How many U-turns across Pennsylvania Ave bike lanes did we count in one hour?

Written by WABA Member Dave Salovesh

Too many.

Nobody thought adding safe bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue was going to be easy. Yet, just in time for Bike to Work Day 2010 they came to the center of America’s Main Street between the US Capitol and the White House. Even before marking was complete, riders saw one of the biggest challenges firsthand: drivers making U-turns across the new lanes.
Quite possibly the first U-turn on Pennsylvania Ave NW on May 7, 2010. Photo credit:

Was this the first U-turn on Pennsylvania Ave NW? Photo taken on May 7, 2010. Photo credit: Dave Salovesh

It takes time to get used to any changes, and everyone hoped this behavior would diminish as drivers became accustomed to people using this space. That was not the case, and by late 2012 drivers were observed making U-turns at the rate of almost one per minute in just one block.  D.C. Councilmembers, the Mayor, MPD, and DDOT responded with emergency regulation banning U-turns, increasing enforcement, and planning design changes to reduce driver confusion and prevent this risky infraction. Separating bike lanes from general traffic, and keeping motor vehicles out, is the best thing cities can do to keep people bicycling safe. While there may be reasons  that options for D.C.’s roadway engineers to protect bike lanes are somewhat limited, there are solutions out there to help. DDOT uses these methods and others to protect cyclists using protected bike lanes over D.C., and they’re very helpful. In 2013 a pilot program was approved to test zebra barriers on one block. And, in 2014 an additional study was started to evaluate the use of rubber parking stops. Preliminary results have demonstrated that both are effective at reducing U-turns and other lane incursions. DDOT uses a combination of flex-posts, rubber parking stops and concrete curbs to physically separate bike traffic from motor vehicles in other parts of the city.

13 illegal U-turns in one hour on April 23, 2015 in the 1400 block of Pennsylvania Ave NW, including one near miss.

With the return of pleasant weather we’ve seen an increase in people enjoying bicycling in D.C. Unfortunately, that has also brought an increase in crashes, and on Pennsylvania Avenue over the last two weeks there have been at least three crashes due to U-turns across the bike lanes. We documented at least 13 vehicles making U-turns across the bike lanes in 1400 block during a single hour of evening traffic.

The third crash involving a bicyclist and U-turning driver on Pennsylvania Ave NW this spring. Photo credit: Dave Salvesh

The steps to make Pennsylvania Avenue safer from U-turns have been known for years, but have not yet been fully implemented. During that time countless crashes and near-misses have happened. Drivers persist with the mistaken understanding that this space reserved for bicycles is open for them as well. And unfortunately, many bicyclists have decided the risk is too great for them or their families. They have found alternate routes, or some may even choose other means of travel. Now is the time for that to change. The D.C. Council, and the Mayor should push DDOT to produce a definite timeline for installing a protective barrier along the entire length of the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, as a high priority project. All the pieces are ready, the pilots and studies are complete and the need is great. We know how quickly D.C. can accomplish good work when it’s necessary. Can the safety of Pennsylvania Avenue’s bike lanes be improved before Bike Month 2015 ends?

