Apr 5, 2023 - News
Town Talker

Scoop: D.C. pushes back Connecticut Avenue bike lane designs

Dry cleaner shop owner poses next to anti "Conn Ave Bike Lanes" sign on storefront

Bob Kotchenreuther, owner of Cleveland Park Valet, poses in his shop. Photo: Cuneyt Dil/Axios

The District will take until the end of this year to release final concept designs for remaking Connecticut Avenue, delaying the mega bike lane project.

Why it matters: The 2.7-mile redesign of Connecticut Avenue from Woodley Park to Chevy Chase is the city’s greatest bicycle lane battle. It would nix parking spots and a traffic lane on a major commuter alley, and reduce the speed limit from 30mph to 25mph.

  • Several recent crashes on the road included a four-vehicle collision last month that killed one driver and hospitalized six others.

What I’m hearing: The District Department of Transportation initially planned to wrap up its roadway designs this spring after beginning in late 2021. But DDOT tells Axios it needs more time to consider suggestions from supporters and opponents. Engineering designs will take about another year thereafter.

  • The current concept design puts bicycle lanes from Calvert Street north to Legation Street. DDOT tells Axios it is considering an extension several blocks up into Chevy Chase Circle.
  • DDOT is also considering a suggestion from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association to widen the bicycle lanes from 5 feet to 7 feet.
  • All that and the thorny work of rearranging bus stops and loading zones have delayed the project.

State of play: Advocates and critics are dug in. That includes D.C. restaurant world heavyweight Ashok Bajaj, who owns Bindaas in Cleveland Park. Bajaj recently tweeted that bike lanes there will have a “negative impact on residents and businesses.”

  • Cyclists condemned him on Twitter. Some vowed to boycott the famed Indian chef’s restaurants.
  • But he was echoing other business owners in Cleveland Park who fear parking loss and vehicle traffic backups.
  • Bob Kotchenreuther, who has run his dry cleaning business for so long that he ended up tattooing the shop name Cleveland Park Valet on his forearm, doesn’t think bikers are his clientele. “It’s hard for them to hold dry cleaning on one hand and steer with the other,” he says.

Tensions hit a high last November when several pro-bike lane local advisory neighborhood commissioners took a picture flicking off an anti-bike lane sign on a storefront.

  • “I’m not proud of that photo,” commissioner Sauleh Siddiqui tells me, although he credits the spat for bringing him closer to local merchants. He apologized the day after the photo was posted on Twitter.

More so, Siddiqui thinks the parking fears are overwrought. The redesign would add 24/7 parking around commercial areas. Siddiqui is also urging — and DDOT is considering — 30-minute parking spots to help patrons.

  • “The worrying part for me is more people die on Connecticut Avenue,” if safety upgrades are delayed, he says.
  • Some businesses might appreciate fewer motorists: “It’s a no-brainer why a bar owner would want to reduce driving,” says fellow commissioner Hayden Gise.

Nonetheless, Lee Mayer, who leads a group called “Save Connecticut Avenue,” announced he met with Mayor Muriel Bowser on March 16 to deliver a petition signed by more than 2,700 residents and 120 businesses opposing the project.

Four days after that petition delivery, Bowser was at the unveiling of a protected bicycle lane downtown on 9th Street NW when a reporter asked if she was “backing off” of the bicycle lane project on Connecticut Avenue.

  • She didn’t give a definitive answer, referencing “pro and con people who live along the corridor” and “getting the design right and the tradeoffs right.”

What’s next: DDOT director Everett Lott will testify next Monday before the D.C. Council, a chance for lawmakers to needle him on the project’s future.

💬 Town Talker is a weekly column on local politics. Drop me a line about the talk of the town: [email protected]

Editor's note: This story was corrected to show that DDOT is considering widening the bike lanes from 5 feet to 7 feet (not inches).

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