Why Not: Build More Bike Lanes?

Photo by Elly Blue.

As part of an occasional series, GM asks “Why Not?“. Today he asks: why not build some bike lanes in Georgetown?

For those not familiar with them, bike lanes are special lanes painted on roads the designate a space on the road just for bikes. In DC they generally take the space between the travel lane and the parking lane. Compliance with the lanes is spotty. And there is a passionate debate among bikers as to whether bike lanes are even better for bikers in the first place, although one study suggests that at the very least bike lanes encourage more biking.

As part of its Bicycle Master Plan, the city hopes to build 50 miles of bike lanes across the city by 2010, and 100 by 2015. As of this summer, they had already reached somewhere around 37 miles, so these goals seem obtainable. But what about Georgetown?

As reported here, the city is planning to build two bike lanes in Georgetown: on 34th and 33rd 35th. In fact, these lanes are currently being painted and should be ready within weeks. But these lanes are north-south and do not do much to tie Georgetown in with the rest of the city’s bike network. Why not build east-west routes that connect Georgetown to that network?

But what are the candidates?

M St.

Establishing bike lanes on M St. would be a coup for Washington bicyclers. It is a major cross town route that goes right through the center of Georgetown. In fact, DDOT bike czar Jim Sebastian has stated that his agency is considering M and L Streets as the next likely candidates for major bike lane construction. Although it is not clear that he meant M St. all the way to Georgetown or not.

Another reason adding bike lanes to M St. would be such a boon to bikers is that right now it is a terrible street to bike on. With drivers more focused on finding a parking spot and delivery trucks double parking, bikers are easily overlooked. It is an intimidating road to bike on. DDOT has identified M St. as a “Poor” street for biking.

But establishing bike lanes on M St. would probably be a hard sell. Right now M St. is six lanes wide: four travel lanes and two parking lanes. It may be possible to chip off a few feet from the parking lanes to construct bike lanes, but GM doubts it. The only way to do it right on M St. would be to eliminate parking, which is a political non-starter.

Bike lanes seem to work better on one way streets. For that reason, we may have a bike lane feed into Georgetown on M St. from the West End, but stop when it gets to Georgetown. (In fact, in 2005 that’s exactly what DDOT proposed).

Pros:

  • Major route
  • Safety could be improved siginficantly
  • There are three bike stores on or very close to M St.

Cons:

  • Could affect parking, therefore…
  • Politically difficult

P St.


P St. east of Wisconsin is another strong candidate for bike lanes. It is a direct link to Dupont Circle and it probably is wide enough to handle at least one bike lane. Moreover, while it is somewhat north of the main Georgetown thoroughfare, it is still relatively central. Finally, it too has been flagged by DDOT as “Poor” for cyclists under its current condition.

While a stronger candidate than M St., P St. is still not perfect. On a normal day there is probably enough space to accommodate at least one bike lane, but that changes on Sundays when parking is allowed on the north side of P St. between 31st and Wisconsin. This would swallow up the bike lane for pretty much half the weekend.

Also, no bike lane is possible on P St. west of Wisconsin due to the cobblestones and streetcar tracks. To the extent the route would be continued into the West Village (as it should to link up with the lanes on 33rd and 34th), it would have to be directed down Volta from P St. Although bike lanes on Wisconsin could change that calculation.

Pros:

  • Link across Rock Creek to Dupont
  • Also links to Rose Park bike path
  • Enough room to accommodate lane(s)
  • Relatively centrally located

Cons:

  • Parking issue on Sundays
  • Doesn’t link very well to West Village
  • No bike lanes on P St. in Dupont

Q St.


Q St. is another viable candidate for a east-west bike lane through Georgetown. Like P, it connects across Rock Creek to Dupont. However, unlike P it actually connects to an existing bike lane that goes all the way to 11th St. The existing bike lane is only eastbound, but it is mirrored with a westbound bike lane on R St.

Q St. is also probably wide enough to accommodate one or two bike lanes. In fact, it is already designated by DDOT as a “bike route” even though it’s also identified as having poor biking conditions. Why not improve conditions on the road DDOT is recommending bikers use by installing bike lanes?

Like the others, Q St. also has cons. It too has north-side-of-the-street-parking on Sundays. Also, it is well north of M St.  Q St. west of Wisconsin doesn’t have cobblestones or streetcar tracks, but it doesn’t line up perfectly with Q St. on the east-side. Volta is probably a better option here too.

Pros:

  • Link to existing bike lane in Dupont
  • Wide enough
  • Already a “bike route”

Cons:

  • Sunday parking issue
  • Possibly too far north for popular use
  • Doesn’t link up perfectly across Wisconsin

Considering these issues, it isn’t terribly surprising that DDOT doesn’t appear to have more Georgetown bike lanes on its drawing board. But it should.

Maybe a direct path is not possible for Georgetown. Perhaps a more circuitous route is necessary. Say for instance that a bike lane went on P St. from Dupont until 28th and then went down to Dumbarton Ave. From there it could travel westward until Wisconsin and cut down to N St. where it would travel all the way to the university.

Either way, more bike lanes connecting Georgetown with its eastern neighbors will increase the number of people coming to Georgetown without their cars. We should be able to come up with some solution that installs these lanes with the least amount of disruption to the current traffic flow and parking situation.

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12 Comments

Filed under Bikes, Why Not

12 responses to “Why Not: Build More Bike Lanes?

  1. Matt

    I live on 34th St and I’m a cyclist. It makes no sense to paint a bike lane on a one-way, downhill street that has stop signs at every intersection. Even the most lethargic bicyclist has no problem keeping up with or exceeding the speed of traffic on 34th. It’s more dangerous to ride in a bike lane that is painted on the right side of a one-way street next to parked cars than it is to ride with traffic in the center of the lane, which is what I will continue to do.

  2. Ken Archer

    I completely agree. Two questions:

    (1) In your original post, you said the bike lanes would be on 33rd and 34th, not 34th and 35th. Will we have a bike lane on 33rd? (Please say yes!)

    (2) Will the walking meter enforcers in Georgetown have the authority to ticket cars that are double parked in the bike lanes?

  3. GM

    The original was correct. It’s 33rd not 35th that will get the lane (according to my notes and the DC bike Master Plan). So I’m sure that’ll make you happy.

    I don’t know about the ticketing enforcement. I would assume so, but I’m not certain. Also, there’s a difference between having the authority to, and actually doing it.

  4. Old Georgetowner

    Parking on the north side of N Street west of Wisconsin is a relatively new thing — it dates back only to the late 1980s. Why not make things as they once were and use the north side of N west of Potomac as a bike lane?

    Pros:

    Would eliminate a much too narrow passage way which frequently requires trucks to back up to the nearest intersection. (Not counting broken car mirrors …)

    Cons:

    Would reduce available parking for late night drunkards. (Take a look at the number of empty spaces at midnight and then again at 5 in the morning and you’ll see what I mean.)

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  6. I have been looking around posts to improve biking in my city too. It has been the most difficult task for me to get the political things right. Often the political things have creeped up too far for me to accomplish the bike lane improvement. Nice post geek.

  7. bike lanes are okay…

    acceptance and understanding of the cyclist’s right to the road would be better

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