Pennsylvania Ave. to have dedicated bike lanes

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 11, 2010; B01

The center of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol soon may be reserved for just two things: the president's inauguration and people riding bicycles.

A pair of bike lanes are destined to grace the middle of one of the country's most fabled boulevards, an avenue that ranks as a destination with Broadway, Fifth Avenue, Hollywood Boulevard and Bourbon Street. The two lanes will be part of an expanding network of dedicated bicycle lanes in the District, soon to include L, I and Ninth streets NW and more of 15th Street NW.

"We're going to get some feedback from people, and then we hope to install these within a month so we're ready for the summer biking season," said Jim Sebastian, bike coordinator for the District Department of Transportation.

That feedback should come the evening of March 18 when DDOT presents details of the plan at a public meeting at 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), a dedicated cyclist himself, has worked to strengthen and connect the web of bike lanes in a city that had the sixth-highest percentage of bike commuters in the country in 2008.

A Census Bureau survey determined that the number of D.C. area bike commuters doubled in the first eight years of the 21st century, exceeding 2 percent of all commuters.

In the nation's 70 largest cities, the bike commuter rate increased by 48 percent over the same period, reaching almost 1 percent of all commuters. Catering to bikers' needs, Google Maps this week added routes for bicyclists to its menu of options.

The District has 45 miles of bike lanes on its 1,200 miles of streets. Sebastian said the goal is to increase the number to 80 miles. The city also hopes to expand its SmartBike rental program from 100 bikes in 10 locations to 1,000 bikes in 100 locations.

The plan for bike lanes on five major streets in the city's core is intended to help resolve a major challenge for cyclists and motorists, Sebastian said.

"Most of our streets are residential, and they are pretty bike-friendly," he said. "But downtown can be difficult. You've got your double-parkers, your weavers, your left turners, your loading and unloading right where the bike lane is."

Dedicated bike lanes are designed to separate cyclists from drivers and the routine business of downtown streets.

On 15th Street between U Street and Massachusetts Avenue, a dedicated lane is marked by yellow posts set one lane out from the curb. Parking is permitted in the lane on the other side of the posts, a lane that once carried traffic. Under the new plan, that lane will extend south to Pennsylvania Avenue.

L and I streets, both one-way, would give up the left lane to bike-only traffic. On L Street, the lane would stretch from 12th to 25th streets; on I it would run from 11th to 21st streets.

Sebastian said the lanes would be clearly marked and might be painted a distinctive color -- green, blue or red. Parking considerations and use of yellow posts are under discussion.

A left-turn-only lane at each intersection will be shared by cyclists and motorists, he said.

"Our models show that losing a lane on these streets won't have a major impact on traffic," Sebastian said.

If the program is a success, he said, concrete barriers like those used on some New York City streets will be considered.

The plan for Pennsylvania Avenue is more dramatic. The two center lanes, one in each direction, will be converted to bike-only traffic. Traffic signals will be recalibrated so that drivers wanting to turn left will await a left-turn arrow, while cyclists will be allowed to turn left on the general "green dot" signal.

If yellow posts are used to delineate the lane, Sebastian said, they would be removed for "a major event, such as the inauguration." He said the cost of the new lanes was being calculated, "but they're pretty inexpensive."

"It is Pennsylvania Avenue," he said, "and it will be kind of a statement about bike-friendly America."

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