Greater Greater Washington

Posts about L And M Street Bike Lanes


In DC's West End, construction projects are endangering cyclists and pedestrians

In DC's West End, portions of the bikeways on L and M Streets, along with the adjacent sidewalks, are closed because of construction projects. The detours are confusing, and the result is that people on both bikes and foot are sharing narrow, unsafe spaces.

Pedestrians are supposed to use the barricaded space that's usually a bike lane along the 2300 block of L street. There isn't any bike space right now. All photos by the author.

On M Street, two separate segments of the sidewalk and protected bikeway are closed. The reason for closing the first segment, located along the 2200 block, is construction for a new fire station and apartments. The second segment, located along the 2500 block, is closed for a project that's converting a former office building into luxury condominiums.

On L Street, the sidewalk and bike lane are closed along the 2300 block for construction for a new mixed-use development that will include a public library, retail, and luxury condominiums. Note that L Street's bike lane doesn't become a protected bikeway until one block later, east of New Hampshire Avenue.

In all three locations, physical barriers separate bike and foot traffic from car traffic.

Image from Google Maps.

The detours aren't very effective

As cyclists and pedestrians approach the M Street construction sites from the east, traffic signs warn that the bike lane will be shifting to the left and that the sidewalk is closing. There are instructions for pedestrians to cross to the south side of the street, where the sidewalk remains open. But with a barricaded path that seems safe right in front of them, a lot of people just proceed through it, similar to what's currently happening at 15th and L Streets NW.

Blind spots amplify this problem, with tall barriers and sharp adjustments to the barricaded path drastically limiting visibility. This is especially dangerous in the scenario where the paths of a pedestrian heading east and a cyclist heading west converge.

Tall barrier walls and sharp curves along the barricaded path on the 2300 block of M Street create dangerous blind spots for cyclists and pedestrians.

Along L Street, there are signs directing pedestrians to use the barricaded space, and there is no space clearly designated for cyclists. Many cyclists end up proceeding through the space since there is nowhere else to go and the visual cues are contradictory (hard-to-see signs and a painted bike lane remain visible).

As you can see in the pictures, the barricaded spaces at the construction sites are extremely narrow. There is not enough space provided to allow for cyclists and pedestrians to safely pass each other. The traffic barriers take up significant pedestrian and bicycle real estate, and the fences are anchored by large cinder blocks that invade the already small space.

There's another option: Close a lane of car traffic

The way construction is set up on the 2500 block of M Street is especially questionable. The stretch includes three lanes of vehicle traffic (in addition to parking on each side, as well as the protected bike lane), but all three vehicle lanes have remained open despite the construction.

Given that this portion of M Street feeds directly into the heart of Georgetown, it sees heavy bike and pedestrian traffic. It would not be unreasonable to close a lane of car traffic along this particularly wide segment of the street to ensure a safe amount of space for everyone.

Cyclists traveling west along the 2500 block of M Street are forced to share lanes with vehicle traffic, as pedestrians walk through the space designated for bikes. Directing pedestrians to cross the street clearly is not a viable solution.

The West End is one of the most walkable and bikeable neighborhoods in DC, but too often, walking and biking are the first to be compromised when it comes to making space for construction. Giving equal priority to all modes of transportation would help keep everyone safe.


15th Street's protected bikeway is a sidewalk now

At 15th and L Street NW, where construction is underway to turn the now former Washington Post building into Fannie Mae's new headquarters, the protected bikeway is also serving as a sidewalk. DC's policies say this kind of situation should be avoided if at all possible, and in this particular case, it could be.

All photos by the author.

By DDOT's rules, Carr Properties, the permittee doing the demolition and construction, is required to set up two separate temporary paths next to this work site: one to replace the closed sidewalk and one to replace the closed bikeway. Space for this would come temporary removing parking or moving (and maybe even closing) driving lanes.

But what's actually there is a series of signs, fences, cones, and plastic barriers establishing a single narrow chute that is partially blocked by fence stands.

On paper this is an alternative track for bicycles only, because pedestrians are admonished to cross at the intersections and walk on the east side of 15th. What's actually happening, though, is that people are taking the most convenient path they see, meaning cyclists, wheelchair users, joggers, people pushing strollers, and people on Segway tours are all sharing the space.