Welcome, Zebras, to Pennsylvania Avenue

A giant panda cub in Woodley Park! A red panda in Adams Morgan! And now: Zebras on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Yesterday, DDOT installed a set of zebras—small physical traffic barriers—on the 1200 block of the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack. The plastic devices are intended to curb the high rates of illegal u-turns across the bike lanes. Since the installation of the cycletrack in 2010, cars making u-turns across the lanes have caused many crashes with bicyclists. The zebras will provide some physical separation for bicyclists from car traffic. These zebras are a pilot project, so DDOT only installed them on the 1200 block. Before installing barriers along the entire corridor (and potentially other cycletracks in the city), the agency wants to study the zebras’ effectiveness. The most important questions to answer are whether these new traffic control devices reduce the rate of u-turns across the bike lane and if that leads to a lower crash rate for cyclists. If the zebras are successful at reducing crashes and making the lanes safer, DDOT intends to install them along the entire bike lane. The length of the study period is currently unknown. This is the latest development on the Pennsylvania Avenue NW cycletrack. That zebras have been installed is a step in the right direction to make the lane safer for cyclists—one of WABA’s goals. Earlier this year, u-turns across the lanes were made illegal by emergency rulemaking by the D.C. Council, and there has been increased enforcement by MPD. Zebras comply with the strict historical nature and national significance of Pennsylvania Avenue. DDOT sought approval from the Commission on Fine Arts before installing them. The zebras are produced by a Spanish company, Zicla. According to Zicla’s technical specifications, the zebras should be spaced no more than 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) 8.2 meters apart. It appears that DDOT installed the first row of zebras at a spacing of 12 feet. This will need to be corrected. We’ll continue to follow the progress of improvements along Pennsylvania Avenue and insist that the cycletrack is safe and comfortable for all cyclists. See more photos of the zebras, taken yesterday morning, after the jump. Continue reading

Update from the Mayor’s Office on Pennsylvania Avenue

Pennsylvania Avenue Bike Lanes

Remember the bollards?

Yesterday, long-simmering displeasure with the pattern of illegal u-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes netted considerable media attention from NBC4. Reporter Mark Segraves was most interested in a video by Bill Walsh of a police officer actually pulling someone over for u-turning. However, this is far from standard; more often, drivers u-turn with impunity. It has been difficult for WABA to get information about Pennsylvania Avenue. We know that the bollards that once lined the cycletrack would be removed for the winter, due to the threat of snow as well as plans for the inauguration. We know that DDOT was working on ideas for better, and perhaps more, bollards. But as to why the bollards have been left in a pile and not been reinstalled? We’re as perplexed as everyone else. Additionally, we haven’t gotten a clear description of exactly what sort of enforcement MPD has done since it and DMV agreed that u-turns were illegal. After Justin Antos counted and documented thirty U-turns in thirty minutes on Pennsylvania Avenue, I forwarded his photos to Mayor Vince Gray’s office with a request for explanation and assistance. I received the following response:
MPD and DDOT have been working to improve enforcement and protection. It’s my understanding that flexposts are on the way to replace the ones that have come down, and that DDOT is working with the Federal Highway Administration, the Planning Commission, and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to find a suitable perimeter divider. We’re hopeful that the divider we’ve presented to them will be accepted. If they are, we will move quickly to install. As of today, MPD has written approximately 62 improper turn citations and approximately 70 warnings.  Prior to yesterday, we were doing targeted enforcement during selected rush hours and special events.  Today’s AM Officer observed no violations and wrote zero citations during the scheduled enforcement. It should be noted that yesterday was a special situation because of the sinkhole at 14th and Pennsylvania. Our resources were deployed to direct traffic around this traffic blockage.  Moreover, some where cars were allowed to turn around on PA Avenue to mitigate what was a significant traffic/public safety incident. As you are aware, Pennsylvania Avenue is a special case because of the intersecting jurisdictions. But, we remain committed to expanding cycling in the District and making our streets safe for those who use bicycles.
We now know that the new flexposts are on the way and that DDOT is engaged with the federal planning and fine arts entities that have a say in what happens on Pennsylvania Avenue. We hope that these conversations—especially those involving the Commission on Fine Arts—will be open to the local, affected public. If they aren’t, we’ll find other ways to ensure the CFA understands that its decisions could place the community in physical danger. We also know that MPD is doing enforcement. I think we can all agree that when a guy with a camera can document thirty instances of unlawful behavior in thirty minutes—and repeat the exercise daily—that enforcement mechanism is failing. But enforcement exists. That said, we want to see it improved, and we want to better understand its timing and method so that we are better able to communicate to the bicycling community what is being done. From a policy standpoint, the worst possible result would bicyclists losing so much confidence in the safety of biking facilities like Pennsylvania Avenue that those facilities fail to enable more people to bike safely. We are on the verge of that with Pennsylvania Avenue’s bike lanes, and we need prompt improvements to both the infrastructure and enforcement mechanisms. Either alone won’t be good enough. In the meantime, we need DDOT to rush the procurement of those new flexposts, or put the old ones back until the new ones arrive. Installing a flexpost isn’t  a big job. It’s OK to do it twice to prevent crashes and save lives. Image via DDOT on Flickr

