Housing Complex

Zoning Commission Chairman: No One Bikes to the Grocery Store

The Babe's Billiards saga continued last night with a hearing before the Zoning Commission, which adjourned after several hours and will continue Monday. As usual, there was a contingent of neighbors opposed to the parking-free Tenleytown development, and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission reiterated its support for the plan. With ANC backing, odds of approval for the project are high, given recent commission decisions on requests for exemptions from the minimum parking requirements.

But there was one line that made advocates of the carless development nervous, and it came from Zoning Commission Chairman Anthony Hood. Responding to the notion that people in the transit-friendly area could get around by means other than a car, Hood said that no one rides a bike to the grocery store.

"I'm also concerned about what we're creating up here," Hood said. "Case in point: bicycles. I don't make fun of bicycle racks. But you know, I say this all the time: Some of us who are riding bikes now will not be riding bikes later. And then also, we need to make sure we balance the development we do in this city for all, 'cause I havent seen too many people go to the grocery store and come back with their groceries on a bicycle."

That led a few audience members to interject that yes, in fact, they did grocery shop by bike, including Commissioner Peter May, who said, "I'll call you out. You can watch." It also led Cheryl Cort, director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, to tweet:

#babes DC Zoning hrg: Chair Hood said that no one grocery shops by bicycle. Testified under oath that I do! Who else does?

Dozens of people replied that they do. I do, too. And I know I'm far from the only one; every time I visit the Columbia Heights Giant—or really just about any other supermarket in town—the bike racks outside are full or nearly full.

"He was expressing skepticism that people can really rely on bicycling or walking or alternatives to driving a car to go grocery shopping," says someone who was present at last night's meeting but asked not to be named. "He said, 'Well I’m concerned about the future. Is this going to meet the future needs for people living in our city?' And all of us sitting there thought, 'Well he’s the one who’s backward-looking.'"

It's worth noting that the proposed development does not include a grocery store, though there's a Whole Foods and a Safeway located nearby.

Update: Hood replies by email:

I guess from the testimony all was not true. I just said that I don't see many people with a lot of bags shopping by bike. The transcript is better to get from the hearing to get my actual comments. I would suggest you contact OZ for any and all additional information about pending cases. I can always talk after the order is written. Thanks for understanding.

Update November 4: Video of the hearing has been posted online; using this video, I updated this post with quotes from the hearing.

I'm told the transcript will be available in about ten days.

Rendering courtesy of The Bond at Tenley

  • johnny

    No one bikes to the grocery store. Automobiles are more important for urban development. And you drive to the grocery store. It's common sense.

  • Brian

    Also, that location is literally two blocks from a Safeway about three from a Whole Foods, but who could imagine walking that distance?!

  • Mario

    maybe in paduchaville they need a car to shop, but I haven't used one to grab groceries in over 15 years.
    hey johnny, as this city and others get increasingly crowded and our traffic resembles that of Jakarta you'll be stuck eating your doritos in traffic while I'll enjoy mine on the couch at home. but, really, keep holding on to the notion that the car is king.

  • DC Guy

    It is actually across the street, so a half block down and across, very close.

    The fact is, the people up in arms over the parking minimums and this development (by proxy as evidenced by the neighborhood association testimony) are mostly concerned about vehicular traffic. The admitted on cross, that having a development with no parking will generate less traffic than one with the zoning mandated 86 spots.

    However, forward-looking proponents see a future that is more akin to the past in that people want fresh foods and are willing to pick them up every day, or every other day, rather than the once a week uber shop that Anthony Hood seems to live by. That is great for him, but other people want to live a more urban and walkable lifestyle. There is no reason the District cannot accommodate both.

  • DB

    i normally bike with groceries. I walk with light groceries. I used to use a cart, but they're slower than bike.

  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    Funny, I always have trouble finding bike parking spaces whenever I bike to the grocery store.

  • Ann

    I've used a car to get groceries once in my three years in DC. And that's because I had extra time left on a Zipcar reservation.

  • Barney Rubble

    Mr. Hood's protestations about his actual quote don't amount to much. Whether he believes it is impossible to bike to the store or whether he live in a place where he does not see this happening are really the same thing. It shows he's not really paying attention. Perhaps this is the kick in the pants he needs to actually start listening to the new voices out there rather than the same tired group like that opposed to Babes.

