The redesigned 15th Street NW Cycletracks are quickly nearing completion in downtown DC. When the project is finished, the two-way cycletracks will connect the new Pennsylvania Ave. bike lanes to V St. NW, adding roughly 1.7 miles of physically separated bicycle facilities to the DC network.
The pilot project began last year with a single contra-flow (or counterflow) lane for southbound bicycles separated from motor vehicle traffic by a parking lane. Northbound cyclists were encouraged to utilize the rightmost travel lane with sharrows, pavement markings that direct drivers to be more aware of cyclists sharing the lane. A study of usage patterns by DDOT found 14 percent of traffic in the contraflow lane was in the wrong direction and 81 percent of riders favored a two-way cycletrack configuration.
Updated plans for the cycletrack were drawn up and made public this summer. Curiously, the northbound sharrows in the rightmost travel lane were removed as part of the project. We understand that this was because DDOT wants to encourage cyclists to use the new facilities rather than riding with traffic in the rightmost lane. However, DC law does not require cyclists to use bike lanes, paths, cycletracks or trails where they are provided, and cyclists should feel free to ride northbound by whichever method–travel lanes or cycletrack–they prefer.
During an exploratory ride by WABA staffers last week, the painting or striping of the project seemed nearly complete, while much of the details–such as signage–still needed to be added. The northernmost section (V St. NW) was the most complete and had new, shorter bollards. As we headed south, the bollards disappeared (as of Tuesday 12/6) but lane markings continued to the original cycletrack’s endpoint at Massachusetts Ave. NW. Between there and Lafayette Park (at H St. NW) was a brand new cycletrack along 15th St. NW and a block of Vermont Ave. NW, though it too lacked bollards. There was also a significant number of cars parked in the cycletrack and it seemed as though the parking meters were still operating. Parking signage was also still in place, no doubt adding to the confusion for both drivers and cyclists.
East of Lafayette Park, the cycletrack reappeared on the west side of 15th St. NW opposite New York Ave. NW and continued south past the Federal Reserve. Again, the lane markings looked great (but still no bollards). The final block of the planned cycletrack on 15th St. NW between Pennsylvania Ave. NW and E St. NW had yet to be striped. Lastly, the “missing” block where the Pennsylvania Ave. NW bike lane would have extended onto E ST. NW between 14th and 15th Streets NW has been completed!
Our observations were made on Tuesday, December 6th and we realize that more work has been done in the past week. On the Washington Area Bike Forums there was an update today about more work from the past weekend.
There are of course some issues that still need to be worked out. We are hopeful that DDOT and parking enforcement will help us with cars, trucks and postal workers who insist on illegally using the cycletracks for parking. Another issue will be the routing bicyclists through Lafayette Park. There are currently no signs or pavement markings to help cyclists navigate through the park to the rest of the cycletrack. There is one lonely turn arrow. More bicycle wayfinding–to direct cyclists to the E St. NW or G St. NW bike lanes, for instance–would also greatly improve the experience of riding in the new cycletrack
Originally, the project was slated to be finished by the “end of the fall”. With the fall officially ending next week, we are hopeful the end of construction is imminent, and will post here and on our facebook page as soon as the official opening is announced. On a brighter note, the cycletracks will almost certainly be finished and ready for the spring 2011 riding season, with plenty of time for “discovery” by casual riders. Of course, we’ll do our part to let bicyclists know about this addition to the city’s bicycle infrastructure. Now, how about those L & M Street NW cycletracks…
I've been using the 15th Street trail for just a week and am mostly pleased. I must say however that the condition of the southbound lane is very poor in places, rutted, washboarded even. The narrowness of the lanes makes it difficult to avoid the rough ride when others are approaching or passing. Are there plans anyone is aware of to improve the quality of the pavement on the trails?
