For months, L Street has remained under construction, covered with dirt piles and barricades, much like a war-zone.
Finally, construction is over and silence has returned. But the battle continues – only now, it’s between cars and bikes.
The reason? A poorly designed, one-way bike path recently installed along the left hand side of the street.
The path has already drawn skepticism. The Washington Post on Nov. 9 included the headline, “Whose lane is it anyway?” That’s because the mixed-use lane allows cars to enter at parts, and because drivers turning left cross the path without stopping the bike lane’s traffic. The result is a dangerous traffic hazard and an invitation for accidents.
This city needs to make biking easier, and bike paths ought to service the many college campuses around the area, particularly GW. It is unconscionable that 23rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue do not have bike paths. These central arteries service a campus of nearly 20,000 students. Students certainly bike to school – try finding a Capital Bikeshare bike on campus in the evening.
The Hatchet reported last spring that plans are underway to build a new path through a redesigned Washington Circle. That’s an important step in increasing bikers’ ease of access to campus. But the new lane shouldn’t take cues from the L Street path. It needs to be safe, offset and well marked with traffic signals and signs.
L Street is a busy commercial center. Many students walk or bike down L Street to get to internships, to grab lunch downtown or to commute to GW. The poor design makes access to the area more complicated. After a bike trip downtown, returning to campus is made difficult by the one-way path.
The path, which begins at Pennsylvania and L streets and continues through the downtown area, passing by the 15th Street bike path, is a marvel of incompetent city planning. In the first few blocks, the path runs between parked vehicles and a narrow driving lane. At some points, cars can park right in the lane itself on weekends.
Starting at New Hampshire Avenue, the lane closes off, with white rods protruding awkwardly from the road’s service. Two mark the beginning of this closed portion, built so that cars cannot enter the path. These rods are not marked with orange reflecting material and are easy for unsuspecting drivers to miss at night.
This bike lane makes access more difficult. Along the stretch separated by these rods, 150 parking spots have been displaced, according to the Washington Examiner. Garbage collection and delivery to businesses is complicated, as the bike path separates the road from the curb.
To make matters worse, drivers turning left must actually enter the bike path. But that defeats the purpose. Cars cross the bikers’ lane, and then drive in it until they turn left. Mere white lines drawn in the ground – not physical barriers – keep these cars only inches from bikers.
These lanes need to be designed for bikers. They can’t be one-way. They can’t take over a lane once dedicated to drivers. They can’t give bikers a false sense of security while complicating traffic patterns.
Instead, they need to be physically offset from the road and given their own traffic lights. And they can’t just run in one direction. They need to be built throughout the city, especially on GW’s campus.
Planning traffic in this fast-moving city isn’t easy. Bike paths are key to any urban area, but before they come to GW, they need to be built with drivers and bikers in mind.
Alex Schneider is a first year student in the GW Law School.
This article appeared in the November 19, 2012 issue of the Hatchet.