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D.C. promises to double 10 miles of protected bike lanes by 2024; advocates call goal ‘lackluster’

Some riders and advocates say the plan sounds promising, but that six years to build 10 miles of lanes is less than ambitious.

A bicyclist uses a bike lane along L Street NW in Washington. (Matt McClain for The Washington Post)

The District Department of Transportation says it wants to expand bicycle access to city streets by building more bike lanes — specifically, it says it will double the existing 10 miles of protected lanes by 2024.

Some riders and advocates say that the plan sounds promising but that six years to build 10 miles of lanes is less than ambitious.

“That’s a lackluster goal both in terms of mileage and in terms of timeline,” said Robert Gardner, advocacy director at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “We need more faster.”

Additional bike infrastructure would address the growing number of people in the region who are getting around on two wheels — whether that’s bicycles or the latest addition to the market, electric scooters, advocates say. When bike lanes are not available, two-wheel travelers are forced to use general traffic lanes or sidewalks, which are less than ideal or safe, they say. Critics contend that if DDOT is serious about protecting them, expediting bike-lane projects should be a higher priority.

Transportation officials say it is a priority. DDOT spokesman Terry Owens said the agency has just over 10 miles of protected lanes in development and is looking for ways to accelerate construction on some of the projects.

Building bike infrastructure has been challenging for Washington, where space is tight on many roadways and replacing parking or general traffic lanes has not been an easy sell. The city’s early goals have not been met. For example, 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. Vision Zero is the city’s goal to end traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024.

“We have heard this promise before, so it will require new resources to be put in place,” Gardner said.

Since the city adopted a bike plan in 2005, it has focused on installing lanes on wider roads where space was available to avoid limiting drivers’ right of way. But as the plan progresses, the city is taking on more-challenging projects.

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So far this year, DDOT has installed 3.7 miles of bike lanes across all four quadrants of the city, including 2.5 miles of protected lanes known as cycle tracks. Crews recently completed a cycle track on K/Water Street NW in Georgetown and along Fourth Street NE, between Lincoln and Harewood roads. DDOT is close to completing a bike lane on Virginia Avenue SE, from Second to Ninth streets, officials said.

The agency is halfway through its goal of seven new miles of bikeway this year, though the goal is unlikely to be met.

However, there are plans to add one mile of bike lane in an area in eastern downtown that would connect to bike lanes on Sixth Street or Ninth Street NW, between Constitution and Florida avenues. That proposal has been in the works for years and has in the past drawn opposition from members of several prominent churches along the stretch who fear the bike lane could cut into their street parking.

Other projects include a 1.3-mile stretch of protected bikeway along Pennsylvania Avenue SE, between Second and 17th streets, a stretch of bike lane on Louisiana Avenue, near the U.S. Capitol, and an extension of the Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track to 22nd Street. Following is a list of lanes in development provided by DDOT.

Protected Bike Lanes in Development
Street Miles
Eastern Downtown (6th or 9th St NW)
Constitution Ave.
Florida Ave
20th, 21st, or 22nd
Constitution Ave.
Florida Ave
Crosstown (Irving Street)
Michigan Ave.
Warder St
C Street NE
14th Pl
22nd St
Virginia Avenue SE
2nd St
9th St
K Street
7th Street NW
1st St NE
Pennsylvania Avenue NW 
17th St
22nd St
 Pennsylvania Avenue  SE 
2nd St
17th St
Park Place/5th St NW 
Kenyon St
Grant Circle
Warder St / 7th St NW 
Irving St
New Hampshire Ave
1st Street SE/Potomac Ave 
I St
South Capitol St
Brentwood Parkway 
6th St/Penn St
9th St
Louisiana Avenue/Constitution Ave 
Pennsylvania Ave NW
Massachusetts Ave NE
Source: DDOT
Total miles

At a discussion of Vision Zero strategies this week, DDOT Director Jeff Marootian said the agency has moved ahead with projects that do not require additional study and is working to expedite them. With more people choosing to walk, bike and use scooters, he said, the city sees bike lanes as a valuable way to protect riders.

“All of our efforts need to be focused on ensuring that those modes of transportation have protections,” he said.

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Census data indicates that as many as 5 percent of residents commute to and from work on two wheels. DDOT says some neighborhoods, such as Logan Circle, Mount Pleasant and Capitol Hill, have bicycle commute shares that are much higher.

That is why for advocates, six years seems a long time to get the infrastructure in place, especially if a number of the projects are underway. Many projects are viewed as critical to creating a comprehensive network of bike lanes to provide riders with a safe place to ride separated from cars.

“A lot of these projects should have been done years ago,” Gardner said. “We have been fighting for those for a very long time.”