All I have to say is this: a bicycle is a vehicle. This infrastructure seems to work by turning cyclists into pedestrians, without any concession made to the fact that bicycles move far faster than pedestrians. Added to this, the parked cars between the bike lane and the roadway effectively turn the intersection into a blind corner. This strikes me as worse than incompetent design - to me it looks deadly. If I ever find myself in this area of DC I will avoid it and I urge every other cyclist to do the same - their lives may depend on it.
I appreciate you posting your thoughts on the 15th St. cycletrack. This offers the most public announcement of the project to date, as well as the most thorough critique of some its shortcomings, however there is still more that needs to be said. When NYC implemented separated cycling facilities along 8th and 9th Avenue that fell outside normal convention of bicycle facility engineering they made difficult political choices and mode priority decisions to make the facilities work and work safely. They did not simply shoehorn the design into the current design as I’m afraid DDOT has done along 15th St. A survey conducted during the spring/summer showed that the majority of cyclists using the facility favored a design that allowed for two-way travel. While that desire was honored, the final design and implementation leaves a lot to be desired. While some of us saw the plans for the redesign, I don't believe they were every made public. There certainly was no option for comments or input. Also, the actual construction varies from those original plans, i.e., green pavement markings in high conflict areas. Construction during the redesign has been done sporadically and without notice to cyclists who have come to depend on this route daily. Cyclists often found themselves riding through open construction zones, forced into oncoming traffic or detoured onto the sidewalk without any type of warning signage or traffic instruction given. Such behavior from a construction crew would be unacceptable for general travel lanes with automobile use, and I feel runs contrary to the spirit of DDOT’s new Complete Streets policy. The southbound portion unfortunately uses the gutter pan for its 4' width. Riding this close to the curb is unsafe, as well as the overall width being rather narrow for oncoming cyclists to pass comfortably. The entire two way facility and parking buffer area is as wide as a comparable one way facility in Manhattan. The continued use of pedestrian timers in the redesign is an unfortunate choice. Aside from the legal ambiguities of right of way (can cyclists still go despite flashing don't walk signal?)trees, street furniture, light poles and the offset and angle of the timers make it difficult for cyclists to see at several intersections. The turn signals offer only a partial solution to turning traffic conflict, even if they weren't routinely ignored by motorists. The full redesign should have used separate and more strategically placed bicycle signal heads similar to those under experiment at 16th and New Hampshire. Further timing adjustments to the signal cycle either to compensate for the turn phase of north-bound traffic, adjusted for east-west AM traffic or a combination of both, has made south-bound traffic unbelievably slow during the morning, when traffic is at its peak. Of my typical morning commute, where I travel from my home on U St. turning onto M St. I must stop at 8 of the 9 signalized intersections. This makes lawful use of this facility very tedious. Despite being able to see the facility from my window I now choose an alternative route. There is also a lack of an adequate catchment area for north-bound cyclists needing to make right turn onto L, P Q and U Streets. Likewise, cyclists are faced with an awkward merge at the northern terminus of the cycletrack at W St. I have yet to use the facility any further south, but the current lack of "No Turn on Red" signage and bike box at K St., lack of wayfinding signage at Lafayette Park and the mixed-message of cyclists obeying traditional traffic signals at 15th and H and not ped signals throughout the rest of the facility does not have me looking forward to the completion. As a 15th Street resident I greatly appreciate the traffic calming effect the changes to a street that was treated as a speedway for far too long. As a cyclist in DC the design does not make for the convenient travel it was intended, and I worry for the safety of novice cyclists and the facility’s ability to handle the traffic volumes that such a design will attract. As a national bike advocate, I am perhaps most concerned of the poor precedent the facility sets. It is crucial that cycletrack early adopters create designs that function well and that are safe if they are to be replicated throughout the country let alone the city. I welcome creative solutions to the problems faced in implementation, but they should not come with such compromises. New York City and others have managed to do this right, showing it can be done. If DDOT is to truly be a national leader, they must rework this design until it offers greater safety and convenience for cyclists in the city.