As the District Reopens, It Needs Resilient Streets

Over the last six months, the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced every aspect of life in cities, including where, how, and how often we move around. As the pandemic peaked in DC, WMATA’s rail ridership declined 90%. Despite service returning to near pre-pandemic levels and taking steps to restore rider confidence by promoting public health and safety, Metro’s rail system has yet to experience an influx of riders returning to the system.

So where have these riders gone? The number of people walking, biking and riding scooters has soared as people prioritize socially distant, open-air forms of transportation and recreation. The District’s own Capital Bikeshare program became a means for thousands of critical workers to continue getting to work, and with the introduction of hundreds of e-bikes this summer, is becoming a top choice for mobility and recreation district-wide. But at the same time, many new buyers are turning to “Covid Cars” as the ultimate socially distant transportation.

The District is at an inflection point for its transportation system: does it stay on track to maintain its ranking as the third most congested city in America, where commuters spend twice the amount of time sitting in traffic than the average American? Or does it embrace resilient streets which support a variety of transportation options, making streets safer and more efficient for everyone– especially our most vulnerable populations?

The first steps for creating resilient streets are already in motion in the District with quick-build temporary street improvements to support social distancing via the Slow Streets program, which closed tens of neighborhood streets to through-traffic and lowered speed limits to make more space for all types of users. DDOT has also expanded Car Free Lanes to promote efficient and reliable bus service and create additional space for bike and scooter travel on some of our busiest corridors.

We need to build on this momentum and take these concepts even further — thinking about permanence, about providing equitable access, and about expanding their reach to not only serve short local trips, but also to provide connectivity for medium-to-long distances for longer commutes.

To point to one example, an obvious place for a resilient street corridor would be the 11th Street bridge connection and the 11th Street Bridge Park, where construction is slated to kick off in 2021. Transportation infrastructure investments along a “resilient street corridor” will be critical to helping people safely and comfortably access the bridge and park, while helping drive economic development in the commercial corridors. Working with local partners and urban design experts at Street Plans, we offer a potential vision for how M Street SE and Martin Luther King Jr Avenue could be reimagined. These working concepts  prioritize space for people by creating bus-only lanes with enhanced bus shelters, protected micromobility lanes for two-wheeled transportation modes like bikes and scooters, plant shade trees for pedestrians, pickup and drop-off zones for safe passenger loading, and new metered parking solutions to help ensure better parking turnover and availability. Together, these features create a rich environment for people using all transportation modes. These are resilient streets.

Before: M Street SE at 2nd Place SE 
After: M Street SE at 2nd Place SE
Before: MLK JR Ave at Good Hope Road SE
After: MLK JR Ave at Good Hope Road SE

We also worked with Sam Schwartz Engineering to understand the impact that permanent street design and infrastructure changes could have along the corridor to help support walking, biking, scooting, and transit. We found that by making these types of safety and design changes along the corridor leading from Ward 6 to Ward 8, we could have a major impact on how residents and commuters move. With these kinds of resilient street designs, the corridor would accommodate 18,000 sustainable walking, biking trips: avoiding 54,000 of miles traveled via car every day and avoiding 6,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions each year.

Please join us in making these changes a reality by supporting WABA’s call to action urging our regional elected officials to start the future resiliency process right away, making sure that D.C. is set up for not only recovery, but for a new normal with expanded access to safe, affordable, and sustainable mobility choices for all street users.

Jeremiah Lowery is the Director of Policy at Washington Area Bicyclists Association; Kristina Noell is the Executive Director or the Anacostia BID; Marisa Rodriguez-McGill is a Senior Public Policy Manager at Lyft Transit, Bikes & Scooters, the operator of Capital Bikeshare.

What a joy to share the world with him

With great sadness we share the news of Pete Beers’ death. Pete lived and breathed bicycling in Northern Virginia, and brought light and joy to WABA for many years. 

Pete most recently worked as a bike mechanic at Bikenetic in Falls Church, and was a WABA Bike Ambassador from 2013-2015. That meant his job was to share his love of bicycling across DC, and he thrived in that role. 

He wore the brightest, wildest socks he could find and emanated the same energy. He towed a giant trailer with signage and averaged 40 miles a day, and seemed to prefer riding on snowy days with horizontal winds.

Sarah Rice Scott, who worked as a Bike Ambassador with him, wrote “Pete, you were a bright light. Every time you said, ‘you are loved,’ I believed you.”

