Not Letting the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good
DDOT workers begin striping work on 15th Street 'contraflow' bike lanes. Photo by David Daddio.

DDOT workers begin striping work on 15th Street 'contraflow' bike lanes. Photo by David Daddio.

Famed American architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham is often quoted as saying, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.” But perhaps in this modern area, it’s less about stirring blood and more about cost-effectiveness and “shovel-readiness.” It seems too often that the planning disciplines are focused on the grand plans — thick reports with extensive engineering studies, and night upon night of public meetings. Basically, a modern take on the big plans that Burnham called for.

These plans themselves are often never realized due to funding constraints, bureaucracy, and shifting political alliances. Plans and studies are produced and then quickly put on a shelf to be forgotten and eventually thrown out by an intern and erased from a government Web site. Perfection becomes the enemy of the good when good could have been the friend of thousands of people.

DDOT appears to be learning this and increasingly implementing quick, temporary, experimental, incremental or even stop-gap measures to improve pedestrian safety. Notable projects include temporary intersection improvements at W St/15th/Florida Ave NW, as more lengthy engineering studies are underway, and I St/5th/Massachusetts NW, which awaits funds for a more permanent solution.

Perhaps DDOT’s most ambitious plan yet is the installation of a southbound 9-foot wide “contraflow” protected bike lane on 15th St NW, between Massachusetts and U Street (striping work pictured above from this morning). The project is part of a DDOT effort to facilitate bicycling and slow down traffic on 15th Street, which has become a high speed one-way, four-lane thoroughfare for drivers leaving downtown. The project will cost a mere $200,000 and take 5 days to complete, weather permitting. The plan may not be the perfect solution to the problem of one-way street speeding, but the new lane could easily be dismantled and the materials used elsewhere if funding and political support materialize to make 15th two ways.

David Alpert over at Greater Greater Washington points out:

The best way to try new things, like protected bike lanes, is to just put them in and see what happens. … if we try it out, we can find out for ourselves in plenty of time to build them in, or take them out, of longer-term plans. DDOT is working hard on a lot of great projects, but most of these will take years to plan, fund and implement. We shouldn’t have to wait that long to try out some low-hanging fruit and make streets safer and better for all users.

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