The rules say this shouldn't happen

A few years ago, the DC Council unanimously enacted the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013. Among other provisions, the act included a measure to protect the rights of people who get around on bike and on foot.

Since the rule went into effect, any permit application has had to comply with the following new District Department of Transportation rule: When construction permit applications ask to close sidewalks and bike lanes, the applicant must submit a plan for safe and convenient alternatives, and DDOT has to approve it before issuing a permit.

Detail of the traffic control plan.

The rules themselves are not radical: Maintain safe space separated from each other and other traffic for people who bike and walk, close parking and travel lanes if necessary to create that space, and add shared road markings and signage if cyclists must merge into general travel lanes. The standard "SIDEWALK CLOSED CROSS HERE" signs can only be used as a last resort when no other alternative exists.

There are alternatives here. The current traffic plan preserves five full-width driving lanes (two southbound, three northbound), and only removes a few parking spaces. Almost that almost half the space in this plan is actually occupied by the barriers themselves. The regulations allow taking more space from driving lanes, which could go a long way to easing the disruption.

Demolition on this site should be finished soon, then construction of the new building will take two to three years. DDOT has announced that Carr Properties and Clark Construction will host a public meeting to present the next steps for this project to the community.

Protected bikeways like the one on 15th Street and L Street are a big part of the growth of cycling in the District. This one should remain open and useful during the ongoing demolition and construction project.


Cyclists got tickets for riding on a short one-way half-block. There's a better way to design this street

Last month, police ticketed bicyclists riding the wrong way on M Street near the Convention Center, POPville reported. We asked our contributors and DDOT what they think is the right solution in this area.

The one-way block of M, looking west from 9th Street NW. Image from Google Maps.

This one-way block of M is essentially only a half block, between 9th Street NW and Blagden Alley, halfway to 8th. Besides this half block, M is two-way from Thomas Circle, at 14th, eastward to 5th Street NW.

The one-way block of M, looking west near Blagden Alley NW. Image from Google Maps.

DDOT spokesperson Keith St. Clair said a change to one-way appears on convention center plans dating to 2004. Contributors speculated that the construction of the convention center might have spurred the change as a traffic calming measure. The loading dock is on M, one block to the east.

At that time, contraflow bike lanes, which allow cycling in the opposite direction of traffic on an otherwise one-way street, weren't a regular part of DC's road design toolbox. Now, DC has several roads with such lanes, including G and I streets NE, on either side of H Street, and New Hampshire Avenue NW for a block on each side of U Street.

Here, the street is the same width east of Blagden (where it's one-way) as west. This leaves plenty of room for a contraflow lane. St. Clair added,

Safety is our number one priority at DDOT. The law rightly treats cyclists as legitimate users of the roadway, and cyclists are subject to traffic laws for everyone's safety—especially their own. Without facilities and signage designed to let bikes ride contraflow safely, we don't support wrong-way bicycling.

That said, M Street east of Thomas Circle is a potential route for improved bike lanes. DDOT is exploring options on how we might proceed. A contraflow lane, similar to what we installed on G and I Streets NE last year, might be possible without modifying vehicular conditions or parking. The results of our analysis will be shared with the public, and their input will be taken into consideration when DDOT finalizes any action plans.

Base image from Google Maps. The red oval shows the one-way half-block in question.

Meanwhile, ride on the sidewalk

Riding on the sidewalk is legal in this area, and some contributors said they do just that. Payton Chung pointed out that DC explicitly encourages this in one spot:

I know of one local precedent for signing a contraflow bike route on the sidewalk. On O Street SW, across from Nats Park, the street goes one-way westbound (away from the stadium) for one block. Eastbound cyclists are directed onto the south sidewalk.

Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.
In that situation, though, bicyclists are going uphill to an actuated stoplight at South Capitol Street, and are therefore going slowly past a few houses. The 900 block of M, on the other hand, is leading away from a stoplight and goes past many more houses, few of which might want relatively fast crosstown cyclists riding past their stoops.
If DC were able to follow Europe's lead, it might be possible to have a contraflow "lane" without even repainting the street. In Germany (as in the picture below), the Netherlands, and elsewhere, some low-speed, low-traffic streets (as M is here) with "do not enter" signs that don't apply to cyclists.

