Navigating DC’s Bureaucratic Swamp

29 Apr

Two weeks ago I followed up my January 20 letter to Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s Associate Director of Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration.  I wrote a brief email reminding him of the letter and the requests to be addressed, most notably installing signage in the Central Business District noting that sidewalk bicycling is prohibited there.  At the conclusion I added a note of personal experience:

Since I wrote you the problem is only getting worse.  Just three weeks ago in the CBD, I was injured when I tripped trying to get out of the way of a speeding sidewalk biker.  Of course, he just kept going, endangering others on the crowded sidewalk.  People from the bus stop to which I was heading helped me up and as we waited in the safety of the bus shelter, others shared their stories.  One woman had been actually hit and injured by hit-and-run sidewalk bikers twice in recent months.  If you have never been hit by one of them, you don’t know that it can cause lasting injuries. A couple of years ago I was hit from behind and it took months of therapy to get my shoulder back in good working order.  And, should a person fall and hit his head on the sidewalk, it can cause death.  If there are no witnesses or the person just thinks he has a mild concussion and moves on after regaining consciousness, he can still die from that hit because of internal bleeding on the brain.

In concluding I asked only that he tell me what, if anything, DDOT is doing on this issue and, if he were not the appropriate person to contact, to refer me to the appropriate person.  Needless to say, I have yet to receive even an acknowledgment of the email.

So what good does it do to write to the Mayor (who IS responsive) if she must delegate to others to do the followup?  The same good it did to write to Chief Lanier about enforcement in the CBD, who responded by delegating to Sgt. Terry Thorne, who provided only a general link to the Street Smart program and said I could contact him with any questions.  It is now over two years since I asked the simple question of him–How do you judge the success of the Street Smart program?  I have yet to receive an answer.  In the meantime the self-same Sgt. Thorne told a Washington Post reporter she would have to do a FOIA request to get info on enforcement statistics.  Good luck with that.

So long as petty bureaucrats stonewall the public both through failure to answer FOIA requests and through failure even to respond to reasonable questions, nothing will improve.  These people are paid by our tax dollars.  They are public servants.  That means they are to serve us, not ignore us.  Frankly I feel sympathy for both Mayor Bowser and Chief Lanier that, with all the important issues they have to deal with and decisions they have to make, they cannot rely on some of their employees to do the right thing in responding to the public.

Well, down off the soapbox–I wish you a good and safe spring weekend and remember–STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!

 

 

Anniversary Waltz

18 Mar

March marks the third anniversary of this blog.  So I feel it is particularly important to post at least once this month.  Plus maybe I have a little blog envy after PoPville’s creator was featured in the Washington City Paper, and I discovered he makes money at it.  Who knew?

But, as you know this is not my full time job and it is a public service blog.  When I started it was a desperation move to get attention for the growing problem of sidewalk biking, and other bad behavior like running red lights by a growing number of DC bicyclists.  The blog got some initial publicity from an article in the Washington Post, which led to contact with the Logan Circle folk who were as frustrated as I was and used some of the info I collected to push for a resolution for DDOT to study extending the prohibition on sidewalk biking beyond the Central Business District and later to get a pilot sign project cautioning against sidewalk bicycling.  Every so often I see one of those signs still standing and think wistfully “If only…”

Sadly there’s been little new to report.  And, especially for you regular readers, I don’t want to bother you with the same old things.  But, to keep you up-to-date, there’s been no response yet from Mr. Zimbabwe of DDOT to my letter asking to signage in the CBD to help enforcement of the prohibition on sidewalk bicycling there.  And now that I temporarily have regular meetings in the CBD, I can tell you those signs need to be there.  Even when police see a sidewalk biker forcing pedestrians to yield on crowded K Street, they are unsure were the border is.  I know because I’ve talked to a couple of them recently, especially when I almost got slammed from behind by a sidewalk biker while walking to the Farragut North Metro.

And that brings me to….

