Death in the M St Bike Lane

Moment of silence for Jeffrey Long

 

Protected bike lanes are supposed to be protected, separated from cars and protected by barriers. 15th St in Washington, DC, is a good example of one – parked cars make up the barriers and stop lights with red arrows prevent drivers from turning across the bike lane.

But the “protected” bike lane on M St created by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) fails to include these best practices. Instead, DDOT gave in to the demands of businesses (and one local church) to design a protected bike lane that looks protected but isn’t.

It’s a Trap

The lane starts off looking protected at Thomas Circle. Running along the curb, with a row of parked cars as protection – great! But as you ride west, the lane disappears entirely as it goes by the Metropolitan AME Church, who didn’t want their double-parking parishioners inconvenienced. On the 1600 block of M St, the lane finds protection again with a line of parked cars but then ends in a mad scrum at the end of the block, as cars merge into the lane so that they can make a right turn.

This dangerous pattern of mixing cars and bikes continues on to Georgetown, where the lane sputters out. The people of #BikeDC have complained about the M St bike lane for years, telling DDOT that was unsafe, and even sharing with the transportation agency photos and videos demonstrating the danger.

DDOT did nothing.

The Inevitable Death

Over the weekend, the inevitable happened: a cyclist was killed on M St, run over by a truck making a right turn across the bike lane. His name was Jeffrey Long.

He wasn’t even the first person on a bike killed this summer in DC, despite the Vision Zero talk about eliminating pedestrian and cyclist deaths from Mayor Bowser. In June, Malik Habib died on H St NE after being run over by a bus.

DIY Safety

A couple days after Long’s death, I visited New Hampshire and M St NW, where he was killed. I expected to see physical changes to the intersection, such as a red light arrow to keep drivers from crossing paths with cyclists. After all, someone died here.

Nothing had been done, at least by DDOT.

But someone had been busy. Six toilet plungers painted orange had been placed on M St, preventing drivers from cutting the corner on to New Hampshire. Instead, they had to slow down and make a 90 degree turn, making the intersection safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

DIY safety improvement on M St

That’s the state of the city in 2018, in which people have to make their own traffic improvements to keep their neighbors safe. As I wrote in the Washington Post, Mayor Bowser and her administration care more about making rich people richer than helping ordinary citizens.

Ride of Silence

Last night, there was a memorial ride for Jeffrey Long. More than a hundred cyclists in white rode silently down M St during rush hour.

We stopped and placed our bikes on the spot where he died for twenty minutes of reflection. Flowers were placed on the white ghost bike that memorializes him.

Untitled

a moment of reflection

A cyclist was kiled here

Next Steps

This can’t be the end. We are calling for:

  1. Improved sight lines at M/NH/21st St NW.
  2. Repaint intersection immediately.
  3. No turns on red in downtown.
  4. DC Council oversight hearing holding DDOT, DPW and MPD accountable for safe infrastructure & enforcement.

This tragedy should not be forgotten. Contact your councilmember to ensure that this never happens again.

And follow #BikeDC on Twitter to learn the latest about biking in the city, as well as plans for an upcoming ride to honor Malik Habib.

Letter from Washington: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman 2 filming at the Hirshhorn

Update: a modified version of this post appeared recently in the Washington Post.

Wonder Woman is filming in Washington this week. If you go by one of the locations (the Hirshhorn Museum, Watergate, Georgetown) the PAs will tell you that it’s Magic Hour. But everyone in DC knows that it’s Wonder Woman.

“No photos!” comes a cry from behind a barricade as iPhones rise to catch the irresistible sight of 1980s cars and fashion on the National Mall. In June. On a Friday.

Despite the legally unenforcible prohibition, images from the movie have been all over the Internet. Twitter even made it one of its Moments.

Seeing photos online, I hurried down to catch the shoot at the Hirshhorn Museum.

Movie-making is frightfully dull unless you’re the one making the movie. I wrote screenplays for a while and was even on set for a couple of short films.

