DDOT announced the time and place for the next meeting of the Eastern Downtown Protected Bike Lanes study. It will be Saturday, February 6th from noon to 4pm at the KIPP DC WILL Academy-Auditorium. The study considered four alternatives which will be presented along with the No-Build alternative.
The first meeting was, to say the least, contentious. Many people showed up in opposition to the bike lanes, expressing a wide range of concerns, including traffic impacts, perceived process failures, corruption and, yes, gentrification. Some people merely stood up to say that they didn't want bike lanes. While the opposition was entirely black - because the churches that oppose it are - those in support were not. Nonetheless, the media that attended almost exclusively focused on the "black vs white" and "churches oppose bike lanes because of gentrification" takes on the meeting. But if you were there, and I was (and I recorded it), that would be the more sensational part of the story, but not an accurate representation of the meeting. Most people who opposed the bike lanes said nothing about displacement or gentrification and the only people who did were leaders of the churches.
Here's the thing, I don't see why anyone would believe the church leaders on this issue. They've proven that they will say anything. Less than a month prior, leader of the United House of Prayer tried to say that the bike lanes infringed on their religious freedom, deprived them of equal protection under the law and represented a conspiracy to drive African-American churches out of they city. For this, they were roundly ridiculed, not just in the local media but nationally and internationally. Which is likely why we didn't hear any of that nonsense at the meeting. Instead, they changed tacks, choosing to state that bike lanes are part of a pattern of displacement and represent gentrification - and that this is what they oppose (though oddly it was not mentioned in their earlier letter to the city). Perhaps they had read the article about this issue on the Peopleforbikes blog. Had that not worked, they probably would have thrown something else at the wall to see if it would stick. But in several years, this was the first time they had made this case. They were more honest in 2014 when they said that
the United House of Prayer conducts it worship services from this National Headquarters location all 7 days of each week, and this 6th Street location also hosts national gatherings, at intervals throughout the year. Each day, daily worship begins with Sunrise Service at 6:00AM; continue with Noon-Day Services; and, then, come to 7:30PM Gospel Services. With the frequency of weddings and funerals that proceed from this location along the 6th Street NW corridor, with their attendant automobile processions, any introduction into this mix, of Bicycle Lanes and/or Bicycle Infrastructure, would be UNSTAINABLE, along this 6th Street, NW, corridor.
Unfortunately, people who would normally support bike lanes, but also sympathize and identify with those who are impacted by gentrification, ate it up with a spoon. Aimee Custis of the Coalition for Smart Growth wrote at GGW
When I try to put myself in UHOP's shoes, I can begin to see some of the fear, and frustration with a changing city and changing times that's causing them to act that way. If they know they won't be listed to because of their skin color, maybe something else we value in this country—freedom of religion—WILL be listened to.
For just a moment today, let's set aside the arguments against the bike lanes, and talk of religion and taxes and everything else. Let's try to understand the underlying why of our neighbors (whether they live in the District, or in Maryland, or wherever) making these arguments.
It's parking. Something Custis doesn't even mention in her post (though it is tagged "church parking") The idea that they aren't listened to doesn't even hold water, because they have been pushing the city and neighbors around FOR YEARS. Here's something from an article in 1997
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officials say it's not the law—it's not even official police policy—but they try to accommodate the city's churches by allowing their members to double-park ticket-free on Sundays. "There's no set policy that they don't get tickets," says 1st District Sgt. Brian Murphy, articulating the religious corollary to MPD's zero-tolerance policy. "We just try to take into consideration that they're going to church. When it's a church function, we try to locate the people and get them to move their cars first before we give any tickets."
The driver of the Volkswagen, who has lived on 6th Street for 11 years, later said that while the House of Prayer attendees repeatedly inconvenience him, he has never complained to the authorities for fear of incurring the wrath of the "Saints," as some of the neighbors like to call them. "The church is very powerful," he said, which also explains why he didn't want his name in the paper.
That doesn't sound like people who are being ignored. The last time someone tried to crack down on church parking - in 2006 - it was Mayor Williams and he quickly backtracked on that when the churches flexed their muscles. Despite the fact that an earlier task force had determined that "Currently, parking standards as they relate to “double parking” enforcement on Sundays is deliberately unobserved. This accommodation has been made for religious services, however, it adversely affects residents who reside near religious establishments." So in these cases it was the people in the community who were being harmed and the churches that were benefiting.
In 2013, when the city extended residential parking permit requirements to Sundays - after residents petitioned for them to do so - former DDOT Director Terry Bellamy approved extended diagonal parking for the United House of Prayer located at 601 M Street NW, from 3pm to 9pm, on Sundays. Again, this doesn't sound like a group that isn't listened to.
It's not like the churches in Shaw represent locals, as Martin Di Caro points out "Many of New Bethel’s roughly 850 members live outside D.C." So, how can gentrification of a neighborhood they don't live in really be the problem?
Still, the MSM followed suit and just took the "black people oppose bike lanes because of gentrification" story and ran with it. The post wrote an article "Why are bike lanes such heated symbols of gentrification?" which tried to paint a national trend onto one quote from one pastor that didn't even have to do with gentrification.
Then David Rotenstein wrote an article which while frequently acknowledging the parking issue, seems to believe that below the surface of this it is really about symbolism and gentrification.
Bike lane proponents frequently don’t see beneath the paved street surfaces and building facades and they don’t easily grasp the symbolic significance bike lanes embody. Opponents, on the other hand, use the public engagement processes urban planning affords stakeholders to mount vigorous objections to encroaching change that historically has resulted in displacement.
An understanding of history in Shaw and other urban areas where seemingly innocuous painted lines are proposed could help more urbanists like Custis see what other stakeholders are saying. Without context, urbanists like the GGW writer who replied to my email query will continue to make assertions based in assumptions, not historical fact.
The historical fact is that UHOP has always been kind of selfish about parking. And despite all of the history, it really is just about parking.
As a practical matter, some Shaw residents view the District Department of Transportation’s bike lane proposals as a major disruption to traffic flow as well as parking. Conceptual design drawings show a lane currently used by cars erased by bike lanes on either 6th Street or 9th Street.
But at DDOT’s first public meeting on the project, the issues of race, economics, and displacement overwhelmed any concerns about sharing the roads with bike riders.
That's now how the meeting went when I was there and the premise that this is about gentrification is again built on the same quote from the same one person.
“I would remind you of the limitations in parking that have already been imposed on churches in the form of the enhanced residential [permit parking] plan,” Nutall said.
Three years ago, the District approved changes to parking rules in Shaw that reserved spaces on one side of each street to residents only.
“It’s a plan that literally limited parking in and around churches — in many cases to half of what it was — without the opportunity for church engagement and involvement and input,” Nutall said.
Moreover, Nutall contends the rapid redevelopment of Shaw, where single-family homes have become multi-unit condos without abundant on-site parking, has increased the demand for scarce spaces.
So it's not about bike lanes bringing gentrification, the gentrification is already there, and the churches didn't bus people to zoning commission hearing to oppose condos or Chipotles or Whole Foods when that gentrification was happening. This is about public space, and how people who don't live there, but feel they have a historic claim to it, are fighting to keep their preferred use of it - same as it's always been. When Emily Badger writes "Why didn't anyone paint bike lanes until the new people moved in?" the answer in this case is that the churches, with all of their power, wouldn't have let them.