The video embedded below documents a bicycle ride by the author and two companions in Washington, DC where special bicycle signals and road markings have been installed to establish continuity of New Hampshire Avenue at its intersection with U Street and 16th Street.
The video tells the story of an unusual pass through the intersection — the signal actuator somehow didn’t give us the green on the first go-round. It did on other passes.
Aside from that one quirk, the video shows the usual signal timing (though it might be different at another time of day). The most significant finding is the short time to get into the “bike box” which is located ahead of motorists’ advanced stop line. There wouldn’t be be enough time for any large number of bicyclists who had been waiting for the signal.
Several additional issues remain to be shown in other videos. Here is a preview of what they will show:
- The bike boxes are very small, also a problem with large numbers of bicyclists.
- Motorist encroachment into the bike boxes is endemic.
- Some motorists misunderstand the installation to the degree that they become angry at bicyclists who use it as intended. We were buzzed on one pass by someone driving a big black SUV.
- Probably 90 percent of cyclists passing through this intersection on New Hampshire Avenue do not use the facility as intended. Rather, most use the crosswalks — commonly going around clockwise. With the option to go either clockwise or counterclockwise, bicyclists can start across on either pedestrian phase, rather than having to wait through as much as an entire signal cycle for the special bicycle phase.
Before I actually rode through this installation, I thought that it was a particularly good one. I have a blog post expressing that opinion. That post also gives a detailed description of the installation and its history.
The installation doesn’t violate any principles of traffic theory. In particular, when used as intended, it doesn’t place bicyclists and motorists out of sight of each other and on a collision course. But as Yogi Berra, or maybe Albert Einstein, memorably said, “[I]n theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” This installation makes the intended movements unattractive due to the short timing and tight space. The installation also makes bicyclists wait much longer to take the intended routes than to take others — which don’t even necessarily require illegal movements. As such, this installation unfortunately is not, in my opinion, successful.