    I could swear I saw a Studebaker in their photo of all the cars parked in a neighborhood 1 mile away from this site, as a predictor of how traffic would increase here. Same old tired and recycled presentation they used to oppose the Ackridge PUD at Friendship and the AU law school, both of which they lost.

  • Kevin

    The "Zoning Commission Chairman" said that? I bike to the grocery store a couple times a week. That bozo should check out the packed bike racks outside the Whole Foods on P Street every evening. It's really worrisome that the person charged with overseeing zoning in our city could be so clueless as to not realize how much urban living is changing.

    I suggest we change the Zoning Commission chairman.

  • Robert

    Growing up in NYC, most folks used a shopping basket on wheels to go the few blocks from store to home. They even have modern light weight two wheel models that fold up to the size of an umbrella and hold shopping bags. If you live two blocks from two supermarkets, why would you drive? Same re two blocks from the metro and a bus stop on the corner?

  • kob

    The Columbia Road Safeway stopped selling frozen squash. They replaced it pre-buttered vegetables. Safeway also stopped selling Lipton noodle soup w/white meat. I know this might sound trivial, but if your diet is restricted things like this matter. They replaced row set aside for the soup with high-priced Udon noodle soup.

    This has nothing to do with the bike issue, but frozen squash is as good as reason as any other to ride a bike to a grocery store.

  • Kyle

    I bike to most places, including getting groceries. Light exercise and I am forced to buy less junk food as I can only carry so much.

  • Vicky

    When and where will the hearing be continued on Monday?

  • YenMooo

    Sounds like ap retty crazy idea to me dude.


  • Fearing Dystopia

    According to Census data, 44 percent of households in DC consist of only one person. A week's groceries can be transported by bike easily via panniers, backpack, a funky milk carton, or some combination thereof. Anyone who has tried this will find that -- except when it's so hot one's fudgesicles melt in five minutes -- it is orders of magnitude easier to do one's shopping with a bike vs a car.

    I hope Mr. Hood will reconnoiter his local Safeway, Harris Teeter, Giant, or Murray's to see how many people transport their shopping by bike. Indeed, the presence of bikes with child seats or child trailers indicates that bicycle is also the preferred food shopping vehicle for larger households.

    If Douglas Development is willing to take what other developers would see as the financial risk of marketing a residential building with nice amenities to tenants who prefer not to own cars, why would the Zoning Commission object? Such a building points the way to one strategy toward a more livable, walkable, enjoyable city.

  • seeseehpounder

    I agree with Kob. Frozen squash is essential to the neighborhood and this building should be put on hold until Safeway begins selling it again. Not selling Lipton noodle soup w/white meat is a no brainer though. That shit sucks. Get some cup o' noodles dummy. They are very bike friendly.

  • Alycia

    Before we completely crucify him, Anthony Hood might live in a neighborhood where the grocery store isn't just two blocks away. For example, growing up in North Michigan Park, we'd always drive to Maryland to get groceries. The neighborhood hasn't changed much in the last 20 years, so I'm guessing in that particular neighborhood, not that many people bike to the grocery store.

    Unfortunately, what Mr. Hood failed to realize is that what he may see in his own neighborhood doesn't apply to Tenleytown.

  • Talc

    I agree with most everyone here: it is a fact - bicycles are used to get groceries.

    However, I also sympathize with the notion that no one's looking out for those older than 65 who aren't online 24/7.

  • elizqueenmama

    to add to the chorus, and double down i suppose, i live approximately 7 blocks from the NoMa Harris Teeter, and i regularly ride my bike or walk....to shop for a family of five.

  • joan

    The only reason I don't bike to the grocery store, os because I walk. I used to bike a couple of miles to one; but, now I live less than half a mile away, so it's easier to walk.

  • http://www.pedestrians.org John Z Wetmore

    I frequently see a bike parked at my local Giant in Bethesda. I don't bike because I am usually walking back from the Metro when I pick up my groceries. My parents didn't have a car when they first got married, but they managed to get groceries for four children. They used a grocery cart.

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  • andy2

    I wonder if having no parking in the building will affect the appreciation of property values of units in the building - thereby making it more affordable.
    If it proves to be the case - that may be a good strategy to ensure more affordable housing in the future.

