Photo by Eric Gilliland on Flickr.
DC Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2) claimed this morning that the 15th Street bike lane is “not working” because of the impact on drivers from the new left turn signals.
Evans generally emphasized that he supports bike lanes and committed to keeping the lane in place, but criticized the new, two-way version of the 15th Street lane. He said that the turn restrictions have further narrowed 15th for most drivers, and that the delays in turning make drivers miss green lights on adjacent streets.
When DDOT converted the lane to two-way, it added left turn signals at the intersections where cars can turn left from 15th across the bike lane. Formerly, cars could turn left or right off 15th anytime when they have the green light. Now, during most of the green phase, left-turning drivers have a red arrow; they can then turn at the end of the green phase just before cross traffic gets the green.
Without this, drivers would turn left and many would not look for a cyclist traveling in the bike lane in the same direction. This restriction is an important step to make the two-way lane safe, and given that people haven’t been getting hit, it seems to achieve this end.
However, it also frustrates drivers. On Twitter, Tom Sherwood said that he’s heard a lot of complaints about “long waits” for these lights. TwistedTidings replied, “It’s also annoying when drivers make those turns far too close to crossing pedestrians. City living means annoyance.”
Evans alleged that bicycle advocates are reluctant to look into problems with the lane because they don’t want to open up the possibility of shrinking or eliminating the lane. People “don’t want to give an inch when [they] get an inch,” he said.
Is that true, or is this just an issue of drivers being furious at losing even the smallest amount of privilege? Traffic still moves fine on 15th, though it’s become less of a speedway. DDOT modified the lane to reduce the number of bollards, for instance, based on resident comments that the bollards were unsightly.
Or does the lane go too far to inconvenience drivers for little bicycle benefit? DDOT had a lot of public meetings before creating the lane’s first version, though they went ahead with this new iteration based on professional judgment and very little public discourse. Some bike advocates love the two-way option, while others don’t like it.
Personally, I rode a bicycle and drove on the street in both iterations. Riding in the rightmost sharrow lane on 15th when the cycle track was one-way, cars repeatedly tailgated me, passed extremely close and cut back into my lane rapidly after passing me. The drivers generally seemed impatient and surprised to have to deal with a person on a bicycle in the street. With the new lane, it’s very comfortable.
Driving on the road, it’s more time-consuming to drive up 15th and turn left on P to get home versus going through Scott Circle. As a result, I’m less likely to take 15th when driving. This seems to be a benefit for residents, who generally would prefer drivers use the main arteries like Massachusetts Avenue and 16th Street than residential streets like 15th, P, and R.
When Evans talks about the bike lane, he seems to acknowledge that the lane is valuable on an intellectual level, but then react to specifics on a personal level from his experiences driving and not from using the lane on a bicycle. I hope Evans would try bicycling in the area a few times as well.
Still, there are indeed a lot of complaints. Are there ways to address these concerns without making the lane dangerous? Could modifications lead to a bicycle facility that is as good (or better) for cyclists, while also gaining more neighbor and driver support?