Update 1/21/2016: DDOT will host a second public meeting to share more detailed analysis and another chance to gather input on the project. This project needs your story. Safe streets for biking and walking benefit the whole community.
DDOT held a community open house last night designed to share information and garner feedback about four options for protected north/south bike lanes in the eastern part of DC, on 6th Street or 9th Street NW. Several neighborhood churches packed the room with congregants to oppose the proposals. WABA was there too, with many supporters—local residents who would use these safer lanes in their neighborhood every day. It was not the respectful public discussion that we might have hoped for. Folks who patiently waited their turn to speak had to shout over booing, sneering and cat-callers asking how long the speaker had lived in the neighborhood. WABA members and bike lane supporters left feeling understandably frustrated at being shouted down by people who seemed unwilling to listen to, let alone consider, another point of view. We want to be clear that we want the vibrant, historic institutions that have made and sustained these communities to stay here. But we also think that no one should be hurt or killed on the road for lack of better infrastructure. These objectives are not mutually exclusive. Last night, WABA’s Executive Director Greg Billing stated in front of the full room that he will sit down with any member of the objecting community who is willing to have a conversation with him to seek a solution that works for everyone. We hope he will get some takers. Read why WABA supports protected bike lanes connecting Shaw to downtown. A few things to keep in mind moving forward:
- As DDOT officials repeatedly emphasized, this was simply one opportunity for the community to give feedback in a much broader decision-making process. There was no vote taken at the meeting. Nothing was determined at the meeting at all except that there was a need for another meeting in a larger venue to accommodate everyone who wants to be part of the discussion. Another way to show support for the bike lane project, available to all residents, is to leave comments on the project’s website. DDOT’s job is to consider the safety and transportation needs of the city and ALL of its residents as a whole, not merely those who yell the loudest.
- Concerns about gentrification and dislocation are valid, but should not be aired in a proxy battle over bike lanes. DC is a rapidly growing city. Growth has brought changes to the character of local neighborhoods. Not everyone is comfortable with or happy about that change. There is a level of anger and fear in these discussions that goes much deeper than any conversation about parking spaces and bike lanes can account for. This points to the need for a much broader and more direct conversation to take place; one that DDOT and bicycle advocates are not the best equipped to facilitate. City leaders need to step up and take this on directly.
- No one should die or be injured, simply because they had to use a road to get where they were going. The reality is that 6th St NW is not as safe as it could be, or as it should be for people who walk, bike and drive. In 2014 alone, 12 bicyclists and 16 pedestrians were struck by vehicles on the stretch of 6th Street under discussion in the DDOT proposals, and 7 pedestrians and 14 cyclists were struck on 9th St. These figures represent only those incidents that were reported to police and caused injury, so presumably the actual crash rate is much higher. Our elected leaders, including Mayor Bowser, and DDOT Director Dormsjo, have committed to Vision Zero, to end ALL roadway fatalities. This means that as a city, as a matter of policy, we are designing streets that prioritize safety over convenience. We want ALL our roads to be so well-designed and so safe that no one will be hurt or killed while using them.
- If we make exceptions road-by-road to preserve the status-quo, Vision Zero won’t work. Everyone seems to agree with Vision Zero until talk turns to making changes on a specific street. Installing protected bike lanes on 6th or 9th street is an example of how we achieve Vision Zero one street at a time. Road diets shorten crosswalks and discourage speeding; protected bike lanes create dedicated, separate spaces for cars and bikes, significantly lowering crash rates.