Rendering courtesy DDOT.

On Friday, DDOT released an assessment of the existing cycle track on 15th Street NW and designs for an extension from E to W Streets.

Currently, a protected, one-way southbound bike lane runs along 15th Street from Massachusetts Avenue to U Street. The street has sharrows in the right-hand general traffic lane for northbound cyclists.

Over four weeks in late September and early October, DDOT will convert the cycle track to two-way operation while extending it north to W Street and south to E Street. Later extensions will run north to Euclid Street and south to Constitution Avenue.

Implementation of this phase of the downtown cycle track plan will bridge the “missing block” of the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes between 14th and 15th streets. The gap means that the Pennsylvania lanes currently dump cyclists into the middle of a busy intersection.

9th Ave cycle track. Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.

DDOT’s cycle track installations, which rely on pedestrian signals, paint and flex-posts, have cost approximately $100,000 per mile. By comparison, the Ninth Avenue cycle track in New York, which includes dedicated signals, trees and pedestrian refuge islands, cost approximately $1.5 million per mile.

Remaining design issues

South of K Street, 15th Street carries many 30’s line buses that make stops along the route of the planned cycle track. The plan doesn’t show any accommodations for these bus stops. Will passengers wait in the cycle track for their buses? At the very least, loading and unloading passengers crossing the cycle track will conflict with cyclists. DDOT has not yet shown how they will address this issue.

A similar problem crops up south of E Street, where food and souvenir vendors have set up shop in the right-hand lane. The plan published online does not extend south of E Street, but it remains an issue to be addressed as DDOT extends the cycle track to Constitution Avenue.

Another new element is green paint in select areas. This will both make the lane more visible to turning motorists and clarify its function as a bike lane. This is an improvement many DC cyclists have long been anticipating, and an indication that federal interests such as the Commission of Fine Arts may be willing to be more flexible with DDOT on this project than they were with the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes.

Notably absent from the plans posted online are designs for the cycle track between G and H Streets. DDOT has indicated that their preferred route is along Pennsylvania Avenue and Madison Place near the White House. There are outstanding issues to be resolved between DDOT, the Secret Service, the National Capital Planning Commission, the National Park Service and other federal agencies over this section, which will likely receive treatments more akin to signage than to a cycle track. The exact nature of these issues was not explained by NCPC staff, although staff from NPS and NCPC have suggested that DDOT route the cycle track on H and 15th Streets instead of its current proposal along Lafayette Park.

Despite these remaining issues, progress already made, such as the relocation of the White House delivery queue lane from 15th Street to E Street, provides hope for a resolution. Also redacted from the plans posted online are designs for how the cycle track will interface with the complex intersection of W Street and New Hampshire Avenue.

Success of the existing cycle track

Since DDOT installed the cycle track, motorists have not been speeding as much on 15th Street. The 85th percentile speed was reduced from 35 mph in July 2009 to 28 mph in July 2010, and the percentage of motorists traveling above 25 mph has decreased from 66 percent to 26 percent.

From DDOT’s cycle track plan.

As part of its assessment of the existing facility, DDOT surveyed cycle track users. While respondents ranked the yellow flex-post bollards as effective, they also view them as ugly. Flex-post on the planned cycle track will be installed at wider intervals than currently seen along the existing cycle track. DDOT Bicycle Program Manager Jim Sebastian has expressed confidence that fewer-and-far-between use of flex-post will be enough to keep out vehicles on this section.

In its presentation, DDOT indicated that while flex-post would be used in the short term for cycle track protection, long term goals include replacement of the flex-post with curbs, as is common in Montreal, or other permanent separation. DDOT has committed to NCPC that it will re-evaluate the effectiveness of flex-posts in one year and consult with NCPC and CFA in the search for alternatives.

With the new plan, it also looks like the 15th Street sharrows are on the way out, since they garnered mixed reviews among both cyclists and motorists. More than half of survey respondents said that removal of northbound sharrows would make driving on 15th Street “safer and/or more comfortable,” while just under half of cyclists reported not feeling safe riding in the northbound sharrow lane.

In fact, 44 percent of cyclists said that they sometimes ride the wrong way in the cycle track, where they feel safer. DDOT observations showed that at a given moment 14 percent of all cycle track users are wrong-way cyclists. 81 percent of respondents supported conversion of the cycle track to two-way operation.

Since the installation of the existing cycle track, 33 percent of survey respondents report riding more and seven percent report using a bicycle for transportation when they had not done so before. DDOT observations at 15th and T have shown a 40 percent increase in the number of cyclists since the lane was installed and that 146 cyclists use the southbound lane during morning rush hours each day.

Cycle tracks have provided similar benefits to other cities around the world and within the United States. In New York, for example, cycle tracks have reduced injuries to pedestrians by up to 40 percent and injuries to cyclists by up to 57 percent, while seeing a 50 percent increase in the number of cyclists. We can expect similar gains along the length of 15th Street after the project is built this fall, and throughout much of downtown as cycle tracks are installed along M and L Streets later this year.

NCPC approved the 15th Street cycle track plans north of H Street at its meeting on Thursday. Approval for the remaining section is contingent on future work between NCPC and DDOT. The next hurdle for the proposal is review by CFA on September 12.