MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We head to the street now to investigate some of the challenges communication can bring. In this case, the challenges of conveying the design of an unusual new project that will affect Washington's drivers and bicyclists alike. Nowadays, D.C. ranks among the nation's top cities for bicycling. But we've seen some bumps along the way as the District has bulked up its bike lanes. Jacob Fenston brings us this story about the latest case of signals getting crossed.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
On November 14, Collin Hughes was riding his bike to work, the same commute he had done every day for more than year.
MR. COLLIN HUGHES
Right, I was headed towards the White House and the car was to the right of me because it's a center bike lane.
That's the wide separated bike lane in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. The car was a taxi but Hughes didn't even see it as the cabbie drove up behind him.
Somebody tried to hail the taxi from the opposite side of the street, so he accelerated and then did a very sharp U-turn to get the fare, without looking in the bike lane.
The cab driver struck Hughes, sending him and his bike into oncoming traffic. He was shaken but unhurt. In the past two years there have been at least 11 accidents like this. Bicyclists in the bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue, hit by U-turning cars.
A center bike lane is not a really common feature in a roadway so when people want to do a U-turn, they actually just look at the oncoming traffic in the opposite lane and if they don't see anything coming at them then they do the U-turn. They don't think that there's a cyclist, you know, on the inside.
And police haven't been writing tickets because it was actually unclear whether U-turns across the bike lane were illegal or not. But on Wednesday after weeks of pressure from cyclists Mayor Vincent Gray announced new emergency regulation.
MAYOR VINCENT GRAY
The current situation leaves bicyclists too vulnerable to injury or even possibly being killed. Therefore, I've directed the pertinent District of Columbia agencies to immediately address this issue.
New rules make D.C. law explicit, doing a U-turn across a bike lane is illegal, period. But bike lane design issues don't end with U-turns. Each of the District's three separated bike lanes has a different and possibly confusing design. Mike Goodno, the District Department of Transportation's bicycle program specialist, says these evolving designs reflect a learning process as bikes are squeezed back into a streetscape long dominated by cars.
MR. MIKE GOODNO
We're right between, what are we, 23rd Street and 22nd Street.
I met up with Goodno downtown on L Street near the beginning of the city's newest separated bike lane or cycle track. It's is huge, 8 feet wide and separated from the rush of cars by a row of plastic bollards. It's a bike expressway, except some drivers are using it as an expressway too, sneaking onto the bicycle side of the bollards and speeding past traffic.
So that was an interesting move there.
Yes, a van just entered the bicycle lane between two missing posts to make a left turn.
Not every driver has got the hang of this unique design just yet and not everyone likes it.
MS. TAMARA WILKINSON
I hate it. It makes this too confusing, it's very confusing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1
Rush hour going from four lanes down to three, its tightening things up. It's taking a half an hour just to get down L Street.
I wish the bicyclists would use it. They tend to still use the lanes, the vehicle traffic lanes instead of using this.
MS. MEGAN MCCARTY
This is just some info on how to use the L Street cycle track, (unintelligible) .
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2
Yes, I was looking at that.
Yes, because it's...
Megan McCarty is bike ambassador for the Washington area Bicyclists Association. It's her job to educate bikers and drivers, like this driver, who cut into the bike lane where he wasn't supposed to.
Just so you don't get a ticket if...
She also nags drivers who park in the cycle track. Today there's a mail truck blocking the lane and a few blocks later, a huge recycling truck.
The drivers of this recycling company parked in the cycle track and I went to talk to them about where it's legal to park.
What'd they say?
He laughed and said, "Thanks."
Despite the occasional parked truck, bicyclists zipping by love the new cycle track.
MR. BRIAN MCENTEE
You know, it's like a cheat code. You can get through the congested traffic in a dedicated bike lane.
Brian McEntee commutes by bike, riding the full 11 blocks of the new cycle track every day.
I think by and large it's been really productive for the relationship between cyclists and drivers. It gives drivers sort of a place to expect cyclists, rather than sort of weaving in and out of traffic.
The separated bike lanes also make cycling through the city less daunting, attracting more riders. According to the District Department of Transportation, bike traffic on streets with cycle tracks has tripled or quadrupled, to as many as 400 bikes per hour. And planners hope that as more cyclists hit the roads, more drivers will get used to driving around them. I'm Jacob Fenston.
Okay, all you drivers and bicyclists, what do you think of the city's bike lanes. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Twitter, our handle is @wamumetro. And if you're at all confused by the new L Street design, you can find a handy dandy diagram on our website, metroconnection.org.
Time for a quick break, but when get back, using art to communicate the story of an uncle you never knew.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #3
Growing up, that was the story that I was kind of told, is that Uncle Richard was lost at sea. I don't think as a child you really understand death, but you don't understand someone completely vanishing as well.
And taking the words of a beloved and dearly departed sibling to heart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #4
Confronting the end of his life brought me to a place of understanding that I never otherwise would've gotten to.
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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