First Street in Bloomingdale today. Image by Edward Russell.

A DC study recommended replacing stop signs with mini-roundabouts on First Street in Bloomingdale, a years-old proposal which resurfaced recently after a resident asked about making the street safer for people bicycling. Unfortunately, it's led to confusion and to the neighborhood debating a non-existent proposal to remove parking for bike lanes.

As Bloomingdale residents are well aware, First Street not only carries our local neighborhood traffic, but also sees a high number of drivers passing through the neighborhood on longer trips. With few stoplights and high visibility, these drivers often roll through stop signs and travel at speeds higher than are safe for such residential blocks. Finding a solution to these problems has been on the community’s radar for many years.

Sometimes it does make sense to remove parking or travel lanes for bike lanes, but the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is not currently recommending this for First Street. However, residents might get the wrong impression from a message by ANC 5E commissioner Bertha Holliday. Her recent email to the neighborhood listserv says,

DDOT has asked me, as ANC5E07 Commissioner, of my opinion regarding the installation of bike lanes on First St, NW (New York Avenue to Rhode Island and possibly to Michigan Avenue), which apparently have been requested by cyclists due to the absence of such designated north/south lanes in this part of the city. I know this will be a VERY CONTROVERSIAL proposal, as it may require the elimination of parking on one side of First St., NW, or turning First St. into a single lane one-way street, both of which residents and businesses will find disruptive.

On the other hand, it has also been proposed that increased safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers would result if mini-roundabouts were installed at some First St. intersections, as traffic-calming tools. …

The specific options seem to be:

  • Create bike lanes and eliminate parking on one side of First St.
  • Create bike lanes and eliminate one lane of traffic (i.e., make First St. one-way??).
  • Create several mini-roundabouts and integrate bikers into 'general use lanes' (i.e., no bike lanes).

It's a great idea for Commissioner Holliday to ask Bloomingdale residents for their opinion; if you're in the area, I encourage you to contact her using the form below. However, I think her email actually confuses the story a bit here and might lead to some unnecessary outcry in the neighborhood.

This discussion started when GGWash contributor Edward Russell, who lives in the area, asked DDOT’s Bicycle Program Specialist Mike Goodno about ways to improve safety for cyclists in the area. In his response, Goodno cited the agency’s 2014 Mid-City East Livability Study recommendation to add mini-roundabouts to the stop controlled intersections on the street in order to help reduce speeds.

Image by NACTO.

Goodno added, “As for a dedicated bike facility, 1st St NW is two-way, 35' wide, with parking on both sides of the street. The parking and travel lanes are already at their minimum widths. If we were to explore this option, we would need to eliminate parking and/or travel lanes.”

When contacted for clarification, Goodno confirmed he was not saying that DDOT thinks those are two of the three options. He's giving the idea the brush-off, saying it's not possible to install bike lanes without those changes, and instead they are recommending the mini-roundabouts.

A mini-roundabout in Seattle. Image by SDOT Photos licensed under Creative Commons.

For his part, Russell followed up to the neighborhood list as well to clarify that he hadn't been asking about bike lanes and encouraging a discussion of the mini-roundabout proposal.

None of this is to say that proposals to remove parking or travel lanes (most often parking) for bike lanes should be automatic non-starters. It’s just that they should be preceded by a street-specific analysis first. In this case, DDOT has a proposal for the area, and it's mini-roundabouts.

The concern about Commissioner Holliday's email is that Bloomingdale residents may think DDOT is actually proposing the two other options. Holliday's announcement to that effect at last weeks Bloomingdale Civic Association meeting produced strong verbal protest to repurposing street space for bike lanes, and this latest message seems likely to trigger a flood of similar responses.

Example of a mini-roundabout for First Street, from the Mid-City East Livability Study. Image by DDOT.

Let's ensure Holliday's informal poll includes some reasonable comments. Use the form below to contact her and give your thoughts in your own words. I'd suggest something like, “I support exploring ways to make First Street safer for people walking, biking, and driving. I wouldn't be opposed to bike lanes, but since DDOT has said their preferred approach here is mini-roundabouts, let's ask DDOT to move forward with the roundabouts.”