District Hardware vs WeWork

District Hardware in black and white

After nearly fifty years in business, District Hardware & Bike closed last weekend.

Founded in 1971, this small business was where many Washingtonians bought their first bikes. For others, it was a convenient spot to pick up a hammer, a can of paint or a missing screw.

After the store moved to The Wharf in 2017, it became a neighborhood hotspot, adding a café that served coffee, snacks and a great selection of local beer.

The owners gave back to the community, by hosting local groups, including the monthly #BikeDC meetup that I was proud to attend. Velo Café also provided one of the few affordable places to have a drink in the upscale Wharf development.

#bIkedc happy hour at Velo Cafe

Last weekend, neighbors gathered to mourn the loss of the beloved institution, filling the store one last time. One last chance to pick up any hardware needs before the opportunity disappeared from Southwest.

District Hardware said that they didn’t get the foot traffic they expected. It’s a simple economic concept: not enough paying customers. Expenses exceeded revenues so they had to close. Couldn’t lose money forever.

Meanwhile, across the city, WeWork opened a new location at 1701 Rhode Island Avenue. This brand-new building, constructed where the old YMCA used to be, offers 104,000 square feet of space for coworking. In the past six months, WeWork also announced lease agreements for space at Dupont Circle, Midtown Center and K Street.

WeWork lost $1.25 billion in the last quarter alone. In response, CEO Adam Neumann was sacked. He’s walking away with a billion-dollar payout while WeWork employees face the prospect of layoffs.

I was taught that the market is rational. It is efficient. It is impersonal.

The market is ruthless when it comes to small business like District Hardware. Don’t make enough to cover your rent? You have to close.

But investor-funded behemoths like WeWork can lose money by the billions and skate on, forever, it seems with the only consequence being bad press.

The venture capitalists who fund WeWork believe in disruption. WeWork is more than just office space; it is reinventing the way we work, live and play. When they first came to DC, I fell for the hype too, longing for an escape from cubicle nation.

The lesson of the sharing economy is to be careful what you wish for – WeWork is little more than an open office with free beer and snacks.

WeWork Manhattan Laundry - interior

But why would investors pour money into a business that loses money, quarter after quarter, unless they believed in something beyond the balance sheet? They were sold a story by a new age snake oil salesman.

District Hardware, however, had to operate in the real world. They had no tale of disruption for investors. Grounded in the needs of customers, they offered real goods and services in an economy that values these things less and less.

WeWork and District Hardware were competitors. Both needed space in a city that lacks it. But one business was subsidized by dreamy venture capitalists content to lose money. The other had to make payroll.

The closing of District Hardware is a warning. How can small businesses in DC compete against lavishly subsidized fantasies like WeWork?

The market is not rational, efficient or impersonal. Our city is being overcome by coworking not due to a business need but because venture capitalists said that it’s next new thing.

Do you want a locally-owned shop where you can get your bike fixed, pick up a lightbulb and have a glass of wine? Or do you want a rebranded cubicle farm owned by a money-losing conglomerate?

We get to decide what the city looks like. The time to act is now, before we lose another District Hardware.

Letter from Washington: World Series Edition

final pitches

How does history change?

Something went wrong in mid-2016, an unexpected shift in the cosmic equilibrium that sent us barreling down the wrong timeline, like a train that had jumped the tracks.

You could feel it, a kind of nervousness in the air that culminated in electoral disaster on November 8, 2016. All the pundits said she couldn’t lose and yet…

I wrote about that night in Victory Party, which won the City Paper fiction competition. For me, the story was therapy as much as it was literature, my attempt to explain the unexplainable. My main character supported Trump but with the realization that the new president would not help people like him. In Victory Party, he recognizes the truth, which at least provides some hope.

Of course, Trump supporters are not like my clear-eyed protagonist but people who have willfully blinded themselves, shutting out reality in favor of the comfortable hate of Fox News. They are the people who have driven dark comedy of our times, even as it grows steadily more absurd.

Rudy Giuliani butt-dialing reporters. Mick Mulvaney admitting to a quid pro quo and then taking it back the next day. Republican members of Congress storming into a security facility with their cellphones.

