Greater Greater Washington

Next up for NoMa bicycling: Fill in the gaps

Last Month, Mayor Gray and DDOT cut the ribbon on DC's newest protected cycletrack on First Street NE in NoMa between G and M Streets. This is a part of the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT), which will eventually connect Union Station to Silver Spring. Next, they plan three short extensions to fill in some important gaps.


Celebratory cake for the 1st Street NE ribbon cutting. Photo by the author.


Map of gaps in the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Base map from Google Maps.

First Street NE between Massachusetts and G

The cycletrack doesn't cover one last block of First Street NE just north of Columbus Circle. There is one lane for traffic in each direction, plus metered spaces on the west side.

Delivery trucks often park on the east side as well, facing the wrong direction and blocking northbound traffic. This leaves little room for bikes and no room at all for northbound cars.


Sidewalk gap and illegal loading on First Street between G & Mass NE. Photo by the author.

DDOT plans to fix these issues by making this block one-way southbound for cars. The northbound vehicle lane will become a two-way cycletrack. A concrete curb, identical to the one on First Street between K and M Streets NE, will separate the cycletrack from other traffic. The parking lane will become a loading zone.


Proposed road sections for 1st NE from G to I. Drawings from DDOT. Click for larger version.

This project will also include rebuilding and expanding the sidewalks, particularly on the east side where a loading dock entrance and bollards currently cause the sidewalk to disappear completely for approximately 80 feet. This will help prepare the street if and when DDOT is able to expand the mezzanine in the adjacent Union Station Metro station.

M Street NE between First and Delaware

The elevated Metropolitan Branch Trail ends at L Street, but there is only a stairway there, so bicyclists on the trail usually exit at M Street. They ride down a ramp onto a wide sidewalk across from the NoMa Metro Station. The trail then continues on-road on First Street NE, but there is a one-block gap on M Street without any dedicated bicycle infrastructure.

This block of M now has one lane of vehicular traffic in each direction, with metered parking on the south side. DDOT's proposal would remove these 16 parking spaces to create a protected cycletrack.


M Street NE at 1st showing potential cycletrack. Image by the author.

DC's 2005 Bike Master Plan and the recently released MoveDC Plan both show protected bicycle lanes for M Street all the way from downtown, past this block, to the end of M at Florida Avenue NE (between 6th and 7th Streets NE). The new M Street NW cycletrack runs from Thomas Circle at 14th Street west to Pennsylvania Avenue at 29th Street (with a one-block gap between 15th and 16th).

DDOT's Mike Goodno is also preparing designs to add more blocks on M Street NE and portions of M Street NW, but this first block is the highest priority because it would fill a gap in the MBT.

F Street at 2nd Street NE

The MBT technically splits south of L Street into a pair of pathways on 1st and 2nd Streets, NEon either side of the Union Station tracks. The 2nd Street section primarily runs on widened asphalt or concrete sidewalks which abruptly end at F Street close to Union Station.

The block of F Street between Union Station and 2nd Street, which goes past the Securities and Exchange Commission building, is one-way eastbound with limited parking spaces. However, the street is the same width as the blocks to the east, in residential Capitol Hill, which have two lanes of traffic plus parking on both sides.

DDOT proposes adding an eastbound bike lane on the south side of the street, along with a contraflow bike lane on the north side for westbound bicycles similar to nearby G and I Streets NE.


Proposed bike lanes on F Street NE. Drawings from DDOT. Click for larger version.

This will connect to planned bike lanes for F Street NE from 2nd to 8th, which Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C voted to support in September 2013.

Next steps

ANC 6C will be voting on these new bicycle facilities at its monthly meeting tonight, June 11. The ANC's transportation committee previously endorsed these projects. DDOT has already begun the procurement process for some of these projects, and is aiming to have all of these MBT sections complete this year.

Tony Goodman is an ANC Commissioner for 6C06 in Near Northeast/NoMA and member of the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he is a Construction Project Manager with a Masters degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan and has lived in Washington, DC since 2002. 

