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"I was mortified when Adrian called me on the carpet because drivers were calling screaming bloody murder about losing a travel lane. It was then that I decided that the old streetcar right of way, which was far worse for cyclists, was the most expedient political solution." I fixed that for you.

I need to start writing my memoirs to set the record straight on things I don't wish to take blame on.

I've ridden down PA Ave exactly once and never plan to again. While the protected bike lanes are nice, the traffic lights are set in a way that ensures you hit a red light at every block. Start, stop. Start, stop. Start, stop. That's fine for cars, but it makes riding a bear. Maybe that's why I never see anyone using them.

They actually get used quite a bit, and DDOT has the numbers to prove. I always see other people in them, and they represent a real improvement over the pre-2010 state.

I also don't hit every light, but then I'm an amazingly fast cyclist.

I really don't enjoy using these either and can luckily avoid them, but I'm glad they're there for those who do.

The expansion of SNAFU really does seem to apply to these though: situation normal, all f*cked up.

Haven't used PA Ave in a long time but did just last week. I too seemed to hit nearly every light going east from the White House.

This didn't use to be the case. Maybe the recent downtown re-timing changed things?

It was really an amazing ride on Bike to Work Day that year (which year was it--2009?) down Pennsylvania Avenue.

It always seemed to me that Gabe Klein was squeezing bike lanes where doing so had minimal impact on drivers. He defended door-zone bike lanes on the grounds that AASHTO allows them. Navigating around light poles and manhole covers is the same thing.

I like all of this infrastructure, but most of these bike lanes need warning signs saying that the maximum safe speed is 10mph.

"To my horror," he writes, "The design being applied to the street looked completely different than what I had last seen, and instead of taking the center median as had been agreed upon, the engineers left this space empty, and instead took the travel lane on either side of the median space. I was mortified."

I call complete BS on this. It boggles my mine Gabe wouldn't have at least looked at the proposed design before it was painted.

And if he did and couldn't properly read it then he really shouldn't have been head of DDOT.

No - the simple, most believable explanation, is that is was constructed as intended and agreed to by *everybody* and THEN the sh*t hit the fan and Gabe has been trying to take the blame ever since to protect his boss.

jeffB, I thought the same thing. I saw the design before it was painted - I believe at a BAC meeting - but if he says he didn't, I'll take his word for it.

I do think his explanation makes him sound like a bit of an arrogant jerk. "The mistake I made was not giving the engineers the benefit of my revolutionary thinking. If I had been more involved everything would have been fine."

And he kind of throws his engineers under the bus, and defends the Mayor. I wonder what the DDOT team think about it. In the end, the Mayor did reject the design though. Gabe and the bike lane task force people did go to the Mayor and plead their case and he said "No." That's exactly the story I heard. So his statements that it was his call are not accurate. If the Mayor had said yes, we would have the original bike lanes.

But it's a testament to how much pent-up demand their is for biking and bike facilities. Even sub-optimal facilities like the ones JimT points to lead to dramatic increases in cycling.

And he kind of throws his engineers under the bus, and defends the Mayor. I wonder what the DDOT team think about it.

For sometime I've been accusing some, not all, in DDOT of being wishy washy in implementing bike infra. Like their heart really isn't in it.

I never made the connection but maybe it leads back to the PA Ave debacle. Maybe recognizing that they won't have political cover if they attempt a grand project, has led them to what we have today. A bits and bobs approach, super cautious and get everybodies input*.


* P.S. I'm currently on the receiving end of a major DDOT project in my neighborhood. It has city & developer backing. Consequently DDOT did (and continues to do) ZERO outreach to the residents. We didn't even learn of the details, literally, until bull dozers showed up one day and started hacking away at the landscape in front of our building to widen the street for more cars.

When I looked at the public record for this I found that the only public notice was a document dump on the Friday night before Christmas. Despite it being DDOT/Developer's intention to do this for years!.

I don't hit too many lights westbound in the morning.

I do hit a lot of lights eastbound in the afternoon, but since I get to look at the US Capitol--need need to check which docks are not blocked near Union Station--stopping does not bother me eastbound.

Fong Fong basically nails it. MPD didn't want to enforce the no stand/parking for tour buses that made the original design work which led to traffic issues. Being an election year, Fenty flipped out and made DDOT change the design.

