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.

Places to help

This is a scary time, and I don’t need to tell you what’s keeping me up at night. At WABA, we’re worried about what it means when we can’t bring people together, and what that will mean for our budget towards the end of the year. While we don’t know what WABA’s future holds, we recognize that we’re not the people doing the lifesaving work right now. 

Our region’s healthcare workers, grocery store employees, and bus drivers are putting themselves in harm’s way to take care of us. Our fellow nonprofit organizations are doing incredible, important, and urgent work to save lives in our region. 

If you’re in a position to give today, here is a list of organizations we know are doing great work, today, to help our community in this strange and scary time:

Arlington Food Assistance Center

Arlington Thrive

Ayuda

Black Lives Matter DC

Black Swan Academy

Calvary Women’s Services

Capital Area Food Bank

CASA

Greater DC Diaper Bank

Food & Friends

Manna Food Center

Miriam’s Kitchen

Nourish Now

N Street Village

SOME

We know not everyone can give right now. That’s okay. If you are able to do so, please consider a gift to WABA, too. Our community means more to us now than ever, and your contribution is an important way to show up as we keep up the fight for more space for people on our streets. Thank you for your support.

Have you seen DDOT’s Plan for Florida AVE NE?

Almost eight years ago, the District Department of Transportation began looking at redesigning Florida Avenue NE, between New York Avenue and H Street NE, to address chronic speeding and an alarming pattern of severe crashes. Through studies and design iterations, plans emerged to calm traffic, create better options for biking and walking, and make more livable spaces along the corridor.

Sadly, while that planning was underway, the corridor produced unthinkable carnage and traffic violence, taking the lives and livelihood of community members and bringing grief and loss into the lives of thousands across the region. But we can also put credit where it is due—after a crash that took the life of a dear member of our BikeDC community, the DC Council and DDOT sprang into action. In just a few months, DDOT designed and installed a temporary road diet and protected bike lane on Florida Ave, which has already reduced speeding in the corridor.

Late last year, DDOT held a public meeting to present the 60% plans for the complete reconstruction of Florida Ave NE as well as 30% plans for the complicated intersection of Florida Ave, New York Ave, 1st St, and Eckington Pl NE. 

These plans propose many high-quality improvements to sidewalks, trees, curb-protected bike lanes and intersections, reflecting many lessons learned from the interim treatments installed last year. You can find the plans and presentation materials on the project website.

However the proposals are far from perfect. We believe DDOT can and must go further to create safe spaces for walking and biking and limit opportunities for unsafe speeding. WABA submitted detailed comments for both the corridor and intersection reconstructions. Read WABA’s full comments here. In particular, we would like to see improvements to include:

  • More aggressive traffic calming and a lower design speed
  • protected intersections especially at 4th, 6th, West Virginia Ave, and at the many intersections at New York Ave
  • Wider protected bike lanes and wider buffer from traffic
  • A wider north side sidewalk under the rail bridge to meet Union Market’s pedestrian needs
  • More complete and rational connections for people who bike across New York Ave, to the future New York Ave Trail, and further west on Florida Ave to meet the future needs of people who use the corridor

Once built (scheduled for 2021), this street design will remain in place for decades, so it is critical that the city gets it right, not just better. 

What you can do

If you want to see Florida Ave NE done right, join our 20×20 campaign to organize the support DDOT and our community leaders need to make the right call. Sign up for a 20×20 Ward group here to get started.It is still not too late to tell DDOT what you think about their plans. Take a closer look at the plans here, then click here to email constructive comments to the project team.

Meet Jonathan Kincade, Our New Communications Coordinator

Hi all! My name is Jonathan Kincade and I’m excited to be the new Communications Coordinator here at WABA.

I’m fairly new to the DC area and love its diversity of transit options. I grew up riding a mountain bike around spread-out Georgia neighborhoods and didn’t hop on my first road bike until well into adulthood. That exploration was followed by an intermittent relationship with biking and it had been a few years before I started riding again. Now I ride both to commute and just for fun. Riding a trail on a sunny day, stopping for a picnic at some point, is a fantastic way to spend a Saturday. It brings back the intrepid feelings I experienced as a kid.

