Washington, D.C. Cycletrack

Over the last couple of years, the folks at DDOT in Washington, D.C. have been installing some great bicycle infrastructure to compliment the fabulous Capital Bikeshare program.  On my trip to the League of American Bicyclsts National Bike Summit a week ago, I got a chance to use some new bike facilities that were not there when I was in D.C. last year.  The biggest improvement I got a chance to ride in was the 15th Street two-way cycletrack.

This facility was built with little more than pavement markings, some flexible bollards and signs.  The cycltrack runs down the center of the street in some places and along the curb in others.  It doesn’t meet any of the traditional bicycle facility design standards in the national guidelines traffic engineers usually follow like the Pope follows the Bible.  Typically municipalities are not allowed to use state or federal funds to build any projects that are not in the AASHTO (American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials) Bicycle Design Guide or Chapter 9 of the MUTCD (Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices).

The cycletrack has evolved over time.  DDOT has made modifications based on user behavior. Originally designed and constructed for one-way traffic, the cycletrack was converted to two-way with a centerline late in 2010 in response to the number of DC cyclists riding in both directions.  The combined width of the travel lanes of the bikeway are only about 8ft wide in many spots.  The minimum width for two-way bike trails is 10ft wide.  Despite that, as you will see in the video below, people seem to manage without any trouble.

Another example of how providing an attractive and convenient bicycle facility will reduce speeding and increase cycling.

According to a rather robust Return on Investment study done by Christopher Ziemann, the cycletrack has been a success on almost every level.  It is hard to believe, but this thing was really cheap to build.  According to the ROI report, the cost of building the cycletrack was only about $89,750, another example of how cyclists are a cheap date in the transportation world.  That would only pay to signalize one intersection for motor vehicles.

  • Equipment – $43912.50
  •  Installation – $20,000
  •  Labor – $19,500
  •  Employee Benefits – $6,337.50
  • TOTAL COST – $89,750

Bicycle infrastructure is inexpensive, cost-effective, and has a tremendous return on investment. Given 50% of all trips made by car are 2 miles or less, I would think conservatives would argue people should get off out of their cars and put their transportation entitled butts on the seat of a bicycle and pedal those two miles in the name of smaller government spending.


So the project was cheap, effective, has a high return on investment and everyone likes it. Why then is it so hard to duplicate in places like Milwaukee?

The annual Congressional Bike Ride Friday morning after the Bike Summit took people on a tour of the cycletrack.  I video taped a lot of the ride.  As you can see in the video the cycletrack is pretty narrow for a two-way facility.  I measured it at about eight feet wide in a number of places.  Despite the narrow width, there were no problems even with the unusually large number of people on the ride.

Note the video below take a bit to buffer.  If you have problems, try refreshing your screen.  Click on the video image, press play and wait.

[wpvideo fhRzkbsa]

The bottom line is that in practice the facility works really well.  I think the lesson I learned from this is that we can’t be so afraid of facilities that don’t meet “standards.”  A little common sense combined with some real-world traffic engineering goes a lot further than strict standards.  One way to get around the AAASHTO, MUTCD and WisDOT standards that stymie innovative facilities like these is to use local money for the projects. 

The initial investment in the 15th St. cycletrack was only $89,750. The success of that catalytic project prompted improvements and additional investments. The cost per mile is about $100,000. According to my contact at DDOT, the entire facility cost around $500,000, including the extensions, additional pavement markings, new bollards and signal retiming.  Milwaukee DPW has a $70 million budget for infrastructure.  So we can certainly afford a $100,000/mile catalytic project that has the potential to transform cycling in Milwaukee. 

Where would you like to see a cycletrack in Milwaukee? It should be on a steet that would really benefit from the protected bikeway rather than on a street that is already easy to ride on. My first thought would be S 1st St and Water from Becher to Mason.  But that would require removing parking from one side of the street.  Even though there is almost no parking demand that entire route (think next to Rockwell) I’m not sure we will ever have the political will to remove parking in Milwaukee.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

2 thoughts on “Washington, D.C. Cycletrack

  1. Dave,

    I think to really make a statement about bicycling in Milwaukee we should put something like this right down Wisconsin Avenue. Stretch it from the eastern edge all the way out to the Wisconsin Humane Society. I know that there are alternatives for heading westbound. I’ve enjoyed using both the bike lanes on Highland Avenue, and the Hank Aaron, and I think that they’re both great facilities. Even with those alternatives, I’ve found myself biking down Wisconsin Ave when I don’t want to go out of my way by several blocks to use the alternatives. As a “hardened” rider, I don’t mind biking down Wisconsin Avenue, but I could definitely see how it might be intimidating to less experienced riders. Adding a cycletrack could potentially have a big increase in ridership from those who otherwise considered it an unsafe route.

    Just think of the visibility that a Wisconsin Avenue facility would offer, and try to ignore just how many people would be opposed to the idea.


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