DC’s Connecticut Avenue bike path plan divides residents and businesses
As DC plans to add an additional 30 miles of protected bike lanes across the city by 2025, it faces growing resistance from residents who fear the lanes will make driving and parking more difficult. The projects focus on connecting to neighborhoods in each neighborhood and are key to the city’s multimodal transportation plans, which include more bike lanes extending beyond the city center.
The Connecticut Avenue project is designed to fill a gap in DC’s growing network of protected bike lanes and facilitate bicycle travel between the Upper Northwest and downtown. Plans call for a corridor with less car traffic and better access for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. According to project documents, approximately 100 cyclists use segments of the route daily.
Supporters say the lanes – stretching from Calvert Street NW at Woodley Park to Legation Street NW at Chevy Chase – would be a key part of the infrastructure to be provided a safe route for cyclists, encourage more cycling and help the city achieve its environmental objectives. But some Connecticut Avenue residents and business owners say the lanes would create hazards for pedestrians, exacerbate a parking shortage in commercial districts and send more traffic onto neighborhood roads.
“Why are we doing all this for the benefit of a hundred people and inconveniencing and making life very difficult for over 32,000 people?” said Gary Stevens, a retired lawyer and longtime resident of the Forest Hill neighborhood. “It just seems crazy.”
A petition signed by more than 2,000 people calls on Bowser to cancel the project, calling it a “radical overhaul of Connecticut Avenue that will damage it and the neighborhoods around it beyond repair.” Residents and businesses put up “Stop Conn Ave Bike Plan” signs and handed out flyers saying the changes would mean thousands more cars on side streets.
As travel capacity would decrease, city officials estimate that up to 7,000 vehicles would be diverted to alternate routes, including Broad Branch Road NW to the east, and Reno Road NW and Wisconsin and Massachusetts Avenues NW West. These routes could handle indirect traffic, urban transport officials say.
The project, which is in the planning stages and not expected to be built for at least a year, is the latest bike path plan to spark debates on neighborhood mailing lists and social media. It follows small protests in recent months against similar projects in Columbia Heights, Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle and the K Street NW corridor.
Anti-bike lane groups have sprung up in recent months, including the DC Coalition on DDOT Bike Plans, whose leaders say is made up of residents ‘fed up’ with a powerful bike lobby and city decisions to put bike lanes where they are ‘t wanted.
The District Transportation Department’s proposal would reduce the number of traffic lanes in the corridor to four, then a protected cycle lane would be added in each direction with parking and loading areas removed on one side. More than 300 parking spaces would be removed, according to a DDOT analysis.
DDOT said it listens to concerns — primarily around disruptions to parking, traffic and loading areas — and plans to incorporate the responses into each proposal. The Connecticut Avenue project would also include new left- and right-turn lanes at some intersections, moving bus stops to safer locations, pedestrian refuge islands, sidewalk extensions, and turning bans. right at red lights. It is expected to move into the design phase in the spring.
The changes would be the last change in the corridor. Last spring, the city removed reversible rush-hour lanes between the Woodley Park and Chevy Chase neighborhoods, which had been confusing to drivers. When these lanes were in place, rush hour drivers had four lanes of traffic in the rush direction. Three lanes are now available during rush hour, dropping to two if bike lanes are added. The city also reduced the speed limit 30 mph to 25 mph.
DDOT Director Everett Lott called protected bike lanes a “top priority” for the agency. The Connecticut Avenue project, he said, would provide “increased system reliability, improved accessibility, congestion management, affordable travel options and, most importantly, safety.”
Transportation officials say the bike lane is in line with the city’s goal of reducing road fatalities. The city has seen an increase in traffic fatalities in recent years, including three cyclists killed this year.
Bob Kotchenreuther, who runs Cleveland Park Valet dry cleaners in a busy commercial area along Connecticut Avenue, said parking is so difficult he sometimes brings clothes to customers who can’t find parking. After 40 years in business – and coming amid a pandemic that has cut almost half of his business – Kotchenreuther said he feared the removal of parking would be another blow.
“Who’s going to carry their laundry on Connecticut Avenue during rush hour on a Friday night?” It’s not going to happen,” Kotchenreuther said. “Who’s going to pick up my friend’s vacuum cleaner from the street on a bike?” It will not arrive.”
Longtime resident Mark Rosenman collected about three dozen business signatures from a block in Cleveland Park. He said small businesses have made it clear that parking is critical to their success.
Liz Winchell, owner of the All Fired Up studio a few windows from Kotchenreuther, said lack of parking has been a problem since her business opened in 2004. Although customers come by all modes of transportation, including the metro station a few steps away. , she says, many families with children drive to pottery, painting and mosaic classes, or summer camps and special events. The first question people often ask when booking an event, she said, is “what’s the parking situation like?”
“The city has clearly articulated DC’s vision to have bike lanes and it’s happening whether people like it or not. But they don’t look at the situation holistically,” she said. “Have bike lanes, but put them in safe places and don’t contribute to already problematic traffic.”
The four neighborhood advisory commissions that cover the corridor have adopted resolutions in favor of cycle paths. Mary M. Cheh (D), a council member for Ward 3 DC, also supports the plan. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association is among groups fending off opposition, while some residents hand out signs saying the project will increase safety.
“There’s no safe way to ride right now in this part of town,” said Josh Rising, cyclist and founder of Ward 3 Bicycle Advocates. The proposal would bring the first major protected bike lane to the city’s most affluent neighborhood, which currently has two blocks of protected bike lanes in front of a private school off Wisconsin Avenue NW.
The DDOT also plans bike lanes in other parts of Ward 3, including along Arizona Avenue NW, Western Avenue NW, and at Tunlaw Road and New Mexico Avenue NW, from Calvert Street to Nebraska Avenue NW.
Cheh said the goal is to create a bigger network of bike lanes in the city outside of the city center. She said she was not surprised by the decline in parking availability – a major concern in citywide projects – adding that she was confident the city could work with residents to find solutions.
“DDOT needs to work with them and see how we can both get the benefits of having the bike lane and not be too intrusive at the charging points or parking spots. A sensible arrangement can be found,” she said. “But at the end of the day, we want to have a lot more kilometers of protected cycle paths.”
The DDOT said it would consider strategies such as reducing maximum parking times at some locations to 30 or 60 minutes, which would increase parking turnover. The city will also investigate possible pick-up and drop-off areas in adjacent side streets.
Chevy Chase resident and cyclist Lee Mayer said he supports cycling infrastructure improvements, but issues having bike lanes along Connecticut Avenue and other major thoroughfares. He and his wife have lived in Chevy Chase since 1985, and now retired, worry that they won’t be able to find parking near restaurants and their pharmacy.
Mayer heard about the project in the spring, four months after Bowser announced the city was moving the project forward. He said the city pushed the project forward during the pandemic, when residents were unable to meet with local leaders and were not following the issue closely.
“We are not against cycle lanes,” he said. “There are lots of places where they can be placed and have meaning. But Connecticut Avenue is too busy a street for bike lanes.”