Housing Complex

Next Wave of D.C. Cycling Infrastructure Will Be Pushy

Photo by Flickr user ElvertBarnes

To hear the District's biggest bike boosters tell it, cycling is on the right track—and four-wheeled road users are going to have to share a lot more of it soon.

Here's the background: infrastructure tailored specifically for cyclists has grown exponentially since 2001, when then-Mayor Anthony Williams set out to make D.C. a bike-friendly city. The District Department of Transportation has installed at least 100 bike racks per year, launched a robust (and perhaps even too popular) bikesharing program, and laid down over 50 miles of bike lanes—some of which, on 15th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, are even physically separated from traffic by bollards or parked cars. The bicycle retail industry in D.C. is worth about $24 million dollars. While that's not a big chunk of D.C.'s economy, it's a handful of very healthy bike shops.

At a panel discussion at the National Building Museum last night, "Build It and They Will Ride," the three speakers—DDOT bike program coordinator Jim Sebastian, Toole Design Group principal Jennifer Toole, and Washington Area Bicycling Association director Shane Farthing—extolled all of the above, and presented a few grand plans for the future: Bike boulevards (where roads allow cars, but are optimized for cyclists); more lanes physically separated by bollards or parked cars; more bike parking à la the Union Station bike station; the connection of the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Silver Spring; and the expansion of Capital Bikeshare.

All of these things—especially physically separated lanes—are much more intrusive to drivers than what's been done in the past. Toole repeatedly emphasized that the city had exhausted its "low hanging fruit," saying that nearly all the streets that could be put on "road diets" with the addition of a painted bike lane now have a lane. The next step for safe, dedicated bicycle infrastructure in D.C. will be more intrusive than simply throwing down some paint.

Riding a bike as transportation might continue to seem ridiculous to some, no matter how many more miles of lanes are laid down. But with gas exceeding $4 a gallon, considering the two-wheeled alternative isn't so silly, insist last night's panelists. "We're right on the cusp of where people who wouldn't bike... will consider it," said Toole.

  • DCurmudgeon

    How about devoting some space to things people actually use - like physically separated bus lanes?

  • Chris

    I am both an avid biker, and own and frequently drive a car. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and while I am excited to see biking growing in popularity, I think there is a key thing most bike advocates are missing: there is a limit to how bike-friendly you can make a city before it stops being user friendly in general. I fear DC has now reached the line. Like it or not, the bicycle-using population will remain a minority of people who need to use roads, and their out-sized effect on urban planning will not only turn people against their use, but cause many non-bike users to avoid these sorts of areas, which in the end, doesn't benefit anyone. The key to good urban design is to examine an area both for potential use and current use, and plan accordingly, and I don't think this is what is happening anymore.

  • Drez

    I do, Chris.
    Where in DC are roads now more unfriendly to automobile drivers more because of bicyclists than other automobile drivers?
    As you say, cyclists are and will be for the foreseeable future the minority. As a motorist, your by far biggest problem is not them, but your fellow motorists.

  • Jeff

    I don't see a shortage of low hanging fruit whatsoever, for example:

    1) 6th Street NW from Pennsylvania Avenue to Rhode Island Avenue is currently 6 lanes with 2 lanes of parking. The road should be put on a diet to 3 driving lanes (one in each direction and a center turn lane) and a bike lane on each side. This will slow down traffic and reduce congestion thanks to the turning lane. Think E St. NW.

    2) The section of Florida Ave NE/NW east of it's merge with the U Street NW could go on a diet. It currently features 4-6 traffic lanes of very fast-moving traffic and is not hospitable to bikes in its present condition. A reduction to three or four lanes would slow down traffic, provide badly needed bike facilities and improve property values along its path.

  • JM

    "It currently features 4-6 traffic lanes of very fast-moving traffic "

    God forbid we have efficient movement of vehicles through a city! Far better to slow down the vehicles on all roads so that it costs more to transport people, goods,and provide services. Chris is absolutely right - we need smart multi-modal (not anti-car) transportation planning. I'm all in favor of bike-only routes. But if (and only if) we institute some real N-S and E-W expressways across the city for cars as well.