BOSTON SIDEWALK BIKING LAWS

I’m taking a trip to Boston in June and since this will be my first trip there in a number of years, I thought it was a good time to check their laws.  To my surprise, I found that, unlike other cities, they had no separate code.  Boston relies on Massachusetts law, which says only that it is prohibited to ride bikes on the sidewalks in “business districts or where specifically prohibited.”  My Google search also brought up the confusion that bicyclists who want to do the right thing have as to what is a “business district” in Boston.  If you want to read that too, Google the question of what is a business district in Boston re: sidewalk bicycling and look for the Reddit Boston site.

I ended up calling Boston City Hall, where I spoke to the representative of Boston Bikes, Najah, who provided at least a reasonable explanation.  Turns out there are no official business districts in Boston.  And the reason:  unlike other cities (she cited NYC and Philly) Boston is intercut throughout by smaller cities, e.g. Cambridge, which look just like Boston in housing, business buildings and roads.  So people cannot easily tell when one jurisdiction begins and another ends.  But cyclists must be sure where they are because, unlike Boston, a lot of the smaller cities have very clear codes.  Cambridge, for instance, lists several business districts where the prohibition exists.  Harvard Yard is one(got to protect those future presidents and Supreme Court justices!)  The Cambridge code also makes specific that where bicyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk they can only ride “at walking speed.”  (Boy, would that cramp the style of DC’s rogue bikers!).

As a result a number of the Boston Reddit commenters essentially concluded cyclists should treat the entire city as a business district and stay off the sidewalks.  A great idea!

Finally, I promise that if anything noteworthy happens, I’ll certainly post it.  Here’s hoping Metro’s Wednesday shutdown didn’t inconvenience you too much and that you had a great St. Pat’s Day.  And this weekend is the first day of Spring—so happy spring.  But remember–with spring and the cherry blossoms come more sidewalk bikers and red-light runners. So, until next time–

STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!

 

 

 

One step forward, three steps back

9 Feb

Between end of year reports at my job, medical appointments I foolishly scheduled all in January when things should have been slow, and my Resident Snow Team service, things got a little out of hand.

But, as promised, I did write my followup letter to DDOT to see how they were responding to my request to Mayor Bowser for proper signage and enforcement of the law prohibiting sidewalk bicycling in the CBD and for a DDOT study to see if the prohibition should be extended to neighborhoods with significant pedestrian traffic.  I addressed my letter to Sam Zimbabwe, the DDOT associate director who seemed most appropriate to deal with this request.  No response yet but I was encouraged that, when he was interviewed this weekend at a hearing on protected bike lanes, he mentioned as one of  the reasons for the DDOT plan for such lanes in the Shaw neighborhood, getting bicyclists off the sidewalks there.  SO–at least he is thinking sidewalk bicycling is a problem.  [BUT the best solution is just to prohibit sidewalk biking, with rare designated exceptions, like other cities do rather than linking it to the need for protected bike lanes.  There is a need for both]

That little step forward was offset by other events:

1. Post snow return of rogue bikers.  After a blissful week during the snow storm when I and my little coal shovel cleared curb cuts and fire hydrants and helped neighbors clear parts of the sidewalk not cleared and walked to work without worry, seeing only a few hardy bicyclists in the street once it was fully cleared, on Sunday, January 30, I started out for my Sunday papers and provisions and was almost run down by a sidewalk biker racing from behind without warning.  Nine a.m. Sunday morning with virtually no street traffic.  That afternoon, coming back from a matinee at the Keegan Theatre, I noticed something on the clean sidewalk in front of my building that might have been a bottle that someone might trip over.  I was just about to move left to pick it up when another rogue sidewalk biker almost got me from behind and then almost got the couple walking in front of me. The fact there were many more pedestrians on the sidewalks than cars on the street meant nothing to this biker with an entitlement mentality.  After all if he rode in the street he might have to ride in the correct lane or stop for a red light!

2. No sidewalk biking task force in Dupont yet. Then I learned from my friend in the Dupont Citizens Association that the promised task force had been changed to a commitment to developing an overall transportation plan for the area.  So, knowing how even citizen bureaucracies work, I don’t expect anything productive on sidewalk biking for years, if then.  But I did ask to be kept informed so if I can make a difference, I will.

