March 2020 Advocacy Update

If you rely on your bicycle for essential transportation, you’ve probably encountered some additional challenges in the last couple of weeks.  Governors Hogan and Northam, and Mayor Bowser officially directed residents in DC, MD, and VA to stay at home. In all three states, bicycling is an approved form of recreation, and bike shops are considered essential businesses. Despite these modest victories and the returning spring weather, we urge you to do your part—do not make unnecessary trips, and always maintain 6 feet from others while out

If you are out for an essential trip or safe recreation, you’ve probably met with some of the same issues we have: closed roads, trails that are uncomfortably busy in this time of social distancing, and drivers who see the lack of traffic as an invitation to speed.

Before we dig into some of the specific problems we’re working to fix, it’s worth addressing the underlying structural failures that have put our region in this situation. Riding a bicycle during this pandemic feels frustrating and dangerous for the same reasons it does when we’re not in the midst of a global health crisis: for half a century, our region’s decision makers have focused resources on moving cars, not people. People who bike and walk have been squeezed into the margins of public space to make room for more driving. We know this squeeze has long term repercussions for the climate (or not so long, at this point). But in this moment we’re also seeing the scary and immediate public health consequences of decades of car-centric planning.

Here’s what we’re working on right now:

Reopening Potomac River Crossings.

After crowds squeezed onto the narrow paths and sidewalks around the Tidal Basin earlier this month, the US Park Police and Metropolitan Police Department closed a number of streets and sidewalks through East and West Potomac Park. This closure includes the Memorial Bridge and access to and from the 14th St. Bridge trail. If you need to cross the Potomac River by bike or foot, your options are Key Bridge at Georgetown, the very narrow Theodore Roosevelt Bridge at the Kennedy Center or the Wilson Bridge in Alexandria which has no low-stress connection into DC. All three of these bridges are miles out of the way. 

We are in conversations with DDOT, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the National Park Service to reopen the 14th Street Bridge and Memorial Bridge to bicycling commuter traffic. If you are a bike commuter who needs to cross the Potomac River to get to essential work, please get in touch: advocacy@waba.org

Looking beyond the current crisis, we’re continuing to advocate for more and better river crossings like the Long Bridge, an improved Roosevelt Bridge sidepath, trail connections to the Wilson Bridge, and others

Mitigating Trail Crowding

We’ve checked in with the data folks from around the region and the numbers back up what you’ve probably already seen: on-street bike traffic is down, but trails are much busier than usual, even for springtime. 

This uptick in traffic is not surprising. As the various Stay-at-Home orders are careful to acknowledge, exercise is important to maintaining physical and mental health. But gyms, as well as many local and regional parks, are closed. That leaves trails as the only place where many people feel safe being active and outdoors. 

The way to keep people healthy and safe in this situation is to make more space for people. Trails are narrow, roads are wide. 

We’re talking to folks at the National Park Service about closing park roads in ways that don’t limit neighborhood access to parks. Obvious examples include Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park, Fort Dupont Drive, Fort Hunt, and Hains Point. 

Take a look at this blog post for what you can do individually to keep yourself and others safe while riding.

What about creating some Open Streets?

By now you have probably seen stories about cities that are taking advantage of reduced traffic to make space for people who need to get around on foot and bike to spread out. We are inspired by Bogota, Mexico City, Philadelphia, and New York City for installing temporary protected bike lanes and closing entire streets to driving. Many of us look around at our crowded trails, narrow sidewalks and empty streets and ask “why not here?”

In the District:

We’ve had a number of conversations with DDOT staff on this topic over the past week and encountered a frustrating tradeoff: street reconfigurations, even temporary ones, require a lot of staff resources to plan and execute. These resources are limited already, and agency staff say their priority is keeping current bike lane and trail projects on track, rather than pausing and redirecting staff time to temporary infrastructure.  It’s tempting to say “it’s easy! just put up cones!” but the reality of our streets and driving culture is that doing so is simply not safe on most streets.

For now, in most places, we think this is the right call. We are frustrated by the resource and staffing limitations that have led to this tradeoff, but given the constraints, we think building permanent places to bike is more important than building ones that will be dismantled in a few months. This public health crisis will end, and when it does we want biking and walking to be better than they are now.

Speaking of which, our 20×20 campaign is still going. Groups are meeting online and projects are moving forward. Get involved here.

