Streetcar service could finally begin this year in Washington, DC. Trial runs are already taking place. And the debate about how people on bikes will navigate the tracks is already raging.
Last week, the District Department of Transportation quietly proposed streetcar regulations that would ban bicycling within a streetcar guideway except to cross the street. Most immediately, that would prohibit bicycles on H Street NE, one of the city’s premier nightlife hotspots for young people, many of whom arrive on bikes — in part because the area has been underserved by transit until now. There are no fewer than seven Capital Bikeshare stations along the corridor.
But a bike ban on streetcar corridors could have far broader implications when DC builds out its full streetcar network, which DDOT dreams of building out the network to eight lines over 37 miles throughout the city.
DDOT clarified on its Facebook page that it was proposing to prohibit bikes “in the area of the concrete surrounding the rails (effectively the lane the streetcar is running in)… Not the entire street right-of-way.” That means, DDOT says, that cyclists can ride in the left lane — which would undoubtedly lead to conflicts with cars accustomed to seeing cyclists hugging the right edge. If DDOT is serious about that, perhaps they could paint sharrows to inform drivers that bikes have a right to be in the left lane.
Either way, a bike ban is not the best way to deal with what is, by all accounts, a thorny situation.
The Washington Area Bicyclist Association acknowledges that “streetcar tracks can pose a legitimate hazard to bicyclists” but insists that “banning bikes is not an acceptable solution.”
It’s a “solution” that came up earlier this year in Tucson and in 2012 in Toronto, where a cyclist died when his wheel got stuck in the tracks of a streetcar system that doesn’t even run anymore. Lots of cities have struggled to find ways to make the interaction between bicycles and streetcars less perilous.