It can take all afternoon just to get the lights set up. 99% of the time, nothing is happening, just extras in wigs and costumes listlessly standing around, waiting for their chance to be a blur in the background.

My timing was propitious, biking up just as Wonder Woman/Magic Hour was rehearsing a scene.

There’s Gal Gadot!

No. It was her stand-in and Chris Pine’s stand-in looking so similar to the two actors that I had to zoom in on their faces to confirm that they were nobody.

Action!

The stand-ins were acting now, walking where Gal Gadot and Chris Pine would be, and acting too, the Pine stand-in reacting to something overhead. Walk, talk, react as the camera whirred and cars from the 80s idled past the museum.

Stop!

And then again, the old cars reversing, the stand-ins returning to shadow and the extras relaxing in their bright 80s clothes. Whatever…

Action!

Again, the cars idled forward, the stand-ins took their marks, and the extras tried to look natural.

Stop!

Life in DC, 2018, resumed. Drivers from down the street honked, annoyed at being delayed. High school tour groups, clad in identical green shirts, trooped by, unaware of the movie shoot. PAs told joggers to cross the street. “The sidewalk is closed!”

Action!

And then, looking through my zoom lens, there was Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, wearing the same clothes as the stand-ins, even a Member’s Only jacket for Steve Trevor, but anointed with the familiarity of being stars. You know them, but you don’t, their image the only thing truly accessible.

They duplicated what the stand-ins did. Walk, talk, react, Chris Pine gawking at whatever was in the sky but with considerable more subtlety than the stand-in. He’s a star.

A dirty hippy ruined my shot. Old man, in a tie-die shirt and blue overalls, entering the frame just as I focused on Pine and Gadot.

Stop!

Everyone relaxed, Gadot crossing the concrete plaza to consult with Patty Jenkins, the director. That’s the conversation I would’ve loved to hear.

I love the fact that they used the Hirshhorn, as well as several other DC locations. They also recreated Commander Salamander in Georgetown, a mainstay of 1980s cool when the 80s were cool.

What wasn’t so cool was Magic Hour/Wonder Woman shutting down Pennsylvania Avenue all weekend long, blocking off bike lanes (it’s always about bikes) with no alternate accommodations. Instead, confused foreign tourists, groups on Segways, bikes and cars crammed into narrow streets trying to detour around the blocks-long bottleneck.

There weren’t even detour signs for the lost. Instead, just fences and people with ill-defined authority telling them to leave and “NO PHOTOS!”

But to help the filmmakers, the DC city government had erected barricades, parked dump trucks and even brought in police officers to keep the curious away. Money talks, in the non-superhero universe.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) had finished their reconstruction/destruction of the 15th St bike lane by the old Washington Post building. It had been a protected bike lane until it was destroyed to enable a private developer to construct a building. The biking residents of the city (like me) have endured years of dodging cement trucks and cranes so that a rich man can get richer.

I biked by. All the resources of the city were handed to the Wonder Woman filmmakers. But, on 15th St, DDOT couldn’t even be bothered to put up a barrier of plastic bollards. Instead, the only protection from cars is a narrow strip of paint for this two-way bike lane. There will be chaos and injury come Monday.

there should be bollards on right

But that doesn’t matter to Mayor Bowser and a city government entranced by Hollywood fame. They’ll block off entire streets for an imaginary character but do little for the real people of the city, forced to beg for a few pieces of plastic protection from very real dangers.

In the movies, Wonder Woman stands up for the oppressed. But in real life, there are no superheroes. If you have money, Mayor Bowser and the city government will let you do what you want.

Photos: 500 Days of Trump

I intended to ignore the Trump administration. But, 500 days ago, during the Inauguration, I heard a helicopter hovering over my apartment, followed it into the street, and I’ve been taking photos ever since.

