Image by Elvert Barnes licensed under Creative Commons.

For the last few years, the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) has been looking at adding new bike lanes through Shaw and downtown, from Florida to Constitution Avenue. There are now three options on the table: a protected bikeway like the one on 15th Street NW on either 6th or 9th Street NW, or nothing at all.

Back in October 2015, David Cranor reported that DDOT was looking at building a bikeway on 6th Street, 9th Street, or one with half on 5th and half on 6th Street. In its Updated Eastern Protected Bike Lane Study, which DDOT released earlier this month, the agency eliminated 5th Street as an option. It also cut the idea of building a one-way bikeway on either side of 6th, keeping only the proposal that would put a two-way bikeway on one side of the street.

Building a bikeway will make riding in the area safer and more convenient. As of now, there aren't that many protected options for getting between many of the city's densest residential areas and downtown. And according to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, drivers struck 25 cyclists along 6th and 9th Streets in 2015, and in the first six months of 2016, that number was 19.

If a bikeway goes in on 6th Street, here's what it will look like:

The 6th Street option. Image by DDOT.

If this option moves forward, the bikeway would go in on the east side of 6th Street. DDOT would cut one of 6th Street's northbound traffic lanes north of New York Avenue and do the same with a parking lane south of New York. Also, south of New York, a northbound travel lane would remain open during rush hour but would become a parking lane outside of peak hours.

Here's the 9th Street option, which is essentially the same as 6th Street:

The 9th Street option, north of Massachusetts Avenue.  Image by DDOT.

The bikeway would also go on the east side of 9th, with DDOT turning a traffic lane north of Massachusetts Avenue into a parking lane as well as turning a travel lane to the south into a hybrid travel/parking lane.

One thing that's different here is that south of Massachusetts, 9th is a one-way heading south, meaning cyclists traveling north would be going against traffic. That would require DDOT reconfigure light timing along the street, as bike traffic would not be in sync with car traffic.

The 9th Street option, south of Massachusetts Avenue.  Image by DDOT.

Public support— and disapproval— has played a huge role with this project

To arrive at these options, DDOT collected public feedback for months after presenting its first round of choices in October 2015. During that window, 52% of residents spoke up in favor of building a bikeway. Of the bikeway options, building along a single side of 6th Street NW received the most support.

"This was favored largely because of the minimal effects on church parking, traffic congestion, travel time, and the ability to function as a full-time protected bicycle facility," reads the DDOT report.

Of course, 48% of those who spoke to DDOT saying that they'd rather nothing be built at all is not a small percentage. A handful of churches in the area have been loud critics of DDOT’s plan, saying a bikeway would take away parishioner parking as well as usher in unwelcome neighborhood change.

DDOT says building on 6th Street would mean cutting 16 angled parking spaces. Building on 9th wouldn't mean cutting any, though a block of parking would be relocated from one side of the street to the other.

But according to Pastor Dexter Nutall of New Bethel Baptist Church, the opposition really isn't about bike lines, but rather rapid redevelopment in Shaw--in which so many single unit family homes have become multi-unit condos without on-site parking-- that hasn't accounted for the needs of the entire community.

The next step is for DDOT to move forward with more specific, exact designs for both the 6th and 9th Street options, the goal being to develop 30% of each project within the coming six to nine months. If a bikeway is to go in, the target is a year to eighteen months from now.​​​​​​


Andrew Dunkman is this month’s sponsor for posts about Bicycling. Learn more »

Kyle Arbuckle is a Legislative Policy Analyst for a trade association in DC. He studied Political Science and Global Health at Emory University. He has lived in Shaw for almost a year now and volunteers at the Anacostia Community Museum as a docent. His views do not express those of his employer or the museum.