Image by the author.

I work near the White House, and I see near misses—and sometimes crashes—between bicyclists and pedestrians in the 15th Street bike lanes there way too often. I reported my concerns to the District Department of Transportation, and the agency is going to change the bike lanes’ design this summer.

The two-way bikeway along 15th Street is directly adjacent to the sidewalk that runs next to the Department of the Treasury and Sherman Park. Some of the traffic signals are almost completely obscured by trees until you’re in the crosswalks, and especially for southbound cycists, who are going downhill, that’s often way too late to stop.

Also, pedestrians headed eastbound sometimes start crossing 15th Street by suddenly stepping into the bike lanes even when the pedestrian signal says “Don’t Walk.”

Annotation by Jonathan Neeley. Image by Google Maps.

DDOT was super responsive to my concerns about this area

At first, I assumed that the protected bike lanes and crosswalks were as good as it gets. Having no formal training in street design or traffic safety, I wondered whether there was any chance DDOT might look at the current design and consider improving it. I figured that a quick email was worth a try, so I wrote to DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo.

Within days, DDOT Bicycle Program Specialist Mike Goodno wrote back to me with some initial observations and the promise of an on-site visit. Goodno and a DDOT transportation engineer walked along the bike lane, focusing on the 15th Street intersections with G Street, F Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

There's a stop light on the right side of the bike lane here, but you can't see it because of the trees. Image by Jonathan Neeley.

Goodno had five ideas for how to improve the situation:

  • Restripe the pavement markings, which had become faded over time.
  • Move the existing “Stop for Peds” pavement markings farther away from the crosswalks. They should be 25 feet away from the crosswalks, reminding bicyclists to stop well before the crosswalk.
  • Remove a flex post in both directions near each crosswalk and replace with a “Stop for Pedestrians” pylon.
  • Recommend the location to Metropolitan Police Department for targeted traffic safety enforcement, likely to issue warnings at first.
  • Ask the Urban Forestry Administration to determine whether the trees can be trimmed to make the traffic signals more visible. It’s possible, however, that the trees are still too small for trimming.

Goodno acknowledged the value of completing these quickly. He also noted, however, “I would like to do this soon but, in reality, it’s likely that the changes would not occur until summer.”

This is DDOT learning and adapting to good bike lane policy

I’m excited about the plans and to see whether the changes help. But when I talked to Goodno, I also asked why they weren’t built into the design when the 15th Street bike lanes were installed in 2009 and 2010.

Goodno explained that DDOT installed these two-way protected bikeways before there was national guidance for this type of facility. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) first released its Urban Bikeway Design Guide in March 2011. Goodno commented that more cities installing bike lanes, along with the publication of the guide, are evidence that “the craft is progressing and heading towards standardizations of certain treatments.”

My experience providing feedback to the DDOT Bicycle Program has been wonderful. There seems to be a commitment to continuous improvement and a willingness to reconsider existing designs. In fact, Goodno lists his email address and phone number right on the website. He encourages people to contact him with input or to submit issues to 311.

It’s still too early to tell whether these planned changes along 15th Street will solve the issues that I brought up. I’d like to believe that my modest feedback will make some heavily used bike lanes and crosswalks better for all users. I hope this experience will encourage others to share their suggestions and criticism with local governments since we can all benefit from each other’s ideas for safe and useful transportation infrastructure.

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 30 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve.