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Church Concerns, Design Issues Cause Construction Delay Of M Street Bike Lane

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The protected bike lane would run west along M Street and in front of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, which appears to the right of this image.
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The protected bike lane would run west along M Street and in front of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, which appears to the right of this image.

The M Street cycle track is supposed to be a protected bike facility running westbound 1.4 miles from Thomas Circle NW to 28th Street NW in Georgetown. The District Department of Transportation is planning to begin installation in October—three months behind schedule—with a likely change to the design bound to upset cycling advocates and bicycling commuters.

The Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, a 175-year-old congregation on M Street between 15th and 16th Streets, has convinced planners to preserve its congregants’ parking spaces on the north side of the street by removing protective bollards from the design, turning a protected cycle track into a regular bike lane for one crosstown block.

“That plan, we felt, would create a major traffic issue when we had special events like funerals and for our worship services and evening programs,” said Reverend Ronald Braxton, who said the compromise represents a “win-win situation” for churchgoers and cyclists. Bicycle boosters are not convinced such design changes are optimal.

“We're concerned that in some places where the project design and planning gets more difficult there may be some compromises that revert back to something more like a traditional bike lane, and take away what really is a key factor of these cycle tracks, and that is a feeling of safety and separation,” said Shane Farthing, the executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

The M Street cycle track has been the subject of public meetings and planning for three years, part of the District’s bike master plan promulgated in 2005. M Street is the second of two-part east-west traverse; the L Street cycle track, a green stripe separated from traffic by bollards that opened late last year, runs eastbound between Thomas Circle and Georgetown.

“I’m concerned that if we start allowing individual private, adjacent landowners to essentially opt out of public transportation projects, we are starting to allow private convenience to trump public safety,” Farthing said.

The final design is still being worked out, said DDOT transportation planner Jim Sebastian.

“We have been working with a lot of stakeholders out there along the corridor. Every time we make a change we want to look at the traffic impacts and the associated environmental impacts. We are still wrapping that up,” said Sebastian, who said construction should take about a month.

Installing the M Street cycle track will involve painting green stripes and white lines on the street as well as putting up protective bollards to separate vehicular traffic from the bike path. Sebastian said M Street would not be resurfaced until after a D.C. Water project is finished next year at the earliest.

Sebastian said DDOT worked with Metropolitan A.M.E on a compromise solution to the church’s concerns about potentially losing parking spaces on the north side of M St.

“They have a couple different concerns. One of them is parking during service on Sunday. Also they have major events such as funerals. We want to make sure we can accommodate the amount of traffic, the amount of buses and the other vehicles that come in for those special events,” he said.

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