Inauguration Day riot, Muslim ban protest, Women’s March, Science March, Climate March, Women’s March (again), perp walks, protests, street art, paper mache, Juggalos, makeout sessions, security theater – I’ve documented the resistance in DC.

limo in flames on K St Continue reading “Photos: 500 Days of Trump”

When Conflict Comes Home: American War

American War

The problem with most dystopian fiction is that it’s too neat, taking place far enough in the future to feel exotic, but familiar enough so that we can picture ourselves in the action. Katniss Everdeen could be your teen neighbor, confronting tyranny the same way she protests changes in the school lunch menu.

In contrast, American War by Omar El Akkad feels too real. It’s an America just twenty years in the future, a day that most of us will live to see, depicting a world in which our decline has continued into catastrophe. A country split by red and blue has stumbled into a second Civil War.

The world intervenes in the conflict, like we intervened in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. But this time it’s the Arab world rescuing the new one. The Red Crescent builds refugee camps. Food aid arrives on ships. And arms and advisers are sent to the Southern side to continue the war.

But in American War, we don’t learn this until later. Unlike other dystopian novels, we don’t know exactly what’s going on at the start of the novel. War comes to an isolated homestead in the American south. A family must decide whether to stay, fight or flee.

Omar El Akkad has reported from countries wrecked by American intervention. He takes their stories and places them here. His brilliant novel is about the collapse of our civilization, the desire for vengeance and how war has a logic of its own, imposing dreadful decisions upon even the most enlightened citizens.

American War shreds the neat formulas of dystopian fiction to show a future that is far too real for comfort. It also illuminates the deadly cost of our own overseas interventions by placing war in the United States. In this novel, we’re the refugees, the soldiers and the terrorists, all trying to find safety in a devastated land.

Tweetstorm: Five Lessons from Going Viral

Tweet activity

A viral photo became my most popular tweet ever, racking up more than 200,000 impressions.

It’s a picture that I captured outside the White House Correspondents Dinner, a quick shot of Parkland survivor David Hogg before I was shooed away by security. Happy to get any photo, I posted it to Twitter, thinking my photographer friends would enjoy it.

And then it blew up online, my phone steadily buzzing with notifications through the night and for days afterward.

What can you learn from going viral?

  1. It will be accidental. It’s nice to think that you can make a post go viral – you can’t. Twitter is driven by the users. Their likes, dislikes, passions, prejudices and whims determine what goes viral and what doesn’t. I’ve written funnier tweets, taken better photos and shared more interesting links but it was this post of David Hogg that went viral, for it was timely (the dinner was going on as I posted the photo) and Hogg is a controversial figure in the gun control debate.
  2. You’ll want to change your tweet. In my photo, another person is pictured. I didn’t recognize him so just identified David Hogg. Within minutes, a reply told me that it was Zion Kelly, whose brother was shot to death on the streets of DC. You can’t edit a tweet so I added a threaded post identifying him.
  3. You will be personally attacked. I didn’t reply to the gun nuts who thought that the presence of David Hogg at the WHCD was preposterous. But a couple people said that I was racist for omitting mention of Zion Kelly in my original tweet. When I explained to one that I didn’t recognize him, she grudgingly admitted that I might not be a racist but my response was “problematic.”
  4. You won’t understand the analytics. My original tweet had 221,000 impressions. The thread I added with Zion Kelly’s name had 680,000 impressions. Why does the thread have more than the original?
  5. It won’t amount to much. Seeing the photo go viral, I wrote a post the next day on the moment, which captured some of the traffic my photo generated. But out of 220,000 Twitter impressions, I gained five new followers. The raging discourse of America had landed briefly on me, lit me in its fire, and then moved on to the next topic in the endless, infernal debate.

Going viral is short-lived and unsatisfying. All that storm und drang around my photo ultimately amounted to little.

The next morning, I bundled up and biked to see my friends from the District Department of Transformation, a group of activists trying to make the city’s streets safer. They’re all people I’ve met through Twitter. They had blocked off a street for breakfast, an action designed to show that streets should be for people, not cars.

I took a photo and shared it using the #BikeDC hashtag.

That’s the type of engagement that matters – real, small-scale and committed.

