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From Scrapped to Striped in 16 Months: L Street Goes Green in the Nation's Capital
A few weeks ago, I finally saw something I've been hearing about for a long while. Heading back to the office from a doctor's appointment, I wasn't fighting for space on the road. Instead, I was flying down bustling L Street Northwest on the new L Street cycletrack, a protected bike lane that takes up a whole lane of traffic and is protected by bollards, with green paint near intersections.
Yesterday, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) hosted a formal ribbon cutting ceremony with Mayor Vincent Gray, WABA Executive Director Shane Farthing, and the Downtown DC Business Improvement District's Director of Infrastructure & Sustainability, Ellen Jones.
"We aren't just paying lip service to alternative modes of transportation — we want to reduce the number of vehicles in the District of Columbia," Mayor Gray said to the assembled bicyclists and media.
"These [cycletracks] are an economic asset to our city; it will make our city more resilient," Jones added. "The business community isn't done making this the most bicycle-friendly downtown in the world." While D.C. has a lot of work to do before that, the opening of this 1.1-mile cycletrack in the heart of downtown is a great step forward for advocates in D.C.
After the ribbon cutting, I called Shane Farthing to get some background on the cycletrack, a project seven years in the making. In 2005, the L Street cycletrack made it into the 2005 Bicycle Master Plan for the District, the first significant bicycle plan for the city. This plan intended to create key thoroughfares for bicyclists through downtown D.C., both North-South (with the 15th Street cycletrack) and East-West (with the eastbound L Street cycletrack). "We're three-quarters of the way done," Farthing said, reminding me that the westbound M Street cycletrack is still on the horizon.
After years on the agenda, the L Street cycletrack hit a major speed bump last year. In a budget hearing with the District Department of Transportation in June 2011, DDOT Director Terry Bellamy said that funding for the L Street cycletrack was off the administration's agenda. WABA responded by activating its member base. In a just a few weeks — after thousands of phone calls, e-mails, and a bike ride with Council member Jack Evans (Ward 2)— the cycletrack was back on the agenda.
What can local advocates learn from this great success story, transforming a project from scrapped to striped in 16 months? "The grassroots effort of e-mails and phone calls, coupled with exposure to council members through rides, made it happen," Farthing says. His advice to local advocates fighting a similar battle? "Get your supportive council members to experience [the road on a bike where the infrastructure is proposed], then get them to talk their less supportive colleagues into riding with you, as well," he says. "The experience is a new one to them, and it's a really helpful way to get someone supportive of transportation issues, but not seen as a top bicycling voice, to support cycletracks."
Hopefully, I'll see a lot of bicyclists on that lane next time I'm taking it across town. As Mayor Gray so rightly said: "The safer you make cycling, the more people will choose to bike." Thanks to advocates like WABA, that's happening every day here in the nation's capital!