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M Street Bike Lane Delayed Again, This Time By Environmental Concerns

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The proposed 1.4-mile-long M Street cycle track would ferry cyclists from Thomas Circle to 28th Street NW.
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The proposed 1.4-mile-long M Street cycle track would ferry cyclists from Thomas Circle to 28th Street NW.

The M Street cycle track was supposed to be built in August. Then the 1.4-mile protected bike lane running westbound from Thomas Circle NW to 28th Street NW was supposed to be built in October. Now 2014 looks more realistic.

Citing the ongoing environmental review process, the District Department of Transportation announced the project has been delayed for a third time with no new date for the start of construction.

“We are moving towards completion of this process, which will enable us to move quickly into construction. While our construction season is starting to wind down, we are hopeful that we can still complete the project this year. Actual construction will take an estimated three to five weeks to complete,” the DDOT statement said.

The M St. cycle track is supposed to be the westbound companion to the eastbound L St. cycle track located one block south near downtown Washington, twin protected bike lanes separating crosstown bike commuters from vehicular traffic with plastic bollards and lane markings.

The DDOT statement did not cite specific reasons under the environmental review, but bicycling advocates suspect air quality concerns under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are holding up construction. The project would narrow the space available to car lanes by installing a wider space for bicycles and restricting on-street parking during rush hours, according to Shane Farthing, the lead advocate at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

“There is a long standing concern over the air quality review in urban environments where the narrowing of a lane may be viewed by some as slowing down traffic and making the air quality worse. Using traditional traffic models, it prompts folks to say the air quality is going to get worse… when in reality if you take the history of human behavior into account, you find that people actually switch away from driving or toward biking or walking because of these projects, and it actually improves air quality,” said Farthing.

Farthing’s advocacy group on Tuesday announced it submitted a Freedom of Information Act Request to DDOT for documents to determine the cause of the construction delay.

“We are not positive what the issue is and the FOIA request was meant to detail all the possibilities we can think of,” Farthing said. “We’re hoping that we have more of these cycle track projects coming, and we don’t want to see things hung up on procedural grounds. We’re concerned about the delays but we still recognize that this is one of the first cycle tracks in the city.”

“What we really want is to get to where everyone understands what has to be done for these cycle tracks on a large scale because the transportation future in the District is going to have many of these,” Farthing said.

As WAMU 88.5 first reported in August, the M St. cycle track ignited a dispute between cycling advocates and members of a historical African-American church over parking availability and traffic flow. The dispute caused DDOT engineers to change the design of the cycle track between 15th St. NW and 16th St. NW to assuage the concerns of the leaders of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church.

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