If you’re a social media manager, don’t chase social media fame, which is ephemeral and low-value. Instead, use Twitter to build an impactful community of engaged supporters, people who will show up for you on a cold Sunday morning to occupy a street.

The Power of Image: David Hogg at the White House Correspondents Dinner

David Hogg at the White House Correspondents Dinner

Last night, I took a photo: David Hogg at the White House Correspondents Dinner, pictured with Zion Kelly.

I’m a writer and a photographer. Living near the hotel, I thought I could get some photos of celebrities. But I arrived late and missed most of them.

With my Canon SL1 and a zoom lens, I captured this image of David and Zion posing on the red carpet. I was outside the glass doors of the hotel, standing in the driveway, near the spot where Reagan was shot in 1981. A small plaque marks the location.

Once home, I posted it to Twitter, thinking my followers would like it. I’m an admirer of the Parkland survivor. To be capable of speaking out after surviving a mass shooting – that is unimaginable to me. And that AR-15s should be banned is common sense.

The tweet took off, with hundreds of mentions occurring in my timeline, as my photo was retweeted, liked and shared.

And commented upon. 95% of those comments were positive, recognizing David as a powerful voice for common-sense gun control.

This same power terrifies Trump supporters. David is an “other” – a boy who doesn’t know his place. In response to my simple photo, they replied with hate, insults and conspiracy theories.

Because they’re weak. If the Trump movement was strong, then they wouldn’t need to attack David. Even an image of this teenager triggers them.

With their online hate, Trump supporters betray themselves, surrendering to their fear, hoping for a few moments of relief from self-loathing and the knowledge that the country is slipping away from them.

I didn’t respond to my critics. They’re beneath me.

My photo was enough, with more power than an army of online trolls. Let it go out into the world and inspire others to make their voices heard.

Michelangelo and Real Artists Don’t Starve

Real Artists Don't Starve

The Starving Artist is just a story we’ve told ourselves, according to Jeff Goins, author of Real Artists Don’t Starve.

And it’s a story that we can change. Marshaling examples from history (Michelangelo was the Steve Jobs of the Renaissance), Goins demonstrates that you don’t need to starve to pursue your art.

Rather than seeing money and creativity as diametrically opposed, see them as intertwined. Money allows you to make your art. Michelangelo was not content to be a starving artist – he demanded to be paid. Money is a form of respect.

Prior to his stand, artists were considered mere craftsman. When the Pope sent Michelangelo a letter addressing him as a commoner, he sent the missive back, demanding be addressed as a nobleman. He believed that he was descended from a noble family. It turned out not to be true but this belief is a helpful one for an artist.

Michelangelo kept careful records of what he was paid, and owed, as he supervised vast construction crews during the building of St. Peter’s Basilica. More than just an artistic genius, he was running a business during the Renaissance, and died a wealthy man.

Michelangelo understood that artists need patrons – Popes and Medicis – and artists need networks of collaborators to complete their work. The myth of solitary genius is another false idea we cling to.

His genius did not arise of out of nothing. Michelangelo apprenticed with earlier artists, learning by copying their work. We’d call what he did forgery – he made copies of Roman statues that were passed off as original – but this work taught him the classical principles that he needed for his greatest work.

All artists copy. There is nothing new under the sun. Michelangelo remixed Greek and Roman influences to restart Western Civilization in Italy.

Real Artists Don’t Starve is much more than Michelangelo, encompassing anything from the muppets of Jim Henson to paintings sprinkled with moon dust. The bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.

But the story of Michelangelo – painter, sculptor, architect and poet (yes, that too) – is the one that stayed with me, this Renaissance man alive for an explosion of culture and technology. A time much like our own, with new opportunities for artists willing to discard the myth of the starving artist for something better.

Horror on the Great Plains: The Hunger

Alma Katsu examines the dichotomy between the myth of Manifest Destiny and the grim reality of settlers trudging west in her new novel, The Hunger.

It’s a story you’ve heard before, of how the Donner Party turned to cannibalism to survive after getting stuck in the mountains on their journey west.

