The District is pledging to create 10 miles of protected bike lanes this year — the most to be built in a single year since the city began building its network of 24 existing miles.
“It’ll be a remarkable system,” said George Branyan, manager of active transportation at DDOT, who noted that seven years ago there were six miles of protected bike lanes in the city. “We’ve come a long way, and we have a long way go.”
Building bike infrastructure has been challenging for the District, where space is tight on many roadways and replacing parking or general traffic lanes has not been an easy sell. Some advocates have complained that the city has moved too slowly toward reaching its goals.
City transportation officials say the goals are not only ambitious but also unprecedented. The District has about 22 miles of protected bike lanes in planning and design stages, targeted for construction this year, though officials said it is unlikely the city will have capacity to build all of them within the calendar year. In the previous two years, the city added 13 miles of protected bike lanes, while advancing bike lane projects along 3.7 miles of Connecticut Avenue NW and 1.6 miles of Ninth Street NW.
Protected bike lanes have some type of buffer between the bike lane and general traffic lanes. Most of the city’s 100 miles of bike lanes are divided only by paint on the asphalt.
Branyan spoke to The Washington Post about projects planned for 2022 and the city’s strategies to make biking a safer, more accessible and more appealing option for city residents and visitors. This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.
Q: Before the pandemic, about 5 percent of D.C. commutes were on bikes. How did the pandemic change bike travel in the city?
A: There was a definite shift in patterns where we had not nearly as much of the commute-to-work peaks in the morning and the evening. But there were a lot of people who were biking at other times of day and on the weekends. A lot of people use the bike lanes just spread out over more time, and we also saw increases in trail use. We were, until omicron, getting a bit more in the way of the commuter peak, but that took a setback. As we sort of come out of the omicron surge, I think people will start going back to the office, so we’ll see a few more people biking.
Q: In 2019, DDOT announced a plan to build 20 miles of new, protected bike lanes by the end of 2022. What is the progress on that promise?
A: When it was first announced in 2019, our eyes got big at the bike program. We thought that was a pretty ambitious goal. But we built two miles in 2019. In 2020, we built 4.2 miles. In 2021, we had a big year, we did 7.5 miles. We will certainly be able to install the remaining 6.3 miles this year — we’re going to install at least 10 miles. That’s our goal for the year.
Q: What are some of the upcoming projects?
A: On Pennsylvania Avenue SE, from Second to 13th Street SE, [we are building] a protected bike lane and a rush-hour priority bus lane. That will be constructed later this year. C Street NE is a major reconstruction project that is under construction right now, from the Fields at RFK to Lincoln Park on North Carolina Avenue. We’re totally rebuilding new curves and creating a protected bike lane. We’ve had a standard bike lane on C Street for years, but it’s a really wide, fast road, with [an] excessive number of lanes for the amount of cars using it, which means cars speed. We did the traffic analysis and found that we can remove one of the travel lanes in the westbound direction and use that space to create really good quality protected bike lanes and still reasonably accommodate rush-hour traffic. One key project that we are moving forward with is Tunlaw [Road] and New Mexico [Avenue]. That’s going to be about a mile, from Calvert Street over at Glover Park up to Nebraska Avenue.
Q: What is the progress on the Connecticut Avenue bike lanes?
A: We are hoping to begin the design this year and complete the design next year. It’s a long corridor. It probably will be the longest protected bike lane by some measure in the District. The construction will be sometime in spring of 2024 into spring of 2025.
Q: Are there investments in bike infrastructure east of the Anacostia River?
A: We are putting a lot of investment into several trail projects east of the river. We just finished the new Malcolm X Trail that runs along the east side of 295 from Firth Sterling Avenue, right over the new South Capitol Street Bridge, all the way down to [Martin Luther King Jr.] Avenue SE. It’s a beautiful new trail. On the other side of I-295, the South Capitol Street Trail is almost fully designed. We’re looking to advertise for construction this year and hopefully build it next year. That’s over three miles of trails that start right where the new trail piece from the Frederick Douglass Bridge stops and goes all the way down to Blue Plains, at the edge of the District. It will connect with a trail that Maryland is working on … and essentially [people will be able to] ride all the way down to National Harbor. East Capitol Street is in design, and it will have bike lanes. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do protected bike lanes on East Capitol Street and we have gotten a lot of criticism for that, but we would have had to widen the street to do that.
Q: Last year, the District approved a $19 million, six-year plan to add more Capital Bikeshare stations and electric bikes. What is the most immediate plan of expansion?
A: The big investment in the 2022 budget is to add 20 new stations this year, and we’re replacing 80 old stations at the same time. One of the main objectives of this [investment] is that it’ll help us achieve our geographic equity goals while maintaining a state of good repair of those stations that have been on the street for over 10 years.
Q: Plans also called for a sizable investment on electric bikes, right?
A: This is an exciting part of the program because e-bikes have just taken off all over in the U.S. and overseas as the technology gets better and cheaper. Right now, we have 1,000 e-bikes in the bike-share system. The plan is to purchase 1,000 new e-bikes this year and 1,500 new e-bikes next year.
Q: Why is it important to grow the e-bike fleet?
A: Simply put, e-bikes are like a gateway to bicycling. For those people who are not used to riding or new to riding, an e-bike is extra fun. You still have to pedal but you get this really nice assist, especially on the hills. It opens up a lot more opportunities. We think it’s a great way to get more people on the street biking because one of the objectives of DDOT is to increase the share of trips by bike.
Q: What are those goals?
A: We have a sustainability goal in the Sustainable D.C. plan, by 2032, to try to get single-driver car trips down to 25 percent. Pre-covid, about 35 percent of commute trips were by car — driving alone, so that doesn’t include carpools. We want to bring that down to 25 percent … and to grow biking and walking trips up to 25 percent. Biking and walking have been at about 18 percent combined — about 5 percent biking and about 13 percent walking. The e-bike fits really well into that goal as a strategy to change to trip patterns.
Q: Besides bike lanes and bike-share, are there other innovative ideas the city is pursuing to lure more people into bikes?
A: We are trying to look at our protected bike lane network and trying to build it out and connect up existing bike lanes, because putting more high-quality and safe protected lanes near more people is going to give people a choice for their trip to take it by bike. And then, of course, the trails network is another piece. Probably within the next two weeks a new section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which goes from Brookland to Fort Totten, is going to open. That’s going to be a big deal. That’s a key route that we’re gradually building out, which will give a really nice, safe off-street facility for more people and more neighborhoods up through the northeast of the city.
Q: Bike parking has been an issue in recent years. Are there plans to add more bike racks?
A: We’re working to install at least 1,000 bike racks throughout all eight wards per year for the next three years. DDOT and its partners installed over 900 bike racks in the District in 2021, and over 160 bike racks have already been installed in 2022. And folks can always request the bike racks through 3-1-1, either online or on the phone. We’re going to install dozens more in-street bicycle and scooter corrals.