DC Isn't Like Other Cities Opening Streets Up for Social Distancing

Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 2, Edition 65 (5/13/2020)

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DDOT Says DC Isn't Like Other Cities Opening Streets Up for Social Distancing

During a virtual meeting tonight of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Vision Zero Working Group, Jeff Marootian — Director of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) — told stakeholders that the District of Columbia is not like other cities when it comes to re-purposing road space for pedestrians and bicycles. Marootian was speaking to members of DC’s Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Multimodal Accessibility Advisory Councils (PAC, BAC, and MAAC). According to multiple sources who attended this call and spoke to Street Justice, the DDOT Director was evasive answering tough questions about the District’s ongoing street safety efforts and whether it will up its game given today’s insanely low levels of traffic.

Hundreds of cities across the world, and dozens of American cities, have been opening streets up in the past three months. The programs range in size from a few miles of resident-directed closures with homemade signs to hundreds of lane miles directed by mayors and transportation department heads experimenting to use significantly reduced traffic to claim more of public space for walking, biking, scooter riding, rollerblading, and hula-hooping. Those leaders are building safe, affordable designs and planning to make them permanent. Why not close the curbside parking lanes so restaurants can open up street cafes to have greater capacity with social distancing as DC re-opens?

These road closures to car travel — often just to thru traffic — are being called open streets, slow streets, enjoyable streets, and a few other things. The point of the stakeholders supporting these changes is that the parks are closed, the roads are nearly empty, and people need more space to spread out and safely recreate. Americans have probably the greatest onslaught of cabin fever in U.S. history; they’re going to go outside. Why not give them the curbside lanes?

According to Street Justice reporting, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has opposed the idea outright, then asked the National Park Service to close remote roadways that are already closed on weekends, then only allow an extremely limited “widened sidewalks” plan. Those widened sidewalks — again according to Street Justice reporting — span no less than a few dozen feet in length, a few feet in width, and were deployed with concrete jersey barriers because DDOT’s traffic engineers designed them to withstand impacts at 60 mph. The agency’s traffic engineers are the longest-in-the-tooth staffers, least versed-in or supportive of recent decades’ of best practices urban transportation safety designs.

“Jeff Marootian mentioned to [Rachel Maisler of the BAC] that it’s great to talk about other cities, but what we’re gonna do here in DC is what we’re gonna do here in DC,” said Pedestrian Advisory Council member and ANC 2F Commissioner Janice Ferebee — while she Chaired 2F’s Transportation Committee tonight. “He just kept talking about what the concern and the priority was what the Mayor wanted to do and that some of the [20x2022 protected bike lane] projects that they’re working on are going to be sped up. So, they’re going to be looking at more of the protected bike lanes, but not to the degree that other cities are doing — where cities have shut down streets.”

Ferebee concluded the point by saying “I know that the Mayor was concerned that people who live on the street could not get through or might have an issue — if people are playing or walking — [the residents] wouldn’t be able to park easily. So, she kind of said no to that [the open/slow streets ideas].” She continued: “It sounded like — what Jeff was saying — was that they are not looking to do a whole lot of the things that were recommended.”

DC — with its climate change and public health-driven medium-term goals for massively increased commuting via transit and bike/scooter/walk — has perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime shot to recalibrate the proportion and safety of public space given to those modes of travel. DC-area bike shops are busier than ever District kids are learning to bike in huge numbers. So far, DC’s done less than Tampa.

Street Justice obtained a screenshot of the Webex meeting (above) and an agenda of tonight’s meeting (below), emailed to invited guests. We’ve obscured the few email addresses from the TO list. It appears as if Jonathan Rogers coordinates these VZ Working Group meetings — he formerly of DDOT’s Vision Zero team and now working for Deputy Mayor of Infrastructure Lucinda Babers (i.e. Mayor Bowser’s Executive Office).

"Jeff was saying that same thing to our Multimodal Accessibility Advisory Council," said MAAC Member and former ANC 6C Commissioner Robb Dooling. "[Bike Advisory Chair] Rachel [Maisler] was definitely grilling Jeff for much of the meeting, to no avail. I stepped in and tried to put it on [the Executive Office of the Mayor]. ... Jeff interrupted that and continued his usual dishonesty about 'technical' reasons, how we can't compare ourselves to other cities."

