Each spring, thousands of visitors flock to the Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossom Festival. And while there's serious (and unfortunate) doubt about just how much blossoming will happen this year, there's still a chance of crowds big enough to make it hard for bike commuters using the 14th Street Bridge path to get into the District. Temporary changes to the street and sidewalks could ease the problem.
When someone rides into DC from Virginia on the 14th Street Bridge, they take the sidewalk on East Basin Drive to get from the bridge exit to Maine Avenue. This is because East Basin is one-way southbound from where it splits from Ohio Drive.
During the festival, there are pedestrians all over the sidewalk. Tour buses, taxis and the DC Circulator use the East Basin Drive sidewalk for loading and unloading behind the Jefferson Memorial.
This forces cyclists coming off the bridge to either ride against traffic on the street or through throngs of pedestrians on the sidewalk. Neither is a safe option.
This is an especially big problem because the festival coincides with an upswing in temperatures and, with that, bike commuters. From March 1 to March 15, an average of 1,197 cyclists used the 14th Street Bridge daily to cross the Potomac River on weekdays, data from Bike Arlington's counters show. The number of cyclists peaked at 2,691 on March 9, when temperatures hit 74 degrees.
Despite the conflict, the National Park Service (NPS), which controls the roads around the Tidal Basin, has no plans to accommodate bike commuters along East Basin Drive during this year’s festival.
“Regarding the separate bike lane on East Basin Drive, while we have had some preliminary conversations on the subject, there are safety concerns for such a project due to the fact that it is a high congestion area (especially for buses) and is a one-way road,” says Mike Litterst, a spokesperson for NPS. “We will work with the United States Park Police and the District government to see if those concerns can be addressed, but there is no timetable for the project.”
The NPS continues to make bike improvements to The Mall, like additional Capital Bikeshare docks and consistent route signage, he adds.
A temporary protected bike lane could work here
One way to fix the problem could be a temporary contraflow bike lane that separated people on bike from people on foot.
The lane could start on the south side of East Basin Drive, at the entrance to the 14th Street Bridge. After only 330 feet, it could put cyclists onto the sidewalk that runs along Ohio Drive on the way to Maine Avenue. The sidewalk is big, so blocking off a portion off for bikes won’t necessitate inconveniencing pedestrians.
While it’d be ideal to keep cyclists off the sidewalk altogether, doing so isn’t feasible because East Basin narrows to one lane for a short section when it meets the bridge.
This temporary fix could lead to a longer-term solution
A temporary protected lane during the Cherry Blossom Festival could be a good way for NPS to test this much-needed improvement to Washington DC’s cycling infrastructure.
NPS, in partnership with the DC Department of Transportation, included plans to extend the 15th Street protected bikeway from its terminus by the Ellipse across The Mall to the 14th Street bridge in its Paved Trails Study last year.
A permanent protected bikeway, like one DDOT considered in 2015, that runs counter to traffic on East Basin Drive to serve cyclists coming off the bridge could be included in the NPS's 15th Street plans.
Temporary bike lanes are also easy to put in. The lanes Streetsblog looked at used a mix of traffic cones, temporary planter boxes, old tires, and chalk to separate bikes from car traffic.
Here’s a video from STREETFILMS about a bike lane that went up for a week in Pittsburgh:
A version of this post originally ran in 2015. The author updated the numbers on how many people bike over the 14th Street Bridge, the NPS comment, and the info on the extended 15th Street bikeway.