Cycletracks are such new additions to the repertoire of American street infrastructure that the most progressive DOTs around the country are still experimenting with how to best design them. DC’s latest experiment, on First Street NE, is a still-evolving laboratory of design options. Here are four ideas to make this excellent bike facility work even better.
The District Department of Transportation recently finished work on DC’s first curb-separated cycletrack, on First Street NE in NoMa. Bike planners also have announced plans to close some gaps, including the one-block section between the cycletrack’s current southern end, at G Street, and Columbus Circle.
Curb separation, parking stops, and full-length green paint are great additions to cycletrack design. First Street looks fantastic, and is a joy to bike down. Besides the gaps DDOT will close, here are a few more experiments worth trying to make the cycletrack safer and function better:
Help cyclists enter the cycletrack from the north
At the northern end, cyclists riding north can easily exit by merging into northbound traffic. But southbound cyclists coming down First Street hoping to enter the cycletrack have to awkwardly cross the street.
Looking south on First at M. How are cyclists supposed to enter the bike lane, barely visible across the intersection on the far left side of the street.
Seattle’s Broadway cycletrack solves a similar problem using a bike box, which gives cyclists a designated place to cross the street to enter the cycletrack.
Could the bike box idea work in DC? There are bike boxes on DC’s L and M Street cycletracks, after all. I spoke with Mike Goodno at DDOT, and he said they would consider painting a bike box.
Ban right turns on red
At intersections, the cycletrack is marked with a line of sharrows. Signals prevent drivers from turning across the cycletrack while cyclists are continuing straight.
But westbound drivers on cross streets are still allowed to turn right across the cycletrack. If they are turning right on a red light, they will cross the cycletrack while cyclists have a green light. At K and L Streets, it may be wise to prohibit right turns on red.
Goodno said they currently have no plans to ban right on red at these intersections, but are monitoring operations and safety, and may make changes if they decide its necessary.
Help cyclists turn the corner
For cyclists who want to turn onto or off of the cycletrack, signs instruct them to use the crosswalk. This two-stage turn is similar the Pennsylvania Avenue lane.
Alternatively, bike boxes can also help cyclists make two-stage turns like that. For example, Seattle’s Broadway cycletrack has bike boxes at intersections to help guide cyclists and inform drivers, and Arlington is planning a similar turning bike box in Clarendon.
Putting bike boxes between the cycletrack and the crosswalk allows cyclists to position themselves on cross street in front of traffic. It helps make them more visible to drivers, and makes it possible for them to proceed as soon as the light changes.
Add bike signals
First Street does not have any bike signals. Like on Pennsylvania Avenue, signs instruct cyclists to follow existing signals. But unlike on Pennsylvania Avenue, the signs on First Street are small and are farther from the signal heads, which makes it harder to determine which signal cyclists are supposed to follow.
Dedicated bicycle signals, which DDOT placed on some spots on the new M Street cycletrack, would give cyclists clear information about when to go and when to stop.
All in all, the First Street cycletrack is a great addition to DC’s bicycle network. It’s interesting to follow the changes DDOT makes to each new protected bike lane. So far, every one in DC has been different.
As DC’s cycletrack network grows, DDOT will continue to learn from its growing implementation history. Future cycletracks will no doubt be even better.