Paris cycle track. Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.

When a group of residents on 15th Street asked DDOT to find ways to slow traffic on their “urban highway” of a street, DDOT planners created four alternatives. 15th street is much wider than necessary, with four northbound lanes that suddenly funnel into only one after New Hampshire Avenue. One neighborhood historian told me that this road was meant to connect to the east-west freeway at S and T streets. Without that freeway, we ended up with a high-speed expressway to nowhere. What to do?

DDOT created four alternatives: reduce the lanes to three, and add a single northbound bicycle lane; put a physically separated, two-way “cycle track” beside three lanes; convert the street to two-way operation with two lanes north, one lane south, and bicycle lanes on each side; or two-way with one lane in each direction and a center turn lane, plus the two bicycle lanes.

The two-way proposal stirred up significant debate, both here, at the local ANCs, and at the public meetings. According to DDOT’s summary of feedback, 55% of emails supported two-way operation, while the rest preferred one-way (either existing conditions or one of the one-way alternatives). When asked to rank their preferences, the two-way choices earned a total of 230 “points,” and the one-way alternatives 224.

Without a clear consensus, DDOT apparently doesn’t feel comfortable changing the street to two-way. Besides, such a change would require new traffic signals, as would the cycle track. With little money, what can we do? Along with the feedback summary, DDOT planner Chris Ziemann sent a new, fifth option, for three northbound lanes, one northbound bicycle lane, and a southbound contraflow “cycle track” style bicycle lane:

From DDOT’s letter:

The southbound bicycle lane would be temporarily separated with quick-curb and flex-posts with spaces between them for ADA accessibility, drainage, etc. At the intersections, there would be a sign indicating to bicyclists to use the pedestrian signal. This option has been used in many cities, including Montreal, Madison, New York, and Santa Cruz, but would be the first in the District and would serve as a model for others. It would also complement the request from businesses south of Massachusetts Avenue to maintain two-way traffic throughout the day. This could be a short-term solution that would not prevent the other alternatives from progressing, if it is deemed in the future that alternatives 3 or 4 are preferred.

I’d still prefer two-way operation, but this is a good compromise. We get two-way bicycle lanes, and DC’s first separated cycle track, like those that have been so successful in New York. A narrower travel area for cars will slow traffic, and we don’t foreclose the option to make the street two-way in the future.