There are three cycletracks in place in D.C. More are being planned. And despite cycletracks being some of the city’s most visible infrastructure for cyclists, there’s plenty of “confusion”—or ignorance—on the part of drivers who try to park or drive in them.
This legitimately baffles pedestrians and makes it harder for bicyclists to use the cycletracks appropriately. To alleviate some of the tension, D.C. bike ambassadors will be out on L Street NW tonight to help drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians navigate the lane.
In the meantime, here’s a brief guide to D.C.’s cycletracks. Perhaps you might forward it to your favorite scofflaw driver.
What is a cycletrack?
Unlike a bike lane, a cycletrack is separated from traffic by barriers, parking lanes, or curbs. They may allow for travel in one or both directions, and cyclists may be asked to obey different signals than in driving lanes. DDOT has installed cycletracks on 15th St NW, Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and L St NW. Plans to install additional tracks on M Street NW and 1st Street NE are in the works. There is also an ongoing conversation about a cycletrack on M Street SE/SW.
Why are they all designed differently?
DDOT has the unenviable job of combining best practices from other cities with the unique demands of D.C. traffic when designing its cycle tracks. At this time, none of the tracks are permanent and each has a different design that’s supposed to be incrementally safer than the last cycletrack built. DDOT continues to fine-tune the designs and observe how riders use these routes so that D.C.’s cycletracks can one day be made permanent.
What makes a cycletrack permanent? The plastic bollards will eventually be replaced; curbs, medians, colored paint, or pavement markings will indicate that the route is intended for bicycles only. Such permanent tracks can be found in cities from Portland to New York, Montreal, and Copenhagen.
How do I know how to ride in them?
The first rule of thumb is to ride as if you were a vehicle and obey all of the laws, signals, and courtesies of the road. (Guidelines and links to regional bike laws are available on our website.)
Each cycle track has signs posted to guide cyclists at intersections. On 15th Street, obey the pedestrian signals and be sure to stop for cars turning left on a green arrow. If you need to wait to make a right turn, there is usually space in the parking lane. On L Street, be attentive when cars merge through the lane to turn left. DDOT produced these diagrams for drivers and cyclists. Check out the city’s first bicycle signal at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW and follow it as you would a regular traffic signal. (Do not follow the bike signal if you are driving a car!)
How do I make a turn out of or into a cycletrack?
In all cases, be careful when making a turn across traffic. You may need to make a right turn from a left- or centered cycletrack, and vehicular traffic may have the right-of-way. Consider the following options:
- Wait for a pedestrian signal and cross traffic in the crosswalk.
- Maneuver in line with the traffic waiting at the cross street. Proceed across the intersection when the light changes.
- If you are comfortable doing so, before reaching the intersection, merge into the main roadway and over to the rightmost lane, then turn as normal. Remember to yield to oncoming traffic and be safe, if you choose this method.
Can I drive/park/idle/U-turn in a cycletrack?
These offenses put cyclists at risk of being struck and forces them into the main road where they may not be safe or even want to ride. Driving, parking, idling, or U-turning across cycletracks may result in a citation or fine, on top of endangering cyclists. Contact the business or residence you plan to visit to find alternate legal parking or loading areas.
Mayor Vince Gray recently clarified that U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track are indeed illegal. They are also dangerous; most of the accidents on this road in the past year were caused by cars making illegal U-turns. It’s convenient, but illegal and unsafe.
What is being done to educate cyclists and drivers how to use the cycle tracks?
The D.C. bike ambassadors will be doing outreach tonight at the intersection of the 15th Street NW and L Street NW cycle tracks from 5:00-6:30 p.m. Stop by to say hello! As new cycle tracks continue to be built and we all adjust to the new traffic patterns, don’t hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org with additional questions.
As someone who regularly bikes to work but also drives to work, I must admit I find the L Street track to be the least intuitive for both cyclists and automobiles. For example, what happens towards the east end of the track (around 11th and L)? The track seems to stop being marked around this area and it becomes confusing. I notice that cars start using two lanes here and cyclists seem to continue as if there is a lane (oddly on the left side).
Anyway, thanks for this primer, but I really feel like the L Street track will be a problem until there is more obvious curbage/signage.
Also, I might add some pedestrian instruction to your primer. I find that when I bike along Penn. Ave. that the biggest problem (besides u-turning cabs and police vehicles) is pedestrians that dart accross the street under a 'don't walk' signal and then don't know how to react to cyclists that are usually heading in opposite directions.