As cities across the country have moved to increase bicycle accessibility, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has set out to build an additional 20 miles of protected bike lanes in D.C. DDOT’s plan includes creating bike lanes near the national monuments, on Connecticut Avenue and near GDS in Tenleytown. The plan aims to increase safety, promote biking and pave the way to a carbon-neutral city.
However, DDOT’s proposals have been met with mixed reactions from residents, and as city council elections approach, candidates have been active in taking a stance for or against the proposed bike lanes.
Mayor Muriel Bowser and DDOT announced in 2021 a redesign of Connecticut Avenue, which runs through Northwest D.C. The plan would reduce the road to four traffic lanes from six and replace parking with one-way protected bike lanes.
Since the plan was announced, DDOT has conducted surveys of residents and research on traffic. According to a timeline presented at public meetings, DDOT is in the process of finalizing designs for Connecticut Avenue, and it plans to begin construction in 2025.
Matthew Frumin, the Democratic nominee for Ward 3 Council, said in an interview with the Bit that he believes protected bike lanes on Connecticut Avenue are “an important step” in making roads safer for cyclists.
In a DDOT study, the agency estimated reductions in peak hour crashes for each of its proposed safety measures, including removing parking and adding bike lanes and pedestrian islands. These estimates range from a 20 percent reduction in crashes with the removal of parking to a 36 percent reduction with the removal of reversible rush-hour lanes.
Some bike lane advocates believe that, as demand for bikes increases, new bike lanes will make way for an alternative to driving. Friendship Heights resident Andrew Rubin said that he is often hesitant about biking on roads without dedicated lanes. “If there was just a dedicated bike lane on Connecticut,” Rubin said, “I don’t see any reason why I would ever drive.”
Others, however, are concerned that the plan will make small businesses along Connecticut Avenue less accessible to their customers. Pete Gouskos, the owner of the Parthenon, a Greek restaurant in Chevy Chase, D.C., told the Bit that DDOT’s plan would result in less business for him and others. He added that the majority of his customers believe it would be “very difficult” for them to park near his restaurant. While Gouskos could see bike lanes “making sense downtown,” he believes that the plan for Connecticut Avenue is “unacceptable.”
Hawthorne resident Lee Mayer referred to DDOT’s projected 11-month time frame for the construction of the Connecticut Avenue bike lanes. “If that doesn’t kill businesses, the bike lanes will,” he said.
Rubin disputed the negative impact on businesses, saying that the changes, long-term, are “beneficial to everyone.” Wakefield resident Morgan Gopnik agreed and attributed opposition to “nervousness about change.”
Save Connecticut Avenue, an organization founded to advocate against D.C.’s bike plan for the roadway, has been particularly active in the bike lane debate. An online petition from the organization to “cancel the bike plan” has garnered over two thousand signatures. Activists from Save Connecticut Avenue have spoken with political candidates and DDOT, attending local meetings, to spread their message.
Thomas Marabello, a Save Connecticut Avenue member, said that he is concerned about delivery drivers; the Connecticut Avenue plan would remove at least 50 percent of current parking spaces. During the pandemic, Marabello worked as a DoorDash driver and said that it was difficult enough for him then to find places to stop for food. “With this plan, it would be pretty much impossible to pick up food on Connecticut Avenue or deliver it,” he said.
Mayer, also a supporter of Save Connecticut Avenue, worried that a bike lane on Connecticut would increase vehicular congestion on side streets and make them more dangerous.
DDOT anticipates that 50 to 170 vehicles will be diverted onto connecting roadways in peak hours, though it stated that such roads could handle the increased number of cars.
David Krucoff ’85, the Republican nominee for Ward 3 Council, said that the plan for Connecticut Avenue is “truly for the benefit of the few to the detriment of the many.”
Krucoff described DDOT’s approach as “indoctrination,” where the differing opinions of most stakeholders were absent from its conversations. “DDOT is looking at this as a fait accompli,” he said.
Bike lane activists are optimistic that DDOT’s block-by-block review of the plan and ongoing surveys of business owners will allow for compromise.
“Fundamentally, I want to make it work, but I also really want to be respectful of the concerns that people are raising,” Frumin said.
Mayer, Marabello and Krucoff agreed that they would be more supportive of bike lanes in different parts of the city.
Mayer said that he supports different safety measures being implemented on Connecticut Avenue, such as more traffic lights and the removal of reversible lanes. He also mentioned that he would like to see the government develop a “city-wide plan,” rather than “throwing up bike lanes left and right without any real plan to connect everything.”
DDOT’s initiative to add 20 miles of protected bike lanes to the city is a part of the larger Vision 0 effort announced by the mayor’s office. Vision 0 extends beyond D.C.; it is a global effort to improve traffic safety, and in many cities, including D.C., the goal is to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024.
The District is on track to reduce fatalities by 28 percent this year from last, and DDOT is confident that new measures will aid in protecting cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.
While Krucoff believes that Vision 0 is “utopian,” he named the Capital Crescent Trail and Pennsylvania Avenue as areas that he thinks are a “better fit” for bike lanes than Connecticut Avenue.
A survey conducted earlier this month by Ward 3 Bicycle Advocates (W3BA) indicated broad support for bike infrastructure. Among the surveyed candidates running for neighborhood advisory seats in Ward 3, 84 percent said that they would support the installation of protected bike lanes, even if it eliminated parking spaces.
W3BA founder Josh Rising, a GDS parent, noted the importance of identifying bike routes to connect neighborhoods. “What we really need is a network,” he said, to “convince people that they have a safe way to get from point A to point B.”
GDS junior Max Froomkin, who usually bikes to school from his house, said that he thinks “it’s good to have alternatives to cars wherever you go.” The more infrastructure, the better, he said.
Ultimately, Rising said that he supports D.C.’s bike initiatives, because they make it easier for people to walk and bike and are “pro-safety and pro-people.” These initiatives, a part of Vision 0, are “exactly the kind of thing that D.C. should be doing,” he added.