  • Kevin

    People need to get used to the idea that regardless of how many or few bikes lanes there are in the future cities (and suburbs) are going to be more crowded. Traffic is bad now and IT WILL GET WORSE. This is a fact. New roads will help for a little while but come on, simple logic makes it clear that we can't all be driving our cars around the city forever.

    So, we have Metrorail, buses, streetcars soon, and yes, bike lanes. The idea put forth by Chris above that "DC has now reached the line" where making the city more bike-friendly is counter-productive is just absurd. This should be just the start! I hope that in 30-40 years there are at least 20 times as many miles of dedicated bike lanes in DC. They will get used.

    Chris seems to think that the minority of people who use their bikes as transportation in the city will remain tiny forever. He's wrong, though. A cultural shift is starting, but it will not happen overnight.

  • http://marketurbanism.com Stephen Smith

    I personally don't think that bike lanes are as important as a lot of transit activists do, however, living on Florida Ave. NE, I can say that it definitely could use a bike lane. The sidewalk on the south side of the street across from Gallaudet is absurdly narrow, and walking on that side of the street makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable because of how close the cars are and how fast they travel. But most importantly, the road is really not that congested, even during rush hour. I very much doubt that taking one land and devoting it to a wider sidewalk and a bike lane would slow down traffic at all, and a lot of cyclists use Florida Ave. (always on the sidewalk, but I can't blame them). In fact, it seems like there are a lot more people riding on Florida Ave. than on all the north-south bike lanes between Florida Ave. and H St., which are on relatively slow streets and don't benefit cyclists as much as a lane on Florida would.

  • Frazier

    Folks, bicycles aren't "transit". I am sorry to rain on your parade but something an enormously small percentage of the public can or does use, and only on decent weather days does not qualify as "transit" and therefore should not be given the already crowded and finite street space.

    Bikes already have full access to the roads. They are legally allowed to bike on any street in dc, but thats not enough. So we take away travel lanes and parking for bike lanes and then cyclists choose not to use them. You really have to ask yourself, what is the point of giving cyclists what they say they want, if they aren't going to use it.

    According to DDOT, 2.1% of all travel "trips" are made by bicycle. This is of course on nice weather days and during the months of the year when people cycle.

    That leaves 97.9 % of all other trips on DC streets being made by vehicles (cars/buses). This number does not include commercial vehicles (delivery/supply) trucks.

    Someone above recommended taking a full lane in each direct from 6th st NW, and making one a turn lane which in effect takes two lanes of thur traffic and squeezing it into one. Well, according to DDOT's traffic volume map, 6th st NW sees on average 19,000 vehicles per day (VPD). Please inform us how, because it boggles the mind that you could squeeze the same volume of traffic through half the lanes and have it somehow "reduce congestion". Please...I eagerly await this fancy math you must have mastered.

    Point is, you have ( on nice weather days) anywhere from 7000-8000 bikes spread out on DC streets. You could more than double that number and STILL have fewer bike trips spread throughout the entire city than this ONE street (6th st NW) sees in vehicles every day.

    You want useful transit that serves the entire city, regardless of weather and is an efficient way to move people? Great, then we need some dedicated/seperated bus lanes which I would be totally for. But removing valuable public street space for a miniscule percentage of cyclists, who already have full access to DC streets is just asinine.

  • oboe

    @Kevin said:

    "People need to get used to the idea that regardless of how many or few bikes lanes there are in the future cities (and suburbs) are going to be more crowded. Traffic is bad now and IT WILL GET WORSE."

    This bears repeating. The road network that caters primarily to the private auto is past the saturation point. As an auto driver, your experience will only get worse. The only question remaining is whether we'll provide attractive alternatives. It's pretty clear that the majority of voters in DC have said, "Yes."

    This is all part of the "Big Sort" that's been going on for the last couple of decades: folks who prize walkability and transit are increasingly going to live in DC. Those who cannot survive without their private automobile (whether because of job constraints, or cultural reasons) will increasingly move out of the city. This, of course, will further accelerate the trend.

    As far as JM's: by hurting the movement of the private automobile, you make the provision of "goods and services" more expensive. That's a red herring. In another decade, we'll most likely see private, non-delivery, non-service traffic banned from certain areas of the city during certain hours. This will actually reduce the cost of delivering goods.

