Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

D.C.'s bike projects spring forward as weather warms

April 10, 2012 - 09:09 AM
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(Photo: flickr/SLOCountyBicycleCoalition)

Have you followed the bike news in the last week, D.C.? Spring has sprung for the District's bicyclists, with three major marks of biking progress.

First off, D.C. was selected as one of six U.S. cities (out of 42 applicants) to participate in Bikes Belong's Green Lanes Project — these cities, the 400-member bike industry organization hopes, "will become national leaders in creating comfortable spaces for people on bikes over the next two years," as it announced on April 3. The Green Lanes Project focuses on how to make biking easier in cities by making riders more comfortable. Bike commuting scares some people. The idea of biking amid car traffic and countless pedestrians is absolutely an obstacle for some who consider the option, and Green Lanes refer to bikeways "protected from motor vehicles by curbs, planters, posts, or parked cars." These insulated urban paths are also called cycletracks. The District Department of Transportation already has plans to install two on L and M streets NW later this year.

Bikes Belong will spend the next month or so coordinating with officials from its six chosen cities and hold a kickoff ceremony in Chicago in late May. Then will come "resources and technical assistance" to help create safe spaces for bicyclists. In D.C., where bicyclists have attempted to legislate over concerns about aggressive drivers, such a space may prove vital to cultivating cycling.

Second, WMATA has stayed just as busy.

The planning department of WMATA has a sharp eye toward pedestrian and bike projects, and Metro staff executed some of these plans in February and March. How's Metro staying bike-friendly? Bike racks and bigger parking structures the transit agency is calling Bike & Rides. Metro has even "communicated its willingness," as WMATA's Nat Bottigheimer phrases it, to install Capital Bikeshare stations on WMATA property.

"Metro’s Plant Maintenance crews installed over 70 new racks," WMATA's Justin Antos reported earlier this April, "with space for 140 additional bikes at Braddock Road, Glenmont, Morgan Boulevard, Rockville, East Falls Church, Takoma, and Dupont Circle."

Perhaps WMATA's bike efforts make up for the transit agency's rush-hour prohibition on bicycles? You be the judge.

The third bike victory belongs to the District government.

DDOT has stepped up its game this spring to help complete the biking plans set forth a few years back. How? After spending much of 2011 idle, D.C. jumped into action this spring by completing four miles and revealing intentions to exceed the 5.5 miles initially planned for 2012. New lanes have appeared on 4th Street, SW; I Street, SW and SE; Columbia Road, NW, New York Avenue, NW; Tilden Street, NW; and Upshur Street, NW, along with new lanes and sharrows on R and on Oklahoma Ave, SE. There are now about 55 bike lanes total, according to DDOT. In March, DDOT announced 20 miles' worth of trail marked to connect different paths. The city installed 750 sign plates at 255 locations in recent months, and the District has stated it wants to add 10 miles' worth of bike signs a year up through 2015.

"We hope to install another mile before Bike to Work Day on May 18," DDOT director Terry Bellamy wrote late last Friday afternoon, "and we’re planning for an additional four to five miles of bike lanes and shared lanes for installation during the summer and fall. That will include the eagerly awaited crosstown cycletrack on L Street, NW."

These three leaps forward, all announced throughout last week, fortify the other biking improvements happening with 1.5-year-old Capital Bikeshare, which has opened new stations on the National Mall and continued to feature record-breaking riderships in the recent warm weeks. Arlington, you'll recall, hopes to get strategic with its own bikeshare future. Collectively, these announcements mark an impressive burst of D.C. biking momentum. Our 2010 data tells us that 3.1% of District residents were bike commuters, the fifth highest in the nation. What will the numbers say about 2011 and 2012 and beyond? More protected bikeways, more lanes, and more signs, paired with increased enforcement and awareness, will make this mode of transportation more seamless and convenient and is bound to kick those numbers even higher. Although bike advocates are right to demand strategy and remain vigilant about how these projects move forward, don't miss the significance of what's going on. Here's a taste of progress, D.C.

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