How can DC best get people on bikes safely through the west side of Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom? If people have been parking their cars nearly for free for years, do they have a right to veto changes to a street? Should people from adjacent neighborhoods be listened to or shouted down? These are some of the questions hotly debated at a Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting on January 9.
The biggest news of the night came when the Phillips Collection CFO, Cherie Nichols, spoke on the side of bike lane opponents, saying that “People are drivers. Shoppers are drivers.” Minutes later, Kim Bender, Executive Director of the Heurich House Museum, said most of the museum's visitors “come by Metro, bike, or walking,” and the museum supports bike lanes including in front of their museum.
Three options trade off a better bike lane versus parking
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has been studying options for “north- and south-running protected bicycle lanes between Dupont Circle, the western side of Downtown, and the National Mall that provides a safe environment for people biking of all ages and abilities on either 20th, 21st, or 22nd Street NW.”
There is no high-quality north-south bicycle link west of 15th Street NW, and many streets are wide, high-speed thoroughfares where people on bikes don't feel safe. The MoveDC plan showed a protected bikeway on 21st Street NW.
At a May meeting, many people recommended dropping 22nd because of high-speed traffic and because 22nd doesn't connect to east-west bike lanes on Q and R streets NW.
There were pros and cons to each of 20th and 21st. 21st offers the longest, most direct route; it's the only one that connects directly to the Mall (22nd is interrupted by the State Department and 20th by triangle parks around Virginia Avenue). And it's the route already identified in MoveDC.
However, 21st is a moderately narrow residential street north of New Hampshire Avenue, and many people are accustomed to parking their cars there. A full-length protected bikeway on 21st would require repurposing approximately 68 parking spaces.
20th Street, meanwhile, is wider through Dupont and has a more commercial character. A bikeway here would repurpose fewer parking spaces. However, it only would extend from D Street NW in the south to Q Street NW in the north, leaving a gap between it and the R Street westbound bike lane. The ANC has asked for a protected bikeway on Connecticut Avenue which could extend from 20th.
Cyclists emplasize safety
A number of people said they'd been hit by drivers when on bikes, and implored the commission to support an alternative that creates a safe route for people cycling.
Robb Dooling, a newly-elected ANC commissioner from NoMa, said, “Three car drivers have hit me while I was biking in DC. I sincerely hope my life is more valuable than some parking spaces. Please support a humane, people centric street design with the longest possible bike lane on 21st Street.”
Rudi Riet, a Dupont resident, said he owns a car, bikes, and walks; he's been hit by drivers. He feels DC needs a connected grid of protected bikeways, and the 21st Street option is the only one to create a full connected grid.
Resident Kristin, who lives at 17th and P, said, “I love living in DC because there are lots of transportation options. I'm not currently biking because I had a [crash]; I'm able to use other options like buses & Metro.” She preferred the 21st Street option but felt others would work as well.
Street parkers rally against the lane, and the ANC seeks a compromise
A number of residents in the west Dupont area started organizing to fight against proposals that would repurpose street parking. They turned out to an ANC 2B transportation committee meeting in December, and in response, committee chair Randy Downs, a strong supporter of bike lanes, and the rest of the committee decided not to advocate for the full 21st Street option. Instead, they wanted to explore the possibility of a painted contraflow lane only on 21st, which Downs said DDOT believes would affect only seven parking spaces.
Therefore, the bike lane portion of the January 9 ANC meeting opened with Downs introducing the committee's resolution endorsing either the contraflow 21st option or the 20th option. It also asked DDOT to explore some other strategies for replacing any lost parking or even increasing the amount.
Matt Johnson, a homeowner in the west Dupont area (and former member of the GGWash editorial board), said at the meeting he supported the compromise, recognizing that the full length bikeway is better but has significant impacts on residents.
Garrett Hennigan, an organizer for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, explained that protected bikeways would be helpful to each resident who does drive, “if we could get more people to bike instead of competing for parking.” And, he added, “they are safer. Protected bikeways mean slower speeds for safety, and a shorter street to cross.” He said that the contraflow compromise idea “is tempting, but is not going to make people ride.”
Opponents say it's hard to park in the area
Other residents who park on the street spoke about how they find it difficult to find street parking, that area hotels have trucks picking up and dropping off, and that elderly residents have difficulty bringing groceries.
One said, “I have lived here 20 years. I own a car and never paid for a garage. I now spend 30 to 50 minutes trying to find parking and often have to go to Georgetown. The idea you can remove more spots does not seem viable.”
Another said he drives every day from DC to go elsewhere. He said, “If you take my parking and I have to pay for a spot, it is not possible for me to live here.”
One resident said she's worried that with the bikeway reducing 21st Street to one lane, deliveries would block the street and prevent her kids from being dropped off after school.
Some opponents verbally attack commissioners and cyclists
Despite Downs' statement that he wasn't endorsing the full 21st Street option with the parking impacts, some anti-bike lane residents nevertheless loudly jeered, shouting from the audience that they didn't believe any bike lane wouldn't mean changing more parking spaces. They continued to jeer and catcall other people throughout the meeting who supported the bike lanes.
One of them, Kerry Bedard, was passing around petitions against the lanes (and other proposed lanes on 17th Street) during the meeting. When Rudi Riet said he'd like to be able to ride without being hit by a driver, Bedard shouted, “move to the suburbs.” To other bike lane supporters, she shouted, “move to Amsterdam.”