The 2009 Sabra-Wang traffic impact study memorandum is still available directly from Klein's former agency, DDOT.


Through Sabra-Wang's study / analysis and Toole's design work, no plan was ever put forward that matches Klein's misunderstanding. The memorandum refers to the proposals as road diets, and notes existing conditions that include the pedestrian refuges now removed to compress the bike lanes into the current configuration.

In other forums Klein has claimed that the "Alternative 2" configuration would have resulted in drivers mistaking this area for a regular lane and driving down it at full speed. I never saw that happen during the few short weeks in 2010 when the long studied and previously approved design was on the street, but anything is possible. Certainly the revised design didn't prevent that either. Only adding barriers has done so to any significant degree.

The fact that we've been subjected to almost six years of elevated crash risk only to have DDOT and the District council continue to resist and oppose completing the barriers can't be waved away as a fluke. Klein may have thrown his engineers (many of whom are still at DDOT) under the figurative bus, but DC's resident and guest cyclists are literally still being thrown there.

Klein may have thrown his engineers (many of whom are still at DDOT) under the figurative bus, but DC's resident and guest cyclists are literally still being thrown there.

Oh Snap!

DaveS, fantastic comment. Pulling it up into the post.

I was there as a member of the DDOT team working on this project at the time, and while I have immense respect for Gabe, but he isn't giving readers a full account on this one. He knew exactly what was first built, and I know this because he was in the meetings, and gave me the assignment of figuring out what could go in the center medians for pedestrians, describing it specifically as a "pedestrian promenade with the best views of the capital". He sent me down to Alexandria to check out some old granite curbstones to see if we could make street furniture out of them like NYC did with old bridge stones. And we were talking about what kind of tables and chairs could go there that would be easy to move for special events. I'm happy to go on record with this account.

I know the earlier design would have worked better in the long run, and would have created protection from U-turns because large physical objects would have been in the center of the roadway.

I think initially Gabe may have told Fenty it would be in the median, but the engineers at Toole raised concerns over bike/ped conflicts at the intersections (which still exist today BTW), and we (including Gabe) explored taking the lane when we realized the traffic impact was minimal. Gabe had to explain himself to Fenty when the cab drivers raised a stink as it was being built. While I don't know what he told Fenty, I know it could have come out a different way and he could've been fired as a result. He wasn't, we did a few more great bike facilities, as well as reconfiguring PA Ave. I'm glad we were able to accomplish so much under his tenure, and treasure the time I worked there, but it isn't fair to shift the blame to the engineers and planners when 1) it would've worked if not for the reactionary politics involved, 2) Gabe understood exactly what was going to be built the whole time, and was a key figure in those meetings, attending many of them personally.

A final thought, it may very well be that Gabe had to lie to Fenty to get the chance to "fix" the first iteration, and get it how the Mayor wanted. Years later, he has told the story that way so many times that it would be painful to walk back the lie to the mayor, who he still is friends with.

It is a shame that this version is in print, since I do think the truth would set us free to a certain extent, and I truly admire Gabe's original vision to make the center a pedestrian area, and think it makes him look more visionary than the version in print.

Ah, I knew this story would generate this type of response. The irony is that, if you read the chapter, and the larger book, the point of the story is not the bike lanes, it's that you can fail as a leader (in this case me) and then turn it into a success. The point was also not to villainize anyone or even recount the story yet again but use it as an anecdote for what happens when a group starts to head in the wrong direction because of a lack of clarity, often from above.

So Will's memory is partially correct (compared to mine), in that we were looking for what to put in any gap in the median at one point for seating, and 6 feet was a sizable chunk of space if we went with alternative 2 (on some blocks). More with other alternatives. In the 1800's the median was supposed to be a park at one point, but never was. He is incorrect that 1. It would have worked great: nada, and when I was on the street with the traffic engineers they admitted there were serious problems as cars buzzed down the lanes at full speed. 2. I did not know that the median was going to be left empty and we were going to take 2 car lanes instead (not alternative 2.) and never would have signed off on that. While I appreciate his view, and I don't mind different views on which way would have been better, I don't exactly appreciate being called... well you know and he was not in all of the senior level meetings we had where this project came up.

