This is New York Avenue today. It's not exactly a pleasant place to ride a bike. Image by Google Maps.

New York Avenue NE is one of DC’s most car-oriented and high-speed roads, and right now the only way to bike along it is to share the street with cars. That could change, though, as the District Department of Transportation is considering adding a bike trail or protected bikeway to the corridor.

These efforts to make biking and walking along New York safer are part of DDOT’s New York Avenue streetscape project, which is looking to improve the road between Florida Avenue NE and Bladensburg Road NE.

Image by DDOT.

At a recent community meeting, DDOT presented two proposals: a trail that would run parallel to New York along the north side of the street and a protected bikeway that would run along the south side. Both options would start at 4th Street NE and continue east to 16th Street.

A trail or a bikeway: both have pros and cons

A multi-use trail on the north side of New York Avenue would give people a place to walk and cycle away from traffic, much like the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Off-street trails give pedestrians and cyclists their own space, without forcing them to contend with traffic. This makes it safer for them to get around, especially on streets like New York Avenue.

This trail could also link up to the MBT if plans to build a bike trail connecting the MBT to 4th Street NE come to fruition.

The other option DDOT is asking for feedback on is a bi-directional protected bikeway on the south side of New York Avenue, like the ones on 15th Street NW and First Street NE. This would make areas to the south of New York Avenue a lot more accessible.

The downside of the trail option is that is that there would not be many ways to cross from the north side of New York Avenue— where crossing can already feel like gamble, signal or no—to the south. That could limit options for people looking to cross over to destinations like Union Market. WIth the bikeway option, there’s the concern that even if it’s protected, cyclists and drivers will be closer to having to share space.

As DDOT considers the options, it’s asking residents to take a survey and give input. In its survey, the agency asks participants to list a their top two preferences for how they would like to cross from the trail to the other side of the street: through a tunnel or on a crosswalk at 4th street, on a crosswalk at 9th street, a crosswalk at Fenwick Street, or a crosswalk at 16th Street.

The chief question is this: Do cyclists want to be able to use the bikeway to access all of the streets that connect to the south side of New York Avenue NE? Or do they want to be able to quickly navigate down New York Avenue with dealing with traffic and lights?

To the Arboretum…and beyond?

DDOT’s proposals also include additional bike infrastructure on the streets connecting the NoMa Metro stop, Union Market, Gallaudet, and Ivy City. Streets connecting these destinations—streets like Penn Street NE, Mount Olivet, Brentwood Parkway, and Okie Street—could get painted lanes and sharrows to help cyclists get around.

As of now, the proposed New York Avenue facilities do not extend past 16th Street, but hopefully one day DDOT will build something that extends to Fort Lincoln. Also, with the current proposals, if someone wants to get to the Arboretum by using space specifically for bikes, they will have to navigate down 16th Street, up West Virginia Avenue, along 17th Street to 24th Street—perhaps not the most intuitive or most convenient route.

Plans for a new VRE rail yard could throw a wrench into things

One complicating factor with this entire project, and especially with the trail possibility, is that the Virginia Railway Express is looking at the possibility of building a storage yard for its trains along the north side of New York Avenue, also between 4th and 16th Streets. Unless the trail ran over a deck overtop of the yard, yard (which does seem to at least be a possibility), New York Avenue will likely get either a trail or a rail yard—not both.

In the meantime, DDOT still wants to know what residents would like to see happen along the street. The survey asks how residents use (or would use) the area’s streets for bicycling and walking. It looks like these answers will have a big impact on whether New York Avenue NE winds up with a safer but more remote off-street trail or a more connected bikeway that’s also right next to car traffic.

The next phase of the project will reflect what residents tell DDOT, and there will be another meeting scheduled in the next few months. That means that it’s time for you to tell DDOT how you think New York Avenue NE could be safer for cyclists!