In Maryland and Virginia

Local and state transportation agencies face many of the same resource challenges as the District, but we see a number of opportunities for suburban jurisdictions to take the same approach that we are asking of the Park Service: make additional space on roads in and around recreational spaces to accommodate the additional demand for places to safely bike, walk, and run. Montgomery County has already extended its Sunday Sligo Creek Parkway closures to include Friday and Saturday.

We are compiling a specific list of street closure recommendations to share with each jurisdiction. Please email us if you have specific suggestions: advocacy@waba.org

Planning for Future Emergencies

This crisis has highlighted how much our region’s emergency planning has failed to account for the safety and mobility of the hundreds of thousands of people who live here and do not own cars. 

When the next crisis happens, whether it’s disease or terrorism or something else, governments across the region need to have plans in place to keep people outside of cars safe. Emergency situation or not, being able to cross a river, move safely through your neighborhood, and take care of your family should not be contingent on your ability to afford an automobile.

We are coordinating with regional advocates to move this emergency planning forward.

Update on the Eastern Downton Protected Bike Lane

What happened:

Last Tuesday, the DC Council considered Emergency Legislation introduced by Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) to restart the long stalled Eastern Downtown Protected Bike Lane project on 9th Street NW. After considerable discussion by the full Council, Councilmember Nadeau withdrew the legislation because it lacked the supermajority necessary to pass. You can watch the discussion in full here.

What we think:

We continue to be inspired and amazed by the enthusiasm and commitment of the volunteer advocates working to move this project forward. Each councilmember made statements on the importance of growing the city’s network of protected bike lanes and creating safe, convenient ways to get around. This vocal support would not have come without the outpouring of calls, emails, and conversations each councilmember received. We’re not giving up and we know you aren’t either.

We are also frustrated. 

The discussion by Councilmembers on the dais focused on long-standing, citywide concerns about racial tension, affordability, displacement of communities of color, and gentrification. These are real, pressing challenges that need to be addressed by anyone working to make the District a better place to live. 

At the same time, crashes on 9th Street are frequent. Using a street safety project as a proxy for concerns about neighborhood change has real, physical consequences that are measured in ambulance rides and lives permanently changed. We don’t think that’s acceptable. 

We thank Councilmember Brianne Nadeau for introducing the legislation and co-introducing Councilmembers David Grosso, Charles Allen, Mary Cheh and Robert White Jr. 

What’s next:

Councilmember Elissa Silverman has offered to convene representatives from 9th St Churches, safe streets advocates, members of the Council and others to build mutual understanding and find a path forward. We are eager to engage in these crucial intersectional conversations.

We’ll make sure to keep you updated. 

What you can do right now:
Get involved in your Ward action group at waba.org/20×20.

Fund the Capital Crescent Trail Tunnel

In 2017, the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel under Wisconsin Ave in Bethesda permanently closed to make way for the Purple Line’s station and tracks. At the time, Montgomery County leaders assured the public that a new tunnel for the trail would be designed and built to take the county’s busiest trail under Wisconsin Avenue. Now, the design is nearly done but County Executive Marc Elrich proposes no funding to build it.

When trains begin carrying passengers on the Purple Line, a new extension of the Capital Crescent Trail will open too, connecting Bethesda to Silver Spring. It will fly over Connecticut Ave, Colesville Rd and Rock Creek Park on new bridges. But when it enters Bethesda you will not see the old trail tunnel. Instead, it will hit a stop light and Wisconsin Avenue’s 40,000 daily cars and trucks.

The County must finish the tunnel by the time the Purple Line is complete. Contact your Montgomery County Council members using the form below to urge them to provide full funding for the construction of the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2023.

While the CCT tunnel is WABA’s #1 priority in this budget, we need your help to restore funding for other important projects too. When you’re done, you will be automatically redirected to weigh in on those too.

Urgent: Eastern Downtown Protected Bike Lane vote on March 3rd.

The DC Council will vote on March 3rd emergency legislation to complete the 9th Street NW protected bike lane between Florida Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue. This project has been stalled for more than four years, and the District’s inaction has consequences. More than 60 people walking and biking have been hit by drivers on the 9th Street Corridor since the project was put on ice.

Emails take just a moment to send, and using our call tool will take you about five minutes.