Keep in mind that the cross-functional team looked at lots of different options between the Sabra Wang...Toole study and the final design and implementation. In the end after I thought we had settled on the median running bike lanes in Alternative 2 as outlined in the study... without going into all the details on lane widths, buffers, and the fact that the studied blocks 7-9 are different that 9-15 or 3-7 in various ways including turns and parking), so not everything including whether there was 6 ft of median is applicable block to block.

I have a huge amount of respect for the folks at DDOT, particularly Jim S. and the bike team. There were internal battles and disagreements between departments on this and other bike projects, some of which I did not know about until the implementation, just reality.

It's very important to me for people to know though that Mayor Fenty was amazing actually and he and Neil Albert were super supportive, and let me, and the team make a high profile series of errors (also the point of the story and chapter). I have no reason to BS this fact at this late date and as my team and I also worked through it I learned a lot from the experience... on both ends.

Was it tense? Yes. Did advocates question everything we did? Yes. At the end of the day not everyone is going to agree with everything you do, or why you do it. I am ok with that, but not with being called dishonest because I have a different view of what transpired after much back and forth and many plans. If we had stuck with the "botched" layout, on PA Ave where you cannot put hard barriers between the cycle track and cars or at the ingress/egress of the lanes, I am convinced we would have had serious injuries, maybe fatalities. I am fine with the decision we made, take full responsibility, and also commend DDOT for making it safer with barriers throughout the corridor.

PS. I travel all over the country/world and people that are truly experts in world class bike infrastructure have told me how much they love this configuration after riding it. Not that I think it will matter to this group, but just thought that I would mention it :)

I haven't been this fascinated with the comments section since I read the back and forth of the members of Creedence Clearwater Revival back in 1996 in the letters section of the LA Times.

Where is the bucket of popcorn symbol?

if you read the chapter, and the larger book, the point of the story is not the bike lanes, it's that you can fail as a leader (in this case me) and then turn it into a success.

Yeah, I get that (but not the irony I guess), but it's also the first after-the-fact telling of this story. As one who's working on a history book, I know how easy it is for bad facts to work their way into the official record and how it's nearly impossible to fix it afterward. [For example, there are still plenty of books published today that list the Gadsden Purchase as being "45535 square miles" large when it is actually 29670. And that error dates back to 1870] I'm not interested in the point of the story, I'm interested in the story.

At the time, I was reading one story in the press, and hearing another story from people behind the scenes. And I've been waiting for something to happen to bring those two stories into alignment. I was hoping this would be it. I just figured that, as any fan of the 2nd Season of the Simpsons would do, you were taking the blame to spare your boss. But instead I remain confused.

Not only does this story not match up with what I was being told, but the story in the book doesn't quite match what was reported at the time, such as in your blog post when you wrote "That being said, we worked on the PA Bike Lane design extensively on paper, and vetted them with WABA, Federal Agencies, and the public etc..." Which makes it sound like it was not half-baked and that you were involved in that vetting, but perhaps all of those groups knew that the median was going to be left empty and you did not. Perhaps you were unaware of what was being planned even as it went to the Commission of Fine Arts. I don't really know if that kind of thing is shown to the Director before such a hearing or not.

But, Alternative 2 does seem closer to the first design than the second. It involved removing a travel lane in each direction (just as the original design did) and 10' wide bike lanes (only 1' narrower than the travel lanes. So if that's what you expected, it's not clear why you were mortified that they "took the travel lane on either side of the median space" since that was the design you expected.

people that are truly experts in world class bike infrastructure have told me how much they love this configuration after riding it.

I don't doubt that. I like the bike lanes a lot, and often defend them. But that isn't the same as saying that they were better than what was being built before the project was redesigned mid-implementation. Do the expert say THAT?

I still believe that those lanes would have worked great and better than what we got - especially with street furniture in the empty space, but we'll never know.

"The point was also not to villainize anyone or even recount the story yet again but use it as an anecdote for what happens when a group starts to head in the wrong direction because of a lack of clarity, often from above."

yet that is exactly what you have done. You say you didn't lie, but essentially all your staff and consultants lied. You are a vile self promoter who hasn't really gotten much Sh*t done.

It seems really obvious based on the history (remember the AAA headline?) who is being honest here.

It's my sense that the historical evaluation of the 2010 Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes and road diet will always imply "politics beat planning". That's been the story there since at least the 1970s, and handily explains why so little has changed since then. I do wish Klein had written it that way because only he has that unique perspective to tell that story, with its failures and successes, in the first person.

