DC will soon have its first protected bicycle lane. DDOT is ready to begin construction on a protected, contraflow lane for bicyclists to ride south on 15th Street NW between U Street and Massachusetts Avenue.

By placing the lane adjacent to the sidewalk, buffered from high-speed traffic by parked cars, this will create a more comfortable environment for cyclists. According to a letter DDOT sent to residents, work will begin sometime in the next week depending on weather, and take about five days.

Portion of plans north of T Street. Image from DDOT. Click to enlarge.

The trickiest element of protected bicycle lanes is handling cars turning across the lane. The parked cars buffer the cyclist from traffic, but could also prevent drivers from seeing the cyclists. Portland’s new protected lane runs along a street adjacent to Portland State’s campus, where cars can’t turn. In New York, the 8th and 9th Avenue protected lanes have special bicycle signals, which would be expensive to install.

On 15th, DDOT will have bicyclists cross the street with the walk signal, just as contraflow pedestrians do. To ensure visibility, they are creating an zone with no parking for some distance on either side of intersections, as New York’s lanes do. There will also be new signs telling turning vehicles to yield to bicycles and pedestrians, and the words “LEFT TURN YIELD TO BIKES PEDS” stenciled on the roadway approaching those intersections where cars are allowed to turn left. I wonder if there will be physical barriers to prevent people from illegally parking in those zones anyway, which could impede visibility.

For northbound bicyclists, DDOT has changed the configuration to use sharrows instead of a separate painted bike lane. The sharrows will be in the center of the lane, coupled with signs reminding drivers that bicyclists can use the full lane. Hopefully this will discourage drivers from intimidating, as they often do; when riding on that street, I’ve had many cars pass very close and change lanes right in front of me, even though the remainder of the street is wide enough for the through traffic. This right lane would essentially become a lane for slow-moving vehicles and turning cars.

This change allows the contraflow lane to be a wider 9 feet instead of the originally-proposed 5 feet, which WABA’s Eric Gilliland thought was too narrow. It also somewhat addresses Jeff Peel’s concern about double-parked cars on Sundays near churches, which would block the bike lane. On the other hand, it will force cyclists to interact more closely with drivers who speed quite a bit on this road today. On balance, this seems reasonable, but riders should let DDOT know if there continue to be problems.

I’ve been pushing DDOT to implement more projects quickly and cheaply. It took a while for this to make it through engineering, but now they’re moving fast, and putting in a critical segment of a good citywide bicycle network. The total budget for the project is less than $200,000. Since it doesn’t involve expensive reconstructions or new signals, they should be able to make changes if issues crop up. This could also serve as a model for future protected lanes, like the ones on I and L Streets NW and M Street SE/SW that should be top priorities for the future.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.