Key Bowser Aide Behind Safety Delays
Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 1, Edition 242 (10/27/2019)
|Gordon Chaffin||Oct 27, 2019|| 1|
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Bowser Aide Held Up Shaw Safety Project, Others In Limbo
Background on DC Cycletrack Effort
In the early 2010s, DDOT aimed to produce three, two-way, protected cycletracks. The 15th St NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW cycletracks were done and it was time “to increase safety and mobility within the District [so] DDOT is looking to implement protected bike lanes within the following three (3) corridors.” These were not missing links or small connections. They were intended to be long backbones of a world-class bike network, so safe they invited a wave of new and novice riders as Capital Bikeshare grew from pilot to public transit.
The corridors were
(1) a North/South connection in western downtown from the National Mall up to Dupont Circle;
(2) an East/West connection across the dense part of town, Columbia Heights to Brookland; and
(3) a North/South connection in eastern downtown from Pennsylvania Ave NW up to Florida Ave NW.
(1) and (3) to fill in North/South gaps on either side of the middle-downtown 15th St NW cycletrack and (2) to create a better bike route to get across “the Hosptial Highway” that divides the northern-middle of DC. (2) Also adds a north/south route through Park View up to New Hampshire Ave NW.
This is all smart: creating new, safe, comfortable, inviting bike/scooter routes parallel to existing high-quality facilities. This is how you get a grid system that serves daily commuters; it protects families transporting school children with bikes.
Nearly a decade later, none of the three are built. Public awareness on project timelines are minimal. Nearly all staff progress is kept under wraps or rumors traded among devoted public meeting attendees. Two months from the end of this decade, DDOT is nowhere on these projects and its leaders don’t give answers to residents concerned about safety. My reporting shows they’re not even to blame. Mayor Muriel Bowser is.
In September 2018, DDOT installed a pop-up protected bike lane on Kenyon St NW’s 400 Block. The agency talked with residents and commuters to get feedback on concept designs for further refining. Right now, the designs propose a separated cycletrack from Park Pl NW, along Irving NW/NE to Michigan Ave NE. There are pedestrian improvements and new trees. DDOT adds one-way, protected bike lanes on Park Place and Warder Street NW. That adds better North/South conditions by converting existing unprotected bike lanes into safer, more inviting facilities. There is a *net increase* in on-street parking in Park View.
DDOT and contractors produced only a 30% design for the Iriving section. “Because of concerns voiced by the community about the North/South connection,
the Project Team will continue the North/South corridor concept in the final concept in the future.” [p 7] The linked document says that “parking reduction is a main concern especially on 5th Street NW,” adding that “some participants expressed that they would like to keep parking along the curb due to accessibility concerns.”
That feedback summary goes on to say “supporters of the project want this project built sooner than 2021 in order to improve safety and achieve Vision Zero goals.” It adds that “participants requested continued connectivity to Columbia Heights to the west and Catholic University and the Metropolitan Branch Trail to the east. and environmental study in 2019-2020 with implementation 2020-21.”
Since that project summary released in March 2019, there hasn’t been an update. I’ve heard rumors about DDOT indecision on Warder vs. Park for the North/South connection. The summary also mentions concerns about parking around First Baptist Church and the Israel Metropolitan CME Church. This Park View neighborhood is ANC 4C. The Ward 4 location will become important below.
I have no idea how realistic or not the 2020-21 implementation is or what the newer designs look like. I know DDOT has the funding for this route.
This project is maybe to only bright spot: clearly progressing with local elected official buy-in and a simple narrative. It didn’t start out that way. Street Justice covered this fight early and often in Winter 2019. It was tense!
Over the past 18 months, DDOT has worked with ANC 2A (Foggy Bottom) and ANC 2B (Dupont Circle) to refine the agency’s plans for a North/South connection from the National Mall up to Dupont via Foggy Bottom and the West End. From January to April 2019, the ANCs agreed to support a compromise design using both 20th and 21st Streets NW, with an East/West jog in Foggy Bottom.
Here’s the short answer to why the design was shaped into the crap Tetris piece: A few blocks of Dupont Circle homeowners on 21st raged about lost street parking. Foggy Bottom residents presented many valid concerns about 22nd St NW. The latter has a lot of public-facing commercial activity, like hotels, with car traffic and it’s the shortest as a straight-shot route. 20th is wide and mostly office buildings. JBG Smith and similar stakeholders rarely show up to public meetings fighting for metered spots on the street adjacent to their buildings.
DDOT’s 30% design — presented after all this input — uses 20th in the North section and 21st in the Southern section to connect to Constitution Ave. The East/West jog happens on F and G Streets NW on one-way protected bike lanes. Those roads are one-way for vehicle traffic. According to the presentation at the most recent meeting (April 2019) and the final contractor report (August 2019), the project can proceed to construction in 2021 after environmental study and refined design.
