Tag Archives: bureaucracy

Danger in the Crosswalk

6 Sep

Hope you all had a Happy Labor Day weekend.  I did. the weather was good for outdoor fun.  And yesterday was amazing in that unlike other holidays bicyclists in my Dupont Circle area took advantage of the empty streets to actually ride there instead of piling on to the sidewalks.  And I even a bicyclist walking his bike on the sidewalk!

But not all is well.  First thing Monday morning I turned on WTOP and heard a story that traffic light cameras had picked up in the last year 1,500 bicyclists running red lights.  Of course, as the announcer pointed out, since bikes are not required to have licenses, there’s no way to ticket them from this evidence.  The MPD spokesman said that police have to actually sight them in person to ticket.  A friend I met while walking told me that this story had been in the Washington Post as well.  I must have missed it.  But the number is staggering when you think about it.  And point up again why we pedestrians have to be constantly alert even when all cars are stopped behind the line and we are walking in the crosswalk with the pedestrian light.

Saturday I finally received a letter from DDOT purporting to answer my January letter to Sam Zimbabwe.  This after I finally had involved the Mayor’s office.  Unfortunately the letter was boilerplate about all the things I already knew–where it is legal to bide bikes on the sidewalk,the CBD boundaries, the Street Smart program, etc.  So I will have to follow up again.  Over a year now just to campaign for signage in the CBD and suggesting a study to expand the prohibited zone.

That’s all I know right now.  Enjoy the short work week.  And remember, even in the crosswalk. BE ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!

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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!

 

 

Notes from the Underground

15 Sep

I apologize to my readers for not posting regularly this summer.  I have been out of town at family events and business trips every couple of weeks this summer and, of course,  have to catch up on work when I return. And frankly, after the summer started off with a bang—Will Sommer’s ode to his reckless sidewalk biking (See earlier post Sidewalk Biking Scofflaw Whines and slurs others), there hasn’t been much to report on. Of course, there are still plenty of sidewalk bikers endangering innocent pedestrians and other bikers running red lights.  Sadly, there have also been many pedestrians, including some with small children, endangering their lives by crossing against lights or not using the pedestrian crosswalks.

But here’s an end of summer status report:

  • My new ANC commissioner has done nothing with the info I gave him in March and, like other bureaucrats in this town, has learned too early that, if you simply don’t reply to e-mails or letters from citizens who have concerns that are also yours, there’s little they can do.  As I’ve said before, “Bureaucracy is the enemy of democracy”  Ingo Schultze.
  • But your blogger doesn’t give up easily.  As I wrote earlier, Mayor Bowser did respond earlier in the summer to my request to at least consider putting signs in the CBD warning that sidewalk biking is not allowed there and to look at extending the prohibited zone to other now busy neighborhoods with substantial foot traffic.  She said she had informed the appropriate people and they would be dealing with it.  So, just last week, I followed up with another true public servant I know at DDOT.  He responded promply, no bureucrat he, but not encouragingly saying that signs in the CBD had been discussed “many times” but he knew of no immediate plans to install any.  He said, however, that someone else might  be working on this initiative.  Next stop for me:  A letter to the new DDOT Director.
  • There is also a new WABA Director, Greg Billing.  I don’t know him but will try to make his acquaintance.  He seems to have an interest in more protected bike lanes.  Interestingly, when the Will Sommer flap came up in June, I was about to write on that topic, having brought back from the Real World info from Detroit papers on what they are doing.
  • Speaking of bike lanes, DC seems to be falling behind in constructing new ones.  The goal was to add 7.5 miles by the end of this year, according to the Express, but only 2.27 miles have been constructed.  Of course DC currently has  over 69 miles of bike lanes.  That in a city that has only 61.4 miles of land surface.  And the rogue bikes still ride on sidewalks even on streets with bike lanes.  Go figure!
  • The City Paper’s current issue seemed promising with cover art entitled “The Walking Dread”.  But sadly the story inside merely details DDOT’s Vision Zero plan to end traffic fatalities by 2024.  And the Struck in DC update has only comments from cyclists, although the dots show plenty of pedestrians hit.  Are we not worth the interview or don’t we whine enough.  Still, worth the read.  Since this appears only in Print, I would go to http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com and click on “Print Version”.  The pages you want are page 9 for Struck in DC and page 15 and following for the Vision Zero article.

Finally, a small ray of hope.  I met up with my neighbor, who is now the head of our neighborhood citizens association. She appears to be ready to step into the fray in a small way and is thinking of suggesting a “task force”.  We’ll see how that goes. But I told her I’m in if she gets it started.

More soon.  But don’t forget(as if you could with the constant news coverage)  Pope Francis is here next week.  Great events for a great many.  But traffic snarls throughout the city.  So STAY ALERT.  DON’T GET HURT.

