Sharing Is Hard: Church Trumps Cyclists On D.C. Bike Path

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A controversy over the design of a protected cycle track in the heart of Washington, D.C. is forcing District transportation planners to balance competing interests in the use of public streets.

To cycling advocates and bike commuters, the move to turn a protected cycle track into a regular bike lane for less than one block is a blow to public safety.

The case illustrates the perennial balancing act of allocating the share resource of street and sidewalk space among various modes of transportation. 

Here's a short case study. 

Mayor Vincent Gray's administration, the District Department of Transportation, and a historic African-American church, say changes to the proposed design of the M Street cycle track represent a win-win compromise.

As WAMU 88.5fm first reported, DDOT responded to concerns of the Metropolitan A.M.E. church, a 175-year-old congregation located on M St. between 15th and 16th Streets, by changing a small segment of the planned 1.4 mile cycle track between Thomas Circle and 28th Street NW. The church complained the original design for a cycle track separated from traffic with bollards would eliminate much-needed parking as well as a travel lane for vehicles attempting to get to the church for any of its well-attended events. The new design restores the parking spaces and travel lane by removing protective bollards from the cycle track, turning it into a regular bike lane adjacent to traffic.

On Monday the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) issued a call to its members to contact the Gray administration and ask the mayor to call all the interested parties to the table to come up with a new compromise.

“We are asking Mayor Gray to step in and facilitate a dialogue between all the communities involved. We don’t feel like we were heard in the discussions and we want to make sure what is put in is safe for all road users including cyclists,” said Greg Billing, WABA’s advocacy coordinator.

The Gray administration, however, is not inclined to pressure DDOT to change the cycle track design again. While expressing a willingness to talk to bicycling advocates about their concerns, Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said DDOT’s new design represents the right compromise.

“We think that it is a balanced approach to addressing the needs of both the bicycling community and of a historic and historically significant D.C. church. You have to understand this church is over 150 years old,” Ribeiro said.

President Barack Obama has twice attended services at Metropolitan A.M.E. church. President Clinton made appearances, too, and the church often hosts large funerals and other events for its congregants. In an interview with WAMU, the pastor Rev. Ronald Braxton said the original DDOT design would have been disruptive to the church’s functions.

“The church didn’t want the bike lane, period. The bicycling community wanted it and it didn’t seem to matter to them that it would eliminate a travel lane,” said Rev. Braxton. “There is a major demand for traffic flow to go from one end to the next," he added. "I think some have reduced the whole issue to parking and the issue is larger than parking.”

Met. A.M.E. spends about $25,000 per year so its congregants can use nearby parking garages, Rev. Braxton said.

When asked if he would be willing to sit and talk with DDOT again, he responded, “I think we’ve done that.”

WABA’s Billing declined to offer possible design changes that would satisfy bicyclists, but said DDOT could consider installing a fully protected cycle track while allowing the church to apply for permits when it needs extensive street parking.

“Just the same way that marathons shut down streets to allow runners to use them, any entity could apply for a permit for more parking whenever they need it,” he suggested.

The M St. cycle track is scheduled for installation this October, three months behind schedule.

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