Image by Gordon Chaffin/DC Commute Times.

In a panel hosted by Greater Greater Washington last Thursday, attendees learned about how to achieve the city's Sustainable DC Plan goal of getting 25% of commuters to walk, bike, or scoot to work.

The panel, which was sponsored by Bird, the Downtown DC BID, and Lyft, is part of the GGWash Forum. These events are free for members of the GGWash Neighborhood, our new membership program. (You can join today and get free admission to our next Forum event!)

Lessons from the panel

DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) Director and panelist Jeff Marootian said that one of the key challenges is Virginia and Maryland residents driving to DC, and suggested that the trick is finding alternative modes of transportation for these people to get into the city. He points out that people don’t tend to move to DC with their cars.

Of course, not everyone can walk to work. Bikes are the most reliable means of covering long distances sustainably — sometimes even the only option. According to a DDOT employee at the event, Capital Bikeshare hasn’t even closed down during the worst of snowstorms when Metrorail and buses have. During those snowy days, the bike system made at least a hundred trips. A crowd member called the sturdy CaBi bikes “apocalypse-ready tanks.”

Brandon Pollak, Bird’s director of civic engagement, detailed scooters’ new design featuring longer-lasting batteries, which the company added after users complained about them suddenly stopping mid-traffic. “We definitely don’t want people to be injured,” Pollak said. This will be the scooters' first winter, and the company is hoping to use live data to make sturdier and safer designs.

David Alpert, Greater Greater Washington’s Founder and President, moderated the panel. He pointed out that for every 400 scooters that are placed on the ground, there are 600 new cars, referencing a new recently-approved car-sharing company.

Marootian responded that people shouldn’t compare numbers this way. According to him, each one of those cars is removing other ones from the streets. He also said that DDOT is constantly removing parking space to improve intersection visibility.

Attendees talk with DDOT Director Jeff Marootian after the event. Image by Gordon Chaffin/DC Commute Times used with permission.

Rethinking bicycles and scooters

Panelist Mysiki Valentine, resident of the River Terrace neighborhood in DC, thinks that alternative transportation is far from efficient in Ward 7. “There are two bike lanes and they don’t even connect,” he lamented. One time, the closest scooter he could find was three miles away— no one will want to go through all that trouble, he laughed.

Valentine also suggested setting up scooter shops similar to bike shops to go with the trend. He thinks that opening up a couple of those in Wards 6 and 7 would also benefit residents with new employment opportunities.

Hannah Neagle, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA)’s Vision Zero community organizer, said that people are only going to feel better about biking when they know it is safe for their children to bike in the city.

Valentine also stressed on the importance of children and biking, but in a different way. He says there needs to be a cultural change in the District to alter the way people perceive cyclists and scooters in the Right of Way. Designing bike lanes in front of schools and teaching children to safely bike in the city during their school day not only educates future adults, but also forces drivers to think of cyclists as more than “the adult biker that’s annoying me,” he said.

The biggest takeaway from the event: if we want to enable a more sustainable commute, we need to change the way we think about our streets and stop designing them to prioritize cars.