PoPville PSA – Road Hazard for bike on 9th St, NW by Convention Center

“Dear PoPville,

I bike down 9th street, NW to get downtown often. There is a strange track-looking thing that extends down 9th between L and M, NW. See the attached pictures. It is a deep groove between two metal plates and it’s been there for as long as I can remember, years? It’s just big enough to trap a bike tire inside and despite me avoiding riding over/near it, I must have turned wrong yesterday and my wheel lodged itself inside the track and catapulted me into the street.

First, what is this thing? Does it serve a purpose? I remember there being an issue on H street when the tracks were installed and had to be fixed because of a similar bike hazard. Do you think DDOT would care about this issue?

– Bruised and bloody Mt Vernon Square resident.”

Unfortunately this issue comes up about every six months after a crash. In previous comments we’ve learned:

“They are expansion joints. Due to changes in weather, hot and cold, materials expand or contract. You will most commonly see these on bridges. The reason why the convention center has these is because of the sky walks over the streets. The expansion joints allow the entire building to move together and prevents cracking.”

57 Comment

  • I think Danny Macaskill could handle it in Washington like he does in Scotland:


  • Preventing an enormous building from cracking, becoming destabilized, and potentially killing thousands of people in a horrible catastrophe is NO EXCUSE! A biker fell, people! What is the DOT thinking?

  • I bit it there this past winter – was very lucky to not have a car behind me to run me over. Now I avoid that section like the plague when riding into town.

  • I got in a huge accident from expansion joints last year (the ones near Georgetown and Washington Circle).

    I was:
    knocked unconscious
    had a concussion
    chipped 5 teeth
    sliced open my chin
    fractured my sub orbital
    broke my nose in two places
    skinned myself
    sprained my wrist

    Those things are dangerous. I rode over them every day for 2 years before this happened (must have been a very hot day). So even if you think you’re fine going over them, be careful!

    • Just curious, were you wearing a helmet? I got shoved to the side by a taxi while riding my bike to work through Adams Morgan and hit my head on one of those old fire call boxes while flipping over my handlebars. Luckily, I was wearing a helmet. I hope you healed quickly.

    • goodness gracious, take the bus!

    • I wiped out on the 9th St. expansion joints a couple years ago. Fortunately, I happened to hit the pavement with (among other things) my helmet. Broke my helmet, but other than being dazed and bruised, I walked away okay.

      I don’t f*ck with 9th anymore. I seriously didn’t even notice a thing until I was flying through the air. The shopkeeper who came out to assist me mentioned that I was the second person to wipe out there that week, and that the other guy, despite a helmet, wound up bleeding profusely from his head and going to the hospital.

      Expansion joints are, obviously, necessary, especially given how enormous the underground part of the convention center is…so the best thing to do is just avoid those streets completely.

  • Send a note to WABA … if your bike has any damage, you can file a claim with the city. Be warned … it takes about 6 months to get a response; in my case the city blamed it on Pepco absolving themselves of all blame. At that point I just said “forget it” and swallowed up the $700+ in damages.

    @ Mr. Stevens: Yes, these are necessary precautions; however, the city is responsible for providing safe roadways for its citizens and there is no excuse to leave these tire biters in the road.

    • “the city is responsible for providing safe roadways for its citizens”

      The city does provide plenty of safe roadways for its citizens. However, it is up to the citizens to choose the ones best suited for their particular mode of transportation.

      • So, in your opinion, would it be ok for a street or sidewalk to have an open manhole cover, because citizens can find other avenues “best suited for their particular mode of transportation”?

        That is pretty dumb. If something in the street is causing accidents even when people are exercising a normal level of caution and attention, it should be addressed.

        I don’t see why these expansion joints couldn’t be filled with rubber or something to allow the building to flex without leaving an open gap.

  • I thought those had something to do with the fact that the street is really the roof of a parking garage for the convention center. Any truth to this?

    And there are no skywalks over 9th Street. They’re only over L and M streets.

    • Yeah, I believe the expansion joints are due to the underground space, not the skywalks (the skywalks probably have their own expansion joints to deal with them). Still, it should be possible to design a cover that fits on top of the joint and covers it so that bike tires don’t fall into the crack. There might be a problem with snow plows getting caught on the cover, although it should be possible to design around that as well.

  • Same thing happened to me about a year ago on these tracks – got flung off and over my bike but was fortunately ok.

