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NPS, Secret Service close to approving 15th Street bike lane

DDOT could start extending the 15th Street bike lane as early as Friday, DCist reported yesterday. By the time construction gets down to the White House area, DDOT believes they will have final approvals from the Park Service and Secret Service for the segments around Lafayette Park and the White House.

Image from Google Street View.

The new lanes will extend the current 15th Street bike lane south to E Street, and a future phase will add a section north to Euclid. The lane will also become two-way and wider, and the yellow bollards will be replaced by white ones spaced farther apart to improve the aesthetics for residents.

15th Street and Vermont Avenue switch places at McPherson Square, meaning the lane has to turn at some point. DDOT wanted to have southbound cyclists continue on Vermont to Madison Place (which runs alongside Lafayette Park) to the closed portion of Pennsylvania Avenue and then return to 15th.

When we last reported on the lanes, NCPC had held off on approving that section until DDOT could work out any issues with the Secret Service and the Park Service. DDOT bike head Jim Sebastian said that they are still finalizing approvals with those agencies, but they are confident they will be able to resolve any remaining questions.

They were confident enough to finish the engineering drawings for the lanes to include this route. Those plans, which could still change call for small curb ramps for cyclists to surmount the curb at the guardhouse at Madison Place and H Street.

The Park Service asked DDOT not to use any signs or pavement markings directing cyclists along Lafayette Park, based on a feeling that the area is a "historic resource" without signs. DDOT officials pointed out, however, that there are existing "no littering" signs, and security measures have had no trouble modifying the historic appearance. A small sign or two or a marking on the roadway showing cyclists where to turn between Madison and Pennsylvania shouldn't disturb the historic feel of Lafayette Park.

DDOT is also working with the Secret Service to address traffic around the E Street entrance to the White House secure area. Today, many cars and trucks waiting to go through security queue up in the rightmost travel lane on 15th, even though that's a general travel lane.

Some cyclists have expressed concern that the 2-way lane will get too crowded and that drivers will become more hostile to them riding in regular traffic lanes. Cyclists are still free to ride like vehicles, in a general-purpose lane and in the direction of traffic. For experienced cyclists, this is often the best approach as long as they follow the same rules as cars (including stopping at traffic lights) and take the entire lane instead of squeezing to the right.

Drivers need to respect cyclists' right to choose either mode of operation. DDOT will remove the current sharrows and signs reminding drivers cyclists can use the full lane, but sharrows and signs aren't necessary since cyclists have those rights on any roadway. Sebastian said DDOT will keep an eye on whether drivers start to act belligerently toward cyclists riding legally.

Sluggers who travel the I-95/395 corridor and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) have also been talking with DDOT to figure out the best places for sluggers to wait for shared rides and commuter buses to pick up riders. Riders want PRTC commuter bus stops in the same area so they can choose between slugging and the bus.

Some options included moving the slugs and bus stops to 15th, but unless they can fit into the area between McPherson Square and Pennsylvania Avenue, this lane likely makes that impossible. Hopefully DDOT can find a suitable location back on 14th or elsewhere, since slugging is a valuable element of our region's transportation as well.

This lane will give cyclists a safe and, more importantly, safe-feeling route between neighborhoods in the 14th Street corridor and downtown. Many people say they'd be interested in cycling to work but don't because of the harrowing feel of riding on downtown streets. This lane should give those commuters and other residents even more choices for getting downtown.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Isn't the eventual DDOT plan to run the bike lanes all the way down to Constitution Avenue? If so, what's their plan for dealing with the souvenir vending trucks and tourist bus parking on 15th Street along the Elipse?

by Fritz on Oct 20, 2010 10:18 am • linkreport

This 15th Street extension will be fantastic for my newly-budding Capital Bikeshare commute, a few times a week. Right now, from Judiciary Square to Georgetown, it's easy to shoot up 5th and west on R, but there's no similarly-placed route to come south from the east-bound lane on Q.

