DC Considers Changes to Planned Downtown Bike Lanes After CRE Pushback

DDOT is reassessing designs for K Street and Connecticut Avenue

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Several years worth of transit planning are now in flux, as Washington, D.C., rethinks several bike and bus projects planned for two Downtown thoroughfares.

For the last three years, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has held public meetings to overhaul K Street and Connecticut Avenue in two separate projects that would adjust bus lanes and bike lanes, with work expected to begin on both this summer.

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D.C. has budgeted $7.7 million for construction, and has already spent $1.5 million on planning over the past three years, according to DDOT. 

DDOTs original plan for K Street was to remove the street’s service lanes to make way for a mile-long transit way, with two dedicated bus lanes in the center, flanked by a bike lane on either side, one in each direction. That would leave two lanes for vehicular traffic in each direction and result in an estimated 7,500 bikes traveling alongside 1,600 cars per hour — almost five bikes to every car, according to DDOT.

However, many commercial real estate leaders have attended these public meetings, fought against the plan and pleaded with Mayor Muriel Bowser and her administration to change course, arguing that the bike lanes will further congest the area and make bringing people back to the office even more difficult. Many believe launching a major construction project in the heart of Downtown D.C. this year will also hurt attempts to bring customers back to retail businesses. 

Those arguments seem to have worked. The  latest public meeting in April saw new plans come to light. DDOT Director Everett Lott announced that the bike lane on L Street Northwest would be changed instead of the original plans for K Street, and there are ongoing talks with stakeholders about removing the bike lanes on K Street altogether to improve curbside access on the street. 

A DDOT spokesperson confirmed that the agency is working on new plans for K and L streets, but said the details are not yet available.

“We are at less than 50 percent return to work today — most would suggest K Street already seems at capacity approaching gridlock. It currently carries approximately 20,000 cars per day,” Bill Miller, the principal of D.C.-based Miller Walker Retail Real Estate, told Commercial Observer. “Downtown D.C. currently has the fifth-worst traffic in North America. Some would suggest that we should consider opening lanes, not closing any more of them to encourage return to work.”

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association, an advocacy group for bike riders in D.C., has been working hand in hand with DDOT since 2019 when the mayor committed to prioritizing walking and biking along K Street. The organization was bewildered to learn about these 11th-hour changes, Garrett Hennigan, organizing manager for the non-profit, told Commercial Observer

“It threw out a lot of the processes that got us here, a lot of the public input and stakeholders who have been weighing in since 2019 and even before that,” he said. “To say they were throwing everything to the curb and moving ahead with a new plan was quite surprising.”

In particular, the advocacy group was dismayed about the removal of the safe bike lane from the K Street project. The move was surprising because safe spaces for biking near businesses actually benefit the bottom line and get customers through the doors, according to the organization’s data, with many studies showing bikers spend more money.

“We were excited about the original plan because K Street is an important part of D.C.’s Downtown street network,” Hennigan said. “We know that if a street is too stressful, most people will not choose to ride a bike on it. So, looking at the overall network, if you don’t have K Street, you have very few other options east/west to get through Downtown. So, in the future, if there’s not a safe space to do it, people are not going to head on their bike to go Downtown.” 

Without a design that makes the street safe for everyone, the District shouldn’t be dropping $150 million to start breaking ground in a couple of months, argues Hennigan. And since no one has seen a new plan, the project may best need to wait.

But Miller argues to the contrary, saying that bike commuters represent too small a population to orient the entire project around them. 

Bike commuters represent 0.7 percent of the commuting population, 30 percent less than people who walk to work, Miller said, so it doesn’t make sense for the DDOT to spend tens of millions of dollars reworking the transportation network, creating gridlock, and making the streets and sidewalks safer for cyclists while angering the other 99 percent of the population.

A similar argument is brewing regarding the Connecticut Avenue project, which the DDOT was still refinging as of April 1, with the goal to have plans finalized by fall 2023, according to the DDOT spokesperson. The next plan will be its Concept C design. The construction timeline has been extended to leave flexibility for adjustments to the Concept C design and additional feasibility reviews.

At last check, the project proposed removing two vehicular lanes to install protected bike lanes on a three-mile stretch of the corridor, a main thoroughfare for commuters coming to Downtown D.C. from Montgomery County that now carries more than 32,000 cars daily.  

“The project team is conducting additional analysis to further assess the feasibility of the final design including revisiting design features that we considered at the beginning of the project, including a two-way cycle track (on one side of the street),” the spokesperson told Commercial Observer in an email. “Thus far, we do not have findings that support the addition of a two-way cycle track, and we anticipate that we will continue to refine the Concept C design.”

Initially, DDOT had removed the two-way lanes during the COVID pandemic and later determined they would not be reactivated.

“DDOT has received ongoing feedback from residents, businesses, civic leaders, and advocates about Connecticut Avenue,” the spokesperson said. “While there are many perspectives, it is widely agreed that improvements are needed to make this major corridor safer, which includes slowing down traffic and improving access and safety for all roadway users. DDOT also has worked through several design recommendations and community meetings to select what is known as Concept C.” 

Specifically, DDOT has received feedback regarding parking as related to the Connecticut Avenue project. DDOT has incorporated loading, pickup and drop-off areas throughout the corridor to serve the businesses — and all users of the corridor. 

“While there will be reductions in parking, the commercial areas will be served by 24/7 parking on one side of the street,” the spokesperson said. “Many of the parking spaces along Connecticut Avenue have a metered duration of two hours. DDOT may modify some of the two-hour parking duration to allow for 30-minute and/or 60-minute parking durations. This will allow more parking opportunities as on-street parking spaces will have a higher turnover than currently available.” 

DDOT is also considering converting some side street spaces (that are two-hour durations today) to 30-minute or 60-minute durations, providing additional parking turnover/availability opportunities.

Another public meeting is slated for May when a new plan may be revealed, though nothing is certain at this time. 

Keith Loria can be reached at Kloria@commercialobserver.com.