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More people than ever are biking in D.C. As many as five percent of D.C. residents commute to work on bikes, which is tens of thousands of people. But while D.C. often makes an appearance on lists of the best U.S. biking cities, it can’t compete outside of the country.
More than half of Copenhageners bike to school or work. Vancouver’s transportation decisions are not allowed to negatively affect pedestrians and cyclists. Their needs are weighed above those of private vehicles. Both Copenhagen and Vancouver also have extensive cycling infrastructure.
In 2015, Mayor Muriel Bowser committed the city to Vision Zero, an international campaign to end pedestrian and cyclist traffic deaths by 2024. But despite that commitment, deaths of people on foot and on bikes in the District have increased in recent years.
But 2020 looks like it might be a turning point for bike safety. 2019 saw fewer fatalities and more options—5,000 e-bikes in addition to 4,300 Capital Bikeshare bikes at 500 stations. After years of mixed results and slow starts, Mayor Bowser may finally be focusing on bikes, the D.C. Council has taken up the cause with multiple bills, advocates have ramped up their organizing, and the District Department of Transportation is eager to innovate and experiment.
Real, substantive change is by no means guaranteed, but DDOT’s own targets are a great example of the shift. D.C. has 89 miles of painted lanes and 11.5 miles of protected routes like the one running through the center of Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Protected bike lanes aren’t just convenient; they’re safer than unprotected lanes. DDOT plans to build 20 more miles of protected lanes between now and the end of 2022. This isn’t as much as the Washington Area Bicyclist Association has asked for, but it is twice as many miles as DDOT had previously planned, in half the time.
“We feel the sense of urgency to deploy safety infrastructure across the District,” says Jeff Marootian, director of DDOT.
These numbers tell a story, but I think that this moment in biking would be best suited to my preferred medium—comics. Biking in D.C. has created a lot of anger and fear, but also joy. I want to draw that. In words and pictures, I’ll show you the bike lanes, the bollards, and the pneumatic road tubes, but I’ll also bring you to the places where D.C. residents have died. So come along with me and let’s see where this cycle track leads us.