Dear PoPville – Is it safe to bike on 16th St?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Faucetini

Dear PoPville,

I was biking up 15th St. on Tuesday when I saw police diverting traffic from 16th st. onto Irving. Curious, I biked further to see what was going on and found the entire block between Arkansas Ave and Oak St. closed. An accident investigation team was working and a bike was on the roadway. I didn’t get closer, afraid of what I might see. The biker went down and a car following behind hit the cyclist.

This raises the question whether biking on that section of 16th is safe. Your options are limited on 16th. You can:

1. Bike to the side of the road and hope cars pass safely.
2. Bike as fast as you can and hope to keep up with traffic
3. Take up the entire lane and piss everyone off.
4. Bike on the crowded sidewalk.
5. Bike on another road.

Personally, I try to bike on other roads through that area but there’s a bottleneck in that part of town. What do others suggest? Is 16th St. safe to bike on?

89 Comment

  • I sure as hell would not bike on 16th.

    Also, STAY OFF THE SIDEWALKS. Serious pet peeve of mine. Please do not call people who ride on the sidewalk cyclists, because they are not, and they give other cyclists a bad name.

    • +1000 Why would you ever bike on 16th street. 14th or 15th Streets should be used instead! Also, completely agree that those that bike on the sidewalks are not cyclists. It is usually someone on an old mountain bike that does not look like they have ever been a bike before.

    • I totally agree with you — get off the sidewalks damnit!

    • Did you consider Rock Creek Park. Several ways to enter via 16th…

      Oh yeah,,, use the sidewalk. Better you are alive versus worrying about pissing off “cyclists.”

      That is just stupid… do you think his bike should grow wings…

      Oh yeah, drive to the other side of the city.

      That is just stupid.

      • I think it’s ok to bike on 16th if you are pretty fast and willing to assert yourself. By that I mean you should be willing to take up a whole lane so that you don’t get squeezed between a car passing you in your lane and a parked car that may open a door at any moment. When going up 16th I recommend riding on the sidewalk when you get to Meridian Hill Park. It’s a very wide sidewalk and cyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk outside the downtown core. Just be courteous.

  • I bike on 16th during the weekends, but avoid it during weekdays. It’s a busy, unpredictable street with not a lot of space, so I prefer the lanes on 15th, 14th, or 11th. I hope the cyclist (if one was hit) is ok.

  • 16th Street is an Emergency Evacuation street. Biking should not be allowed on emergency streets even if it is not an emergency.

    • sunsquashed

      That doesn’t make much sense. If there really was an emergency, a road crammed with bikes could be cleared much easier than a road filled with cars (hey there’s an ambulance, lets pick up our bikes and move to the sidewalk).

      • @ sunsquashed. These are deemed “Emerengcy” streets because they serve as a major way to get people and automobiles out of the city in case of an emergency such as a natural disasters, security incident, etc.

        • sunsquashed

          Well, I’m a person, but not an automobile. There should not be any auto only roads going through the heart of a city with a large number of bikes and pedestrians.

          • Be sure to call a pedi-cab instead of an ambulance if you ever need to get to a hospital. I’m sure that they will provide you with practical service.

          • sunsquashed

            Again, it’s much easier for a bike to move off the road than a car….. I’m still not seeing why an Emergency lane should be off-limits to bikes.

          • Sure…..lets hold up the flow of traffic of 500 cars with 3 people in each for one guy going up Meridian Hill during an emergency!

          • sunsquashed

            Again, really simple question…… if an emergency vehicle needs to pass, which is easier to clear from the road, a bicycle or a car? I’ve seen many firetrucks and ambulances stuck in traffic, but they were not stuck behind bicycles, they were stuck behind cars.

        • I’ll wave as i ride my bike between stuck cars on 16th street during the next zombie apocalypse. this subject was broached on DCist the day of the earthquake last year. Everyone was jammed in traffic on GA ave and North Capitol and I passed e’eryone of them on my bike. That was probably the worst argument against biking on 16th street.