  • Fabrisse

    I do my Whole Foods and Trader Joe's runs by bus (about once a quarter for stock up) with a cart. I do my weekly grocery on foot. I don't understand why everyone assumes cars are necessary. They're nice, and I do a couple of zipcar grocery runs when I need to, but they aren't essential.

  • skeptic

    I mostly bike to the grocery store (occasionally walk) and, frankly, it's easy.

    In one word: panniers.

    Add to that a decent-sized backpack and, for a large load, perhaps a couple bags on the handlebars (good for light objects like a bag of spinach) and you're good to go.

    Maybe it wouldn't work for people who live far from a store or who regularly buy big bags of dog food or cases of soda or bottled water, but works great for me and lots of people I know. I currently live about half a mile away but I used to live a mile away and still biked it.

  • Jonathan Krall

    I shop by bicycle year round (tip: in the summer, pack all the cold stuff together in one bag to keep the ice cream from melting). When the store is less than two miles away, it's probably quicker than messing about with a car and parking hassles.

    I agree with others that Hood needs to either educate himself on the realities of DC or get another job. It's his job to keep current.

    Finally, my understanding is that adding parking to a development takes space in the development away from offices or condos. The result is that prices/rents/leases all need to be more expensive to make up for having to build that parking.

  • Tobias

    I guess the zoning commission chairman thinks New Yorkers, Parisians, Londoners, Romans etc. are all starving in their cities where the majority of residents don't have a car.
    There are plenty of senior citizens/people over 65 living in those big cities. They don't starve either. They benefit from living near shopping/activities and not needing motorized transportation at all. I saw a woman in Southern Italy who must have been 80 (maybe 85-90) riding her bike to the market. Maybe we would be healthier if we got out of our cars? The senior citizen issue is bogus.

  • Time to speak for DC

    Lets be real, Mr. Hood is a long time Washingtonian and not a trendy new comer of the last 10 or so years. In the majority of the Minority Communities of Wards 4,5,7 & 8 (and in large sections of Ward 6 prior to the Jenkins Row HT) folks don't bike to the Grocery Store. They drive or Metro. They live in neighborhoods and communities without the stores which are usually several blocks away. In addition in many of these areas folks don't have time to visit the store several times a week and usually have their children with them. Or they are like many of my neighbors who are seasoned citizens and don't bike at all.

    This so called push to change our city is more so to push out the natives and long term residents to make this a trendy city in which yuppy folks come to live for a few years before they more out to Montgomery County or Northern Virginia to raise their kids. However most of our folks don't live in communities like those in Upper NW. Much like most of the kids in our city and the majority of long term residents in our city don't live their either.

    The majority of the folks upset about this are the renters and yuppy folks who will be gone in 10 years anyway while our long term residents will be left behind. Its a damn shame.

    Good Job Anthony Hood. As a former Civic Association President and representative of your neighbors in Ward 5 you know what your neighbors are constantly saying and complaining about. Keep up the good work for the entire community not just the privy Whole Foods, Trader Joe shoppers who can afford to be that way.

  • http://carfree-char.blogspot.com/ Charmaine Ruppolt

    I'm car-free and the one question people first ask me is, "How do you get your groceries?" It's not a problem at all - between having panniers or using a bike trailer (most of the time just panniers are sufficient). If people would give it a try - they would see how easy it is. :)

  • KillMoto

    I bring my bike right into the store to shop. Saves time (versus locking/unlocking). Ensured I don't buy more than my racks can handle. Bike is narrower than a shopping cart, making me more nimble in the store.

    Now I'll add one more reeason to continue bringing the bike in. "So others see what's possible..."

  • Liz Guertin

    Stupid! We don't own a car, so we get some things delivered. We also shop by bike, Metro, bus, walking all the time. Is the man blind?

  • drumz

    Time to speak,

    Are you suggesting that Kids are more likely to drive to the store in DC than ride a bike?

    non facetiously:
    This isn't about preventing from driving to any grocery store. This is about refuting the claim that people only primarily drive to the grocery store and if its reasonable to expect people to walk or bike or bus/metro. It clearly is. No matter who lives in the city.

