By Matt Koehler
Last month, The Southwester published a front page story about the planned protected bike lanes to be installed on I (Eye) Street SW, between South Capitol and 7th Street. I hadn’t heard of the proposal until reading the article, and generally I’m for it. The stretch of road between Delaware Avenue to South Capitol is a nightmare. It’s a sharrow – a particularly dangerous painted road feature that puts cyclists more at risk because drivers don’t behave any better simply due to painted lines. A protected bike lane there would be a good idea.
I am generally for protected bike lanes everywhere. Within any densely populated urban area, they make sense. After living in DC for nearly a decade, and seeing traffic congestion nightmares, I’ve become a convert to cycling. It’s more environmentally friendly, and, now with eBikes and dedicated lanes throughout the District, a quicker mode of transportation.
It’s also safer.
Like many cyclists, I have my own story of getting hit by an impatient and careless driver. Unlike many cyclists, though, I sustained only superficial injuries but still carry the persistent anxiety of getting hit any time I’m on the road. So the more protected lanes for cyclists, the better.
However, I don’t think putting a protected bike lane on Eye Street, particularly between 3rd and 7th Street, is the best solution. That stretch of road is more residential, including several churches and Amidon-Bowen Elementary School. The Fourth and Eye Street intersection is also a messy area for traffic, but a protected bike lane won’t eliminate or lower the danger, just change it.
Based on the newest design proposed by DDOT, there will be space for parking in front of Amidon, as well as a dedicated lane for drop off and pick up (the Westminster side will lose parking in favor of a protected bike lane). A dedicated lane for drop off and pick up is better than the original plan but doesn’t go far enough.
During an ANC meeting in mid March, DDOT Community Liaison Andrew DeFrank explained that even with adding a dedicated drop off and pick up lane, kids will still have to cross the new bike lane. DeFrank said they were considering raising the lane to the level of the sidewalk, like a speed bump, as well as adding signage, markings, and yield signs.
There are still several safety concerns that won’t be mitigated by these design features.
The main issue, as with the original design proposal, is kids getting in and out of cars. Even with a dedicated lane for this, kids will either be exiting the car in the street on the driver side or into the bike lane on the passenger side. DeFrank said the latter is common but recognizes the situation at a school is different. He also said that putting in a protected lane encourages more casual cyclists who will respect the lane and ride slower.
Perhaps, but it depends on who is using the bike lane. Even going slow, an adult cyclist can do a lot of damage to a small child, which, because Amidon-Bowen is an elementary school, there will be plenty of. And I know from personal experience as a cyclist, we don’t always slow down or see pedestrians.
A better design feature would be to raise the existing crosswalk between Westminster and the playground, and add in more speed bumps going towards 7th Street.
Another concern is that turning this section of Eye Street into a more widely used thoroughfare, with a highly sought after protected bike lane, will bring more and all types of cyclists, especially during the warmer months, game days, and big events either at The Wharf or in Navy Yard.
Will regulars and droves of tourists traveling between The Wharf and Navy Yard take into consideration this short section of road? Will they consider the neighborhood kids that frequent Amidon’s playground after school and on weekends? Will they respect the fact that this is a school and slow down?
We simply don’t know.
The ANC and The Southwester pointed out that other elementary schools don’t have protected bike lanes like what DDOT is proposing. Amidon would be the first, so the potential to get this wrong is high.
Furthermore, this is happening quickly and the community hasn’t yet been given time to consider the new changes and offer comment on it. According to DeFrank, DDOT is planning a summer-fall install, which he says would give the community time to consider it and comment.
Currently, DDOT has not offered a solid plan on what it is going to do, and that makes community members nervous. Parents and stakeholders can’t be expected to accept the plan without having a clear idea of what the plan is and time to comment on it.
Furthermore, there are several other construction projects slated to start soon that would force a deconstruction of the newly installed protected bike lane. Why not wait until after these projects are done?
The other thing is that Eye Street is not the main thoroughfare and adding in a protected bike lane could bring far more bicycle traffic and the potential risk to children.
I’ve made this argument before but DDOT really should be looking at a redesign of M Street, from 7th St. to 12th St., SE. Connect the protected bike lane at the Wharf to a new one on M Street. It’s a main thoroughfare and it’s over burdened with all kinds of traffic, especially on game days, during holidays, and other events. Pedestrians and cyclists often compete for sidewalk space. Imagine having a protected bike lane, instead of that pointless median, running down the center of M street. This would give drivers the road, cyclists a protected bike lane, and pedestrians the sidewalk. That’s a DDOT project I think everyone could get behind.