Pulled up (and edited) from the comments. Greenbelt reports on Wednesday night's Pennsylvania Avenue meeting hosted by NPS.
The meeting sponsored by the NCPC included a presentation by the NPS about their proposal to use a non-profit agency -- significantly hinted to be the Downtown Business Improvement District or BID -- to administer/coordinate the maintenance and operation of PA Ave. The NPS rep kicked off the meeting by saying that this new proposal had nothing to do with bicycling safety, that transport safety on the roadway was DC's jurisdiction. She implied that the large number of cyclists in attendance were sort of misinformed about whether this meeting would address bike safety issues on the roadway. However, by the end of the meeting, it was very clear that NPS and the Fine Arts Commission wanted to retain a very strong influence on the character of the roadway, and that any changes should be approved by them.
First, the NPS presentation was extremely murky. NPS has jurisdiction over the sidewalks, parks and furnishings along the route. DC has jurisdiction of the roadway for transport purposes. NPS seems to want the BID to provide day-to-day maintenance and upkeep services, and to coordinate repairs and improvements. They suggested that the BID could act as an intermediary, helping groups get permits from DC and NPS for events (Bike DC?) and coordinate repairs and improvements with DC and NPS as needed. I believe the idea is that NPS is essentially admitting that they are unable to meet the vision that was laid out in the original PA Ave Development Corp vision, including making the avenue a more commercially and social vibrant space, and making it less of a barrier between the government/monumental side and the downtown. NPS explained that their mission doesn't typically go beyond preservation and conservation, and that much of the PA Ave Development Corp's vision was beyond their scope in many respects. Having the downtown BID be more formally involved, could help improve PA Avenue and reduce frustrations with NPS processes that aren't really suited to urban and community development.
How all this would work was quite unclear, but in general, my impression was: So far, so good.
However, in the questioning, folks from WABA, local bike shops etc. asked about the bike lane safety, and specifically, whether DC truly had jurisdiction over the roadway and thus could go ahead and reinstall barriers to prevent illegal u-turns.
The answer seemed to be that NPS, the Fine Arts Commission and other stakeholders wanted de facto veto power over such improvements, and expected to have an "advise and consent" function as stakeholders of the Avenue. So while they seemed to say that DC had jurisdiction and that they couldn't legally prevent DC from making safety improvements, they expected to be consulted and expected that DC wouldn't do anything without their approval. The implication was that if DC did make bike lane improvements without their sign off, that DC would face some consequence, although what the consequence would be wasn't clear.
Got it? DC can do what it wants to improve safety. Except they can't. Sort of.
So Pedro Ribeiro who said on one of the TV news reports that DC couldn't improve safety for bikes on the Avenue because it would be illegal and that would be breaking the law was apparently wrong ["“We don't have the jurisdiction, we can't do that,” says Pedro Ribeiro, Director, D.C. Office of Communications. “You can't break the law. While it may feel good to say ‘sure, just put them in,’ what would happen is we'd have to tear them back out again.”]. DC does, according to last night's presentation, seem to have the jurisdiction to make safety improvements.
Overall, I was pleased that NPS was considering handing over some responsibility for the road to the BID, because the BID might have a lot more money and know-how, and energy to continue to improve the avenue in all dimensions. However, it still seems like DC and the feds are pointing at each other over who has responsibility for the needed safety improvements.
In my opinion, what really needs to happen for PA Ave to be a truly grand ceremonial avenue, as envisioned by past and current plans, is to go back to 3 traffic lanes instead of 4 in most place, and re-separate the median bike lanes like they were originally. That would allow the Avenue to breathe, give pedestrians more haven space without conflicting with bikes, and provide plenty of space to design high-quality and view enhancing anti u-turn barriers.
I'll add that if the bike lanes were restored to their original design, the incentive to make U-turns might go down since drivers would now have to turn across three lanes to do so, but maybe not. As for the Downtown BID taking over, having the former director of WABA serving as the Downtown BID's transportation director would probably lead to as bike friendly a boulevard as the powers will allow.