The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

And now to dig out the bike lanes

A Capital Bikeshare station after the blizzard. (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Much of the region’s bike infrastructure is still buried in snow four days after Snowzilla hit the Washington area. Many of the region’s 350-plus Capital Bikeshare stations are being dig out and piles of snow are blocking bike lanes. So if you bike, advocates and transportation officials are warning it could be several days before the bike infrastructure is back to normal.

“Don’t count on the bike facilities being clear,” said Daniel Hoagland, programs director at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “If you are going to bike you have to make a choice between open roadways or sidewalks. It’s chaotic.”

So if you are planning to go out for a bike ride this week— not that many people are — keep in mind the conditions of the road and sidewalks. Many pedestrian walkways aren’t clear and others are so narrow because of the mounds of snow that they can’t handle both pedestrians and bicyclists.

In an email to the bike community on Monday, the city’s bike coordinator said it could be a few days before all the protected lanes are clear.

“Clearing bicycle facilities in the blizzard proved to be a challenge due to the conditions and the amount of snow,” the officials, Jim Sebastian, explained. On Saturday there was too much snow for the equipment to move the snow in the narrower bike lanes, he said. But crews did manage to clear much of the Metropolitan Branch Trail and the Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track, he said.

He continued:

Regular lanes are normally cleared by regular plows on their regular shifts. However, because of the large amount of snow, plows can not get as close to the curb or the parked cars as needed to clear the lanes. Thus it will likely be several days before the regular bike lanes are clear. In the mean time, bikes share the road with motor vehicles so we ask both to use caution.
DDOT and DPW crews are also working on clearing bridge sidewalks. Once again, due to the large amount of snow, most of these are still full of snow due that was cleared from the adjacent roadway. It may may a few days before all of these sidewalks are clear.

The blizzard dumped two feet of snow in much of the region, paralyzing the nation’s capital and all modes of transportation. Commuting by bus and rail Wednesday when more offices and government agencies re-opened proved to be nightmare. Roads were clogged and sidewalks still covered in snow– not ideal conditions for drivers, pedestrians nor cyclists.

By Wednesday morning, however, some downtown DC bike lanes appeared to have been at least partially cleared, including the popular L Street and the 15th Street cycle tracks.

Riding in the current conditions, however, can be dangerous.  Hoagland said you have to be comfortable taking the entire lane because you are not going to have the bike lane available and your chances of having a wide-open sidewalk are pretty slim. You also have to be ready to put up with fellow road users who may be more frustrated than usual because of the tough icy commute.

“Take it slow. You don’t have to bicycle if you think it’s unsafe in any way,” said Hoagland. He said, optimistically, things might be better Monday. The forecast for warmer weather will help, he said. But still hard to say how much city crews would do.

“It’s not a priority for the city to clear bike facilities and it doesn’t have to be,” he said. “There are certainly more other important things. At the same time it’s frustrating. Here we are four days after the storm.”

Capital Bikeshare reported some progress digging out bike stations on Wednesday, but it was unclear if the popular bike system will open Thursday. It has been closed since the weekend.

“Capital Bikeshare is working hard to clear snowbound stations as rapidly as possible. However, the snow is heavy and plentiful and while our staff is working hard, progress is slow,”Capital Bikeshare said in an alert to members. “Each jurisdiction—the District of Columbia, Arlington County, the City of Alexandria and Montgomery County—will reopen their portion of the system once a useful number of their stations are cleared for use.”