FOIA's Back, Back Again / PDF, Tell a Friend

Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 1, Edition 226 (10/3/2019)

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Update on FOIA Requests

I got some FOIA requests back, back again; PDFs, tell a friend!

Eckington Bikeshare

Back in June, ANC 5E (Bloomingdale/Eckington/Edgewood) passed a resolution opposing the placement of a new Capital Bikeshare station at the corner of R St NE and North Capitol. The letter, which suggested placement of a station one block down, was championed by the Commissioner for that district Sylvia Pinkney. Ms. Pinkney, who lives a few houses down on the unit block of R, claimed that a DDOT bikeshare planner even said her alternative location was a better fit.

Fast-forwarding to today, DDOT installed a CaBi station at R and North Capitol, right next to that heavily used R Street bike route. I ride by it 2-3 times each weekday doing dog walk commuting and it’s almost always empty 11 AM to 3 PM. DDOT’s Greg Matlesky told me this evening that they see clear commuting patterns from CaBi ride data: local usage peaks during AM and PM rush, with AM rush a flow of bikes toward downtown. That’s likely the reason I find the new North Cap/R station empty in mid-day: Eckington residents rode them downtown or west across town to areas with more office buildings.

During the June ANC 5E meeting, Sylvia Pinkney refused to tell me who she had been working with on DDOT’s bikeshare team. So, I filed a FOIA to get all of her emails with fellow 5E Commissioners and DDOT officials. After reviewing the email records, which premium subscribers can view in full in the content archive, Pinkney was communicating with Aaron Goldbeck and Greg Matlesky. Those are DDOT’s two lead staff planners for Capital Bikeshare. They met with Pinkney at the Eckington sites where the agency was considering locations.

If Goldbeck or Matlesky agreed Pinkney’s alternate spot was better, they didn't say so over email. Email records show no follow-up emails between DDOT and the Commissioner. From the site visit onward, Pinkney drafts a motion to oppose DDOT’s preferred location — where the station ended up — at the corner of R and North Capitol, where nearly all the cyclist traffic in the neighborhood passes if heading westbound.

Between the announcement of ANC 5E’s June agenda with a vague anti-bikeshare resolution line item — about which Street Justice spread the news — Sylvia Pinkney does not respond to two inquiries by Conor Shaw of the Eckington Civic Association. She responds to the first email, asking for context and explanation, but not to his to follow-ups. In that interim, Eckington resident Nick Sementelli had collected a petition with 180 resident and stakeholder signatures supporting a new Bikeshare station at that specific R/North Cap location.

Ms. Pinkney’s reasoning for opposing Bikeshare at the location with the most connectivity to existing high-traffic bike routes was mostly her opinion about safety on R. She wrote in that first reply to ECA that “The proposed bikeshare will be stationed at the corner of the heaviest traveled street in Eckington. A corner where buses, trucks, Fedex, UPS, electric scooters, cyclists, Uber, Lyft, residential traffic, and cut-through traffic from Florida and New York Avenue attempting to reach Lincoln Road or North Capitol Street as quickly as possible.” Pinkney continued, saying “the proposed Bikeshare will be stationed on the side of the street where traffic enters R Street. That said, anyone retrieving a bike from the Bikeshare must somehow move to the opposite side of the street to merge with outgoing traffic crossing North Capitol Street to continue on R Street, NW.”

Pinkney argued for the station to go in the now-closed island at the intersection of Q Street NE, Lincoln Road NE, and North Capitol. Her argument was that CaBi riders would be safer getting onto Lincoln Rd from there, going a block up, then turning left onto R. However, given the large volume and high speeds of cars entering Lincoln northbound from North Capitol, I don’t see how that would’ve been safer. I often use the crosswalk here to get onto the east sidewalk. Drivers veering right from North Cap are frequently inattentive, unwilling to yield, and accelerating after queuing up at the North Cap/Florida intersection.

Beyond safety, there’s a huge benefit — a network effect, exponential benefit — from placing additional bikeshare stations along already-popular bike routes. Places new CaBi stations close distance-wise, but not in close sightlines impairs that connection benefit. A related planning problem is placing CaBi stations where it is absolutely not safe or comfortable to ride on the road. I’m thinking now of the Bikeshare stations along East-West Highway in Silver Spring and in Bethesda along Old Georgetown Road.

Alabama Ave Bike Lane Removal

Over the summer, you probably heard that DDOT removed two blocks of curbside, unprotected bike lanes on Alabama Ave SE in Ward 8. They did so after the tardy repudiation of nearby ANCs and Ward 8’s Councilmember Trayon White. DDOT placed the bike lanes there, in a small stretch of Alabama, as a test implementation of the agency’s 4-mile Alabama Avenue reconstruction and safety improvement effort.

