Greater Greater Washington

DDOT will extend successful 15th Street cycle track

On Friday, DDOT released an assessment of the existing cycle track on 15th Street NW and designs for an extension from E to W Streets.


Rendering courtesy DDOT.

Currently, a protected, one-way southbound bike lane runs along 15th Street from Massachusetts Avenue to U Street. The street has sharrows in the right-hand general traffic lane for northbound cyclists.

Over four weeks in late September and early October, DDOT will convert the cycle track to two-way operation while extending it north to W Street and south to E Street. Later extensions will run north to Euclid Street and south to Constitution Avenue.

Implementation of this phase of the downtown cycle track plan will bridge the "missing block" of the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes between 14th and 15th streets. The gap means that the Pennsylvania lanes currently dump cyclists into the middle of a busy intersection.


9th Ave cycle track. Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.
DDOT's cycle track installations, which rely on pedestrian signals, paint and flex-posts, have cost approximately $100,000 per mile. By comparison, the Ninth Avenue cycle track in New York, which includes dedicated signals, trees and pedestrian refuge islands, cost approximately $1.5 million per mile.

Remaining design issues

South of K Street, 15th Street carries many 30's line buses that make stops along the route of the planned cycle track. The plan doesn't show any accommodations for these bus stops. Will passengers wait in the cycle track for their buses? At the very least, loading and unloading passengers crossing the cycle track will conflict with cyclists. DDOT has not yet shown how they will address this issue.

A similar problem crops up south of E Street, where food and souvenir vendors have set up shop in the right-hand lane. The plan published online does not extend south of E Street, but it remains an issue to be addressed as DDOT extends the cycle track to Constitution Avenue.

Another new element is green paint in select areas. This will both make the lane more visible to turning motorists and clarify its function as a bike lane. This is an improvement many DC cyclists have long been anticipating, and an indication that federal interests such as the Commission of Fine Arts may be willing to be more flexible with DDOT on this project than they were with the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes.

Notably absent from the plans posted online are designs for the cycle track between G and H Streets. DDOT has indicated that their preferred route is along Pennsylvania Avenue and Madison Place near the White House. There are outstanding issues to be resolved between DDOT, the Secret Service, the National Capital Planning Commission, the National Park Service and other federal agencies over this section, which will likely receive treatments more akin to signage than to a cycle track. The exact nature of these issues was not explained by NCPC staff, although staff from NPS and NCPC have suggested that DDOT route the cycle track on H and 15th Streets instead of its current proposal along Lafayette Park.

Despite these remaining issues, progress already made, such as the relocation of the White House delivery queue lane from 15th Street to E Street, provides hope for a resolution. Also redacted from the plans posted online are designs for how the cycle track will interface with the complex intersection of W Street and New Hampshire Avenue.

Success of the existing cycle track

Since DDOT installed the cycle track, motorists have not been speeding as much on 15th Street. The 85th percentile speed was reduced from 35 mph in July 2009 to 28 mph in July 2010, and the percentage of motorists traveling above 25 mph has decreased from 66 percent to 26 percent.


From DDOT's cycle track plan.
As part of its assessment of the existing facility, DDOT surveyed cycle track users. While respondents ranked the yellow flex-post bollards as effective, they also view them as ugly. Flex-post on the planned cycle track will be installed at wider intervals than currently seen along the existing cycle track. DDOT Bicycle Program Manager Jim Sebastian has expressed confidence that fewer-and-far-between use of flex-post will be enough to keep out vehicles on this section.

In its presentation, DDOT indicated that while flex-post would be used in the short term for cycle track protection, long term goals include replacement of the flex-post with curbs, as is common in Montreal, or other permanent separation. DDOT has committed to NCPC that it will re-evaluate the effectiveness of flex-posts in one year and consult with NCPC and CFA in the search for alternatives.

With the new plan, it also looks like the 15th Street sharrows are on the way out, since they garnered mixed reviews among both cyclists and motorists. More than half of survey respondents said that removal of northbound sharrows would make driving on 15th Street "safer and/or more comfortable," while just under half of cyclists reported not feeling safe riding in the northbound sharrow lane.

In fact, 44 percent of cyclists said that they sometimes ride the wrong way in the cycle track, where they feel safer. DDOT observations showed that at a given moment 14 percent of all cycle track users are wrong-way cyclists. 81 percent of respondents supported conversion of the cycle track to two-way operation.

Since the installation of the existing cycle track, 33 percent of survey respondents report riding more and seven percent report using a bicycle for transportation when they had not done so before. DDOT observations at 15th and T have shown a 40 percent increase in the number of cyclists since the lane was installed and that 146 cyclists use the southbound lane during morning rush hours each day.

