Image by BeyondDC licensed under Creative Commons.

People keep parking in the protected bikeway on 4th Street NE, forcing cyclists into traffic and defeating the purpose of having a separate lane. In spite of seven months of efforts by local resident Paul Angelone using Twitter to highlight this persistent problem, drivers continue to park in it daily, with seemingly few (if any) repercussions.

The bidirectional bikeway on 4th Street NE connects the Union Market area across Florida Avenue NE to the M Street NE bikeway, which continues to the Metropolitan Branch Trail and the 1st Street Bikeway. In its design, it resembles the 15th Street bikeway, with bicyclists heading in both directions using a lane adjacent to the curb. It was installed in 2017 as an upgrade to the former one-way painted bike lane.

Paul Angelone started highlighting the problem of drivers parking in the bikeway in July 2017, reporting the issue to @311DCGov. The DC Department of Public Works is the agency responsible for parking enforcement and 311 requests (either by phone, through the 311 app, or via twitter) are the way that they're alerted to send enforcement.

It's pretty common for there to be issues with illegal parking when a new bikeway is installed. Sometimes it's from drivers not understanding the new arrangement or just continuing past behavior from force of habit. When Paul first started reporting the problem, the bikeway was still under construction. There was no green paint or flex posts or other blatant visual cues that are normally present with the installation of a cycletrack.

Generally, the kind of recurring parking problem that Angelone reported sorts itself out over time as drivers learn the new arrangement and as the bikeway assumes a more finished state. This wasn't drivers making a quick stop and throwing on their flashers (as is unfortunately far too common in many bike lanes citywide), but instead, cars being left in the bike lane for hours at a time.

In the meantime, Angelone continued to report it.

Part of the issue might have been confusing signs, which indicated a commercial loading zone in the same place as the bikeway.

In an attempt to provide greater clarity to the situation, in October DDOT painted a ‘loading zone’ in the lane next to bikeway to further clarify where drivers were supposed to be. They also added more flex posts in the middle of the lane in an attempt to provide an engineering solution to the problem.

But things haven’t improved since October. In spite of the additional markings, flex posts, and parking stops, drivers continue to use the bikeway as parking.

Last week, DPW sent parking enforcement and said that they would follow up with the business owner.

But sporadic enforcement did not seem to do the trick and it was back to business and usual soon enough:

Even Councilmembers seemed frustrated with the lack of response.

Bicycle planners talk a lot about the E’s: education, enforcement, and engineering. This is a scenario in which all three Es have been tried, but to no avail. Changing signs and painting the loading zone was an attempt to educate drivers on the new arrangement. Tickets (enforcement) have been issued, though inconsistently. Adding flex posts, green paint, and a separate loading zone was an attempt to engineer a safer solution. However, none of these efforts has worked in any kind of meaningful way. Perhaps the planned meeting will finally resolve the issue.

A protected bikeway is only as good as its weakest link and the continued, deliberate parking in the bikeway essentially renders the 4th Street NE lane unusable on a consistent basis. Clearly the problem isn’t going to resolve itself and this situation questions the resolve of the DC agencies responsible for making our roads work for all users. Neither DDOT nor DPW has been able to fully address a known issue for over seven months, in spite of consistent reporting of the issue.

Moreover, for as much as these agencies rely on (and encourage) citizens to report known issues, having this information and failing to act on it to achieve a workable resolution creates a huge trust gap. Not every person is like Paul and will continue to report the problem each day they see it for seven months, and it seems unreasonable for this to be the expectation. No one expects local government to be able to immediately solve every problem upon its first mention and in this case, intermediate steps were taken to try to fix it. However, when those steps were shown to not be working, there seemed to be no backup plan in spite of continued prodding.

Parking enforcement is hard. There are limited resources available and thousands of miles of streets in the District to patrol. There will always be drivers who get away with parking in a bike lane or overstaying a meter, and it's unrealistic to believe that we could enforce our way out of every single infraction. But it's not clear that the kind of enforcement that's being prioritized is the kind that would most help vulnerable users. The lingering problem of the 4th Street NE bikeway shows the costs of this.