Agency proposes new bus lane, cycle track on downtown streets

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A bicyclist rides in the 1900 block of Pennsylvania Avenue NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/July 2017)

The District hopes to install a contraflow bus lane along nearly a mile of H Street NW near the White House, but complications with loading areas are threatening to kill plans.

The D.C. Department of Transportation unveiled final proposals last Thursday following its Downtown West planning study, which also recommends bicycle lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to Washington Circle.

The H Street proposal would create a westbound bus lane on the otherwise one-way-eastbound street between New York and Pennsylvania avenues NW. H and I streets, which run parallel with opposite directions of traffic flow, serve more than 30 Metrobus routes that total 20 percent of the system’s daily ridership, according to project manager Megan Kanagy.

The contraflow bus lane would be separated from the other three lanes of traffic by double yellow lines. The Transportation Department says access to driveways and alleys won’t be lost, but business owners nonetheless had concerns, and a few opposed the plans at the unveiling meeting last week.

A representative from the Hampton Inn, at 1729 H St. NW, said the lane would hinder guests from pulling up to the front of their hotel. He also questioned whether the stated benefits of the lane were accurate; the Transportation Department projects buses saving 30 to 50 percent of travel time on that portion of H Street. In addition, 15 percent faster travel times are projected for I Street bus commuters, as much of the I Street bus traffic would be rerouted to the contraflow lane.

Meanwhile, Paralyzed Veterans of America said that reserved parking spaces for disabled drivers outside its 801 18th St. NW office would be lost under the plan.

Kanagy urged businesses and offices to get in touch with the department to work through loading and alley access issues. If some of those issues can’t be resolved, she said that “we may not advance [plans] beyond preliminary engineering.”

Feedback on the project can be submitted to megan.kanagy@dc.gov through Aug. 21. Project renderings and details are available at downtownwestdc.com.

A rendering shows cycle tracks and other safety and aesthetic upgrades to Pennsylvania Avenue NW between the White House and Washington Circle. (rendering courtesy of D.C. government)

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Avenue portion of the project drew favorable reviews from cycling advocates. Bicycle lanes would be installed on each side of the street, with new landscaping serving as a buffer between vehicle traffic and cyclists. Tweaks to the street design would also create shorter pedestrian crossings, wider sidewalks and opportunities to install green infrastructure. The aim is to create a more cohesive streetscape on Pennsylvania Avenue, Kanagy said, which currently is a patchwork of different designs depending on the office buildings that occupy the blocks.

The intersection of 19th Street, H Street and Pennsylvania Avenue would be reconfigured to eliminate a right-turn lane to H Street from Pennsylvania. In its place, the sidewalk would be enlarged. There would be separate signal phases for vehicles turning right to 19th Street from Pennsylvania and for pedestrians and cyclists.

“We’ve been trying to prioritize safety and comfort of cyclists and pedestrians on that intersection,” Kanagy said, noting that it might mean slightly slower traffic speeds as a result.