That story is at least as important as the inspirational intent Klein explains above. It may have been productive in a large sense to take the hit of "failing" here if it allowed further work to continue, but it also confirmed that loud opinions will outweigh wise ones as long as personal gains are put ahead of greater good.

We saw this in so many cases: the way an impatient councilmember reversed a road diet on Wisconsin Ave, the way an historically significant church eliminated a protected bike lane on M St. NW, the way that same councilmember still opposes completing the barriers that could make Pennsylvania Avenue safer, and we continue to live with this legacy in UHOP's opposition to protected bike lanes on public streets adjacent to their buildings.

I've always been an advocate for safer roads and more complete streets, but I trace my increased activism for progressive and sustainable transportation to the day DDOT sanded away the "botched" lane layout. I'd like to read about how that also changed agency approaches to executing bold and audacious plans. The first chapter of that book could have started with the same day in history, but apparently it's yet to be written.

It appears Gabe simply can not move on with his life.

Gabe is largely talking past Will on this one. Gabe, I wish you would more directly address the specific inaccuracies in your account that have been raised here.

Boy, having moved to the area long after this went in, I wish they had put in the street furniture and kept the original concept. Instead of mere center running bike lane, we would have Times Square style activity on America's Main St, bringing new life to a mostly dead area.

As someone who worked in planning at DDOT during this period, I must confess being baffled by the back and forth on this topic over the years. It was always clear that the median was to be utilized either for the bike lanes or park space, and that taking a lane or not as part of the project was really not a critical issue. As I remember, the outcome on the street was not what the Director had been briefed was going in. The funny thing was the problems with implementation didn't have to do with taking a lane but was more the conspicuously empty median compounded by the wide width of the final bike lanes and lack of barrier protection rendering them much less safe then planned.

I think Director Klein and the communications people pretty clearly laid out the error in translation and stated that it just didn't work as had been designed on paper:


As a planner who was not in the bike group but was aware of what was going on and has dealt with these issues on other projects, the explanation seems pretty simple and clear. Now I also understand a little more how it happened and this is not that uncommon on groundbreaking projects.

I hate to break it to anyone but CFA was not going to allow street furniture on PA Avenue. Certainly not without years of planning and hearings. People forget the federal role here. The fact that DC DOT got anything in on the street and the plastic posts to boot is nothing short of a miracle.

Boy this is a can of worms. But let me say, I will admire Gabe's leadership and vision until the end of my days, and defend the record of that leadership, but if we're putting it down for history, we need to level with everyone so they can learn from it. I defended Gabe and the rest of the DDOT team when the Post was giving Paul DeMaio all the credit for bringing bikeshare to DC, which was really a DDOT-lead initiative with SmartBike, and Gabe specifically deserves enormous credit for pivoting away from Clear Channel, evaluating Bixi, and cutting a deal with Arlington to bring that system online - all in less than a year.

Similarly, Gabe deserves enormous credit for developing the PA bike lane concept into a real project, and should claim the idea of a pedestrian median in the middle. I don't know every detail on how we evolved to that, but what I do know is the contractor identified the bike/ped conflict at the stone medians, then using the Sabra Wang traffic study, suggested the "take the lane" option, and we developed it from there to 100% design and built it. The ped stuff in the median was perhaps a happy or unhappy accident depending on who you ask.

Gabe is right when he says we followed groupthink, after we got rolling with the "take the lane" option, and were convinced it would work from a traffic standpoint, we didn't look back, and we collectively didn't fully consider the politics of that action.

Now as it turns out, the politics of taking lanes on PA Ave were incredibly bad, and once they were built, we did have a number of drivers enter the 8 foot wide bike lane and drive down it full speed. Whether as an opportunistic move or out of confusion, I think we could have solved for driving in the bike lane with some minor interventions. CFA also prohibited us from using any flexposts, but Gabe agreed to put some posts at the intersections anyway, against their instructions. It would have really been something to pedestrianize the middle, I got to walk it that way a few times before we rebuilt it, and it was very special.

