Walk/Bike Trails are Nice, but What About the Roads Around Them?

Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 2, Edition 93 (8/12/2020)

New GoFundMe to Help Pay Bills During Nonprofit Transition

I'm asking for donations to pay my personal bills until Street Justice  -- the nonpartisan news organization I started in 2018 to cover the Washington, DC region -- relaunches as a separate, formal organization delivering community benefits in late 2020/early 2021. The need for funds is immediate to cover mid-August bills and pay September rent.

This is not the first time I've asked many of you for money. I understand the constraints of current economic times and ask one last time for money to pay my personal bills that now include additional reporting expenses and space rental for the A/V equipment and a home office. I recruited a diverse, experienced, passionate volunteer leadership team; and they're taking the helm now to set up the launch of a corporation that serves DC-area residents. But, that pivot won't come in the near-term. We want to do all this right, and that means I/Gordon am on my own to pay bills for the next several months.

View and Donate on GoFundMe

Cars are Gods of the Gaps Between Safe-for-All Walk/Bike Routes. And What Benefit Is There to Low-Income &/or BIPOC?

Inform: DC-area Transportation Planners Set Goal to Double Regional Trail Network

Last month, the Transportation Planning Board (TPB) of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) unanimously adopted a huge goal for the expansion of off-street, safe-for-all users walking and biking infrastructure. The regional body set an objective for 1,500 miles of this non-car infrastructure, a more than doubling on the current 655 miles, based largely on the work of the Capital Trails Coalition. The Coalition is a group of nonprofits, government organizations, and companies led by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association in partnership with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. A lot of those off-street, all-ages, all-abilities bike/walk facilities are trails using defunct rail corridors (e.g., W&OD Trail) or underutilized right of way parallel to rail tracks (e.g., Metropolitan Branch Trail).

That’s a lot of do-good organizations with acronyms and medium- to long-term time horizons. The planning work they participate in is essential for the projects that get implemented in the near-term basis with capital budgets of DC-area governments. For example, the very busy two miles of the W&OD Trail in Arlington County will be widened soon thanks to funds from several NoVA governmental groups and the long-term advocacy and planning of groups like the Coalition and TPB.

However, there’s some necessary cold water to throw.

Include: What Good Is a Trail if it Doesn’t Go to Walmart?

My parents visited last month, three weeks into retirement. I’ve been lobbying them to buy e-bikes and become more active now that they have the time. During our only argument of the visit, I was frustrated that they didn’t want to try the new electric pedal-assist Capital Bikeshare bikes to go a few miles down the road to the Riggs Park Walmart. They were justifiably hesitant since they’re novice bike riders and my mom is the only able-legged partner until my dad fixes a severe knee problem. My mom can’t get hurt. Even though she’s a Zumba-doing, spin-class-rocking, multi-decade aerobics-instructing lady, she is new to biking on roads. In maybe America’s best biking city, a 2.5-mile trip for basic errands was just too scary, too dangerous, too complicated for bike travel. So, we took their brand new, gas efficient but still incredibly wasteful, two-ton pickup truck.

I got really upset before we left. I raised my voice. My dad asked if these were safe-to-bike roads my mom and I would use to get to Walmart. No, of course not. 12th Street NE is okay, but then there’s South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road. No trip in America has all safe-to-bike roads — even in dense DC, even immediately next to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, even with an affordable-to-rent pedal-assist bike. I’m an expert bike rider, but I’m their son. Routes I use every day could take my life — the roads they understandably don’t ever want to take even though they genuinely do want to bike more and drive less. I got hit by cars three times in 2019; twice less than a half-mile from my apartment, all three on what DC officials signify with signs and Google Maps data as a bike-friendly route.

Thes gaps in safe-for-all, inviting-for-even-novices walk/bike infrastructure exist all across America, even and especially in the DC area. Counting hundreds of miles of off-street trails won’t fix a damn thing until those trails go directly to the doorsteps of most housing, most jobs, most retail, and most entertainment. These gaps — that anger and frustration I let explode out of me because we had to take an expensive, wasteful car for a short, daily trip — are why these kinds of big announcements about better bike/walk infrastructure don’t get many more people to take up biking for commuting and errands. How will they get to those trails from their houses, their offices? Is it safe for a fixed-income, new and not-yet-confident rider who doesn’t want to get hurt by crazy drivers trying to make a rushed, no-mirror-check zipper merge onto an I-66 ramp?