    Oh, and the demand that we "institute some real N-S and E-W expressways across the city for cars as well" is just childish. That's never going to happen. Are you expecting the city to erect 70s style elevated superhighways over Georgetown? Or maybe we'll dig a tunnel where 14th street is currently from the Pentagon to Silver Spring. To say that's a commuter's "pipe-dream" strains the meaning of the word "understatement."

    Don't like the way traffic in the DC metro area looks right now? Take a good long look. Savor it. Because the way it is now is as good as it will ever be. It's all downhill from here.

  • oboe


    "Folks, bicycles aren't "transit". I am sorry to rain on your parade but something an enormously small percentage of the public can or does use, and only on decent weather days does not qualify as "transit" and therefore should not be given the already crowded and finite street space."

    And of course, this is America, and you're entitled to your opinion. Just thought I'd point out that your opinion is taking a beating at the ballot box. The majority of DC voters disagree with you. Could be time to move to Atlanta. Or Phoenix.

    ("Big Sort", FTW!)

  • Frazier

    Taking a beating at the ballot box? Really.

    Last I heard Vince Gray and not "Bike Lane Fenty" was elected mayor. Grays demographic actually used the bike lane (and dog park) issue as a rally cry.

    Not to mention Gray summarily threw out DC's bike lane messiah "Gridlock Gabe" as DDOT director.

    So please explain how the majority of DC voters are supporting bike lanes as transit?

  • M

    "But if (and only if) we institute some real N-S and E-W expressways across the city for cars as well."

    It's a city, not a freeway. You're not entitled to drive through it at 60mph on your way to Silver Spring or Leesburg.

  • Devoe

    Amen to all the calls for bike lanes on Fl. Ave. NE/NW.

    Now, as for "bike boulevards" - why can't we just get bikes out of the way of cars altogether by building out a raised bike lane that would be placed on a widened sidewalk. On most sidewalks with planters this would be handily separated from pedestrians by the planters.

    On small neighborhood streets that already have a bikelane (think Q or R Streets NW) This would not even require removing any parking because, although the raised bikelane would take the place of one row of parking, this row of parking would just be moved five feet to the left.

    Thus everyone wins. This of course would be more expensive than the bike boulevard idea, but would be more palatable to both drivers and bikers, and could be done in conjunction with streetcar installation, particularly, on the afore-mentioned stretch of Fl. Ave.

    I am not tech savy, so I can't figure out how to embed a link, but if you want to see what I'm talking about check out the street view of the intersection of Javastraat and Alexanderplein in Den Haag, NL. This set works wonderfully in the Hague.

  • oboe


    "So please explain how the majority of DC voters are supporting bike lanes as transit?"

    All wishful thinking. What we know of Gray is that he's continued every single transit initiative that Williams started, and that Fenty/Klein took up. Tommy Wells is the head of the Transportation committee. This is a bit like having Paul Krugman in charge of the Treasury Department. Elections have consequences, but sometimes you have to separate the campaign blather ("No bike lanes for white people!!!") from policy. And there's no doubt that Gray's on board.

    When you've lost the Examiner editorial page, you've lost:

    "We are not quite in the league of hip biking towns such as Portland, Ore., and Seattle, but we're getting there, thanks to Mayors Tony Williams, Adrian Fenty and now Vince Gray. During the last mayoral race, bike lanes became code words for Fenty's favoring downtown and white communities, but Gray has signaled his support by showing up at the dedication of a Bikeshare rack at the Wilson Building. Heck, eight council members are planning to take part in next Friday's Bike to Work day!"


  • Ian Cooper

    I wish articles like this would define its terms more clearly. Who are these 'bike boosters' who advocate for bicycle infrastructure? Personally, I don't see them as 'cyclist boosters' - unless the term is intended to convey the fact that cyclists who use the 'infrastructure' are more likely to get violently 'boosted' out of their saddles and into the street.

    I've always found bike lanes and bikeways to be more dangerous than an unmarked road. I find that, far from simplifying my commute, bikeways and bike lanes endanger me at every intersection. Also, because most of them are poorly designed they slow me down to pedestrian speeds and make my commute more complicated by forcing me to cross intersections as a pedestrian. Not only is this slower, but it's less safe too.

