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City tries to craft bike plan

(Published May 5, 2003)


Staff Writer

The D.C. Department of Transportation is seeking input from citizens in an effort to make the most substantial enhancements to city bicycling since 1975, according to the department’s D.C. Bicycle Transportation Program.

The D.C. Bicycle Master Plan will, officials hope, bring improvements to the District’s bicycling climate and entice more people to bike through the city, an activity DDOT extols as an "affordable, efficient and healthy means of transportation."

The nearly $500,000 plan -- which, among other things, will establish new bicycling facilities and maps outlining them -- is slated to be complete by April 2004, department officials say.

The plan includes the joint efforts of DDOT, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), lead consultant Toole Design Group, local citizen groups and the public.

"We’re doing an analysis of over 400 miles of street in the city to determine their bicycle friendliness," said Jim Sebastian, the department’s bicycle program manager. "We’re taking a good hard look at the system."

Sebastian, the first bicycle program manager since a financial crisis in the early 1990s enveloped the city and prompted cutbacks in the program, underscored the importance of public participation.

And to that end, the plan includes citizen bicycle rides and public workshops encouraging input from anyone who wants a say in how the new bicycling facilities will be implemented.

On the rides, people accompany bicycle program officials on rides through their respective wards, critique current facilities and offer suggestions for changes or improvements. The workshops allow officials to explain the plan and give updates to citizens before splitting into smaller groups in which the citizens can review and make changes to proposed maps of bicycling facilities.

At the first of many planned workshops, held in Ward 3 on April 29, officials "gave people magic markers, a map [and said] ‘show us where you live, show us where you bike,’" Sebastian said. The Ward 3 citizen ride was held April 26, when about 10 people, all somewhat familiar with their neighborhoods, rode around the ward and offered their thoughts.

The last citizen ride and workshop will be held in June in Ward 2.

Sebastian said working with citizen groups is a significant part of the plan, especially when they’re planning "something that might be controversial," like removing a lane from a street to accommodate a new bicycling lane. Thus, guidance from such groups as Advisory Neighborhood Commissions is sought.

"We don’t want to cause any additional traffic," Sebastian said, or in any way make matters worse.

Bicycle planning in the District began in 1974, when officials called for 75 miles of new bikeways throughout the city, according to a report prepared in January for DDOT by WABA and Toole. During the early 1980s, Bicycling Magazine voted the District among the top 10 cities for cycling in the nation.

Ten years later, however, in the early 1990s, the bicycle program lost its funding in the wake of a burgeoning financial crisis that had struck the city. The program would exist for the next nine years as "a collateral duty for the severely understaffed [Department of Public Works] Division of Transportation," according to the WABA/Toole report, and would have no program manager or any other full-time staff until DDOT recently was established.

Even with a newly appointed bicycle program manager and other new staff, the report says, an overall lack of experts in bicycle accommodations and an already large number of transportation initiatives underway at DDOT present "a challenge to realizing the opportunity to integrate bicycling into these blueprints for the future."

All the more reason for people to get involved, Sebastian said, encouraging the public to contact him at (202) 671-2331 with suggestions or to get further details. So far, turnout for the citizen rides and workshops has been "pretty good," he said. Most are still to be held:

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator