Update from the Mayor’s Office on Pennsylvania Avenue

Pennsylvania Avenue Bike Lanes

Remember the bollards?

Yesterday, long-simmering displeasure with the pattern of illegal u-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes netted considerable media attention from NBC4. Reporter Mark Segraves was most interested in a video by Bill Walsh of a police officer actually pulling someone over for u-turning. However, this is far from standard; more often, drivers u-turn with impunity.

It has been difficult for WABA to get information about Pennsylvania Avenue. We know that the bollards that once lined the cycletrack would be removed for the winter, due to the threat of snow as well as plans for the inauguration. We know that DDOT was working on ideas for better, and perhaps more, bollards. But as to why the bollards have been left in a pile and not been reinstalled? We’re as perplexed as everyone else. Additionally, we haven’t gotten a clear description of exactly what sort of enforcement MPD has done since it and DMV agreed that u-turns were illegal.

After Justin Antos counted and documented thirty U-turns in thirty minutes on Pennsylvania Avenue, I forwarded his photos to Mayor Vince Gray’s office with a request for explanation and assistance. I received the following response:

MPD and DDOT have been working to improve enforcement and protection. It’s my understanding that flexposts are on the way to replace the ones that have come down, and that DDOT is working with the Federal Highway Administration, the Planning Commission, and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to find a suitable perimeter divider. We’re hopeful that the divider we’ve presented to them will be accepted. If they are, we will move quickly to install.

As of today, MPD has written approximately 62 improper turn citations and approximately 70 warnings.  Prior to yesterday, we were doing targeted enforcement during selected rush hours and special events.  Today’s AM Officer observed no violations and wrote zero citations during the scheduled enforcement. It should be noted that yesterday was a special situation because of the sinkhole at 14th and Pennsylvania. Our resources were deployed to direct traffic around this traffic blockage.  Moreover, some where cars were allowed to turn around on PA Avenue to mitigate what was a significant traffic/public safety incident.

As you are aware, Pennsylvania Avenue is a special case because of the intersecting jurisdictions. But, we remain committed to expanding cycling in the District and making our streets safe for those who use bicycles.

We now know that the new flexposts are on the way and that DDOT is engaged with the federal planning and fine arts entities that have a say in what happens on Pennsylvania Avenue. We hope that these conversations—especially those involving the Commission on Fine Arts—will be open to the local, affected public. If they aren’t, we’ll find other ways to ensure the CFA understands that its decisions could place the community in physical danger.

We also know that MPD is doing enforcement. I think we can all agree that when a guy with a camera can document thirty instances of unlawful behavior in thirty minutes—and repeat the exercise daily—that enforcement mechanism is failing. But enforcement exists. That said, we want to see it improved, and we want to better understand its timing and method so that we are better able to communicate to the bicycling community what is being done.

From a policy standpoint, the worst possible result would bicyclists losing so much confidence in the safety of biking facilities like Pennsylvania Avenue that those facilities fail to enable more people to bike safely. We are on the verge of that with Pennsylvania Avenue’s bike lanes, and we need prompt improvements to both the infrastructure and enforcement mechanisms. Either alone won’t be good enough.

In the meantime, we need DDOT to rush the procurement of those new flexposts, or put the old ones back until the new ones arrive. Installing a flexpost isn’t  a big job. It’s OK to do it twice to prevent crashes and save lives.

Image via DDOT on Flickr