The commitment replaces a more modest earlier goal to build 10 miles of protected lanes over a six-year period.
“We are doubling the amount of miles that we are committed to, and we are reducing the amount of time to get it done,” said Jeff Marootian, director of the District Department of Transportation. “We are making a bold commitment to get 20 miles done over the next three years, which is more than we have ever been able to do.”
Still, cycling advocates and riders said the city has fallen short in delivering on past promises to build a robust network of protected bike lanes and that it continues to be less ambitious in its goals than other major U.S. cities.
New York City officials voted this fall to create 250 miles of protected lanes in the next decade, including 30 miles in the first year of implementation. San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) in May announced that city would build 20 miles of new protected bike lanes in two years, doubling the pace of bike lane construction in the Bay Area.
“Other cities have set far more ambitious goals,” said Jeremiah Lowery, advocacy director at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “What the District is proposing is to catch up on years of missed targets. We are way behind. The 20 miles by [the end of] 2022 is still far behind where we need to be.”
Critics say the creation of protected lanes has not kept pace with demand for infrastructure that is used not only by bicyclists, but also a growing number of scooter riders.
This year, the District installed 4.5 miles of bike lanes, one mile of which is protected. Of 89 miles of bike lanes in the District, 11.5 miles are protected, meaning there is some type of buffer between the bike lane and the general traffic lanes. Most bike lanes are divided only by paint on the asphalt and are not considered as safe for cyclists.
The proposals have also put civic associations, churches and neighbors at odds with bike groups and the city. Nick Delledonne, a Dupont Circle resident and member of the Dupont East Civic Action Association, said the city has overlooked problems with its existing bike lanes, including the popular 15th Street protected lane. The lane crosses alleys and driveways, sometimes leading to tense exchanges between homeowners and riders who blame residents for blocking the lane while trying to exit or enter their homes.
In some of the neighborhoods where the city plans to install lanes, residents worry about loss of parking.
“There is a feeling in the city among some groups that you ought to get rid of your car. Well, that’s easier said than done and it really is ideological rather than rational and reasonable,” Delledonne said.
It’s unclear how the District will get to 30 miles of protected lanes by 2022, given the rate of construction in recent years.
But Marootian said the city is moving projects from design to construction. “We see a pretty clear path to getting them to implementation,” he said.
Among those projects is a one-mile crosstown cycle track connecting Wards 1 and 5, along the Kenyon Street-Irving Street and Michigan Avenue corridor.
It also includes a plan to connect the Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom neighborhoods to the Mall with a bikeway via 20th and 21st streets NW. The bike lane would take riders from the Dupont Circle Metro station south through the George Washington University campus, culminating at the Mall. Residents have debated the proposal for years, with some voicing opposition, mainly out of fear the facility will take away parking.
Not included in the 2022 plan is an even more contentious project to put a bidirectional protected bike lane on either Sixth Street NW or Ninth Street NW between Florida and Pennsylvania avenues.
Progress to create a lane known as the Eastern Downtown Protected Bike Lane has stalled for years, upsetting bike commuters and advocates who say the route would make bike travel safer for scores of cyclists traveling between downtown and neighborhoods such as U Street and Shaw that have seen an increase in bike commuting in recent years.
City officials say they are still reviewing the options. Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) last week filed emergency legislation to force the city to complete design and advance construction on the project.
Building bike infrastructure has been a challenge in many neighborhoods and downtown, where space is tight and reducing parking or general traffic lanes has not been an easy sell.
Goals have not been met in recent years. A “Vision Zero” action plan from December 2015 lists an intention to “install or upgrade 20 miles of on-street bicycle facilities” by 2017, a goal that was not close to being accomplished. With Vision Zero, the city has set a target of ending all traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024.
The additional bike infrastructure is viewed as critical to this goal. It also is needed to accommodate the growing number of people who are choosing to get around on two wheels — whether by bicycle or electric scooter. In areas where bike lanes are not available, travelers are forced to use general traffic lanes or sidewalks, which are less than ideal or safe, advocates say.
When the National Transportation Safety Board made several recommendations this month, among them urging mandatory helmet policies, it also called on cities to improve roadway infrastructure, saying that separated bike lanes probably would reduce the number of the most serious crashes.
NTSB investigators found that the severity of bicycle crashes with motor vehicles is higher midblock because cars are traveling at higher speeds and that separated bike lanes could eliminate those crashes.
Nationwide, 860 people on bikes or similar nonmotorized vehicles were killed in 2018, an increase of 6.3 percent from 2017, according to data released last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nearly 36,600 people overall died on U.S. roadways, including 6,283 pedestrians.
In the District, of 23 people killed in traffic crashes so far this year, two were on bicycles and one was on a scooter, according to D.C. police records. Growing concerns about the safety of bicyclists, scooter riders and pedestrians have led to multiple pieces of legislation this year, including some requiring the city’s transportation agency to accelerate bike projects.
Street safety advocates have also led rallies and vigils at locations where bicyclists and pedestrians have been killed.
Adding bike lanes is going to become more critical, some proponents say, as the city looks to expand personal mobility. The city plans to expand the number of shared scooters available to residents and visitors to 10,000 next year.
“It is absolutely necessary to build more protected bike lanes so people can move, safer, through main corridors,” said Robert Gardner, director of government relations for the Washington region for Lime, which operates e-scooters in the city.
Marootian said Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has tasked DDOT to accelerate the “most impactful safety projects” across the District. Some would require construction beyond minor road alterations, including utility work that takes time, Marootian said. But he said the agency plans to streamline processes, including the public engagement time, to accelerate projects.