Statement on Pennsylvania Ave Bike Lanes

There has been a lot of discussion lately regarding the installation and subsequent change of the design of the Pennsylvania Bike Lanes.  DDOT is excited to have the bike lanes installed but will not officially open them until we are sure the design provides a safe and rideable area for both bicyclists and motor vehicles.  That being said, we worked on the PA Bike Lane design extensively on paper, and vetted them with WABA, Federal Agencies, and the public etc. 

Unfortunately some things didn’t translate, or come to life until they were on pavement.  Issues included the safety of the cyclists in an 8 foot lane with a 3 foot buffer, that used to be an 11 foot car lane, and was mistaken for one causing confusion; compounded by the fact that physical separation for the length of the lanes was not possible, the initial choke points at 14th and 3rd, to the aesthetics of the design.  In addition, the final product resulted in wasted space in the middle as a result of the design being dictated too much, in my opinion, by the pedestrian refuges and the stoplights vs. the overall alignment of the streetscape.  This is really the key problem, the large bike lanes were a decision dictated by the lights/cobble stones.

What will result now, is a relatively straight alignment for cyclists, less confusion for motorists as a result, slightly smaller lanes, which will be recognized as bike lanes but still have abundant space, protection for cyclists by using the median behind the bollards and the stop lights (an area that cars are not used to driving on), and as an added bonus, some lanes given back to traffic.  This was not the focus of the change, and no, AAA did not affect this change although we respect and listen to their opinion.  It was a bi-product, but we always, as we should, look to serve all modes.  As an aside, traffic tie ups east bound on PA Ave are attributable primarily to signal timing and phasing vs. the bike lanes, and we are looking to make further modifications in the coming days as this is a separate issue.

In terms of the concern re: pedestrian/bike conflicts at some intersections, we looked at this long and hard.  Even at rush hour, there are very few pedestrians that get stranded in the middle of the typically sizeable refuge.  If they do, the cyclist has a long, straight line of sight (unlike the curbside when peds often step into bike lanes) and speed can be adjusted by the cyclist if the light is green.  This is a tradeoff of course, but we think the right one to make.

One other point: we are planning on placing 5 small unobtrusive, white, reflective bollards at the beginning and end of each block where there is no paint buffer to protect the cyclist and will test to see if it aesthetically works for our federal partners. 

I think it’s okay to admit when we make a mistake, and in our initial design, I think we were a little too utopian on paper, and will benefit from a simpler, safer, more straight forward design.  We repave the street every 4 years btw for the Presidential Inauguration.   More robust changes can be made to signals, bollards etc. to design around the bike lanes vs. fitting them into the existing streetscape in 2012.  So we encourage everyone to take a breath, let us make the adjustments, and then come out to the ribbon cutting to celebrate the opening.

Thanks for your support as we move the city forward and provide safe travel for all modes, and where better to do this than America’s Main Street.


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5 Responses to Statement on Pennsylvania Ave Bike Lanes

  1. imgoph says:

    director klein: thanks for letting us know some of the background on what’s happening with the bike lanes. could you shed some more light on the issue of painting the lanes a different color to make them stand out, and the role that the commission of fine arts had with shooting that idea down?

    would it be possible to paint the lanes on another street (lets say Q street, where it was just repaved in shaw) to demonstrate to the CFA that it’s ok to have that on a street in the l’enfant city?

    anyway, thanks again for providing some insight and transparency. much appreciated.

    • karynleblanc says:

      The CFA and NCPC recommendations were just for PA ave. We are planning to recommend colored lanes and vertical barriers on other, lower profile streets. (Jim Sebastian, DDOT TDM Manager)

  2. dcmeredith says:

    Director Klein, I am a 16-year bicycle commuter who uses Penn Ave every day, and I want to thank you for the new bike lanes as well as thank you for all the other bike lanes that the District has dedicated over the last few years. But, I am honestly not sure I’m going to use the Penn Ave lanes — because when biking straight down the Avenue from the White House to the Capital, one crosses several major intersections where many, many cars turn left. I have tried to use the lanes to cross over 13th Street several times and have come close to losing my life each time. Am I not better off staying right until I need to turn left, and then crossing over the traffic lanes to the concrete dead zone (which is what I have done for about 8 years now)? Again, I appreciate your efforts, but I am unconvinced of the lanes’ safety.

    And, while I have you, can’t you do something to get the MPD to enforce the traffic rules???? Penn Ave is particularly bad, especially at 14th Street. And, don’t get me started on U Street around 15th… every night a car runs the light going westbound. The police station is 2 blocks away and in my 10 years of going through that intersection, i have never seen a car stopped for a violation.

    • karynleblanc says:

      Thank you for your comment. We realize many people are already using the lanes, but we have not officially opened them and are now in the process of implementing the new design changes. Much of what you are experiencing is what we will be correcting with the new design. Until we install the new design and officially open the lanes, you may want to ride as you did previously. We will also forward your concerns with regard to enforcement to MPD.

  3. dcbiker97 says:

    I second the idea about exploring painting the bike lanes a different color. I use the bike lanes every day downtown and on Capitol Hill and having them a differenct color would really go a long ways towards having them stand out.

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