While there's been a lot of talk about whether CaBi will get people off of their own bikes, I think my experience so far in the last month has made me more likely to buy a bike of my own, now that I have a taste of the ease and freedom of a bicycle commute.

by Jacques on Oct 20, 2010 10:26 am • linkreport

Yay! Now if they can just eliminate the walkers and stroller brigade from these bike lanes.

by aaa on Oct 20, 2010 12:52 pm • linkreport

It's sounding like this lane is starting to take better shape becomeing two way and getting nicer looking bollards. Eventually of course it would be nice if it got even nicer with a safety median between the lane and parked cars and even nicer bollards or some other less obtrusive separation on the traffic side. In the long run though, as these cycle tracks become better, we need to consider restricting cyclists from at least the traffic lanes on at least the major roads. Nothing is inherently bad with having all types of traffic, each with their own 'natural' rules of conduct, it's just when you start mixing them that problems developed. Not only because the 'natural' rules of each may be in conflict with each other (e.g., the cyclist's tendency to not be able to easily stop at a light or sign) but also in that we can't bring all traffic down to the relatively slow speed which most cyclists are able to obtain. 30 mph might work for a cyclist traveling 2 miles from uptown to downtown, but it's not going to work for some federal employee traveling from the far reaches of Prince Georges County down to Federal Triangle. And it's blantantly unfair to think they should increas their commute time to accomodate someone who has the luxury (and financial resources) to live closer.

As it stands now, cyclists need to be allowed to operate on ordinary roads ... and as long as their number remain few, that is workable. But long term if we really want the number of cyclists to increase, we'll have to give them dedicated 'roads' on which to operate and not impeded other traffic.

by Lance on Oct 20, 2010 12:54 pm • linkreport

Lance -- congratulations. That might be one of the most ridiculous things you've ever written.

by aaa on Oct 20, 2010 1:00 pm • linkreport

30 mph might work for a cyclist traveling 2 miles from uptown to downtown, but it's not going to work for some federal employee traveling from the far reaches of Prince Georges County down to Federal Triangle. And it's blantantly unfair to think they should increas their commute time to accomodate someone who has the luxury (and financial resources) to live closer.

Lance, is this really you, or has your account been hijacked?

BTW, I work in Clinton, MD and despise all these suburban speed limits--especially the ridiculous ones that require me to drive 15 mph in a school zone. It's blatantly unfair to think I should increase my commute time by driving under 50 mph in a school zone just to accommodate someone who has the luxury of living in a larger house.

Some things truly are beyond parody.

by oboe on Oct 20, 2010 1:03 pm • linkreport

Bicycles can function perfectly well on regular roads. Some people like to ride inconveniently slow but at a ceteris parabis increased risk of collision because they either lack the skills, confidence, or desire of riding with motorized traffic. But given the construction of the 15th ST cycletrack and most facilities, road cyclists at typical speeds are generally much safer as a normal vehicle.

by Geof Gee on Oct 20, 2010 1:08 pm • linkreport

As a 15th Street resident and someone who intitially opposed the bike lane because I thought the shared lane was unsafe and the aesthetics (yellow posts) were unnatractive, I can honestly say these plans look pretty good. Do I wish residents were consulted more during the planning process which I thought disproportionately catered to the cycling community? Yes. Do I think there should have been more planning to get it right the first time so as not to waste taxdollars? Yes.

That said, I think the 15th street bike lane is a microcosm of what was so infuriating about Fenty and Klein. They pushed it through and got it done without things many on 15th street wanted and wasted money. However, they got it done in the end, and it maybe cost some votes here and there. With Fenty leaving and the prospects of less projects like this in my hood, I feel conflicted about my own role in the process. I am not saying Gray will not continue these types of projects, I am just saying that the propsects are lower now with a Gray administration.

Consider me a convert on the bike lane. I just hope the progress continues.

by Claude Henry Smoot on Oct 20, 2010 1:49 pm • linkreport

Why remove the existing sharrows? What a waste of money, just let them live their 2 year lifespan.

by JJJJ on Oct 21, 2010 5:34 pm • linkreport

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