Image from Google Street View.

DDOT could start extending the 15th Street bike lane as early as Friday, DCist reported yesterday. By the time construction gets down to the White House area, DDOT believes they will have final approvals from the Park Service and Secret Service for the segments around Lafayette Park and the White House.

The new lanes will extend the current 15th Street bike lane south to E Street, and a future phase will add a section north to Euclid. The lane will also become two-way and wider, and the yellow bollards will be replaced by white ones spaced farther apart to improve the aesthetics for residents.

15th Street and Vermont Avenue switch places at McPherson Square, meaning the lane has to turn at some point. DDOT wanted to have southbound cyclists continue on Vermont to Madison Place (which runs alongside Lafayette Park) to the closed portion of Pennsylvania Avenue and then return to 15th.

When we last reported on the lanes, NCPC had held off on approving that section until DDOT could work out any issues with the Secret Service and the Park Service. DDOT bike head Jim Sebastian said that they are still finalizing approvals with those agencies, but they are confident they will be able to resolve any remaining questions.

They were confident enough to finish the engineering drawings for the lanes to include this route. Those plans, which could still change call for small curb ramps for cyclists to surmount the curb at the guardhouse at Madison Place and H Street.

The Park Service asked DDOT not to use any signs or pavement markings directing cyclists along Lafayette Park, based on a feeling that the area is a “historic resource” without signs. DDOT officials pointed out, however, that there are existing “no littering” signs, and security measures have had no trouble modifying the historic appearance. A small sign or two or a marking on the roadway showing cyclists where to turn between Madison and Pennsylvania shouldn’t disturb the historic feel of Lafayette Park.

DDOT is also working with the Secret Service to address traffic around the E Street entrance to the White House secure area. Today, many cars and trucks waiting to go through security queue up in the rightmost travel lane on 15th, even though that’s a general travel lane.

Some cyclists have expressed concern that the 2-way lane will get too crowded and that drivers will become more hostile to them riding in regular traffic lanes. Cyclists are still free to ride like vehicles, in a general-purpose lane and in the direction of traffic. For experienced cyclists, this is often the best approach as long as they follow the same rules as cars (including stopping at traffic lights) and take the entire lane instead of squeezing to the right.

Drivers need to respect cyclists’ right to choose either mode of operation. DDOT will remove the current sharrows and signs reminding drivers cyclists can use the full lane, but sharrows and signs aren’t necessary since cyclists have those rights on any roadway. Sebastian said DDOT will keep an eye on whether drivers start to act belligerently toward cyclists riding legally.

Sluggers who travel the I-95/395 corridor and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) have also been talking with DDOT to figure out the best places for sluggers to wait for shared rides and commuter buses to pick up riders. Riders want PRTC commuter bus stops in the same area so they can choose between slugging and the bus.

Some options included moving the slugs and bus stops to 15th, but unless they can fit into the area between McPherson Square and Pennsylvania Avenue, this lane likely makes that impossible. Hopefully DDOT can find a suitable location back on 14th or elsewhere, since slugging is a valuable element of our region’s transportation as well.

This lane will give cyclists a safe and, more importantly, safe-feeling route between neighborhoods in the 14th Street corridor and downtown. Many people say they’d be interested in cycling to work but don’t because of the harrowing feel of riding on downtown streets. This lane should give those commuters and other residents even more choices for getting downtown.