An eight-year conflict has engulfed a narrow slice of Woodley Park, pitting residents against bicyclists in the Northwest neighborhood — and their struggle reflects similar tensions in other parts of the District.
Call it the battle of the bike lanes.
The Duke Ellington Bridge, also known as the Calvert Street Bridge, spans Rock Creek and connects 18th Street in Adams Morgan to Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park.
“Connecticut Avenue is not safe for us, and it’s not safe for pedestrians,” said Steven Seelig, a member of the nonprofit Ward 3 Bicycle Advocates. “I want a bicycle network that a 10-year-old can use. This is the last stop towards the Calvert Street Bridge, and it’s essential for that mode of travel.”
Since 2011, the bicycling advocates have called for installing bike lanes along Woodley Place, a residential road that runs parallel to Connecticut Avenue.
But Bobbie Carroll and other residents say that adding bike lanes would not be safer because Woodley Place already is a narrow street.
“The bike wants to do what the car was doing, zip through two blocks without having to go on Connecticut. The problem is that the streets are too narrow, especially at night,” Ms. Carroll said.
A key reason for the conflict lies in the District’s outlying areas, said Colin Browne of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, a nonprofit not affiliated with Ward 3 Bicycle Advocates.
Mr. Browne said those areas “are based a bit more suburban and people are more car-dependent in those places, so when you talk about reallocating public space to make space dependent in those places, you see a lot of opposition.”
Nonetheless, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Vision Zero initiative, which aims to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety throughout the city, has given the green light to creating bike lanes along Woodley Place.
But after the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) issued its notice of intent for Woodley Place, a conflict erupted that both sides later described as hostile.
Lee Brian Reba, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for Ward 3C01, said residents don’t object to safety measures but have expressed doubts about the bike lane plan.
“The bike advocates have painted us as NIMBYs,” said Mr. Reba, using the acronym for “not in my back yard.” “As a commissioner and District resident and cyclist, it’s my duty to exercise skepticism when it comes to vehicular, cycling and pedestrian safety. There have been too many incidents on Woodley Place not to have caution.”
To prove his point, he recently led three DDOT officials on a walk-through of the neighborhood and pointed out cars making three-point turns in the intersection. Mr. Reba said the area’s infrastructure should be repaired before officials even think about installing bike lanes.
Residents also objected to a lack of information from DDOT about what infrastructure problems the bike lanes would correct and examples of how bike lanes have eased traffic elsewhere. They said there isn’t enough space on Woodley Place to accommodate everyone.
“We fear this would be a slippery slope toward ultimately losing the parking,” said the Rev. Jadon Hartsuff of All Souls Episcopal Church on nearby Cathedral Avenue. “This is worrisome for us because we truly rely on the street parking in a neighborhood that is already overwhelmed by weekend [National] Zoo visitors.”
Despite residents’ concerns, the Ward 3C ANC failed to prevent the bike lanes from being built.
The District has built about 80 miles of bike lanes since 2000 and plans to install over 130 more miles of lanes by 2040.
With officials ready to build four miles of bike lanes and planning, designing or seeking public input on 18 more miles, conflicts between bicyclists and residents are likely to grow.
Additionally, the number of bicyclists in the District has tripled since 2005, which increases the likelihood of accidents if the bike lanes are not protected.
“As we continue to build out the network, the problem gets a little harder, and oftentimes the problem requires changes to parking and changes to travel lanes, and we work through those,” said Jim Sebastian, associate director of planning and sustainability at DDOT. “There’s always going to be disagreement about improving or changes to the neighborhoods. Our goal is to get in early and often to try to explain the goal to the city and increase access in all modes.”
“All we want is for safe infrastructure,” said Brett Young, a member of Ward 3 Bicycle Advocates. “If a car hits you at 40 mph, you have a 50/50 chance of being dead. If a bike hits you, you get a bruise.”
DDOT spokeswoman Lauren Stephens said the number of serious injuries to cyclists has been trending downward since the start of 2017 but cycling deaths have increased slightly. From January 2017 to June 10, six bicycling deaths have been recorded in the District.
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