Apr 25, 2014 4:43 pm • linkreport

The 42% statistic always seemed odd to me. I seem to remember that a concurrent study of the 15th Street cycle track conflated red light running cyclists with those who did't stop behind the stop bar at lights (some of the bike stop bars are behind those for cars). I tried to figure out whether that was the case for the Penn Ave study, but I was only able to find the 42% stat sans context.

The stop bars on PA are right in front of the ped refuge; while I don't remember seeing cyclists going through intersections on red, a lot of us do stop in the refuges. I stop at the stop bars pretty religiously. Not because the current bar locations make sense, but because I don't want to be another statistic in an online flame war.

At any rate, both Penn Avenue jaywalking and u-turning are... what's the word... "vicious" as well. Have you seen the state of the zebra barriers? Seems like half of them are destroyed or ripped out. Bikes and pedestrians didn't do that.

by Steven H on Apr 25, 2014 6:01 pm • linkreport

As I recall, DDOT wanted to put up bollards as a temporary fix, but just ended up narrowing the lane instead.

DDOT did want to put up bollards, but not as a temporary fix. The CFA prevented that from happening before installation even began.

And they actually did create a lot of traffic. and But the lanes had been taken from the vehicular lanes and off limits to drivers. The effect on traffic was immediate and vicious,

That is not correct. They did not cause any additional congestion.

As for the heavy traffic during rush hour. Yes, there was some. For about a 45 minute period some drivers had their commute delayed by a few minutes due to losing a lane.

Again, even this is not true. All that happened was AAA claimed that the lanes WOULD cause congestion. There was never any actual congestion. DDOT's studies at the time showed that Penn Ave was only 69% utilized. So taking out a lane would not cause any more congestion. DDOT's analysis showed that, at worst, drivers might need 25 extra seconds to drive Penn from 3rd to 15th. But we never got to find out if that was true.

and if memory serves, GGW was blaming congress for twisting Fentys arm.

NO GGW blamed AAA for twisting Fenty's arm. Fenty was worried about the election, so - over the objection of everyone at DDOT he - he ordered them place in the median instead of the outside lanes.

by David C on Apr 25, 2014 8:24 pm • linkreport

David Cranor,

That's simply not true. There was lots of congestion. It was referenced by WTOP, the Post, NBC4, it became a parody as News folks were interviewing drivers on the street wondering what had happened. You even acknowledged it on your own blog although you tried to convince your readers that the congestion everyone was complaining about would go away once people learned how to deal with it, but the congestion was still there, and it was awful and no amount of revisionist history will change that.

And I didn't see DDOTs study that indicated taking 25% of the lanes away during the 4 hours a day of rush would only increase a 12 block trip by 25 seconds, please link it here. Even if the study said the average trip was only lengthened by 25 seconds, multiplying that by the 32,000 vehicles per day that use PA Ave, that's an additional 9.25 days of lost man hours per day, all for a relative handful of cyclists.

If it is anything like their "study" of Wisconsin ave through Glover park that promised no adverse effects after their "improvements" were done, then I would take it with a large block of salt but please link it here.

by Francois on Apr 25, 2014 9:47 pm • linkreport

Ha, I remember as a teenager riding my bike down that section of Military Road through the park back in the early '70's. A frightening experience. I swear to god that made me want to get a car, pronto!

The East-West route from Brookland to Columbia Heights would be great!

by NE John on Apr 25, 2014 11:28 pm • linkreport

I live on the corner of Military Rd and 32nd St NW and lately I can't stop thinking about how we need a protected cycle track on Military. They wouldn't even need to widen the road. Currently, the speed limit is 25 but people go as fast as 70 through the residential stretch of the road. One fewer lane of traffic might help calm the speeds. Another problem worth mentioning about Miltary Rd is that our big, beautiful trees have destroyed our sidewalks and rendered them completely unpassable expect on foot in some places. There are some trees that have grown so close to a fence that wheelchairs and some strollers are too wide to pass, so you have to detour through alleys. It's an altogether unfriendly route to anyone not in car.

by Jay on Apr 26, 2014 7:44 pm • linkreport

There is a cross town bike / walking trail paralleling Military across Rock Creek Park however it's not lit and at night is very dangerous without lights.

More cross town routs for all transit would be great!

by Garth Barth Darth Barf on Apr 27, 2014 1:47 am • linkreport

Irving above the hospital has signage on the sidewalk indicating it is for bike use and telling bikes to use the sidewalk from where Irving becomes two ways over to Michigan Ave.

by Jwetz on Apr 27, 2014 8:51 am • linkreport

I agree with this article but hte scope is way too narrow. As others have said, it's not simply bike lanes, but there's a lack of crosstown connections in all modes of transit outside of downtown. There are few frequent bus routes that cross 16th, Georgia, Connecticut, North Capitol or Rock Creek Park. There are very few frequent crosstown buses whatsoever outside of downtown. The D2 and the Woodley-McPherson Circulator are the exceptions. The H's and the aren't regular enough to count, and the 90's are also infrequent outside of rush hour).

by Charles Koppelman-Milstein on Apr 28, 2014 5:47 pm • linkreport

Completing the main, paved Rock Creek Trail through Rock Creek Park (along or closely parallel to Beach Dr.) as a dedicated hike-bike trail can also help with improving all these east-west non-motorized connections through the northern District. I notice that there are a number of such routes that more or less dead-end at Beach Drive, so if this path is completed, it would then be easy to dogleg a short distance in either direction to pick up a route that continues in your desired direction.

by DaveG on Apr 29, 2014 1:39 am • linkreport

Oh, yes. Thanks for writing this! I've been meaning to for about three years...

When I lived near the GA Ave metro and worked in PG County I would bike home daily on Irving, legs straining to go as fast as I could uphill while taking a lane, trying not to get run over by the the people getting on/off North Capitol. I certainly became an "experienced city cyclist" from this but would much rather prefer a road diet for that strip through the hospitals.

In fact, a whole connection is missing between where the bike lane ends at Monroe and Michigan NE, past the Basilica, and curving into the 'Irving Highway,' as I like to call it. Something really should be done to complete the connection!

And, if no infrastructure ever goes in on Irving, for goodness sake at least put in a traffic camera and make some money on all of the folks who are going 60 through there (speed limit 25)!

by Ann on Apr 30, 2014 12:58 am • linkreport

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