The College Park, MD Mayor sits on the TPB and is very supportive of the announced bike/walk trails expansion. But, his city and Prince George’s County generally, is extremely unsafe and hostile to ride bikes for transportation. The gentleman of color riding an affordable bike making an obviously non-recreation trip pictured at the top was riding eastbound on University Blvd. He was using the sidewalk because there’s no safe biking infrastructure on the major, high-speed road. He spent several minutes trying to use the crosswalk in a slip lane from University onto Riggs Rd while dozens of drivers didn’t yield for him as the law compels them to. So, I used my white privilege and lack of fear about death to step into the crosswalk and stop that traffic. I stood there and had him cross while I stopped traffic in place of the law and human decency.

That scene is common across the DC region in places where “no one rides a bicycle” or “it would be a death wish to try walking to the store” within a mile or two of what regional groups call a world-class bike/walk facility. The University/Riggs intersection, a nightmare of two state-run roads barely more than a mile from the DC line, plops between the Metropolitan Branch Trail and the Northeast Branch Trail. What the Hell is someone supposed to do if they live more than a stone’s throw East or West of these 1,500 miles of amazing, happy-graphic-rendering map lines?

What hopes does the DC region have to invite people like my parents into biking for errands when the roads around the trails don’t change? Cities like College Park welcome walk/bike trail expansion but don’t build protected bike infrastructure and safe-for-all sidewalks on direct route roads like Route 1, so we couldn’t bike back to my apartment from the College Park Lidl with groceries.

Inform: Most Bike/Walk Trails Designed for High-Income White Peoples’ Recreation

The two elephants of the room in this discussion are that 1. much of the public benefit from these multi-use trails is as a recreation amenity rather than core transportation route; 2. lots of people ride bikes and walk where public commentators say it would be crazy to try; those people tend to be lower-income and people of color riding department store bikes in non-rush hours.

The aforementioned W&OD Arlington widening is justified because that specific section is used for both daily transportation and recreation — so much so that the 10-12-foot trail needs 16-20 feet of width to accommodate the demand (i.e. only 1.5-2 car lanes of width).

Beyond the rare few veteran bike commuters, most people drive cars to access the W&OD trail. How else would you get there when you’d have to bike on freaking Gallows Road? In steps the car as a god of the gaps: how we get to the places we feel safe biking and walking because the places we actually live, work, and shop are connected by dangerous, designed for only cars, roads.

Include: Low-Income, Poor, Even Middle Class in Nice Suburbs Must use Sidewalks or Shoulders Near Trails

My parents live 1.7 miles from an incredible walk/bike trail built on an old rail alignment: the Macomb Orchard Trail. It connects North up to the farms and Cider of Michigan’s Thumb, and West into Oakland County with the Clinton River Trail and the North-South Paint Branch Trail. My parents live less than two miles from River Bends Park, where a series of paved trails could take them 20+ miles to the Huron-Clinton Metropark at Lake Saint Clair. They live four miles from one of the Detroit-area’s best 6-10 mile bike loops at Stony Creek, another Huron-Clinton Metropark.

Despite my parents living so close to perhaps the best of Southeast Michigan’s all-ages, all-abilities bike trails, they still have to drive to them or ride on sidewalks from their house. Because their local Shelby Township, Macomb County, and the State of Michigan design suburban roads — even the ones with only two lanes — to carry dangerous, scary, 45 mph traffic. This is true of surface transportation infrastructure all across America and it’s damn true in the DC area.

Street Justice readers wrote in with the following anecdotes of unsafe roads around our region’s prized walk/bike routes. Also, these are areas where people do ride bikes and walk for commuting/core trips, even though privileged people say it would be crazy to do so.

I definitely see it in PG around W. Hyattsville metro and on NW Branch Trail. Also on University Blvd.”

Sudley Road/234 Business in Prince William County just South of I-66. Trails leading up to I-95 overpasses in Prince William County are missing safe connections but people still cross to get to work and shopping.” … “Ditto for goat trails across I66 ramps.”