3.  16th Street bus lane.  Finally, it appears that our ANC is set to support DDOT’s 16th Street transit corridor plans.  Our Citizens Association appears to have some reservations on historic preservation and pedestrian safety.  And, the day before the big snow, I attended a public hearing on the issue and saw some real problems.  For one thing DDOT plans to eliminate some critical bus stops, including one in front of the DCJCC in my neighborhood.  But also plenty of people were there protesting an elimination in front of a school and one in front of a nursing home.  The DDOT rep explaining their rationale explained that the people will only have to walk an extra block.  Try that with a toddler in tow or if you are disabled or at night in the rain.  And the longer queues at the remaining stops will make things more difficult for all.  All to save six minutes in time.  Why not just get to the stop a few minutes earlier?

For more info, here’s the cite to the plan:

http://ddot.dc.gov/page/16th-street-nw-transit-priority-planning-study

and here’s the cite to a very good Washington Post article on the hearing:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/02/03/d-c-s-16th-street-on-track-to-get-a-bus-lane

and if you want to sign a petition against the elimination of stops:

http://tinyurl.com/ja57t96

Sorry this was so long.  But at least you know what I know.  And, as always, STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Potpourri

22 Dec

First, I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season.  This post contains a few bits of info and even a movie review that I didn’t have time for this year.

But, first, be sure to read the comment to my last post (Holidays are coming…) from one of this blog’s faithful readers who tells a story that’s all to familiar to DC pedestrians.  He’s walking with the pedestrian light in the crosswalk but has to do so really carefully because cyclists are running the red light.  Not just the first one, whom he yelled at to watch the light, but five or six behind that guy!

Interestingly, after I got that comment and approved it I heard about a bicyclist in DC near the MD border who ran a red light and got hit by a car.  A couple days later he died and the Post article confirmed that he had been running the red light.  A sad way to go when it can be so easily avoided by just following the law.

New MPD Enforcement Initiative

And speaking of the law, I saw a piece two weeks ago on NBC4 News that the police are going to start enforcing the law against bikers riding in the street, forcing them to obey the same laws as other traffic–no running red lights, talking on your cell phone while riding, etc.  And MPD should do this because cyclists in the street are traffic, whether they like it or not.  Only problem I see is it will force more onto the sidewalks, where traffic laws don’t apply, only a few ambiguous rules and, of course, common courtesy, which the rogue bikers ignore.

City Paper’s Best Place to get hit while riding a Bike

Every spring the City Paper comes out with their “best” awards.  And this one caught my attention because the winner was Connecticut Avenue NW, which runs through my neighborhood and where I used to do more shopping than I do now, in part because even on a lazy weekend you will find reckless cyclists riding on the narrow sidewalks hitting pedestrians who dare to stop to look at a shop window.  The author of the City Paper piece notes that riding from Chevy Chase Circle to Farragut Square is a problem–no bike lanes, potholes,  and MD drivers, etc.  His solution, of course, is to ride on the sidewalk any place outside of the CBD.  But he does add: Sidewalk riding is still a bad decision since even the sleepiest portions of Connecticut Avenue are filled with pedestrians, even more so around Dupont Circle and the National Zoo.  Oh, pedestrians, we’re such pests, walking on the only place we’re allowed to walk, filling up the space so the bikes can’t speed by easily.

Best Movie of the Year for Readers of this Blog

Finally, earlier this year I saw a Noah Bambach  film, “While We’re Young”.  Good movie about a 40ish couple who meet a young couple in their twenties who seem to have a lot of the same likes and dislikes, and introduce them to experiences that have them reliving their youth.  The whole film takes place in NYC so, when Ben Stiller, the 40ish guy, and Adam Driver, the millenial, are biking in Manhattan, amid much more serious auto traffic than MD drivers and world class potholes, they are biking in the street, of course, and I think not just because it’s against the law to bike on the sidewalks but because they’re real men, not these wimpy big kids we have here.  But, about 2/3 of the way through the film came a line I didn’t expect, but definitely made my day.  Ben and Adam are walking on the sidewalk in downtown Manhattan when a rogue biker speeds by them.  And it’s Adam, the young guy, who yells at him:  Ride in the street, Man!