To Gabe, again, I have enormous respect for everything you’ve accomplished, I’m not seeking to diminish that, and to the other commenters, Gabe’s record truly stands alone in our era of transportation planners, if anyone should be writing a book, it’s him. The situation around PA Ave was visionary, messy, and unfolded in real time, with real politics that mattered. Hell, Adrian Fenty was summarily booted out of office four months later, and half the Post’s Ed Board had been writing about nothing but dog parks and bike lanes for months preceding the primary. We would all be much better off with 4 more years of Fenty instead of Gray, and who knows if the bike lanes pushed the election over the edge... With your book, you are writing an instructional narrative, and narratives can’t always capture the chaos, intrigue, and nuance surrounding real events. I probably should have given earlier comments a more thorough read, and you are right, I don’t know everything about this since I was a but a small cog. There is a version, though, that teaches a different lesson, the one DaveS touched on, which is that politics trumps great planning. It’s a sad lesson, but one I’ve found to be true in this town, and other towns, we’d all be wise to remember that.

So I’m going to buy your book, and read it cover to cover. I hope you’ll sign it for me next time we meet.

Yours Truly,

Will Handsfield

As I remember, the outcome on the street was not what the Director had been briefed was going in.

I guess this is where I'm confused. I've always gotten the impression that this was a case of politics trumping planning, but the official DDOT line at the time was that this was an engineering decision. But, the problem is that this is what one would say if it were truly an engineering decision or if it were a political decision. So it's not particularly clarifying.

Gabe's account in the book seems to reiterate that with the added element that what went in originally was not something he'd ever seen or approved. Despite the fact that it seems very similar to what was studied in 2009 and what was presented to CFA in March 2010. So this leaves us to believe that he was really not paying attention or that he was paying attention, and responded to the politics because his boss told him to. So I don't know how he was unaware. How was what he was presented different from what was installed? Because not checking on such a high profile installation for months is kind of incompetent, and I'm just not willing to believe he's that incompetent.

I too really respect Gabe, and think he's been the best DDOT Director since Tangherlini. I'm thankful for all the work he did, and envious of what he was able to do in Chicago. I'd like to see him rehired into the job if it were an option. So this isn't in anyway meant to be an attack on him.

It's just the timeline and actions make the most sense under the DaveS scenario rather than the one that Gabe describes. But the world is full of situations that don't make a lot of sense, so perhaps this is just one of those.

If I were really interested I suppose I could FOIA all the DDOT emails from 10/2009 to 07/2010 that deal with the bike lanes. But, that seems like a lot of work for what is a trivial point.

I agree that the details are trivial in most regards. There are some unfinished aspects that may be rooted in how the current configuration came to be (for example, the 2010 prediction that the design would be tweaked with repaving in 2012 never came to pass), but for the most part this sausage was made the way sausage always is and that's fine. There are lessons to be learned even from that.

But knowing so well the disconnect between what happened and how it is portrayed in the book will tilt me toward the skeptical as I read the rest.

I don't think the details are trivial in this instance where a former director of the agency seems to be claiming he directed his staff and consultants to do a different design and when he "took his eyes off the ball" they switched to this "botched design".

Gabe himself says above "I did not know that the median was going to be left empty and we were going to take 2 car lanes instead (not alternative 2.)" Wasn't alternative 2 in the plan to take 2 lanes of traffic? From the CFA minutes linked above, Jim Sebastian (whom you have great respect for) told on March 18th, 6 weeks prior to the installation at the end of April that DDOT was taking 2 lanes.

I would love to see this alternative plan which "looked completely different than what I had last seen." I have never seen this put forth from DDOT, GGW, or Washcycle. For someone putting forth as his legacy transparency and dialogue with the community, seeing this would certainly help clarify if:
1) Gabe Klein is lying or 2) Gabe's staff lied to him

It is also pretty lame for someone claiming they "Get Sh*t Done" to not have put the barriers out from day one. Clearly he could have done that - CFA is advisory in nature and DDOT could have put the barriers up as evidenced by the fact these barriers are on the road today. Lots of bicyclists have been injured by the U-Turning taxis for over 5 years now.

There are also many reports on this blog and others of crashes and near misses between pedestrians and bicyclists with this new "better" design. Further this so called "botched" design where motorist drove down it, could have been solved in a similar fashion as on L Street and M Street - or are are those "botched designs" too?

Like DaveS and others here, I am skeptical this is a truthful telling of the story. Show us this mythical alternative plan Gabe. Your credibility is on the line.

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