Posts about 15th Street
15th and W Streets and New Hampshire and Florida Avenues, NW all come together in a large, barren expanse of asphalt that Stephen Miller nicknamed the Death Star after a driver killed a pedestrian there in 2009. But DDOT is on the side of the rebels and is striking back with a redesign.
None of the roads at this intersection are very wide or carry much traffic. However, traffic engineers in years past made the block between V and W function like a set of freeway offramps. The lanes merge to a narrower 15th Street and a gradual slip lane onto Florida that encouraged drivers to make the turn at high speed. Chevrons mark off a large tract of pavement between the two.
After the 2009 fatality, DDOT quickly moved to install temporary curbs and posts to slow traffic at the corners. On Wednesday, they presented preliminary options for a permanent solution to a committee of the local ANC.
Both options would limit traffic in the block of 15th from V to W only 2 lanes, moving back the 3-lane to 2-lane merge point to the block between U and V. At W Street, one lane would continue up the hill on 15th, while the other would let drivers turn right onto either Florida Avenue or W, in more of a traditional intersection.
The 2 options only differ in the location of the newly-created green space. One option puts it mostly on the east side of the street, while the other divides new green space between the east and west sides.
These options have safety trade-offs. Keeping the roadway on the left (left-hand image) makes the lane shift on 15th more gradual and makes speeding easier, but it also allows for a larger triangular pedestrian island in the middle of the intersection. Shifting the roadway to the right (right-hand image) forces drivers on 15th to slow down more as they approach the hill, but leaves a smaller pedestrian island.
Both proposals add numerous bulb-outs at the crosswalks just as the agency has included on H Street NE and other places around town. In these places, the curb juts out toward the travel lane and reduces the distance pedestrians must spend vulnerable in the roadway while crossing the street.
The design also extends the 15th Street cycle track into this area. Right now, the 2-way track ends at V Street. Riders heading northbound have to cut across traffic to a bike lane on the east side of the street (or just share the lane), while riders southbound can't legally use 15th in this area (though many do anyway).
The part of 15th going up Meridian Hill now has two bike lanes, both northbound, one on each side of the street. DDOT's original hopes for the 2-way 15th Street cycle track included having it stretch to Euclid, the northern edge of the park. DDOT bicycle program head Jim Sebastian says that when DDOT rebuilds the "Death Star" intersection, they will also complete a continuous 2-way bicycle facility from U to Euclid.
DDOT could just build the cycle track in this intersection along the edge of the roadway, separated with poles, as with the rest of the cycle track today. Other options, though, elevate it up to sidewalk level like many European cities do. The tree boxes would still separate the track from the sidewalk, but then one of a few different curb treatments would divide it from the roadway.
At the meeting, DDOT planner Gabriela Vega said the agency was still weighing the pros and cons of the last three designs' barriers between the cycle track and the parking lane. The barriers in the last three designs all include permeable pavers that allow the ground to absorb more stormwater.
Renderings show treeboxes between the sidewalks and streets including rain gardens to trap stormwater and "flow-through planters," where water that lands in one treebox can gradually flow to the next as it runs downhill, feeding more than one tree.
If those treatments make the trees extremely verdant, the intersection could ultimately look something like this:
Even while the trees are growing, it'd be a huge improvement over today:
Many years ago, DDOT had considered an unsignalized roundabout for the intersection. In 2008 we published a proposal of what that might look like. Back then, the agency responded that they had dropped the idea of a roundabout.
When asked at Wednesday's meeting why a roundabout was not under consideration, Vega said DDOT's traffic models showed that a roundabout could not accommodate the traffic volumes of both 15th Street and W Street.
The designs DDOT presented are preliminary concepts. The agency will update the ANC again in a few months with refinements. DDOT is still seeking input, especially on the cycle track separation options and the roadway alignment options mentioned above.
Nicole "@nikki_d" took a ride this morning on the 15th Street cycle track, but found 3 cars parked in the lane. One is the white Cadillac belonging to at-large councilmember Vincent Orange.
DC Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2) claimed this morning that the 15th Street bike lane is "not working" because of the impact on drivers from the new left turn signals.
