Mayor Gray, We Need to Talk About M Street

DDOT plans to break up the 1.3 mile cycle track on M St NW for just one block. Ask Mayor Gray’s support in brokering a better resolution.

As has been reported in the past week, designs for the M Street cycletrack have been severely compromised by the District Department of Transportation. Now, fewer riders will use the cycletrack, and those that do will be less safe.

DDOT’s latest plans remove bollards from the 1500 block of M Street, turning the protected, separated cycletrack into an unprotected bike lane. This means that DDOT is ignoring the ever-growing evidence that separated cycletracks—lanes that keep cyclists apart from motor traffic and protect the space with bollards or other physical barriers—are safer for cyclists than unprotected lanes. Cycletracks encourage more people to ride bikes and are widely supported by cyclists, motorists, and nearby residents.

From a transportation standpoint, this decision is wrong: Data—and common sense—indicates that removing the bollards will make cyclists less safe and decrease ridership. From a planning standpoint, it’s wrong, too: It undercuts the entire purpose of the M Street cycletrack, which is to provide a safe crosstown connection and encourage bicycle ridership. Additionally, the M Street cycletrack will help achieve Mayor Vince Gray’s Sustainable DC goals. By changing the design of the cycletrack, DDOT has intentionally compromised the safety of cyclists with no reasonable justification.

DDOT has also reversed previous public statements made to us and to the community, without the opportunity for further input. Since 2005, WABA has attended numerous public meetings about the M Street cycletrack, from those about its planning stages to those about its actual design. At no point—until now—has DDOT proposed compromising the safety of bicyclists by removing bollards.

For the city’s transportation agency to make such an egregious change is irresponsible. The design of the M Street cycletrack is unacceptable.

WABA has always acknowledged that in a diverse and vibrant city, public space has a greater purpose than simply moving vehicles, even if many of those vehicles are bicycles. We know that the needs of all affected groups must be considered and taken into account.

We respects the diverse interests of our partners in Washington, D.C. We’re all in the business of public space together, and we hope that the city will work to create a downtown that serves the gamut of needs of residents and visitors alike. Such work requires participation, dialogue, and intelligent compromise in a fair and open process.

Unfortunately, those elements have gone missing as the M Street cycletrack has evolved. The result is a poor solution that compromises the intent of the project’s goals, the past promises and visions of the mayor and DDOT, and faith in the public process that determines so much of how our city works. Even worse, DDOT’s sudden reversal has incited a public discourse that has lost the constructive tone of mutual respect and the goal of meeting the needs of all parties concerned with the cycletrack.

But there is still an opportunity to make the M Street cycletrack work. There are plenty of alternative streetscape designs that are better than a cycletrack with a bollard-less block and that will meet the expectations of nearby property owners. But for a better design to be implemented, public participation, reasonable dialogue, and intelligent compromise are absolutely critical.

In that spirit, we ask Mayor Gray to bring together representatives of the bicycling community and the Metropolitan AME Church for a discussion of our needs. We want an honest joint effort to resolve the issues surrounding the M Street cycletrack in a way that builds, not undermines, respect. We believe that this will result in a plan for M Street that creates a public space that everyone can safely use.

Please click here to send a note to Mayor Gray asking for his support in brokering a better resolution.