Greater Greater Washington

The 15th Street cycletrack will soon continue up the hill to Columbia Heights

When the 15th Street cycletrack opened in 2010 with great fanfare, bicycle planners talked about extending it farther north. But attention shifted to other important projects. Now, it's coming back, and the cycletrack should lengthen from V Street to Euclid Street sometime in 2015.


Looking south from 15th and W. Photo by the author.

Since 15th Street is one-way northbound except for bicycles in the cycletrack, the only legal way to get on it at its northern end is using V Street from the west. People riding from farther north or east have to take busy 16th or U Streets or, as many do, ride illegally the wrong way on 15th or V.

Finally, a regular intersection for 15th and New Hampshire

In addition, the intersection of 15th, W, New Hampshire, and Florida has been waiting for a larger overhaul. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) added temporary bulb-outs in 2009 to narrow what was a huge intersection and a dangerous place, especially for pedestrians.

In the summer of 2012, DDOT unveiled potential designs to permanently rebuild this intersection and extend the cycletrack through.

Where 15th now widens into a huge sea of concrete feeding into 15th, W, and Florida, it will become a narrower, more classic intersection. There will be new trees and pedestrian medians including bicycle signals. The rest of the space will become bioretention basins to improve storm water runoff, water quality, and the walkable feel of the area.


Plans for 15th from V to W and surrounding streets. Image from DDOT.


Rendering of the cycletrack with curbs and bioretention. Image from DDOT.

Up the hill

After passing W/New Hampshire/Florida, the cycletrack hits a very steep hill along the east side of Meridian Hill Park, one of the steeper hills in northwest DC. Now, 15th has a pair of bike lanes, both going uphill, one on each side of the street.


The hilly and awkward dual one-way bikes on 15th Street. Photos by the author.

This design has never made much sense. Two bike lanes are redundant. Plus, it is dangerous to try to use the east side bike lane, because cyclists have to cut across fairly high-speed traffic to get to it. With this project, there will instead be a two-way cycletrack like 15th farther south.

Being allowed to go down the hill on 15th Street next to Meridian Hill Park will be a welcome change. Still, cyclists riding uphill will get a serious workout, while those riding down will have to take care not to build up more speed than is safe, particularly around the curve at Belmont Street and approaching the intersection at the bottom of the hill.


The space for the cycletrack is already there; it just needs to be reconfigured.

Reaching the top

After Euclid, there will still be a painted bike lane on the right side of the street. Goodno said DDOT will add a bike box (not currently shown on the plans) at 15th and Euclid to let cyclists headed north safely switch from the new cycletrack on the left side to the existing bike lane on the right.


The northern terminus point for the project at 15th and Euclid Streets, NW.

Drivers will not lose travel lanes and little if any parking. The parking on the west side of 15th will shift over to go next to the cycletrack, as elsewhere, but will just take up the space previously occupied by the old bike lanes. The parking on the east side of 15th won't change.

DDOT Bicycle Specialist Mike Goodno said,

This will be an extraordinary connection between existing bike lanes on V St, W St, and New Hampshire Avenue. There will be improvements for pedestrians with the hard medians. Cyclists will have 10 feet of space, versus 8 feet in the rest of the cycle track south of V St, and be protected by curbing. It will extend the reach of protected cycling north to Euclid Street, and there will be bicycle signals as recommended in the 2012 bicycle facility evaluation report.
DDOT has selected a final design and plans to put the project out to bid within the next few months. Construction should begin in 6 to 12 months, once a contract is awarded.

Ryan Sigworth is an urban planner at the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. He bikes or takes public transit to work from his house in Adams Morgan, where he has lived car-free with his wife and cat since 2009. He is a cyclist, urbanist, and smart growth advocate who blogs on his personal blog, The DCyclist. 

Comments

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This looks like a great plan.

I'd try to find a way to put a bikeshare station in here before the hill.

by charlie on Jul 2, 2014 12:23 pm • linkreport

Yes, the dual bike lane design doesn't make sense but that's not the way it's supposed to be. Originally, the bike lane on the left side wasn't supposed to be a bike lane, just some buffer space. Apparently DDOT was worried that drivers would try to treat the space as two lanes.

At the May 2012 Innovative Bicycle Facility Research Project results meeting Mike Goodno told me he honestly didn't know how the left buffer space ended up with bike stencils in it.

by Peter K on Jul 2, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

Also, the link for the "Plans for 15th from V to W and surrounding streets" image is broken.

by Peter K on Jul 2, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

Still unclear how your are going to make a right on W going north on the bikelane.

by charlie on Jul 2, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport

Still unclear how your are going to make a right on W going north on the bikelane.

