Photo by AJfroggie.
Monday night, DDOT finally began construction of the long awaited separated bicycle lanes (or “cycletracks”) on L St. from the West End to downtown. This will hopefully precede another lane to be installed on M St. from 29th to Thomas Circle. This will bring improved biking facilities right to the threshold of Georgetown, but not through it. Will this mean that Georgetown will miss out?
For those unfamiliar with these types of bike lanes, the parking lane is moved one lane away from the curb, and the bike lane is installed with barriers between the parking lane and the curb. Studies have shown how dedicated lanes like these can cut cycling injuries by up to a half. And when lanes like these have been installed on 15th St. and Pennsylvania Ave., bike traffic along those routes skyrocketed while the impact to car traffic has been negligible.
The new lanes on L and M will provide a very much needed east-west route for bikers. However for Georgetown bikers, the lanes are tantalizingly close, but not close enough.
The L St. lane will travel eastbound from 25th (by Trader Joe’s). That means that if someone wants to bike from Georgetown to the lane, they will probably have to travel on M St.and Pennsylvania Ave.
GM is a confident city biker, but even he gets seriously unnerved trying to ride on M St. and Pennsylvania Ave. This gap between the heart of Georgetown and safe separated bike lanes will discourage people from riding bikes to Georgetown. But what can we do about it?
The answer is clear: extend the lanes into Georgetown. DDOT should build a eastbound cycletrack from the Key Bridge all the way down M and then Pennsylvania to 25th. The westbound lane should be similarly extended from 29th all the way to the Key Bridge.
Fitting the lanes will be a challenge. GM’s first response would be to simply remove the parking altogether. There are only about 200 parking spots on M St. Eliminating them would have a small effect in a neighborhood with 3,800 parking spots in parking lots, and thousands more off of M and Wisconsin.
But M St. already eliminates parking during rush hour. And this would conflict with the lane. One possible way to compromise would be to eliminate just the parking on one side. Then we could build a two-way bike lane.
Ultimately we should have as a goal reducing M St. to two lanes of traffic in each direction. This will allow us to widen the sidewalks and add these bike lanes.
In the short term this would exacerbate traffic. But just as new highways lead to more people driving, reduced capacity ultimately leads to fewer people driving. In the meantime we could make the situation much better for the majority users: to wit, during the weekends, M St. at Wisconsin carries 3,300 pedestrians an hour. That’s more than twice the number of cars on M St. at the same time. Yet we crowd those thousands of pedestrians on a few square feet of sidewalk and give drivers six full lanes, all because we’re too afraid of what might happen if we have the courage to reduce road capacity for once instead of expanding it.