The Bad Precedent of Bike-Lane NIMBYism
The next big thing in D.C. bike lanes just got a little bit smaller. Amid opposition from a local church, which didn't want to lose its curbside parking spaces, the planned M Street cycletrack will lose a block of its protected bike lane, as first reported today by Martin Di Caro.
The plan had been for the cycletrack to be separated from auto traffic by bollards between 14th and 28th streets NW, as on the companion L Street cycletrack. (L Street runs eastbound, M Street westbound.) Now, District Department of Transportation spokesman Reggie Sanders says he believes the bike traffic will simply merge with car traffic for the block of M Street between 15th and 16th streets.
"We’re trying to achieve a win-win between the biking community and the people who attend the church there," says Sanders, referring to the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. "The church has been around of a long time. There are a lot of people who are elderly, who, you know, it helps them to park in front of the church."
"I think we’re talking about more than holding onto parking spaces," says Rev. Ronald Braxton of his church's opposition to the cycletrack. "We also talked about the flow of traffic, the speed of traffic. We talked about pedestrian safety, reducing the lanes of travel. We talked about the narrowness of the street itself."
The elimination of the protected bike lane on that block is problematic for two reasons. First, undermines the purpose of the cycletrack. DDOT has found in surveys that many people who don't bike avoid it because they don't feel safe. Protected bike lanes reduce the chance of a collision with a car—and, just as important, reduce the perception of danger. The more people bike, the more aware drivers will be, and the safer biking becomes for everyone. Lots of people use the L Street cycletrack to get to work downtown from Dupont or Adams Morgan or Woodley Park. But in the absence of the M Street cycletrack, they lack a protected bike lane to take them home. Cutting out a piece of the protected lane effectively eliminates it for people who don't feel safe biking on busy downtown roads without a physical separation from cars.
We're also only talking about a small number of curbside parking spaces across the street from the church. According to Braxton, the church already pays $60,000 a year to park in two nearby garages. Surely, the loss of a handful of street parking spaces wouldn't get in the way of Sunday mass—particularly when there's a parking garage right next door to the church.
But more than the practical drawbacks of the loss of the stretch of cycletrack, it sets a terrible precedent. If every business owner who fears an inconvenience to his customers, and every homeowner who worries her guests will have a hard time parking, gets to veto a stretch of cycletrack in favor of preserving curbside parking, the city won't get a very effective network of cycletracks. And with bike commuting on the rise, that means a more inconvenient and dangerous ride for hundreds or thousands of people.
"When slaves built our church, they were not thinking about bike lanes," said one churchgoer at a neighborhood meeting on the cycletrack, according to the WashCycle blog. Assuredly so. But neither were the shopowners who set up downtown in the past few decades, or companies that moved to downtown D.C., or the developers who erected the office buildings. That shouldn't mean that each of them gets to nix a stretch of bike lane that they perceive as inconvenient, at the expense of the city's transportation plans.
Clarification: Apparently my line about this being "a small number of curbside parking spaces across the street from the church" has confused some readers. Allow me to clarify: This is a small number of curbside parking spaces across the street from the church. Not on the same side.