Evans generally emphasized that he supports bike lanes and committed to keeping the lane in place, but criticized the new, two-way version of the 15th Street lane. He said that the turn restrictions have further narrowed 15th for most drivers, and that the delays in turning make drivers miss green lights on adjacent streets.
When DDOT converted the lane to two-way, it added left turn signals at the intersections where cars can turn left from 15th across the bike lane. Formerly, cars could turn left or right off 15th anytime when they have the green light. Now, during most of the green phase, left-turning drivers have a red arrow; they can then turn at the end of the green phase just before cross traffic gets the green.
Without this, drivers would turn left and many would not look for a cyclist traveling in the bike lane in the same direction. This restriction is an important step to make the two-way lane safe, and given that people haven't been getting hit, it seems to achieve this end.
However, it also frustrates drivers. On Twitter, Tom Sherwood said that he's heard a lot of complaints about "long waits" for these lights. TwistedTidings replied, "It's also annoying when drivers make those turns far too close to crossing pedestrians. City living means annoyance."
Evans alleged that bicycle advocates are reluctant to look into problems with the lane because they don't want to open up the possibility of shrinking or eliminating the lane. People "don't want to give an inch when [they] get an inch," he said.
Is that true, or is this just an issue of drivers being furious at losing even the smallest amount of privilege? Traffic still moves fine on 15th, though it's become less of a speedway. DDOT modified the lane to reduce the number of bollards, for instance, based on resident comments that the bollards were unsightly.
Or does the lane go too far to inconvenience drivers for little bicycle benefit? DDOT had a lot of public meetings before creating the lane's first version, though they went ahead with this new iteration based on professional judgment and very little public discourse. Some bike advocates love the two-way option, while others don't like it.
Personally, I rode a bicycle and drove on the street in both iterations. Riding in the rightmost sharrow lane on 15th when the cycle track was one-way, cars repeatedly tailgated me, passed extremely close and cut back into my lane rapidly after passing me. The drivers generally seemed impatient and surprised to have to deal with a person on a bicycle in the street. With the new lane, it's very comfortable.
Driving on the road, it's more time-consuming to drive up 15th and turn left on P to get home versus going through Scott Circle. As a result, I'm less likely to take 15th when driving. This seems to be a benefit for residents, who generally would prefer drivers use the main arteries like Massachusetts Avenue and 16th Street than residential streets like 15th, P, and R.
When Evans talks about the bike lane, he seems to acknowledge that the lane is valuable on an intellectual level, but then react to specifics on a personal level from his experiences driving and not from using the lane on a bicycle. I hope Evans would try bicycling in the area a few times as well.
Still, there are indeed a lot of complaints. Are there ways to address these concerns without making the lane dangerous? Could modifications lead to a bicycle facility that is as good (or better) for cyclists, while also gaining more neighbor and driver support?
Extending the 15th Street cycle track through downtown has given people a great way to ride north-south without having to fight with car traffic. However, trucks which habitually double park downtown have started parking in the bike lane.
On a ride downtown yesterday, I encountered multiple trucks parked in the lane, including a Comcast truck and a USPS minivan. Multiple readers have sent in photos of FedEx trucks in the lane.
Left: Comcast truck in the lane. Photo by the author. Right: FedEx truck. Photo by Thomas J.
This forces people on bikes into the general lanes. For people riding southbound, that's a little risky when the street is busy, but for people riding northbound, they have to ride against traffic to go around the truck.
On the block between I and K, however, two trucks were parked not in the bike lane itself, but in the general-purpose lane adjacent to the bike lane:
USPS and UPS trucks parked next to, rather than in, the bike lane. Photo by the author.
This is a more sensible place for trucks to double park. They shouldn't double park at all, but there perhaps aren't enough loading zones for the trucks that do need to park, and unfortunately some zoning decisions over the years removed many of the internal alleys in those downtown blocks.
Before the lane existed, the curb lane in some of these blocks had parking, so trucks still had to double park in the second-rightmost lane. Now, if they continue double parking in the second-rightmost lane, they're still parking in the same place.
It appears that these trucks park next to the lane because the vertical posts are too closely-spaced for them to get in and out. Smaller trucks, however, can maneuver between the poles. DDOT expanded the spacing based on residents' requests, but perhaps in this commercial downtown area, they need to add poles?
