Posts about L And M Street Bike Lanes
In late April, Dutch cycling experts met with DC area planners, engineers, and feds to look at cycling conditions in the West End neighborhood. They all teamed up to draft a plan that would build connections to trails and add new segments of on-street bikeways, all with the goal of creating a safe, easy-to-use cycling network.
The Netherlands are the world's gold standard for bike infrastructure. Photo by Christopher Porter on Flickr.
The Dutch Cycling Embassy is a public-private partnership that serves economic development and foreign policy goals of the Dutch government, exporting their safe, convenient, and mainstream cycling culture to the world through infrastructure design expertise. The Royal Netherlands Embassy brought this initiative to DC in 2010 for a "ThinkBike" workshop focusing on L and M Street.
The "Dutch way" emphasizes clear infrastructure design criteria to create a "joyful" cycling experience. The Netherlands is the western world's most successful country at actually getting people onto bikes. Unlike in the US where we often plan bikeways only where we can fit them in without upsetting too many drivers, in the Netherlands, the safety and convenience of cyclists get full treatment.
Dr. Peter Furth of Northeastern University, who teaches an annual summer course on bicycle infrastructure design that takes American civil engineering students to the Netherlands, pioneered translation of this vision to our side of the Atlantic through his "Level of Traffic Stress" typology in the United States.
DC has sometimes struggled to build the kinds of bike lanes that are commonplace in the Netherlands. The Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, from concept to present day, have generated five pages of posts on GGWash alone through multiple redesigns, tweaks, and controversies. The L and M Street NW bikeway that were the focus of the 2010 ThinkBike workshop have also struggled (quoth contributor Dan Malouff: "They're almost Dutch. Almost.").
Workshop attendees first considered the dangers of biking in DC
There's clearly more to learn. Last month, the Cycling Embassy returned to take a look at the West End, along with over 50 local bicycle planners, advocates, experts, and policy professionals. Many staff from USDOT were in attendance, even as their boss was trying out a bike in Amsterdam.
The emphasis was sober rather than joyful, with the DDOT professionals emphasizing the need to make roads safer. Virginia Tech planning students presented an analysis of bike crashes that showed clear problems with the key north-south connections to the West End (21st Street NW and 17th Street NW) and the core east-west spine of the neighborhood, Pennsylvania Avenue.
Participants also noted an opportunity to substantially increase connectivity to the regional trail network, through improved wayfinding and short segments of infrastructure upgrades to and from trail connections to Rock Creek, the Capital Crescent Trail, the Roosevelt Memorial Bridge (aka I-66), and the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
However, increasing connections to low-stress cycling would likely necessitate serious work on Virginia Avenue, lest more crash hotspots bloom.
A map of the 194 West End bicycle crashes between 2010 and mid-2015. Data from DDOT, map by Virginia Tech urban/regional planning studio spring 2016 students.
The result was a world-class bike plan... but will it actually happen?
The final proposed network conference attendees came up at the end of the workshop included an ambitious wish list of new protected bikeways on DC's streets, including the notorious Washington Circle.
It is worth noting that the corridors identified and prioritized by this workshop, including Pennsylvania Avenue, Virginia Avenue, G Street, 17th Street, 21st Street, and 22nd Street NW, correlate almost exactly with the vision of MoveDC, DDOT's long-term transportation plan.
It's nice to see that at the planning level, a plan DC already came up with was already on the same page as the Dutch. It remains to be seen, though, what we can achieve at the design level. Workshop participants cycled the study area, measured rights of way, and sketched potential designs. In the safety of a workshop of cycling experts, parking was removed left and right, and a bike lane never had to give way to a bioretention swale.
In the real world, there are more diverse stakeholders and tradeoffs when space is at a premium, as it is in a neighborhood where real estate is doing "phenomenally well." And at the edges of our study area, we didn't dare tell the Dutch about our "trails" with unmarked connections and crossings, broken pavement, narrow, crowded surfaces, and dead-end trailheads.
Trail connections are (hopefully) the next step
The region's missing piece is connections from streets to our longer bike trails. WABA has recently invested in advocacy capacity to advance this, and the National Park Service just dropped a mic: a Paved Trails Study complete with a regional vision, specific segments delineated, measurable goals, and capital recommendations.
The report acknowledges the NPS has no trail design standards, recommends developing some, and proposes a National Capital Trail (hellooooo "Bicycle Beltway!").
If you care about trails in our area, check it out and submit comments. The comment period is open until May 19.
Washington is one of many cities going green, literally: green paint is becoming a go-to way to make bike lanes stand out so that using the street is safer for everyone.
The bike lanes along 14th Street NW, between V and U Streets, just turned green. Photo by Rodney Hunter.
The latest green lanes in DC were just painted on 14th Street NW between V and U streets. But that's just the latest in what has been regularly happening in DC for the past few years. Why has the city gone green for bike lanes all of a sudden?
It wasn't always green
According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, an early 1990's test in Portland used blue paint to see whether or not painted lanes made cyclists safer and more visible. The overall test results found that the treatment was generally popular and both drivers and cyclists felt that it helped reduce confusion and conflict.
But cities gradually started switching to green paint because blue pavement markings because blue is often the color used to mark handicapped-accessible spaces. Meanwhile, other colors like red and yellow are used to warn people or signal that something is prohibited. Before it became the color for bike lanes, it was rare to see green paint on the street.
In DC, green lanes are found in a few places. The entire First Street NE protected bikeway, which runs from Union Station through NoMa, is painted bright green. The L and M street bikeways also have green sections where there are turn lanes for cars, to make sure that bikes going straight have a path around turning vehicles.
Places where bike lanes cross turning lanes or tricky intersections are also spots where you're likely to find green paint in DC. That's the case at R Street and Rhode Island Avenue where the diagonal avenue makes for an awkwardly long intersection. And at Eye Street SW, numerous entrances have green paint so drivers know to check for cyclists and to merge carefully rather than just turning (check out this shot of I before it got green paint and a bike lane, and this one after).
Green paint along R Street across Rhode Island Avenue. The paint helps keep bikes and cars straight across a long intersection.
Other places around the region are getting in on the act as well. Arlington has painted portions of the bike lane along Clarendon Boulevard green at some of the tricky intersections and along Hayes Street near Pentagon City as well.
Green paint has also shown up in Montgomery County, first appearing on Woodglen Drive in Bethesda.
Other places get the point, but they use different colors
Other countries seem to be fond of different colors, as standards in those countries have developed differently over time. Red is a popular color for bike lanes in the Netherlands and Copenhagen while painted bike lanes in the UK are probably going to be blue.
No matter the color, the intent is that a bike lane should stick out so that people know to watch out.
At least one town in the Netherlands decided that all of those colors were too boring and decided to install LEDs that mimic the whorling patterns found in the famous Van Gogh painting Starry Night.
Still, while green seems to be a popular color for more and more bike lanes, it isn't universally beloved. Recently, automobile advertisers found themselves in a lurch when a bright green bike lane was painted in LA along a street that is often used for filming car commercials.
Hollywood's troubles and all, it appears that green lanes in the US are sticking around and will soon be a regular part of the landscape. Where should the next splash of green go in the region?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Notice anything missing or wrong?
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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—
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.
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