Comments

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Nice I can't wait to try to new cycle track. Needs better east west connectivity across North Capital though.

by BTA on Jun 11, 2014 10:30 am • linkreport

This is nice! But what happened to replacing the stairs and building a ramp down to L Street? That is the improvement I have been waiting for!!!

by Sally on Jun 11, 2014 10:34 am • linkreport

The ramp down to L Street is still planned, but it's difficult to coordinate with the neighboring undeveloped lot. The owner is still determining their exact plans and schedule, so that even if a ramp were built now it could potentially be temporary removed or blocked soon after.

by Tony Goodman on Jun 11, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

Go Blue!

Nice article.

by JDC on Jun 11, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

Tony-

Exciting stuff. Do you have any sense of when DDOT plans to break ground on the G->Mass section?

That stretch of road is incredibly hazardous. I regularly have to ride against traffic in the southbound lane to get around the illegally-parked delivery trucks (or WMATA cars) parked in the northbound lane and have had a number of close calls. As great as the cycletrack along the rest of that road is, the G-Mass block is just awful. I will be thrilled when DDOT fixes it.

by Todd on Jun 11, 2014 10:56 am • linkreport

This is so, so exciting! Especially 1st between G & Mass -- that area is miserable for everyone. Even the truck drivers are going to love this; they're as distressed as anyone by how dangerous their makeshift loading zone is.

by Tom Veil on Jun 11, 2014 11:03 am • linkreport

That little G to Mass block is just crappy. It has the service garage entrances to Union Station, has way too many pedestrians to justify letting cars fly through there, as others note has all these illegally parked cars, and no real sidewalk on the east side. If I had my druthers I'd make it ped/bike only except for service vehicles that need to use the garage--and then make it explicit that ROW of way is peds > bikes > vehicles. Luckily, I either enter Metro there if I'm walking, or hang a right onto G and continue South on N. Capitol when I'm riding.

by RDHD on Jun 11, 2014 11:09 am • linkreport

Hopefully they will enforce, with tickets AND towing, the loading zone restrictions. Delivery trucks park on the wrong side all day with impunity. Cars headed south near G illegally park and stand near the metro, causing shuttle buses to stop in the travel lane to unload passengers, who then cross the road wherever the bus happened to stop. It's a mess right now, hopefully making it one way will leave space for everyone to make their way through safely.

Also going to be a problem, peds stepping into the road without looking. Might need a railing between the sidewalk and cycle track to protect both. I regularly have near misses with peds who want to cross First St wherever they want and look as they take their first step into the road.

by jwetz on Jun 11, 2014 11:36 am • linkreport

A two-way cycletrack on the east side of Louisiana Ave from Union Station to 1st Street NE would go a long way toward really completing the connection between the 1st Street cycle track and the PA ave median cycletrack. Here is where the track should go in my opinion -- it's already marked as a cycletrack in the MoveDC vision. A row of Senate (I think) curbside parking is currently where the track should go in my opinion. The Senate already has tons of free parking for staff and workers, so I think that it would be fine to redesignate that lane for bike transport instead of car parking. Would be good for Hill staffers who don't drive. Here's a crude map of where I mean:
http://bikearlingtonforum.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=5348&d=1398264108

by Greenbelt on Jun 11, 2014 11:47 am • linkreport

typo--should say 1st street NW in the first sentence of my prior comment

by Greenbelt on Jun 11, 2014 11:48 am • linkreport

All you need to know about the G->Mass block of 1st St, NE is that somebody (@RDHD) wrote: "Luckily, I ... continue South on N. Capitol when I'm riding."

Again, I am thrilled that DDOT is going to address that problem block and hope to hear that it will do so soon.

by Todd on Jun 11, 2014 11:54 am • linkreport

@Todd

First NE between G & Mass is fully designed and they have already started the bidding process. Hopefully it will start late Summer.