Should people outside ANC 2B be able to speak?
The day before the meeting, Downs tweeted to encourage people to attend the meeting and speak up. When asked by one person if people outside ANC 2B or Ward 2 ought to also attend, Downs said, “We want all folks who want safer streets to attend and make your voice heard.”
This led Nick DelleDonne, a past commissioner for part of one term, to blast the neighborhood listserv with statements attacking Downs. DelleDonne was described by one member of the ANC as “the Fox News of Dupont” for his penchant for blasting bombastic press releases and statements attacking fellow commissioners for the smallest slights.
Transportation is an issue that cuts across neighborhoods; each street is used by people who live nearby and people who don't. The residents of west Dupont, for instance, drive, ride the bus, bike, and/or walk on streets in east Dupont, where I live, as well. So do people in Georgetown and Logan Circle and Bloomingdale and Virginia and elsewhere. Transportation planning needs to weigh the needs of immediate residents and the impacts on them as well as the needs and impacts for people's mobility elsewhere.
But the first public witness to speak for the bike lane project at the meeting was immediately met with shouts of “where do you live?” from two commissioners, Bedard, and several other people. They continued to browbeat this person, who then said they live in Woodley Park, which led to another round of jeers.
Ironically, DelleDonne placed flyers on parked cars in the region (below), including on cars with Virginia plates, a jurisdiction which is not part of Dupont Circle. That flyer is also making false statements, because the ANC wasn't considering a resolution to repurpose all parking on the east side of 21st; the committee had already decided to introduce a different resolution.
The Phillips CFO says the museum doesn't support bike lanes, while Heurich House does
The Phillips Collection is a museum with terrific art located on 21st Street near R. To many people's surprise, Cherie Nichols, the CFO of the museum, said they “weren't formally contacted” about the lane, and that the “consensus at the museum” is that they would not support taking parking off 21st Street. We have a lot of deliveries, large trucks, and have to go into street to deliver art,” she said.
She concluded, “People are drivers. Shoppers are drivers.”
Bender of the Heurich House rebutted Nichols' statements. “We get 20,000 visitors to our property, and most come by Metro, bike, or walking,” she said. “We support bike lanes in our neighborhood and support them going past the museum.”
The Heurich House, on 20th Street near New Hampshire Avenue, is a grand historic home built in 1894 and maintained with original interiors. It was owned by Christian Heurich, who ran DC's longest-operating brewing company until 1956 (it was torn down in 1962 to build the Kennedy Center).
A member of the ANC gave me scanned copies of printed emails which were submitted as testimony exhibits to the ANC. These emails show discussions among several residents and Nichols, the Phillips CFO, for months leading up to the meeting. The emails include a discussion of a meeting Nichols had with Megan Kanagy, the project manager for DDOT, in December, making it unclear why Nichols would say they hadn't been contacted (unless there's some distinction between having a meeting and being “formally contacted.”)
Renoir rode a bicycle! He had an accident while working on the Boating Party. Phillips staff dishonor Renoir with their attitudes https://t.co/0flniyTHFs
— Joe Flood (@joeflood) January 10, 2019
It also wasn't clear why the residential parking, which based on resident testimony seems to be always full, is vital to museum art deliveries; the museum has a loading zone with no parking in front of its facility, and the bike lane would be on the other side if built on 21st. I emailed the Phillips to clarify as well as ask other questions about the museum's position. They replied with the following statement:
It is regrettable that a member of Phillips staff inadvertently mischaracterized the museum’s position regarding bike lanes in the ANC2B Meeting held on Wednesday, January 9. The Phillips Collection remains very supportive of accessibility; and safe and inclusive transportation options for all residents and visitors. We look forward to continued participation in discussions of potential bike lanes, and working with all neighborhood stakeholders to determine the solutions that best serve our neighbors and broader community.
While months of emailing between Nichols and other bike lane opponents make it a stretch to say that her involvement was “inadvertent,” it's clear the Phillips has reconsidered its involvement in bike lane opposition, and that's good. Whatever discussions may or may not have happened inside the organization, it's best for bike advocates to use this as an opportunity to thank the Phillips for being more thoughtful and educating staff on the importance of cycling.
Advocate Gillian Burgess suggested taking the staff on a bike ride as an educational opportunity:
It would be great if we could get Cherie out on a bike ride to show her how much it opens access to the city.
— Gillian Burgess (@dasgeh) January 10, 2019
Meanwhile, residents should check out the Heurich House Museum, which offers public tours on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays but is closed in January. It also hosts weddings and other events in its conservatory and garden.
What are other options?
Some residents (on both sides of this issue) suggested the ANC talk to DDOT about some different compromises. Attendess at the 2B meeting suggested putting the lane on 21st Street south of New Hampshire, then cutting over on New Hampshire (past the Heurich House) to 20th Street. This still doesn't connect to the R Street bike lanes, but could avoid the most contentious (and most residential) portion of 21st.
At a much more decorous ANC 2A (Foggy Bottom/West End) meeting on Wednesday, January 16, that ANC recommended having the lane on 21st from the Mall up to G Street, then moving over to 20th for the remainder. Cycling advocates at the meeting variously expressed a feeling that this wasn't ideal, but could be a workable compromise, even though some people will just ride in the street if the bikeway takes unexpected turns.
DDOT has extended the comment period for the project until February 13. Residents can make comments about the project here. What do you think?