Panelists left to right: Linda Bailey, Vaughn Perry, Carla Longshore, Kymone Freeman, Lester Wallace, and GGWash Editor George Kevin Jordan. Image by Kate Jentoft-Herr.

Communities east of the Anacostia River have historically faced less investment from the city. The road network is largely built around automobiles, and geographic challenges like steep hills and highways mean that getting around can be inconvenient and unsafe, especially for people walking, scooting, or bicycling.

Panelists convened by Greater Greater Washington in partnership with We Act Radio discussed how to make transportation more equitable last Monday. The event was hosted by Building Bridges Across the River, and was sponsored by Lyft, Bird, Lime and Uber/JUMP. You can watch the full event video here.

GGWash Editor George Jordan, the panel’s moderator, posed questions about various manifestations of inequity. One example panelists raised was that the city often addresses unsafe roads by simply adding more speed cameras. That approach doesn’t seem to be working: Ward 8 still holds the highest rate of traffic fatalities in the city. Half of the car fatalities in 2019 occurred there.

Image by Kate Jentoft-Herr.

New transportation options like dockless bicycles and scooters add options, but also intensify safety concerns since the underlying street grid is still built around cars. One reoccuring theme in the conversation? Barriers.

Historic barriers. Geographic barriers. Accessibility barriers.

Panelist Kymone Freeman, Co-founder of We Act Radio, said that communities east of the Anacostia have been neglected for years, and conversations about equity are happening now because of the influx of new residents. While leaders may be interested in improving infrastructure for more affluent residents, some longtime ones fear displacement—or as one young man in the audience put it, being “trapped in a community not built by [them].”

“Inequity is the result of public planning without any public input,” Freeman added. Plus: “Poor people have the longest commute. They have less time than we have,” Freeman pointed out. Among other things, that’s less time to attend meetings and otherwise advocate for changes they’d like to see in their community.

Image by Kate Jentoft-Herr.

There are geographic challenges too. Wards 7 and 8 are separated from the rest of the city by the Anacostia River, and the area is notoriously hilly. That can make walking, bicycling, and scooting more challenging. Plus, I-295 runs right through the area, which poses a different but still intimidating barrier.

But DC is finding solutions. Lester Wallace, Community Outreach Coordinator for DDOT’s goDCgo, spoke for the Capital Bikeshare program in DC. He said CaBi Plus, the program’s electric bikeshare fleet, can help riders climb hilly roads like Southern Avenue. Other electric bikes like e-Lime and JUMP are particularly helpful east of the Anacostia.

Wallace did raise concerns about a lack of visibility on bike trails. They are often not well-lit, which poses a hazard to users.

The Capital Bikeshare Community Partners Program, which Wallace runs, is a key tool for expanding the Capital Bikeshare membership to people who need it but would otherwise have trouble accessing it. Low-income and unbanked people can get the bikes for a $5 annual fee (the regular annual fee is $85) which includes a helmet and training course. There’s no need for a credit card.

Better communication and outreach would help

Residents say calling 311 is often not enough to get a response from the city about dangerous streets. Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White said that when he took residents’ requests about dangerous streets to the proper channels, many fixes did not happen until someone was killed or injured, like a 97-year-old woman being hit in 7D and Abdul Seck dying on 16th Street SE.

The lack of community engagement is a real problem. “Residents who are seniors don’t come out at night,” White’s Constituent Services Director Wendy Glenn said. She pointed out that there are about eight senior homes in Ward 8, and residents want to be included in the decision making. She suggests the meetings go to them instead of the other way around.

Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White opened the panel. Image by Kate Jentoft-Herr.

Vaughn Perry, Equitable Development Manager for the 11th Street Bridge Park which will connect both sides of the Anacostia river, agrees these barriers need to be addressed. Plus, childcare availability, time, and location are factors we need to look at when we want people of all walks of life to attend community meetings.

He says that we need to set up a simplified process to work with community members towards finding the solutions for the inequity east of the river. According to him, they are the ones who have a more intimate relationship with these spaces, not just through a map or aerial.

Carla Longshore, Deputy Associate Director of Transit Operations at DDOT, spoke for the DC Circulator and Streetcar program. She recommended following up—many times. She says even when residents are engaged, the person assigned to deal with the issue might move to another job and the request may stay in limbo.

Image by Kate Jentoft-Herr.

More transportation initiatives are in the pipeline

Longshore says the DC Circulator currently has a limited fleet size and maintenance facilities, but the 2020 DDOT Transportation Development Plan will expand it to provide additional routes in Wards 7 and 8. Mayor Muriel Bowser has agreed to provide additional funding.

She says the city is also looking at a micro-mobility system that adds routes in Ward 8 which will connect residents from activity centers to central business districts.

Linda Bailey, Director of DDOT’s Vision Zero office, is working to make sure residents have access to dockless scooters. She says that the city’s pilot program has a geographic equity indicator which is a major component of the companies’ performance assessment. That means that scooters needs to be distributed equitably among all DC wards, and this played a factor in which companies got to add more scooters, and which ones didn’t. Bird, Lime, and JUMP are also offering discount programs to low-income residents.

As these and other transportation initiatives take shape east of the Anacostia, we’ll continue to report on what’s working, and what’s not.

Rita Abou Samra wants to live in an equitable and sustainable world where all seven billion people are happy. When she is not hopelessly and tirelessly devising plans to make that happen, she is a polyglot urban planner from Beirut. Rita is also a fan of food, fitness, learning, and her dog, Chewy.