Since Starting Street Justice in January, I’ve been reporting on DC’s Eastern Downtown cycletrack. Based on my work, I can report three things:
Beverly L. Perry, Senior Advisor to Mayor Bowser and member of anti-bike lane Shiloh Baptist Church personally intervened to stop this project, placing it on permanent hold. The Mayor’s office pocket vetoed DDOT’s proposed 30% design. Nothing’s happened since. This comes from three human sources, two within DDOT and one ANC Commissioner — all who provided the information on-background to protect their careers. I first reported this information on October 3rd.
Ms. Perry, a resident of Ward 4 (Colonial Village | ANC 4A), also intervened in the past to remove safety features from designs of past bike/ped improvements to Grant and Sherman Circles. This comes from two of the same sources cited above, plus a third human source — a resident — who conveyed information about DDOT’s public comments as they were rolling out the design reduced by the Mayor’s Office.
DDOT is, in light of Mayor Bowser’s obfuscation, proceeding as if 9th Street NW will be the Eastern Downtown alignment. This information comes from two on-background sources. To protect their identities, I can’t describe them more precisely.
Here’s a short timeline of the original public debate on this Eastern Downtown Cycletrack, courtesy of DDOT’s project page:
“Between 2015 and 2017, DDOT commissioned the Eastern Downtown Protected Bike Lane Study. The study evaluated four (4) alternatives to connect central DC neighborhoods to downtown as well as existing facilities. … It included the Shaw neighborhood to the north and Chinatown, Mt. Vernon Square, Penn Quarter, and Judiciary Square neighborhoods to the south. At the end of the project, DDOT identified two potential routes for advancement to preliminary (30%) design: Alternative 3 (6th Street NW) and Alternative 4 (9th Street NW).”
That last sentence describes where we are at today — October 27th, 2019. DDOT planners Mike Goodno and George Branyan have told me that their agency is waiting on the Mayor’s Office to send next steps. The Mayor’s chosen to not allow them to proceed. Before we get to that…
In regards to (2) above: Those circles were first designed to have lane reductions for safety, fully-protected bike lanes, and greater pedestrian enhancements. After implementation, Grant Circle’s vehicle lanes remained and the bike facilities are barely protected — mostly buffered. Sherman Circle is essentially the same, watered-down design, thought DDOT added protection to most of the bike lane. Those sources speculate Ms. Perry drives to her downtown office and those who influence her don’t want to be inconvenienced by traffic safety measures along their car commutes. DDOT’s project page says clearly that vehicle impacts were the reason safer designs were abandoned. The agency has discretion to, and often does, install safety projects which lower vehicle speed or increase delay. The former is often the whole point.
In regards to (3) above: Planning documents in other projects show 9th Street NW with a two-way cycletrack and the agency is updating regional organizations that 9th NW will see a reconfiguration soon.
DDOT staff presented plans to the Transportation Review Committee of ANC 1B (South Columbia Heights/Shaw) October 17th regarding the agency’s reconstruction of Florida Avenue NW and 9th Street NW, from T St to Barry Place NW. This includes 9th as it heads from Florida up to the Vermont/V intersection. It’s a wide, awkward intersection with lots of foot traffic because of the 930 Club and new residential buildings there. Those plans show a two-way cycletrack on 9th Street, south of Florida, where it would be if it was the Eastern Downtown Cycletrack.
Context: ANC 1B passed this summer a resolution supporting the 9th St NW alignment for the cycletrack, rather than 6th. I created a map that shows potential routes for this project and the territories of stakeholder ANCs: 2C, 2F, 6E, and 1B.
DDOT officials separate from the Florida/9th team have also updated DC’s Transportation Planning Board on the Eastern Downtown Cycletrack. In June 2019, DDOT submitted to TPB’s “2020 Amendment to Visualize 2045 Air Quality Conformity Network Inputs.” The changes drop into a giant chart of DC-area transportation projects which have impacts on air quality. More bikes and fewer cars mean better air. Visualize 2045 is TPB’s very-long-range multimodal transportation plan and has housing and environmental components.
In this Visualize 2045 update, DDOT lists two air quality improvements for 9th Street NW: vehicle lane reductions from 4 to 2, from Massachusetts to Florida Avenues NW (CON ID 1013, p A-3); plus 6 to 4 and 4 to 2 on 9th from Constitution to Massachusetts Avenues NW (CON ID 1012, p A-3). These are the same reductions to car travel lanes that would happen if DDOT put the Eastern Downtown Cycletrack on 9th.
Now, in regards to (1) above: I’ve tried to corroborate my human sources.
On Friday 10/25, I asked the Mayor about it directly on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show:
12:26:31 - KOJO NNAMDI: Here's Gordon, in Edgewood. Gordon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
12:26:35 - GORDON CHAFFIN: Thank you, Kojo. My question, Madam Mayor, has to do with street safety. Your office has been holding on a project for street safety on 6th or 9th Streets Northwest. Your budget, the current fiscal year has money to finish the design and implement it. So, my question is, what is your plan to implement it, and why has it been delayed for several years?
12:26:59 - DC MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER: I do think it's a matter of street safety and making sure that any chosen alignment will be safe for all users. And I think that we haven't figured that out yet.