Cycle tracks have provided similar benefits to other cities around the world and within the United States. In New York, for example, cycle tracks have reduced injuries to pedestrians by up to 40 percent and injuries to cyclists by up to 57 percent, while seeing a 50 percent increase in the number of cyclists. We can expect similar gains along the length of 15th Street after the project is built this fall, and throughout much of downtown as cycle tracks are installed along M and L Streets later this year.

NCPC approved the 15th Street cycle track plans north of H Street at its meeting on Thursday. Approval for the remaining section is contingent on future work between NCPC and DDOT. The next hurdle for the proposal is review by CFA on September 12.

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Stephen Miller lived in the District from 2008 to 2011 and is now a student at Pratt Institute's city and regional planning masters program. 

Comments

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This is terrific news. The increased bike traffic will hopefully discourage the stroller and jogger brigades that like to use these lanes.

by aaa on Sep 7, 2010 9:02 am • linkreport

That bike track is really narrow for two-way operation.

by David R. on Sep 7, 2010 9:02 am • linkreport

This is much needed between E and U streets.

by Fred on Sep 7, 2010 9:19 am • linkreport

I imagine the tourist and food vendors along 15th Street are going to throw a fit when DDOT tries to move them from their spots in favor of a bike lane.

Who would a Mayor Gray choose in such a situation? The long-time vendors? Or the bike lanes crowd?

by Fritz on Sep 7, 2010 9:24 am • linkreport

Presumably those bollards on the curbside can be moved to the outer edge of the cycle track? Seems silly to double-up on them.

Using the flex-posts as an interim measure seem like a good idea until we've got the lanes configured in a manner that cyclists and drivers agree upon (they're ugly, but cheap). As the Pennsylvania Ave lanes showed us, we still haven't quite figured out the magic formula for installing bike lanes.

by andrew on Sep 7, 2010 9:47 am • linkreport

I'm actually rather disappointed by this. I use 15th northbound daily and much prefer to be out in the right lane - even if it's shared with traffic - than trapped in a narrow strip behind parked cars which left-turning vehicles zoom through without looking. Drivers just don't expect to encounter cyclists moving around behind a line of parked cars. It would have been vastly better to have a northbound cycle lane (even if it didn't have any kind of barrier) on the right side of the road.

As it is now, it gets used by joggers and cars stopped for deliveries fairly often too - and it's so narrow you can't get around them when that happens. (What do you do when a van is driving up the contraflow lane northbound? You've got no option but to hop the curb!)

Also seems like it'd be really narrow for two lanes.

Either I'll continue to use the right side of the road or I'll seek out a different route.

by Herostratus on Sep 7, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

I'm also worried about the safety of a two way bike lane. Cars driving north and making a left hand turn are able to see the south bound cyclists coming toward them in the lane and yield accordingly. North bound bicycles will be behind a parked car and moving approximately the same speed as the turning vehicle. There's no clear sight line for the auto driver, and not much of one for the cyclists, who wont be able to see the turn signal on the car.

by CJ on Sep 7, 2010 10:35 am • linkreport

Striping plan pages 4 and 5 are missing. These show the area around the due-east-west section of Pennsylvania Avenue (by the banks and Treasury) up to H Street.

by Joey on Sep 7, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

It's interesting to see that the 85 percentile speed dropped from 35 mph to 28 mph without DDOT having to add any stop signs or speed bumps.

by Eric Fidler on Sep 7, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

I like the green paint for bike lanes where they cross alleys and driveways, as well as the green chevrons through intersections. It also looks like they wonÂ’t allow parked cars along the bike lane approaching an intersection, and they're installing signs to remind turning drivers to look for cyclists. Hopefully, these will serve as visual cues for drivers resulting in fewer collisions.

by Charles on Sep 7, 2010 12:06 pm • linkreport

@Eric Fidler

That's because DDOT finally untimed the lights. It used to be that if you caught the first light (Mass Ave), you could cruise all the way to U without having to slow down. I, for one, am happy DDOT finally untimed the lights.

