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Protected Bike Lanes Planned for Louisiana Avenue near U.S. Capitol, Congress Won't Permit It

Protected Bike Lanes Planned for Louisiana Avenue near U.S. Capitol, Congress Won't Permit It
By Gordon Chaffin • Issue #136 • View online

This article was first published on October 26, 2018 at now-defunct news organization DC Commute Times.
DDOT plans to add bike lanes to Louisiana Avenue, connecting the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack with the Metropolitan Branch Trail. (Photo by Gordon Chaffin)
DC’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) presented initial designs this week for bike lanes along Louisana Avenue likely to open in 2020 [edit from 2021: “lol”]. The new facility, connecting the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack with the Metropolitan Branch Trail, was discussed at a panel convened by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). Panelists included project stakeholders: Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a representative from Ward 6C’s Parks and Events Committee. Speakers and bike commuters were excited about the project, but both groups heavily criticized Capitol officials who stand in the way of improvements to the project near Union Station.
Louisiana Ave Bike Lanes Panel 10.25.18
Louisiana Ave Bike Lanes Panel 10.25.18
DDOT Connecting Pennsylvania Avenue Cycletrack with Metropolitan Branch Trail
Sam Zimbabwe, Chief Project Delivery Officer at DDOT, explained how the agency planned to connect the two-way, median-located cycletrack along Pennsylvania Avenue NW with the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The former comes to an abrupt dead-end at 3rd Street NW, and the latter doesn’t begin until you get up to Union Station. The additions will direct cyclists onto Constitution Avenue NW then veer onto Louisana Avenue. Plans are TBD for what happens when cyclists get to the end of Louisana Avenue at Columbus Circle.
DDOT included four alternative designs for the bike lanes. All three of the on-street options included protection from car travel lanes and the fourth choice, an off-street pathway, wasn’t discussed at length. Zimbabwe pointed out that traffic on Louisiana Avenue is low for the width of the road: 76 feet curb-to-curb with two travel lanes and a parking lane each way, plus a center turn lane. DDOT is considering designs to maximize connectivity to the bike network, safety, consistency, traffic impacts, loss of parking, impact on bus operations, and security needs for the Capitol complex.
DDOT’s Preferred Design is a Median Cycletrack
DDOT prefers to install a two-way cycletrack to replace Louisiana Avenue’s left-hand turning lane. Putting protected bike lanes in the center of the road presents the fewest conflicts with car traffic, endangers the least amount of parking, doesn’t affect bus operations, and connects well with the similarly designed Pennsylvania Avenue NW cycletrack. The preferred design mitigates turning cars at intersections and may include new signals with bike-specific phases. DDOT analysis predicts little to no delays for car traffic after adding the bike facilities.
Architect of the Capitol and Senate Sargent of Arms No-Shows At Hearing
The biggest boogiemen delaying this project appear to be the Architect of the Capitol (AoC) and the Senate Sargent at Arms. Both officials have stake and jurisdiction over the parking along Louisana closest to Union Station. Both declined last-minute to attend the hearing and did not send staff to take notes and report back.
Congresswoman Norton began the hearing by reading a letter from AoC that talked of “beginning a process of public engagement.” AoC’s tone frustrated Norton, as well as Councilmember Allen and audience members, who have been doing public outreach and organizing this project for several years. The message from Norton and Allen was “We’ve talked enough, let’s build the damn thing already.”
Hill Staffer Parking In the Way of Dramatic Changes
In the current preferred plan, DDOT plans to leave unchanged the block of Louisana Avenue closest to Union Station. Currently, cyclists heading Northeast have to blend into traffic as the road narrows to one travel lane each way with diagonal parking spaces in the median and curbside. DDOT intends to paint sharrows on the road, codifying the de facto current use.
Parking provided to Capitol Hill staffers in the diagonal spots on Louisana appear to block changes. There are approximately 110 parking spots on that stretch with about 40 in the median. It would seem reasonable for Hill officials to give up those 40 spots and alow the median cycletrack to go all the way up to the Circle. But, it didn’t appear that formal discussions were underway between Norton, WABA, DDOT, and the Hill folks.
DDOT Must Figure Out How to Make Columbus Circle Bike-Friendly
Another question mark at this point in the design process is the path around Columbus Circle to the start of the Metropolitan Branch Trail on 1st Street NE to the West of Union Station.
Right now, curbside unprotected bike lanes follow Massachusetts Avenue around Columbus Circle. The lanes are hard to see and very seldom used by visitors, recreational riders, or even bike commuters who roll through there twice a day. With multiple crosswalks and heavy pedestrian traffic, cyclists end up riding on the sidewalks just as much as in the road to get around the Circle and connect with Louisiana Avenue.
One audience member suggested routing the cycletrack onto North Capitol Street before making a right onto E Street NE toward Union Station. That may help solve the Columbus Circle circumnavigation challenge as well as the Hill parking blockade. E Street approaches Union Station at an angle almost parallel with 1st Street NE and the MBT. With signaling changes, cyclists would have to veer maybe 30 degrees when getting onto and off of the MBT.
DDOT could re-paint and protect the bike lanes that already exist around Columbus Circle. Zimbabwe said protected bike lanes were recently installed around Grant and Sherman Circles in Petworth. He said they’re working well. But, DC bike commuters disagreed with that online and one cyclist in attendance held back laughter.
DDOT Still in Initial Design Phases and Project Will Probably Finish in 2020
According to Garrett Hennigan, event panelist and WABA Community Organizer, DDOT’s designs for Louisiana Avenue bike lanes are probably 30% completed. They’ve laid out alternatives with a trade-off analysis and will pick a specific option before hammering out details like materials choice for lane protection. There’s the whole matter of Columbus Circle, and Capitol officials can delay the effort for months to years.
The project is likely to go out for procurement in 2019 and complete in 2020, according to Hennigan. That’s something for cyclists to look forward to and fight for, but even with protected bike lanes, there are still problems protecting and enforcing safety for non-car road users.
Review DDOT’s Designs for Louisiana Avenue Bike Lanes
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Gordon Chaffin

This is Gordon Chaffin's newsletter. By day, he's a local journalist and current events storyteller living in Washington, DC. The goal: produce writing and multimedia -- civic participation resources -- that include, inform, and equip stakeholders with the least power to improve their community. On evenings and weekends, Gordon is a freelance audio/video producer and photographer. Topics of interest: transportation -- especially non-car transit -- plus housing, environmental justice, social and gender policies like family-medical leave, and education -- especially early childhood. Please send news tips to gordon[AT]streetsensemedia[DOT]org and freelance job inquiries to gordonchaffin[AT]gmail[DOT]com.

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