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Bike Lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue (updated)

I just rode up to Capitol Hill from the office – we are near the White House and usually I am headed for the House side and choose to ride up the service road on the Mall by the Smithsonian buildings. But today I was headed for the Senate side and decided that heading straight up Pennsylvania Avenue was the best bet. Plus, I wanted to see if the promised bike lanes were in fact being implemented in time for Bike to Work Day in a couple of weeks.

Penn Ave 2

Photo: Andy Clarke

They are! The bike lanes are going in – on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Of course, there are some detractors. AAA Mid-Atlantic has come out and said they’ll bring the city to a grinding halt…although a quick look at Pennsylvania Avenue today suggests that tour buses and taxis are doing an excellent job already of bunging up the travel lanes as well as the parking lanes, and that despite the construction zone extending beyond the width of the eventual bike lanes themselves, the street seems to be working just fine.

Penn Ave

Indeed, evidence from city after city in this country and the rest of the world suggests that

a)      AAA Mid-Atlantic’s favored approach of adding more and more lanes ad infinitum hasn’t worked for 50 years (all it’s done is get even more people stuck in the same traffic jams) and probably isn’t going to start working today all of sudden

b)      Putting in better bike infrastructure really does generate more bike traffic and either reduce or slow the increase in car traffic – look at Portland over the last 15 years, New York City in the last two as classic examples

c)       When travel lanes or capacity is reduced, traffic goes away. People find other ways or other modes; or they don’t make the trip. Happens every time a bridge goes out, or a major construction project blocks off a major artery – people adapt.

d)      And by even AAA Mid-Atlantic’s survey indications, a lot of people will adapt by going by bike. That’s a good thing. That’ll reduce congestion; make more room for delivery vehicles and tourist buses and taxis.

The reaction of AAA Mid-Atlantic is unfortunate, if not utterly predictable. And maybe it’s good that after years of really not having to worry about bikes because we weren’t making much inroad (sic) into their territory…maybe now they are getting a little flustered with such an iconic and visible street  as Pennsylvania Avenue having bike lanes. We are starting to succeed and make a difference.

What AAA Mid-Atlantic and others fail to see is that we’re not proposing a zero-sum game. We’re not trying to do away with cars, nor are we anti-car. Cars will have a critical role to play in our transportation system into the forseeable future…but not as the ONLY means of getting around, and not as the ONLY, exclusive user of the public realm to the detriment of almost everything else – clear air, health, climate, safety, energy etc. Great cities and great streets have choice. They enjoy and celebrate diversity. They feature PEOPLE not traffic. They have balance. Altering the balance of traffic on Pennsylvania Ave won’t choke it or bring it to a halt – it will bring it to life. And the nation’s real Main Street (not the ghastly DC Beltway, as AAA Mid-Atlantic would have you believe it is) deserves to be brought to life again.


A quick update on the Pennsylvania Ave. bike  lane story. We didn’t clarify that it was AAA’s mid-Atlantic chapter and spokespeople that came out in opposition to the new bike lanes on Pennsylvania Ave. (corrected above,) and evidently the National Headquarters of AAA is not too happy about taking the rap for their mid-Atlantic chapter…so sorry to the national AAA folks, who just this week issued a great story about sharing the road and are meeting with us in a few days to discuss potential things we can do together.

Another of AAA’s local chapters also came under some scrutiny this week for an article about sharing the road that was generally very good and supportive, with good quotes from AAA and cyclists…but included four bullets of advice that were totally off the mark. AAA is a big, very decentralized group – but with tens of millions of members, it is also very influential, and has a huge impact on cyclists. So, we’re looking forward to the dialog beginning later this month.

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