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DC innovates on 15th Street bike lane

bike Justin Wilson of D.C. makes his way south on new 15th St. lane. (Gerald Martineau/Post)

During my online chat Monday, I got a comment about the new bike lane the District Department of Transportation is installing along 15th Street NW. The lane is designed to allow bikers to travel southbound in a protected area on what otherwise is a one-way street northbound. This is the reader's comment:

15th Street, NW, Washington, D.C.: The 15th street contraflow bike lane is an absolute disaster. Traffic has not slowed. It's still as dangerous for cyclists. Street cleaners cannot get to the curb or they will rip off the reflective covers that indicate the bike lane. Cyclists are going the wrong way. Cars are parked in the lane. 15th street does not feel part of the neighborhood. There are misspelled words like "yield" in the bike lane. Please tell me this is not permanent.

John Lisle, a spokesman for DDOT, saw the comment and went out to take some pictures of the new lane. You can see one of his pictures below.

He says most of the installation work is done, and this may resolve some of the potential issues raised. Lisle suspects there might have been some confusion -- particularly about the parking by the bike lane -- while the installation was underway, but thinks this will no longer be the case.

Also, he said, "The signage, for both cyclists and drivers, is very good and I think the bike lane is going to be very popular."

Some cyclists will indeed go the wrong way in the lane, meaning they will use it to ride northbound, rather than stick to the regular lanes of traffic, which are one-way north. They'll prefer the protection of the bike lane. But even that should not be a major problem, Lisle said.

15th Street 2-John Lisle-ddot.JPG Completed contra lane. (John Lisle/DDOT)

DDOT says it is testing the contra concept on the 14-block stretch of 15th between Massachusetts Avenue and U Street. It's the city's first protected bike lane, buffered from traffic by parked cars.

What's the impact on traffic? It takes away a travel lane and eliminates six parking spots, the latter to increase visibility for bikers. That's not a crippling blow to traffic. Many drivers heading north still will prefer 15th to 16th or 14th. DDOT says there is more road capacity than necessary on 15th, given the number of cars regularly using it. But the narrowing of the roadway for the bike lane may have the side benefit of slowing down traffic on 15th, which has always gone too fast.

DDOT has been working with the neighborhood for several years on proposals to reconfigure the roadway. DC is looking to move away from the car-dominated road network of the mid-20th century into something that is friendlier to walkers and reconnects neighborhoods.

The innovation has been a popular topic online. Here are some of the takes on it:
* David Alpert, Greater Greater Washington
* DCist noted the misspelling.
* WashCycle noted completion of the lane.

Here's a DDOT image showing a cross section of the reconfigured street. The contraflow lane is on the left side.

cross section.jpg

By Robert Thomson  |  November 12, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Biking , Safety  | Tags: DDOT, Dr. Gridlock, contraflow bike lane  
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did the road "feel like part of the neighborhood" before? this odd turn of phrase is being used by a couple anti-commenters at all of the above sites, and it just sounds really weird and practiced, like a creepy talking point.

Posted by: IMGoph | November 12, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I'm liking the new photo, Dr. Gridlock!

Posted by: WashingtonDame | November 12, 2009 10:19 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: You mean the smiley-face one, WashingtonDame? Yeah, I like that better than the more severe version we've been using for the past three years. I know most of our travelers don't find traffic and transit conditions amusing, so I was a little worried about smiling in the face of so much misery, but Post staff photographer Bill O'Leary convinced me otherwise.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | November 12, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: IMGoph, I can tell you the theory on the "part of the neighborhood" thing. And it probably is a phrase that would be quite commonly used by urban transportation planners these days.

The idea is that city planners in the middle of the 20th century thought that the car would be king forever, so they redesigned their cities to accommodate cars. That meant putting in highways and broad streets -- often one-way streets -- that would make it easy for commuters to drive in and out of the central city. But one of the side effects was to split up neighborhoods. People no longer felt safe crossing a wide road with fast moving traffic. There's been a movement in recent years to restore roads to neighborhood scale, so people who live in the area will again feel comfortable crossing them to visit neighbors and local shops.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | November 12, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

The use of taxpayers dollars to bulid bike lanes on the crowed street of DC is crazy as cat SH##.

Less than 0.5% of bikers use the lane and cannot or should not be biking during inclement weather.

DC needs to solve traffic conjestion not appease a handful of folks that wants to bike during rush hours traffic.

Most biker refuse to follow the laws weave in between lanes and do not obey traffic signs.

New laws should be passed to required bikers who want ot ride in conjested traffic to carry insurance and license tags like the other drivers.

Posted by: blkisin | November 12, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse


I pay taxes in DC and bike to work, I don't own a car. Your statistics seem a little concoted and I don't think it's for you to judge when I bike. I think DC needs congestion pricing downtown, so that people who don't live here don't add to our traffic, pollution, and parking problems without paying for their added burden. I think DC needs to appease actual citizens like myself, not commuters who pay taxes somewhere else and just drive in to get their paycheck.

Posted by: monongahela79 | November 12, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

As a biker,I can appreciate the bike lane because since I frequently ride around the city,it provides aspecial lane form to get where I need to be going. Iknow some people may feel that is what the side walk is for but if I am trying to get somewhere, I do not want to be stressed about pedestrians in my way.

Posted by: lols | November 12, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

As a person that uses a bike as means for transportation,I appreciate that bike lane. The bike lane is great forme because I use it when traveling around the city because it separates me from any danger I may be facing when Iam riding in the general automobile traffic flow.

Posted by: lols | November 12, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

My only concern and experience was the parking of the SUV's, Trucks that block your view to make a turn, I almost hit a cyclist, turning on to Corcoran St., honestly didn't see the cyclist until the very last second, and some cyclist think they don't have to stop due to them having their own lane.