Pull to the left into the general purpose lane on W, wait for the light, go. "Copenhagen right."

by MLD on Jul 2, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

I live right here and bike to work daily. I'm sort of conflicted about this. Bikers go the wrong way down the hill frequently now, and it is very dangerous, as they come fast and pedestrians crossing W aren't really looking for traffic coming that way. I suppose some signage (assuming bikes follow it) will be good and people will start to look out. That said, I think that curve, combined with the downhill, makes it too dangerous for a bike lane. Don't forget the walkout from the Park at Belmont. There will be accidents there for sure. Bikes will be flying down the hill and they won't be able to see people, and people won't be able to see them.

by James on Jul 2, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

@ MLD; err, wouldn't you do that with Flordia. Does Copenhagen have diagonals? And it looks from the map as if they are doing plantings or something there.

by charlie on Jul 2, 2014 1:03 pm • linkreport

I've fixed the plans link. Sorry about that. (It's http://greatergreater.com/files/2014/15plans2.pdf)

by David Alpert on Jul 2, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

This is great news. I'm most excited about a redesign of that idiotic intersection at 15th and W. Have you ever tried to cross there as a pedestrian? It's absurd.

Having the cycletrack continue on the left will be really nice, too, for those of us who use it regularly and are tired of being dumped unceremoniously into the half-lane that cars only use to speed past other cars before W.

As for concerns about cyclists going too fast down the new cycletrack - I agree, there will be jerks who do this. But there are jerks who do it NOW. At least with a 2 way track people might have some sort of signed warning to look for jerks before crossing. It's not like any of the northbound cars yield to pedestrians anyway.

by Jon on Jul 2, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

@Charlie-- I'm not sure what, but it seems like you're missing something obvious.

Too bad no plans are shown for further up the street. While the "bike box" they mention to transition from the left-side cycle track to the right-side bike lane at Euclid might help cyclists if the light is red, it sounds like a dangerous situation if you arrive at that point when the light is green. Not quite as bad as the disaster on 1st St NE, but close.

by JoeyDC on Jul 2, 2014 1:52 pm • linkreport

@charlie
Here's what I am thinking (red lines):
http://i.imgur.com/WXggE6W.png

That is how you could make a right turn going northbound on the cycletrack.

by MLD on Jul 2, 2014 2:00 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the information on this - I often ride through this intersection - but I was having a hard time visualizing what it would look like and if there would be as much parking for our residents as before.

by Erik on Jul 2, 2014 2:00 pm • linkreport

How about a ski lift instead? I hate riding up that hill.

(Though seriously I do welcome this cycletrack very much).

by engrish_major on Jul 2, 2014 2:19 pm • linkreport

This is fantastic news! Incorporating pedestrian improvements, such as bike boxes and ped refuges, is a fantastic way to make these projects benefit more than just cyclists. Win-win! This is done as standard practice for cycle tracks in NYC, and I hope this will soon become standard practice here in DC as well. Good work, Mike Goodno and DDOT!

by TransitSnob on Jul 2, 2014 2:40 pm • linkreport

@MLD; thanks.

by charlie on Jul 2, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

YEEEESS!

by BTA on Jul 2, 2014 3:25 pm • linkreport

I thought I remembered seeing some long-term bike plan that continued the cycle track along Fla., left on 14th, and connecting with the bike lanes in Columbia Heights (then over the metro on Park and N.H to Petworth).

More lanes and cycle tracks are better than fewer, for sure, and that intersection needs work. But running the best bike facility up the worst street to shows either ignorance or indifference to how to make a bicycle network useful for those who ride.

Is it worth pushing for cycle tracks on alternate streets (16th on the park side; 14th, 11th) as well or instead of?

by Dan on Jul 2, 2014 3:27 pm • linkreport

@charlie, there is a Bikeshare station at 15th & Euclid now. (Though it should really be expanded, as it's one of the most frequently empty stations.)

by Gavin on Jul 2, 2014 3:42 pm • linkreport

"Is it worth pushing for cycle tracks on alternate streets (16th on the park side; 14th, 11th) as well or instead of?"

Yeah, I have always wondered why the bike lanes did not continue on 14th between V St and Columbia Heights - riding north up the steep hill is where you need them most (with the speed differential between cars and cyclists at their greatest at that point).
As for 16th, I wouldn't bet on them putting bike lanes or cycletracks there anytime soon. That is a major commuter route, and we've seen the difficulty they are having in pushing bus lanes there.

by engrish_major on Jul 2, 2014 3:46 pm • linkreport

The reconfiguration at W will be a nice fix for a current bike squeeze. There's a bike lane on W and only one car lane. But when you get to the intersection with 15th, the bike lane disappears and a turning lane for cars is added. But then the bike lane resumes on the other side of the intersection. It's pretty awkward as a cyclist.