Of course, unlike M & F which are mostly paint and bollards this is a much more major reconstruction so those others may finish first even though right now thy are much further behind.

by Tony Goodman on Jun 11, 2014 12:28 pm • linkreport

@Greenbelt -

I second that. I ride that stretch of LA Ave every day, and while generally drivers are well behaved, the times when they are not makes it really sketchy (especially with the current troughs). If the lane was set up as a parking separated lane, the parking would not have to be lost - there are already rush hour lanes on Independence, they could do the same thing on LA Ave.

by Chuck on Jun 11, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

This is not a good design.

Having both directions of bike travel on the same side of the street without bike signals at intersections means there is no way to transition from the riding in the roadway to the cycle track when it's not on your side of the street. The only way to do this is to ride directly into oncoming traffic!

Try this as an experiment: Try riding southbound from Florida Ave into the new 1st St cycle track. Then, try turning right onto K St westbound. You'll find there's no way to safely perform either one of these maneuvers.

What is DDOTs plan to fix this?

Why can't we use the designs tested for decades in Europe that have cycletracks on both sides of the street?

These cycle tracks are making cyclists much less safe, not more. I appreciate them in principle, but these facilities are a complete design failure.

Please, try actually riding this route if you don't believe me.

by JoeyDC on Jun 11, 2014 1:46 pm • linkreport

Having both directions of bike travel on the same side of the street without bike signals at intersections means there is no way to transition from the riding in the roadway to the cycle track when it's not on your side of the street. The only way to do this is to ride directly into oncoming traffic!

It's basically the same action as making a left turn. Yes, you have to cross oncoming traffic. There are several ways to do this.

Coming southbound on 1st and you want to get into the cycletrack? You can move to the left part of your lane and make a left turn across the oncoming lane into the cycletrack. Or you can move to the right of your lane and do the "Copenhagen Left" then make a right turn into the cycletrack after you cross the general traffic lanes. You can do similar things for getting off the cycletrack.

Your opinion may be that they are making cyclists less safe, but most of the data says they make things more safe.

by MLD on Jun 11, 2014 2:03 pm • linkreport

I also take the MBT to First St NE everyday, and completing the cycletrack between G and Columbus Circle would be a huge improvement. As it is now, cyclists traveling south are forced to cross potentially two lanes of traffic (with one of those lanes being against traffic at that), and that is assuming there is even any navigable road space open if delivery vehicles or illegally parked cars are not blocking the way.

I applaud DDOT for taking the steps to make these improvements and for ANC Goodman supporting this and passing the information along to the public. However, I ultimately have to echo Sally and Greenbelt above and wonder about the larger connectivity throughout the area. If - as Sam Zimbabwe said re: the intent behind moveDC - the DDOT's goal is not merely to promote complete streets, but complete netwokrs for each mode, then these improvements will only be complete when there are no longer stairs on the L St terminus of the MBT and there is some decent bike infrastructure connecting Union Station to the Mall and Pennsylvania.

by ndw_dc on Jun 11, 2014 2:05 pm • linkreport

Best Cycle Track EVAH!

by Ben on Jun 11, 2014 2:09 pm • linkreport

@JoeyDC

Are we the same person? I bike south on 1st St. NE from Florida to K St. almost every day, and I agree that it's always awkward getting on and off the cycletrack. @MLD gives two options, making a left turn and just slipping into the bike lane or the Copenhagen left, but at that point, since I'm only riding in the cycletrack for 3 blocks, it doesn't seem worth it. In fact, some days I don't use the cycle track for this reason. I'm sure this annoys cars to no end, but I try and be respectful of the space.

