by Josh Rising and Paul DeMaio
Everyone should be able to get around his or her neighborhood and city safely and easily, whether that be by foot, bicycle or car. Unfortunately, for many Ward 3 residents, setting out on a bike can be too daunting given the lack of bike lanes throughout this part of Washington, DC. That’s why Ward 3 residents founded Ward 3 Bicycle Advocates (W3BA) to push the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and city leaders to remedy the situation. Our goal is for Ward 3 residents to feel like the roads are safe enough for them to bike to work, school and local shops.
One such opportunity existed on Reno Road. In its previous incarnation, Reno was extremely inhospitable to bikers, with narrow sidewalks, fast-moving traffic and hilly terrain. However, in the section of Reno between Rodman and Van Ness Streets, the road was wide enough to support narrowing the traffic lanes and installing a bike lane on sections where bikes would be going uphill. W3BA strongly supported the installation of these lanes.
No change happens easily, and some residents were concerned that changing the traffic patterns on Reno Road could make turns off of the road more difficult. ANC 3F Chair David Dickinson held many meetings with concerned residents with DDOT present, to hear the neighborhood’s thoughts about DDOT’s bike lane design proposal and determine whether to support DDOT’s proposal. W3BA was vocal about this matter at the community meetings, from both within and outside of ANC 3F. Ultimately, the ANC determined DDOT’s proposal was to be supported.
In early July, DDOT installed the bike lanes on the southern section (Rodman to Tilden), and it plans to extend the lanes to Van Ness Street by later this summer [Ed. note: The work has been completed.]. These are the first new bike lanes in Ward 3 in years. These lanes provide additional benefit for cyclists by connecting to the existing bike lanes on Tilden.
Given that Reno was not wide enough to install a bike lane in both directions, DDOT instead used a combination of approaches. First, where the traffic is moving uphill (and thus bikes are moving more slowly), DDOT installed a bike lane for the cyclists to use. Because there are uphill sections in both the northbound and southbound directions, the bike lane shifts from one side of the road to the other. On downhill stretches (where there is no bike lane), DDOT has painted a “sharrow” on the road, indicating to both cyclists and drivers that cyclists should share the traffic lane.
Reno Road will undoubtedly remain a daunting place to bicycle for many people, but the new lanes are already being used. According to W3BA member and Cleveland Park resident Matt Caywood, “I’ve been using them northbound almost daily to take my daughter to school, and they are making a big difference to our feeling of safety on a stretch of Reno with un-bikeably narrow sidewalks.”
Although this new bike lane is a step forward, it is important to recognize that installing a lane on these four blocks of Reno only occurred after years of study and hard work by DDOT, W3BA and Commissioner Dickinson, in large part to address a variety of local concerns. Larger changes, such as a potential protected bicycle lane (i.e. bike lane separated from motor vehicles by a buffer and delineators) on Connecticut Avenue, will face even greater opposition. Your support and encouragement will be needed.
Installing more bike lanes and making it safer to bike has many benefits. These improvements generally slow speeding by automobile drivers, which reduces the chance of serious injury to pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists, and is consistent with the city’s Vision Zero goal of having zero traffic deaths. Installing bike lanes also encourages people on bikes to get off the sidewalk, thus reducing conflicts with pedestrians. Research has shown that people who cycle past local shops are more likely to stop and patronize them than are people who drive past. And, of course, there are numerous environmental and health benefits to bicycling.
Although biking in Ward 3 can be challenging due to the number of hills in this part of the city, new electric bikes will enable people to bike who previously wouldn’t consider it. People could either purchase these bikes, use dockless e-bikes currently appearing in the city, or rely on electric bikes from Capital Bikeshare (which are rumored to return in a greater quantity later this year).
To make it easier to bike throughout Ward 3, we will need to think big and not be afraid to change how we currently use roads. That’s why we support the installation of a protected bike lane on Connecticut Avenue. All three Advisory Neighborhood Commissions along Connecticut Avenue have asked DDOT to study the issue and DDOT intends to issue proposals next year for how this could be accomplished. Other transformative proposals include the proposed Palisades Trolley Trail, a protected bike lane on Military Road over Rock Creek Park, and an off-street bike trail on Massachusetts Avenue. A climbing lane on Broad Branch out of Rock Creek Park would make cycling there much more feasible as well. Washington DC’s MoveDC plan lays out a comprehensive vision for what a cycling network in DC could look like.
We encourage you to join the W3BA listserv, where you will get updates on bicycling throughout Ward 3, by sending a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also email us at email@example.com or follow us on Twitter at @Ward3Bikes.
The next chance to get involved is coming up soon. As part of the Rock Creek Far West Livability Study, DDOT is proposing improvements such as protected bike lanes on Loughboro, Arizona and Dalecarlia. Join our listserv and we’ll make sure you know when and where you can voice your support.
About the writers: Josh Rising (left) and Paul DeMaio (right) are founding members of the Ward 3 Bicycle Advocates (W3BA). Josh lives near Chevy Chase Circle; his daily bicycle commute takes him up and down Connecticut Avenue. Paul is a 20-year DC resident and lives in North Cleveland Park where he now laughs at the same hills that he used to cry about, thanks to his e-bike.