A protected bike land on Potomac Avenue SW Image by the author.

Several new protected bikeways have opened in Southwest DC in recent months. At a length of around 0.75 miles, the new lanes make up most of the 0.94 miles of bike-only lanes installed this year in Southwest. According to its data, DC installed 1.33 miles of shared lanes around the city as well, and there are currently 2.61 miles of protected bikeways and buffered bike lanes under construction.

New and existing bike infrastructure south of M Street SW. Image by the author.

Unlike most of the existing bike infrastructure in the neighborhood, the new lanes are fully protected bikeways. These provide space for two-way bicycle traffic on the west side of 2nd Street SW and the north side of R Street and Potomac Avenue.

The new lanes follow a number of other bike improvements in Southwest, including last year’s Maine Avenue protected bikeway by The Wharf, and some more minor improvements on Banneker Circle.

Image by the author.

Bike lanes on 2nd Street SW. Image by the author.

Most of the area south of R Street SW consists of a former industrial and commercial sites, so the both bike and automobile traffic in the area is usually light – the main exception being during soccer games at the new Audi Field. Nonetheless, a new traffic light at the corner of Potomac Avenue and Half Street provides a signal for bicycle traffic, in a new first for the neighborhood.

Because much of the areas they serve are vacant of homes, jobs, or ‘third spaces’ such as bars and restaurants, the lanes are currently underutilized. This will likely change in coming years, however, as the Buzzard Point redevelopment projects come to fruition.

While more protected bike infrastructure is a good thing, it's a shame that it mostly seems to happen in “Instant Neighborhoods” like Buzzard Point and The Wharf. This reinforces the perception that complete streets are only something for privileged people, even though low-income communities actually stand to benefit the most from safer streets. 1999-2011 data from the Centers for Disease Control show that Hispanic and black cyclists were more likely to die in bicycle crashes than whites and Asians.

Traffic signal on Potomac Avenue and Half Street SW. Image by the author.

Nonetheless, repurposing the space as protected bikeways today is a great opportunity, since there is currently very little competition with car traffic. Even then, the section of the 2nd Street cycletrack in between R and Q Streets is currently occupied by parked cars.

A rougher stretch of pavement on Potomac Avenue SW. Image by the author.

Like in many parts of our region, there are a number connectivity gaps between these new bike lanes and other nearby bike infrastructure. Between 4th and 2nd streets, P Street only serves as a sharrow street for bicycle traffic.

Additionally, the eastbound bike lanes on Potomac Avenue SW are on the wrong side of the street to easily connect to the existing bike lanes on Potomac Avenue SE. The fact that the Potomac Avenue SW lanes are on the north side of the street also makes it difficult to connect to the sidewalks on South Capitol Avenue.

Where else should the city install bike lanes in this area?

Correction: This post previously stated that all the new protected bikeways installed in DC this year were in Southwest, based on DDOT's 2018 work plan. However, some of the other projects listed as “under construction” have since been completed.

Stephen Hudson resides in Southwest DC — the fourth quadrant he has lived in. He works for a government relations firm and has previous experience with transportation policy at a trade association. His professional interests include transportation and infrastructure, foreign languages, and comparative international politics. The views expressed are his own.