The other day, a friend asked if I was working on a sequel to The Swamp, my satirical novel about the Obama years in DC.

How do you satirize an age that is beyond belief? What I could possibly write that’s stranger than our current reality?

And then the Nationals made an improbable run to the World Series. After winning the first two games in Houston, they lost all three at home. All the pundits said it was over – no way could they do it now.

And then they started winning again. Game 7 and I was in a bar, expecting the Nats to lose. I was with a friend from Boston who mocked my cynicism. She believed.

But I did not. How could you during this timeline of disaster?

Down 2-0 for most of the game, the Nats suddenly started hitting in the 7th. 2-1, 4-2 and then 6-2 with just three outs remaining! Staring at the box score, something like hope filtered into my heart. We’re going to win the World Series! An expectant buzz filled the bar.

And then it happened. The final out and everyone erupted in cheers, hugging and high-fives. Outside, on the street, people honked and yelled. Fireworks thudded over downtown as an entire city celebrated.

There were so many glorious bits of time, like the shirtless guy sliding across the dugout. I watched the local news late into the night as they interviewed drunk people. But my favorite viral moment was this:

Yes! Washington needed this, with some asshole in the fucking White House. Truer words have not been spoken – and on Fox too! You could feel the timeline starting to return to true, turning on an axis from Washington, DC.

A city that had also roundly booed the president during Game 5 and chanted, “Lock him up.”

The day after the World Series victory, while the rest of us were hungover, Nancy Pelosi started the impeachment process of Donald Trump. The wily Speaker had waited until she had the evidence and, more importantly, the votes in the Democratic caucus.

How does history change? It’s done by people. A stadium of them booing the  president, revealing his weakness. A Speaker of the House patiently marshaling her supporters. A drunk person yelling obscenities on TV. And a baseball team who ignores the pundits and just keeps on fighting.

Searching for Joy in Little Free Libraries

Go for the Moon

What do you make of these times? It’s an age where we salute past wonders, like the moon landing, while we keep children in concentration camps. A President spews hate while the rest of us just try to get along with our neighbors.

Washington is a place where you can be killed sitting in a park. But it’s also home to Little Free Libraries where you can discover a dream land of pagans, dark forests and a 99.9% literacy rate.

We’re driven mad by the distracting devices we cannot bear to part with, though we know they’re charging our minds in unseen ways. Time itself has become compressed, sped up, out of control.

To the Moon

Fifty years ago, we went to the Moon. I went to the Washington Monument on a hot evening (it would get hotter) to see the Apollo rocket that took them there projected onto the marble spire.

It was a reminder of American greatness. We’ve always been great. Thousands filled the National Mall to watch a reminder of our past achievements.

Inspiring, what we can do. Or could do. A half-century ago, engineers sent a man to the Moon. Today, our engineers design a better like button.

But the memory remains. May it serve to inspire a new generation to do better.

You Acclimate

Robert remembers his friends

The society that conquered space is unwilling to prevent drivers from killing people. Two homeless men died sitting in a park. The driver went through the park with such violence that they destroyed trees and benches. I talked to a witness who said that the SUV went airborne.

A remembrance was held in their honor. It has become the grim task of my friend Rachel Maisler to organize these events. Her banner “We demand safe roads” signed by so many with so much hope has become faded with time.

My hope comes and goes, flickering like a candle. Is change possible? A week earlier, I attended the unveiling of DDOT’s plans to rebuild Pennsylvania Avenue to make it safer. It will happen, some day. Too late for the men killed at midnight.

“It could’ve been me!” Robert, a friend of of the men, cried, tears rolling down his cheeks. I stood in white, a mourner, a small crowd in a park at the end of a weekday.

The temperature increased, rising to nearly 100. You acclimate. You learn to adjust.

I played soccer on Saturday. Though we started at 8 AM, after an hour I was approaching heat stroke.

The Joy of the Little Free Library

Pagans

On Sunday, I biked in brief spurts between bouts of air conditioned comfort, making a tour of downtown on Capital Bikeshare. Coffee shop, Greek place, more coffee and then someplace new: the Latvian Little Free Library.

