Florida Avenue Market by Mr. T in DC licensed under Creative Commons.

Some members of the DC Council were as shocked and dismayed as our community was by the deaths on our roads this past weekend. A driver killed Dave Salovesh while he rode his bicycle on Florida Avenue NE Friday, and another killed Abdul Seck, a New York City visitor who was walking at 16th and V SE in Anacostia Sunday.

Charles Allen (Ward 6) introduced an “emergency” bill to force the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to build a safer Florida Avenue including protected bikeways. Mary Cheh (Ward 3) proposed a bill to require protected bikeways where master plans already call for them. And Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) sent an eloquent letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser about the need for action.

Allen proposes emergency fixes to Florida Avenue

Advocates have been frustrated that the project spent years in limbo after a 2015 study recommended reducing travel lanes and adding bike lanes. Allen noted that DDOT had promised to have final 100% designs for Florida Avenue by early 2018 but still hasn’t reached 30% design.

DDOT first studies road changes, then proceeds to the engineering “design” phase which has a series of progressively more detailed plans, and this is where it’s been stuck. DDOT has told council during oversight hearings it had to find a new contractor and now expects to get to 100% design by December of 2020.

Allen’s bill would take away DDOT’s ability to move (or “reprogram”) any money without the council’s approval until the design reaches 30%, and not for amounts over $500,000 until it reaches 100%. Normally, DDOT doesn’t need council permission to move money and for amounts over $500,000, it has to give the council a chance to block it but can go ahead if the council doesn’t act. Basically, this is putting DDOT in the time-out corner.

The bill is emergency legislation, which under DC’s Home Rule Act can be passed quickly, without first holding a hearing, requiring the usual two votes from the council, or waiting for Congress to have a chance to overturn. However, declaring an “emergency” requires nine votes on the council instead of the usual seven, and emergency bills can’t be effective for more than 90 days. There’s a companion “temporary” bill which takes a little longer to pass and can last until 225 days.

Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), and David Grosso (at-large) co-introduced the bill. The council will vote on it at its next legislative session, on May 7. We suggest you ask the council to pass this bill.

Email the DC Council today!

Allen has also said he’s working on a bigger bill, which we have been collaborating on with him and his staff. We’ll have more about that soon.

Cheh would build out the city’s bike lane plans

Cheh’s bill says that if DDOT “engages in any road reconstruction, major repair, or curb and gutter replacement” on a road which has a bicycle lane in the District’s master plans, then it has to build a protected bikeway on that road and try to connect it in a network with other lanes.

DDOT can get out of this requirement if it certifies in writing that such a lane is prohibitively expensive, wouldn’t be used, won’t make cyclists safer, or requires buying private property to construct. And the bill says the council doesn’t want this to slow down road repaving projects.

This bill is modeled on a similar one in Cambridge, Massachusetts which has been hailed as protecting bike lane plans against “bikelash.”

Co-introducers for this bill were Allen, Grosso, Jack Evans (Ward 2), Elissa Silverman (at-large), Anita Bonds (at-large), Brandon Todd (Ward 4), Robert White (at-large), Vincent Gray (Ward 7), and Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1).

As this is regular legislation, it first must have a hearing before the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, which Cheh chairs. She should be scheduling the hearing soon. If other councilmembers introduce related legislation, that could be covered at the same hearing. If you want updates on this, sign up here.

Keep me posted!

Nadeau says “we need to be much bolder”

In a letter to Mayor Bowser, Nadeau wrote, “Dave [Salovesh] was a strong advocate for safer streets and expanded bicycle infrastructure across the District, and if his and Abdul Seck’s deaths are to mean anything, I hope it is the more focused attention of the Council and your administration on how we save lives on our streets.”

She added, “Just when we should be following through on the 2006 Bike Master Plan recommendation to install ten miles of protected bicycle infrastructure every year, we are instead installing a mere ten miles total by 2024. As cities across the country are proactively expanding dedicated bus lanes and Bus Rapid Transit improvements, we are just now getting started on pilot programs.” She praised planned projects including the Crosstown Cycletrack along Irving Street from Michigan Avenue to Park View, bus/bike lanes on 14th Street, and bus lanes on 16th Street.

Finally, noting that “if we are to really achieve our goals of Vision Zero, reduced use of single-occupancy vehicles, and a sustainable and carbon-neutral city, we need to be much bolder in our thinking,” she gave a list of other transportation-related policies she hopes to advance:

  • Passing a robust Compete Streets policy, requiring accommodations for all modes of transportation when redesigning streets.
  • A statutorily mandated number of miles of complete streets infrastructure built per year.
  • A comprehensive network of dedicated transit lanes and protected bicycle infrastructure, serving all Wards and neighborhoods.
  • Planning and installing our protected bike infrastructure as a connected network rather than studying it street-by-street.
  • Concrete and enforceable targets to reduce car ownership and parking utilization across the District.
  • Ending the outdated “Level of Service” model of traffic analysis and moving towards a system that looks at all road users and vehicle miles travelled.
  • Aggressive expansion of Automated Traffic Enforcement.
  • More robust and frequent driver education and testing.
  • Downtown congestion pricing, akin to what is being currently implemented in New York City.
  • Working with neighboring jurisdictions to oppose highway widenings that would increase commuter volumes and traffic fatalities on DC’s streets.

Along with Councilmembers Grosso, Cheh, and Silverman, Nadeau also just released a resolution opposing Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s plan to widen I-495, I-270, and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, instead advocating for better transit to address congestion.

What do you think of the letter and the two bills?

Alex Baca is the Housing Program Organizer at GGWash. Previously the engagement director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the general manager of Cuyahoga County's bikesharing system, she has also worked in journalism, bike advocacy, architecture, construction, and transportation in DC, San Francisco, and Cleveland. She has written about all of the above for CityLab, Slate, Vox, Washington City Paper, and other publications.