Two other attendees to this Working Group meeting disputed recollections of Commissioner Ferebee and Mr. Dooing. “that's not what Jeff said at all,” said Helder Gil, Chief Of Staff to DC’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety & Justice. “Jeff didn’t say anything like that,” said Julie Lawson, Director Mayor Bowser’s Office of the Clean City. Street Justice reached out to DDOT tonight for clarification and comment but did not receive a response by publication. We will add their statement below if offered.

Street Justice offered to hold publication if DDOT were to provide a recording of this Working Group meeting (a very easy thing to do with OCTO’s Webex for Enterprise features). We prefer to report on the impact and meaning of what’s said in these meetings, rather than have to break out the leather shoe reporting to piece together the recollections of differently motivated attendees. Meetings of the BAC, PAC, and MAAC are all public and recorded.

ICYMI: Monday’s LGBT+ DC Candidate Forum

On Monday night, I produced a 3-hour forum with almost every DC Candidate for Council and District-wide offices. Fenit Nirappil moderated question-and-answer sessions that focused on LGBT+ issues, given then forum was held to for members of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Those members will vote electronically this week on endorsements for the June 2 Democratic Primary. The questions are narrowly tailored, but important to consider: legalization of sex work and interventions into the resurgence of HIV/AIDS in Wards 7 and 8.

DC Neighborhood Commissioners Adapted to Virtual Meetings

DC’s 40 neighborhood commissions were caught off-guard in March when DC locked down for coronavirus. Prior to this pandemic 30-35 of those ANCs did not broadcast their meetings in any way and only a few more even made recordings available on their website within months. ANC 4D (Shepherd Park) owns $2K-$3K in audio equipment to improve sound quality in their meeting room but were recording their meetings with the iPhone audio notes app — not even plugging that smartphone into the speaker’s output jack with an AUX cable.

Street Justice’s livestreaming with ANC 1C (Adams Morgan) since last autumn was the strong outlier among the 40 elected-but-unpaid bodies: we were able to transition seamlessly to Zoom virtual meetings with YouTube livestreams. In the past, DC’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) has not included ANCs on its Webex enterprise contract that covers all DC agencies. So those ANCs didn’t even have a conference call phone line to continue having meetings virtually when the Council gave them that authority.

Eventually, OCTO gave ANCs *temporary* access to Webex and almost all ANCs have resumed having monthly meetings virtually. However, OANC Director Gottlieb Simon confirmed to me that the Webex option is short-lived, and many ANCs had purchased Zoom accounts by the time the Webex access was figured out. Street Justice strongly supports the broadcasting and virtual participation of residents: it’s a necessary thing during COVID-19 and it should continue as an option when in-person meetings resume. Street Justice offers affordable meeting broadcasting and virtual meeting services and we hope ANCs consider our services so that participation in local decision making is as inclusive and accessible as possible.

ANC 1A (North Columbia Heights/North Park View)

  • Met 3/11 in-person; canceled its April meeting; met 5/6 and 5/13 via Zoom

ANC 1B (South Columbia Heights/Shaw)

  • Met 3/5 in-person; canceled April meeting; met 5/7 via Zoom

ANC 1C (Adams Morgan)

  • Met 3/4 in-person; met 4/15 and 5/6 via Zoom

ANC 1D (Mount Pleasant)

  • Canceled March meeting; met 4/28 via Zoom and will meet 5/26 via Zoom

ANC 2A (Foggy Bottom/West End)

  • Met 3/25 and 4/22 via Zoom; will meet 5/20 via Zoom

ANC 2B (Dupont Circle)

  • Canceled March; met 4/23 and 5/13 via Zoom

ANC 2C (Chinatown/Penn Quarter)

  • Met 3/10 in-person; met 4/14 via Zoom; canceled May meeting

ANC 2D (Kalorama)

  • Did not meet March or April; meeting 5/18 via Zoom

ANC 2E (Georgetown)

  • Met 3/2 in-person; didn’t meet in April; met 5/4 via Zoom

ANC 2F (Logan Circle/Thomas Circle)

  • Met 3/4 in-person; 4/1 and 5/6 via Webex

ANC 3B (Glover Park/Cathedral Heights)

  • Met 3/12 in-person; 4/22 via Zoom; cancelled May meeting; will meet 6/11 next

ANC 3C (Cleveland Park/Woodley Park)

  • Did not meet in March or April; will meet 5/18 via Zoom

ANC 3D (Palisades/Foxhall/Spring Valley)

  • Met 3/4 in-person; met 4/1 and 5/6 via Zoom

ANC 3E (Tenleytown/Friendship Heights)

  • Did not meet in March, April, and hasn’t announced plans for their 5/14 meeting