Much of adjacent PG County (Annapolis road/450, Landover road/202, Kenilworth ave, Riverdale road/410). Worse, neighborhoods are often designed not to connect with surrounding areas, so to get anywhere you need to be on an arterial road, whether or not you're in a car. My bike ride to work ends near the New Carrollton Metro, and I could shave off probably 4 miles if it was even a little safe to be on those roads. alas.”

Pretty much anywhere in [DC] Ward 8.” … “Contrary to the popular representation working-class/people of color do use bikes here in Ward 8. Though the lack of safe-for-all bike/walk is by design here. Remember the erasing of Alabama Ave bike lane and excluding W8 from slow/safe streets initiatives recently?”

Bike commuter riding from White Oak Apts to [Downtown Silver Spring] enduring the labyrinth across Lockwood, weaving through Traders Joe's hellacious parking lot, up the US-29 Woodmoor Hill sidewalk or worse in the SB US-29. ‘Bicycles may use full lane’ insanity because there isn't a sidewalk Southbound.”

There is a REAL gap in resource allocation from MDSHA [Maryland state highway that runs most of the important Prince George’s roads.] for the unincorporated county region in PGC, for example, Chillum. Working-class people can't pay city (e.g. Art District Cities) staff to lobby the state for grants and CIP [capital budget] finds nor do they have time to engage county as wage earners.”

It's a bit outside DC, but basically of Route 1 in Howard and Prince George's (though once inside the beltway it's not nearly as hostile).”

Lots of folks (many Black) cross Eastern Avenue on foot -- south of Riggs Rd., it's half a mile to the next marked crosswalk, but the grocery store [a nice Giant], church, and barbershop on the other side.”

Check out Queen’s Chapel Road in Prince George’s County between the D.C. line and Hyattsville shopping centers. A ton of people walk and bike on the shoulder where there is little space and no protection from auto traffic.” [Street Justice covered safety upgrades coming to Queens Chapel that do not add all-ages, all-abilities bike/walk facilities.]

Equip: How to Improve On-Street Connections to Trails

Please sign onto the letter to MDSHA to fix the Sligo Creek Trail crossings at MD212 and MD410!”: https://secure.everyaction.com/8JDcSUFQYkeWAE9FJmTz5g2

It goes without saying that those 1,500 miles of bike/walk trails for which TPB set a goal aren’t a fait accompli. There are 3-15 years more of lobbying, environmental study, design planning, and funding to get in capital budgets. That all doesn’t happen without citizen input and support, from long-range planning to capital budgeting like buying the damn Wendy’s.

The best way to improve the on-street connections to these rail trails is to participate in public comment periods and public meetings held by the TPB Citizen Advisory, NoVA Parks, M-NCPPC (think Capital Crescent/Georgetown Branch Trail crossings at Jones Mill, Connecticut, and Little Falls Parkway), the DC-area’s citizens advisories (e.g., Alexandria Bike and Pedestrian Advisory), and lobby your local governments for greater road space for bikes and pedestrians when they do capital budgeting like improving bridges as part of the I-66 Outside the Beltway and Inside the Beltway upgrades (or Quincy St crossings of I-66 and Lee Highway in North Arlington where locals aren’t historically supportive of bike infrastructure).

New 📷 🎥🎙️ 📊

News Tidbits

  1. Metro’s Finances Are Headed For A Tough 2021. It’s Calling On Congress To Offer Transit Agencies Relief” by Jordan Pascale (WAMU-FM, NPR DC)

Surveys/Public Comment Periods

Social Media Activity

ICYMI: In the last Street Justice, we explained DC Council's latest moves to better organize and regulate self-driving car tests in DC. Also, there's info on two pilot projects where small, slow, electric shuttles are running on fixed routes using AI tech.

Events Calendar

  • Full Events Calendar on TeamUp: https://teamup.com/ksit5hj89moo3w36fm

  • NOTE: A Password is No Longer Needed; Please Share the Calendar & Link to It Freely

  • I hope to cover the public events highlighted below in person.