          • In a zombie apocalypse, would you really trade the security of a car for the versatility of a bike? Plus, even if you got out of the city faster, your top speed is badly limited. In the zombie apocalypse you want the F150 with the oversized rhino bar and a shot gun. Just saying… your bike won’t do shit except get yourself killed.

        • Sunsquashed…..YOU are the one missing the point. The Emergency Routes are for mass evecuation of people in automobiles during emergencies that occur….not necessarily an ambulance, fire engine, etc…… are missing the point of an emergency evacuation route. Of course, its easy to get your bike off the street if an emergency vehicle needs to get by you….however, you are missing the point of the conversation. My point is about emergency evacuation routes, their definition, and the most efficient way to get hundreds of thousands of people out of downton quicky in the event of an emergency.

          • Obviously Sasquached was not here on 9/11 when millions of people were trying to get OUT the city at once.

          • sunsquashed

            But why should bikes be excluded from these streets when there is no emergency? My riding up and down 16th street has no effect on the ability of cars to evacuate the city, because if/when that is actually necessary (maybe once every 10-20 years?), I can simply get off the road in less than two seconds.
            I think that you just don’t like bikes.

      • DDOT website says the following about Emergency Evacuation Routes—–
        “If evacuation is necessary, DDOT has identified nineteen (19) principal evacuation routes to evacuate the District. These routes can also help DRIVERS get into and out of our city during major non-emergency events, such as July 4th……..”

      • Sunsquashed…..YOU are the one missing the point. The Emergency Routes are for mass evecuation of people in automobiles during emergencies that occur….not necessarily an embulance, fire engine, etc…… are missing the point of an emergency evacuation route. Of course, its easy to get your bike off the street if an emergency vehicle needs to get by you…….that is another argument for another day. My point is about emergency evacuation routes, their definition, and the most efficient way to get hundreds of thousands of people out of downton quicky in the event of an emergency.

    • +1. This is a great idea. The evacuation routes are normally heavy traffic roads on any given day and should not be used by bikers at ANY time.

      • What about Wisconsin? Because of the street grid in Georgetown (not to mention ongoing construction) it is nearly impossible to navigate from Georgetown to Tenleytown without using Wisc – unless you take a massively circtuitous route.
        Idea nice in theory weak in execution.
        Would rather the city invest in more cycle-tracks/dedicated lanes that provide same benefit to bikes as streets like 16th do to cars.

        • Thats where the Metro buses with bike racks come into play. Im all for biking, but there is no sense in a biker taking up a lane on a major roadway.

          • Except that I can bike faster up Wisconsin than the time it would take to wait for a bus and ride from Georgetown to Tenleytown.
            Also – isn’t the point of biking so that you don’t have to rely on metrobus?
            With drivers obeying posted 25mph speed limits the road is plenty wide enough for a bike to safely ride on the road. It becomes unsafe mostly due to cars not obeying the posted speed limit.

          • Makes more sense on a larger roadway than a smaller one. On larger roadways, cars can switch lanes and go around at least. Just sayin’

  • I commute on 16th and always wonder why someone would ride their bike on a major commuter artery when both 15th and 14th have dedicated bike lanes.

    And no, I’m not suggesting they aren’t allowed to do so, just that as a matter of safety it seems unwise and also impedes traffic during rush hour.

    • +1

      Makes no sense when DC is laced with bike lanes.

      • sunsquashed

        But the bike lanes are always filled with parked cars. I prefer streets without bike lanes.

        • You’re joking, right?

        • What streets specifically are “filled with parked cars” so that bikers can not use the bike lanes?

          • sunsquashed

            Have you ever tried to ride on 14th st near DC USA?
            Seriously, if you are an experienced cyclist and can keep the speed, it’s much safer to ride with the flow of traffic than ride in and out of a bike lane.

          • I bike by DCUSA on 14th in the bike lanes regularly on the weekends. Never had any problems (knock on wood).