The bigger question is, can DC effectively accommodate these trucks without forcing them to block either people on bikes or people driving? There could be loading zones just around the corners, though FedEx and UPS trucks typically aren't willing to park a block away. I've even seen a delivery truck double parked next to some parked cars when there was a giant open space just 10-20 feet away.
Before the holiday break, the Washington Examiner published a poorly-researched article about bike lane opposition. But instead of jumping onto an anti-bike lane revolt, DC press and opinion leaders quickly saw through the rhetoric and put forth a more nuanced and sensible reaction.
As other cities, like New York, struggle with fiery opposition to bike lanes, DC can hope to travel down a more level-headed road, where cyclists, drivers and all stakeholders are able to work together to make roads safer and smoother for all.
The article, by Hayley Peterson, focuses on the 15th Street, NW cycle track's extension into downtown. Peterson talks about objections from "business owners," but only one of the three opponents quoted is actually a business owner. One thinks bikes should be on the sidewalk, which is actually illegal in that area, south of Massachusetts Avenue.
Later, the real owner of one of the businesses objected to the article, saying they actually eagerly support the lane. That employee was actually talking about parking meters, not bike lanes, which are of course different things. The article complains about the loss of parking spaces, but it's very few.
To their credit, other members of the DC press corps immediately had a very skeptical reaction. Recognizing the poor reporting on display, TBD's Dave Jamieson writes that "it just sounds like some unorganized and specious grumbling." And Mike DeBonis noted on Twitter that some of the parking spaces in question were actually in front of the Examiner offices. Perhaps there's an ulterior motive behind the piece?
Plus, officials from the Downtown BID gave quotes in support of the lane. Ellen Jones said that property owners were involved in the planning. The lanes have been discussed in community meetings and with stakeholders for over a year. When discussing plans for a number of cycle tracks in March, DDOT Bicycle Program Manager Jim Sebastian said that "it seems quick, but we've been working on this for a while."
Another article by Peterson, published on the same day, compares DC to New York, which is experiencing a stronger "backlash." In that piece, too, Gerri Widdicombe of DC's Downtown BID says, "I know in New York they are having a bike lane revolt. I don't think we're there yet." In fact, it's unlikely DC will ever have the level of rancor on display in New York.
It's not clear how much of New York's "revolt" is widespread negative public sentiment versus the objections of relatively few amplified by hostile press outlets. On Staten Island, the local paper claimed that because people speed on a road, the city should remove a new bike lane, and Mayor Bloomberg bowed to that pressure, as well as some from Hasidic leaders in Williamsburg against "scantily clad cyclists."
A bike lane on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn has worked well and gained many supporters, but drawn opopsition including the family of Senator Chuck Schumer and some hostile columnists, though without success thus far. New York's first cycle tracks, on 8th and 9th Avenues, have gained community support for extensions after a bit of initial opposition.
Certainly any bike lane could upset some people, as have a few lanes in DC. A responsible Department of Transportation listens to the complaints and tries to design lanes to alleviate them as much as posible, but that doesn't mean they should remove the lanes if some modifications will address legitimate concerns.
For example, after some 15th Street residents complained about the large yellow pylons possibly reducing the curb appeal of houses, DDOT switched them to more widely-spaced, shorter white pylons when modifying the lane to two-way operation.
Still, cycling advocates inside and outside government benefit from having as many supporters as they can get beyond just regular cyclists and business groups. That motivation underlies WABA's Resolution to Ride Responsibly, which asks cyclists to pledge to be good riders.
The resolution generated some backlash of its own, largely over a tone which seemed to imply all cyclists need to do better as opposed to emphasizing that most cyclists are already riding responsibly. But WABA is right that the "scofflaw cyclist" stereotype is interfering with further advocacy.
The biggest reason Peterson's critique flopped was that the impact of the 15th Street lanes was ultimately very small. As DC moves ahead with more bike lanes, like those on L and M Streets, NW, opposition may grow.
DDOT can best blunt that by working with stakeholders and keeping the public well informed about plans instead of keeping details secret until the last moment, and cyclists can also build support by acting collaboratively with drivers and pedestrians, on the road and in public meetings.
Update: Edited the post to clarify that sidewalk cycling is not illegal everywhere, but is illegal south of Massachusetts Avenue downtown, which is the area that the Strayer campus director was talking about.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As Pennsylvania Avenue gets its new bike lanes, DDOT has adjusted and improved its plans for the other downtown cycle tracks.
