Plans for the Dupont piazza by DDOT.

At a meeting Tuesday night, Dupont Circle residents expressed frustration that the District Department of Transportation is abandoning plans for protected bike lanes on Connecticut Avenue, at least for the near future.

As recently as last April, the agency showed concepts for separated bike lanes on Connecticut from Q Street to Columbia Road that would be constructed as part of the Connecticut Avenue Streetscape and Deckover Project. DDOT had also indicated that the Connecticut Avenue project would be used to extend the planned 20th Street protected bikeway north to Columbia Road.

The Connecticut Ave rebuild is slated for 2021

Plans for the project call for two main elements. One major part of the project is building a lid on top of Connecticut Avenue, where the street is depressed in an open cut between the north end of Dupont Circle and the Q Street overpass. This “piazza” space will be flanked by shared streets on either side, and it’s being designed to be an additional gathering place for the community.

Model of the proposed plaza. North is to the left.

The second part is a rebuilding of the streetscape between Dupont Circle and California Street. This work will include new lighting, better signals, “bulb-outs” to give people walking more space and calm traffic, more trees, and stormwater management.

The project has wide support among neighbors around Dupont Circle. Area residents and businesses have supported the project, especially the deckover portion, which will create additional gathering space.

A crucial link for people biking

This stretch of Connecticut Avenue is a critical element of building bike connectivity in this part of the District. The soon-to-be-constructed protected bikeway on 20th Street will connect the National Mall, Foggy Bottom, and Dupont Circle. Existing bike lanes on Columbia Road link the northern part of Dupont Circle to Adams Morgan, Woodley Park, Mount Pleasant, and Columbia Heights. But there’s a gap between them.

21st Street is one-way southbound. 22nd Street runs northbound but dumps cyclists onto a narrow, high-speed section of Florida Avenue. 20th is interrupted by Connecticut Avenue. 18th and 19th do connect, but are steep and lack bike infrastructure.

The critical link is Connecticut Avenue, which runs from the northern end of the 20th Street project at 20th and Q to the southern end of the Columbia Road bike lanes. Without this piece, people bicycling and scooting are forced to share road space with fast-moving traffic on Connecticut.

Bike lane bait and switch

Many people in the neighborhood felt betrayed at yesterday’s meeting, when DDOT staff indicated that all proposed bike facilities are being dropped from plans. At the 10% design stage in April of 2018, DDOT presented plans showing four concepts for Connecticut Avenue. One, concept A, didn’t include bike facilities. But concepts B1, B2, and C all included protected bike lanes.

Concepts B1, B2, and C from the April 2018 meeting. 

The MoveDC plan calls for separated bike lanes along Connecticut Avenue from Farragut Square to Western Avenue. But DDOT hasn’t decided how to build those bike lanes. Will it be one-way on both sides or two-way on one side? How will the facility traverse the narrow bridge over Rock Creek? How will they be protected?

With no answers to those questions, DDOT wants to defer the bike lanes indefinitely. But why build something now that might be incompatible with other projects?

This tradeoff also means that the agency is being more conservative with pedestrian safety improvements throughout the project area. It is proposing bulb-outs along the side streets to make crossings shorter for people walking along Connecticut Avenue.

Along Connecticut, however, it is keeping the curbs in the same place they are currently. This isn’t a cost-saving measure. Instead, DDOT doesn’t want to foreclose on any possibilities for bike lanes in the future, so it’s foregoing both bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements.

The right move here would be to design bike lanes as part of the streetscape project, and include bulb-outs or islands that work with that bike lane design, instead of deferring the project to a future that may come too late or never at all.

As an example, look at the 15th Street protected bikeway extension at New Hampshire Avenue. There, DDOT extended the bikeway northward and included bike signals, concrete and granite islands, and stormwater treatment. This improvement helped people walking and bicycling, as well as the environment. But without the willingness to build concrete infrastructure, the median refuge would’ve just been some white striping with flexposts, as the rest of 15th Street is.

15th Street looking south from New Hampshire. Image from Google street view.

DDOT’s decision to defer, perhaps forever, bike lanes on Connecticut Avenue during the streetscape rebuild means that if DDOT does ever retrofit bike lanes into this corridor, it will be a paint and flexpost design, and won’t include infrastructure that better protects all users and looks more attractive.

Not learning from the past

With this decision, DDOT is showing that it hasn’t learned anything from its mistake on Florida Avenue. DDOT began developing plans to address that traffic sewer, but put everything on ice because it wanted to come to a solution on Dave Thomas Circle (Florida Ave & New York Ave & First Street NE & Eckington Place) first. It didn’t want to design anything that might conflict with or inhibit the redesign of the intersection.

And while frustrated residents waited for that design work to happen, cycling advocate Dave Salovesh was killed by a motorist at the corner of Florida Avenue and 12th Street.

To DDOT’s credit, it is building an interim cycletrack and installing safety improvements for people walking almost overnight. Now that someone is dead—someone who frequently excoriated DDOT for not moving fast enough—DDOT is moving fast, and it’s not worried that what they build might not be the same as the permanent solution.

But on Connecticut Avenue, DDOT is repeating its mistake, seemingly with no awareness that it’s doing the same thing again. Cyclists can wait. How long? Well, DDOT doesn’t know. But don’t worry, if someone dies here, maybe they can get something turned around quick.

That’s not Vision Zero. That’s Vision-Something-Greater-Than-Zero-and-You-Better-Hope-It’s-Not-Someone-You-Know.

Local residents have expressed their support for bicyle lanes

Even more baffling, bike lanes on this stretch enjoy wide support from neighbors. The ANC in which most of this project falls, ANC 2B, has passed not one, but two, resolutions calling for separated bike lanes on this stretch.

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans introduces the project. Image by the author.

On June 13, 2018, ANC 2B passed a resolution by a vote of 9 to 0 generally supporting the Connecticut Avenue Streetscape Project, and specifically in support of protected bike lanes:

Be it further resolved that ANC 2B believes that it is essential that the streetscape project includes provisions for bike lanes connecting to the existing bike lanes on Columbia Road or to potential future bike lanes north on Connecticut Avenue NW.

More recently, the ANC passed a resolution calling for these bike lanes as a critical part of the compromise with the 20th-21st-22nd Street Cycletrack project. After two contentious ANC meetings, where dozens testified for hours, the ANC voted to support 20th Street. But one of the main reasons that the ANC felt that 20th Street was workable even though it was shorter than 21st and didn’t connect directly to Florida Avenue was that DDOT promised to use Connecticut Avenue to complete the link.

The resolution was passed on February 5, 2019, also with a unanimous 9 to 0 vote, and had this to say about Connecticut Avenue:

Be it further resolved that ANC 2B urges DDOT’s protected bike lanes project team to coordinate with DDOT’s Connecticut Avenue Deckover and Streetscape Project team to connect a 20th Street NW protected bike lane with protected bike lanes to Columbia Road NW.

District agencies are required to give ANC recommendations “great weight.” Support for these bike lanes is clear, but it’s not clear that DDOT is listening.

If you think Connecticut Avenue should have separated bike lanes between Q Street and Columbia Road, tell DDOT. Comments can be submitted to CTAveStreetscape@gmail.com.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Dupont Circle. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is an employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.