Building Better, Best or Just Something for Cycling in DC?

Last week (when we actually saw the sun) I decided to participate in a Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) hosted bike ride entitled “Building Better Biking in DC”. This ride, the first hosted by CSG, was intended as an introduction to DC’s bicycle infrastructure and its history from people such as Stephen Mark, owner of Bike N’ Roll, and Phil Koopman, owner of Bicycle Space. Participating in the ride was a group of riders of varying experience and skill levels.

We began near Bike N’ Roll at 11th St NW and Pennsylvania Avenue. Due to an existing event, we weren’t able to ride down the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. Instead, we reached the 15th Street cycletrack via E Street. Our group of riders stopped at the White House to hear Randall Myers, a member of the WABA Board of Directors, discuss legislative priorities surrounding cycling in DC.

Randall Myers, WABA Board of Directors, talks about various issues WABA has been working on in front of the White House

Randall Myers, WABA Board of Directors, talks about various issues WABA has been working on in front of the White House

The ride left the White House northward along the 15th Street cycletrack en route to L Street. At L Street, Jim Sebastian, DDOT Bicycle Program Coordinator, explained the design features of DC’s newest cycletrack. Depending on who you talk within the DC cycling community, the L Street cycletrack is either loved or hated. Sebastian admitted that the cycletrack has been a learning experience for DDOT, which has encountered some design and enforcement problems. Sebastian also encouraged cyclists to support local businesses along the cycletrack in order to show the economic benefits of cycling infrastructure throughout the community.

We proceeded to our next stop along the 15th Street cycletrack, a row of three cars illegally parked in the cycletrack. After being forced into the vehicle lanes, we turned eastward down the bike lane on Q Street. Q Street is, however, one of my favorite streets to ride down. The heavily tree-lined street and its compact scale makes cycling on Q Street a wonderful experience. Q Street is also a single lane one-way street with low traffic volumes, making cycling that much better. This segment was the longest continuous section of the ride and was the most enjoyable.

We meandered northward a little, reaching R St NW in order to intersect the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT). The group stopped at the MBT to allow Jim Sebastian to discuss how the trail was created and the current activity to expand it to Takoma Park.

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Jim Sebastian, DDOT, explains to rides the history of the Metropolitan Branch Trail at the R Street intersection

Our final segment took us down the MBT to the Capital Bikeshare station on the east side of Union Station. Eric Gilliland, Capital Bikeshare Director, told us how Capital Bikeshare has transformed the way cycling is done in DC and the transportation opportunities it has created. Jim Sebastian dovetailed this discussion by talking about the Bikestation on the west side of Union Station. Bikestation provides 24/7 fully-secured indoor parking for members. This allows members to safely and securely park their bikes for as long as desired, and also provides lockers and changing areas for commuters.

Bikestation at Union Station

Bikestation at Union Station. Photo by DC Government

After the final presentation, the ride finished. Mr. Gilliland stayed behind, however, to help a few Capital Bikeshare users having trouble using the station. I was hugely impressed with his commitment and willingness to help his customers. Kudos to you Eric!!!!!!

Are We Really Building Better Cycling Infrastructure?

While I really enjoyed the speakers and the communal aspect of this ride. I couldn’t help but notice the discrepancy between the title of this ride and the actual discussion, at least in terms of DDOT. It always seems like the next cycle track or bike lane will be the best and safest piece of cycling infrastructure in DC until it isn’t. Then, the next one will be perfect. When will be actually get this right?

Have you ever noticed not a single piece of cycling infrastructure in DC couldn’t be ripped out within an hour with a pickup truck and a street grinder to remove the stripping? It almost seems like DC’s government is waiting for this cycling fad to pass so they can easily remove the infrastructure at will. Is it possible our cycling is not as safe or comfortable as it could be because a little paint and flex posts do not make good infrastructure? Where is the grade separated cycle track? Where is the continuously separated cycle track using a concrete curb or, better yet, greenspace?

This is building better cycling infrastructure

This is building better cycling infrastructure

Many other cities are continuing to innovate their cycling infrastructure, with safer and better designs–while DC, at least in terms of design, seems to have stopped progressing. DC considers different stripping designs innovative.

Another key to building better cycling infrastructure is traffic enforcement. DC has been lagging in terms of traffic enforcement for many years– unfortunately, a speed or red light camera will not ticket someone parking in a bike lane. Tiny cities in middle America do a much better job at this than DC. It is sometimes frustrating to watch MPD simply not express concern about traffic safety. Since drivers have frequently demonstrated a willingness to park and drive down DC’s current cycletrack designs, it makes creating well-designed cycling infrastructure much more important. Recently, DDOT’s own employees were documented on video parking in the L Street cycle track in order to get ice cream while on job. So, where does that leave us? To take a quote from the Aaron Sorkin show, The West Wing: “Not the worst, not the best, just what we’re stuck with.” (describing Bingo Bob)


I want to thank the Coalition for Smarter Growth for organizing this ride and the guest speakers who took time out of their Saturday to attend. It was very nice to put a face to the names of fellow Twitter followers and friends. It was also interesting to listen to the speakers’ perspective on DC cycling and where it came from. I was just disappointed, however, to discover the educational content didn’t really match the advertised title. I don’t think I came away with how DC is going to build better cycling in DC–though as this post indicates, it did generate a great deal of thought. I did come away with a nice bike ride on a beautiful day, which can never be taken for granted.