Sunday, May 19, 2013

Red cups?

On Bike to Work Day 2013, a few people at the Freedom Plaza pit stop were treated to a red carpet of sorts in the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, from 11th to 14th NW. I took these pictures at about 6 AM, shortly after putting the last cups in place.

The cups on the left were crushed while I placed others a block away

These cups had been crushed and re-filled

Heading off to work
This wasn't something I thought of on my own, and wasn't completely random. The same idea worked wonders in Brooklyn, while a similar project in Manhattan also had good effect, and even in notoriously bike-unfriendly Toronto advocates successfully used found trash to protect a space for cyclists.

Not so in DC. As you can see in my pictures, even with light traffic some of the cups were already crushed by drivers who simply couldn't give space for the bike lanes. I was unable to stay, but it was reported that many more of the cups were smashed within an hour, and by 7:30 a cleaning crew was seen vacuuming them up, long before most of DC's Bike to Work Day crowd assembled.

To rehash some of the history here, DDOT had originally installed protective posts near intersections, and the mid-block gaps between them contributed to the misunderstanding about U-turns across the bike lanes. Mayor Gray issued an executive order prohibiting those turns in December - by which time DDOT was removing the posts in order to repave and beautify Pennsylvania Avenue for the inaugural procession in January. Cyclists were assured that the posts would be installed as soon as possible after the procession, allowing for weather and other concerns, but as February and March elapsed without any work some people began to speculate that perhaps an even better solution could be in the works.

Something like this would help

Hope springs eternal, especially in spring in DC, but as April and now most of May have elapsed with no further progress it has become clear that there's some other obstacle involved. The flex-posts that had been providing minimal protection until the inauguration had been left in a pile near the eastern end of the cycletrack, but they have now been removed. Focus has shifted to the M Street cycletrack project (slated for completion in August, God and his followers willing), and work toward protecting the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack seems all but forgotten.

I had hoped that the presence of a couple hundred cups on top of the painted lines would have a calming effect on traffic around the central Bike to Work Day pit stop. That perhaps one of the two announced mayoral candidates expected to lead a convoy through that area (or even our current mayor) might be inspired to pledge for better protection for all of DC's ~50 miles of bike infrastructure even as that network continues to expand. Instead, DC proved that even though they can't accomplish the hard parts on any reasonable schedule, they can at least sweep statements of protest and dissent out of the way in a hurry. (I'll save my speculation about who made that happen to myself - for now. If my hunch is right, it would be a doozy, but it's just a hunch so far.)

I have some cups left over. A lot, really. Maybe putting out more symbolic temporary bike lanes made of red cups would bring more attention to places like 11th or 14th where the official lanes start and stop from block to block. Maybe surrounding vehicles illegally parked in bike lanes with red cups would make a different sort of statement - it would definitely go through a lot of cups. Maybe, because it's a symbolic effort anyway, simply taking a picture of a red cup in front of a bike lane problem would be a good and simple way for each of us to illustrate places where things could be better for DC's cyclists.

I'll even provide the cups, if you need any.