The 15th Street Bike Lane: Pros and Cons
Did you know that the Washington City Paper recently named the 15th Street Bike Lane (or “cycletrack,” as the City Paper said), the “Best Bike Lane of 2011?” I did not even knew this was a “Best of” category.
For those who may not have ridden it yet, the 15th Street Bike Lane is a two-lane bikeway that begins (from south to north) at Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th (of course!), takes the rider up to New York Avenue, through the White House Plaza, reconnects with 15th Street, and then continues north to Euclid Avenue.
Having ridden the 15th Street Bike Lane since it first came to be in December 2010, I have appreciated its existence, but note that it works better for me in some parts than others.
I see this bike lane as two distinct segments:
- The section from 15th and Pennsylvania north to the White House Plaza/New York Avenue; and
- The section north of the White House Plaza.
1. I think the bike lane segment that runs from Pennsylvania to New York Avenue (White House Plaza) is a big improvement in my commute experience, compared to taking the street.
As cyclists, we are now all routed along the west side of 15th street, which minimizes our exposure to vehicular traffic. Because the west side of 15th street is flanked by the ellipse and the White House, no traffic passes in front of us and no one can make a left turn across the bike lane (except for the minimal official traffic that comes and goes). We just have to mind the signals and be on the lookout for pedestrians.
Previously I took the street on this section and had to deal with fast-moving traffic, cars making left turns, and cars that wanted to quickly rush around me and then make a right turn right in front of me. That problem is now gone.
The only frustration I occasionally experience on this segment is that sometimes vehicles park in and block the bike lane. This doesn’t leave us with much recourse except to take the street into incoming traffic (not recommended) or walk the bike up onto the sidewalk. This was more of an issue when the lanes were initially added. Overall, this segment is a positive change for cyclists and people have been pretty good about not parking in the lane.
2. The 15th Street Bike Lane segment that runs north of the White House Plaza has proven problematic for me as a northbound cyclist (particularly K Street up). There is so much more that I have to be wary about when I’m on the left side of a busy four-lane road.
Cyclists have to be extremely mindful about people coming out of parking garages on the cyclists’ left. These drivers are often looking past the bike lane to the road to see what the cars are doing.
I also have to watch out for the possible left turns of northbound cars. These left turners are hard to see when I am more than two lanes away on the other side of the street going the same direction. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head.
I like the concept of contraflow and keeping cyclists all in one general area of the road. However, it actually seems safer to me to stay out of the designated bike lane on this segment and ride on 15th Street as a car would, especially since I eventually make a right turn off this stretch. This right turn out of the bike lane forces me to cross back over 15th Street. That is not a big deal, but it simplifies things to just ride on the right side of the road.
However, the down side of taking the street on this segment is that, while I may feel safer, I am loathe to court any “Get in the bike lane!” comments. What’s a person to do?
I think the 15th Street Bike Lane is a great solution if you are a southbound moving cyclist, but going north from K Street on it does not feel safe. However, I like that people in D.C. are working seriously to make this a bicycle-friendly city. I continue to be baffled by all the car traffic.
Have you ridden these lanes, and if so, what has your experience been?