I was late to tonight's East Side Bike Lane open house, and when I got there I could barely get in to the foyer, let alone the meeting room. I waited as one by one, people overwhelmed by the hot stuffy air - or just with better things to do - left the room. Many people brought their children with them, and just in front of me a girl about 8 years old was visibly falling asleep on her feet, so her mother escorted her out. With the attrition I was eventually able to get into the room.
The first speaker I heard, and I was surprised there even were speakers at what was billed as an open house*, said he was a minister at one of the churches. The first thing I heard from him was "You know that when you see bike lanes and you see Whole Foods and you see Harris Teeter and....uh... Chipotle, well I know that's not for me" to a chorus of agreement and applause, and I knew things were going badly. He went on to say that they were the ones who lived there when the neighborhood was dangerous, and that now that "everyone is smiling" there are other people who want to move in.
Church members filled about 85% of the space, and they had a lot of issues with the bike lanes on 6th, they even wore stickers that said "No bike lanes on 6th Street."
One person expressed concern that the bike lane was being built exclusively next to African-American and Hispanic churches and implied that this was intentional. "They ain't extending that lane to the Sixth and I Synagogue" one woman next to me said knowingly as her friend agreed [That's incorrect, BTW]
There were questions about why 6th Street was even being considered, which DDOT's Sam Zimbabwe dutifully tried to explain (there is no continuous north-south bike facility west of 11th and some of the streets in the study area are inappropriate for various reasons). One woman pointed out that it can take her an hour an a half to get home on 6th when there is an event, "without bike lanes. Can you imagine what it would be like with bike lanes." Just for good measure she added that she pays taxes and votes - "in every election" - and that she lives "here", unlike people who live outside of the community "and just want their commute to be better." [Which does sound a little like the I-66 debate, but I think many of the people who want bike lanes in Shaw do actually live in Shaw]
There was some consternation about the lack of a No Build Alternative (which DDOT promised to include next time) and accusations that DDOT had already decided what it was going to do. One woman expressed concern that this meeting was being held so late in the process and that DDOT hadn't done enough to ask people what they wanted. Another speaker a few minutes later complained that the churches and their leaders had been telling DDOT they don't want bike lanes for months, but that DDOT wasn't listening.
Some speakers were a little more - cranky. One man wanted to know "Who is running the back room deals, since we're the ones paying your salary and we're the ones supposed to be telling you what to do. You've gotten this far ahead and created this much literature and we don't know a thing about it." Another asked how a bike lane or a street would "relate to the acquisition of the property and wealth of the African-American community."
Some cyclists spoke up for the bike lanes, saying that they too live in the neighborhood, pay taxes and vote and that they want bike lanes. Greg Billing of WABA offered to meet with any and all to find a workable compromise, but made it clear that WABA believes these bike lanes are important - for the sake of safety - and noted that 6th Street had been the location of 12 bike-car crashes over the last year. Sam Zimbabwe and Darren Buck of DDOT made the same offer and gave out their phone numbers and email addresses.
Thankfully, the police showed up and said there were too many people in the room for safety. One of the church leaders said that it would be wrong to ask some people to leave the room while the meeting went on and that the only right thing to do was to end it. Zimbabwe agreed and put the meeting out of it's misery.
DDOT promised to have another meeting in the future, in a larger venue.
*I was told DDOT wanted an open house, where people would stop at stations and interact with staff 1-on-1, but that the early part of the meeting was a discussion about procedure and so that plan was dropped early on.