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To hear the District’s biggest bike boosters tell it, cycling is on the right track—and four-wheeled road users are going to have to share a lot more of it soon.
Here’s the background: infrastructure tailored specifically for cyclists has grown exponentially since 2001, when then-Mayor Anthony Williams set out to make D.C. a bike-friendly city. The District Department of Transportation has installed at least 100 bike racks per year, launched a robust (and perhaps even too popular) bikesharing program, and laid down over 50 miles of bike lanes—some of which, on 15th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, are even physically separated from traffic by bollards or parked cars. The bicycle retail industry in D.C. is worth about $24 million dollars. While that’s not a big chunk of D.C.’s economy, it’s a handful of very healthy bike shops.
At a panel discussion at the National Building Museum last night, “Build It and They Will Ride,” the three speakers—DDOT bike program coordinator Jim Sebastian, Toole Design Group principal Jennifer Toole, and Washington Area Bicycling Association director Shane Farthing—extolled all of the above, and presented a few grand plans for the future: Bike boulevards (where roads allow cars, but are optimized for cyclists); more lanes physically separated by bollards or parked cars; more bike parking à la the Union Station bike station; the connection of the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Silver Spring; and the expansion of Capital Bikeshare.
All of these things—especially physically separated lanes—are much more intrusive to drivers than what’s been done in the past. Toole repeatedly emphasized that the city had exhausted its “low hanging fruit,” saying that nearly all the streets that could be put on “road diets” with the addition of a painted bike lane now have a lane. The next step for safe, dedicated bicycle infrastructure in D.C. will be more intrusive than simply throwing down some paint.
Riding a bike as transportation might continue to seem ridiculous to some, no matter how many more miles of lanes are laid down. But with gas exceeding $4 a gallon, considering the two-wheeled alternative isn’t so silly, insist last night’s panelists. “We’re right on the cusp of where people who wouldn’t bike… will consider it,” said Toole.