U-Turns Across Pennsylvania Avenue Lanes Now Cost $100

Note from July 2020: WABA has learned that a reporter cited in this post sexually harassed a number of people in our community. Read our statement here.

Yesterday, representatives from DDOT, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the D.C. Taxicab Commission joined up with D.C. bike ambassadors to stop drivers from u-turning across Pennsylvania Avenue. Volunteers distributed literature on the consequences of the illegal maneuver, and MPD officers handed out warnings.

The event got plenty of attention: Area cyclists have been pushing for better enforcement of u-turning drivers in earnest since late last year, and the cycletrack was on prominent display during recent festivities for the presidential inauguration. WJLA reports that, last year, 11 out of 16 crashes on Pennsyvlania Avenue were the result of u-turning drivers. Beginning today, drivers who make a u-turn across the lanes will receive a $100 fine.

A visible awareness campaign, even for one day during an off-peak time, is great news. As Martin DiCaro reports for WAMU, “Bicycle advocates also see the need for the enforcement as a sign of progress. If D.C. hadn’t seen such growth in bicycling, there’d be no issues with cabbies crashing into bicyclists as taxi drivers and others make illegal U-turns. If D.C. weren’t such a big bicycling city, there’d be no bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue in the first place.”

We hope that DDOT, MPD, and DCTC will continue to educate drivers and enforce the illegality of u-turns.

Check out DDOT’s Facebook page for a gallery of photos and additional information on enforcement on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Photo via the DDOT Facebook page

New Campaign to Stop U-Turns on Penn Tomorrow

The following press release comes from the District Department of Transportation. Representatives from DDOT, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the D.C. Taxicab Commission will be present to inform and cite motorists who illegally turn across the lanes. D.C. bike ambassadors will also make an appearance.

MPD, DDOT and DCTC to Conduct Pennsylvania Avenue U-Turn Enforcement and Education Campaign Coordinated Effort Aims to Promote Bicycle Safety WHAT/WHO: Officers from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), traffic control officers from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and taxicab inspectors from the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission will team up in a joint campaign to educate drivers about the dangers of making U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. Officers will hand out informational flyers and write citations to motorists who make the illegal turns. Officials from MPD, DDOT and DCTC will also be on hand for interviews. WHEN: Wed., Jan. 30, 2013, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. WHERE: Pennsylvania Avenue and 13½  Street, NW BACKGROUND: The bike lanes run down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue from 3rd to 15th streets NW. In 2010 and 2011, 11 out of 14 bicycle crashes on Pennsylvania Avenue NW involved U-turns. The incidents continued in 2012, prompting Mayor Gray to order emergency rulemaking to clarify that the prohibition on U-turns across bicycle lanes can be enforced even when cyclists are not present. The violation–for an improper turn–carries a $100 fine.

Update on Pennsylvania Avenue Cycletrack U-Turn Enforcement

UPDATE (Dec. 12, 2012): The mayor’s office tells WABA that MPD “is out there is force right now” and “plans on having an enhanced presence every morning and afternoon this week.” MPD was waiting on the bike lanes to be completely finished, which included the rider marks in the center of the lanes being painted. — The Metropolitan Police Department tells WABA that it has been notified of the completion of the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack by the District Department of Transportation. Now that the cycletrack is considered complete, MPD is planning specific enforcement of drivers that violate Mayor Vince Gray’s Nov. 28 emergency ruling, which prohibits drivers from u-turning across the cycletrack. WABA will follow up with both MPD and DDOT to ensure that enforcement of the ruling is established and continued.