In an unprecedented move this week, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) removed southbound bike lanes on Alabama Avenue SE between Stanton Road SE and Bruce Place SE. The lanes, which were installed less than a month ago, are a small portion of the larger Alabama Avenue Corridor Rebuild through Wards 7 and 8. In 2019, half of the traffic fatalities in DC have happened in Ward 8. A safer, slower Alabama Avenue is critical to achieving the District’s Vision Zero goal—ending fatal crashes by 2024.
This project has been in the works for many years. It is part of the City’s long range transportation master plan MoveDC, which calls for protected bike lanes for the entire Alabama Avenue SE Corridor. WABA submitted public comments on the Alabama Avenue study more than two years ago. Our concern then, as now, was that the agency was compromising safety and to accommodate faster driving and more car parking.
Last year, DDOT hosted a community meeting to discuss the proposed design for this section of Alabama Ave. At that meeting, some community members raised concerns about lost parking spaces. Agency staff responded by further compromising and an already compromised design in order to decrease the impact on parking (with a corresponding decrease in safety for bicyclists and pedestrians).
Because the paint used to mark streets requires warm weather, DDOT could not install the bike lanes immediately after that meeting and waited to paint them until this spring. The delay meant that by the time construction started, newly elected ANC commissioners were not part of the agency’s initial ANC outreach process, and a number of complaints got picked up in the press.
DDOT, rather than making the case for the safety improvements it had just built, simply removed half of them.
Ameen Beale, who lives in Ward 8, said this to Greater Greater Washington in June:
“When I first saw this modification I was in the car with my 11 year-old,” Beale said. “When I saw it I was excited. I said it’s great they are taking multi-model transportation in Ward 8 seriously.”
Beale, who had been attending meetings since the initial study in 2017, knew the modifications would take time. So would the time it takes for the community to adjust to the changes.
“I’m always saying there is no difference between a dude on a bike and a cyclist. We have to stop believing that cycling is a white thing or that making traffic improvements are a white or gentrification issue,” Beale said. He does hope the bike lanes will be get a barrier to protect them from cars though: “I feel in order for it to be adequate it needs to be protected,” he says.
At monthly Ward 8 Traffic Safety meetings, many community members have shared their support for the bike lanes and some expressed disappointment that better safety measures like protected bike lanes weren’t implemented in the first place.
Throughout this process, one thing that most everyone can agree with is that speeding is a huge problem.
In a 2017 letter to DDOT regarding the rebuild, we wrote that:
DDOT’s speed and crash data confirms an alarming pattern of speeding and crash frequency. On some blocks, 85th percentile vehicle speeds reach 42 mph, meaning that 15% of vehicle traffic is traveling faster than 42 mph.
As we know from considerable research, 90 percent of pedestrians hit by a car traveling at 40 mph will die, whereas 90 percent of pedestrians hit by a car traveling 20 mph will live. And crashes happen every week: between 2013 and 2015, there were 875 total crashes in the 4.2 mile corridor (8.5 per week). 312 involved injuries (3 per week) and 4 resulted in a fatality. In a similar period, 45 pedestrians and 5 people on bikes were hit by cars.
Alabama Ave has an unacceptable speeding problem and it stems from bad road design. As an agency committed to eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries on DC’s roads by 2024, DDOT must make safety the priority on Alabama Ave.
Stay tuned for opportunities to get involved with this project.