I like that DDOT is making it a two-way bike lane, but I share the safety concerns that others have voiced. It seems like it will be hard for a car taking a left hand turn to see a bicyclist heading northbound.

by Peter Lemonjello on Sep 7, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

I'm with Herostratus. These proposed changes on 15th are going to ruin things for us northbound riders (and there are a lot of us). That sharrow lane is one of the safest, easiest places in town to ride home during rush hour. If cyclists really believe that riding the wrong way in that deathtrap of a bike lane is safer than riding with traffic in the right lane of a one-way street, then we have a problem that infrastructure can't fix.

by HoneyBadger on Sep 8, 2010 12:11 am • linkreport

@honeybadger the removal of the sharrows doesn't change the fact that cyclists have the right to use the northbound lanes on 15th st. in fact, cyclists are perfectly free to use all three northbound lanes at any time, should they need to.

by harry5k on Sep 8, 2010 11:34 am • linkreport

I like the sharrows lane too. Still, many northbound riders were using the southbound bike lane, creating a dangerous situation for everyone involved. This new design will add at least some safety to this road.

by aaa on Sep 8, 2010 12:45 pm • linkreport

@harry5k: I know, and in fact I dislike sharrows for that very reason, because to me they imply that bikes aren't entitled to share the road everywhere, sharrows or no sharrows. My concern is that if they take away a car lane on 15th to make room for a northbound bike lane (it's unclear to me from the story that they will take away a car lane, but it seems like they'll have to find some space somewhere), the average driver will be less friendly toward riders who choose to stay in the right lane. And if that happens, that makes me less safe even though I am entitled to ride there.

by HoneyBadger on Sep 8, 2010 8:52 pm • linkreport

I have a few comments, coming from both Montreal and New York and seeing the cycle tracks in both places. First, I believe the proposed configuration in DC will get a LOT of people to use bikes. It creates a slow biking environment that is protected from car traffic, connects to destinations and other cycle tracks, and provides an obvious return route. That said, the narrow 2-way design will create a slower biking environment. You simply can't ride at a fast speed without hitting other bikes. Thus, in Montreal, the slower, more cautious riders (parents, kids, older folks, etc.) all use the cycle tracks, and those that want to bike fast use other streets. Thus, it appears that the narrower, 2-way design both encourages more people to try cycling, and slows down the cycling environment, benefiting pedestrians and the public perception of cyclists. The DC plan should function similarly, and appears to address some of the safety issues of the Montreal design.

In NYC, they are still having a lot of problems will asshole bikers terrorizing pedestrian while riding in the new cycle tracks. This makes it more difficult to build more cycle tracks.

I am very curious to see the plans for the bus stop. NYC avoids the issue altogether, while both Montreal and Vancouver build a bus stop with a raised crosswalk across the cycle track. The plans here show nothing, which is a non-solution.

by Jacob on Sep 11, 2010 12:14 am • linkreport

Jacob,

Can't the very experienced and fast DC cyclists ride in the main roadway? I mean, I know the answer is yes, but I suppose my question is, do cyclists understand that this is the way to go (in your opinion), and perhaps more important, do drivers?

by Jazzy on Sep 11, 2010 8:21 am • linkreport

Jazzy,
First, I think that cyclists who want to ride fast are going to do so no matter what, so I don't really think it's that big an issue. Few cyclists are going to rally against these cycle tracks because you have to travel slightly slower in them. It's not worth the effort when you can simply ride in the street. These cycle tracks are built for people who aren't yet on a bike, or who are never comfortable on the road as it is. The only time cyclists rally against a cycle track is when there are significant safety concerns. This happened in Minneapolis where a cycle track squeezed bikes into a narrow door zone between parked cars and the curb. (http://bit.ly/aY4ZXM)

As for drivers, I think it's important that they know that it's legal for bike to ride on the street, even if a cycle track is provided. I'm not sure what the laws are in DC, though. I think leaving the sharrows would probably be a good idea, but I think it's a fairly minor point overall. The most important thing is to get people out riding, because that seems to be the biggest factor in making cycling safer. Cycle tracks are a proven way to make folks comfortable enough to start cycling.

by Jacob on Sep 13, 2010 10:25 am • linkreport

@Jacob,

I think it's important that they know that it's legal for bike to ride on the street, even if a cycle track is provided.

That's my concern as well. I was riding back from Georgetown on Saturday morning, and decided to try the Penn Ave bike lanes (in the median). After a few blocks, of slow going, and getting stuck behind a flock of Segways, I jumped over to the travel lanes for the rest of the trip. ("Bicycles Turn Using Crosswalk", um, "No thanks?")

In my opinion, they're somewhat overengineered, and probably more dangerous than simply taking the right-most lane. Of course, I'm comfortable riding in the street; that's not the case for the folks we want to encourage to start riding.

My biggest problem with these segregated facilities is that there's a well-known sentiment among drivers that if there's a "perfectly good bike path over there" then cyclists should be in it. The greatest benefit of sharrows is that they help legitimize the perfectly legal and proper practice of riding in the road.

by oboe on Sep 13, 2010 11:48 am • linkreport

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