Cycle Track Design and Implementation in Washington D.C.

Washington, DC

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)


Residents along 15th Street, a higher-speed one-way road which serves as an express route out of Washington D.C., sought alternatives to calm traffic along the corridor.


Contra-flow bicycle lanes are controversial in most cities. The District of Columbia, however, was able to use this design to calm traffic and allow separated space for cyclists on a high-speed, one-way corridor.

Image Source: Graham Pitts

Many of the residents living on and around 15th Street were unhappy with the high speeds on the road and, along with neighborhood associations, advocated for a solution. In response to the interest in this corridor, transportation planners at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) revisited previous analysis that had been conducted on 15th Street and ultimately proposed four alternatives to redesign the street. Based on modeling software, which evaluates the level of traffic and amount of delay on the roadway, the planners determined that traffic would not be unduly affected by a one-lane reduction. As a result, two of the four possibilities involved a road diet, or reducing the road by one lane and adding bike lanes or cycle tracks, while the other two would have opened the street back up to two-way traffic. Many people were in favor of altering the traffic configuration back to two-way traffic, but the $2 million price tag associated with re-striping the road and installing new signals proved to be a major stumbling block.


Following an intensive public process - which involved holding a public meeting, providing flyers to nearby residences, facilitating discussions with Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs), creating blog and listserv posts, conducting surveys, and coordinating with the Washington Bicycle Association - DDOT planners found a compromise. By maintaining one-way traffic flow, planners preserved an easy and convenient route out of Washington, D.C., while implementing a road diet to reduce automobile speeds, provide space for a cycle track adjacent to the roadway, and meet the needs of neighborhood residents.

Image Source: Graham Pitts

Cycle tracks are defined as facilities that are for use primarily and sometimes exclusively by bicycles. They are separated from other street facilities (sidewalks, vehicle travel lanes, parking) by bollards, markings, or a combination of the two. In this case, the cycle track allowed for contra-flow bicycle traffic, was located between the sidewalk and the on-street parking, and used plastic bollards to differentiate between vehicle parking and the cycle track. In order to avoid confusion at intersections, both striping and signage were used to make drivers aware of bicycles and vice versa. In particular, "Watch for Turning Traffic," "Bikes Use Ped Signal," and "Turning Vehicles Yield to Pedestrians and Bicyclists" signs were used along the 15th Street contraflow lane.

While the public process for the contra-flow cycle track on 15th Street took between 6 months and 1 year and the entire 15th Street corridor analysis was initially begun in 2005, the construction of the facility was completed in a matter of weeks. As the first application of a contra-flow cycle track in Washington D.C., the 15th Street installation serves as a pilot for other cycle track installations across the city. As of autumn 2010, plans have been discussed to alter the facility to two-way operation and to expand the facility to both the north and south.


Image Source: Graham Pitts

The opening of the cycle track generated significant media coverage in Washington D.C. and has been successful in boosting bicycle ridership and reducing vehicle speeds along the corridor. Following the evaluation of this cycle track, the DDOT anticipates expanding the 15th Street cycle track and opening 3 additional cycle tracks in the city. Revealing plans to alter the cycle track to two-way operation along 15th street, the DDOT will signalize all turning movements crossing the cycle track to minimize conflicts and protect bicyclists.


The DDOT conducted a number of before and after studies, bike counts, traffic volume analysis, speed analyses, intercept surveys, and an online neighbor survey to evaluate the changes caused by the project. Their analysis indicates that cyclists are pleased with the facility, more cyclists are using the facility than before, and that some traffic calming has occurred as a result of the cycle track. As more evaluation measures are analyzed, the exact influence of the cycle track will become clear.


Mike Goodno
Bicycle Program Specialist
Policy, Planning & Sustainability Administration
District Department of Transportation |
(202) 671-2555 | fax (202) 671-0617|

Filed in: Engineering, Promoting Walking and Bicycling, Case Studies

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