          • Add another to the list that has given up on biking in the bike lanes on 14th. Every block there are about 5 cars idling in the bike lane.

          • I’ll pile on with the 14th st near DCUSA bit. It’s awful. Also, it’s like a million pedestirans on phones playing IRL Frogger on pro-mode. Cars in the bike lanes with their hazards on. Total charliefox.

          • Not to mention the tons of bikers that ignore stop lights and stop signs!

          • To be fair, the car lanes are also generally so filled with parked/standing cars that you can barely move anywhere in this city… so bikes aren’t exactly the victim. Anyone who isn’t an inconsiderate jerk and anyone who has to get anywhere at a predetermined time is the victim.

  • I live on 16th Street and I never bike on it. Basically, almost any other street would be better. Although I would feel comfortable biking southbound (downhill) during off-peak times I still would rather take 17th or 15th.

    Also +10000 to the suggestion of staying off the sidewalk. Narrow, heavily trafficked sidewalks with cars pulling in and out constantly is not any safer than just taking the lanes on the street. And if you’re speeding downhill on the sidewalk at 15+mph then you are a huge hazard to everyone else.

  • No. Cyclist should not use 16th Street. They should used 14th Street in this section. Sixteenth Street is a major road for buses and commuter traffic from Maryland. As a driver, I have witnessed too many close calls between vehicles and bicycles because one does not see the other, dodging from lane to lane. As a cyclist, I would fear for my life on 16th.

  • I would not bike on that section of 16th. It is like a freeway. I would use the bike lane one block over on 14th. (OP is describing the area north of Irving, after 15th has ended.)

  • I wouldn’t; way too busy, not enough room. There’s 14th, 15th, 17th, and 18th, so it’s not really necessary.

  • About the only thing more risky than being a single mom of a young man in Anacostia is biking in DC. Seriously, death and dismemberment is a very high risk – my friend lost her brother to a bike accident, two of my closest friends had massive life changing accidents, one in fact on 16th St! Be safe, wear a helmet!

  • One is actually legally allowed to ride a bike on the sidewalk in parts of DC (link details where exactly with other helpful info). As a cyclist, I’d rather live in a city where cycling on sidewalks would get you ticketed (a la London), but that won’t happen until the bike culture improves here.

  • I bike up the Hill on 16th. The 15th street side, while it has bike lanes, is significantly steeper. I stay on the sidewalks, but there are only people around the top of the hill. I then switch over to 15th street.

    • Same. If I’m going to work and travelling down 16th, I just use the road. In the morning, traffic is pretty tight and you’re not usually going very fast for any stretch of time. I almost feel safer in a pack of cars at this time. I then switch over to the 15th St. bike lanes are U. Going home, I use the bike lane back and then switch over to the 16th sidewalk. The stretch up from U St. in the bikelane is BRUTAL and the sidewalk isn’t all the crowded and I’m not going very quickly, so I try not to be a nuisance to anyone. Also don’t like bikes on the sidewalks, but only when they’re screaming down a street like 16th or when they’re in the sidewalk when there’s a bike lane right next to them.

  • I lived at 3900 16th for a couple years recently and used 14th and 11th to go Downtown. SOMETIMES on off-hours I’d bike on 16th to or from places like Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, etc. Sixteenth is bad, and I was a bike messenger for two years. I would also sometimes (slowly and respectfully) use the sidewalk to get to Mt P sidestreets and on to Mt P St iitself.

  • Wow guys. This is the most reasonable bike-related conversation we’ve ever had. I’m impressed!

  • This leg of 16th is part of my daily bike commute and as long as I’m paying attention and not trying to dodge ahead of traffic it works very well. I use the 17th st bike lane going south and the 15th st lane going north where that’s an option, but there’s really no good alternative to get north of Arkansas other than going all the way to 11th. I think many of the other posters have not tried biking through Columbia Heights on 14th St or the wrong way down the 15th St bike lane as they suggest. I also bike on the 16th St sidewalk north of Park Rd when going up hill and have never had a problem.

