Last year, DDOT opened innovative new contraflow bike lanes on New Hampshire Avenue near U Street. But a few design problems remain.
Three cyclists created this video to illustrate some of the issues:
Dedicated bicycle facilities are a controversial issue among some bicyclists. “Vehicular cyclists” believe it’s safer to take the lane rather than riding in dedicated spaces which can be too close to doors, hard to see, prone to right hooks, and more.
However, research has shown the safety benefits of dedicated urban bikeways. They also make many people feel more comfortable riding bikes, and increasing the numbers of cyclists on the road is the surest way to improve safety. The more people ride, the more drivers become used to dealing with people biking, and the safer everyone is.
Even if this project is imperfect, these lanes make a positive addition to DC’s bike infrastructure. But the authors of the video are right to point out several problems.
The signs showing where it is legal to park don’t line up with the striped lines on the roadway, giving drivers the right to park their cars in a way that partially blocks the lane.
The lane on New Hampshire south of T Street predates the contraflow treatment, and therefore doesn’t line up properly to continue onto northbound New Hampshire Ave. Drivers must turn right at T, but are to the left of the lane. That means cyclists going straight through face significant risk of right hooks.
One solution would be for DDOT to sign the bike lane as right turn only, and place bike-through icons or sharrows in the northbound travel lane. The safest thing for northbound cyclists bound for the contraflow lane to do is to mix with cars on the approach to T Street. DDOT should indicate this through proper signage, paint, and lane striping.
Another major issue significant time in the video: the signal timing for cyclists. The short green period means cyclists may not have enough time to get positioned on 16th Street before drivers get the green. And the induction loops to trigger the signal often don’t work properly.
DDOT should consider making the bike signal an automatic part of the light cycle instead of being an actuated signal. The sensor may not be calibrated correctly or cyclists may not position themselves correctly. Whatever the reason, long wait times are not optimal.
The video’s authors make a big deal out of the dooring risk from the bike lanes, which are close to parked cars. However, since the lane is contraflow, this risk is actually much less than in a standard lane.
DDOT launched this as a pilot, and is supposed to evaluate its success and make changes. However, almost one year has gone by, and DDOT has not addressed the problems which lead some riders to engage in dangerous behavior at a busy intersection.
The lanes on New Hampshire give people a valuable way to ride through this busy area. Hopefully DDOT can start fixing these problems in the near future.