Proposed mixing zone design.
A possible warning sign.
It’s very exciting that DDOT is advancing the L Street cycle track. When complete, it will be by far the best way to bike from west to east through downtown DC.
Unfortunately, the design of the cycle track doesn’t completely separate bicyclists from cars, which is usually the main point of cycle tracks. DDOT is concerned about narrowing L Street too much, and about potential left-hooks. So the design of the cycle track calls for cars planning to turn left onto cross streets to cross over the cycle track, and then turn left from a turn lane located between the curb and the cycle track.
Although it’s unfortunate that this design doesn’t eliminate mixing, it’s probably a good experiment. Cycle track design is still an evolving field in the United States, so it makes sense to try different techniques. If this doesn’t work, DDOT can theoretically go back in a few years and fix it. Meanwhile, we’re getting at least a pretty good solution right away.
But since the point of cycle tracks is to separate bike and car traffic from each other, and since this plan doesn’t fully accomplish that, DDOT will need to be serious about its signage and pavement markings. To make this work, they must do everything possible to send an un-missable message to car drivers that they should expect to encounter and yield to bicyclists on L Street.
One good thing they are doing is painting part of the bike lane green. That’s a good way to increase visibility and remind drivers to watch for cyclists. However, they aren’t going to paint the most crucial mixing area – where cars cross over the bike lane. That omission should be addressed. DDOT should modify their plans to include green paint in the cross-over area.
Finally, there will need to be excellent, colorful, signage warning drivers. The standard federal sign instructing turning drivers to yield to bikes isn’t adequate for a cycle track situation, where full separation is expected. Other options, such as this or the one pictured at right, should be considered.
DDOT should be commended for innovating a workable solution to a difficult context, but if complete separation isn’t possible then they should do everything they can to make sure drivers know they are crossing over a major bike facility. The mixing zone should be painted green, and colorful signs should be installed.