    • The 14th Street bike lane goes all the way up, past Arkansas, Colorado, and Military. Yes, the area around DC USA is congested, but I would take that over 16th any day. I guess I don’t see how the only alternatives are 16th and 11th.

  • Haile Unlikely.

    Seriously, I don’t question a biker’s *right* do ride on 16th Street, in my opinion, it is just plain batsh!t crazy to do so, especially north of U Street, where the vehicle traffic is considerably faster.

  • I live half way up the hill near the middle of Meridian Hill Park. There is no other suitable way for me to get home that isn’t completely obnoxious. The hill on 15th is too steep and 17th is one way south and not connected anyway. How else do you propose I get home? I agree the sidewalks are too narrow.

    Maybe because it’s an emergency evacuation route this isn’t possible, but if you want bikes to have safe passage and to be off the narrow sidewalks, consider signing the petition I created. It’s still in it’s infancy as far as being fleshed out – but if it helps get cyclists the infrastructure they need, I’m all for it:

    • And yes, I realize the original poster mentioned a particular area of 16th – but I think the entire thing is dangerous for bikes despite a perfect direct route it provides for everyone except cyclists due to the speed of traffic.

    • How about the bus? If 15th is too steep for you then there are plenty of buses going up and down 16th.

    • Use bike lanes as far as you can then use a Metro bus with a bike rack.

      • You’re kidding right? If I live half way up Meridian Hill, I’m not going to catch a bus for 2 blocks that I can easily bike up 16th. If I had proper infrastructure I wouldn’t need to use someone else’s. And paying for a bus is just silly when I have a perfectly good bike.

        • You can’t just walk your bike for the 2 blocks closest to home?

        • If its only up Meridian Hill then you should get off your bike….get on the sidewalk …and walk it up the hill. It is unacceptable for you to hold up a lane of traffic on 16th just because you are too lazy or out of shape to pedal up the hill on 15th St.

    • Just use the sidewalk on the Meridian Hill Park side of 16th, then cross over where you need to. The sidewalk is very wide there and easily accommodates pedestrians and cyclists going uphill.

      Going downhill, I just wait until traffic on 16th stops at the light at Euclid and then ride in the lane, taking the whole lane so cars can’t squeeze by and must give you space. Or go over to Ontario and ride down.

      • i used to live at 16th & monroe, and work was at new hampshire ave & dupont circle. so 16th was the most direct route. i would only take it in the morning, going south. i’d usually wait for a light to turn red, jump out ahead of traffic, and zip down the hill.

        coming home, i would usually take ontario to columbia rd to mt p, mainly because ontario was usually empty and i’m really slow going up hills, and didn’t want to ride up 16th or the sidewalk next to meridian hill park.

  • i bike 16th street on the weekends sometimes, when the outer lanes are used for parking, but not weekdays. there is just no room. the option to stay as far right as you can and “hope” that cars can pass safely is one of the more dangerous ways to ride on any street – that is why bikes are legally allowed to take up a full lane.

    i am a biker and also get annoyed with some people who ride on the sidewalks, even though it legal to do so except downtown. if you are going to ride on the sidewalk, you should go super slowly and cautiously and yield to pedestians.

    • i also bike on 16th when the right-most lane is used for parking… this goes for weekends but also during the day during non-rush hour times (i’m not sure of the exact hours but it’s on the parking signs). i actually think it’s totally fine during these times and going uphill on 16th is better than 14th.

  • sunsquashed

    My preferred option=
    2. Bike as fast as you can and keep up with traffic
    16th isn’t that bad. NYC or Atlanta biking is much worse! I regularly go up/down 16th street next to Meridian park. I just stay far to the right. I just came back from my normal ride out to Garret Park/ end of Beach drive, and yeah, for the Brightwood to CH leg, 16th is easiest/quickest for me. Plus the downhill is a lot of fun!
    +1000 on the no bikes on sidewalks comments. I’d love for the law to extend out to the NW neighborhoods, especially CH.