Wed 8/12: Arlington County Pedestrian Advisory Committee via Microsoft Teams [Agenda | Join via Device | Join via Phone: 347-973-6905 with ID 190-502-685#]

Wed 8/19: 2020 Safe Walking Summit, hosted by Northern Virginia Regional Commission [Details | RSVP]

Tues 9/15 - Wed 9/16: 2020 AARP Livable Communities Transportation Workshop [Details]

Upcoming Street Justice Livestream Broadcasts

Wed 9/2: ANC 1C (Adams Morgan) Virtual Meeting via Zoom [Details | Join via Zoom with Password 734886 | Livestream on YouTube]


DISCLAIMER: Street Justice is subjective journalism. We produce factually accurate, thoroughly reported content. We write with a personal and opinionated voice, contrary to “view from nowhere” journalism that produces an unrealistically symmetrical portrayal of matters in dispute. Where there are power dynamics, Street Justice applies greater scrutiny to agents and stakeholders with greater privilege and more questionable motives.

DC Nearing New Self-Driving Car Testing Scheme | Small AV Shuttles Operating Already in VA, DC

Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 2, Edition 92 (8/9/2020)

DC-Area Residents: How Do You Feel About Self-Driving Vehicles: Testing them on Roads, Future Use, Etc?

[Include]

Street Justice subscriber Kevin Schlosser writes in: “I run the Washington DC Autonomous Vehicles Association (DC-AVA). I'm doing a survey [with researchers at Georgetown University] to assess how DC-area residents feel about autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars). There are already AVs testing on our streets and there are likely to be more of them in the future.”

“Pedestrian and cyclist advocates understand traffic and transit problems probably better than anyone else in the region, so we want to get their opinions. I'm looking for help to distribute the survey to folks who are passionate about pedestrian, cyclist, and micromobility causes. Would you be willing to help share our survey? It would be a great opportunity to show what local government and AV companies should prioritize in designing their services.”

DC-AVA is “a grassroots organization to support education and collaboration around AVs.” Kevin “founded DC-AVA because I lost my girlfriend, Michelle Crowe, in a traffic accident in September 2017.”

Email Kevin to Participate in Survey

[Inform]

In July, DC Council held the first of two readings on the Autonomous Vehicles Testing Program Amendment Act of 2019 (B23-0232). The legislation — introduced last year to update and formalize testing rules — would set up a permitting process for self-driving vehicle testing in Washington, DC. It would “create minimum standards for the testing of autonomous vehicles in the District and provide DDOT with the authority to regulate the finer details of the testing program.” The legislation facilitates the setup of a formal, multi-operator testing program, but doesn’t permit self-driving cars from other operators. So, don’t go strapping some lasers on your Golf.

Readers may have already seen Ford/Argo AI self-driving vehicles on DC streets. The AI company backed by the car company has driven test AVs around the District since early 2019. Uber began street data collection this January to begin operating AV test cars in DC. Both of those company announcements and DC government statements discuss AVs as promising safety technology that could potentially improve traffic safety, but identify DC roads as having unique challenges (e.g., reversible lanes, L’Enfantian street grid, etc).

While major car companies are focusing on real-time navigation and flexible route driving with full-size gas-powered AVs, other companies are focusing on small, slow, electric AVs. Companies are picking narrow parts of self-driving and EV use cases to see which business models work out and where the messy edges of self-driving software can be solved quickest. For example, are slower speeds and fixed routes quicker to solve for at the masterly level necessary for public deployment? Is it the best route to financial stability to become the official shuttle provider of big University campuses — like the best campus in the world: Ann Arbor, MI — rather than on-demand micro-transit?

AV Small vehicle AV fleet operator Optimus Ride has been running 0.2 mi-long, fixed-route food deliveries in the SW Waterfront/Navy Yard neighborhood during COVID-19. Dominion Energy has partnered with Fairfax County and other local government stakeholders to provide a self-driving, electric shuttle on a 1.5-mile fixed loop from the Dunn-Loring Metro Station to the developer-created “Mosaic District” (similar to PN Hoffman’s Wharf" in DC). There’s a safety steward in the vehicle to drive manually if need be. The Dominion/Fairfax “Relay” shuttle is a small vehicle that can travel at 12 mph but is only going 3 mph during testing. That’s moderate walking speed, so not

[Equip]

In order to affect the deployment of AVs in the District, residents should complete the survey linked above and contact their Councilmember (find your Councilmember) with comments about that pending AV testing bill (B23-0232). The legislation costs $3.6 million over four years, requiring the DC government to spend more money on AV testing oversight staff. That means the Council can pass the legislation, but delay its implementation pending future debate where funds could be appropriated. Sometimes, DC Council will enact immediately the parts of a bill that have no fiscal impact. Last month, DC Council added such a provision into DC’s Vision Zero street safety bill (B23-0288).

