Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Test Ride: Pennsylvania Avenue Bike Lanes

Who in the world would ride a bike right down the middle of a busy city street with traffic on either side? 

 I would. I did.

I tested the just-finished Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. The paint was still being applied on some sections as I pedaled along. 

Check in at WTOP 103.5 FM and hear the stories running this morning and look for my web story on WTOP.COM. 
For details, a review and my initial audio impressions, read on.


As a cyclist, I found the lanes clearly marked and easy to follow. 

As a driver? I think I’d be wondering who’s got the right of way at each traffic light and I might resent the loss of a lane when trying to get from point A to point B in a hurry. It takes some getting used to. 

My colleague at  WTOP Mark Segraves pointed out some issues @ 4th Street and how some turning vehicles could be forced into a single left-hand lane at one point. On the bike, I tried to envision it, but think driving it could make the issue clearer.

Here's how my ride went: audio version


In the center of Pennsylvania Avenue, the bike lanes are smack-dab in the middle of the street from 15th Street NW to 3rd Street NW.

Cyclists simply go from the crosswalk to the center of the road where the lanes are. Generally cyclists have one lane in each direction, although there are ‘turn lanes’ for the cyclist. 
Drivers--you have one more element to watch for as you drive through town. Fresh incentive to ditch the cell phone and save the texting for another time.

Turning Left:
Cars trying to make left turns will find a cyclist on their left. At the intersection, there are two lights: one steady red for the cyclist who wants to continue going straight on Pennsylvania Avenue, and  one green arrow for the car to turn left. This is going to take awareness and cooperation on the part of both the cyclist and the driver. It's sort of the reverse right hook. (Right hook: that problem seen when  driver and bike sit side by side at intersection. Cyclist is closest to curb, vehicle is in right lane. Cyclist intends to go straight, vehicle plans to turn right...the right hook happens when both proceed without 'checking in' with each other either visually or by means of horn. Ouch!)

Bikes vs Cars?
Doesn’t have to come to this, but in my experience on Tuesday, sad to say, it was the cyclists who were either running red lights (two) heading the wrong way in the bike lane (two were riding head-on to me, despite having a lane in the correct direction all to themselves) or weaving in and out of traffic. Does this mean bikes don't belong on the roadway or don't deserve bike lanes? Of course not. Cyclists are not the only scofflaws on the road. While in the bike lanes, I watched as an FBI police vehicle pulled over a car whose driver ignored his siren and lights for  blocks…or maybe she was struggling to find a place to pull over: there were plenty of double-parked vehicles.

As a cyclist, I love having a bike lane. 
As a Washingtonian, I love being able to ride down Pennsylvania Avenue. Headed eastbound, it really is something to get that view of the Capitol. 
As a driver? I’d hope that cyclists stick to the bike lanes. Predictability is key on the roadway. It’s the unpredictable: the deer that comes out of nowhere, the driver that makes a sudden lane change without signaling, the pedestrian or cyclist that shoots out of a side street without looking, that can give you a scare. Or worse.

Bottom Line:
Jim Sebastian, with DDOT says the pilot project will last about a year. There will be analysis of safety, traffic flow and use. Last fall DDOT calculated that anywhere from 30-50 riders an hour used the lanes. NYC saw a 20% increase in use once bike lanes were established. Sebastian calls it the "build it and they will come" strategy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kate!
    Thank you for testing the new bike lanes and giving some tip, and thanks for reminding that us, bikers, need to respect the rules, just to make a point! We deserve respect from the cars, and it's a long way, so, let's show some respect to them! Congratulation for your blog!!