Photo by the author.

15th Street bike commuters, don’t worry about getting those shock absorbers installed. Following months of appeals from the community and elected officials, DC will repave the 15th Street cycle track.

The 2-way 15th street cycle track was DC’s first protected bike lane and now carries hundreds of bike commuters during rush hour. When it opened in 2009, then-mayor Adrian Fenty and Councilmember Jack Evans rode SmartBikes down it for reporters.

However, the cycle track has long needed maintenance. The parked cars that once occupied the lanes dripped gas and oil that eroded the asphalt, creating a bumpy bicycling surface. When the cycle track was changed from one-way to two-way, the southbound lane contained part of the street’s brick trim edge, which is also bumpy but avoidable. Cyclists often have to choose between protecting their tires or protecting themselves by trying not to swerve into oncoming riders.

Last fall, I held a Dupont-Logan bike safety meeting with Noah Smith and Chris Linn, where we asked the District Dpeartment of Transportation’s Mike Goodno and George Branyan to address this problem. The agency’s Asset Management team inspected the cycletrack and put in a work order (WO#356774) on October 26, almost 8 months ago.

As an ANC commissioner who campaigned to solve this problem, I was prematurely pleased with this quick response. Since I was elected, Noah Smith, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and I kept reminding the agency about it.

Over the winter and spring, I went out to the cycle track and talked to cyclists. All agreed that DDOT did a wonderful thing by installing the track, but such a popular lane needs to be in better shape. Most complained about the unsafe bumpy conditions and several even said they had blown tires because of them.

We related these stories to DDOT without any progress. I even spoke to WAMU about it. “I’ve heard from people who’ve had near accidents because they were avoiding potholes,” I said. “I heard from a father-to-be who wants to take his infant to daycare by bike but he’s afraid all the bumpiness would be bad for the baby.” (The audio story link includes a cute quote from a toddler and dad on the cycle track complaining about riding over the “camels” and their many “humps.”)

Finally, Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s Associate Director for Policy, Planning, and Sustainability, committed to repave the track this year. “It was always intended for us to come back and resurface it, but it’s taken us a few years,” he told WAMU.

After further appeals from myself and Councilmembers Jack Evans and Mary Cheh, DDOT agreed to move up the project and potentially start within the next month, according to Zimbabwe. We have proposed that the work start during the slow July 4 week and that the schedule avoid disrupting rush hour. To help protect pedestrians and drivers as well as bicycle riders, we have asked for better signage at all intersections, especially the almost-hidden alleyways off of 15th Street.

In the future, everyone involved would also like to see bike-specific traffic signals to prevent confusion and increase efficient traffic flows. This was among the recommendations from a recent study that evaluated the 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes.

The DDOT planners are also studying whether they can widen the lane slightly, so cyclists don’t have to ride on the brick “gutter pan.” Right now, Zimbabwe said in an email, it’s not possible to narrow the car lanes any further, but they can readjust how they use the 11 feet between the edge of the parking lane and the curb.

Now, there is a 3-foot striped buffer, then a 4-foot northbound lane, and a 4-foot southbound lane that includes the bricks. Zimbabwe said, “We’re still working out how we would address [this issue], but we could narrow the buffer a little bit or restripe the 7’ of bike lane excluding the gutter pan as 3’6” in each direction, or leave as is since the repaving will address the asphalt/brick connection and make that better.”

Zimbabwe said he and Goodno would appreciate hearing from riders about which they would prefer. Please post your thoughts in the comments.

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Kishan Putta is a Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner who is also an avid District cyclist and health reform advocate.  He has lived on 16th Street for several years with his wife Divya.  He is also an active board member of Friends of Stead Park. You can find out more and contact him at kishanfordc.com.