City Hopes New Bicycle Lanes Will Get More People Pedaling

By Lindsay Ryan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 1, 2005

With gasoline prices approaching $3 a gallon, transportation that doesn't require crude has become increasingly attractive.

And that makes the District's program to encourage people to pump pedals instead of gas all the more welcome to those who commute on two wheels.

The city has installed 17 miles of bike lanes and 305 bike racks since 2001. The city's Bicycle Master Plan calls for adding another 10 miles of lanes and 100 racks in the coming year, according to Jim Sebastian, bicycle and pedestrian program manager for the city's Department of Transportation.

"The bike lanes are a fantastic improvement and a great start," said Sheba Farrin, owner of DC Courier, a bike messenger service. Farrin has been a bike messenger since 1991.

But the city also needs to link the lanes so cyclists can get to their destinations without being forced to bike in traffic, Farrin said. Cyclists traveling downtown on 14th Street NW from Mount Pleasant have to bike among cars from U Street to Thomas Circle, a stretch of road on the city's future bike lane list.

But bike lanes and racks are just a small part of the city's 10-year vision for bicycling. By 2015, travelers on the bike beltway that encircles the District will be able to get from Union Station to Silver Spring and from Fort Dupont in Southeast to Georgetown in Northwest without ever venturing onto roads. City officials hope that one of every 20 trips made in the District will be by bike and that every Washingtonian will live within a half-mile of a bike route or trail.

City officials also hope to restore and eliminate gaps in the 1.5-mile Watts Branch Trail in Southeast within a year. They want to begin the first phase of the Anacostia River Trail System construction project, which will includes about 20 miles of trails along both banks of the river, in the fall, Sebastian said.

City transportation officials are also hoping to open a bike station next year at the west end of Union Station that triples the available bike parking, provides security and an enclosure for bikes, and offers rentals, repairs and accessories.

Work also will continue on the $25 million Metropolitan Branch Trail, which should be completed by 2008, according to Chris Holben, the city's bicycle program specialist. The Northeast trail could replicate the success of the Capital Crescent Trail, which runs along an old railroad bed in Northwest and has spurred ridership in the neighborhoods it traverses, said Eric Gilliland, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

Running parallel to Metro's Red Line from Union Station to Silver Spring, the eight-mile Metropolitan Branch Trail will combine bike lanes on or alongside neighborhood streets with off-road paths. It will connect with the Capital Crescent and the Anacostia Tributary Trail System.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail project, first envisioned in the 1980s, has been beset by "delay after delay," said Gilliland, and only disconnected segments are now open.

"Eventually, when it's fully constructed," Gilliland said, "it's going to be a key component of the bike network in the region."

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