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Merchants protest new downtown bike lanes

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Local,DC,Transportation,Hayley Peterson
Business owners are angry over the District's new bike lanes, which are taking up dozens of valuable parking spaces along 15th Street Northwest.

"I don't know why they wouldn't just chop away two feet of sidewalk," said Haroon Mokel, campus director at Strayer University near 15th and M streets. "That's where bikers should be anyway, is the sidewalk."

Coming bike lanes
L Street NW: Pennsylvania to Massachusetts avenues
M Street: Pennsylvania to Massachusetts avenues
New Mexico Avenue NW: Nebraska Avenue to 39th Street
New York Avenue NW: 9th to 15th streets
Upshur Street NW: Rock Creek Church Road to Georgia Avenue

The District finished painting over more than two dozen parking spaces along 15th Street southbound -- from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania avenues -- and dedicating the 0.7-mile stretch of roadway to cyclists this week.

"It was hard to park anyway, and now it's just going to be harder," Mokel said, peering at the three-foot white posts separating cyclists from drivers across from Strayer's entrance. Mokel said his opinions have no connection to the university.

The new bike lanes complete a 2.5-mile route from V Street Northwest to the Capitol, via 15th Street Northwest and Pennsylvania Avenue. The lanes also shuttered more than one dozen parking meters, many of which generated revenues for more than one parking space.

The D.C. Department of Transportation plans to erect new meters elsewhere to make up for the loss of revenue, according to DDOT spokeswoman Karyn LeBlanc.

LeBlanc did not say where the new meters would go.

Beauty salon owner Lisette Attias said she's an advocate for bike lanes, but not in front of her salon.

"Why don't they use the streets that aren't crowded?" said Attias, owner of Piaf Salon and Day Spa near 15th and L streets Northwest. "It's going to hurt my business. It's going to be hurting a lot of businesses."

Attias said most of her customers are motorists.

"We are still a city of drivers and business is dependent on that," she said.

D.C. now has 50 miles of designated bicycle lanes within its 1,200 miles of roadway.

Expanding bicycle-friendly roadways is part of the 2005 D.C. Bicycle Master Plan, which aims to increase bicycle trips to account for 5 percent of all trips by 2015. Bicycle trips now account for 2.3 percent of all trips, according to DDOT.

VIDA Fitness manager Jeff Code said the new lanes have eased his daily commute to work at 15th and Church streets Northwest.

"The new lanes have been very helpful," he said, "especially now that cars turning right [onto 15th] have to stop and yield to bikers."

DDOT counted 92 cyclists on 15th Street between K and L streets during peak commuting hours in September, but hasn't recorded the number of cyclists in winter, LeBlanc said.

Some businesses are still angry over the District's recent meter rate increases, said D.C. resident Kenya Rennie.

"Bike lanes are just another deterrent" to customers, she said. Rennie works at Lettie Gooch Boutique on 15th and U streets Northwest.

Downtown commercial property owners helped plan the lanes, said Ellen Jones, director of planning for the D.C. Business Improvement District -- the group that represents those property owners. It was up to the building owners to communicate any concerns from their tenants, she said.

hpeterson@washingtonexaminer.com

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