Connect bike lanes through closed Pennsylvania Avenue
In early March, DDOT presented an exciting plan for bike lanes across downtown DC. They are a fantastic step forward, painted lanes or not. Yet there's one piece DDOT didn't present: a marked bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House.
Since the two most famous blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, from 15th to 17th, were closed to traffic, they have provided an enjoyable respite for tourists and DC residents alike from the constant District traffic, a rare positive side effect of otherwise onerous security measures.
Walk past the White House on a sunny weekday afternoon and you will observe an eclectic mix of pedestrian, cycle, segway, rollerblade, and other traffic along these two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue. The lack of automobile traffic draws a variety of populations to the area, but these populations have differing, and often conflicting, intentions. Masses of tourists mingle and meander about, taking pictures, gawking at protesters, and admiring the White House. Meanwhile, cyclists fly through the flat, carless area sometimes at speeds up to
30 20 mph, rollerbladers skate past, or set up makeshift street hockey rinks.
There's room for everyone on the wide avenue, but this mix of traffic can often cause risky situations. I am hardly an apologist for scofflaw cyclists who ride erratically, but even the most cautious cyclist or skater will find it hard to avoid a group of 15 oblivious White House gawkers or an amateur photographer who step suddenly into their path.
I have been commuting to and from work through these blocks for nearly a month now, and have seen or had several close calls already. Curious whether it has ever come to more than a close call, I asked one of the Secret Service officers whether there have ever been accidents between pedestrians and cyclists or skaters. His response? "Oh yeah!" Asked how often he's witnessed an accident, he said, "it doesn't happen too frequently, but I've definitely seen it happen a couple times."
With DDOT's plans to expand bike lanes in downtown, the danger to pedestrian, cyclists and skaters on these blocks can only worsen. According to the plans presented at DDOT's public announcement last month, the 15th Street bike lanes will be extended into downtown from their current terminus at Massachusetts Ave to I Street, from which the lanes will continue across onto what is Vermont Avenue.
At H Street, the lanes will terminate while DDOT explores options to continue them through Lafayette Square. On the south side of the intersection with New York Avenue, the 15th Street lanes will resume, only this time as a bidirectional cycletrack, on the west side of 15th, where it will continue south to the Mall.pointed out, at the time of the announcement, DDOT is unsure how it will connect the bike lanes on Vermont Ave to the cycletrack on 15th Street south of New York Ave. In the meantime, the plans anticipate what will likely happen: cyclists will continue across H Street onto Madison Place in Lafayette Square and onto Pennsylvania Avenue past the Treasury out to 15th. Additionally, DDOT plans to add bike lanes in both directions on New York Avenue directly across 15th Street from the 1500 block of Pennsylvania.
These proposals will undeniably increase the bike traffic traversing these two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, which, incidentally, are already designated by Google Maps as having bike lanes. As DDOT explores options to connect the 15th Street lanes through Lafayette Square, it should also consider adding marked lanes on the pavement along these two blocks.
Marked lanes wouldn't stop people from walking along the bike lane, but some paint suggesting where is appropriate for higher-speed cyclists and where is appropriate for stationary photo-takers would likely help everyone share the space harmoniously.
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