I had spotted it on earlier jaunt, located outside the Embassy of Latvia on Embassy Row. I returned to drop off a copy of The Swamp – I like leaving my  novels in Little Free Libraries.

Not surprisingly, most of the books in the little free library were about Latvia. A beautiful white tome caught my eye: Latvia 100 Snapshot Stories.

Opening the book at random, I read about how the pagan tradition survived in one of the oldest civilizations in Europe. A country that loved books with a 99.99% literacy rate. A democracy that embraced women. A place that overcame Nazi and Soviet occupation to regain their independence through nonviolent resistance in 1991. Also, bicycles, beer and saunas in a nation that is still half-covered in primeval forest.

Paging through the book as the temperature climbed toward a record, I was swept away in a cold dream of bikes, books and women.

 

American Chernobyl

American runner

There’s a great speech in the first episode of Chernobyl, HBO’s series about the Russian nuclear disaster. A group of Communist party officials gather in a command center as the scope of the catastrophe begins to emerge. They debate whether to inform the people of the danger, their voices verging on panic and coming dangerously close to honesty about the Soviet system.

Invoking the ghost of Lenin, an elderly apparatchik rises and tells them to have faith. If the people ask questions, they should be told to keep their minds on their labor and leave matters of the state to the state. He orders that the city be sealed off and the phone lines cut. “This is our moment to shine!” he exclaims.

Chernobyl is about more than just  the meltdown of a nuclear reactor; it is about the meltdown of an entire political system. Soviet officials deny the truth – the reactor cannot have exploded! – even as firefighters stumble into the hospital, their faces peeling off from radiation exposure. Those valiantly trying to contain the damage have to fight the Politburo and a bureaucracy intent on its own self-preservation.

The world finds out about Chernobyl only when radioactivity leaks outside the borders of the USSR. The damage to Soviet prestige was incalculable. The Soviet Union was not a Communist paradise. Suddenly, ordinary citizens began to question their leaders. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the USSR, argued that it was a bigger blow to the country than his policy of perestroika.

The Chernobyl disaster, more than anything else, opened the possibility of much greater freedom of expression, to the point that the system as we knew it could no longer continue.

Watching the series, I wondered if we would do any better if faced with a similar disaster.

But it’s not a reactor that’s melting down here in America: it’s democracy.

The Chernobyl disaster exposed all the flaws of the Soviet state – the secrecy, the suppression and the hollow core of a superpower.

The Trump disaster is peeling away the comforting myths that we believe about our country – our fairness, our institutions and the belief that we’re the good guys.

Friends of mine who come from other countries cannot believe that this is happening to America. We’re supposed to be better than this. We’re not supposed to be vulnerable to the kinds of xenophobia and dictatorship that plague other parts of the world.

History does not always move forward. Sometimes it slides backward. Karl Marx believed that Communism was inevitable, in the same way that we believe that democracy will naturally win out.

As the plant at Chernobyl burned, pouring radioactive debris into the atmosphere, Soviet officials denied the facts on the ground, lied to each other, issued misleading reports and tried to cover up the scope of the disaster, working to ensure the illusion of state infallibility rather than confronting the truth.

As our Chernobyl burns, pouring toxic politics across the American landscape, we busy ourselves with reality TV, the churn of social media and news reporting that ignores a dictatorship slouching towards its birth.

American Chernobyl has exposed the weaknesses of the American system – our media addiction, unrelenting greed and the pursuit of fame, to the detriment of every other value that we once held dear.

In face of disaster, we’ve not done any better than the Soviet Union. And we’re destined to share their fate unless we confront the truth about ourselves.

Three Ways to Build Safe Streets in DC

Safe roads for all

Dave Salovesh was killed by a driver on Florida Avenue in Washington, DC. He was a friend of mine and, like me, a member of #BikeDC, the rolling community of cyclists that call the nation’s capital home.

Following his death, friends of Dave wrote to the Mayor pleading for safe streets. No one should die walking or biking in DC.