ANC 3F (Van Ness)

  • Did not meet in March; met 4/21 and will meet 5/19 via Webex

ANC 3/4G (Chevy Chase)

  • Met 3/9 in-person; 4/27 and will meet 5/19 via Zoom

ANC 4A (16th St Heights/Brightwood/Shepard Park/Crestwood)

  • Met in-person 3/3; did not meet in April; Met 5/5 via Webex

ANC 4B (Takoma/Lamond Riggs)

  • Didn’t meet in March, met 4/27 and will meet 5/26 via Zoom

ANC 4C (Petworth)

  • Met 3/11 in-person; did not meet in April; met 5/13 via Webex

ANC 4D (Brightwood Park)

  • Didn’t meet in March; met 4/29 and will meet 5/20 via Zoom

ANC 5A (Fort Totten/Michigan Park/Riggs Park)

  • Didn’t meet in March; met 4/22 via Zoom and hasn’t announced plans for their 5/27 meeting

ANC 5B (Brookland/Woodridge)

  • Didn’t meet in March; met 4/29 and will meet 5/20 via Webex

ANC 5C (Woodridge/Fort Lincoln)

  • Met 3/18 in-person; 4/15 via Zoom; Meeting 5/20 via Webex

ANC 5D (Ivy City/Union Market/Trinidad)

  • Met 3/10 in-person; met 4/14 and 5/12 via Zoom

ANC 5E (Bloomingdale/Eckington/Edgewood)

  • Canceled March; Met virtually on 4/21 and will meet 5/19 via Zoom

ANC 6A (H Street NE/Capitol Hill NE)

  • Met in-person 3/12; met virtually 4/19 and will meet 5/14 via Webex

ANC 6B (Capitol Hill SE)

  • Met 3/10 in-person; met 4/14 and 5/12 virtually using Webex

ANC 6C (NoMA/Union Station/Capitol Hill NW & Near NE)

  • Met 3/11 in-person; canceled April; 5/13 virtually using Webex

ANC 6D (Navy Yard/SW Waterfront/Buzzard Point)

  • Did not meet in March; met 4/13 and 5/11 virtually using Webex

ANC 6E (Shaw/Mount Vernon Square)

  • Met 3/3 in-person; 4/7 and 4/5 virtually using Zoom

ANC 7B (Hillcrest/Fort Dupont)

  • Met virtually 3/26, 4/21, and will meet 5/21 using Zoom

ANC 7C (Burrville/East Deanwood)

  • Met 3/12 in-person; 4/9 and will meet on 5/14 via Webex

ANC 7D (River Terrace/Kingman Park)

  • Met 3/10 in-person; 4/14 and 5/12 via Webex

ANC 7E (Benning Ridge/Capitol View)

  • Met 3/10 in-person, 4/14 and 5/12 met virtually via Webex

ANC 7F (Greenway/Benning)

  • Canceled its 3/17 in-person meeting; met 4/28 and 5/19 via Zoom

ANC 8A (Anacostia)

  • Met 3/3 in-person; 4/7 and 5/5 via Zoom

ANC 8B (Fort Stanton/Woodland)

  • Did not meet in March; Met 4/21 and will meet 5/19 via Zoom

ANC 8C (Congress Heights West/Barry Farm)

  • Met 3/4 in-person; did not meet in April and hasn’t announced plans for 5/20 meeting

ANC 8D (Bellvue)

  • Did not meet in March; met 4/23 via Webex and hasn’t announced plans for 5/28 meeting

ANC 8E (Congress Heights East)

  • Met 3/2 in-person; did not meet in April or May and hasn’t announced plans for 6/1

New 📷 🎥🎙️ 📊

  • (Multimedia Content Archive > 2020 > May)

  • VIDEO - Street Justice YouTube Intro Version 1 - 5.9.2020

  • AUDIO - Stein Dems 2020 DC Candidate Forum - 5.11.2020

  • AUDIO - ANC 2F Transport Cmmte Mtg Discussion of VZ - 5.13.2020

  • AUDIO - ANC 2F Transport Cmmte Mtg - 5.13.2020

News Tidbits

“Planning for recovery from the covid-19 shutdown isn’t like reopening after a blizzard. This is not a “start your engines” moment. This principle guides our plans to implement phased recovery over the next 12 months.” That’s WMATA GM Paul Wiedefeld, writing an op-ed in WaPost.