On the supposed two-way street between G and Mass: there's a double yellow line, but it appears that there is almost no way for a car to drive north on that section of road. You can't get there from Mass. A car could, in theory, make a very sharp u-turn out of what appears to be a lane that loops around Union Station. I suppose a vehicle could also leave the Union Station garage and go right (north), but I've never seen this. I welcome the cycletrack, but I'm not sure that cars going north or delivery trucks "illegally" parking in the northbound lane is such a big deal.

by JoeDC on Jun 11, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

I'll jump on the Louisiana Ave idea too. I use that one in both directions. Usually it's fine, but there are some aggressive drivers.

What's worse for me, however, is the transition from Louisiana to Constitution to Penn Ave cycletrack. I just get on the sidewalk and ride 5mph until I can cross into the cycletrack.

by RDHD on Jun 11, 2014 2:51 pm • linkreport

I just encountered and traveled down the new green NCap bike lanes and was suitably impressed --though true I had to break quickly as a pick up truck made a (surely, illegal) right on red directly in front of me.
True it can be dangerous even in the protected confines of this GreenZone; but bicyclists are not cars (yet) and must as always proceed with caution.

by cwanderson on Jun 11, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

In the 3D model representation shown at the beginning of the article, it seems to depict an interruption in the cycle track from an apparently existing concrete wall. I'm just wondering if, when, and how they will provide a throughfare for bikes going forward. Will it be an archway or bridge, or maybe the whole wall will be dismantled? ;-)

Either way, these proposed changes will certainly be an improvement.

by The Truth™ on Jun 11, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport

I find that northbound Louisiana isn't too bad toward Union Station, because there isn't much turning/crossing traffic at the intersections. Speeds are slower, not a bus route or a taxi pickup along the park area.

But southbound Louisiana is a disaster for bikes because you need to take the left lane to make a left on 1st street or else if you take the right lane you're with the buses and it's hard to merge left to get toward the PA Ave center track. Southbound too many buses and unpredictable taxis, too much left cross risk, too much right hook taxi risk, high downhill speeds, too rough pavement. Just bad.

That's why I think the cycletrack should be two way and go on the east side. Bikes could be instructed to use ped signals to rejoin Louisiana or turn on 1st Street at the bottom of the hill.

by Greenbelt on Jun 11, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport

@JoeDC--

I'm sure this would be true for any southbound cyclist who has actually attempted to use this facility. It's scary.

@MLD--
Have you actually attempted this maneuver? I doubt that anyone who has could say this feels safe with a straight face.

I get the "like a left turn" idea, but that is frankly ridiculous. I doubt anyone thinks a left turn is safer than going straight. Here, it is hardly worth the extra time and conflicts, only to be putting yourself in another difficult position again a few blocks later. You're blocking either bike or car traffic in a no-man's land no matter what you do. Not to mention you're coming from somewhere where cars are NOT expecting a bike to be.

Also, please explain how you would safely make the right onto K that I mentioned. It is not possible to wait for a gap without blocking the cycletrack for others. Any while we're at it, how about turning left onto K from southbound 1st? Do you think left-turning cars are going to be expecting a bike from their left to cross their path to reach the shoulder? (Please don't suggest 3 "Copenhagen" maneuvers to make a left!) This make the Penn Ave track turning areas look well-designed by comparison.

I doubt the experience of using this kind of poorly thought-out infrastructure will tempt the timid to take up two wheels.

I know of only one other city (Montreal) that has seriously tried this type of one-side two-way facility. (Please let me know if you know of others!) Where these intersect, they use signals to reduce the conflict, and they don't dump you off at busy intersections where you're facing oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the street. Even still, Montreal's design has been widely acknowledged to be problematic--cities like Portland have recognized it as exactly what NOT to do.

The statistics that you mention are FAR from conclusive. With most studies that differntiate different types of facilities (paths vs tracks vs lanes) finding that wrong-way paths and tracks is significantly more dangerous than no facility at all, specifically at intersections: (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Segregated_cycle_facilities)

Would it not be better to use the tried-and-true design of right-side cycle tracks with bikes moving in the same direction as the rest of traffic? I don't see the downside to this. (Except more cement needed for 2 curbs!)

