Over 1,800 bicyclists crossed the 14th Street bridge on Sept.13th, 2011.
That number has no doubt increased by now. Most cyclists riding on the bridge during the morning rush are coming from Virginia to major employment hubs: Federal Triangle, downtown D.C., and Capitol Hill. Those “in the know” riders are conditioned to the fractured connection between the 14th Street bridge and the 15th Street cycletrack. That’s not typically the case with new riders and visitors to the city who don’t know about, or can’t find, this important connection.
The connection between the bridge and the 15th Street cycletrack simply does not accommodate the amount of traffic that crosses it. Improving the connection would also allow cyclists to easily access from the bridge D.C.’s growing network of protected bike lanes outside of 15th Street, including those on Pennsylvania Avenue, L Street NW, and, soon, M Street NW. Extending the 15th Street cycletrack would give cyclists access to downtown bike lanes and multi-use paths on the National Mall.
Three easy projects, described below, would help to better connect the 14th Street Bridge to the 15th Street cycletracks.
Extend the 15th cycletrack one block south, to Constitution Avenue
Currently, the cycletrack on 15th Street NW ends at Pennsylvania Avenue. Bicyclists headed south are dumped onto a wide street with many tour buses and fast-moving traffic. Less experienced riders often choose the sidewalk, which has heavy pedestrian traffic and can be filled with vendors selling T-shirts and hats. DDOT’s original cycletrack plans included an extension one block south, but that was never built. So let’s build it!
Sign the route
The Mall is filled with multi-use sidewalks to view our national memorials. There is plenty of space on these paths that pedestrians and bicyclists can share. But new riders and tourists do not know the bike routes across the Mall. Wayfinding signs, which can explain the bike route for those traveling between the 15th Street cycletrack to 14th Street Bridge, should be installed. Those signs should also tell pedestrians to be aware of the presence of bicyclists. Bicyclists who feel comfortable using the road can still do so, but signing the route would give an alternative to inexperienced riders.
Fix the path to the 14th Street Bridge and multi-use sidewalks around the Tidal Basin
The paved path from the Jefferson Memorial to the 14th Street bridge needs serious repair. The 8-foot width is insufficient, and DDOT long ago placed an interstate sign support directly in the path of trail users. The path needs to be widened to at least 12 feet, and the sign needs to be moved. Also, the multi-use sidepaths around the Tidal Basin, between the bridge, need attention. There are pinch points along desired riding routes, especially at intersection of 15th Street SW and Maine Avenue SW. Fixing these small issues would go a long way for improving the riding experience.
The 14th Street Bridge is a major river crossing for area bicyclists coming to downtown from Virginia. Now is time to finish the connection with a few immediate fixes.
View Connect Virginia Cyclists to DC in a larger map
Even though I have been taking this route daily for a year and a half, I find sometimes that drivers are so aggressive along that block (particularly at the intersection of Constitution itself), or the rightmost lane is so often blocked, that the sidewalk is the only safe choice. There are also problems when crossing Maine, where the sidewalk is blocked by light and sign posts, and the adjacent road is so damaged that roadway travel is dangerous--made more so by the unusal agressiveness of drivers at this intersection. When inbound to DC from Virginia, the one-way traffic designation in the roadway forces riders onto the sidewalk (unless you're one of the many riders who make the dangerous decision to enter the roadway in opposition to oncoming traffic). The interstate sign mentioned above, which is at the base of the bridge connection into DC, is especially problematic when cyclists in opposing directions, or cyclists and pedestrians, converge. At the opposite end of the bridge connection, into Virginia, the uneven surface and connection of the bridge and trail connection is dangerous, made even more so by the curve in the bridge immediately preceding the connection, which can obstruct the view of other trail riders and pedestrians and makes avoiding rough patches especially difficult. This 15th Street to 14th Street Bridge connection is the only flaw in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable ride. (Or at least it would be if emergency vehicles and delivery vehicles would stop using the 15th Street bike lane as a roadway and parking area; and if pedestrians would stop using the same bike lane as an alternative sidewalk).
I use this route to commute to Crystal City from Petworth. I'd go a step further and have a dedicated cycle track all the way from PA Avenue to the bridge. The portion from Maine Ave to the bridge would be especially ripe for this. Take note of the ugly temporary concrete security barriers, think creatively, and you could have a cycle track that doubles as the security barrier. The cycle track could be placed along the existing sidewalk along the roadway with pedestrians directed to the route along the Tidal Basin.