This plan will continue the bike lane the whole way, which is great. And it shouldn't impact cars much. Not a lot of people turn left onto W to begin with. And since it's one-way traffic, the only reason why a person would have to wait to turn left is pedestrians crossing a fairly narrow intersection -- which shouldn't be a long wait.

Hopefully they will just re-time the lights so there's a leading pedestrian interval, so peds get across before cars get to turn (or vice versa, like they did with the left turn light from Euclid east onto 16th south, so the cars turn before peds start crossing).

by Gavin on Jul 2, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

There are color renderings of the street here.

http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/washington-dc-proposes-extending-the-15th-street-green-lane

by David C on Jul 2, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

What to make of the notation for a bike lane in the plans on the 1400 block of FL Ave, both N and S sides? Is that block really getting bike lanes?

by James on Jul 2, 2014 4:11 pm • linkreport

Boo hoo hoo this hill.

I bike up Penn Ave SE from the Anacostia to PG County every day. That's a steeper hill that goes on for like 20 blocks. I have no pity.

[Sometimes if I coming from farther south, I go up Good Hope Road to Alabama. That is even worse. Nothing good or hopeful about it. But people do cheer you on, which is nice.]

by David C on Jul 2, 2014 4:16 pm • linkreport

Perfect place for a bike lift.

by Jazzy on Jul 2, 2014 8:03 pm • linkreport

Yes! Can we get a bike lift like this? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryCWIjdVF0g

by mtpleasanter on Jul 3, 2014 9:17 am • linkreport

Yes! Good that you provided a link. I really think we would be the talk of the nation (instead of the other way around) if we got one of these things. From the video, I see a card was inserted. I wonder if that means that's just what you have to do to generate that metal support you put your foot on (turn it on, in other words) or if you have to pay for it.

by Jazzy on Jul 3, 2014 9:35 am • linkreport

Someone told me recently that Trondheim was trying to sell that bicycle lift. So, yes, apparently we can.

by David C on Jul 3, 2014 9:57 am • linkreport

15th St is incredibly inappropriate for cycletrack infrastructure given the grade and curves. Shift the route over to 14th or 11th, especially since you're looking at an eastward shift to 14th and/or Kansas as bike infrastructure north of Columbia heights. Cycletracks should be relatively accessible to people of varying strengths, and the push uphill and jerks going too fast downhill are going to discourage a more broad base of bikers.

A cycletrack on the 15th St hill is a very bad idea.

by Mike on Jul 3, 2014 10:21 am • linkreport

I like everything about this, as a cyclist and pedestrian. However, as a driver as well who frequently has to go east on W St, where it intersects with 15th, that intersection is already chronically congested at rush hour, with 2 lanes. Now it looks like it's going to be just one lane for cars, and I see back-ups occurring all the way to 16th St. I think the interests of all need to be balanced. How does it benefit the environment if cars are sitting, idling and spewing exhaust through several cycles of the light, trying to get through that intersection?

by AdMo1963 on Jul 3, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

I mean I think 11th should have it too but they are a half mile apart so no reason to pick just one and 15th st already has it on the bottom half so I would at least appreciate it. I'd love for them to complete the bike lane on 14th but its actually already not that bad. Plus 16th is right out for a lane for the time being so from 15th the next over north southish option is 18th which would be too far from 13th or 14th to be that useful.

by BTA on Jul 3, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

Shift the route over to 14th or 11th

DDOT sees so much bike traffic through that area that they have said that they would put a bike lane on 15th, 14th and 11th if they could. The idea that we can shift it from one road to another is about 10 years behind the times. We need bike facilities on all the streets where we can get them.

by David C on Jul 3, 2014 10:42 am • linkreport

Maybe going east on U st or Florida would be a better option?

by BTA on Jul 3, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

AdMo1963: W Street will be 2 lanes, one turn lane and one straight through lane.

by David Alpert on Jul 3, 2014 10:45 am • linkreport

David, I hope you are correct, but the diagram from ZGF appears to show one car lane, doubling as a straight through lane and a turn lane, and one dedicated bike lane.

by AdMo1963 on Jul 3, 2014 10:58 am • linkreport

AdMo1963: I think Mike Goodno said that is something they are tweaking. The traffic analysis showed they need the 2 lanes still, or something like that.

by David Alpert on Jul 3, 2014 11:09 am • linkreport

Don't know why not just keep the western bike lane as a contraflow bike lane? Which would obviate the need for a cycletrack.

by DaveG on Jul 6, 2014 1:53 pm • linkreport

Don't know why not just keep the western bike lane as a contraflow bike lane? Which would obviate the need for a cycletrack.

1. It wouldn't be protected and wouldn't be as safe.
2. If you are going north on a bike you would have to cross general traffic lanes to get in the bike lane, which wouldn't be as safe.

by MLD on Jul 7, 2014 9:02 am • linkreport

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