District Plans 19 Miles of Bike Lanes in 2014, but Will They Actually Get Built?

The DC government’s latest promise to cyclists, and how it factors into the mayoral race.

By: Benjamin Freed

The DC government plans to add nearly 19 miles of bike facilities to city streets this year, an ambitious goal considering it accomplished a tiny fraction of that in 2013. The District Department of Transportation today released a map and spreadsheet of the bike lanes, cycle tracks, and other cyclist-friendly items it plans to install this year, but bike advocates say the agency might be a bit optimistic considering its recent lack of accomplishments.

The first item on DDOT’s list is the long-delayed, mostly protected cycle track along M St., NW, through the heart of downtown DC. Although the project is classified as “ready to go,” riders have been waiting nearly a year for the track to be completed. DDOT started painting some lines between 15th and 17th streets in December, allowing the agency to say that it started the project in 2013, but the 1.4 mile route remains far from completion.

But Greg Billing, the advocacy coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, says DDOT routinely kicks old projects into the following calendar year.

“This is exactly what happened last year,” he says, referring to a bridge carrying the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail over a freight yard in Southeast DC. Although the bridge was planned for 2012, it did not open until last May.

Another project listed as “ready to go” is a two-block protected lane on First St., NE, connecting the Metropolitan Branch Trail to street level. (Currently, cyclists must haul their bikes up a staircase to access the trail’s southern end.) DDOT also plans to install bike lanes, including some that run against traffic, on F, G, and I streets, NE, to give cyclists in that part of town routes that don’t run alongside the streetcar line on H St.

Billing says those lanes should have been put in long ago. “G and I should have gone in when the streetcar tracks went in years ago,” he says. “I think what DDOT has shown is that they are filling some of the major gaps.”

The plans for 2014 also include converting mile-long segments of two residential streets in upper Northwest to “neighborhood bikeways,” similar to a program in Portland, Oregon in which low-traffic roadways are resigned and repainted to make cycling and walking the preferred modes of transportation instead of driving.

The planned bike lanes are drawn up from the Bicycle Master Plan, a 2006 document in which the city committed to install at least 10 miles of bike facilities per year. “I don’t think they’ve hit that,” says Billing, who calls the new list “hugely optimistic.”

DDOT says it can get the 19 planned miles done this year. "It seems to be a reasonable target," spokesman Reggie Sanders says, adding that projects scheduled for completion in 2013 suffered from "unanticipated" delays, including inclement weather.

But proposed bike lanes also appear to perpetuate something DC Council member and mayoral candidate Jack Evans noted recently, that his ward contains more miles of bike facilities than the rest of the city combined. But some bike projects can get highly politicized, especially the M St. track, which was delayed last summer after the historic Metropolitan AME Church complained that the lane would take away some of its worshippers’ parking. At a mayoral debate hosted by a group of ministers last week, several candidates told the crowd they would take steps to protect church parking.

Billing says the success of protected bike lanes like the ones running along L and 15th streets and the continued growth of Capital Bikeshare mean that the next mayor will have to take cyclists’ interests into consideration.

“We are going to have some major decisions to be made to distribute the streets,” he says.

2014 Bike Lanes Webpost List 2-5-14