A Berlin sign exempting cyclists from the "Do Not Enter" restriction. "Frei" is German for free, or clear; this sign says bicycles can still enter while motor vehicles cannot. Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

Still, a contraflow lane might be the best approach and aligns with DC's practice in other areas. It's good to hear DDOT is considering that option.


Drivers may not notice them, but utility hazards are a big danger for bicyclists

After utility companies rip up the streets, they're supposed to restore them. But the low-quality way they often restore pavement under bike lanes and cycletracks makes them very dangerous for cyclists.

Photo by the author.

On Wednesday, I lost control of my bike and crashed after riding over an asphalt patch and a large, loose chunk of asphalt in the L Street NW bike lane. What I hit may have been no more than a minor inconvenience for someone in a car, but since I couldn't see well because it was raining and the sun had yet to rise, it was enough to knock me off my bike.

Leather gloves, a few layers of clothing, and an impact-absorbing roll that I half-jokingly credit to my Army training cushioned my fall. I scraped my right arm, hip, and leg during the initial impact. When I instinctively put out my left arm to break the fall, I badly bruised that wrist. Thankfully, my trusty helmet didn't come into play.

As a cyclist, I'm mindful of drivers, obstacles, other bikes, weather, and even deer when I ride. If I wreck, I'm likely to receive a disproportionate share of the impact and injury.

But at the site of my crash, the asphalt patch I hit looked smooth and the chunk of concrete blended into the rest of the road. I felt a couple bumps, and next thing I knew my wheel turned sharply, I was in the air, and then on the ground.

A DDOT inspector responds

After getting to work and bandaging my wounds, I emailed District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Director Matt Brown asking if he could send an inspector to look at the spot. At the very least, I thought, this might keep someone else from also getting injured. Six minutes later, Brown responded, "Thanks. I'll send someone to check it out."

The inspector found chunks of asphalt but couldn't determine whether they came from that site or somewhere else, like off the back of a passing truck. A utility company had temporarily laid the asphalt patch. Utilities are allowed to use these as long as they permanently fix the road before their construction permits end.

GGW contributor Kelli Lafferty reported manhole covers on the 4th Street SW bike lane with patches that aren't flush with the rest of the street, and Payton Chung fell a few months ago at 9th and G NW where pavement had worn away around a gas outlet that was inside the bike lane. Both problems, they say, persist despite having been reported months ago.

Photo by Payton Chung.

Utility companies need to do their part

DDOT regulations require utility companies to ensure safety where they dig up the road whether the fix is permanent or temporary. The agency says, "When the work is completed, the utilities are responsible for restoring the roadway, and DDOT ensures that all utility cuts are in compliance with the District's permitting guidelines and that public space is properly restored within District Standard Specifications to ensure safety."

But utility companies sometimes need prodding to properly restore the road or sidewalk. Too often they just to slap down some asphalt and leave a more hazardous situation. People can report a bad restoration through SeeClickFix or by calling 311 directly.

It's not practical to expect every street and alley to be perfectly smooth. And being aware of the conditions and risks is ultimately each cyclist's responsibility. But it is reasonable to expect utility companies to be sensitive to cyclist (and pedestrian) safety.


DC’s most bike-friendly corner: 15th and L

Look at this beautiful photo. Two cycletracks meet at a street corner, bike boxes and green paint flow in every direction, and a bikeshare station sits in the background. It's almost Dutch. Almost.

15th and L, NW. Photo by the author.

This is the corner of 15th and L Streets, in downtown DC. It's the only intersection in the Washington region (so far) where protected bike lanes extend out in all four directions. It's also home to the only two-stage bike box in the region. And as of Tuesday, it's got a sparkling new bikeshare station.

Whether or not it's really DC's most bike-friendly corner is debatable. Certainly the heavy car traffic at 15th and L can make biking there uncomfortable, even with cycletracks. And while most bike movements through this intersection are easy, there's still no good way to turn right off the L Street cycletrack onto southbound 15th Street.

But no other corner in the city packs so much bike infrastructure into one spot. According to that metric at least, this corner is tops.

And it's right outside the Washington Post's headquarters.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Every DC & Arlington cycletrack, in one map

With DC's M Street and 1st Street cycletracks on the ground, the central city network of protected bike lanes is starting to actually look like a network.

Image by the author using Google.

This map shows every cycletrack in town. In addition to M Street and 1st Street, there's L Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, good old reliable 15th Street, and the diminutive R Street lane near the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

For the sake of completeness I also included Rosslyn's super tiny cycletrack, which exists mainly to access a popular Capital Bikeshare station.

