Last night DDOT representatives held a short presentation on the M Street Cycle-track - along with the latest design - followed by a Q&A session.
During the presentation, DDOT tried to explain the reasoning for the cycle-track, how it would work and how it would benefit people.
Jim Sebastian, Mike Goodno and Associate DDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe showed preliminary data from the ongoing L Street study that showed that over the last 6 months since the cycle-track was installed, biking on L Street was up 41% (560 cyclists during the 8 hours of rush hour, up from 396). Over the same period bicycle and pedestrian crashes on L Street were both down a trivial amount. Meanwhile travel time by car had increased by only 1 minute across the length of the cycletrack in the morning and by no measurable amount in the afternoon commute (using data after construction on Connecticut Avenue was complete). They also discussed results of the completed 15th Street cycle-track showing that biking went up and that while crashes went up too, it was not as much as biking did.
They talked about lessons they learned on L street and how that influenced design on M. For example, the cycle-track will be narrower, with parking and loading zones adjacent to it. They'll put in more flexposts.And they're using a new "Yield to Bikes" sign.
Parking and loading would change very little. To deal with what lost parking there would be, they plan to take back some unused diplomatic parking spaces and replace some missing parking meters, as well as add better signage.
The schedule is to continue evaluation between now and August and then install the tracks sometime this summer. That would take 3 weeks and be done in phases.
Other design features briefly touched upon were that the cycle-track diversion onto Rhode Island Avenue may have a concrete barrier to protect cyclists from traffic
and queue areas within intersections that left turning cyclists can stop in to make a two-light turn.
There were other design changes not mentioned, but included in the drawings like a raised cycle-track at a bus stop where the track passes behind the stop.
And there's more that I'll put up later, but before DDOT could discuss these things, it got very heated with Zimbabwe threatening to end the meeting if people continued to be disrespectful with one another.
It started with a woman who asked why DDOT was going ahead with the M Street lane if the L street study wasn't complete. M Street, she was told, is a compliment to L, so any study of L is incomplete without M. Originally they were to be built simultaneously. But she was clearly opposed to the project regardless, she said with exasperation that "L didn't work", claiming that no one ever used it (despite the presentation she just saw showing that there were several hundred users each rush hour) and that traffic was a disaster. Why were we spending money on bike lanes when libraries are closing? She called the design confusing and asked who this lane is for.
But that was just the appetizer. Many members and leaders of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church were there and they were not happy about the cycle-track or the way DDOT had informed them about it.
"When slaves built our church, they were not thinking about bike lanes" is how the first comment started.
There were many criticisms some of them contradictory. No one rides on M Street. Senior citizens won't be able to cross the street to get to church because cyclists never yield to pedestrians (only a problem if people actually do bike on M). Senior citizens rely on the church for transportation. Other M Street businesses are not pleased either. The bike lane on the north side will block funeral access. "What percentage of taxpayer money is going to this?"
When asked if this was a done deal, Zimbabwe said it was and it wasn't. That there was going to be a cycle-track on M, but what it would look like was still negotiable. Speakers proceeded to throw the "done deal" comment, which wasn't his wording, back at him several times. But he stuck to his guns. When asked if the debate was over, he said "for this street, yes." When asked if the 1500 block could be left out of the plans, he said that it would have too negative an impact on people trying to bike the road.
But the biggest issues were that the church would lose its angled parking on Sundays (which took them 3 years to get) and that no one talked to them about it until the day before.
A pastor for the church, after talking about the church's 175 year history, 87 of those years at this location, noted that this church is tied to the struggles of the African American people so to not be talked to about something like this until after it was a "done deal" was very disturbing and insulting. The church had been offered $1M to move out of the city, but they had made a commitment to stay. Many of their members had moved to the counties but still made an effort to come to church here. "Is DC becoming a church-unfriendly place?" she asked.
On the first issue, DDOT created several alternatives for Sundays that would still allow 30-50 parking spaces, even one with angled parking and several that allowed parking in the cycletrack (which would shift in between two lanes of car parking) and promised to work on it with the church.
On the second issue, Jim Sebastian apologized and noted that he had met with church staff at the church in 2011. At least one person accused him of lying and Sebastian said he could pull the phone and email logs if needed. He also noted that they had started this process in 2009 with public meetings, and that DDOT staff have met with ANC's, BIDs, groups and individuals. He said they tried to reach the church, a comment that resulted in scoffing from the church's members.
I'll add that anyone on M Street who didn't know about this has not been paying attention. While I don't expect anyone to have read the 2005 Bicycle Master Plan, the addition of a cycletrack on M Street has been reported in the Washington Post many times. In fact it's been mentioned in numerous news outlets on many many occasions over many years. DDOT has had meetings and press releases. It's not been kept a secret. That no one in the church had ever heard about it until this week seems incredible.
Zimbabwe tried to address all the concerns. The M Street lane would have better signage. DC does not intend to be church unfriendly. There is no "rush" to complete this, but DDOT wants to make people safe now, not later. They're willing to work with the church to resolve its issues.
He could have mentioned that in many cases funding for bike lanes can't be moved over to libraries.
When one woman talked about how important biking was for our future, someone asked her "Do you expect senior citizens to bike." "Yes," I thought, "many already do now." In fact many senior citizens in the church had prefacced their comments with "I'm a cyclist."
Another speaker, opposed to the bike lane, asked "Who wants this?" and many hands shot up followed by applause.
"We're not taking a vote here or pitting one side against another" Zimbabwe said.
A restaurant/bar owner on M Street said that the street is already girdlocked (despite DDOT data presented earlier saying otherwise) and that eliminating a traffic lane was going to be a disaster for drivers and for his business. "I did find one friend who rides a bike and he says he'll never use it." he added, while noting that gridlock causes pollution and that snow removal is a problem as well. "Every merchant on M Street is concerned and in disbelief about this."
Zimbabwe pointed out that this is to get new riders to use bikes. Many tried to point to data in NYC showing that cycle-tracks are good for business. One person thanked DDOT for putting the cycle-track on L and opening her eyes to all the great businesses there.
A Georgetown ANC member took the opportunity to berate DDOT for not doing something about all the unsafe cyclists disregarding traffic laws. "It's a miracle that no one has been hurt" he noted without realizing he was contradicting his whole position.
Finally, someone asked "can't bike lanes go in AND angled parking be kept? Why does it have to be either/or?"
Zimbabwe promised to find a way to address the parking needs of church goers.
And they do have a plan for that. Below you can see Sunday parking on the bike lane as one alternative.