Image by Rich Renomeron licensed under Creative Commons.

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 5E meeting on June 18 was a lesson in how these neighborhood bodies can put one commissioner’s personal preferences ahead of the concerns and safety of other community members. After nearly three and a half hours of meeting to discuss an agenda that was supposed to last two hours, the ANC shut down debate and voted to write a letter of opposition to a new bikeshare station on the south side of R Street NE between North Capitol and Lincoln Road in Eckington.

What went down at the meeting

We already know that ANC meetings themselves inherently limit participation to the privileged few who don’t have barriers to showing up, like needing to work evenings or take care of loved ones. That’s why Eckington resident and GGWash contributor Nick Sementelli organized a petition signed by more than 160 residents of the ANC supporting a bikeshare station at the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) proposed location.

Instead of weighing that petition and the support of those who showed up in person to comment, the ANC advanced what appeared to be little more than the personal agenda of one commissioner. More than a dozen ANC 5E residents waited through the packed agenda to express their support for the bikeshare station’s proposed location, as well as their dismay at ANC 5E04 Commissioner Sylvia Pinkney’s letter of opposition—which constituents saw for the first time at the meeting. (Disclosure: GGWash endorsed Vinyard against Pickney and two other opponents in the ANC race last year.)

ANC 5E Chair Bradley Thomas refused to allow comments on the station during the “Community Remarks” section. The issue was last on the agenda, but when it finally came up, the ANC read the entire letter aloud and then said there was no time to hear residents’ feedback. The crowd nearly revolted. Thomas eventually relented to allow some residents to share their concerns. Not a single person expressed support for the measure.

After several community comments, Thomas held a vote to cease debate, even though several more people were waiting to share their opinions. When asked to withdraw her resolution, Pinkney declined. At 10:17 pm, the commission voted 7-2 to support the letter, with Commissioners Cortney Segmen (ANC 5E03) and Nick Cheolas (ANC 5E01) voting no.

The first indication that Pinkney would oppose the bikeshare station came when the agenda was circulated last week. Many residents expressed alarm and frustration, and not just because there’s a dire need for more bikeshare availability in Eckington and along the busy cycling thoroughfare of R Street. As far as we have been able to tell, Pinkney did little to no outreach to her constituents before deciding unilaterally to oppose the proposed location.

The ANC’s recommendation would compromise cyclist safety

When it comes to traffic safety issues, the details matter. DDOT’s preferred location on R Street is ideal because it would be situated on an extremely wide sidewalk on the R Street thoroughfare. DDOT’s city bicycle map shows the street as one of the major East-West bike routes in the Mid-City, connecting the Metropolitan Branch Trail with Shaw, Dupont, and routes to downtown DC.

Image by DDOT.

While the exact segment of R Street this station would sit next to only has sharrows, it is bound on either side by bike lanes. A bikeshare station there would be heavily used and appreciated, as the many people who spoke up at the meeting and online in support of it pointed out.

Pinkney has a history of putting up blockades to Eckington bicycle infrastructure. In 2011, she led an unsuccessful petition to stop a bike lane from coming to one block of R Street Northeast, and specifically opposed the installation of sharrows on R Street in order to discourage cyclists from using that street. The irony is that had Pinkney thrown her support behind installing more traffic safety measures for cyclists along R Street back in 2011, her concerns today about the safety of the new location would likely be significantly mitigated.

Pinkney says she’s concerned for the safety of cyclists using a bikeshare at the proposed R Street location, and noted that she suggested DDOT install it at an alternate location at Quincy Place and Lincoln Road. That’s where DDOT’s “tactical urbanism” has reclaimed a triangle of land that sits between two busy streets—Lincoln Road and North Capitol Street. However, it’s difficult to see how that location would be the safer option for cyclists accessing bikeshare docks.

Pinkney’s proposed location would require users to navigate two unsafe intersections without any sort of bike safety infrastructure. The site is wedged between the six-lane North Capitol Street and Lincoln Road, which often sees cars barrelling down it at high speeds. (In fact, neighbors have called for traffic calming measures on Lincoln because of concerns about speeding and safety.) Her location also falls along Quincy Place, which is one-way in opposite directions on either side of North Capitol and is missing crosswalks on the south side of the street where the bikeshare station would be.

Pinkney's proposed location. Image created with Google Maps.

Before the ANC meeting, one of us reached out to Pinkney to see if she would be willing to compromise by supporting safety improvements at Quincy Place and Lincoln Road that might make that location more suitable for cyclists. The Eckington Civic Association will soon be submitting a request for a protected bike lane on Lincoln Road, contraflow bike lanes on Quincy Place, and the addition of south-side crosswalks. Pinkney still has not responded.

Great weight or a greater wait?

By law, DC agencies are required to give “great weight” to ANCs that express a position on an issue, and must respond to an ANC’s written concerns. This is why letters like the one the ANC submitted can do real harm if they do not advance safety or community concerns.

Still, affording the ANC great weight does not mean DDOT must install a bikeshare station precisely where Pinkney wants it. Hopefully, in this case, it will put even greater weight on the safety and convenience of bikeshare users—not to mention the overwhelming number of people who support their proposal.

Shelley Vinyard lives in Eckington and is a member of the Eckington Civic Association. During her day job, she works to save the forests of Canada for an environmental advocacy group, but at night she fights for things closer to home, including more affordable housing, better bike infrastructure, and fixing Dave Thomas Circle. She has an unbearably cute daughter and a bike that she loves almost as much (but not quite).

Conor Shaw is an attorney at a nonpartisan ethics watchdog. Conor grew up on Capitol Hill and now lives in Eckington, where he is president of the Eckington Civic Association. Conor wants our streets to be safer for all—and especially cyclists and pedestrians; our local businesses to thrive; and our housing policies to promote affordability, diversity and yes—density.