Between DC's proposed 70 mile cycltrack network and plans coming together in South Arlington, hopefully future iterations of this map will look even better.

Notice anything missing or wrong?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Curb-protected cycletracks are now appearing in DC

Two new cycletracks will open in DC this spring, on M Street NW and 1st Street NE. Their designs are a step up from previous DC cycletracks, since they each include spots—though on M, a very brief spot—where a full concrete curb separates bikes from cars.

The 1st Street NE cycletrack (left), and the Rhode Island Avenue portion of the M Street NW cycletrack (right).

The 1st Street NE cycletrack connects the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Union Station and downtown DC. DDOT installed its curb last week, from K Street to M Street. Crews are still working on striping and signals, but the project is close to opening.

The M Street cycletrack is longer than 1st Street's overall, but the portion with a curb is shorter. It's less than one block, where the cycletrack briefly curves onto Rhode Island Avenue in order to approach Connecticut Avenue more safely. Officials say the M Street cycletrack is a week or two from opening.

Typically DDOT uses plastic bollards instead of curbs. The bollards are less expensive, easier to install, and can be removed occasionally to perform street maintenance. But they're less attractive and less significant as a physical barrier, compared to a curb.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


DDOT lays out its plans for new bikeways in 2014

It may be snowing today, but spring is approaching. With construction season therefore around the corner, DDOT has released its list of planned bike projects for 2014.

Map of 2014 bike projects. Image from DDOT.

Most exciting, the highly anticipated M Street and 1st Street NE cycletracks are listed as "ready to go."

Also ready to go are contraflow bike lanes on G, F, and I Streets NE, and standard bike lanes on 13th Street NW, F Street NE, I Street SE, and New Hampshire Avenue NW.

Several other bike lane projects are still in planning, although it doesn't appear DDOT is actively moving any other cycletrack projects after M and 1st Street.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Couple berates cyclist for reporting van in bike lane

Last night, a cyclist nearly hit a van blocking the L Street cycletrack and decided to report it to the police. That's when he met Fred and Fran Smith, the husband-and-wife heads of a conservative think tank who started berating him for "minding other people's business."

Rob, who tweets as @the_baseband, captured the interaction on his helmet camera and posted it online yesterday. It not only shows the need for more public education about cycling laws in the District, but also the divisive attitude some have towards cyclists, even when they're following the law.

Rob was turning left from 19th Street NW to L Street when he almost slammed into the back of a white van parked in the lane. He walks his bike onto the sidewalk and can be heard calling the police, when a woman approaches and asks if he's going to report the van.

As Rob reads out the license plate of the truck over the phone, an older man in a suit walks over and the two begin screaming at him. The two are later identified as Fred Smith and Fran Smith, founder and board member of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that promotes free-market economics and denies global warming.

The interaction is brief, but it says a lot about lingering attitudes towards cycling and cyclists in DC. While the driver of the van broke the law by parking in a bike lane, it happens so frequently that people like Fred Smith either assume that it's acceptable, or that it's not actually a bike lane.

When Rob explains that he almost hit the van, Fred yells, "The truck is not in the bike lane at all!" He walks out into the street, points to the striped buffer between the bike lane and the general traffic lanes, and says that's the bike lane.

It's also interesting the way that Fred and Fran immediately try to paint Rob as the aggressor for trying to report the driver, chiding him for "minding other people's business." Fred makes multiple assumptions about Rob, saying he "hasn't worked a day in his life" and is "mad" at the driver for not being a cyclist.

When another couple walking by stops to see what's going on, Fred tries to rope them in and marginalize Rob (and by extension, other cyclists, or other young adults) as an outsider. Holding a cigarette, he says to them, "This used to be a nice town where people actually got along." It's hard to hear what he says next, but it's clear he's pointing at Rob.

On YouTube, Rob notes that he stayed to wait for the police, then "I realized it would be better for me to leave."

Our streets have limited space, and tension between different users is unavoidable. But as the ranks of cyclists in DC grow and the cycling infrastructure needed to serve them becomes more common, they won't be seen as outsiders anymore. Fred and Fran Smith may be a lost cause, but hopefully others will be more willing to accept cyclists and acknowledge their rights to the road.

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