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A biker pedaling south on 15th Street’s contraflow bike lane

Adrian Deveny left his office at the U.S. Department of Energy in Southwest D.C. one night two weeks ago and decided to take a slightly different route home. Normally, he bikes up 16th Street toward his house in Mount Pleasant, but he wanted to check out Washington’s brand new contraflow bike lane.

The much ballyhooed path has replaced the normal parking lane on the west side of 15th Street NW, between Massachusetts Avenue and U Street. Cars now park one lane over, creating a protective buffer for bikers pedaling southbound against the street’s normal one-way northbound traffic. Similar lanes have long existed in Montreal and Copenhagen and are starting to pop up in places like New York City and Portland.

An urban biker for at least five years, Deveny never made it over to the protected lane. He was journeying up 15th in a lane shared by vehicles and cyclists when he was hit by a car. Deveny, 27, is not entirely sure what happened. He thinks he was bumped from behind, but when he landed the car was in front of him.

Needless to say, efforts to make the city a friendlier—and safer—place to cycle have a way to go. And Deveny’s not the only one who knows that. The whole point of putting in a fancy, new $100,000 bike lane is to make the entire road safer for cyclists.

The 15th Street contraflow lane is considered a pilot project. But plans are already under way to create more such protected paths throughout the city.

“We want to see how it works. We know it’s not perfect. There are things we can probably tweak,” says John Lisle, spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Transportation.

One problem has already been noted: Although the contraflow lane is meant for southbound bikers going against the flow of traffic, “it’s obvious people will use this lane in both directions,” says Lisle.

For the next project, “we’re talking about a protective lane on both sides,” says Lisle.

The department is already eyeing two other corridors for expansion. One would be on M Street, near Nationals Park, in Southeast and Southwest. The other would either be on L Street or M Street downtown.

“We’re hoping to roll out several in the spring,” says Jim Sebastian, a transportation planner with DDOT.

Before the new protected lane was installed, DDOT employees stood on 15th Street and counted bikers, taking note of whether they were going in the right direction and watching for other general patterns of behavior. They intend to do the same analysis again before any new lanes are completed.

That sounds good to Deveny, who scraped up his legs and says his hip continues to hurt.

“Bike lanes are also deceptively dangerous,” he says. Unless they’re physically separate, “people treat them as shoulders.”

Deveny’s bike is pretty mangled. But he intends to return to cycling around the city once he replaces it. “It’s a great city to bike in, generally,” he says.

This story will be published in this week’s issue of the Washington City Paper. It includes information published in an earlier blog post on the contraflow bike lane.

Image from the District Department of Transportation facebook page