TL;DR - If you're saying traveling on this track southbound feels safe, I very much doubt you've actually tried it.

by JoeyDC on Jun 11, 2014 4:13 pm • linkreport

Also-- Please notice how almost NONE of the recommended NACTO bike design safety features were implemented:

http://nacto.org/cities-for-cycling/design-guide/cycle-tracks/two-way-cycle-tracks/

by JoeyDC on Jun 11, 2014 4:20 pm • linkreport

Great, the 6 people that ride bikes and 1 paid commenter chimed in. Way to waste taxpayer dollars on stupid bike lanes used by hardly anyone.

Parking garage owners are laughing all the way to the bank. Love to see an article talking about the kickbacks and increased tax revenue coming from the garage owners/managers.

by Tommy Paine on Jun 11, 2014 4:24 pm • linkreport

Would it not be better to use the tried-and-true design of right-side cycle tracks with bikes moving in the same direction as the rest of traffic?

Maybe it would be, but in this instance there isn't enough room for that. Your choices are: the current design (on one side of the street) or regular bike lanes. You're making a false argument that there's some better alternative that could/should have been chosen - but your suggested alternative couldn't be chosen.

What do you do at K street to turn right? A copenhagen right! Pull off to the left in front of the stopped cars, wait for the light to turn green, and go. And to make a left yes, I would look for traffic and just turn left. Drivers should be looking because pedestrians could be crossing the street, a car could be making a right-on-red, etc. You can also pull up in front of stopped traffic on K as in the right-turn maneuver, then look and go when it is safe to do so.

As has been said time and time again, the issue with being "dumped" into traffic at K will be fixed soon. That's what this dang article is about!

The only thing I glean from any bike lane discussion is that some bicyclist has a problem with whatever kind of infrastructure is chosen. Doesn't matter the design - there will ALWAYS be a complainer.

by MLD on Jun 11, 2014 4:29 pm • linkreport

Also, you said:
I know of only one other city (Montreal) that has seriously tried this type of one-side two-way facility.

And yet the NACTO page claims:
-Commonly used in dozens of European bicycle friendly cities.
-Currently used in the following US cities: 8 of them!

also:
Also-- Please notice how almost NONE of the recommended NACTO bike design safety features were implemented:
It has a dashed yellow line, sir! ;) I agree that turn boxes would be an improvement though.

by MLD on Jun 11, 2014 4:36 pm • linkreport

@Tommy Paine

I almost hesitate to respond because your comment seems like such an obvious attempt to troll, but then I remember that there are still a huge amount of drivers who probably feel similarly. Firstly, I can absolutely assure you that there are significant numbers of cyclists who take this route (6 is a laughable understatement - I regularly see 6 or more from every walk of life every time I pass through) and that, furthermore, improving bike infrastructure nearly always leads to increased numbers of cyclists. Relatively low bike mode share is an argument in favor of increased bike infrastructure, not against.

Also, while the debate between cyclists and drivers has been done to death, it never hurts to remind drivers who decry the costs of bike infrastructure of the enormous subsidies that drivers enjoy. I think the default anti-bike/pro-car position might be given more consideration if it were ever accompanied by any good faith effort to account for the enormous auto subsidy and policy proposals that took this into account. But this alas never happens.

@Greenbelt

I agree almost 100%. I also take Louisiana to 1st NW, and would welcome a cycletrack. I appreciate the Copenhagenize argument against the two-way cycletrack, but as an individual cyclist I am less concerned about that and more concerned about some level of minimal protection. As it is, because I take a left on 1st St NW, I immediately take the lane upon entering Louisiana and am forced to ride to the left of any stopped cars. Any cycletrack there, two-way or no, would be a great improvement.

by ndw_dc on Jun 11, 2014 4:46 pm • linkreport

@MLD--

I appreciate that you're excited to have new bike infrastructure. I too am very happy at the strides DDOT has made in our city. We are truly lucky!

