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Downtown bike lane proposal needs fixes at the ends

Last week, DDOT announced a plan for a set of cutting-edge bike facilities downtown, but the plan does raise some issues. The plan will dramatically improve cycling conditions downtown, but some of the constraints on the plan may call for even more innovative solutions.

NYC bicycle signal.

One of the concerns voiced at Thursday's meeting was about what happens to the bike lanes on I (Eye) and L Streets when they end at the diagonal avenues (Pennsylvania Avenue at the west end of I, Massachusetts Avenue at the east end of L).

Because the bike lanes run on the left side of the east-west streets, cyclists will either be expected to turn into the left lanes of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Avenues or find some other way of crossing several lanes of traffic to get to the right curb.

One solution would be to place a bike signal at the end of the I and L Street bike lanes. When the north-south cross street traffic has a green signal, the bike signal would show a green "bike" for cyclists to proceed onto a bike box on the right side of the avenue.

This would not increase the signal interval, because traffic on the east-west street and the diagonal avenue is already stopped for traffic on the north-south street. This means that bikes would be stopped on a red signal when the east-west street and the diagonal avenue have green signals.

Additionally, I think DDOT's proposal to route cyclists onto sidewalks at the southern end of the 15th Street cycletrack and the 9th Street contraflow lane is inadequate and ill-advised. Sidewalk cycling is legal in these parts of the District, however, sidewalks around the convention center can be crowded, as are those around the National Mall.

As a temporary measure, this could be sufficient, but DDOT must complete links as soon as possible to give cyclists an on-street connection to other bike facilities. A connection between the 14th Street Bridge's cycle path and the 15th Street cycletrack is a badly needed link.

Finally, while the median-running cycletrack on Pennsylvania Avenue in particular offers great opportunities for pro-cycling programs, it also brings additional challenges. This cycle facility will be very visible, not only in inaugural parades, but in other images of the city's grand boulevard in film, television, and photographs.

Because of the unique place that Pennsylvania Avenue has in our national consciousness, DDOT does not have as much flexibility with this street. One limitation is the capacity of the traffic signal poles in the median to hold signal heads. Because they can only hold two signal heads, the poles will continue to hold auto signal heads - one for through traffic, one for left-turning traffic.

This means that there will not be specific signal heads for bikes. I am concerned that this could be confusing for cyclists and motorists. It also limits DDOT's ability to do things like a leading bicycle interval or a bike-only turning phase. The lack of bike signal heads is one reason that DDOT is relying on "pedestrian lefts" and rights for cyclists to leave the cycletrack.

I am excited about DDOT's proposal. Their approach is a major step toward increasing the use of the bicycle and its visibility. Do you have any suggestions for improving DDOT's plan?

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


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Sort of off-topic, but is bicycling allowed on the Rock Creek Parkway? Not on the bike path but on the actual parkway itself. Twice in the past week I saw bikers on the travel lanes and didn't know what the rule is. I suppose it's faster than going behind the joggers and strollers on the bike path but it seems awfully dangerous given the speed of traffic on that road.

by CBGB on Mar 22, 2010 1:06 pm • linkreport

Regarding 9th Street I think DDOT's suggestion that cyclists take to the sidewalks north of the Mass is fine for now. Let the ongoing Mount Vernon Square District study determine the longer range connectivity improvements.

by FourthandEye on Mar 22, 2010 1:07 pm • linkreport

According to Washcycle, the CFA is saying no to bollards and painted lines on PA Ave

by JTS on Mar 22, 2010 1:23 pm • linkreport

No to painted lanes. I think that's foolish, but there are probably some alternatives, like patterns.

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 22, 2010 1:52 pm • linkreport

Yes, cycling is allowed on Rock Creek Parkway. The speed limit is 35 MPH. Some cyclists can approach that speed heading towards VA Ave.

by Steven on Mar 22, 2010 2:17 pm • linkreport

The CFA is OK with painted lines, it's painting the whole bike lane green or red that they oppose.

@CBGB - It's legal to bike on Beach Drive and on Rock Creek Parkway. On Beach, the speed limit is only 25mph. A study from 2000-2002 showed only one crash on the entirety of Beach Drive/RCP for that time period. There were 29 on parallel 16th during that same time. And there are a lot of cyclists on Beach. So it might seem dangerous, but it isn't.

by David C on Mar 22, 2010 2:46 pm • linkreport

yeah sorry I meant to say lanes

by JTS on Mar 22, 2010 2:49 pm • linkreport

Non-motorized transit should be given precedence over motorized transit. Cars should not have 3+ lanes in either direction -- that's just insanity. Cars have engines and motors and air conditioning and heating -- let them take the long-way around -- the most direct routes should belong to walkers and bikers.

by Peter Smith on Mar 22, 2010 7:30 pm • linkreport

this is exciting...
things are changing
and hopefully for the better

pedestrian and cyclist safety should be a concern
it is good to see that pedestrian and cyclist safety is part of the conversation

the focus on car culture is what created this mess

it is good to bring the street back to the people

although I have witnessed that when an option for SEPARATION is offered that the arrogant car drivers will often direct the cyclist to move their bike to the bike lane or bike route

the directive is usually accompanied by a statement of "their tax" dollars paying for the bike lane or bike route

the drivers always forgetting that cyclists are tax payers too
and that they have paid for the roads as well

so yes... bicycles are allowed on the road

even Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park
even on Beach Drive during RUSH HOUR

Rock Creek Park may be 35MPH for a short section where it is four lanes wide
but the majority of RCP is 25MPH

by gwadzilla on Mar 23, 2010 7:52 am • linkreport

How come there is always a committee that is saying that any change in DC is destroying the city? I thought this was a city full of progressives.

A green bike lane down Penn Ave would be wonderful if it'd show up on tv in films. It would show of that DC is bike friendly. The world would finally see something positive about DC.

I understand that Penn Ave needs to be kept open wide for parades, but it is weird to claim that an event of about 30 minutes every four years should supersede the safety of bikers during the remainder of the for years.

But again, why oh why is this overwhelmingly democratic and progressive city so utterly conservative when it comes to even the tiniest change?

And why at the same time do all those clubs shut up when half of the city is blocked by Jersey barriers, stray security cars and construction projects?

by Jasper on Mar 23, 2010 10:25 am • linkreport

Oh, and indirect left turns will not work. And they still won't work.

by Jasper on Mar 23, 2010 10:28 am • linkreport

but it is weird to claim that an event of about 30 minutes every four years should supersede the safety of bikers during the remainder of the for years.

in the coming months and years, i'm hoping we can do a little jump -- switch from the 'safety' language to one of 'allowance'.

that is, without segregated bicycle facilities, people will not be riding their bikes on any road in significant numbers -- so bike lanes and bike infrastructure are not any kind of special treatment that bikers are getting, it's just the government finally allowing us, however feeble their actual effort, to be on that road at all.

end of the day, there should not be any road in the District (or anywhere) that does not treat pedestrians and cyclists as first class citizens -- and that means that we should not have to 'share' road space with cars/trucks/trailers/etc. us walkers and bikers need to be the favored mode of transit.

by Peter Smith on Mar 23, 2010 2:05 pm • linkreport

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