Both the street safety and AV testing bills will require a final DC Council vote, Mayoral approval, and Congressional Review. They both passed Council on first reading unanimously. The biggest hurdle is the cost of both measures. Though, Vision Zero could cost $144 million over four years versus less than $4 million for AVs. The Council may have to cut hundreds of millions from DC’s budget in that same timespan given COVID impacts.

Interested stakeholders should also contact their Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, who can write supportive resolutions urging the Council to find the money for more organized AV testing and safer street programs. The Street Justice civic events calendar will list Council hearings once it returns from August recess.



New GoFundMe to Help Pay Bills During Nonprofit Transition

I'm asking one last time for donations to pay my personal bills until Street Justice  -- the nonpartisan news organization I started in 2018 to cover the Washington, DC region -- relaunches as a separate, formal organization delivering community benefits in late 2020/early 2021. The need for funds is immediate to cover mid-August bills and pay September rent.

This is not the first time I've asked many of you for money. I understand the constraints of current economic times and ask one last time for money to pay my personal bills that now include additional reporting expenses and space rental for the A/V equipment and a home office. I recruited a diverse, experienced, passionate volunteer leadership team; and they're taking the helm now to set up the launch of a corporation that serves DC-area residents. But, that pivot won't come in the near-term. We want to do all this right, and that means I/Gordon am on my own to pay bills for the next several months.

View and Donate on GoFundMe



Witnesses Needed for Bicycle Crash at New Hampshire & Quincy NW

Street Justice subscriber and personal injury attorney Daniel Singer wrote in with the following request:

“We represent a victim of a bicycle crash that occurred back on July 10th at the intersection of New Hampshire and Quincy, NW – right by the Petworth metro. The victim was knocked unconscious and does not remember exactly how the crash happened. We have found a few witnesses from the police report, but they have indicated that a number of individuals came over to the scene due to the severity of the crash, so we are hoping to locate these folks – or anyone else who saw the crash.

Flyer with Contact Info on How to Help



DISCLAIMER: Street Justice is subjective journalism. We produce factually accurate, thoroughly reported content. We write with a personal and opinionated voice, contrary to “view from nowhere” journalism that produces an unrealistically symmetrical portrayal of matters in dispute. Where there are power dynamics, Street Justice applies greater scrutiny to agents and stakeholders with greater privilege and more questionable motives.

Meet Our New Leadership Team

Street Justice Newsletter: Board of Directors, Advisory Council, and Staff

I’m so excited to share with you the Street Justice Board of Directors and the Advisory Council that will take this news organization into 501(c)(3) non-profit status. With them, I’ll re-launch the enterprise I started in December 2018. Over the past 6-8 weeks, I’ve worked hard to recruit these folks, think, and write down how I want Street Justice to differ from the current crop of local news in DC.

I’ve struggled to publish regular news reports in the past month because so much of my time went into assembling this team. For leadership advice, I spoke with two dozen people experienced in non-profits, news startups, and community benefit corporations. I reached out to almost every woman and person of color who pledges a subscription, asking them to be a part of Street Justice leadership. Below is a roster of accomplished, connected, experienced, diverse people.

Street Justice isn’t Gordon Chaffin’s newsletter anymore. The Board and Advisors are the shepherds of Street Justice. I’ll always be the founder, but now I’m a servant — an employee — of something bigger. I cannot express in words how exhausting it has been to work insanely long hours — but also to *need* to make the correct decision nearly always, in order for Street Justice to survive as an organization. It’s been extremely lonely and stressful.

To “be perfect” is impossible, and this success is the result of greater alchemy than meritocracy, but I’ve been near the edge of an emotional breakdown so many times. I’m so grateful these 20 or so people have agreed to donate some time and advance the Street Justice mission. Please do not confuse our past or future success for my individual merit. Being more successful or smarter or even harder-working doesn’t make you better than anyone. I believe merit is a moral question and Street Justice is a moral mission.