Dear Mayor Bowser,

My friend Dave Salovesh is dead. It should never have happened. DC has known for years that Florida Avenue is unsafe. DDOT made plans for traffic calming measures to make the street safer and never implemented them.

You now have a chance to do things differently. You have the opportunity to prove that Vision Zero is more than just a slogan. Take dramatic action to prove that this time is different. Radical change is needed for safe streets and only you can make it happen.

I propose that you implement the following over the next 90 days:

1. Shutdown for Safety. Every time there’s a crash with injuries, the street is shut down for 24 hours. This will give DDOT the chance the investigate possible measures to prevent future crashes and underscore the city’s commitment to traffic safety. When drivers and residents see that streets are Shutdown for Safety, they’ll know that the city cares about them. This little inconvenience will send a message that the lives of DC residents are more important than keeping the traffic moving.

2. Declare Portions of DC Car-Free. We’re a European city, designed by a European with a street grid of narrow roads that were never meant for cars. Like leading cities in Europe, the city center should be free of cars. I’d follow the Inauguration street closure plan and close roughly everything between the White House and the Capitol. Imagine being able to stand in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and take in the Capitol at sunset without having to worry about being run over.

3. Ban Carsharing. It’s madness to allow a bunch of suburbanites to play taxi driver in Washington, all to benefit some massive corporation in California. Ubers clog the roads and are an environmental and economic nightmare, a predatory company with investor money that is undercutting public transportation. Ban Uber and bring back DC’s taxis.

You can be different. You can be a pioneer among America’s mayors. With these three steps, you can build safe streets and set yourself apart as the Mayor who made a historic difference in the life of the nation’s capital.

Joe

The Mayor’s response came a week later and was a form letter to the more than 100 people who emailed her about Dave. And it only came after I confronted her at an event and demanded answers.

Letter from Washington: After the Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle Flyby from the Reeves Center

Seven years ago today, I stood on a roof as the Space Shuttle said goodbye.

As I watched it circle Washington, DC on the back of a 747, it seemed like the end of an era – because it was. No longer would we be a people who went to space.

Why?

The Space Shuttle was too old. Too expensive. Too dangerous.

Rather than fix it, we got rid it. Rather than replace it, we chose to do nothing. It was too hard so we, a nation that had sent a man to the Moon, let the Space Shuttle fly off into the sunset, our space program reduced to a museum exhibit, just a memory for people old enough to remember the age of exploration.

People like me. Going to high school in Florida, we were let out of class to see every Space Shuttle launch. Even in Orlando it was visible, a towering cloud of smoke ascending into the atmosphere as the shuttle escaped the bonds of Earth.

No more. All gone, Democrats and Republicans agreeing that the time of manned space exploration had passed, as if Columbus was forced into retirement when he returned from his discoveries.

We, as a people, would no longer do great things. Grown cynical, we no longer believed that government could accomplish much.

I worked in government. I knew government waste. But the Space Shuttle was a tiny program compared to the billions wasted on endless war or shoveled to greedy seniors.

If we could not keep the Space Shuttle flying, what could we do?

Nothing. I saw it where I worked at NOAA, as Congress chipped away at the agency’s budget, refusing to maintain a weather forecasting system that was the envy of the world. Rather than replace meteorologists who retired, remaining staff were forced to work long hours. In my office, the computers were ancient and to get office supplies, you had to know someone.

Lawmakers didn’t care, knowing that their constituents had lost faith in government, despite the evidence all around them, such as tornado warnings and disability checks. Government was not something we did together, but something we took for granted.

Sometimes I wonder, how did we get to Trump? We lost confidence in our ability to do great things as a people, setting us up for charlatans like the current President.

But we can do great things, because we’ve done great things before. The proof is in the society that we’ve built together. Frayed and under pressure, but still there.

It is time that we, as a people, have faith again. Americans were meant for the stars. It is time we renounced con artists and took up our destiny. The candidate who wins in 2020 will be the one with a vision for the future as bold as the Space Shuttle.

Instagram is a Lie Factory

urban vultures

On my way to brunch, I saw a pair of vultures.