    Sometimes I wish the government would get out of the business of trying to get me off the road, and get into the business of getting my vehicle more accepted on it. A bicycle is a road vehicle, built for long, straight and wide roads. It is not built for narrow winding pathways, and when you force cyclists onto such infrastructure, you build more risk into the system. The government needs to stop trying to kill cyclists with kindness. All the latest studies show that road cycling is safer, yet transportation engineers keep ignoring the facts and moving ahead with their myopic utopian dream of segregated cycling facilities.

  • dynaryder

    @Frazier: "and only on decent weather days"

    LOL. FYI,I biked through both Snowpocalpses. In fact,my workcenter's weather emergency plan for the past 6 years was me putting the studded tires on my Safari and trekking in. I'm wondering what they're going to do next winter now that I've left?

  • Frazier


    Nice try. I mean really...you link an article claiming it proves Gray is on Board (Oh my god, he has shown up at a bikeshare rack, stop the presses!) and conveniently leave out this little gem right beneath it...

    "Gray reduced the bike and pedestrian budget by about 30 percent"

    The man is now only 4 months into his tenure where he fired the biggest bike lane supporter DC has ever had (even after a passioned plea by the blogger community to keep him) and cut the budget by 30%.

    Yeah...Gray is on Board all right. Nice try.

  • profonabike

    At my workplace in NE DC, dozens of people have started biking to work in the last couple of years. Just in the last couple of weeks I have talked to several colleagues at my workplace about getting started. All this was unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

    I would say we are far from hitting the ceiling on the number of bike commuters--there are plenty of folks who are interested. It starts with that first time--maybe a bike to work event, figuring out a safe route, getting the dusty bike tuned up, getting the right gear for the cold...

    When bike lanes aren't connected to a good network of bike friendly routes, no, they won't get used as much as we would like. But as they become part of a viable bikeable grid, the bike becomes a more logical choice for a lot more people.

  • oboe

    Yeah...Gray is on Board all right. Nice try.

    At the end of the day, I'll just point to the scoreboard. Operating a motor vehicle in this city sucks, and it's only going to get worse. Don't hold your breath waiting for the return to the good ole days of 1990. They're not coming back. Heh.

  • Falls Church

    While a small percentage of trips are currently made by bike, it is growing fast and the potential is enormous. One only need to look at European cities like Amsterdam to see the power of bike transportation. Bikes vastly outnumber cars on their roads even though bike lanes only take a fraction of the road space. Or, closer to home, look at Portland, OR where it rains half the time but biking is a major form of transportation in the city.

    If we make biking safer by installing better bike infrastructure, the potential for increasing bike usage in DC is enormous.

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com JJJJ


    So much wrong!

    "According to DDOT, 2.1% of all travel "trips" are made by bicycle. This is of course on nice weather days and during the months of the year when people cycle.

    That leaves 97.9 % of all other trips on DC streets being made by vehicles (cars/buses). This number does not include commercial vehicles (delivery/supply) trucks."

    Are you sure that stat is referring to trips, or is it referring to how the census calculates COMMUTES (which make up 25% of our travel).

    In case you didnt know, youre only a bike commuter if you bike most of the time. Once a week? You're not counted. 2m on bike, 7m on metro? Counted as transit.

    So 2.2% bike commuting could also mean 15% use bikes for trips, ie, the store, the gym, twice a week to work etc etc etc.

    As for your 97% stat.... LOL

    So no one walks?

    43%. Thats the percentage of people in DC who commuted by car in 2009.

    Ie, a minority.

    A minority of people use cars, and yet 85%+ of our road space is for cars.

    11% walked. 2.2% biked.


    3rd table, expand to see washington.

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  • Chris R

    @ Jeff - exactly 6th st NW is a mess. 2 narrow lanes and lots of turning traffic means lots of dangerous "rally car" type behavior, making it dangerous for all users of that street. 1 lane in each direction, a southbound bike lane- complementing the northbound one on 5th st, dedicated left turning lanes for each intersection and maybe angled parking? Time the lights to 25mph, post signs to inform drivers that the lights are timed, and you could move the same 19,000 vehicles a day, but much more safely.
    The people actually living on that street already want it