Our new organizational motto keys off of three words: include, inform, and equip.

  • Inform was what came first to me when I started Street Justice. I had savings and skills and wanted to do local journalism, so I just started doing it.

  • Include became more important after I had attended many months of public meetings and community events, understanding how limited/one-dimensional a perspective of “what the community wants” is presented in news stories. This is a service Street Justice offers (i.e. livestreams, virtual participation) and a process ethic (e.g., stories rarely have two sides, and are we talking to enough LGBT+ and BIPOC people).

  • Equip is the latest and least developed part of Street Justice; it describes how we differ from other local news outlets as well as incumbent advocacy organizations. Street Justice is not just a storytelling organization, but also a tools-provider. Our tools include the civic events calendar, the list of projects open for public comment, and the multimedia content archive — all of which I’ll get back to updating asap. Every SJ story in the future will have next steps a reader can take: a meeting to attend, a decision-maker to email, etc — if they care about the topic.

I have never been more fulfilled, more grateful, more excited, and more confident in what I’m doing. But, it’s my job to believe in the certainty of our future success — I’m the founder of a start-up. It’s our job — the people below, you readers, plus me — to work to make it a statistical probability. I believe this: do your best work, a lot of it, and get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Screw everything else.

All of this said, there’s no money for any of it yet and I don’t know how I’m going to pay my September rent. Street Justice continues to depend on your monthly pledges, your one-time donations, and your referrals for virtual meeting services. I understand how expensive $250 is for a lifetime subscription, but if you can afford it and believe in this mission, please consider that investment.

Board of Directors

Ari S. Brown

Amanda Farnan

  • Development and Fundraising Committee

  • Audience and Organizations Committee

  • Washington, DC - Ward 1

  • Partnerships Manager at Protocol Media

Justin A. Lini, MA

Robert Gardner

Robert McPherson

Devin McIntyre, MS

  • Development and Fundraising Committee

  • Washington, DC

  • Principal at Piloting Purpose

Kate Myers

Michael Wray

Advisory Council

Chelsea Allen

  • Audience and Organizations Committee

  • Washington, DC - Ward 5

  • Teacher at Washington Leadership Academy Public Charter School

Karthik Balasubramanian, DBA

  • Finance and Operations Committee

  • Washington, DC - Ward 6

  • Assistant Professor at Howard University School of Business

Daniel Bernstein

Mark Blacknell

  • Development and Fundraising Committee

  • Arlington, VA

  • Attorney in Private Practice

Michael Braeuninger, MA

  • Finance and Operations Committee

  • Washington, DC - Ward 5

  • Director Of Development at Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation

Talia Calnet-Sugin

Jon Coen, J.D.

Adom Cooper

Marian Dombroski, RA, LEED AP

  • Audience and Organizations Committee

  • Prince George’s County, MD

Gil Eisbruch

  • Editorial Committee

  • Washington, DC - Ward 1

  • Software Developer at Planned Systems International

Adam Fofana

Katherine Kortum, Ph.D., PE

Santiago Lakatos

Gaspard Le Dem, MA

  • Editorial Committee

  • Washington, DC - Ward 1 

  • Reporter at The Well News

K.B. Mensah

  • Editorial Committee

  • Montgomery County, MD

  • News Assistant at New York Times

Grace Pooley, M.S.Eng.

David Ramos

John Shaw, DVM

  • Audience and Organizations Committee

  • Washington, DC - Ward 6

  • U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Central America, Ret.

Street Justice Staff

Gordon Chaffin

Unpacking The Box I Took Home from My Last "Real Job"

Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 2, Edition 90 (7/20/2020)

NOTE: Believing Enough in This Effort to Unpack The Boxes I Took Home from My Last "Real Job"

This weekend, I took the last step to fully invest emotionally in the Street Justice news non-profit I’ve been writing about here for a month. I unpacked the two boxes I took home from my last “real job” in March 2018. They sat on a shelf for two years, ready to be taken back into a new job that year — when I was job searching full-time — and over the last 20 months of Street Justice publishing.