The Alabama Avenue safety improvement project was studied extensively 2015-2017, with a report completed in 2017. It’s a large capital expenditure project, with implementation over years. DDOT wanted to test some design types before finalizing the entire corridor’s plans. The agency attempted to contact the relevant ANCs and civic associations, but received little-to-no response to that notice. So, bike lanes and pedestrian safety features were installed.

What followed was a political firestorm about the removal of street parking spaces — nine, I believe — required for the bike lanes. The aforementioned CM White said some ignorant, incorrect things about bike lanes and pedestrian safety to DC local TV news. As local news does, they ran with that as a bike-lane-vs.-parking story instead of a tradeoffs-on-safety-improvement story. That got some ANC Commissioners in Ward 8 riled up, who took to social media, raised Hell, and induced DDOT to remove one side of the new Alabama bike lanes to restore the on-street parking.

Call the bike lane removal strategic retreat that doesn’t foreclose any future bike/ped safety changes. Call it removal of bike facilities with no notice or due process of the type required to put bike/ped safety changes in. Call it the surrender of an agency that seems to do what minimizes car culture backlash. Beyond the social media noise, I wanted to figure out who/why/how DDOT decided to remove the small section of bike lanes.

I FOIA-ed the six ANCs that include with territory in the four-mile stretch of Alabama DDOT says it will work on one day. I asked for all emails from Commissioners to each other or to external emails (DDOT or otherwise, including the public) including Alabama-related keywords. I submitted the FOIA requests on July 2nd, and the interim has been a frustrating process.

Five of the six ANCs along Alabama have literally never gotten back to me. One confirmed receipt, ANC 7E, and its Chair Delia Houseal has made it clear to me she is doing her best to get her fellow Commissioners to search their email. However, most haven’t gotten back to me. I filed appeals when these FOIAs weren’t answered and the allowed time period for response expired. The Mayor’s Office of Legal counsel has now certified all six as non-responsive, and written a stern letter to each, demanding response to me asap. Unfortunately, that was weeks ago, and now my only legal recourse is to appeal their non-response in an actual court.

The problem with these FOIA requests, and the few others I have outstanding with the Office of the ANC, is that Gottlieb Simon — the OANC head — is extremely tardy on compiling responses. Read charitably, his office’s failure to respond as has been demanded is just about lack of staff resources. In any case, I have bigger fights to pick on FOIA.

6th/9th Street NW Cycletrack Delays

I filed over the summer, and have now received responses to, a FOIA request into six of DDOT’s key communications and planning staff for emails discussing the years-delayed Eastern Downtown cycletrack. The North/South route, which has been sitting at 30% design phase since 2017, has effectively been pocket vetoed by Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Prominent churches organized parishioners to show up to public meetings and loudly oppose the changes to the worship houses’ Shaw neighborhood. After presenting those 30% designs and public heat died down, the project just sat. According to several bike/ped planners at DDOT, whom I talked with on and off the record, the plans have sat in the Mayor’s office all this time, waiting for approval to move onto more fleshed-out designs.

I can report today that Beverly L. Perry, Senior Advisor to Mayor Bowser and member of anti-bike lane Shiloh Baptist Church is the staff member holding up the 6th/9th bike lanes. Perry’s husband Clarke is an active Shiloh congregant also; he directed the church’s 2018 Holiday Gospel Celebration. He also contributed a personal faith statement to the Church’s website in 2014.

According to her bio, Beverly Perry “advises the Mayor on policy initiatives through her oversight of the Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs, the Office of Federal and Regional Affairs, and the Office of the Secretary.” My reporting shows that Ms. Perry is, in fact, Mayor Bowser’s anti-bike, anti-transit, pro-car voice. Multiple sources within DDOT and ANC Commissions have told me she opposed the addition of protected bike lanes and improved pedestrian crossings at Sherman and Grant Circles in Ward 4. Despite her opposition, those facilities were installed.

So, what we know about 6th/9th is there was a feasibility study that produced a 30% design, and that work produced heated public debate in 2017. However, not much is known from behind the scenes. Was it indeed a pocket veto? Is this DDOT Director Jeff Marootian picking-and-choosing his battles: maybe fighting for the crosstown Irving/Hospital Highway project first? I submitted FOIA requests to find out.

I’ve received responses, free of charge, months after submitting those FOIAs into DDOT, but the Mayor’s Office has not responded to me almost two months since I specified the scope of my FOIA requesting Beverly Perry’s church and bike lane related emails. I suspect the key to finding out the backstory on this bike project is Perry’s emails. I also suspect I may actually need to get a pro bono FOIA lawyer to threaten some legal action.

