From First Street to M Street

This spring, two new pieces of important bicycle infrastructure will open in the District of Columbia: the First Street NE cycletrack (qua Metropolitan Branch Trail street extension) and the M Street cycletrack. Both are protected cycletracks- to varying extents- and are better than your average bike lane. I rode on both of them yesterday. First Street is two-way (north/south) and separated from car traffic by plastic sticks and concrete curbs. M Street is one-way (west) and will be separated from car traffic by parked cars and plastic sticks. One block of M Street is a regular bike lane. There are two brief sections of M Street where a curb serves as a barrier (on Rhode Island Avenue and at the bus stop on the 2400 block).

It's great that these cycletracks are being built, but it's decidedly not great getting from First Street to M Street.

Here are a few of the problems:
  • Crossing North Capitol. North Capitol Street is a terrible street. It is, in parts, a grade-separated highway and it's pretty hostile for bicyclists and pedestrians. Even worse, it's function as a grade-separated highway (and traffic sewer) means that streets near it tend to be, inconveniently for us, one-way and for the sake or argument, let's say that we're law-abiding and don't want to ride the wrong way down these streets. A cyclist can safely cross North Capitol at K Street or R Street. That's pretty much it. I suppose you could ride on New York Avenue or Florida Avenue, but that is not something I would recommend to someone. In fact, I specifically recommend staying away from both of those streets. Furthermore, if your goal is to ride on M Street, it would seem silly to ride up to R Street to ride back down to M Street. So, that means, K Street is pretty much your best and only option.
  • K Street doesn't really have bike facilities. There's a right lane on K Street that's sometimes for car parking and you could ride in and for the most part, it's fine, but K Street from First NE to at least 3rd Street NW (and maybe it's 4th Street) has no bike dedicated bike infrastructure. Then it has some blocks of sharrows and a pittance of a half-block bike lane and then sharrows or maybe just nothing. That's your best cross-town option. After New Jersey Avenue, there is a wide sidewalk on the bridge and then a wide sidewalk for the next few blocks. It's really not an ideal situation for anyone, though. You could, I guess, ride up New Jersey (no bike facilities now- but someday?) and cross New York Avenue (not a great intersection since you're near a highway entrance and exist) and ride up to N Street (M is another befuddling one-way then another opposite one-way a block later) and then ride N across town, but this still kind of puts you out of your way. I stuck on K to 7th, which brought me to my next problem.
  • Mount Vernon Square and 7th Street. Neither of these sections have bike lanes. Additionally, Mount Vernon Square has like 5 lanes, intersects the 6 lane New York Avenue, and is near the Convention Center and the hubbub around there. 7th Street is comparatively fine, but the bike lanes don't start until after N Street. So, you'll ride in the right lane next to the parked cars and try not to get passed too closely or doored. 
Not problems:
  • L Street It's fine, I guess. Part of it runs under the Convention Center and part of it runs behind the new hotel. There are no bike lanes. You can't ride on M Street because (AGAIN!) there's a part that's one-way, eastbound only. 
  • 11th Street. There are bike lanes there. You can ride in them for a block. Or not, since you have to make a left turn onto M anyway and you shouldn't do that from a right-lane bike lane.
  • M Street from 11th to Thomas Circle. No bike lanes, but a quiet, two-way street for the most part. Sharrows could be added as a token gesture towards bikey-ness. 
Another problem:
  • Thomas Circle. In it defense, there are some bike lane parts on Thomas Circle. But they don't really help you get from the M Street on the east side to the M Street on the west side. For that, you'll need to ride across 2 lanes of traffic, into a kind of striped no-man's-land, and then cross 2 more lanes of traffic to get back into the bike lane on the other side. You can ride in that bike lane past 2 streets where drivers might want to turn right directly in front of your path before, finally, you can make a hard right and enter the eventual M Street cycletrack.
You can see my route below. The green parts are cycletrack, the blue parts are standard bike lanes and the black parts is nothing (for the record, I count sharrows as the equivalent of nothing):

In conclusion, if you're the kind of DC bicyclist who feels the most comfortable riding in the kinds of bike facilities that are like the First Street cycletrack and the M Street cycletrack (which is most everyone), but not the kind of bicyclist who feels as comfortable riding on streets without any kind of bike facilities (which is a lot of people), it will be not be very comfortable for you to ride from one new protected cycletrack to the other new protected cycletrack. While it is heartening that DC continues to build protected cycletracks (and continues to expanded other bike facilities), connectivity between these facilities remains extraordinarily limited.


  1. Mount Vernon Square is like a black pit of bad traffic patterns, but I guess I've passed through it so many times without dying that I forget that fact sometimes. Essentially, though, the real issue is that between E St and Q/R St there is NO east-west bike route between near Northeast and the proximate parts of Northwest. I can't figure out how to leave a photo in my comment, but if you zoom in on the area between E St, Q St, 1st St NE, and 5th St NW on Google Maps' bicycling mode, you can observe the amazing lack of infrastructure. (Except for that Google Maps things that N St is somehow bike-friendly. Which may be true in isolated parts, but it's still useless for connectivity. You want me to do what at this intersection???? http://goo.gl/maps/WmcPu)

    Since I live on Cap Hill I usually just use E or K, but some of K can really be nasty. I feel like trying to get to M would be mostly hopeless. Maybe from Mt Vernon Square hop on NY Ave SW-bound (not bad at all, actually) and then swing onto I St until you can jump north to M?

  2. This is a great analysis. I live off H Street and work at Thomas Circle and deal with this every day. The bicycle master plan indicates that there will eventually be a bike lane under the bridge on K Street and a cycletrack on M starting at 6th St NE. i emailed DDOT to ask about it a few weeks ago and was told that to put lanes on K they would need to eliminate some parking which would require a great deal of study, public outreach, and environmental analysis, meaning it is going to be a while.

  3. Great post, Brian. My wife and I have tried biking to H Street, NE a few times from Logan Circle and couldn't figure out a good way to get there on safe streets. I see now that there was no good option on surface streets, so we'll use the MBT from now on. Connectivity with the Met Branch needs a ton of work as well.

  4. You can cross N. Cap at G Street. Then take Mass Avenue to M. Or take 1st NW to K.

  5. Ahh, my old neighborhood, so gloriously easy to bike around. Apologies to the world for salmoning down that awkward block of M street almost daily.