Today, I was ready to fully believe that I’m not going back. I don’t want to. I won’t have to. Theses cartons have meaning for an organization freak. My office is here and I need my tools (e.g., 96-color Crayola crayon lazy Suzan). I’m letting go of all my doubts. Full speed ahead with two dozen volunteers and hundreds of subscribers reaching an audience of thousands. Street Justice is going to succeed. Shipping containers make great offices and now there’s room for a second desk when we hire a second staffer.

I’m sorry for the infrequent, irregular publishing of reports in the last few weeks. This past week, especially, and the last month has involved a lot of meetings, thinking, and writing about was Street Justice is and how it differs from other (local) news that also needs investment and volunteer support.


David Alpert, Greater Greater Washington Founder, Stepping Down

David Alpert, founder and Executive Director of Greater Greater Washington (GGWash), announced Monday that he will be stepping down from his non-profit news and advocacy organization. I’ve been trying to set up a call with him for a few weeks. He took a blog, made it into a non-profit, and recruited a staff of ten supported by leadership and mobilization of hundreds of volunteers. I want to do the same with Street Justice. Hopefully, we can talk soon. He said this week to me that June had been really busy for him. No wonder! Announcements like these take a lot of prep.

I’m building something different than David, but he’s why it’s possible. He and all the other GGWash volunteers who made that organization a key regional stakeholder and urbanism evangelist for the masses.



What is Street Justice?

Street Justice is a non-profit news organization spotlighting the policies and people that govern and change public spaces. We include, inform, and equip stakeholders with the least power to improve their community. Public spaces include streets, tunnels, bridges, waterways, airports, playgrounds, schools, libraries, trails, parks, recreation centers, and transit.

Gordon Chaffin started Street Justice in December 2018 to create inclusive journalism about neighborhood-level problems with the goal of including more people of less privilege, creating content that reached them, and to equip them to get involved in arcane but important local civics decision making. You know that phrase “Nothing about us, without us?” As a news organization, we are storytellers, but also a tools-provider to the “us” who may already be advocates and the many more who don't know yet how to change things but want things to change.

Our ambition is to create a small, non-profit newsroom that finds, broadcasts, and mobilizes informed stakeholder citizens into the most obscure rooms where people to make decisions affecting others. Street Justice is not a partisan or ideological advocacy organization. But, we do advocate for — and make possible — greater inclusion.

We believe this is possible and necessary. Hundreds of subscribers have pledged money and increased their donations over 19 months of publishing. They’ve donated, spread word of mouth, linked to our work in their bigger platforms with larger audiences. They’ve told us that they believe in the need for a new kind of local journalism.



How It Was Possible to Start Street Justice

Greater Greater Washington is the reason Street Justice exists, as well as many other factors. At GGWash transitions and Street Justice formalizes as a non-profit, I am — more than anything — grateful. I want to reflect on the circumstance that made this possible for me.

Since recruiting the first few subscribers in December 2018, my experience with Street Justice has followed a three-phase timeline:

Phase One | Do the Job I Want | Dec 2018 - April 2019

I had been job searching full-time for 9 months and had no luck. I wasn’t getting journalism job interviews in part because of my non-traditional career history. It was hard to sell my abilities as a local journalist, but I knew that is what I wanted to be. I knew had I had the skills, the passion — and I had some savings. So, I just started to do the job I wanted to do: daily reporting and publishing via a subscription newsletter.

Phase Two | There’s a Niche Here; Can it Pay Bills? | April 2019 - May 2020

After several months of 6 stories per week, we’d broken a big story: the ANC 3C Check Fraud story (Part 1 | Part 2). From sources willing to collaborate and readers subscribing after the DC Line and 730DC linked to and promoted our work. It was clear that Street Justice had a committed — if small — audience. There was a permanent place for Street Justice in the local DC news landscape. We published for free for two months and added a paywall in early March. People signed on for the paid subscriptions in the dozens, then hundreds.