During DC Council’s Vision Zero oversight hearing, DDOT Director Jeff Marootian told Ward 6 CM Charles Allen that the Eastern Downtown Cycletrack project is “on hold.” Their exchange begins at the archive video’s 7:56:50 mark. Marootian’s initial answer is “I don’t have an update on that specific project.” Allen presses, eventually getting a repeated talking point response, and concludes “so that project is on hold.”
I submitted several FOIA requests this summer to corroborate my human reporting, that Bowser aide Beverly Perry and those who influence her are holding up the project. I stand by my sources, but I’d prefer some documentation. Unfortunately, FOIAs have not provided that support.
The FOIA requests I submitted to DDOT covered senior officials who would have had high-level, decision-making conversations about the Eastern Downtown cycletrack. I received two batches of response from the agency in September and October. Unfortunately, those PDFs of emails contain extensively redacted material. Essentially all of the substantive project debate is blacked out. Entire pages are redacted. What remains untouched is mostly coordinating schedules.
I submitted a FOIA request to the Mayor’s Office for Beverly Perry’s emails. Their initial response was similar to DDOT’s: your search query yields thousands of pages and it will take a long time to produce results. I confirmed the scope and waited. Mayor Bowser’s staff eventually put those results in the DC FOIA Portal. A .Zip file. When I downloaded and extracted it, there was only one PDF. That was strange. I opened it. What I saw was a two-page PDF containing one single email.
I followed up with the FOIA staffer to confirm. Yes, they did send me only one email, responded Grant Tanenbaum, a “Beverly Perry Fellow” within the Mayor’s Office of the General Counsel. “The initial search returned a high volume, but this was the only responsive document.”
I’m not an IT person. Databases are not my strong suit. But, my search query was broad enough to return many emails. That’s assuming Ms. Perry conducts work business via email. It’s also possible she uses phone calls or encrypted messaging apps.
Below are links to all of those FOIA documents:
After receiving largely unhelpful FOIA results and exhausting the administrative appeals, I contacted several DC Councilmember offices and provided them with this reporting and documentation. Now, I’m sharing it with the world. DDOT has failed in executing on these three, critical cycletrack projects. It’s imperative to mention that, while these designs improve cycling conditions, they also create safer streets for pedestrians and motorists. This isn’t a battle between the bicycle and church lobbies. Data show bike lanes make streets safer for everyone.
As last Thursday’s Vision Zero DC Council hearing showed, these projects are about safety for everyone so that such changes don’t require carnage. DDOT deserves credit for installing the interim Florida Ave NE safety changes after Dave Salovesh was killed on that road. The agency has installed many cycletracks and protected bike lanes. But the vast majority of its projects have been short and/or unprotected bike lanes. The agency has started improving pedestrian designs but is still doing so in a piecemeal fashion with temporary tools like flexposts.
In the time these three “DC Cycletrack” banner projects have laid fallow, Mayor Bowser and staff have permitted only small changes when drastic change seems needed for Vision Zero. More people die in DC streets every year. That’s a failure. And that’s on the Mayor. With their decision to add Eastern Downtown funding to FY2020 and their public comments, it’s clear the Council wants to move this project forward. What’s Bowser going to do now?
AN UPDATE TO THIS STORY: Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, a supporter of several Vision Zero bills discussed last week at DC Council, says she can't help investigate Mayor Bowser’s permanent hold on the Eastern Downtown Cycletrack — 6/9th St NW.
Police Officer Kills Pedestrian in Falls Church, VA
Last weekend, on Arlington Boulevard/US-50 in West Falls Church, at Graham Road intersection, a police officer in a marked car ran over and killed a pedestrian this weekend. There was an event Monday night and an online survey right now about safety on this road. [Full Story]
Montgomery County Molding 1st Pedestrian Master Plan
Montgomery County is currently developing its Pedestrian Master Plan. This Plan, and its component Ped Comfort Map, is analogous to long-term planning efforts MoCo and other DC-area localities have made to collect data that inform bicycle project design and urgency. MoCo started their Ped Master Plan in July 2019 and their timeline sets a course for Planning Board adoption in mid-summer 2021. Next in Montgomery County’s outreach for their pedestrian master plan are public meetings in Germantown November 6th and Wheaton November 13th. [Full Story]
SW Waterfront ANC Opposes Cycletrack, Illustrates DC’s Problem with 40-Foot Streets
In its decision to oppose DDOT's addition of a cycle track to two blocks of P Street SW, ANC 6D illustrated well the challenge DC faces with its 40-foot residential streets. In their resolution asking DDOT to dispose of its plans for P, a missing link in the Anacostia River Trail, ANC 6D asked the agency to find a chimeric win-win solution: protected bike facilities, no-compromise pedestrian paths, and parking preservation. The elected body asserted DDOT ignored the alternatives they suggested. In fact, the agency has explained for months those alternatives require the same parking removal or even greater loss of vehicle storage space. [Full Story]
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