DC Bike Counts Show Continuing Surge in Protected Lane Use

Pennsylvania Avenue uses a combination of buffered and protected bike lanes. Photo credit: PeopleforBikes

Michael Andersen is a staff writer for the Green Lane Project. This story was crossposted from the PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project.

The older DC’s first two protected bike lanes get, the more spectacular their results seem to become.

Freshly compiled bike counts from June 2013 show that the number of people biking in the 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue lanes during peak hours has grown seven times faster than the citywide average since April 2010.

Peak-hour bike count on Pennsylvania between 6th and 7th streets. Source: DDOT

Peak-hour bike count on 15th between T and Swann streets.

“I don’t really know where they’re coming from, whether they’re new riders or diverting,” District Department of Transportation Bike Coordinator Mike Goodno said Friday. “I think a lot of it is the desire for this kind of facility.”

It’s certainly true that since 2010, when it launched a bike share system and started building protected lanes, Washington DC has been recruiting and/or retaining new bike commuters more effectively than almost any other city in the country. Washington’s 2012 increase in bike commuting was one of the nation’s most impressive, and 2013 bike counts at the 19 locations tracked by Goodno’s office suggest that 2013 will be at least as big: peak-hour bike traffic is up 17 percent over 2012. Since 2010, Goodno’s bike counts are up by an average of 54 percent citywide.

But that increase is dwarfed by the 371 percent growth in biking observed on both 15th and Pennsylvania.

Bike growth: ‘You can just see it’

The 15th Street protected bike lanes. Photo credit: PeopleforBikes

“You can just see it,” said Ellen Jones, director of infrastructure and sustainability for Washington’s Downtown Business Improvement District. “Visually, Pennyslvania Avenue, 15th Street — when you have 12 bicyclists waiting for the light on a weekday, you know that these folks are not all tourists.”

Jones said some of the growth is probably due to bike share station locations near the protected lanes. And to be fair, some of the growth on 15th is also due to more bikes headed southbound: in late 2010, the district converted its one-way protected bike lane to a two-way. But that change doesn’t come close to explaining the huge rise in bike traffic on 15th.

Jones said she thinks the protected lanes create a “trickle-out effect” on riders around the city, too.

“Their confidence has been boosted by being in traffic on a bicycle in a highly trafficked area,” Jones said. “That has to carry through for folks, I think, when they’re in different environments. … Maybe all they really needed all along was just a little more confidence about what they needed to take the road.”

Then there’s DC’s newest protected bike lane: a 1.1-mile one-way stretch of L Street, opened in 2012.

Peak-hour bike count on L Street between Connecticut and 18th.

Goodno’s team has been counting bikes on L Street since 2004. In 2013, the first year of the L Street protected lane, the peak-hour bike count jumped 33 percent — enough to move the street ahead of the citywide growth rate.

This year, a one-way lane in the other direction will open on M Street, creating a long-planned couplet with L. Will that have an effect on L Street traffic? We’ll find out this summer, when Goodno’s team will be out, as usual, counting.

“We’ve had a lot of requests from people who said they’re not biking until we get M Street,” Goodno said.

The Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow them on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for their weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

  • The x-axis on those charts are messed up. Why aren’t they spaced properly? I see the general trend but if there are disparities in the scale they need to be noted.

  • Good catch, Shaun. They’re not spaced properly because my sophisticated graphics software, Google Docs, doesn’t let you set arbitrary axis intervals. I decided it was better to have improperly spaced (but properly labeled) X-axes than to imply the existence of data points that DDOT didn’t have.

  • Dave Weckl

    Nice picture of the two bikers, without helmets, stopped in the bike lanes going the wrong direction. Classic of bikers in DC.

  • G1991

    I wear a helmet when cycling just because I would like to retain the ability to think if hit by a distracted (or violent) motorist. However, the wearing or not wearing of a helmet isn’t going to cause on accident. That’s like saying a car collision was caused by the operator not wearing a seat belt. Is sitting in the opposite lane poor etiquette? Yes, I will agree with you on that.

  • Dave Weckl

    Not wearing a helmet (on a bike or motorcycle) is like not wearing a seatbelt: stupid. I don’t care if you are in the bike lane or the WO&D trail. Wearing a helmet makes good sense to protect yourself. But that is not the point of the article. The picture was amusing to me.

  • Guest

    “Wearing a helmet makes good sense to protect yourself.” As does wearing a seat belt.

  • Joe R.

    A helmet isn’t going to do a thing for you in a collision with a motor vehicle. It’s not the fault of the helmet, either. It’s simple physics. There’s literally nothing which can protect a cyclist in collisions with motor vehicles. At best, helmets offer a minimal amount of protection in bike accidents at low speeds involving the bike only.

  • Joe R.

    Seat belts are proven to save lives based on statistics. Bike helmets aren’t. If someone wants to wear a helmet that’s their business but it’s a fallacy to suggest not wearing a helmet is as dangerous as not wearing a seat belt. In the Netherlands 99% of cyclists don’t wear helmets, and yet their death rate is much lower than in the US where many cyclists do wear helmets. The key is infrastructure which makes bicycle-motor vehicle collisions far less likely.

  • JR

    It’s hard to tell but it looks like you’re using some curving function to interpolate between data points? I would just graph the raw data points if I were you.

  • Good question. The data points this is based on are precise. I expressed them as a curving line because they’re only an approximation of actual traffic on each street.

  • Actually the Dutch injury rate is 30 tines lower! Wearing a helmet is a good idea when riding a bike (though Dutch typically don’t), or when driving in a car for that matter (American car occupants frequently don’t), but the key to fewer injuries is planning the street environment for safety.

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. As protected bike lanes and other new-to-North-America designs have spread, they’ve created an exciting new era for American traffic engineers, who are once again getting the chance to solve new and interesting […]