We miss him already.

To show love for Pete and his family in this devastating moment, his community celebrates him this week. If you would like to join, his friends are organizing a mountain bike ride on Monday

Building a safer community

by Joanne Neukirchen,
President, WABA Board of Directors

WABA seeks to create a safe and joyful community in which individuals are able to be their full selves while navigating the world by bike. I write, on behalf of the Board of Directors, to reiterate our commitment to actively dismantle racism, sexism and other systems of oppression that exist within the transportation advocacy and bike community today.

In light of recent serious allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior by former WAMU transportation reporter Martin Di Caro towards multiple women and people of marginalized genders in the transportation advocacy and bike community, we are asking for your active support in building a bike community that is not only free from sexual harassment, but one that is a model for mutual respect, diversity, equity and inclusion.

I write to you about this because for many years, WABA celebrated and benefitted from Mr. Di Caro’s reporting. The organization was not aware of this pattern of behavior at the time, but we must confront the reality that within this small community of regional transportation advocates, his victims only now felt safe enough to come forward.

WABA does not tolerate inappropriate behavior of any kind, be it directed toward a staff member, volunteer or event participant. We have and will continue to prohibit people who behave inappropriately from participating in our events and may rescind the membership of anyone who violates our code of conduct.

If you ever experience inappropriate behavior at a WABA event, please contact either WABA’s Executive Director, Greg Billing (greg.billing@waba.org) or the Executive Officers of WABA’s Board (execofficers@waba.org).

In the next few weeks we will be sharing an updated code-of-conduct policy with you.

Thank you for being part of this community at this most-important time, as we actively work to build a better biking community for everyone.

Hatred Has No Place Here

As we shared in our statement in response to George Floyd’s murder, WABA is appalled by the violence perpetuated by our long-broken, racist system. We stand in support of Black Lives. We also strive to be anti-racist, to combat the pervasive structural racism in America manifesting in on our streets, bike lanes, and trails. 

Like many of our trail users, we were horrified to learn of the person who attacked several teenagers posting signs, calling for justice for Mr. Floyd, on the Capital Crescent Trail.

Anthony Brennan’s behavior is reprehensible. His actions are contrary to the values we fight for when we call for safe streets and great transportation options for everyone. Part of this effort involves building a community of supportive folks of all skills and abilities, races and genders.

We are angry that a member of the bicycling community behaved this way; we feel terrible for the young people who were harassed and hurt; and most of all, we are heartbroken and furious for the BIPOC who face this behavior on a structural, systematic level that is even farther reaching, rooted in violence, and far too often ends much worse.

Please note: Anthony Brennan has never been a dues-paying WABA member nor made any financial contributions. We will prohibit him from attending future WABA events or joining as a member. Violence and hatred are never welcome in the WABA community.

WABA will continue to share resources about anti-racism and what safe infrastructure really means in the coming weeks. Join us in learning more at waba.org/antiracism.

Antiracism Resources to Read and Watch

Here are some things our staff have found useful, educational, or inspiring:

Planning While Black, Tamika Butler (video)

The Urgency of Intersectionality, Kimberlé Crenshaw (video)

Being Antiracist, National Museum of African American History and Culture (online resource)

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo (book)

How To Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi (book)

The Anti-Racist Reading List, Ibram X. Kendi (pdf)

Police have always limited Black people’s mobility and freedom in public spaces, David Zegeye (News Story)

Untokening Mobility: Beyond Pavement, Paint and Place, The Untokening (online resource)

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh, (pdf)

Do Bicycles Cause Gentrification? Dr Melody Hoffman (podcast interview and book)

Bicycle/Race by Adonia Lugo, PhD (book)

Seeing White, John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika (podcast)

Intersectional Riding, Do Jun Lee, PhD (blog)

Bike Advocacy’s Blind Spot, Adonia Lugo PhD (interview with CityLab)

Give MCDOT Your Thoughts On Shared Streets

In response to lobbying by WABA and other advocacy groups—Coalition for Smarter Growth, Action Committee for Transport, Sierra Club, PBTSAC and others—Montgomery County Department of Transportation has begun steps to create what they are calling Shared Streets, meaning closing off certain streets to only allow local car traffic. One major step MCDOT has taken is to set up a website to solicit suggestions from residents on county roads that should be closed off to through car traffic, allowing for slow and local car traffic, with a priority on bicycle and pedestrian usage. This incorporates the Bicycle Master Plan concept of Neighborhood Greenways.

