Kevin Rogers risks getting a ticket every time he visits 17th Street in Dupont Circle.
With a lack of handicap parking spots, the corridor of streetearies, bars, cafes and businesses makes it hard for people who have paraplegia like Rogers to get around. So instead, he parks in a loading zone.
Rogers has been outspoken about the recent transformation of 17th Street parking, bike and driving lanes.
He said he is looking out for the next person with mobility issues who struggles to find accessible parking spots in the area.
“I have been doing this for 40 years. I have been fighting accessibility for a long time,” Rogers said.
17th Street has always been host to a network of “shareability” issues, with narrow streets causing tension between the retailers, pedestrians and vehicle traffic, according to many local residents.
During the pandemic, more people began walking, biking and running throughout the city, sparking a conversation surrounding potential improvements. Formerly, the street had only a narrow one-way bike lane going south, with no room for bikers to safely ride in the opposite direction.
DDOT transformed the corridor entirely in July by adding space dedicated to streetearies, a shared through-traffic lane southbound and a single protected bike lane northbound. While these changes improved the area for pedestrians and bikers, they reduced street parking and loading zones.
Three months later, it seems few people are happy.
People gathered in front of the Safeway on 17th Street on Friday, protesting the bike lane and demanding a comprehensive review, a study of alternatives and a public presentation of the ongoing bike lane plans for the rest of the street.
Some protestors held a sign that read “NO BIKE HIGHWAY ON 17th!” citing high-speed cyclists as one of the primary issues the bike lane creates.
Former 2B ANC Commissioner Aaron Landry said he oversaw the project for the reverse bike lane when it was proposed by the DC Department of Transportation in July of 2020. Landry said DDOT took the perspectives of many stakeholders into account and came up with a compromise for all people involved. While he said it isn’t the perfect solution to some of the issues on 17th Street, he said it accommodated most of the people that held stake.
“The overall result is a much safer and lively street, and I’m really proud of the work we did to help make 17th Street safer,” Landry said.
The strip along 17th Street is part of a larger plan within the District of Columbia to improve its streets by adding an additional 20 miles of protected bike lanes by 2022. Though the plans are motivated by increasing bike transportation, the lanes affect more than just bikers.
With 17th Street being a host to many streetearies, local businesses and other staples, the replacement of street parking with a bike lane affects the entire East Dupont community. (Heidi Kirk / The Wash)
Dupont East Civic Action Association President Nick Delledonne has been one of the most outspoken voices in the community against the bike lane. Delledonne said he thinks the bike lane has caused a host of issues, including dangerous streets for pedestrians due to high-speed cyclists. Delledonne said he fears that someone might get hit by a fast-moving bike while trying to cross the street.
“We don’t want anyone to be injured. The protected bike lane causes a hazard for the residents. It is really dangerous,” Delledonne said.
Another issue that Delledonne raised with the bike lanes was the removal of parking spaces to accommodate them.
One of the local businesses affected by the lane is Cairo Wine and Liquor. Owner Howard Aaronson said he’s not against bike lanes in general but said he thinks that 17th Street would be better off without them. He said he thinks the space could be better utilized by parking spaces for his customers.
“It is affecting our customers because there is no place for them to park,” Aaronson said.
While the street does have loading zones in place, Delledonne said they aren’t well marked or plentiful enough to support the number of businesses that are receiving shipments on any given day.
Cairo Wine and Liquor Owner Howard Aaronson said his truck drivers risk getting a ticket every time they bring a shipment due to the lack of loading zones. Additionally, they struggle to pull out of the designated zones for lack of space. (Heidi Kirk / The Wash)
Ariton Ishmali echoes the same concern. He said he is bike-savvy but doesn’t dare ride on 17th Street for fear of being hit by a car or a high-speed scooter that is improperly using the lane.
“I am a biker, but if I come this way, I am looking to kill myself,” Ishmali said.
Despite these skeptics, other bikers said they think the lane is a huge improvement to the area and makes the community a safer place for bikers, drivers and pedestrians alike.
Daniel Adler said he thinks the lane doesn’t just benefit bikers but makes the community an overall more accessible place for people to live. Adler said he sees more locals out and about since the changes to the strip made it a more vibrant spot for people to gather together.
“It made the street more friendly for people. We have taken a public space that was previously dedicated to cars, and we have converted it into a space for people,” Adler said.
Stephen Marencic uses the lane to bike to work. He said the changes have improved his commute astronomically and even makes him feel more comfortable biking with his kid.
“I have been hit several times [before the changes],” Marencic said. “The lane gives me more confidence in biking around the neighborhood.”
But Adler said he thinks there is still work to be done on 17th Street. He said he thinks the community could benefit from raised crosswalks and clearer signage. Despite these suggested improvements, he said he thinks the configuration is overall benefiting the community and not causing a hazard for pedestrians.
Despite some opposition and calls to action, DDOT is still moving forward with a bike lane extension. The Advisory Neighborhood Commission for the Dupont Circle Neighborhood passed the extension plans at its Sept. 9 meeting.
The extension runs from T Street NW to Florida Avenue and will be installed in the coming months.