Rendering of proposed bike lane on New Mexico Avenue from Greg Billing of WABA.

Tonight, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D will vote on a proposal to add bike lanes to Tunlaw Road and New Mexico Avenue between Calvert Street and Nebraska Avenue in Northwest DC. The lanes will benefit cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians alike.

New Mexico and Tunlaw form the only connection between two dense but transit-poor neighborhoods, Glover Park and Wesley Heights, and American University and the Department of Homeland Security’s campus at Ward Circle.

While New Mexico Avenue is currently signed as a bicycle route, it has no dedicated space for cyclists. Each street has only one lane in each direction, meaning that drivers often get stuck behind bicyclists pedaling up the steep hill on New Mexico near Nebraska Avenue.

Portion of the DC bicycle map showing the New Mexico/Tunlaw route. Click for full map (large PDF).

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) proposes adding a mix of painted bike lanes and sharrows, as the corridor’s width changes several times. They do not plan to take away any parking spaces, though planners say they may have to narrow the travel lanes to 10 feet in order to make room for a bike lane.

Portion of plans along the hill, with a bike lane for slow climbing cyclists and sharrows for those riding downhill. Image from DDOT; click for full plans (PDF).

Some have been skeptical about bike lanes

ANC 3B, representing Glover Park and Cathedral Heights, voted to support the proposed bike lanes in February 2011. But ANC 3D, which covers Wesley Heights, Foxhall, and Palisades, voted against it a month earlier. Then-chairman Tom Smith urged DDOT to work closely with the community before going forward.

Since then, current ANC 3D commissioners Mike Gold and Joe Wisniewski and the DC bicycling community have worked with DDOT to improve the plan. Mike Goodno from DDOT’s bicycle facilities team discussed it at the board’s May meeting, while commissioners held a site visit on New Mexico Avenue with DDOT representatives and local bike commuters in June. DDOT staffers revealed that month that after working with the public, they’ve decided not to remove any parking spaces on New Mexico Avenue.

However, some residents and ANC commissioners remain skeptical of the DDOT proposal. Many are concerned that bike lanes will add to a sense of chaos in the area and make it more difficult to turn off and onto New Mexico Avenue.

There are also numerous concerns about how the bike lane will coexist with the Foxhall Square commercial center, where delivery trucks frequently park illegally for long stretches in the bus zone. But this an issue with enforcement, not bikes. The building has 3 loading docks in the back and a wide driveway on the side that delivery trucks could use. ANC 3D should press to resolve this, as the illegal deliveries already block a bus zone as well as the sidewalk.

Bicycle lanes will create order, not chaos

We know from experience that drivers can share the road with cyclists. DDOT has built on-street bike lanes throughout the city, most with minimal disruption or confusion. This shouldn’t be a contentious proposal, as no travel lanes or parking spaces are being lost. ANC 3D has pressed DDOT for answers and compromise at 3 public meetings, and DDOT has responded and adjusted its plans to address citizen concerns.

Rather than create chaos, the bike lane helps to create order. Cyclists get a dedicated right of way, keeping them safe and separate from drivers, which is particularly important on the steep hill south of Nebraska Avenue where the speed difference between the two modes is the greatest.

It will also keep cyclists off the sidewalk, making it safer for pedestrians, especially senior citizens and young children. And by making the area more attractive for walking and biking, fewer people will drive, leaving more road space for those who prefer to drive.

DC has embarked on an ambitious program to add bike lanes and infrastructure throughout the city, and New Mexico Avenue and Tunlaw Road are an important part of making a citywide network. ANC 3D has done its job deliberating about this issue and hosting community meetings, and DDOT has done its job being responsive and improving its proposal. Now it is time for ANC 3D to support this worthwhile proposal to improve bicycle infrastructure in Ward 3.