ANC 2B Residents Want a 20th Street Bike Lane

Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 1, Edition 5 (1/11/2019)

Welcome to the Street Justice Newsletter

This is a daily newsletter produced by Gordon Chaffin, a journalist in Washington, DC. I cover transportation and urban planning in DC, MD, and VA to explain what is happening in the street and why. You can subscribe for free or pay a small fee to help me make this my full time job.

As I wrote yesterday, I attended Wednesday’s marathon ANC 2B meeting discussing proposed North/South bike lanes on either 20th, 21st, or 22nd Streets. You can listen to the entire bike lane discussion here (OneDrive Link). I produced this and all the recordings featured in Street Justice.

I sent a request for comment and informational questions to Megan Kanagy, DDOT’s lead bike planner on the project, but she was unable to respond before today’s publication time. I hope to chat with her next week to get clarity on the project’s next steps and how much more input ANC 2B and its residents may have. I was also referred to a DDOT Public Information Officer, from whomst I got an Out-of-Office saying they’re gone until Monday.

I’m sharing the behind-the-scenes reporting process because I think it helps journalists re-build trust with readers. Also, this newsletter has value because I intend to produce something more than a facsimile of WaPo, DCist, or GGWash write-ups. I’m both going to be more accessible and thorough than them. You’re going to have more confidence in my reporting because I won’t hide anything from you. Of course, feel free to skip over procedural notes if you just want the upshot of each report.

ANC 2B Residents Want a 20th Street Bike Lane

While 2B Commissioners left themselves too little time to coordinate a motion supporting any bike lane design proposed by DDOT, a majority of public speakers preferred the 20th Street NW lane to 21st. DDOT’s existing 20th Street design doesn’t connect to the Mall on the South end and stops South of the Florida/Connecticut Ave intersection where the 21st St design reaches.

The reasons for resident preference for 20th Street is primarily that 20th is four lanes — two travel, two parking — between Pennsylvania and New Hampshire Avenues NW. By comparison, 21st Street is mostly three lanes — one Northbound travel, and parking on either side. So, DDOT’s 21st Street design would remove one curbside parking lane from C St NW all the way to Florida Ave.

You can look at parking loses by counting spots, but that debate is fruitless. Residents at this meeting, including folks who know nothing of street planning but have the time to hand count the spots, won’t believe any spot loss number DDOT claims. They’ll think it’s orders of magnitude too low.

Consult the DDOT design and you see the 20th Street design also eliminates parking on one side of the street, for the entirety of the route. But, as a dozen or more 21st Street residents pointed out: it’s already a wider street. That’s only strictly true. More accurately: 20th is wider than 21st on more blocks. But, 20th is also 3 lanes in many places. Also, and this is the real takeaway: 21st Street has a lot more single-family home residential housing, whose owners and occupants came out in force to oppose their loss of on-street parking.

Residents did cape up for the local businesses who “need” and “depend on” curbside parking for patrons and deliveries. But, no business owners spoke — other than the Phillips Collection CFO. Her museum is on 21st Street, so she jumped on the 20th Street bandwagon too. For political intents and purposes, resident on-street parking is more important than parking losses of businesses. Or, at least, residents will more fervently oppose their parking loss. Also, there’s a data-driven reason for biz complaints here to fall on deaf ears: businesses massively overestimate the number of patrons who arrive by car and patrons who arrive on foot or bike spend more money.

ANC Commissioner 2B06 Mike Silverstein, a resident of 20th Street, volunteered to support the resident consensus for 20th Street bike lanes even though that design would remove some parking on his block. To get the bike lane all the way from the Mall to Florida Avenue, North of the Circle, some residents supported jogging the lane over to 21st Street. After the lane goes North of the blocks where residents park, of course.

DDOT Gave Plenty of Notice and Is *Not* Moving Fast on West End Bike Lanes

An almost universal complaint from residents was that they weren’t properly informed of DDOT’s potential changes to their neighborhood and that DDOT was rushing this. This is false. DDOT held two public meetings in 2018, at which significant public feedback was welcomed and design changes were made to the project. DDOT’s website for their PBL efforts in DC put up all the project and meeting materials, they sent press releases and media advisories around, they hung door knockers along the proposed routes.

This “nobody told me” complaint is extremely common in government work. Extremely busy staffers do as much as they can to get the word out: listservs, releases, email blasts, social media posts. I’ve done a lot of that work as a digital marketing and social media staffer. 99 percent of the time, governments put great effort into letting stakeholders know. But, people always — ALWAYS! — complain because they personally missed the 6,578 different marketing efforts.

Nick DelleDonne — pictured below at the very left of the frame — a former ANC 2B Commissioner and anti-change apparatchik had put out fear mongering flyers with misleading and incorrect information. While many in that 2B meeting were organized and attended based on cyclist communities in DC, a greater number of folks in the room were spun up by DelleDone and a few others who spent the entire meeting insulting pro-bike lane speakers while the latter talked. I stood next to the malcontents the whole meeting and the comments were a blend of you’re not welcome on my street and incorrect assertions.

People Won’t Give Up Their Parking (Without a Fight)

These discussions ultimately come down to which efforts have the political will. It’s true — from all the data in the world, for 50 years — that street safety improves by adding bike lanes, reducing car speeds, and removing parking to reduce car dependency to reduce vehicle miles traveled. But safety is one single objective among other objectives in policymaking.

It’s political reality that residents feel entitled to parking in the public right of way. 3-4 generations of policy and culture reproduced that assumption. It’s true that 2B residents live in maybe the most transit-rich neighborhood in all of DC. It’s true that 2B homeowners sit on $1MM-$2MM of home equity. But, they’re not going to give up their cars and they feel (understandably) like car-dependent living is what they’ve been promised for 50 years. It doesn’t help that many of these 2B residents do need cars for health reasons. Of course, they could use Uber/Lyft to go to the grocery store and doctor, and their cars sit empty stored on a public street 95%+ of the time.

In the end, whoever gets angriest and threatens politicians the most with electoral retribution wins. That’s my conclusion after 10 years of working in politics, local public policy, and journalism. There’s a war outside in the streets nobody’s safe from.

This Week’s Reporting Plan (Bold = I’ll Be Attending)