Posted by: weaverf | November 12, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I am a DC resident, DC taxpayer and frequent driver on 15th street. To the person who complained that drivers on 15th street don't live in the District, you are wrong. Check out the license plates as you weave your bike through traffic. The new traffic pattern is a total mess. 15th has gone from a well-flowing street during rush hour to a gridlocked, honking nightmare. People are driving significantly worse now, weaving in and out of traffic and trying to get through the gridlock. Eliminating an effective commuter road to appease a handful of residents who didn't like living on a busy street is a total disservice to the entire city. As for bikers, isn't there a bike lane on 17th street? In any event, why not have the bike lane but restrict parking during rush hour. Then we can all get around DC a little easier.

Posted by: mz1451 | November 12, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

This work has been pretty disastrous to the traffic flow of 15th during rush. What used to be 4 open lanes of traffic is now two. How anyone factually or anecdotally say there has "been no effect" is beyond me. I drive it (car) often and its a clusterf^*k. I say this as an avid cyclist.

DDOT's own traffic study shows the level of service decrease by 30% with this option. Bikers already had their own lane on 15th, there was no need for another on the other side of the road, and the permanent removal of those neighborhood parking spots is pretty significant as the local listerv illustrates.

DDOT shows that 1300 vehicles per hour use that road during rush, and you've now reduced the available roadway by a half. How many bikers do, or were anticipated to use 15th street during rush? 20,50 per hour. Now they have two bike lanes. Hardly a fair or technically smart way to use that road. There are smart ways to incorporate bike friendly policies onto our traffic infrastructure. This wasn't one of those ways.

Posted by: Nosh1 | November 12, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

As a resident of 15th St. NW and a biker, I am disgusted with the new traffic configuration. 15th St. NW residents were NOT proponents of this change.

What right thinking person prefers slow-moving, bumper-to-bumper road rage inducing traffic to free flowing movement of the cars, trucks, and buses using this street? And yes - cars, trucks and buses are necessary for commerce in this city, whether you personally detest them or not.

Reducing traffic lanes on this major commuter route has resulted in increased traffic congestion on the street where we live. There is NO way you can justify additional COUNTERFLOWING bicycle traffic on this street and reducing lanes for vehicle traffic as increasing the safety of the thoroughfare to ANY of its users - bikers, pedestrians, or cars. Who runs DDOT?

Oh - that's right - its run by an entrepreneur with a vested interest in making auto ownership and operation in DC unappealing and difficult. Can anybody spell CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

Posted by: dipazzo | November 12, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

"Can anybody spell CONFLICT OF INTEREST?"

The people who painted the bike lane to say "TRUN" instead of "TURN" and "YEILD" instead of "YIELD" probably can't.

New York has tried some bike lanes of this sort in places and the most common complaints there have been drivers, especially truck drivers, who don't respect the bike lane and park their vehicles so as to block it (even with the pylons there). DC's design of putting an extra pylon at the end might help, although I've noticed that at other places with these sorts of rubber pylons (eastbound VA-236 at the ramp to southbound Telegraph Road; eastbound I-695 in the District at the split between the ramp to Pennsylvania Avenue and the RFK Access Road) lots of the pylons are knocked down by drivers who decide they want to drive over there anyway (in the two locations I cite, it's drivers who don't want to wait on line to exit with everyone else and who think it's OK to drive down a thru lane and butt in later).

I wouldn't been too keen on riding a bike on top of all those leaves shown in the second picture, at least not when they're all wet like they will be today. But then, I don't ride my bike in this kind of weather. I enjoy getting out for a ride and getting some exercise, but when it rains like it is this week, my idea of exercise is to operate the TV remote with my left hand instead of my right hand.

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 12, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

The bike lanes don't make any sense if the city doesn't take action to spur less people to drive in the city and to have the people that do drive in smaller vehicles. In many countries where a lot of people bicycle the ratio of cars to people is a lot lower and you see more compact cars, motorcycles, and mopeds.

Posted by: blk-ml | November 12, 2009 6:57 PM | Report abuse

dr. gridlock: perhaps i wasn't clear. i fully realize that the street hasn't felt like a neighborhood street for years since it was turned one way to accomodate the freeway that was supposed to be built between T and U street NW. i used to live at the corner of 15th and T, and i witnessed the speeding of maryland drivers interested in nothing more than getting out of the city as fast as their cars could carry them.

i just meant that, it seems like commenters (or maybe this is just one person posting everywhere the bike lane is brought up, like dcist, GGW, here, etc.) are complaining that the change has made the road "less" of a neighborhood street. my point was that it wasn't a neighborhood street in its previous layout, so how could anyone see this as worse?

Posted by: IMGoph | November 12, 2009 9:38 PM | Report abuse

I live on 15th street and simply don't believe that some of the commenters who claim to actually are residents. Obviously, things were a bit confused during the week or so when DDOT was putting the new stuff in but the stuff about "bumper to bumper" traffic and "gridlock" is just fantasy. The fact is, 15th street looks like a highway to drivers so they drive as if it is, despite a 30mph speed limit. This is extraordinarily dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists mainly because the road doesn't really get commuters all that far (it becomes one lane north of V). So, everyone must turn off somewhere. What happens is people fly down the street for 6 or 7 blocks and then veer onto a cross street (or worse, an alley) to tack over to 16th or 14th to continue their journey north. I have seen crashes due to this at literally every single corner.

I have no idea if the bike lane will be the solution, and I'm sure it's going to need tweaks in any event, but traffic seems to me to have slowed somewhat due to the perceived narrowing of the street and that's a positive step. That said, it still moves fine and there is nothing approaching "bumper to bumper" as some allege here.

Posted by: DCMike | November 17, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

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