  • Jonathan Krall

    Another fallacy that seems to have come up in this discussion is the idea that senior citizens can't ride bicycles. My experience is quite the opposite. I'm over 50 and plan to ride my bicycle until I can't balance anymore, at which time I'll get a modern tricycle and ride that.

    Further, many of my bicycling and bicycle-advocacy friends are much older than me--we are not a bunch of yuppies as "Time to speak" implies. Exercise is the key to a healthy old age.

  • Mike

    @Andy2: The rent for a subsidized studio apartment will be over $1,500 a month. Presumably the market rate units would have higher rents.

  • DC

    It would be one thing if Commissioner Hood stated that he couldn't imagine himself biking to the grocery store. That's a personal preference. However, his statement 'cause I havent seen too many people go to the grocery store and come back with their groceries on a bicycle.", just shows a lack of understanding that there are a lot of different people in this City using a lot of different means of transportation. And yes, this includes going to from the grocery store.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    @Time to speak for DC -- just because Mr. Hood lives in a very car-centric, less dense part of the city, doesn't mean that he should be working to imprint his preferences or experiences on the entire city. Note that I think that gneerally Mr. Hood is quite fair in his actions on the ZC. But there is no question that he represents an old paradigm for getting around.

    You can take that as an "old DC" thing or gentrification or whitey wanting to execute the plan, but it's more accurate to consider it part of the suburban paradigm of mobility and land use, which is how, generally, his part of Ward 5 was developed. Most people don't realize that they've been imprinted thusly and fail to understand that for the most part, this development paradigm is inappropriate for center cities more generally.

    note that his preference to retain parking at RI Metro was related to this general point about clashing paradigms.

    FWIW, I live in Manor Park (near takoma) and did a civic volunteer thing at Ft. Lincoln, which is on the edge of the city, and on my way back, shopped at the Shoppers Food Warehouse in Bladensburg, and rode back to my house. More than 5 miles. No big deal. I planned for it (we like their version of limeade, and until recently, it's the only area supermarket chain that carries La Yogurt brand yogurt--now Giant does, but not with as wideranging a selection).

    Mobility and this case shopping at the store is a matter of will and way (cf. Fearing Dystopia's comments), not some preordained, structural way of action that is unchangeable.

    But yes, the 44% + the 2 person households can easily grocery shop by bike (with the occasional assistance of Metro), without any special accommodations other than good bags and a backpack. (Although I will admit, bringing a 25 lb. bag of jasmine rice back from Union Market has issues on occasion.)

    The point is to plan and zone differentially, and not to expect every part of the city to be one way or the other. (Cf. the New Urbanism transect and plan and zone accordingly.)

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  • Lee

    My 3yo son ride with me on my bike to the grocery store on a regular basis, and we love it. I have a car, but the bike is far less hassle for short distances. I can carry 4 large canvas bags, fully loaded, plus the 3 year old, 3 miles radius. That is more than enough for a small family. There are always lots of bikes at the grocery store - clearly we are not the only ones doing this. I suggest Hood actually go look at the bike racks in front of a grocery store in DC sometime. They are nearly always full. If anything, they need to improve investment in bike parking facilities.

  • Darlene

    I live in Baltimore and shop at a Whole Foods in my neighborhood. There are 6 bike racks (12 parking spaces) outside and at evening rush hour they are always filled and the additional racks across the street sometimes fill too. It's also served by two lines of the *free* Charm City Circulator and an MTA bus line. Meanwhile, those who drive to the store receive a free hour in the $9 an hour garage in an attached building. I might not have to spend my whole paycheck at Whole Foods if I weren't paying so much to subsidize other people's parking.

  • JHA

    That was not what the Chairman said. I was there. Bad reporting. All get the facts all!!!

  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    @"Time to speak": Zoning is not about how the city works today, but about development -- and how the city will work tomorrow.

    It should be clear to everyone, and you tacitly admit this (although you say that long-time residents are both being pushed out AND will be the ones around in 10 years), that tomorrow's city will not be the same as today's. It will change, and in very big ways: it will be a bigger, busier, greener, and less car-dependent city. Mayor Gray's own Sustainable DC vision has 250,000 more residents (almost the population of Howard County) and only 25% of trips made by car. Time to stop looking backwards and time to move Forward!