The big question in phase two wasn’t whether Street Justice should exist, but if it could pay all of my bills once I ran out of savings. I started dog walking as a gig economy worker on Rover and pulled back on the Street Justice publishing frequency when I struggled to do daily reports and 5-8 dog walks per weekday. I got a small business loan and began pitching public meeting livestreaming services. ANC 1C (Adams Morgan) became my first A/V client, but that service didn’t receive much interest until COVID-19 hit and people realized we’re likely headed to years of virtual meetings vs. weeks of it.

Phase Three | A Firm Foundation Needed: Get Bigger and Formalize in order to Survive | May 2020 - Present

You all know most of this phase three: Street Justice should exist, but doing it with gig economy side jobs isn’t sustainable and the media world with more traditional funding models are laying journalists off in droves. Street Justice doesn’t accomplish its mission by being bought and turned into a column for WaPost (a la Capital Weather Gang or Wonkblog). Street Justice isn’t a WAMU segment; we should do something better than the local NPR affiliate.

There are lots of unanswered questions, but the counter-intuitive upshot is that we need to bring in many more people as volunteers and formalize into a non-profit, accessing those funding sources, and hiring more staff. It’ll be easier to get to a payroll of five than survive on my own while doing something better than incumbent news players.

Who and What Made Street Justice Possible

Street Justice will succeed thanks to my hard work and financial contributions, but there are a series of people and events subject to very low amounts of my control.

  • My parents. For obvious reasons. But, also for being supportive of

  • Jake Williams, Teddy Downey, and Trevor Baine hired me in 2015 to be a researcher and a small, niche industry publication called The Capitol Forum. They’re the first people to show me the power of journalism as an authority-questioner. They taught me how critical antitrust and consumer protection are for a socially just economy.

  • David Alpert, Julie Strupp, Sarah Guidi, and Matt Friedman of Greater Greater Washington hired me as a volunteer social media coordinator in 2017 and write for them in 2018. That experience connected me with the urbanist community who were early champions of Street Justice.

  • A member of my family received an unexpected inheritance from a different family member. They passed a large portion of that onto me. It was an incredibly generous and loving move. That money become the savings/seed investment to start Street Justice. This family member also offered me a small business loan when I needed it last year.

  • Kat Haselkorn, who was someone I hired as a matchmaker in 2017 and became a friend, suggested I apply for a part-time gig at a now-defunct local news site called DC Commute Times. I saw what they were doing at DC Commute Times and did it much better with Street Justice. Kat also convinced me to try dog walking when I needed a side gig to help pay bills. She hired me to take my first published, credited photo in the WSJ. She’s really the biggest single person to create the idea of Street Justice in my heart. She’s an amazing person and I highly recommend her matchmaking services [Email Kat | Sign Up].

  • Aaron Gordon of the Signal Problems newsletter and Walt Hickey of the Numlock News newsletter both gave me key advice on the start of a paid newsletter before Street Justice launched.

  • Braulio Agnese and Beth Peralta-Reed subscribed for money in the first week we had sign-ups — before we’d published a single edition. Several dozen subscribed before we raised a paywall.

  • COVID-19 has been terrible on many levels for many people, but it’s been a net benefit for Street Justice. I had enough money to pay April rent, but didn’t for May, June, July, August — and maybe I’ll have enough for September. My landlord waived utilities during the health emergency. Street Justice would have failed if not for this pandemic and renter protections. We’re looking at public broadcasts of virtual meetings as a strong growth area.

  • More than a dozen people have signed up for lifetime subscriptions. I know that’s a large expense — a “clear it with your life partner” — conversation.

  • The hundreds of subscribers who pledged money, some of them increasing their pledge amount twice or even three times. The thousands of free-sign up subscribers who continue to read that weekly digest edition.

Thank you to everyone on this list and so many more. The more Street Justice finds success, the more I realize it was because of amazing supporters and — honestly — the universe being randomly generous to me in this venue. I’ve worked insane, unhealthy hours the past two years and there’s a while more I’ll need to do so. But, I want y’all know I understand how this is a group effort.



DISCLAIMER: Street Justice is subjective journalism. We produce factually accurate, thoroughly reported content. We write with a personal and opinionated voice, contrary to “view from nowhere” journalism that produces an unrealistically symmetrical portrayal of matters in dispute. Where there are power dynamics, Street Justice applies greater scrutiny to agents and stakeholders with greater privilege and more questionable motives.

Loading more posts…