Baby Steps

17 Jan

Well, this week has been a good week for moving forward. After nudging by phone last week, I received part of my FOIA request from DC government. They gave me the police materials, sort of. It appears that, although I foolishly thought that a request to DC government’s FOIA office would cover all agencies and they’d parcel them out, that is not the case. And, the police do not keep the records of their own citations. So I must make a FOIA request to the DMV’s FOIA unit. Wonder how long that will take? But I’ll be doing it today and keeping you updated.

Last night I went to a mayoral candidate meet-and-greet and ran into one of the group that’s working on the project to wean bicyclists off the sidewalks in pilot project. He too put a little pressure on at New Year’s and now it looks like DDOT has assigned someone to do its part.

We are both guessing, and actually hoping, that like crocuses, these pieces will be popping up early in spring.

So in the meantime–STAY ALERT and STAY SAFE.

Welcome to 2014–are you ready?

10 Jan

I hope you all had a fine holiday season and have started off the New Year well. As always I start each new year hopeful. But I follow up with action or the hope means nothing.

I don’t make too many resolutions, but I’ve already accomplished one. I checked on my FOIA request and have been told the file has a couple of responses already, but is not done and I have the name of the person in the FOIA office who is now responsible and will be following up with him at regular intervals. Despite their original response indicating that if it took more than 15 days they would be contacting me, I knew they wouldn’t from prior experience with other local government offices. My friends who are trying to develop the pilot project to lead bikers off the sidewalks have adopted the same approach and, with the New Year, made another stronger appeal to DDOT to do their part and have a reply that their part will be started shortly. So at least for now these two efforts have been moved a bit forward.

Still we have to stay on top of anything involving government so that promises are kept, especially as with the FOIA request, the law requires it. These forays to get something from government reminds once again of a great statement I heard in a speech given by the writer Ingo Schultze, who was born and raised in East Germany and helped in many of the protest marches that helped bring down that regime. When someone who was trying to get him to say bad things about the capitalistic system in the united Germany and the US v. “Socialism” and asked him what he had learned in his years there and in traveling here and in other countries, he said he was not sure that he knew enough about the economic systems to say, but one thing of which he was sure–“Bureaucracy is the enemy of Democracy.”

Think about the truth of that statement and then remember that we have a mayoral election this year. The Democratic Primary, which will most likely decide the election, is April 1 Speak your mind about the things important to you at the candidates’ forums. Listen to their answers. And certainly vote. Then, and this is always the hard part, hold the winner to account early for keeping the promises made.

And, if there is one thing I’d like to see every candidate agree to and then do, it’s answer communications from citizens, whether they agree or not. I still am amazed that the Dupont Businesspersons’ Letter on Sidewalk Bicycling has not received any written response. Even a simple “we’ve received your letter and are considering it” would show that our elected mayor and councilmembers remember that they are working for us. And the people they appoint are also supposed to be working for us. Just a thought with which to start an important year.

Diary Entries

1. Happy New Year, not!If I had any doubt that I needed to continue this fight in the new year, my doubts ended with the stroke of midnight on December 31. We were having a small gathering in my apartment and looked out the window on 16th Street to see if we could see any fireworks. We looked out starting around 11:50 and saw virtually no street traffic, only a cab or two going downtown. We did see a number of lights in the houses across the street indicating other parties. And then, right as midnight came and we saw some small fireworks out in the distance on the Potomac, a bicyclist came into view, riding truly recklessly on the sidewalk on the east sidewalk. He did not ride in a straight line but in a curvy way that took up the entire sidewalk. What if he’d suddenly met up with pedestrians leaving a party on Corcoran. At his speed there would have been a collision, for sure.

2. Watch that Ice, but beware as well Last Sunday when we had early freezing rain, as we do today, I went out to get the Sunday papers and some breakfast items, and walked along Corcoran between 16th and 17th, which has a brick sidewalk most of the way. I had forgotten how brick ices up even when concrete does not and slid a bit. No damage done but I moved more to the middle of the sidewalk to avoid the more icy spots. My reward? Not a minute later a sidewalk biker came without notice from behind me and jostled me as he sped toward the 17th St. corner. Luckily I kept my balance. But it points out again the dangers that any pedestrian has to watch out for, one of which could definitely be ended by changes in the law, coupled with education and enforcement of the new law.

I realize I went on a little longer than planned so I’ll end here and save other notes for the next post. Another resolution: shorter posts.! Meanwhile, STAY ALERT and STAY SAFE<

Shutdown v. Shutout

18 Oct

Well, the Federal Government Shutdown is over. Whew!

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DC GOVERNMENT SHUTOUT? THAT APPEARS TO BE PERMANENT.