And, yep, you're right. 2-way tracks exist in several US cities listed on the NACTO page. I didn't see this until later. Thanks for pointing this out!

It's telling that in all of the these sources designs never show leaving cyclists diagonally across the intersection from where they need to go without any accommodation. Turn boxes and bicycle signals are pretty universal in being recommended for cross streets, and none seem to envisage the conflicts that exist where this facility terminates. Why don't we have any of these? Why shouldn't we ask for them?

I'm no engineer, but I don't believe that one-way opposide-side cycletracks are a false choice for this street. You take half the width of the track away, and you put it on the other side. No additional width is needed except that which is required for the second curb. Is there really not enough room for that? Maybe not, but it seems like we're talking about 1 foot.

I do understand how to turn left using both techniques. I really do. I've been a road cyclist for 19 years, and I am in no way timid. It's just difficult at this intersection given the lack of space and traffic patterns. And I do question whether it is safer overall, or even understandable for novice cyclists or people less familiar with the area. I've done this on the cycletrack in question, and, well, it sucked.

Sure, people complain, but I believe we're talking about real issues here. This is my reality: This is on my route, I have ridden on this facility several times, and southbound it feels unsafe. I will avoid it. I very much doubt I'm the only one. I doubt that was the outcome DDOT wanted. And yes, I will indeed say something when I believe that a design flaw is putting my life in danger. Especially if I think there's a chance that by highlighting it, we might stand a better chance of getting it right in the future. (For the record, northbound is the bees-knees!)

Let's look at this experiment to see what works and what doesn't. Some things do, some things don't. Just like the other cycle tracks in the city. Each is its own set of successes and shortcomings. We learned stuff from L that we improved on M. I believe it's productive to have a discussion to see the problems people are having and try to find ways to fix things.

I'm not sure, but I think that's why we're all here!

by JoeyDC on Jun 11, 2014 6:27 pm • linkreport

According to the MoveDC plan, the MBT travels along L Street between 1st and 2nd St NE. However, this appears to conflict with the NOMA BID's proposed park on L St at: http://www.nomabid.org/2012/04/noma-unveils-vision-for-public-parks/.

by Dave on Jun 11, 2014 7:07 pm • linkreport

Hey, Tommy! Wanna get back at the parasitic parking garage owners? Ride a bike. You can defeat the trendsetting endocrinologists and mental health therapists while you're at it -- you'll avoid diabetes-causing obesity, and far bear less hatred toward the world you live in. Try it!

by Sydney on Jun 11, 2014 8:41 pm • linkreport

Parking garage owners are laughing all the way to the bank.

That's odd behavior. And who actually "goes" to the bank these days.

by David C on Jun 11, 2014 11:06 pm • linkreport

Joey Everything you said made sense to me.
Add more bike racks

by asffa on Jun 12, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

Huh, had no idea that's where the MBT was officially supposed to go. You have to be crazy to go that way. I always end up on the east side of Union Station, is much less crazy over there.

by Stefan Osborne on Jun 23, 2014 1:36 pm • linkreport

@ Tony Goodman - “The ramp down to L Street is still planned, but it's difficult to coordinate with the neighboring undeveloped lot. The owner is still determining their exact plans and schedule, so that even if a ramp were built now it could potentially be temporary removed or blocked soon after.”

This is a false statement. The MBT ramp down to L Street is planned, and the connection east to 2nd Street has been built. The adjacent owner is supportive of the MBT ramp being built. The land is a dedicated easement for the trail connecting directly to DDOT right-of-way. It could not be blocked or removed thereafter. The switchback was built as a temporary condition and as a neighborhood connection and will only become more dangerous as more people use the trail. The only thing that could jeopardize the safe and direct connection of the trail down to L Street and along L Street to 1st and 2nd is the NoMa BID’s desire to turn the right-of-way into a plaza that does not provide a dedicated facility for bicycles.

by Heather on Jul 9, 2014 11:21 pm • linkreport

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