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Watch for bikers at 15th Street intersections

looking south on 15th.jpg
Bike lane on 15th Street NW is innovative idea that doesn't look best when wet. (Thomson)

In my Sunday column, I wrote about the new protected bike lane on 15th Street NW. The protected lane is for southbound cyclists. The rest of the street is one-way northbound in this area. Many people -- including me -- were focusing on it for the first time last week, and it certainly wasn't looking its best in the heavy rain and wind, which covered it in wet leaves. (I took the pictures on Friday.)

The reviews I've heard so far have been mixed, but I think experiments like this are worthwhile and should be encouraged. Across the region, we've dug ourselves a deep hole by failing to advance our transportation systems into the 21st century.

Transportation departments need to use the resources they have creatively -- in ways large and small -- to improve mobility for all travelers. The 15th Street bike lane is one such experiment. I hope the District now will monitor how it works and modify the experiment based on what it actually sees going on there.

This letter gives you a feel for some of the issues.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am writing to you about the bike lane recently installed on 15th Street between Massachusetts Avenue and U Street NW. Although I am not a biker, I am a runner, skater, and driver in the District, so I think I bring a variety of user perspectives regarding the changes.

I support providing dedicated bike lanes in the city -- anything that reduces the impact of automobiles is great. I also agree with orienting the bike lane opposite the flow of traffic and utilizing the pedestrian signals as bicycle signals. It's much safer. However, after driving, running, and skating along 15th Street, I have the following observations:

-- Because parked cars are often between the bike lane and the travel lane and because many of these cars are large SUV-types, it is difficult to see anyone in the bike lane.
-- Since the bike lane is now the area immediately adjacent to the curb, all the debris that would normally be blown out of a traditional bike lane and underneath parked cars now accumulates in the bike lane. I can say that it is very difficult to skate in the lane with all of this debris in the lane.
-- The flexposts installed appear to be permanent. Considering the accumulation of debris in the bike lane, how can the District's street sweepers (or even the smaller vacuum trucks) access the curb and gutter space to clean it? The width appears too narrow for this equipment to get between the flexposts.
-- On evenings when there are services at some of the churches along this section, cars are often double-parked in the right travel lane of 15th. Now that 15th Street is reduced by one lane, will the District be more stringent about enforcement against double-parked vehicles? This could create a bottleneck.
-- At the intersection with U Street, there is a lane marking on 15th Street that indicates "(through arrow) only". Does this mean 15th Street traffic will be prohibited from turning left onto U Street?

Again, I generally like the idea of the protected bike lane, especially in light of recent accidents such as the one last year at R and 20th Streets NW. It's just the secondary logistics that need some work.
Christopher Bedwell
The District

On several days last week, the new bike lane,was a difficult ride because of the wet leaves, but the Department of Public Works can and does get a sweeper in there. It's going to take the cooperation of DPW and the D.C. police to make this experiment work.

Traffic is not prohibited from turning left from 15th Street northbound onto U Street. It depends on which lane the traffic is in. Drivers do need to be careful about yielding to pedestrians and cyclists.

One of my concerns is about human behavior at intersections, like the one in the photo below. Drivers coming out of side streets tend to look for other drivers, not for pedestrians and cyclists. With the southbound bike lane in place, they need to be more aware than ever of the need to look in both directions before pulling out onto 15th Street. Bikers also need to use extra caution and be aware that this is a new traffic pattern for everyone.

As for the parked cars, the more the better, I say. That's the chief protection for the cyclists, not those flexposts. Some parking spaces have been taken away near the intersections, to increase visibility.

As with any new traffic pattern, it's going to take some getting used to. Let's see how it goes in the next few weeks.

look left.jpg
Everyone needs to be careful at intersections, where bikers and cars meet. (Thomson)

By Robert Thomson  |  November 16, 2009; 10:47 AM ET
Categories:  Biking , Driving , Safety  | Tags: 15th Street bike lane, DDOT, Dr. Gridlock  
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Rollerblading in the street is illegal, FYI.

Posted by: cranor | November 16, 2009 9:14 PM | Report abuse

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