As Communications Coordinator I get to link my passion for creativity with my love for doing things outside. I’m happy to be part of a team whose work often involves keeping city biking fun. I’m excited to interact with you and hear your stories too—about biking or anything else! I’m always happy to chat and can be reached at jonathan.kincade@waba.org.

Meet James Brady, Our New 20 X 20 Campaign Organizer

Hi!  My name is James Brady and I’m excited to be taking on the role of 20 X 20 Campaign Organizer with WABA.

My fascination with bicycles started  when, as a twelve year old, I saw the movie Breaking Away in 1979.  Soon after my friends and I had all managed to acquire 10-speeds with which we terrorized the city because there were no protected bike lanes and none of us understood weird concepts like “right of way.” Despite the danger of street riding without a helmet (which, to be fair, no one wore at that time) I survived to move to DC in 1992 where I have lived and worked ever since.  My background is in environmental activism so I’m happy to be able to continue combining bikes, outreach, and action like the time I organized a bicycle blockade to shut down Olympic events in Beijing. Just kidding. I mean, I did do that but that’s not what I’ll be doing here at WABA.

I’m excited to work on the 20 X 20 campaign because it’s an opportunity to support not only street safety but issues of access, opportunity, and equity in DC and the surrounding area.  As the parent of a thirteen year old who regularly bikes all over the city, I’m happy to be a part of ensuring that he and his friends have safe and protected places to ride and are as safety minded as is possible considering that they are a bunch of unsupervised thirteen year olds who believe that they are invincible.  I’m equally happy to be engaged in looking for ways to improve all forms of access in the city for all of our residents whether that means safer streets for drivers and cyclists, better walkability for pedestrians and families, or any of the many other transportation issues that DC needs to address on the regular.Our goal is to have 20 more miles of protected bike lanes in DC by the end of the year so if that seems like a campaign you’re interested in feel free to contact me at James.brady@waba.org.

Recap: Community Listening Sessions

Graphic recording from Listening Session East
Graphic recording from Listening Session West

Some of our readers will be surprised to learn that WABA hasn’t been engaged in the business of Community Listening sessions that long. As a matter of fact, the Listening Session held at the Anacostia PlayHouse (link to blog) was the first, and this year’s Community Listening Sessions doubled that number and included focused sessions East and West of the Anacostia River.

Like the name suggests, these listening sessions were designed to provide community members an opportunity to have their concerns heard on issues of traffic safety. No community is monolithic: there are a wide range of concerns and feelings about what makes a roadway safe for all users. But oftentimes, those who are outnumbered by mode often have their concerns co-opted or consolidated into one mass thought or ask. Because of this, WABA was intentional to give space for community members to be heard by decision makers. What makes this different than just attending the ANC meeting or civic association meeting is that the community listening sessions were being filmed and a video featuring community members and their concerns will be a key part of the 4th Annual Vision Zero Regional Summit.

On February 24, 2020, more than 30 people attended the Community Listening Session – East, held at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library. The listening session featured District Department of Transportation Director, Jeff Marootian, who answered questions about specific projects and about the lack of projects East of the River. To our surprise and excitement, DDOT brought a host of personnel along to answer questions and meet with community members throughout the event. After the Director finished answering individual questions – we turned our attention to community concerns and hopes! Small groups of community members brainstormed to describe their most ardent traffic safety concerns. The answers ranged widely, including the need for better lighting at bus stops, bike trails and sidewalks, safety improvements needed for pedestrians, and traffic calming for speeding motorists. But when asked about the perfect transportation network that answer was often centered around making pedestrians safer on their neighborhood streets. 

The listening session West of the River was held just 2 days later at the Columbia Heights Community Center and turned out another 30 attendees in spite of frigid temps and impending rain in the forecast. The format closely followed the previous listening session, adding a panel discussion featuring ANC commissioners: Ra Amin 5B04, Erin Palmer 4B02, and Evan Yeates 4B01. DDOT showed up in a huge way again, this time enlisting the expertise of Ellen Jones, Chief Project Delivery Officer. Jones was joined in the question and answer session by DDOT’s Project Manager Emily Dalphy and George Branyan who serves as Manager of the Active Transportation Branch. When the community members had a chance to talk about their biggest traffic concerns, it was no surprise that much of those discussions centered around excessive vehicle speeds and the amount of effort it takes to get improvements in place. What may have come as a surprise to some was when describing the perfect transportation network many people described a zero cost public transit option and an inclusive system that worked for everyone, everywhere across the District. 

