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DDOT considering ban on bikes in streetcar lanes

Thursday - 9/4/2014, 6:47am  ET

Bikeshare.jpg
Under the proposal from DDOT, bikes would be banned from using the traffic lanes where streetcar "guideways" are placed. There are many Capital Bikeshare station in the H Street Northeast area. (WTOP File)

WASHINGTON -- Insisting that safety is its No. 1 priority, the District's Department of Transportation is proposing new restrictions on bikes on H Street Northeast, or anywhere the District engages its new streetcars.

Under the proposal from DDOT, bikes would be banned from using the traffic lanes where streetcar "guideways" are placed. Cyclists could still use the lanes outside the streetcar tracks.

The move comes after many bikers' tires have been caught in the streetcar tracks, causing them to tumble or damage the bike.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association says the proposal amounts to banning bikes from the H Street corridor, home to a thriving cycling community and as many as six Capital Bikeshare bike stations from North Capitol Street to the intersection of Bladensburg and Benning Roads.

Loren Copsey, one of the owners of the Daily Rider bike shop on H Street Northeast, says the proposal took him by surprise. He first heard about it from reporters. He's not a fan of restricting bike traffic on H Street, though he recognizes the safety problems posed by the gaps in the streetcar tracks.

"I have a medical kit in the back," he explains. "When we first opened, we were constantly having people come in," with bumps, bruises and worse after their tires got caught in the streetcar tracks.

A cyclist who identified himself only as "Reel," says barring bikes from any part of H Street doesn't make sense.

"The only way I can get around is by bike...I can't go any other way. If they ban it, what am I supposed to do?"

Isis Misdary and Jacquett McGhee sat outside a café Wednesday -- their bikes locked to a railing beside them, and tried to make sense of the proposal. Misdary said she could see the need for ensuring safety, but "It's a slippery slope. I mean, where does it stop? I mean, if you ban H Street--what is the limiting principal?"

McGhee says there would be a definite downside for businesses that now benefit from bike traffic.

"I think banning bikes would ban whole businesses -- us sitting and having coffee on the side of the street. I think it's ridiculous we can't have a place to bike."

Copsey points out that people who use bikes to get around on the H Street Corridor are a real cross-section of the District: Capitol Hill professionals, people who bus tables at area restaurants, newcomers, long time residents, moms and dads shopping with a baby in a trailer, and DHL delivery guys heading home after a long day's work. Restricting bike access to one of the main thoroughfares in the area just doesn't make sense to him.

"We've done a lot of work to put a lot of infrastructure in and to do this just really says [they're] taking some of that back."

Not everyone objects -- some two-wheeled commuters say they avoid H Street. With buses, cars and streetcars vying for space on the road, it's just too frenetic. Instead, they find the bikeways along G and I streets more bike-friendly.

After getting an earful when WABA sent out notification to its members, DDOT released the following statement:

"DDOT's number one priority is the safety of all modes of transportation, including bicycles, who share H Street. To that end, G and I Streets now have contraflow bicycle lanes, a safer alternative to H Street designed to keep cyclists away from streetcar tracks. We have concerns about all kinds of vehicles impeding the travel of the streetcar, and taken as a whole, the regulations address that.

We are looking for constructive ways to address this concern while minimizing the impact to all users of the street. What were shared are proposed regulations for which we are seeking public comment. We are looking for constructive ways to address this concern while not minimizing the impact to all users of the street. Constituents have until Sept. 27 to weigh in."

The regulations prohibit "…riding a bicycle within a streetcar guide way, except to cross the street." The document also defines the guide way as "the area where streetcars operate, including the streetcar track, overhead wiring, and the airspace between, above, and surrounding the streetcar tracks through which the streetcar or its appurtenances will pass while operating on the streetcar track."

If so, the lanes should only be prohibited in the area of the concrete surrounding the rails, or more specifically, the outside lanes on H Street and the inside lanes on Benning Road -- not the entire street right-of-way.

"Additionally, DDOT proposed these regulations specifically for the opening of the H Street/Benning Rd streetcar line," the agency said. "Before the opening of any new lines or extensions, DDOT intends to evaluate how the system is performing under the existing regulations and make changes as appropriate."

WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

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