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February 12, 2013

Improved Pennsylvania Avenue Green Lane in the spotlight

By: David Cranor

Man on bike with helmet on country ride

Last month, Washington, DC had its usual day in the sun for the 57th Presidential Inauguration. But as the traditional parade moved from the Capitol to the White House, it became clear that one of the unexpected stars of the parade would be DC’s Pennsylvania Avenue green lanes. In fact, DC’s commitment to cycling was in the spotlight for the whole parade as the route followed an assortment of bicycle and pedestrian facilities, most of them built in the last four years.

First, and most prominent, was the Pennsylvania Avenue cycle-track, built on the footprint of the city’s long-gone streetcar tracks.  As noted in many news sources and captured in dozens of photos, not only did parade vehicles drive down the center of the green lanes, but the President and First Lady got out and of their vehicle and walked them. [If only they’d pulled folding bikes from out of the trunk and biked the last few blocks]. The Pennsylvania Avenue cycle-track was installed in June, 2010 and has been a wild success. A 2012 evaluation of the cycle-track’s use showed a 205% increase in bicycle volume on the street with a reduction in crashes per cyclist and no decrease in automobile level of service. The inauguration parade itself presented an opportunity to make improvements to the green lanes. As is usual every four years, the road was repaved, and when the District Department of Transportation repainted it, they added a foot to the inside lane – the one next to the bike lane –  rather than putting that extra foot in the outside lane, to give greater separation between bikes and cars.. They also added a bike box on Pennsylvania at 4th Street.

From Pennsylvania Avenue the parade turned up 15th Street, past the city’s first bicycle traffic light. The 15th Street cycle-track is on the west side of the street, so it wasn’t displayed as prominently as the Pennsylvania Avenue ones, but it still got attention. The 15th Street cycle-track, built in two phases over 2009 and 2010, extends more than a mile from Pennsylvania Avenue, across downtown, to the foot of the escarpment that defined the boundary for the old city.

Finally the parade turned back onto Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House. Following security concerns that arose out of the Oklahoma City bombing, this section of the Avenue was closed to regular automobile traffic and following 9/11 it was permanently closed and reopened as a space for people, people on bikes and pick up games of street hockey. It operates more as a woonerf than a road.   The controversial closure, while bad for drivers and bus riders, was a boon to cyclists and pedestrians. A similar project is being considered for President’s Park South and the closed E Street Corridor.

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