Katsu’s point in this gripping novel is that the evil began long before then. It was with the wagon train from the beginning, trapped in the dark hearts of the settlers, all of whom had good reasons to flee their lives back east. These are less brave pioneers than troubled souls seeking salvation in California. The Hunger tells us their stories, unwrapping them slowly, the true horror not revealed until the very end amid the squalor of a desperate camp in the Sierras.

Interestingly, the book overlaps with another I read this year – A Friend of Mr. Lincoln. The doomed Donner party originated in Springfield, with many of the principals familiar with the future president, though this is unmentioned in The Hunger. You could read the books back-to-back, the straight historical fiction of A Friend of Mr. Lincoln and then the horror of The Hunger, to see how different authors depict historical figures and events.

They’re both good reads, particularly if interested in American history, and the truth behind some of our most cherished myths.

Don’t Fear the Gutenberg

Zac Gordon speaks at the April WordPress DC Meetup

What is Gutenberg?

A new publishing experience for WordPress: get ready to make your words, pictures, and layout look as good on screen as they do in your imagination, without any code.

Named after the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg, this new WordPress editor is a response to drag-and-drop page builders like Wix and SquareSpace, giving users more flexibility in how they design their pages.

Around the Block

Gutenberg takes the wonderfully blank canvas of the current WP editor and turns content into blocks. Text and images become blocks that can be dragged around on the page and reused on other pages as well.

I was skeptical. My experience as a Web Editor has been that content management systems (CMS) only get worse over time. I’ve seen sites go from neat collections of Dreamweaver pages to inscrutable Drupal beasts that require weeks of training to understand – and still don’t work.

When I heard that the graceful WordPress that I love, with its mantra of the user is always was right, was changing, I was alarmed – especially when I heard talk of blocks. One shouldn’t have to learn a new vocabulary, like Drupal’s use of nodes, just to write a blog post.

WordPress DC Meetup

My fears were allayed at the recent WordPress DC Meetup on Gutenberg. Zac Gordon, who teaches WordPress, previewed the new CMS.

Once I saw that the freeform editor that I love would be largely unchanged, I was relieved. I could write the way I want in the editor and turn my paragraphs into blocks, later, if I wanted to, and drag them around on the page.

“Convert to a shared block” is a useful feature, too, for page elements that you want to use elsewhere. I could see myself creating a shared block of text to promote my novel, The Swamp, across my site.

You can also get into the HTML of the blocks in case something isn’t displaying correctly. A little bit of HTML knowledge is still necessary in this CMS age.

Finally, Better Photos

Moreover, the page builder in Gutenberg has features that I like – the way it handles images is far superior than the current editor. On my site, I embed photos from Flickr in posts because that’s easier than WP’s image management and display capabilities.

In contrast, Gutenberg allows you to easily move images around the page, create photo galleries and make photos full-width across the page. A “hero image” according to Zac.

Try it out for yourself with a live demo of Gutenberg. Type content, move images around, reorder blocks and get a taste of new WordPress.

Coming Soon

In contrast to other CMS, the WordPress upgrade is designed to work with the rest of your plugins. Users, like me, who haven’t done a lot of customization probably won’t even notice the change on their sites. Backward compatibility is a key WordPress principle.

If your site is hosted by someone else, you probably won’t have to do anything to upgrade, according to Zac. If you’re a developer who has done a lot of CSS customization, you’ll want to edit and experiment in a staging environment before upgrading.

Also, a “classic editor” plugin will be available for users who don’t want to change.

WordPress for the Future aka Gutenberg has no release date yet. But it’s coming soon, developers say.

No Revolutions, Please

While the WordPress will not be as revolutionary as Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, that’s a good thing. Broad, sweeping changes are to be feared, in societies and content management systems.

With Gutenberg, expect a gentle upgrade that helps users get their ideas on the web without having to learn a line of code.

My DC: Blossoms, books and gelato

Jefferson Memorial with cherry blossoms

A weekend of cherry blossoms, books and gelato taught me to love DC once again.

