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Thoughts on Bike Networks

Richard Layman shares some interesting thoughts on the bicycle network in DC. He presents it in a way that makes very clear that the success of a bicycling network isn't measured by simply summing up the lane miles, but by understanding how infrastructure connects to itself.

(from Jason Pier in DC on Flickr)

When I was living in Arlington and working in downtown DC, my daily commute took me through Georgetown; a pretty awful place to ride a bicycle. During the morning and afternoon rush, M Street NW becomes a six-lane highway, with traffic lights timed to speed as many cars into and out of the city as possible.

By the afternoon it's total gridlock as masses of pedestrians try to maneuver through the neighborhood at the same time that commuters try to flee back to Virginia. From the Key Bridge, there really aren't any good alternatives to M Street, either. I could cut down to K Street, but then I'd have to climb back up as I ride east into downtown, plus deal with the traffic exiting the Whitehurst Freeway. Or I could ride up to N Street, though I've found that it can be just as traffic choked as M.

Georgetown is a major choke point in DC's bicycle network. It's definitely the most efficient way to get from North Arlington to downtown DC, but if you aren't comfortable riding through heavy city traffic, you might not be likely to make the trip.

DC isn't alone in having this problem. When I lived in University Heights and worked in downtown Cleveland, 7.5 miles of my commute were smooth sailing, the half-mile up or down Cedar Hill was treacherous; an that single choke point was probably enough to stop many otherwise interested people from biking into the city.

I know that any meaningful bike infrastructure in Georgetown is likely a pipe dream right now. But it's an interesting thought experiment that helps demonstrate how relatively small choke points can have relatively large impacts on a transportation network.

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