A DC government source said that the agency has eliminated the proposed westbound cycle track on I Street and shifted it to M Street between 15th and 29th Streets. The reasons for this change are twofold.
First, traffic models indicated that removing a car lane on I Street would have a far greater impact than removing one on the much wider M Street. Second, DDOT did not want to preclude any bus improvements that it is studying with Metro for I Street. Unlike I, M Street is not a major bus corridor.
M also provides better connections to Georgetown and the regional trail system at Rock Creek Park, and the 2005 Bicycle Master Plan calls for a lane on M.
Looking ahead, DDOT's next goal for cycle track expansion is 15th Street from Massachusetts to Constitution Avenues, though a design issue remains where vendors have set up shop on 15th Street between Constitution and Pennsylvania. Following that, the new M Street lane must be designed and will be constructed in tandem with an eastbound cycle track on L Street. Cycle track proposals along 9th Street and M Street SE/SW are further in the future.
DDOT is also planning to study a cycle track for Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 17th and 29th streets. The Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track poses challenges both at wide intersections where lettered streets intersect the avenue and at Washington Circle. This facility would connect to standard bike lanes on New Hampshire Avenue between Dupont and Washington circles when that road is reconstructed in the future.
DDOT listened to feedback from Greater Greater Washington, WABA, cyclists, BIDs, transit riders and more, and has created a better plan as a result.
DDOT's first protected contraflow bike lane is a significant achievement for DDOT and its bicycle program. Reviews from the press are mostly positive, if cautious, and planners across the nation are taking notice.
In the Post, DDOT's Bicycle Program Manager Jim Sebastian mentioned that other streets, including L and M Streets NW, are candidates for similar protected lanes. As DDOT learns from this lane and starts planning for the next, they should consider some potential next steps:
Reduce mode conflict. The strongest concern most seem to have about this new-for-Washington facility is conflict between turning motor vehicles and cyclists using the contraflow lane. Here are a few suggestions for reducing the potential for conflict.
- Signal timing: Cyclists in the contraflow lane are directed to obey pedestrian signals. DDOT spokesman John Lisle said that the agency will soon set the pedestrian signals to begin before the traffic light turns green. This change, called a Leading Pedestrian Interval, or LPI, allows pedestrians and cyclists to establish their rightful place in the roadway before cars are able to turn and eliminates the current free-for-all that occurs when pedestrians, cyclists and turning automobiles are instructed by signals to vie for the same patch of roadway at once.
Ironically, the only location on 15th Street that currently has LPI is the intersection with U Street. Cyclists in the contraflow lane can't use that signal, since the lane does not yet extend north of U. Hopefully DDOT will also take the opportunity presented by retiming signals for LPI to alter the current sequence of southbound lights, which forces cyclists to stop and go every few blocks. Giving cyclists a green wave will reduce the incentive for them to run red lights.
- Green paint: Although the contraflow lane is marked by multiple bicycle symbols as it crosses alleys and cross streets, striping the line bright green, as has been done in the Pacific Northwest, New York, and other locations, will make the lane that much more visible to turning drivers.
- Rhode Island and Massachusetts Avenue intersections: Cyclists are most vulnerable at these locations at the southern end of the bike lane, where there is high-volume and high-speed cross traffic. Under the current configuration, it is not crystal clear to cyclists that they should wait for the traffic signal at Rhode Island Avenue well north of the crosswalk so that they avoid the entrance to the Holiday Inn at the corner. Similarly, the lane abruptly ends before the crosswalk at Massachusetts Avenue, giving cyclists little indication of what to do at this intersection.
Maintain the bikeway's condition.
- Maintenance: The District of Columbia should not turn into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to bicycle facilities. If DDOT's planning and project implementation divisions are going to treat bicycles as transportation, its maintenance division (along with DPW) should treat bicycle facilities as transportation infrastructure, as well. If it snows, plow the bikeway. If leaves fill the lane, as they have recently, clear them. Only time will tell whether or not DC maintains this facility (they have swept the leaves a few times so far), but advocates should not be shy in insisting that it does.
