Thursday, May 28, 2015

Southeast Boulevard Bike Tour

While DDOT sorts out plans to build more Capitol Hill in the footprint of the former Southeast Freeway, the space has temporarily been restored for use as an east-west connection between 11th St. SE and Barney Circle (Pennsylvania Ave.) SE.

Area overview
It's disappointing to defer this opportunity, though it's unclear how much of a setback the new configuration is. The old freeway was an extension of the busy 295/395/695 complex, but this version has a stoplight at 11th. It looks very similar to the old freeway and even uses some of the original pavement. It doesn't create new livable space, doesn't connect anything to the residential surrounding, but it isn't the same old raceway.

But can bikes use it? Let's see...

11th St. SE, looking north
Approaching from 11th St., which has bike lanes and markings, it doesn't look like an inviting route.

Or maybe it is. This non-specific sign that summarizes DC law says enough to plausibly excuse my confusion.

EB ramp
The first section appears to have a promising shoulder, so even if traffic is overwhelming I should be able to find a safe place.

EB narrowing shoulder
Soon the space between the active lanes and the right wall narrows - but the left wall comes to an end. I quickly checked traffic and saw no vehicles coming up behind me, so I continued.

EB speed limit
Here the unused "shoulder" space has totally disappeared, though there seems to be a fully unused lane to the left. With a 30 MPH speed limit and clear views I'm not worried about being unseen by drivers. And I think I see...

EB widens again
...that the wall on the right is coming to an end. A quick glance behind it shows there's a lot more pavement being kept in reserve, so this space is narrowed for no obvious reason. Plus, there's that whole lane on the left.

EB off-ramp approach
Riding just a bit further along I notice I'm nearing the end of this leg. That green sign indicates the ramp up to Pennsylvania Ave. SE, and while I've ridden there before it's not my goal today. I check again that no vehicles are behind me, as I prepare to move left.

EB closed lane
This may be DC's most protected bike lane ever. It's smooth and wide, it has its own shoulder, and it's protected by closely spaced and highly visible barrels. And because it doesn't make the same connections as the road it parallels, it's highly unlikely to be used by other vehicles no matter how heavy traffic on this road may ever be. However, during this four minute trip I saw exactly zero other vehicles.

This leg is all new pavement, by the way. It's four lanes wide, but only two are in use. If an actual bicycle and pedestrian facility had been included by design it would have added only the cost of the paint to make it so. Maybe we forgot to ask.

EB Pennsylvania Ave underpass
Some of the paved space that isn't used for moving people is used for parking and moving construction vehicles, probably related to the continuing 11th Street Bridge project as well as this temporary arrangement. That may fill an important need (and I hope we're appropriately capturing the value of this land), but at this point there's a lot of empty space surrounding the roadway. It wouldn't be arduous to consolidate this equipment storage into some of the spaces that aren't suitable for moving people. Continuing through here there are easy connections to RFK Stadium and Pennsylvania Ave (for non-motorized vehicles anyway) but they're unmaintained for now.

Time to head back...

WB ramp
To arrive here you would have to cross the Sousa Bridge in general purpose lanes and take the appropriate exit. I've done so before. Let's not detail the alternate route I used.

WB ramp
Whee! With light traffic this is a fun ramp to ride down into the Pennsylvania Ave. underpass. In the morning I don't know if it would be safe as-is. There is no space to ride except in the general purpose lanes. (Not pictured: signs in the tunnel warn of a 25 MPH reduced speed work zone. If the limit was set and enforced at 25 MPH for the entire ramp cyclists could much more confidently ride here at any traffic load.)

EB ramp
This section of the eastbound leg is unchanged from the legacy freeway. There is much debris along the side of the roadway, and vegetation is overgrowing the wall. Still no other vehicles here so far.

EB speed limit
The eastbound speed limit is also 30 MPH. This sign includes the generic warning that speed is enforced by radar. It is not, and there are no speed sensors or cameras in evidence. Again, there's a wall to the left and I suspect there's unused pavement there as well.

EB legacy sign
The sign reads "DWIGHT D EISENHOWER FREEWAY". It should at least be amended to reflect the Boulevard designation, or people might mistakenly believe nothing has changed. The wall to the left has ended, revealing usable pavement as I expected - just in time, as the shoulder is narrowing here.

Those two vehicles are the first I've seen on this whole roadway. I'd estimate they were traveling at least 40 MPH. This could get dicey...

EB shoulder ends
...quickly. Once again, this could have been adjusted with paint, and the unused pavement to the left would have a purpose. With additional vehicles approaching at well above the posted limit, I think it's time to explore that a bit.

EB closed lane
As with the westbound leg, the unused portion of the roadway is well protected and in good condition. Next time I ride this way I'll move to these bicycle boulevards much sooner.

EB closed lane ends
This section of the leg is new pavement. The original pavement was demolished, and had to be rebuilt to reopen the roadway. I'm hopeful it continues after this gap...

EB approach to 11th
...but it doesn't. This wall also blocks off usable pavement for no obvious reason. With the stoplight at 11th ahead I'm not uncomfortable using the general purpose lane at this hour, but I'm aware that a vehicle approaching from behind might blame "sun blindness" for hitting me so I'm very cautious and aware.

EB with turn lanes
This car was the last to pass me, and the road behind was totally clear, so I moved back to the right lane. This view reveals that the left wall was indeed protecting usable pavement again, but the wall is terminated to create the turn lane.

EB junction at 11th
We're back up to four lanes here. It's not apparent from these video stills, but the eastbound and westbound legs of the boulevard have separate intersections with 11th St., with staggered traffic control cycles. The two turn-only lanes here serve the purpose of maximizing through traffic to 695/395.

Kinda hard not to think of the Southeast Boulevard as one long on-ramp.

I was tempted to continue my exploration on 695, but the sun was sinking low and I had to head home. Think I'll take the 11th St. SE bike lanes, since they're right here.

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