May 29, 2013

David Cranor

Earlier this month, the District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DDOT) hosted a public meeting to present the current plans for the M Street Protected Bike Lane scheduled to be installed later this summer. Along with those designs they presented the preliminary results from the existing green lane on L Street.

The M Street protected bike lane, or cycletrack, will provide the key west bound facility in a web of bike lanes planned for downtown. An increased bike network is something the District has planned for and is pursuing for the economic, environmental, congestion-reduction, health and cost benefits that biking brings to the city and its citizens.

Results from L Street, where a green lane was installed in Novemeber 2012, are promising. DDOT has been counting riders on L since 2010 and while ridership on L has been increasing every year since then, the increase from 2012 to 2013 was larger (41%) than in either of the other two years and much larger than the prior year (14%). Meanwhile, an analysis of travel times for drivers finds that travel times have only increased by a little more than a minute in the morning and afternoon peaks and not at all in the midday peak. Furthermore it appears that the road is now safer. Though the data involves small numbers, it indicates that total crashes are down a little and crashes involving cyclists are down a great deal (from 4 every 6 months to only 1).

Despite L Street’s success, the problems it has had has taught DDOT how to make the M Street cycletrack better. To deal with illegal parking/loading in the cycletrack, DDOT will make this green lane narrower and place it adjacent to parking and loading. To keep drivers out of the green lane, they’ll use more flex posts placed closer together. To make it easier to turn across traffic lanes, they’ll install two-stage turn queue boxes at the intersections. And to make mixing zone behavior clearer to drivers they’ll use signs that rely on pictures instead of text.

Some of the design features discussed had changed since the last design was released in January. For example, the intersection of M Street, Connecticut and Rhode Island has a unique feature wherein cyclists will turn off of M Street and then onto Rhode Island Avenue, into a contraflow bike lane before making a soft right back onto M Street. The newest design for this section includes a concrete barrier to separate cyclists from traffic on Rhode Island.

At 24th Street, the green lane will pass behind a bus stop and will thus raise up to sidewalk level briefly.

In front of a hotel, the green lane will move away from the sidewalk to create a hotel loading zone. This same image shows the two-stage turn queue box at left. This innovative feature will allow west-bound cyclists who want to make a left turn to proceed through a green light and then stop in the queue box to wait for a green light in the other direction, upon which they will proceed south. 

The green lane will also utilize green paint at conflict zones, bicycle boxes at key intersections, directional signage to major destinations, exclusive turn signaling to sort traffic, and bike-specific traffic signals.

Once the presentation ended, a question and answer session began that focused on one main issue: the loss of parking.

One group from a historic downtown church was concerned about Sunday parking. Normally church goers are allowed to double park and to exceed parking limits on Sunday, but church members were concerned that this would no longer be possible. However DDOT had several options available that would allow for the road to be reconfigured, with the bike lane shifted out a lane if needed, to allow for maximum parking.

And a few business owners were concerned that the loss of parking needed to make room for the green lane would hurt their business or cause gridlock. DDOT plans to minimize the loss of parking and to compensate for it by replacing several broken parking meters and removing some unused diplomatic parking. Several participants at the meeting pointed to the recent New York City study showing that protected bike lanes increased business where they were installed. One woman thanked DDOT for installing the L Street cycletrack that “introduced her to so many great businesses that she never knew existed.” Representatives of the Downtown Business Improvement District noted that their membership strongly supports the protected bike lane, even as they note that the support is not unanimous.

Though the meeting was at times acrimonious, DDOT made a strong statement in support of the cycletrack stating that though the design is still open for comment and change, the District fully intends to install it this summer.

See all Protected Bike Lanes blog entries

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