“Metro is utilizing about half of our front-line workforce as employees self-quarantine, nurse sick relatives, and provide child care and home-schooling. We have 81 confirmed covid-19 cases among our 12,000-member workforce, with two colleagues hospitalized. Twenty-six have already recovered.”

“Our recovery plan, first and foremost, considers how to protect employees and customers. … Finally, it relies on ridership and economic projections analyzing several models of covid-19 peaks, testing availability, supply chains for cleaning products and protective equipment, and other variables beyond Metro’s control. …The plan also considers customers’ expectations. Our April survey of SmarTrip Cardholders found preferences for all passengers to wear masks, and for visible and frequent disinfecting of rail cars, buses and stations. Customers want plenty of room for social distancing when riding. These measures require fundamental changes to old practices. Until a vaccine is available, our customer experience can’t be what it was before the pandemic.”

“Metro’s actions alone will not be enough to protect riders. We need employers, including the federal government — the region’s largest employer — to maximize telework and stagger work hours for months to come. Metering the return of workers would better position Metro to provide safe service. If local jurisdictions were to declare emergency public corridors and enforce exclusive bus lanes, Metro would be able to cycle buses more efficiently, expanding capacity that would allow passengers to maintain social distancing.”

####

“The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has closed Arlington Road to vehicle traffic in Bethesda during weekends between Kenwood Forest Lane and Little Falls Parkway to open up space for pedestrians and cyclists. The closures took effect on Friday. The roads will be closed from 9 a.m. on Fridays to 6 p.m. on Sundays.” That’s Dan Schere, reporting in Bethesda Beat.

Social Media Activity

^^Corey, an ANC 6B Commissioner, told Street Justice that this Penn Ave/Potomac Ave Circle design doesn’t show bike facilities because that re-design project is run by a different team than the Penn Ave SE bike/walk improvements project. As happens (perhaps too) often, DDOT’s highway planning team seems to continue leaving out the bike facilities to be built at the same time. In theory, different departments within the same agency — and design contractors they work with — update plans based on their colleagues’ work about the same physical space

Surveys/Public Comment Periods

  • [DC] Re-Open DC Advisory Committee Survey for Ideas and Requests from the Public (Transportation & Infrastructure Cmmte Roster) -> Project | Overall Form | T&I or Other Committee-Specific Form | ASAP Deadline

  • [DC] DDOT Notice of Intent: Addition of all-way stop control at the intersection of 13th St & Jefferson St NW -> Project | Email Comments | 5/11 Deadline

  • [DC] DDOT Notice of Intent: Addition of all-way stop control at the intersection of 13th St & Farragut St NW -> Project | Email Comments | 5/11 Deadline

  • [DC] DDOT Notice of Intent: G St NW Cycletrack (17th St NW to Virginia Avenue NW) + Parking Changes -> Project | Email Comments | 5/19 Deadline

  • [DC] DDOT Notice of Intent: Water St NW Cycletrack & Streetscape Improvements including mini-roundabout, new lighting, and sidewalks -> Project | Email Comments | 5/19 Deadline

  • [DC] DDOT Notice of Intent: Creation of Metrobus Zone on K Street NW between 13th and 14th Street NW -> Project | Email Comments | 5/22 Deadline

  • [DC] DDOT Notice of Intent: Creation of Metrobus Zone on 15th Street NW between K and I Street NW -> Project | Email Comments | 5/22 Deadline

  • [DC] DDOT Notice of Intent: Two possible reconfigurations of the 14th St/Arkansas Ave/Varnum St NW intersection for greater safety -> Design Options | Email Comments | 5/29 Deadline

  • [DC] DDOT Notice of Intent: Installation of protected bicycle lanes on K Street between 7th St NW and 1st St NE (Note that this leaves un-modified the stretch of K St NE from 1st to 2nd Streets NE, under the WMATA/CSX tracks.) -> Project | Email Comments | 6/5 Deadline


Events Calendar

  • Full Events Calendar on TeamUp: [COMING SOON!]

  • This Week’s Password (case-sensitive): ————————————————-

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

New Street Justice Calendar Set-Up: [COMING SOON!]

[DC] Sat 5/16: Ward 7 Economic Vision Debate via YouTube Livestream, hosted by the Marshall Heights Civic Association [Details]

[VA] Mon 6/8: Alexandria Bike-Pedestrian Advisory Committee [Details]

[National/Region-Wide] Sat 4/3/2021 – Sun 4/4/2021: Fully Charged Live North America — America’s largest consumer-accessible conference on electric transportation and renewable energy – Austin, TX [Details]