    After my experience, and especially with the construction of the Marriott Marquis on this block and lane closure/lack of shoulder, I typically just bike on the sidewalk along the Convention Center on the east side of the street for this block.

  • Better avoid the sidebike and use the bikeroad instead.Glad I was able to figure that one out for ya.

  • Somewhat related- and I hope this isn’t interpreted as blaming the victim, but…

    Biking safely also involves choosing good routes. Why bike down 9th street to get downtown in the first place? 11th street has bike lanes, and 10th street is one way near the convention center and has few cars on it.

    Sometimes I see people biking down horrible streets (for bikes;) some look nervous and others are getting honked at and generally looking like they’re making a mess of things.

    Just a tiny two-cent comment from a biker who chooses my route based on enjoying my ride; and not having to worry about cars coming fast behind me.

    • Fair enough. Victim here: this happens to be one block from my home in downtown DC so unless I go the wrong way down a one-way, ride on sidewalks, it’s kind of unavoidable.

      Also – I just noticed from this picture but it looks like there are covers on the expansion joint on the sidewalks to protect pedestrians and/or wheelchairs.

      • Ya, I used to live near there too. I give you permission to go the wrong way on the oneway. If anyone has a problem with it, they can come and talk to me.

        Safey first!

    • Google Maps actually recommends 9th street in its bicycle directions for getting downtown. I, like a lot of the above commenters, only had to obey Google once (when I was first biking—I didn’t know the good routes back then) before learning the hard way. For me, it was a cab that was pushing me out of the lane that caused me to…interact…with the expansion joints and fling off into space.

      Now, I avoid that block like the plague.

  • It sounds like at the very least, that area needs signage saying something like “Caution to Bicyclists: Joints in Road.”

    I feel like I’ve seen some signage on highways (maybe on a bridge on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway?) warning motorcyclists about the joints.

    • There is a warning sign for bikers that alerts them to a joint in the road at the intersection of 9th and L. Though due to all of the construction in the area, it could be easily overlooked. But then again, all the construction traffic on this road is another reason for me to avoid it!

    • Then the stoner bikers would start tearing up the roads, thinking there were joints they could smoke in them. 🙂

  • They should tear down the convention center so that we have a more bike friendly city.

    I’d love to know what its like to have the mind of an angry DC cyclist who finds everything that is the least bit of a problem for bikers to be the biggest crisis and believes that they are some superior being in the transportation ecosystem.

    • Amen,

      I am kind of surprised there haven’t been numerous reccomendations to start a petition to DDOT, or to call the Mayor.

      Cyclist really do have a tendency to blow the most ridiculously miniscule problems (they athey could just as easily avoid) completely out of proportion.

      • Actually, my survey of the comments from bikers seem to hover around “Be careful, those are dangerous.” message Not this hyperbolic crap you seem to be attributing to them.

        I really wonder what the demographics of PoP’s readership are. Angry grandpas who are scared of this changing world? Confused law-students from the burbs who are just overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of things that are not exactly and completely familiar to them?

        Whenever a bicycle is mentioned on this glorious blog, there is a reliable contingent of people who spout histrionic crap about how bicyclists are ruining the city. And often they’ll take time to pick on Latinos while they’re at it. WTF? It seems to me that maybe city life isn’t really for you? Cities all over this great land feature both racial and transportational diversity, and those are often seen as selling points, not problems.

        Have you considered a nice housing estate in Fairfax? That might be more up your alley?

        • I hate to say it, but Fairfax County has more diversity these days than DC. All the Asian, Latino, and Middle Eastern immigrants go there, and many of the African ones as well.

        • Just not liking how some (read: not all) bikers choose to conduct themselves on the roadways means that one should move to the suburbs? And means that same person hates Latinos? Nice “hyperbolic crap.”

          • Yeah, that was quite a leap to the Latino comment.

          • Its not that far fetched. There were lots of comments about latinos riding on sidewalks with no helmets, and riding down the one ways streets in the wrong dircetion

        • With you right up to the racial bit. WTF at you. Way to race bait, buddy.

        • Actually, maybe PoP readers are people with a bit of civic pride and interest in proper urban behaviour. So, I’d imagine lots of readers are justifiably pissed (I certainly am) when they see bicyclists daily flouting every traffic law they can break by:
          – Not stopping for pedestrians
          – Not stopping for red lights
          – Riding against one-way traffic
          – Not stopping at stop signs
          – Not yielding on entry into traffic circles
          – Riding on sidewalks south of Mass
          – Weaving thru traffic instead of going with the flow
          – Etc.