I chose an intentionally broad scope for these 6th/9th FOIA requests. I have not gone through their thousands of pages yet, but expect a report on this soon. Here are the DDOT officials for which I received related emails from January 2014 to July 2019 (yep, five years):

  • Jeff Marootian, DDOT Director

  • Everett Lott, DDOT Deputy Director

  • Jim Sebastian, DDOT Associate Director for Planning and Sustainability

  • George Branyan, DDOT Active Transportation Branch Manager

  • Terry Owens, DDOT Communications Director until July 2019

  • Laura Stephens, DDOT Public Affairs Specialist

Today’s Adds to the Premium Subscriber Archive

  • …found at Multimedia Content Archive > 2019 > October

  • AUDIO - ANC 1C (Adams Morgan) Regular Meeting 10.2.2019

  • PDF - ANC 5E Bikeshare FOIA - Sylvia Pinkney


ITEMS OPEN FOR PUBLIC COMMENT

  • [DC] DDOT’s Reconstruction of Benning Road, its bridges crossing the Anacostia, the extension of the DC Streetcar, and improvements of bike/ped facilities in the corridor -> Project | Form | Oct 4

  • [MD] Maryland Transportation Authority Toll Modernization with New Vehicle Classifications, Early Payment Discounts, and Pay-by-Plate -> Project | Form | Oct 3

  • [DC, MD, & VA] Capital Bikeshare Member Experience Survey -> Form | ASAP

  • [DC] Transportation Safety Survey for South Columbia Heights/Shaw/U Street Area, conducted by ANC 1B -> Details and Form | Spanish Form | ASAP


THIS WEEK’S CALENDAR

Bold = I plan to cover in person

Washington, DC

  • Thurs 10/3: Meeting of Old Georgetown Board [Details]

  • Thurs 10/3: [Webinar] What’s In The Bills? (DC’s safe streets legislation under consideration by the DC Council) [Details]

  • Thurs 10/3: DDOT Director Jeff Marootian and Staff Lead Inaugural Bike Ride on the Florida Avenue NE Protected Cycletrack and Bike Lanes (Q: What’s the status of the bike/ped improvements promised for 6th St NE?) [Details]

  • Thurs 10/3: DC Council Oversight Hearing for ANC Operations: ANCs in Ward 5 & 6 [Details]

  • Thurs 10/3: ANC 1B (South Columbia Heights/Shaw) ft. Florida Avenue NW Reconstruction from T St to Barry Place NW + “14th Street Decongestion and Bus Lane update” + proposed “99 Bus “MetroExtra” service” [Details]

  • Thurs 10/3: Transportation committee for ANC 6C (NoMA/Union Station/Capitol Hill NW & Near NE) [Details]

  • Sat 10/5: DC "Open Streets” in Columbia Heights [Details]

  • Sat 10/5: Marshall Heights Civic Association (ANC 7E) [Details]

  • Mon 10/7: DC Council Joint Hearing of Transportation & the Environment + Judiciary & Public Safety Committees regarding “Proposed Transfer of the Automated Traffic Enforcement Program from MPD to DDOT” [Details]

  • Tues 10/15: DC Council Oversight Hearing for ANC Operations: ANCs in Ward 7 & 8 [Details]

  • Wed 10/16: “Disrupting Distraction,” a luncheon and panel discussion about traffic safety ft. DDOT Director Jeff Marootian [Details]

  • Thurs 10/24: DC Council Hearing on Several Bills in re Street Safety and Shared Mobility Issues — CM Allen’s Vision Zero Bill, CM Cheh’s Scooter Curfew Bill, & more [Details]

Maryland

Virginia

  • Thurs 10/3: October meeting of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission ft. “report on Performance and Condition of WMATA [&] consider approval of I-395/95 projects” [Details]

  • Thurs 10/3: Arlington County Transportation Commission ft. Arlington County’s draft micro-mobility ordinance which the County Board will consider this fall [Details]

  • Thurs 10/3: Alexandria Planning Commission [Details]

Whole Region or General Interest

  • … - Fri 1/4: 3rd International Placemaking Week, hosted by the Project for Public Spaces) - Chattanooga, TN [Details]

  • Wed 10/2: [Webinar] Refreshing the Status Quo: Federal Highway Programs and Funding Distribution [Details]

  • Thurs 10/3: National Capital Planning Commission meeting for October [Details]

  • Thurs 10/3 - Fri 10/4: Public Health Law Summit: Data Sharing to Improve Community Health - Plymouth, MI [Details]

  • Thurs 10/3: [One-Day Conference] Sacramento: The Next Urban Future [Details]

  • Fri 10/4: [Webinar] Transforming an Urban 'Burb: Transportation Innovations in Vancouver, Washington [Details]

  • Tues 10/8: [Webinar] Mobility Data Sharing: How Cities are Using New Data for Policy and Planning [Details]