Work nearly finished on Pennsylvania Ave. bike lanes in D.C.

Orange cones and barrels in the center of Pennsylvania Avenue designate where bicycle lanes will be located.
Orange cones and barrels in the center of Pennsylvania Avenue designate where bicycle lanes will be located. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The outline for a pair of bike lanes that will stretch from the White House to the Capitol is emerging down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue as work crews replace old traffic markings with new bike-only designations.

"We're about a week away from opening them to bike traffic," said Jim Sebastian, bike coordinator for the District Department of Transportation. "It's going to require more markings and more signal work."

The signal work is necessary because the two bike lanes are at the center of the avenue, which still will carry three lanes of vehicle traffic in each direction on most blocks. To avoid collisions when cars and bikes are attempting left turns, traffic light cycles are being changed so that bikes will have an exclusive green light to turn left when all other traffic is stopped.

The District had considered painting the bike lanes a different color, a designation used in other cities, and using pylons to separate the bike and traffic lanes. Those ideas were dropped after consultation with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission.

Although they are a week away from opening, the new lanes drew concern from the automobile group AAA.

"Lane closures must be approached with extreme caution to avoid excessive traffic delays," AAA spokesman John B. Townsend II said. "I think what's confusing to us is that they're taking out complete lanes."

Townsend said he feared that the loss of lanes would cause congestion on Pennsylvania Avenue. Sebastian said modeling done by DDOT indicated that those fears are unfounded.

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. 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.

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.

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