From David McAuley. Email him at david[AT]borderstan.com.
Congregants of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church (1518 M Street NW) led the citizens who came out in force last night (Wednesday), May 15, to urge that development of the planned M Street bicycle lane be stopped. The meeting was held at the West End Library, 1101 24th Street, by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).
Church members were joined in their objections by local businessmen concerned that the bike lanes would reduce their business, and citizens who felt that the project was a waste of taxpayer money. Supporters of the bike lane, although present, seemed smaller in number and less vocal at the meeting.
The strong community feeling seemed to take Mike Goodno, Jim Sebastian, and Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s three presenters, by surprise. The audience sat quietly through most of the initial sideshow presentation, which described several studies about the traffic on the existing L Street bike lane and projected design of the M Street lane. Project Manager Goodno said that the installation of the bike segment would be installed over three weeks in August.
Eventually someone interrupted to ask: “Am I to understand that this is a done deal?”
Sam Zimbabwe answered, “In some ways yes, in some ways no.”
After that, the meeting was dedicated to defending the M Street bike lane from suggestions that it be scrapped altogether.
On Wednesday morning, Metropolitan AME Church issued a “call to action” on its Facebook page. It read, in part: “The city is proposing to install bike lanes on M Street from 14th Street to 28th Street. This action will affect parking for church services, especially funerals and Sunday angle parking. We (as a church body) need to submit testimony during the public response period.”
As a result, at least 20 of the 80 people attending the meeting seemed to be members or supporters of the Metropolitan AME Church. They said that the church had not been contacted. DDOT said that they had contacted someone at the church that morning. A claim that DDOT representatives had been to the church years previously to solicit comment were met with incredulity.
One person asked, “Is it open for discussion that you will avoid the 1500 block [of M Street]?” DDOT indicated that it would be difficult or impossible to divert the bike lane around one particular block.
A local businessman also spoke against the bike lanes.
“If you’re talking about eliminating [traffic] lanes, you’re going to have gridlock,” he said. “Every merchant on the block is very concerned. I respectfully think this will be a disaster.”
Another attendee told the businessman he was mistaken.
“Bike trails will increase your business,” he said.
One woman who identified herself as a bike rider and a DC resident said the community was frustrated but a compromise might be reached.
“I don’t know what the urgency is,” she said. “You have not done your due diligence.”
At times the conversation was less the civil. DDOT was always polite to audience members, but sometimes audience members were not polite to each other. On three separate occasions, Zimbabwe had to threaten to stop the meeting altogether.
After the meeting, one pro-bike audience member said that many pro-bike audience members had attended the meeting but had not contributed. She minimized the importance of the protest.
“There are always people like that at these meetings,” she said.