          And then, on top of behaving as if rules are for other people, the most frequent bicyclist posts on PoP are complaints about how horrendously bicyclists are treated by everyone else in DC. Frankly it’s a bit rich, and belies a grandiose sense of entitlement that is hard to comprehend.

          So go ahead and rant mindlessly about how cities require respect for diversity. In truth, anyone with a well-adjusted sense of civic pride would recognize that diversity in lawless behaviour deserves no such respect at all.

          • well said

          • So… you are saying that all bicyclists are basically the scourge of the Earth.

            Okay. I just find the generalizations annoying.

          • No, I don’t think cyclists are the scourge of the earth. That sobriquet should be reserved for drivers who block the box at rush hour 😉

            But, I do think a lot of DC bicyclists need to behave like respectible citizens and obey laws if they want to be taken seriously and respected as legitimate commuters.

            I may have generalized to an extent, but from my personal experience of twice getting hit by an inattentive cyclist while I was walking in a crosswalk, the number of cyclists who break traffic laws far, far exceeds those who do.

          • Sorry, Freudian typing….

            last phrase should read: the number of cyclists who break traffic laws far, far exceeds those who obey them.

          • there are law-breaking assholes who ride bikes, and there are law-breaking assholes who drive cars.

            assholes on bikes kill themselves, and assholes in cars kill other people.

          • Oh, OK, I get it….so by that logic since buses are bigger than cars, and buses roll thru intersections too, I should stop taking the bus and switch to driving instead, right?

            Let’s cut this relativism crap and focus on my explanation for why there’s so much vitriol hurled at bikers when one of them bitches about how hard it is to be two wheels good/four wheels bad: because bikers place themselves above the law while simultaneously expecting the rest of the world to revolve around them. And the sanctimonious preaching about saving the planet isn’t endearing, either.

    • +1 and +1 to Amen as well.

      Sorry you got hurt, but recognize you also chose to use a means of transport that offers a much higher likelihood of being injured.

  • Why don’t they just put a rubber or otherwise flexible gasket over the joint, allowing it to move and also not catapulting cyclists over their handlebars?

    • I agree with this. Seems like an easy fix. I wouldn’t hold my breath for the city to act on it, though.

      On the other hand, (and I’m speaking as someone who has spent years and years on a bike, in the city) it seems like the only way you’d end up stuck in this thing is to hit it at a *precisely* parallel angle. Any one of the other 360 degrees on the compass and you would pass harmlessly over it. Unless I’m seeing/interpreting the picture wrong…

      Whenever I see something like this, I purposefully take it at a sharp angle to avoid this very type of accident. This is part of the self-preservation instinct you have to have when you ride on city streets. We have be responsible for taking reasonable precautions to ensure our own safety, just like when you step over a crack or gap in the sidewalk.

      • austindc

        I got caught sometimes on the trolley tracks up in Boston, and sometimes you can come at them from a shallow angel and the things just roll your wheel right down in there and then hold it like a vice. They can really surprise you, even when you think you’re good.

        Obviously the solution here would be some sweet BMX ramps to launch you over the gap. Get on it DDOT!

    • Exactly. Or a metal threshold anchored to only one side of the gap which would allow the necessary expansion/contraction but keep it covered.

      This is a simple fix to a life-threatening design. It takes $2 of materials to avoid thousands of dollars of medical expenses, hours of police/EMT accident and injury response time, and maybe save a life.

      A lot of people here like to see cyclists get hurt though, which is pretty disgusting.

  • Just like Paris-Roubaix, but not.

  • POP might want to note that the expansion joints in the picture look to be filled as they are supposed to. Most of the stretch on 9th Street is not properly filled with rubber (or whatever it is they put in there) that would prevent bicyclist crashes.

    I had the same fall two years ago and the city still hasn’t fixed this problem despite being notified. I’m sure they are well aware, so why can’t DDOT send someone out to fill in these properly? These crashes are totally preventable and I fear there will be a fatality one of these days….

  • Forgive me, as I’m fairly new to the city, but isn’t 9th St just south of the convention center marked with the right lane as bus/bike only? (Though, this seems as an odd and potentially dangerous combo.)

    To me, it makes sense that bike traffic would be coming down 9th right past the convention center to access this this special lane. In other places I’ve lived, expansion joints (or odd, oblique RR crossings) are signed for cyclists. The temporary sign near the Marquis construction (in construction orange) just went up.

Comments are closed.