Earlier this week, I had my regular hair appointment at Diego’s Hair Salon and also stopped by couple other of the business people who signed the letter to the DC Mayor and Council chair and had also contacted Jack Evans office on the issue of sidewalk bicycling. Although their letter was hand carried and stamped in in early February, they have no answer yet. This, despite a followup by Diego, who has a portion of Q street named after him as an honorific. During that followup, in March, he actually went downtown to the Wilson building and met with individual council people, who assured him they would “do something.” What that “something” is, is still unknown. But, speaking for myself only, I’d say that something appears to be nothing. Diego’s discouraged. At least one of the other business people said to me “We give money to their campaigns and help them get elected, then we never heard from them again even when we call”

The support letters we citizens have sent have also not been answered. And the FOIA request I made in late June has also still not been answered and is now a month over even their deadline. Nor has a very simple questions of clarification I asked someone in DDOT, although every time I remind him, he says he’ll get to it.

SO WILL THE SHUTOUT BE PERMANENT?

I love DC and for many reasons this is the perfect place for me to live. But I do have to say that the people in DC are extremely patient with the people they elected. After all, they are supposed to be working for us. And the least any one of them should do is–answer their mail. I worked in Congress for my NY rep while I was in grad school. And we answered every letter. Whenever, as a NY citizen or OH citizen, I wrote to my Congresspeople I got an answer. When I worked for governmental entities, I always answered my mail and returned phone calls. In fact, in every job I’ve ever had where I was working with the public, especially when I was in government, responding timely was a requirement.

What makes DC Government, especially the elected ones, different? They don’t have to agree with the citizen’s sentiment, just acknowledge it and, if they really want to show they’re thinking about it, tell what they would do. How hard is that? And as the FOIA request, it’s part of the job description.

Note that above, I call these council members and Mayor, elected “ones” not “officials”. To me, “officials” is what such people are in Dictatorships and Autocracies and Monarchies. In our democratic republic, those we elect, and those they hire, are PUBLIC SERVANTS. The sooner they understand that the better. BUT UNLESS WE HOLD THEM TO THAT STANDARD, THINGS WILL NOT CHANGE. So, think about that the next time you’re voting.

And please comment if you’ve written a letter or sent a petition to DC government personnel in recent years, especially if you’ve received a response. Perhaps there’s something I and the businesspeople are missing.

Enjoy the weekend, especially you federal workers who are back on the job, And STAY ALERT AND STAY SAFE.

DC Laws: What part of “sideWALK” doesn’t DC Gov understand?

25 Jun

Last week had its highs and lows. But in the end it was a difficult week. I spent a good deal of time, when I wasn’t working at my regular jobs, discussing the issues of bicycle safety and pedestrian safety at a couple of meetings and informally. I also read at least two columns posted in the Greater Greater Washington blog, one by Dave Alpert reacting to a close call he and his pregnant wife had with a sidewalk bicyclist and the Logan Circle ANC resolution and InTowner editorial about which I’ve already reported. And, of course, I spent a good deal of time dodging sidewalk bicyclists too. (more about that in my next diary entry).

At the end of the week, with some time for reflection, I thought to myself that maybe my thoughts about what sidewalks were to be used for was outdated. I find it always helps to go back to basics and question even your own starting principle. So I took my Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary off the shelf as I’d been taught to do in elementary school, where if we successfully completed the lesson, we got a cool button that said “We never guess. We look it up.” Although the button is long gone, I’ve never forgotten the saying. It made sense to me then and even more sense now.

My dictionary’s definition of sidewalk is simple and to the point: a usually paved walk for pedestrians at the side of a street. There were no alternate definitions! And the word has been in use since 1739!

But, wait! I thought. My dictionary was published in 1998. It might be that in the last 15 years, things had changed. Or a special alternate definition was added for DC. So, to the Internet I went, and was rewarded beyond what I’d hoped. The current definition is exactly the same as above. The first known use is the same. Still no alternate definition. BUT my reward? the Internet Merriam Webster entry adds an example of usage. Only one. And here it is:

Examples of SIDEWALK

Bicycles are not allowed on the sidewalk.

Needless to say I ended a difficult week with a smile on my face, although I think a better example would have been “Bicycle riding is not allowed on the sidewalk,” because, of course, bicyclists walking their bikes on the sidewalk is within the meaning of the word as well as safe for all concerned. And I’m thinking my 4th grade teacher would agree.

But I still have the question in my mind: What part of such a simple word does DC Government not understand? I realize that bureaucracy is in full flower here, from the Federal government, down through our local government and even into some of our civic organizations, who are often populated with bureaucrats and bureaucrats in training. But there is no way in any democracy that the word SIDE-WALK should be perverted into meaning “alternate bike lane.” Other cities understand this. Why not us?

Still, it’s up to us ordinary citizens to stand up if we care about staying safe when we are walking on the SIDE-WALK. As I’ve reported before a few have started to act. But we need more. So, why not at least comment on this blog? And look to my Citizen Action: Teamwork is Power post just below. And, regardless, STAY ALERT AND STAY SAFE.