To stop drivers from making dangerous U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bikeway, DC has installed physical barriers — except on two blocks right where DC councilmembers park. Are councilmembers the obstacle? We asked them if they support completing the barriers.
From the moment the bikeway opened on Pennsylvania Avenue, there were problems with drivers parking in the lanes and making U-turns mid-block. U-turns are very dangerous, as drivers often do not see cyclists riding in the lanes.
It took three years and a mayoral order to even confirm that these U-turns were actually illegal. During this time, many cyclists were struck by drivers, and 12 of Capital Bikeshare’s first 14 crashes happened on Pennsylvania Avenue.
After almost two years of experiments with tools like “zebras,” the District Department of Transportation started lining the lanes with rubber curb stops. At Bike to Work Day in May, officials announced plans to install them all the way from 3rd Street NW to 13th Street NW.
But curiously, that announcement omitted the two westernmost blocks, from 13th Street NW to 15th Street NW. DDOT spokesperson Keith St. Clair said in an earlier statement to Greater Greater Washington, “In the immediate future, DDOT will not be installing the park-its between 13th and 15th streets, NW, on Pennsylvania Avenue. The agency still needs to analyze those blocks along with several mitigating factors that it must take into consideration.”
Are politicians one “mitigating factor”? Along that stretch is the John A. Wilson Building, which houses the executive and legislative offices of the District of Columbia government. Councilmembers park in front of the Wilson Building, and many make U-turns to either get to the parking space or leave.
I reached out to all 13 members of the DC Council for comment. Here’s the scorecard.
Top from left to right: Vincent Orange, Elissa Silverman, David Grosso, LaRuby May, Brianne Nadeau, Brandon Todd, Anita Bonds, Charles Allen. Bottom from left to right: Yvette Alexander, Jack Evans, Chairman Phil Mendelson, Kenyan McDuffie, Mary Cheh.
Green circles denote members who stated they support barriers, question marks show members who did not reply, and X’s show those who made negative statements. Image by Greater Greater Washington from base image by the DC Council.
I got supportive comments from at-large councilmembers Anita Bonds, David Grosso, and Elissa Silverman, and ward members Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Jack Evans (Ward 2), Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Brandon Todd (Ward 4), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Charles Allen (Ward 6), and LaRuby May (Ward 8).
I got no response from Chairman Phil Mendelson or at-large member Vincent Orange.
Ward 7 representative Yvette Alexander’s office did not reply to my request for comment, but I had the opportunity to speak with her during a recent rally in support of adding barriers to the rest of the bikeway.
At first she equated cycling with lawbreaking, complaining that bicycles need to get off sidewalks and follow the same laws that apply to drivers. I explained that better bike lanes means more people will use them and follow the laws, a statement which she found funny for some reason. She then complained that the demonstrators were blocking the U-turn she wanted to make that day.
Update: Yvette Alexander says on Twitter that yes, she does in fact support barriers for the Pennsylvania Avenue bikeway. She has not yet responded to GGW’s request for clarification that she supports barriers specifically between 13th and 15th Streets.
Below are the full comments from each councilmember’s office who responded.
Anita Bonds (At Large): “Councilmember Bonds supports the completion throughout PA Avenue. Additionally, she prefers the usage of ‘sticks’ as she calls them to create a visible barrier on as many bike lanes possible throughout the city.”
David Grosso (At Large): “As you know, Councilmember Grosso joined the protest a few weeks ago on the 1300 block of Pennsylvania regarding protected bike lanes on that block and the 1400 block. The Councilmember is very supportive of increasing DC’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, including moving forward as quickly as possible on planning that has already been done. Grosso [has met] with DDOT director Dormsjo to discuss these issues more in-depth. And he has been biking to work on a regular basis, which gives him a firsthand look at the issues facing bicyclists in DC.”
Elissa Silverman (At Large): “I support extending the existing wheel stops through 15th Street. They are in place to protect both cyclists and car drivers. I biked to work on Pennsylvania Avenue this morning, and I was behind a mom commuting with her toddler in a seat on the front handlebars. As we encourage people to get out of their cars and use alternate transportation—walking, biking, subway, bus, even Segway—we need to keep everyone safe. Installing the wheels stops between 13th and 15th will do that. And, by the way, I also drive that route—and when I park in front of the Wilson Building I make a left turn at the light and drive around it to get back on Pennsylvania. It does take an extra minute or two—and I’ve been late to a meeting to do it!—but it is worth the time.”
Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1): “Councilmember Nadeau is a strong supporter of building more protected bike lanes throughout the District, including along this section of Pennsylvania Ave where it’s especially important to prevent illegal U turns. She is currently working with WABA on a letter to DDOT requesting the prioritization of several protected bike lane projects in Ward 1, and also secured a commitment from the Director of the DMV to provide drivers with information about bike lanes. Recently, she also joined Bike Ambassadors in Columbia Heights and participated in Bike to Work Day.”
Jack Evans (Ward 2): “Councilmember Evans supports protecting the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack between 13th and 14th.”
Mary Cheh (Ward 3): “The Councilmember feels that as long as safety equipment isn’t affected, the curbs should be added now.”
Brandon Todd (Ward 4): “Councilmember Todd fully supports improving bicycle safety along Pennsylvania Avenue, including adding curbs wherever necessary along the bike path. He would like to see those safety improvements implemented as quickly as possible, especially in those areas where bicyclists are particularly vulnerable and currently unprotected.”
Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5): “Councilmember McDuffie is in support of installing curbs between 15th and 13th streets on Pennsylvania Ave.”
Charles Allen (Ward 6): “The Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack is an important east-west connective link in the District’s bicycle infrastructure. Protecting these bike lanes with parking curbs, while not a perfect solution to dangerous illegal U-turns, is an important means of improving safety for cyclists. Leaving two blocks unprotected is, frankly, baffling and unacceptable. A physical barrier to deter illegal U-turns is needed the full length of the corridor.”
LaRuby May (Ward 8): “Councilmember May absolutely supports protecting the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack between 13th and 14th and is a strong supporter of more protected bike lanes in Ward 8 and across the District.”
We will update this post if other councilmembers respond with comments.
Update: Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), LaRuby May (Ward 8), and Yvette Alexander (Ward 7) followed up soon after this article was published to state their support for protecting the Pennsylvania Avenue lanes. The graphic and post have been updated to reflect their positions.