Pennsylvania Avenue could arguable be considered DC's most important street, and it competes with K Street as DC's most famous (thanks Soderbergh!) but since the section in front of the White House was closed it's become less important as an automobile thoroughfare. In recognition of this, a couple of efforts are underway to change the street to match the changing city. A related effort recently started on the section between the Capitol and the Anacostia.
East of that is the section in front of the White House that was turned into a security plaza back in 2004. This section is widely used by cyclists - at least when it's not closed by the Secret Service. Such closures have anecdotally been more frequent, but no one at USSS will respond to my questions about the frequency with which it's closed or why, so I have little to add on that. Closing it is an inconvenience to cyclists for sure, but it's difficult to know whether or not this is a balanced reaction without knowing why it's happening.
On the next section, between the White House and the Capital, The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the General Services Administration (GSA), the National Park Service (NPS), and the District of Columbia Government have formed an Executive Committee to consider near- and long-term improvements to the Avenue. They note
The Avenue no longer serves as an east-west vehicular thoroughfare for the city. Since there are many choices about how to move through the neighborhood today, the Avenue may have an extra 20-feet of roadway, allocated to cars, that is no longer necessary. With street closures at the White House and a surface parking lot at the Avenue’s eastern terminus, strategies will consider how to rebalance the public space (road and sidewalks) to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users. Strategies will also consider how the Avenue can improve multi-modal mobility while also accommodating a range of activities, some of which require enhanced security elements.
Among the initial findings of a transportation study are that a lack of east-west connectivity results in motorists traveling on the Avenue for a short distance to access major north/south routes and that due to signal timing and the width of the Avenue, pedestrians must share the median space with bicyclists, often resulting in conflicts. They also state that while half of the streets crossing the Avenue are accessible by bicycle and the Avenue’s central median cycletrack provides convenient eastwest bicycle access along with excellent views of the U.S. Capitol; the bicycle network lacks adequate connections to the Mall and Capitol Hill.
Other bike network findings from the Urban Design Analysis are that
- Closing E Street to bicycles and pedestrians impacts the seamless connections between destinations east and west of the White House.
- The bicycle network connections south of the Avenue across the National Mall are limited to the sidewalk along 15th Street, or bike lane along 4th Street. More of the northern streets have bicycle lanes.
- Bikeshare capactiy is limited. Several Bikeshare stations are a short walk from the Avenue, but none are directly on it.
- The Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track is unique, and is one of the most heavily used in Washington. The width of the street, turn
lanes, and pedestrians cause bicyclist conflicts within the median at intersections.
- The study area’s north-south elevation change is a disadvantage for some cyclists and impacts Bikeshare’s ability to balance the system throughout the day.
- There are no bike racks along the Avenue and few within the study area
Yes. Yes. All these things. Fix some of these most egregious problems and the street would become much more bikeable.
The UDA notes that the cycletrack on Pennsylvania, despite its flaws, has changed the road into an important cycling route. "Throughout the study area, connections north to Union Station and south to the National Mall have heavy bicycle volumes."
There are no plans identified for how to change it, and this is a multi-year effort, but for biking some of the changes - like allowing bikeshare on the Avenue - should be easy to implement.
Meanwhile, in October, CM Allen hosted a summit on the future of the section of Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the Anacostia.
The meeting, attended by more than 125 Hill residents, overflowed into the hallway. In addition to the public, the summit was attended by numerous stakeholders, including District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Chief Project Delivery Officer Sam Zimbabwe and staff working on each of the three major DDOT projects on the corridor; representatives of the National Park Service (NPS) and National Park Police; Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B; representatives of the Office of Planning and the Department of Health, including the Department of Health and Human Services; and three private developers working on projects on the corridor.
[Some] expressed concern about the safety of Pennsylvania Avenue for pedestrians and cyclists, given the status of the roadway as thoroughfare between the center of the District and Maryland. Zimbabwe responded that the recent signal optimization was designed to assist with this, but added that a Capitol Hill Transportation Study conducted nearly ten years ago had helped inform DDOT as to neighborhood goals, and that a similar study should be undertaken in 2019.
Hopefully, the vision summit and a transportation study can lead to a more bike friendly Pennsylvania, which is something the local ANC wants as well. DDOT's Mike Goodno came to ANC 6B's transportation committee meeting to discuss that.
Mr. Mike Goodno, DDOT Bicycle Program Specialist, told the Committee that adding bike lanes to Pennsylvania Avenue SE has been under consideration by DDOT since 2005 and was included in moveDC (the District’s multimodal longterm transportation plan) in 2014. Since the report was completed, Mr. Goodno said that DDOT has been working on the Tier 1 projects identified by moveDC and is now beginning to consider Tier 2 items, of which the PA bike lane is one.
Mr. Goodno provided the Committee with a review of existing conditions along the Avenue and an overview of 4 possible options: buffered bike lanes, protected curbside lanes, protected median side lanes, and median lanes. All options result in advantages and disadvantages for the various users, including vehicle flows and parking, bicyclists, and pedestrians.1 Committee members engaged in extensive discussions with Mr. Goodno.
On a motion by RM Holman, seconded by RM Grissom, the Committee voted 8-0 to recommend that the ANC send a letter to DDOT requesting the agency to conduct a comprehensive study of the options for bike lanes along the length of Pennsylvania Avenue SE from the Capitol to the Sousa Bridge.
East of the River, the Avenue was studied as part of the 2007 Great Street Initiative, part of which resulted in the side path from 27th to 38th. More recently, there was a plan to improve the intersection of Pennsylvania and Minnesota Avenue, but it doesn't include any bicycle facilities.
The Avenue from the the Sousa Bridge to 27th is not particularly appealing to cyclists (and I ride it almost every day) so finding a way to improve it would really close a gap. If Pennsylvania Avenue could be improved from west downtown all the way to Alabama Avenue, it would potential become the most important biking diagonal in DC. These efforts are still in the early phases in most cases, and they'll need active involvement from stakeholders to see fruition.