People for BikesPeople for Bikes

August 23, 2012

Washington, DC: Nation’s Capital Commits to Green Lanes

By: David Cranor

Paved bike lane with rider looking down

Washington, DC is already one of the best biking cities in the United States, frequently being honored on various “best of” bicycling list. But the rapid rise of Capital Bikeshare membership and bike commuter share shows that the Nation’s Capital has room to grow. The success of bike facilities added in the last decade, and the ability of those facilities to induce more cyclists has pushed the city to expand the Green Lane network even faster than originally planned. 

When Washington, DC’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) completed its 2005 Bicycle Master Plan, the ten-year bicycle facility plan included over 6 miles of separated bike facilities. These separated bike facilities, also called cycletracks or green lanes covered three major routes through the city’s downtown. Since then, due to unforeseen success, plans have become more ambitious. In the past seven years, DDOT has built 3 miles of cycletrack on four separate routes, with another 7 miles still to come.

The bike plan included cycletracks on 15th Street NW, 17th Street NW and M Street NW/NE and, true to the plan, in Oct 2009 DDOT began installation of the first portion of the 15th Street cycletrack. The original section from U Street to Massachusetts was a one-way, contra-flow lane. It was paired with a sharrowed lane on the opposite side of the roadway. The lane was a hit and in 2010 it was expanded both north and south. At the same time, it was converted to a bi-directional cycletrack with the sharrows in the far lane removed. A 2012 evaluation of the cycletrack’s use showed a 205% increase in bicycle volume on the street with a reduction in crashes per cyclist. There was no decrease in automobile level of service.

In June of 2010, less than a year after the 15th Street cycletrack opened, DDOT broke ground on its second cycletrack. And this one would be on the city’s most famous street. Down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue, from the White House to the Capitol, DDOT installed a pair of buffered bike lanes with their own bicycle traffic control devices. The same 2012 evaluation showed again that bike volume was way up — it doubled — and safety was improved with no loss of service for motor vehicles.

Another facility, this one on New Hampshire Ave, also opened in the summer of 2010. This one combined a pair of contraflow bike lanes on one-way sections of the avenue with bike boxes, a sensor activated bicycle stop light and sharrows to allow cyclists to navigate a difficult intersection that had previously been the site of frequent wrong-way and sidewalk cycling. The post-installation evaluation showed that cyclists found the facility to be safer and easier to use, and again there was no impact on motor vehicle traffic.

DC has also installed shorter buffered bike lanes and contraflow bike lanes at several locations around the city, and there are more cycletracks planned for the future.  DDOT has been working on designs for 1 mile of contraflow cycletrack across downtown’s L Street, with work to start this year. And DDOT will eventually pair that with an identical facility – in the opposite direction – one street block north on M Street.

Washington, DC has shown a strong commitment to building green lanes, and cyclists have responded by proving that ?if you build it they will come.? With more cycletracks being designed and more identified in long range planning, DC area cyclists can count on future roads that are safer and easier to use.

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