With that, I say belated Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza and Happy New Year to all.  But, remember, STAY ALERT!  DON’T GET HURT!  Because I want you back here reading and commenting in 2016.

 

 

Holidays are coming–and so is snow

11 Nov

FIRST–HAPPY VETERANS’ DAY to all you vets out there. AND THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.

Now, my apologies again to my readers for posting so infrequently. I’ve had an unexpectedly busy year, not only with a lot of family and friends trips for weddings, births, big anniversaries, etc., but also more business trips than planned and a changing of the guard at the main non-profit I work with, which has caused a lot of extra work during the changeover. So that’s my excuse for not regularly posting–and I’m sticking to it!

But it’s also true that there hasn’t been much of import to report and, with the holidays almost upon us, there’s likely to be even less to report since governments at all levels tend to hit the snooze button during this season too. Still there are a couple of things important to pedestrians to note:

1. DC Snow Team: One good thing that will surely help us is that Mayor Bowser has established an enhanced Snow Plan. Since forecasts now say we could get 20-25 inches of snow over the winter, the new snow plan comes none too soon. And there’s an opportunity for us to help–While the Mayor’s office promises enhanced enforcement of the law that requires property owners(residential and commercial) to clear sidewalks surrounding their properties within 8 hours after a snowfall, the Mayor has also formed an action plan to help those who are seniors and residents with disabilities. Snow teams are being formed with those of us who can volunteer to help our neighbors.

If you would like for join, go to:

snowteam.dc.gov

Right now through December they’re offering free orientations in each Ward on the Do’s and Don’ts of Shoveling Snow.

NOTE: When I got notice of this program, I joined up, but told them I would not be at an orientation because, besides being busy then, as a former Northern Ohioan, I know how to shovel snow and know to shovel it early before it ices over. They agreed. But I also mentioned that they should add to their list the shoveling of curb cuts so people can get across the street.

If you can, I urge you to join the Snow Team formally, or just help a neighbor on your own. And adopt a curb cut or two as well. I’ll be out at Q and 16th again this year with my little shovel. I met so many nice grateful people and a couple of helpers last year.

2. My 2015 Resolutions: Because the holiday season is almost upon us, I am holding off my followup to the new DDOT Administrator on what action they might be taking in response to Mayor Bowser’s promise to me after my letter that things would improve for pedestrians in the CBD at least. But I’ll be writing the letter and have it ready to send out first thing in January.

I will also check with Dupont Circle Citizens Association on the creation of that task force their President mentioned to me to deal with controlling sidewalk biking in the neighborhood.

That’s all I have time for now. I’ll try to get in another post in the next month since I do have some diary tidbits you might enjoy.

Meanwhile, have a good start to the holiday season, and remember STAY ALERT! DON”T GET HURT!

Linking In

9 Oct

In my recent reading I came across these two interesting indications of attitudes of cyclists here in the DC Metro area, which, of course, differ from those in the Real World:

The first, a Dr. Gridlock piece about police in Alexandria stepping up enforcement of traffic laws for bicyclists. Note the whiny attitude of the cyclist as to the size of the fine. Thankfully, like most of the rest of the the world, Alexandria does not allow biking on the sidewalk.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dr-gridlock/wp/2015/09/21/no-more-whizzing-through-stop-signs-for-bicyclists-in-alexandria-police-step-up-enforcement

And speaking of not biking on the sidewalk, what happens if DC joggers use a bike lane instead of the sidewalk for their exercise? Well, that is against the law, of course. Joggers are just faster moving pedestrians and have to suffer the same indignities as walkers, risking being cut down by bikers on the sidewalk.
Anyway here’s the link to an article about that issue:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/9/30/should-people-jog-in-d-c-s-bike-lanes

And here’s the opening of my response:

The short answer to your survey question is: No, joggers shouldn’t jog in bike lanes. But I understand why they might want to–to avoid bicyclists using the sidewalks as their personal “alternate” lane without any regard for the people for whom sideWALKS were intended.

