I Could Have Parked A Thousand More If They Only Knew They Were Cars

The M Street bike lane is falling apart. I realize that a lot of people think people on non-motorized transportation are an irrelevant minority anyway – but much like Hasidim in Brooklyn obliterating bicycle approaches to the Williamsburg Bridge, suburban Maryland churchgoers who happen to worship in the middle of Farragut have created the amazing precedent of being able to eradicate a bike lane from their block, despite being fewer in number than the estimated bicyclists that would use that lane as a vital westbound route thru downtown Washington over the course of the week. In addition to religious tension, the ethnic tension is palpable.

The root of Washington’s traditional power base is the black church, even after many affluent worshippers decamped to Prince George’s. The spatial dynamics of this influence on any given Sunday are apparent, when so many thoroughfares become narrow seas of wide parking at 45-degree angles, thronged with Maryland plates. Normally, traffic on Sundays are low enough that this doesn’t necessarily conflict with other planning outcomes designed to improve throughput. But the District is interested in improving non-motorized access to downtown with a westbound bike lane to complement the existing eastbound L Street bike lane, which would run in front of the Metropolitan AME Church between 15th and 16th.

Officially, this is a conflict about disabled access and funeral processions – the latter of which, certainly, would permit the temporary barriers separating the bike lane from traffic to be removed. Also, officially, there will be a bicycle facility of some sort on the street in that block, albeit integrated with traffic. However, Metropolitan AME is using “the narrowness of the street” (M Street being already one of the widest non-avenue thoroughfares downtown) to insist DDOT eliminate this as well. The language is largely really about a conflict between bicycles and parking.

Having already pressured DDOT to provide ample parking (despite two or three adjacent parking garages) on a four-lane street they nonetheless insist on describing as “narrow”, now comes hyperbole to suggest that providing any kind of facilities for bicycle riders at their expense is not only somehow racist (with the reference to “the slaves who built our church” who “didn’t have bicycles in mind”, but apparently spent as much time intimating the preposterous idea of horseless carriages as they did, say, their own oppression and salvation) but is also “hostile to churches” and “older people”, privileging hobbyists who can “just take Rock Creek” – as if every bike rider were white, young, secular, affluent, able-bodied and had no need to be on a bicycle other than for their own recreation, or as if numerous black-owned establishments were not tolerating the presence of this lane – presumptions that might be considered racist even by the narrowest definitions given the power dynamics that are enabling this NIMBY-FUD.

All this while most bicyclists in the District live in the District and pay more taxes to the District than the Seat Pleasant and Oxon Hill church ladies who feel literally entitled to drive into the city, take up valuable parking space, do nothing for hours and subsequently decamp for a cheap suburban restaurant where they’re outraged at the notion of having to leave a livable tip. If you can say “I don’t think slaves had bicycles in mind when they built this church” as a rationale to shut down a bike lane in favor of shit-tonnes of barely-legal parking, you can also say “I don’t think classy ladies had bicycles in mind when they decided to bare it all” and it would follow just as logically.

Which is not at all, really, but hey, precedent!

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~ by J.D. Hammond on August 23, 2013.

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