The protected bike lane would run west along M Street and across the street from the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, which appears to the right of this image.
To the Gray administration, the District Department of Transportation and a historic African-American church, changes to the proposed design of the M Street cycle track represent a win-win compromise. 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.
As WAMU 88.5 first reported last week, 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 that 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.
WABA calls for compromise
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.
“I think the church has the same interest that WABA in making sure that people are safe when biking down this corridor near their church. They have their needs, but I think there is a public safety need they have no really acknowledged at this point,” said Martin Moulton, WABA’s board vice chairman.
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.
Church says issue is more than parking
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 88.5, the pastor Rev. Ronald Braxton said the original DDOT design would have been disruptive to the church’s functions.
“The original proposal was to put a bike lane across the street from the church and there would be no parking and would eliminate a travel lane,” said Rev. Braxton. “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.”
“There is a major demand for traffic flow to go from one end to the next. There is a major demand for parking. I think some have reduced the whole issue to parking and the issue is larger than parking,” he added.
Met. A.M.E. spends about $25,000 per year so its congregants can use nearby parking garages, Rev. Braxton said. “The issue is larger than parking.”
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.
“The street is public right-of-way and any party in the city has access to use public right-of-way through a process of permitting,” Billing said. “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.”
The M St. cycle track, the westbound companion to the eastbound L St. cycle track located one block south, is scheduled for installation this October, three months behind schedule.