- Enforcement: Unlike the designed-to-fail 7th and 9th Street bike/bus lanes, the 15th Street facility reduces the need for constant enforcement because its flex-post and parking protection eliminates by design much of the incentive for drivers to ignore the law. But people are already starting to use the visibility zones for loading or parking. The visibility zones should be better striped and violators should get tickets.
DC should also enforce unsafe bicycle operation, like racing through red lights or operating at night without lights. With proper infrastructure comes respect and responsibility. On southbound 15th Street, at least, cyclists are no longer the Rodney Dangerfield of traffic. Like bikeway maintenance, this is an issue that can only be addressed over time.
Complete the network.
- Extensions and connections: The lane is nice, but for it to be successful it must connect to the rest of the city's bicycle network. The next steps are to extend the facility north of U Street to connect with bike lanes on V and W Streets, and south of Massachusetts Avenue.
The southern extension is particularly important because 15th Street south of Massachusetts is currently one-way northbound during evening rush hours. This leaves cyclists using the contraflow lane in a tough spot when they approach Massachusetts during evening rush, since they cannot continue straight and turning left or right dumps them onto busy and dangerous Massachusetts Avenue. Extending the protected lane downtown to K or H Streets would not only provide safe passage across Massachusetts to downtown, it would connect the lane to potential bicycle facilities on K, L and M Streets.
- A northbound facility of equal quality: It's very common to see northbound cyclists using the southbound lane. While frustrating, it is understandable. Although northbound cyclists are instructed by signs and sharrows to use the full right-hand lane on 15th Street, many are intimidated by cars speeding around them and prefer to use a protected facility. Although wrong-way cycling in the contraflow lane (would that be contra-contra-flow?) may not be inherently dangerous behavior, the danger arises when some drivers may not expect to be looking out for northbound cyclists in addition to southbound cyclists as they cross the lane.
If wrong-way cycling persists in the contra-flow lane, DDOT should consider acknowledging this "desire path" and restripe the lane as a two-way cycle track, with appropriate signage for drivers. However, the change to a two-way lane should not precipitate the removal of the existing northbound sharrows. Bicycles are not required to use a bike lane and have a right to the roadway. Drivers tempted to intimidate a cyclist taking the lane on 15th Street should be reminded of that law if the cycle track becomes two-way.
DDOT has produced a PDF to educate 15th Street users on how the lane works, and Borderstan posted complete plans for the lane (PDF). This new facility is a great step forward for the District's bicycle facilities. With some experience and by making a few tweaks, DDOT can deploy these lanes across the city to great success.
Press coverage of the 15th Street bike lane has moved beyond the "people are confused" frame to "let's see how this works." That's the right attitude.
As I've written so many times before, there's no substitute for actual, on-the-ground experience to find the best ways to move pedestrians, bikes and cars safely and fairly. In addition to Ashley Halsey's excellent article, WashCycle points to a good Tom Sherwood piece on the lane.
Some cyclists aren't so pleased. Dr. Gridlock prints one cyclist's letter saying that turning cars don't look enough, there are too many leaves, and cars and trucks double park where they shouldn't. Gridlock counsels some patience, and WashCycle rebuts some of the points, especially the one about leaves, which are getting everywhere, lane or no lane, and will soon be over. Contrary to some claims, DPW is indeed able to get a sweeper truck in there.
It does appear that some drivers are parking in the visibility zones, however. That's a real problem, because the visibility zones are key to keeping left-turning drivers from hitting cyclists. Reader Michael sent in these pictures of cars parked there over the weekend:
Just as the other issues warrant patience, so should this. DDOT can work with DPW and MPD to ensure drivers who park there get tickets. If they do, drivers will learn not to park there. I do wonder why there aren't flexposts placed to block parking in this zone. If parking in visibility zones remains a problem, DDOT could consider adding them.
As for that mail truck, we do need to enable mail trucks to park briefly to deliver the mail, as well as delivery trucks and even cars stopping momentarily to unload groceries. Right now, many of the spaces in front of fire hydrants and at corners serve as de facto temporary loading zones. In the future, as DC installs more bike lanes and bulb-outs, those loading zones will go away. The best solution would be to create official 15-minute loading areas where appropriate, instead of simply assuming that pedestrian and bicycle safety has to suffer to let people reasonably load and unload.
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