NYC bicycle signal.

Last week, DDOT announced a plan for a set of cutting-edge bike facilities downtown, but the plan does raise some issues. The plan will dramatically improve cycling conditions downtown, but some of the constraints on the plan may call for even more innovative solutions.

One of the concerns voiced at Thursday’s meeting was about what happens to the bike lanes on I (Eye) and L Streets when they end at the diagonal avenues (Pennsylvania Avenue at the west end of I, Massachusetts Avenue at the east end of L).

Because the bike lanes run on the left side of the east-west streets, cyclists will either be expected to turn into the left lanes of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Avenues or find some other way of crossing several lanes of traffic to get to the right curb.

One solution would be to place a bike signal at the end of the I and L Street bike lanes. When the north-south cross street traffic has a green signal, the bike signal would show a green “bike” for cyclists to proceed onto a bike box on the right side of the avenue.

This would not increase the signal interval, because traffic on the east-west street and the diagonal avenue is already stopped for traffic on the north-south street. This means that bikes would be stopped on a red signal when the east-west street and the diagonal avenue have green signals.

Additionally, I think DDOT’s proposal to route cyclists onto sidewalks at the southern end of the 15th Street cycletrack and the 9th Street contraflow lane is inadequate and ill-advised. Sidewalk cycling is legal in these parts of the District, however, sidewalks around the convention center can be crowded, as are those around the National Mall.

As a temporary measure, this could be sufficient, but DDOT must complete links as soon as possible to give cyclists an on-street connection to other bike facilities. A connection between the 14th Street Bridge’s cycle path and the 15th Street cycletrack is a badly needed link.

Finally, while the median-running cycletrack on Pennsylvania Avenue in particular offers great opportunities for pro-cycling programs, it also brings additional challenges. This cycle facility will be very visible, not only in inaugural parades, but in other images of the city’s grand boulevard in film, television, and photographs.

Because of the unique place that Pennsylvania Avenue has in our national consciousness, DDOT does not have as much flexibility with this street. One limitation is the capacity of the traffic signal poles in the median to hold signal heads. Because they can only hold two signal heads, the poles will continue to hold auto signal heads - one for through traffic, one for left-turning traffic.

This means that there will not be specific signal heads for bikes. I am concerned that this could be confusing for cyclists and motorists. It also limits DDOT’s ability to do things like a leading bicycle interval or a bike-only turning phase. The lack of bike signal heads is one reason that DDOT is relying on “pedestrian lefts” and rights for cyclists to leave the cycletrack.

I am excited about DDOT’s proposal. Their approach is a major step toward increasing the use of the bicycle and its visibility. Do you have any suggestions for improving DDOT’s plan?

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Dupont Circle. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is an employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.