I’ve become inured to the sights and sounds of Washington, DC – the historic monuments, the thudding helicopters, the blue sparkle of the Potomac. I see and yet don’t see, because they’re so familiar. Playing tour guide for the weekend helped me rediscover the city.

The occasion was a college reunion. Because I was the only one who still lived in the city, I was appointed tour guide.

It’s hard work being tour guide! Much easier to be led by another, not knowing where you’re going to eat or what you’re going to do next, confident that the tour guide has those details figured out. Make it a large group – eight people – and make it the height of the spring tourist season, and you can understand why I was a bit anxious. Thankfully, it was an easy group that I knew from time spent together at American University.

The advantage of being tour guide is going to the places you like best. Here are my choices for 36 hours in Washington, DC.

Friday

The Darcy
My friends stayed at this boutique hotel by Hilton. Located near Logan Circle, it’s an ideal home base for visitors who want to explore the city. Even better when you get an upgrade to a top-floor suite!

Tidal Basin
If you come to DC, you’re going to walk. During cherry blossom season, it’s also the easiest way to get around (other than biking, of course). After checking-in at the Darcy, we walked down 16th St to see the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin, along with half a million of our friends, it seemed. The walk is about thirty minutes, and filled with interesting sights along the way, like the White House and Washington Monument.

Thai Tanic
Every Thai restaurant in DC must have a pun-based name. Popular among Logan Circle locals like me, Thai Tanic been serving interesting Thai dishes on 14th St for years. They were also very accommodating as our party grew from six to eight on a busy Friday night.

Gelato time

Dolcezza
How I love this place! The gelato is delicious. I almost always get a combo of dark chocolate and hazelnut. If you’re with me, this is a mandatory stop.

Saturday

American University
It wouldn’t be a college reunion without a trip to college. We went to AU in the pre-wonk era, which was far more fun, and considerably cheaper, than the serious world-changers of today. While the campus is nicer, with a brand new School of International Service, it’s not the same, probably due to the lack of alcohol.

Surfside
One of the challenges of leading a large group through DC is, “Where will we eat?” While they took my favorite burrito off the menu, Surfside in Glover Park was still a good choice. No one noticed a group of eight in this taco joint mobbed with soccer moms and kids from the field across the street.

Bob in Georgetown

Georgetown Waterfront Park
If you’re with me, you’re walking (or biking). Thankfully, my friends love to walk. After lunch, we walked down Wisconsin Avenue and 33rd Street to the Georgetown Waterfront Park, which has a great view of Rosslyn and the Key Bridge.

Dog Tag Bakery
Georgetown Cupcake is for tourists. Instead, visit this pleasant little shop near the C&O Canal that helps military veterans and families. The scones are great and they serve Compass Coffee.

Whole Foods P St
Finding a table for eight on a Saturday night in Logan Circle struck me as impossible. Instead, everyone got food and drink at Whole Foods and partied back in the suite at the Darcy Hotel. Sushi, cheese, fruit, beer, wine, chicken, chocolate rugelach – we ate well, without the hassle of going out.

Sunday

Lil B
This New Orleans-inspired coffee shop at the Darcy Hotel became the spot to meet every morning. While the beignets are more like fried dough than what you’d find in the Big Easy, they make good hangover food.

Dupont Circle Farmers Market
Why don’t I go here more often? This sprawling market has more than just produce. You can get pancakes, pizza and even a growler of beer from Right Proper.

Spanish Steps
One of those 0ff-the-beaten path places that I love, this miniature version of the Roman landmark is a spot I captured in an award-winning photo. It’s a lovely walk from Dupont Circle, as well, in which you pass art galleries and embassies. Makes a great spot for portraits.

Kramerbooks

Kramerbooks
Now, this is a required stop, at least if you’re with me. Washington loves its bookstores and Kramerbooks is the oldest and most famous. I have a connection to it too – I did a reading here. You’re sure to find something smart for the plane in this bookstore.

Of course, this is just a small sample of things to do in DC. But if I’m the tour guide, there’s going to be gelato, coffee and books. That’s my DC.