Note: Our calling tool will only connect if you live in DC. If you live outside of the District but would like to add your voice, please call Council Chair Phil Mendelson’s office at (202) 724-8032. Make sure to explain why this project is important to you even though you don’t live in DC.

Background

In 2015, the District Department of Transportation began studying options for a protected bike lane to run north/south between Shaw and Chinatown to fill a substantial gap between 15th St NW and the Metropolitan Branch Trail. After an exhaustive, and heated, public process which included two public meetings, more than 2,500 comments and dozens of meetings with stakeholders in the corridor, DDOT identified 6th and 9th St. NW as the best candidates. And in the February 2017 final report, DDOT determined that more detailed design and analysis were needed before choosing a street to fully design and build.

Yet, since then we have been left in the dark on this project. The project page’s last update was in 2017. For two years, DDOT’s director has been unable to provide any updates or timeline to the DC Council when asked directly. And the Mayor has answered direct questions with only vague answers about making sure it is safe. While we wait more than 60 people walking and biking have been hit by drivers on 9th Street since February 2017.

Safe Streets for Ward 5 Monthly Meeting

Safe Streets for Ward 5 is a group of neighbors working together for safer streets, protected bike lanes, and more options for getting around Ward 5 without a car. Join us at our next monthly meeting, learn about our priorities, and get involved!

This group is doing it’s part to support WABA’s 20×20 campaign to build 20 new miles of connected, protected, and equitable bike lanes in DC. In Ward 5, we are working to support protected bike lanes on 8th St. NE, West Virginia Ave, Montana Ave, and Lincoln Rd. NE.

You don’t need to ride a bike, you don’t need to be a traffic engineer, and you don’t need to be political. No matter your schedule and no matter your background, you have a role to play in winning safe streets across DC. We hope you can join us!

  • Date: Monday, February 17
  • Time: 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
  • Location Name: Right Proper – Brookland
  • Location Address: 920 Girard St NE, DC


Ward 1 & 2 Safe Streets Monthly Meeting

Do you want more protected bike lanes on your route or calmer streets in your neighborhood or commute? Do you want to see faster progress on safer streets and protected bike lanes around DC? Us too!

Come over to the WABA office for monthly Ward 1 and 2 meetup and strategy session. Get involved in WABA’s 20×20 campaign to support 20 new miles of connected, protected, and equitable bike lanes in DC. We will talk strategy, fun tactics, and next steps for solidifying support for campaigns in Wards 1 & 2, especially on our current priorities: 17th St. NW and 9th St. NW.

Come meet community advocates, neighbors, and that person you only know on Twitter, roll up your sleeves, and get started! We will have food starting at 6:15pm and begin at 6:30pm.

  • Date: Tuesday, February  18th
  • Time: 6:30 – 8:00pm
  • Location Name: WABA Office
  • Location Address: 2599 Ontario Road NW


Rally for Safe Streets in Remembrance of Brett Badin and Michael Gamboa

Join Action Committee for Transit, Friends of White Flint, Twinbrook Community Assoctiation, WABA, the Rockville Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee for a memorial and rally for safe streets in remembrance of Brett Badin and Michael Gamboa, two men killed along Rockville Pike earlier this month.

The memorial will be held on Saturday, February 8 at 12:45 PM near the IHOP restauraant (775 Rockville Pike). This is the location near where Brett was killed.This portion of the event should last approximately one hour. Bret’s family, friends, and members of the community will be invited to speak about his life and call for greater safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers along 355 in and around our city. You can learn more about him and his life here. https://www.mymcmedia.org/man-killed-crossing-rockville-pike-was-special-olympics-athlete/

The memorial and rally will then move south to Federal Plaza, near where Michael Gamboa died. The second part of the event will begin at 2:15 PM. Attendees are welcome to walk, drive, bicycle, or take the bus from one location to the other.

A convoy of bicyclists will gather on the west side of the Rockville Metro Station at 12:15 PM and ride to the memorial.

Event Timeline

12:45 pm Memorial for
BRETT BADIN, in front of
IHOP, 775 Rockville Pike

Group BIKE ride: meet at
Rockville Metro at 12:15 pm

2:15 pm Memorial for
MICHAEL GAMBOA, on
Rockville Pike at Federal
Plaza

Group WALK between
memorials (1.8 miles)

Group BUS ride between
memorials: RideOn 46