In 2013, the Washington, DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) plans to build 5 miles of bike lane and 5 miles of shared lane, but of all those projects none are as highly anticipated at the M Street cycle track.
The M Street cycle track was one of three separated bike facilities included in the 2005 Washington DC Bicycle Master Plan – along with the popular 15th Street cycle track and one on 17th that was subsequently removed from planning – so people on bikes have been waiting nearly a decade for its installation. As originally designed, the facility was to connect Gallaudet University in northeast DC’s Trinidad neighborhood to Georgetown on the west side . But after further study, the 21 blocks east of the Central Business District. were removed and it will now start at Thomas Circle. When it’s complete, the city will have 5.6 miles of protected bike lanes.
The westbound M Street cycle track is the non-identical twin of the eastbound L Street cycle track. One block apart, the two are meant to work in tandem, but with only one currently open, some cyclists have been treating it as a two-way facility. Therefore, the opening of the M Street green lane should make both roads safer.
While the two are similar, they have differences that result primarily from the differing widths of L and M, but also from lessons learned on L. The most notable difference is that the M Street lane will be placed between parked cars and the sidewalk, as the 15th Street cycle track is. Not only will this create greater protection for people on bikes than the safe hit posts on L Street and deter illegal parking in the bike lanes (a real issue on L Street), but it will also limit the number of parking spaces that have to be removed on M to about 40 spaces. Illegal parking should also be deterred by the narrower width of the M Street green lane.
The parking buffer will also change the mixing zone design. On L Street the merge is very subtle, but on M it will be a sharper turn for people on bikes and in cars. DC is modifying a design out of New York City. It will use a triangle shaped buffer and a line of triangles to direct and separate cars, but past the mixing zones, cyclists will have their own bike lane instead of sharing the lane as they do in New York or on L. At one intersection, there will be no mixing zone and drivers will have an exclusive right turn light across the bike lane similar to what is used on Pennsylvania Avenue.
One way the pair are similar will also make them different. Both lanes are on the north side of the street, which means that on on L it’s on the left and on M it’s on the right. Since people on bikes are used to riding on the right, it may make them more comfortable on M. A further benefit is that being on the north side should help in winter weather, since a north side alignment gives better exposure to sun for snow and ice melting.
The last interesting unique feature to the M Street cycle track is a jughandle turn at Connecticut Avenue as seen below. At this point, M Street narrows significantly, so cyclists will actually turn off of M using a slip lane and onto Rhode Island Avenue for part of a block before returning to M Street.
Washington bike advocates are so eager to see the project break ground this summer, that the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) is hosting a walk along the future M Street cycle track today at 6:30pm.