For D.C.’s Bikers, More Cushion for the Pushin’
"If you build it, they will come." It's the go-to quote among optimists in development circles, used in discussions of everything from parks to neighborhoods to retail centers. But when it comes to D.C.'s bike infrastructure—that's how Jim Sebastian of the District Department of Transportation used it at a media luncheon yesterday on the city's bike lane plans and needs—it's undoubtedly true.
A recent study by DDOT found that bike volume on 15th Street NW had increased 272 percent since bike lanes were added to the street in 2009, said Sebastian's colleague Mike Goodno, who oversees the bicycle program. Now the city, aided by the Bikes Belong Foundation's Green Lane Project, is looking to expand on its currently limited supply of protected bike lanes, which are also found on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
Protected lanes—those separated from auto traffic by physical barriers, and also known as green lanes (though they're not necessarily green) or cycle tracks—have been found to reduce injuries to bikers by 90 percent. This has implications not just for safety, but also for ridership.
"The No. 1 reason people don't ride bikes in survey after survey is safety," said Martha Roskowski of Bikes Belong. "They are scared. You create dedicated spaces for bikes on the street and people start to ride."
That's why Bikes Belong has identified six cities leading the way in bike infrastructure and is working with them to create more green lanes. Those cities are Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, San Francisco, and D.C.
Because bicycle planning is such a new and rapidly growing area, the presenters said, every new lane is something of an experiment—and other cities are watching.
"Everyone looks to Washington, D.C.," said Roskowski, adding that the success of the 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue lanes is a "big deal" around the country.
The next stage of the project is already underway; DDOT announced on Monday that it'll be laying down cycle track on L Street NW. M Street NW is set to follow soon thereafter.
But the future holds challenges of a different sort, and D.C.'s bikers may actually be providing the solution. Rich Bradley, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District, spoke of "a happy coincidence of demographics, of changes in the workplace and changes in the workforce."
Bradley described a downsizing trend in office space per worker: Since federal workers have been found to spend only about 40 percent of their working time in the office, the city's workers have begun sharing space and requiring less of their own. That's more efficient, but it also means more people cramming into downtown D.C. The problem will only be compounded by the opening of the CityCenter offices and retail.
"Well," Bradley continued, "it also turns out that the workforce is more interested in riding bikes." And bikes take up a lot less space than cars, on the road and when parked.
But they still do take up space. And so Bradley emphasized the need for more bike parking in office buildings. LivingSocial employees, he said, may simply lean their bikes against their desks, but other offices need proper bike parking.
Photo by Flickr user ElvertBarnes