  • Related question – are the bike lanes on 15th St next to Meridian Hill supposed to be northbound only?

    • umm…yes

      • That’s silly if that’s the case. One side should be for northbound traffic and the other for southbound.

        • going down a hill in an unprotected bike lane against traffic is a terrible terrible idea.

          • They are both northbound, and honestly, don’t use the west lane at all. Cars cut into it blindly at the curve up top frequently. The city installed the posts, but they were knocked over on the first day.

  • Your options actually aren’t that limited. You can also:
    6. Bike on the strip of grass between the road and sidewalk.
    7. Drive a car.
    8. Drive a car with your bike on top.
    9. Bike into opposing traffic.

    What do others suggest? What other options do I have?

  • I regularly bike on 16th from Mt Pleasant to various places downtown. I take a lane – in the mornings the traffic doesn’t move fast so I can keep up. And I’m not about to hug the curb and have cars/buses etc try to squeeze by me.

    Coming home I ride on the sidewalk when I get to Meridian Hill – I would impede traffic – back on the road at the top of the hill.

  • I ride to work every day, and have for the better part of 10 years. One of the things I take into account is which roads simply aren’t safe for cycling. I will *not* ride on K ST NE, for example, even though it’s the best way to and from my neighborhood. Too narrow, and the cars are all too fast and hostile.

    It sucks, but if a road is clearly unsafe, you need to find an alternate route.

    The good part is, the alternate route will likely be made up of side roads, and will not be as fast, but it will be much more pleasant and fun.

  • I live in Columbia Heights, and my girlfriend lives near the top of MalcolmX/Meridian Hill. I ride 16th st, and I don’t notably feel threatened (anymore than other streets). I don’t particularly think the street is well maintained though.

    • Its well-mintained for cars. Use the bike lanes on 15th that Adrian Fenty put in for you!

      • At Meridian Hill I do go up 15th often, but I don’t go down. Why? Because both lanes on 15th on the hill are northbound. If I’m on 16th, it’s me going downhill from CoHi to Dupont Circle, and no the road is not maintained well “for cars.” It’s full of huge potholes. I ride more than bicycles here in DC…

  • I bike everywhere. That’s me on Rock Creek and Clara Barton. 16th street is fast going South from Silver Spring. although if you’re just cruising around and unable to sustain 25mph, I’d go on a street with a bike path.

    • PDleftMtP

      I hope that’s not you on RCP or Beach Drive with a quarter-mile backup behind you and a perfectly good bike lane off to the side.


  • I am a biker. You try to get me off the sidewalk and I will run over you. I pay my taxes too. As for the cars…..I pay my taxes for these lanes too!!!!

    • You’re not a biker, you’re an asshole

    • Oh, and next time I’m walking my dogs, and you come towards me on your bike on the sidewalk like you own the place, and one of my dogs jumps at you, I hope you fall off your fucking bike and into a tree.

  • The cyclist fell over and then got hit from behind? Sounds like every road is dangerous when that happens. But seriously, 16th Street is no big deal to bike on. Take the lane and don’t fall down.

  • FYI:
    It is illegal to bike on sidewalks.

    Sidewalks are for pedestrians. If you are on a bike, you are not a pedestrian as you are on a vehicle and must remain on the road. If you don’t want to man up and bike on the road, don’t bike.

  • Couldn’t believe my eyes 7:45 this morning: a man riding his bike towing a child in a bike trailer with a woman biking in the lead on 16th in the street on a busy stretch

  • 1. If you are going South, you should be fine. If you are going North, use 15th or 14thst with bike lanes.
    So I guess that would be options 2 and 5

  • The police need to start cracking down on bicyclists. They ride through all the red lights, go through STOP signs and ride on sidewalks. Something has to be done with the bikers. They are rude, arrogant and don’t pay attention.

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