I agree with the lady from Philadelphia Magazine. But then she lives in the real world where bicyclists are never allowed to ride on the sidewalks except in rare well-marked sections of particular sidewalks. Here in DC, alone among major cities, it’s just the opposite. [ I go on to briefly describe the dangers and plead for the Post to make this a consistent campaign instead of just an occasional afterthought.]

And, finally, a citizen action link for those of you living or commuting along 16th street. Whether you are a bus rider, auto driver or cyclists, let your voice be heard. There are still DDOT hearings next week on the issue of a dedicated bike lane there.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dr-gridlock/wp/2015/10/01/dedicated-bus-lane-a-possibility-for-16th-stree-corridor-study-says

Well, that’s all for now. Happy Columbus Day Weekend and remember to STAY ALERT. DON’T GET HURT!

Back to Normal, Sadly

2 Oct

Last week was, as you know, the week Pope Francis visited DC. At mid-week also occurred Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when persons of Jewish faith contemplate their sins of the past year, ask God’s forgiveness, and vow to do better in the coming year.  Between these two major religious events, it seemed to me that virtually everyone in town was on their best behavior.  On the days I went to work, which luckily is in my own neighborhood(so no traffic issues for me), I noticed fewer cyclists and even those were stopping at red lights and generally not riding on the sidewalk.  It was truly a blessed week.

But, of course, nothing that good can last for long.  Tuesday morning, my first day at work this week, I met up with an aggressive sidewalk biker just before the corner of 17th and Q.  Perhaps lulled by last week’s peaceful days, while I remembered to look both ways and behind me when I stopped at the kiosks to get the Express and the Examiner, I started to step back into the main sidewalk toward the corner without thinking and then I saw him.  A scruffy looking biker racing up the handicapped cut at the corner, through people waiting and then right past me on the slim sidewalk outside the outdoor part of the coffee shop there.

I did not shout, but when I’m suddenly surprised like that, I do say something, almost involuntarily.  And I said “stupid jackass sidewalk biker”.  But I only said it in a normal, non-shouting voice. Ah, But this guy heard it.  And what’s more, my guess is that he’s been called out before, because, as I proceeded to the corner, he yelled after me, “Ma-am, Ma-am” until I turned around.  Then he said,”  I don’t like being called a jackass.  It’s legal for me to ride on the sidewalk outside the Central Business District.”  I said “There’s a bike lane going your direction on Q, why not use that?.”  His answer really got me–“Did I impede you in any way?”  “Impede”  Who uses that in this kind of confrontation except a lawyer?  Anyway I decided it was worthless and had to get to work, so I didn’t answer and started to proceed to the corner to cross.  He called after me–“Answer the question!”  Ah, yes, a lawyer, for sure.  But a bad one.  There are lots of good lawyers in town and they don’t go out of their way to pick fights.  But now this bozo had an audience of the people sitting in the outside portion of the coffee house, some of whom might be my neighbors,so I figured I had to say something.  I answered by saying “If I had taken one more step forward you were riding too fast to have avoided hitting me.”  He yelled something back that I didn’t understand but I was sure it wasn’t nice.  So I did finally yell, “Listen, I’ve been hit by one of you jackals before, you don’t belong on the sidewalk.  Be man enough to ride in the street.”  The light changed and I started across, my peace of mind ruined, when I heard him yelling some more unintelligible garbage and finally, the last refuge of the scoundrel, a really surly “Have a nice day.”  You ever notice how many people say that in anger?

Well this post has gone on a little longer than I’d intended.  And I do have some links to give you.  But let’s leave that for next time, which I promise will be next week, come hell or high water(the latter a distinct possibility this weekend).  Meanwhile, especially since the weather will be wet this weekend, watch out when you’re stepping around puddles.  There may be a sidewalk biker racing behind you with his umbrella in one hand (honest, I saw, not one but two of these yo-yo’s yesterday.  So, STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!