Please give your feedback here to MCDOT! This includes taking the survey and sending specific ideas for Shared Streets via email to MCDOT.SharedStreets@montgomerycountymd.gov

MCDOT is also soliciting ideas for helping facilitate outdoor dining options by repurposing parking spaces adjacent to restaurants, and by closing off some streets to all cars, such as Norfolk Avenue in Bethesda.

In addition, MCDOT is looking for volunteers near the implementation of Shared Streets to monitor the cones and signs put down to close off streets to non-local car traffic. If you are interested in volunteering to help out, please send an email to peter@waba.org, noting your street address.

Finally, we hope that MCDOT will set up a permit process whereby residents can ask to set up a shared street in their neighborhood. We will keep you posted on when this is implemented by MCDOT.

We could not make such progress without your support! Go to the MCDOT website on Shared Streets, take the survey, send specific suggestions for Shared Streets and help maintain the Shared streets implemented near you.

WABA 2020 Ward Council Questionnaires and Forum Recordings

WABA is 503(c)3 nonpartisan and non-political organization. The following information provided as a public service to educate voters about political candidates’ positions on transportation issues. WABA does not endorse any political candidates.

Because transportation is such a critical election topic in DC, WABA wants to inform our members about ward-level candidates’ positions on some of the most pressing issues.

We sent a questionnaire to all primary race DC Council candidates from Wards 2, 4, 7, and 8—which addressed issues such as expanding our protected bike lane network in DC, funding to complete our trail network, open streets, transportation equity and vision zero. We also held virtual candidate forums and invited all the candidates to participate. The forum was an opportunity for our members to listen to the candidates themselves and hear their positions on many questions that were submitted by WABA members. 

You can view those questionnaires and listen to a recording of the forums below. The Primary election is on June 2nd, 2020.

 Ward 2 Candidate Questionnaires 

Patrick Kennedy

Jack Evans

Kishan Putta

Jordan Grossman

Brooke Pinto

Yillin Zhang

Daniel Hernandez

Ward 4 Candidate Questionnaires  

Janeese Lewis George 

Brandon Todd

Marlena D. Edwards 

Ward 7 Candidate Questionnaires  

Vincent Gray 

Anthony Lorenzo Green 

Candidate Forum Recordings

Ward 2 and 4 Candidate Forum

Ward 7 and 8 Candidate Forum

Safety, Public Space and Ahmaud Arbery

On February 23, 2020, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in his neighborhood when two men chased, shot, and killed him. A third person recorded this in a graphic video that shows exactly what happened. Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. 

Brunswick, Georgia, where Ahmaud Arbery lived, is 650 miles from Washington, DC. But this issue hits close to home. Ahmaud Arbery was just out for a run. He was doing exactly what we want people to be able to do during the coronavirus crisis: using the streets around where he lived to get some exercise. 

In our work we talk a lot about the need for safe streets. But what does safe mean?

Privilege means some of us can move freely and without fear in public space. But not all of us have that privilege. In the United States, the deep-seated, ever-present racism built into our structures and systems means that what is safe for one person is not safe for everyone. The fact is, Ahmaud Arbery was killed in Brunswick, Georgia— but it could have happened anywhere. It could have happened in Maryland, in Virginia, or in any quadrant of Washington, DC. 

What Gregory and Travis McMichael did to Ahmaud Arbery is terrifying. Ahmaud’s life was taken from him. His personhood, which was full and real and deserved protecting, was taken. This keeps happening in the United States over and over again.

Racial justice is an essential part of our work for safe and open streets. Systemic racism means that people of color, and particularly young black men and women, are threatened every day by the violence of racial profiling, discriminatory practices, and increased policing while biking, running, walking, and just existing in public space. 

White people who don’t acknowledge their privilege, white people who don’t understand the weight of this on their neighbors of color, white people who call the police on community members for not wearing masks or for gathering in public space or for running or even just existing, are part of this threat. 

To the members of our community who see themselves in Ahmaud Arbery’s story and feel afraid: we see you. We hear you. 

To those who move through public space without that weight: ask yourself if it is because of your white privilege, and how you can divest from that. 

As we call for open streets and access to public space for exercise and recreation, we know: until everyone is safe in public space, our work is not done.