Greater Greater Washington

Posts about L And M Street Bike Lanes


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 spotsthough on M, a very brief spotwhere 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.


MoveDC plan proposes 70 miles of cycletracks

DC could one day have 70 miles of protected bike lanes, if the latest proposal from DDOT becomes reality.

The proposal comes as part of the latest draft of MoveDC, DDOT's master plan. It's still only a proposal, and has not been approved by the DC Council. But what an exciting proposal it is!

Existing & proposed DC cycletracks. Maps by BeyondDC, using base maps from Google.

And that's not all, just for bikes. The proposal also includes over 60 miles of new off-street trails, and another 70 miles of new regular bike lanes.

Of course, it's easy to adopt great plans and harder to accomplish them. DDOT is still struggling to implement the M Street cycletrack, after all. But one must start with a plan, and this appears to be an extremely progressive plan.

Tomorrow I'll share the latest recommendations for transit.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Enough broken promises from DDOT

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) promised to complete a number of important projects by now or by the end of this year. Quick quiz: Can you identify which of these have met or will meet the promised deadline?

Photo by Len Matthews on Flickr.

  • Start streetcar service on H Street NE-Benning Road by the end of the year.
  • Devise a better system for handling visitor parking passes and residential permit parking.
  • Start building a separated bike lane (or "cycletrack") on M Street NW.
  • Expand Capital Bikeshare to twice its original size.
  • Make pedestrian safety improvements to Maryland Avenue NE.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of a new median on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Glover Park.

The answer: None of the above. DDOT has delayed or given up on all of these promises.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.


A narrower L Street cycletrack could keep drivers out

The L Street cycletrack has made it easier to bike across downtown DC, but it's wide enough that drivers often park or drive in it, endangering cyclists. But slightly adjusting the buffer between the cycletrack and the travel lanes could keep them out.

A truck and cyclist in the L Street cycletrack. Photo from Who's Blocking the L St. Bike Lane Today?.

Yesterday evening, I witnessed a crash in the cycletrack. A driver drove between the flexposts that separate the cycletrack from the travel lanes, well before the mixing zone where there's a gap to let drivers enter the left-turn lane, and crashed into a cyclist. The cyclist was okay; the driver admitted his responsibility in the crash, and police gave him a ticket.

However, bicyclists remain susceptible to collisions with drivers who willfully cross into the cycletrack between the flexposts. There is, however, an inexpensive and easy solution to prevent this from happening: make it too narrow to accommodate a car or truck.

This would solve both the problem of illegal parking and prevent drivers from using the cycletrack as a cut-through. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) would simply need to paint a slightly wider buffer zone and move the flexposts over a few feet. The cycletrack would remain amply wide for bicycle use, while keeping cars or trucks out.

In the long term, DDOT officials have proposed building a permanent curb between the cycletrack and the the travel lanes. Additionally, they might consider a separate traffic signal phase for bicycles and automobile traffic, and whether "mixing zones" are really in the best interest of cyclists and motorists.

But for now, a narrower cycletrack, even one separated by simple flexposts, would prove a safer space for cyclists.


Why DDOT chose no cycletrack for one block of M Street

If a church needs 3 of 4 lanes on a street for parking on Sundays, what's better: shrink down a planned cycletrack to a basic painted bike lane, or allow parking in the cycletrack some of the time?

No Parking signs at Metropolitan AME. Photo from Google Maps.

The long-awaited and much-delayed east-west protected bike lane, or "cycletrack," will finally go in on M Street, NW in October, but without protection for cyclists on one block. Many residents have been quite angry at the sudden change.

I spoke to Sam Zimbabwe, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Associate Director for Policy, Planning, and Sustainability (which includes the bicycle program). He provided some more details on why he and his group made the decision they did.

There isn't room to preserve all of the Sunday on-street parking on the block and add a cycletrack. Therefore, one of four things would have to happen:

  1. The block loses a significant amount of parking and flexibility, which particularly affects the church.
  2. People can park in the cycletrack on Sundays and during midday funerals.
  3. The cycletrack becomes just a classic painted bike lane.
  4. DDOT moves the tree boxes and completely rebuilds the north side sidewalks to create a sidewalk-level bike lane at much larger cost.

Zimbabwe and his team chose #3. If #1 were indeed politically infeasible, the question remains whether they were right to choose #3 over #2, or not.

The street today

M Street, NW between 15th and 16th has 90 feet from building to building, with 40 feet between curbs. Today, the road striping divides it into four 10-foot lanes. At rush hour, all four are ostensibly regular travel lanes, while parking is allowed at other times.

Current M Street cross-section. All diagrams by the author with StreetMix.

Metropolitan AME rents spaces in nearby garages on Sundays, but still uses a lot of on-street space for parking. The north side allows parallel parking, and the south side becomes diagonal parking on Sundays until 2 pm.

Current Sunday cross-section. (StreetMix doesn't have a module for diagonal parking, so this shows perpendicular parking. The actual parking is back-in head-out diagonal parking.)

On weekdays, the church sometimes has funerals where people double park in front of the church, and events where large tour buses full of people arrive. Buses need to let off on the north side of the street. If this doesn't happen against the curb, it would block a travel lane.

Can a cycletrack fit?

