Wrong Way on Bike Lanes?

Revised plans draw fresh criticism

By Peter Orvetti
|  Thursday, Jun 10, 2010  |  Updated 2:48 PM EDT
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Wrong Way on Bike Lanes?

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SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 13: A bicyclist rides her bike down Market Street on Bike to Work Day May 13, 2010 in San Francisco, California. Thousands of bicyclists are expected to participate in the 16th annual Bike to Work Day event that promotes exercise and helps reduce pollution. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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The District Department of Transportation tried to accommodate everyone with its plans for bicycle lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue. It wound up pleasing practically no one.

The initial plan called for bikes-only lanes about as wide as a regular vehicle lane along the stretch from the White House to the Capitol. The plan was to have the lanes open by last month’s National Bike to Work Day. But just days before the debut, DDOT delayed the opening, with a spokesman saying “more tweaks” were required.

DDOT Director Gabe Klein told the Washington Post’s Tim Craig that the wideness of the lanes could actually imperil cyclists, making the reasonable point that drivers might enter “the bike lanes because they think it’s a car lane. People are used to bike lanes that are smaller.” So it was back to the drawing board.

Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert was skeptical.

“Were they bowing to some political pressure and making the lanes narrower than they should be? Or were they too wide to start with, and DDOT didn't do enough thinking and listening when formulating the design?”

The original plan put each car-sized lane on either side of the median. The new plan puts the slimmer bike lanes in the median itself in most areas, cutting into existing pedestrian spots at points. Alpert writes that the new lanes seem “less safe for cyclists, at least in some places, such as between 13th and 14th Streets, where there is no buffer at all between traffic and the lanes.”

A DDOT spokesman disputes this, telling DCist, “We believe the updated designs are safer.” The lanes are part of a pilot program that could last as long as a year, and more changes could follow. But Alpert said DDOT should have offered a longer comment period at the outset and suggested the rush for completion by National Bike to Work Day may have limited public input.

WTOP reports that DDOT bicycle program manager Jim Sebastian “had said the agency was looking for a way to give more room back to drivers.” A “city bicycle official” told WTOP that those words “should never come out of the mouth of a bike coordinator.”

DDOT deserves credit for taking the needs of bicyclists seriously, and for trying to find a way to provide alternatives to driving on the busy stretch. But so far, it’s been a bunch of wrong turns and sudden stops.


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