Division remains over Water Street bike lanes

The city's plan would add a bike lane on K and Water streets NW under the Whitehurst Freeway, but it would also eliminate some on-street parking. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2016)

Plans to remove more than 40 parking spaces from southern Georgetown this fall to make way for new protected bike lanes remain a divisive issue among residents and neighborhood leaders.

The D.C. Department of Transportation proposal is part of a broader effort led by the Georgetown Business Improvement District and Toole Design Group to mitigate rampant congestion issues on the neighborhood’s southernmost corridor: K Street/Water Street NW below the Whitehurst Freeway. Draft versions came before residents earlier this year, and the agency has issued a notice of intent to complete the work this fall.

The protected bike lane project would eliminate 42 of the metered spots on Water and K between 30th and 34th streets NW, leaving 100 along that stretch, Transportation Department planner Darren Buck told residents at the June 29 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith). Six spots on Wisconsin Avenue would also be replaced with a protected bike lane from K Street north to South Street. The plans are modeled after a similar effort to improve safety along 15th Street NW in Dupont Circle.

From “what we’ve observed on 15th and other protected bike lanes, we think a virtuous cycle happens where people get more comfortable,” Buck said. “Cyclist behavior improves when safety improves.”

Some bicyclists ride through the Georgetown Waterfront Park to avoid conflicts with motor vehicles on K and Water streets NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/May 2017)

Proponents contend that the proposed “cycle track” near the start of the Capital Crescent Trail would ease conflicts between vehicles and cyclists, particularly during rush hour, while critics argue the loss of parking will cause traffic spillover elsewhere in the neighborhood. Most agree that some action is needed on K and Water, but significant disagreement lingers.

ANC 2E voted unanimously on June 29 to request that the Transportation Department extend the comment period on its construction plans until residents can weigh in at the commission’s September meeting. Commissioner Lisa Palmer — whose single-member district includes the affected area of K and Water streets — reported at the meeting that the agency’s Sam Zimbabwe had already made a promise to that effect.

Another ANC 2E member, Jim Wilcox, said area business owners have told him the project would be “disastrous”; he thinks a left-turn lane from eastbound Water onto Wisconsin would be more effective and less obtrusive. Fellow commissioner Monica Roache worries that visitors to the area who can’t park on Water and K will instead encroach on residential streets.

But Palmer, who said she and many of her constituents have experienced countless near-misses while walking in that area, thinks the “Wild West” environment there is unsustainable. She came around on the virtues of protected bike lanes, she said, after one was installed near her old home in Dupont.

Georgetown residents hope the city will beautify K and Water streets NW below the Whitehurst Freeway. (Brady Holt/The Current/June 2017)

“I’ll be honest, when that thing first opened, my husband and I thought it was the craziest idea. It was in the way — how on earth are we going to be navigating the street,” Palmer said. “But the end result was precisely what Darren suggests.”

Residents at the ANC 2E meeting struggled to reach consensus, with as many in support as opposed. More universally appealing is a plan to add more green landscaping along the drab corridor below the freeway. “It’s not going to transform it, but every little bit helps,” Buck said.

Discussion on the traffic plans will continue at ANC 2E’s Sept. 5 meeting. The Transportation Department hopes to begin construction this year, according to Buck.