A cycletrack is at least 8 feet wide, according to Zimbabwe5 feet for the bike lane and a 3-foot buffer. On other blocks of M Street that have a similar width, DDOT will remove the parking on the south side (right side of these diagrams) and put full-time parking on the north (left) side, adjacent to the cycletrack. (At the corners, there will instead be mixing zones.)

Standard cross-section of 40-foot parts of M Street with cycletrack.

If this block used the same design, then the church would not be able to have diagonal parking on Sundays, or much on-street parking at all for weekday funerals.

People could park in the cycletrack

How can the parking remain? In May, bicycle planners showed some concept designs, like one that had perpendicular parking in the cycletrack on Sundays. Or, DDOT could put the parking on the south side of the street, which has the advantage of being in front of the church rather than across the street, and allow parallel parking in the cycletrack.

Potential design with perpendicular parking in the cycletrack. Image from DDOT.

Zimbabwe said he decided against this option because it could set a precedent of parking in cycletracks. Already, many people park in L Street's cycletrack, especially delivery trucks. Other institutions may similarly ask to use cycletracks for parking at certain days and times, maybe even during special weekday events.

Philadelphia lets people park in bike lanes on Sundays, also to accommodate churches. But as that link explains, that practice has then spread to Saturdays for weddings and other times.

Or, give the cycletrack a gap

The bicycle planners have chosen to give this one block a painted bike lane instead of a cycletrack. That's certainly a significant step down from the project's promise to construct a continuous cycletrack from Thomas Circle to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Proposed cross-section for this block of M, normally (top) and Sunday until 2 pm (bottom).

Zimbabwe pointed out that this is one (fairly short) block on a cycletrack that will be 1.4 miles long. Right now, there is no bike lane at all, and even with this change, the road will have a bicycle facility and fewer travel lanes for the project's whole length. He believes this is still a big step forward with just a small compromise.

However, just as he worried about the precedent of parking in the cycletrack, advocates worry that excusing one block from the cycletrack also sets a precedent. Shane Farthing of WABA told Martin Di Caro, "I'm concerned that if we start allowing individual private, adjacent landowners to essentially opt out of public transportation projects, we are starting to allow private convenience to trump public safety."

Another former DDOT official agreed with this concern. The agency will be planning other cycletracks, bike lanes, bus lanes, streetcars, and other transportation projects across the city. Some of those will pass by churches and other community institutions. This experience could well encourage other such organizations to try to reduce or eliminate any changes to their own blocks.

What about a sidewalk-level cycletrack?

Darren Buck suggested raising the cycletrack to sidewalk height and placing it between the parked cars and the sidewalk:

Photo by bikepedantic on Twitter.

Many other cities around the world do this. Here is one in Vancouver:

Photo by unk's dump truck on Flickr.

A painted bike lane is usually 5 feet wide. That puts cyclists in the door zone for cars, which isn't so good. Just moving a 5-foot bike lane to the other side of parked cars still leaves it in the door zone, plus if someone opens a door, the cyclist can't even ride away from the cars since the curb is there. That's why DDOT adds a 3-foot buffer between parking and its cycletracks.

But if the bike lane can be at sidewalk height, people might still be riding in the door zone, but that's no worse than on the painted bike lane. Here, if a door is in the way, the cyclist can ride away from traffic, toward the pedestrians, instead.

However, Zimbabwe said, this would be much more expensive, since DDOT would have to reconstruct the sidewalks and curbs along the north side of M. The curb cuts to garages would need changes, too, to stay at sidewalk height farther into the roadway before ramping down.

Plus, there would still be other obstacles on the sidewalk side of the bike lane, especially the tree boxes, but also parking meters and signs. That means cyclists wouldn't always have room to go around open car doors and other obstacles.

An even better approach would be to move the tree boxes and parking meters toward the current roadway, and build the bike lane on the sidewalk side of the trees and meters and other things. That means replacing the trees, but there aren't any really large trees on this block.

The big obstacle is cost. This solution would cost about $1 million, compared to a cost of $210,000 for the entire bike lane project, Zimbabwe said. And there's certainly no way to build that this year.

What's the right call?

Certainly DDOT could also have pushed to remove parking instead. Zimbabwe explained that the church was initially entirely opposed to any sort of bike lane, and by engaging with church leaders and members over the last few months, that position has softened. Plus, any bike lane is today just an abstract notion; when a real bike lane is in the ground, Zimbabwe thinks all parties may think a little differently about the issue.

Meanwhile, DDOT plans to study whether the missing block deters cyclists who might otherwise use M Street, and look at whether more people ride on the sidewalk on this block than elsewhere. Zimbabwe and his team made clear to the church that if this design doesn't work, they may make changes, even if that means less parking.

If we assume that less parking were't an option for now, Zimbabwe and his team picked the bad precedent of having only a painted bike lane for one block in the middle of a cycletrack, instead of the bad precedent of allowing Sunday parking in the cycletrack.

Maybe that's the right call, or maybe not. Many commenters on our earlier post disagreed, like Darren Buck. Regardless of DDOT's decision, this seems like a bigger policy question for future cycletracks as well. It would be good for the bicycle planners to engage with cyclists to discuss this question.

What do you think? Make a choice on the poll below, then give your detailed thoughts in the comments.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City