Many of you know that WABA has made serious commitments to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. These Community Listening Sessions are one response to that commitment and we learn alot from engaging with underserved communities in this space. This doesn’t mean we got it all right, but we are trying. Trying to make sure community voices are heard over and above outside interest. Trying to ensure that community leaders and decision makers hear from people, in communities, who support safe streets and we are trying to amplify the collective voice of those who desire to be heard beyond the boundaries of their Wards. There is little reason to believe that WABA won’t continue to host these listening sessions because we gain so much insight as an organization. And it gives space for others to be heard on issues that affect us all. That’s at the core of why we engage in these listening sessions, to show that we are listening and to make sure that decision makers will be too. Besides, you never know what you might learn.

We’re all working from home, but available.

Hiya!

We’ve closed our physical office for a couple of weeks to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Staff are working remotely, so email is the best way to reach us. Individual staff emails can be found on our staff page, and you can also reach us at our team inboxes:

  • communications@waba.org
  • outreach@waba.org
  • education@waba.org
  • advocacy@waba.org
  • events@waba.org
  • membership@waba.org

We’ll still be online during normal business hours, so send us your questions about biking on twitter or facebook messenger!

We’ve also postponed all of our events in March. Some meetings have been moved to an online format. Check out our events page for details.

Please take care of yourself and your community!

❤,

The WABA Team

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.

Partner Job Posting: Community Engagement Manager, Helbiz

Below is a job posting from our Community Champion Level Business Member, Helbiz:

Community Engagement Manager

Helbiz is a smart-mobility provider that offers cities an array of mobility products including electric scooters and bicycles. Helbiz aims to revolutionize mobility in cities and campuses by empowering residents with cleaner, more efficient, and affordable transportation options that improve urban sustainability. 

Helbiz is fundamentally changing the transportation landscape around the world. We’re looking for a full-time Community Engagement Manager to help build our Washington, DC operations from the ground up by running our local community engagement and relationship building efforts. This role will report directly to the Washington DC City Manager. 

Responsibilities:

  • Build and lead community engagement plan including marketing and community affairs, campaigns around safety and equity, and partnerships with local organizations and community leaders
  • Develop and implement targeted low-income and disadvantaged community outreach and enrollment assistance efforts through Helbiz Access program.
  • Develop and implement an innovative safety education program.
  • Work with the Washington, DC City Manager on ways to improve the Helbiz customer and community experience.
  • Manage the Ward Liaison program including hiring, training, and management of the liaison.
  • Built relationships with local organizations, city officials, and community leaders throughout the District.

Requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree required and 5+ years of relevant experience such as community affairs or marketing. Prior experience working with local organizations and stakeholder groups, NGOs or nonprofits, or city officials preferred.
  • Strong ties to, and familiarity with, the District of Columbia’s diverse communities and organizations.
  • Prior experience managing a team of employees and/or volunteers preferred. 
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills.  Ability to describe technology and technical topics to a wide variety of stakeholders and audiences.
  • Ability to work with diverse stakeholders internally and externally, including business leaders, government officials, staff, and volunteers.  
  • Ability to manage relationships and build rapport with new contacts.
  • Mastery of Microsoft Office. Comfort with Excel preferred. Professional working proficiency in English required. 
  • Proficiency in Spanish or other languages commonly spoken in the District a plus.
  • Legally authorized to work in the United States.
  • Must be a District resident

What We Offer:

  • Opportunity to revolutionize transportation in your hometown and ward with the leader in urban mobility solutions.
  • A position that offers a variety of career and resume building experiences and allows you to build relationships between an innovative startup and your own community.
  • Scale with a rapidly growing organization, with tons of opportunity for growth.
  • Play a role in the transformation of urban mobility and sustainability.
  • Work with a team of fun and motivated individuals.
  • Competitive salary and benefits

At Helbiz we strive to build a workforce comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds, abilities, minds, and identities that will help us to grow, not only as a company, but also as individuals. Helbiz is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

To apply send a resume and cover letter to Vashti Joseph, DC City Manager: vashti@helbiz.com

Update on the Eastern Downtown Protected Bike Lane

What happened:

On 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.

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. 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. 

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.

What you can do right now:

Get involved in your Ward action group [link],