DDOT has updated their plans for the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes following their sudden and unexpected decision to redo the lanes just days before they were scheduled to open.

Image from BeyondDC.

The original design took one car-sized lane on each side of the current median. The new design squeezes the lanes into the existing median in most areas. Where there are wide pedestrian refuges at the ends of blocks, the lanes cut into those refuges, extending over the stone pavers but around the existing poles.

Photo by urbandispute on Flickr.

The lanes did confuse some drivers, who occasionally thought they were turn lanes or regular driving lanes. Since the lanes were never officially opened, we can’t really know if those problems would have worked themselves out or DDOT would have found simple ways to fix those problems without fundamentally rethinking the lanes.

Some changes probably were necessary. However, it would have been better to open the lanes and then have a more public conversation about any issues and how to solve them. Instead, whether for political or other reasons, DDOT skipped that step.

The narrower lanes appear to be much less safe for cyclists, at least in some places, such as between 13th and 14th Streets, where there is no buffer at all between traffic and the lanes, unless DDOT can put in a physical separator, such as poles DDOT plans to put poles between the bike lane and the general-purpose lanes. The Commission on Fine Arts rejected recommended against that as well despite the existence of many existing poles, at the pedestrian refuges and for traffic lights, on the avenue today.

Photo by whiteknuckled on Flickr.

There’s no uninterrupted vista of the Capitol now, so it’s hard to understand why CFA is so concerned with poles except that they simply oppose change. Right now, orange cones line the lanes, which are much more visually distracting than any poles.

However, DDOT’s traffic analysis showed that the wider lanes would not harm traffic flow. If there’s room for lanes with smaller buffers that aren’t as confusing to drivers but maintain bicycle safety, it makes sense to change the lanes. This design, however, seems to prioritize maintaining car space (whether used or unused) over cyclist safety to the other extreme.

You can email comments on these lanes to william.handsfield@dc.gov.

Update: I’ve slightly modified my statement about the lanes being less safe.

Update 2: DDOT has announced that they will use poles in the tigher spots on the new lanes, despite CFA’s recommendations.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. 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 here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.