They were in the middle of the street, fighting over a rat carcass. A car honked but they did not move, consumed by their struggle.

I’m a compulsive photographer. Not a day goes by where I don’t take a photo of something and share it on Instagram.

I loved Instagram when it first began. While there were similar photo apps, Instagram was a community, allowing me a look into the lives and visions of people around the world.

It was more than just an online app. I met great friends through InstagramDC, local photographers like me who share a passion for mobile photography.

It felt real. Excited by this new medium, people created images of things that meant something to them. They experimented. They grew.

You were excited when people you respected liked your photo, the heart providing a bit of virtual recognition.

The other apps fell away and Instagram exploded. Suddenly, it was not a niche tool used by insta-photographers but something that everyone had on their iPhone.

There were top ten lists in magazines. Who were the best Instagrammers in DC? Find out!

Companies ran contests. Take a photo, share it, and you could win a trip!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

The Poutinerie is open! Get a taste of Canada at Dupont Circle @aircanada #aircanadafliesthere #contest #poutine #canada

A post shared by Joe Flood (@joeflood) on

Marketing firms put together lists of influencers. Want to get the word out about your new restaurant? Reach out to these food photographers. Give them drinks and they’ll post photos of your place online.

I’m guilty. I went to those meals, bewitched by the chance to be cool.

The fun photo app that was Instagram became a marketing tool for big brands, a new way to get advertisements in front of eyeballs, a digital method to drive conspicuous consumption.

But this one was sneaky. We know how to ignore banner ads on web sites, glossy ads in magazines, commercials blaring during timeouts. But how do you ignore marketing messages that look like Instagram posts?

Is that travel photographer you follow being paid for her fabulous adventures? She gushed about a hotel. Is her post a paid ad or an uncompensated review?

Everyone got in on it, even me. I was a Brand Ambassador, paid to take day trips around the DC region. I loved it. Would do it again.

Enterprise CarShare followed the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, which required that I put #ad #sponsored on my post. Not every company is so scrupulous.

And would you notice a #sponsored in a hundred other hashtags? Social media marketing is virtually unregulated, with the difference between legitimate post and a compensated one nearly impossible for consumers to determine.

But that’s not the only deceit.

You see a beautiful plate of pasta on Instagram, bolognese bright against a white plate. What you don’t see is the time carefully arranging the noodles, wiping off the mess, setting up the tripod for the DSLR, softening the scene with a lightbox and then editing the photos in Photoshop.

Instagram is all about the likes now, an online popularity contest, the hell of high school duplicated in cyberspace.

In response to virtual rewards, we lie and present curated lives, our fears hidden by bright images of an idealized life.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

The LEGO takeover has begun #lego #bikedc #lincolnmemorial

A post shared by Joe Flood (@joeflood) on

“You have what I want,” someone told me. “You just ride bikes and drink beer.”

But that’s not true. Like much of America, I’ve had a lousy couple of years, a fact that I’ve largely kept to myself (I’m from the Midwest), my social media feed showing little evidence of crushing anxiety and depression.

One of the creators of Instagram quit the app, after seeing what Facebook did after purchasing the online photo service. Instagram become a celebrity-driven marketplace engineered to sap users’ time and attention at the cost of their well-being. The community she nourished from birth become merely another profit center for the online leviathan.

Facebook scaled Instagram and monetized it, filling it with ads and content that looks like ads, while committing unknowable violations of privacy and decency along the way, anything, even treason, to keep the Silicon Valley machine growing.

Instagram is a lie factory. The photos aren’t real, the users aren’t honest and the company deceitful.

Yet, I still use it and love it. Is this due to my passion for photography or the virtual rewards I receive? Is it about the photos or the likes?

I took a photo of a pair of vultures fighting over a rat carcass. I did not share it on Instagram. It did not fit my brand, my carefully curated life of bikes and beer.

The answer is there. Like millions of other Americans, Instagram to me is not about photography, it’s about the likes.

Walking Away from Democracy

crazy stupid sign

The rain, sadly, ended in time for the Walk Away pro-Trump rally in Washington, DC.

Supposedly a group of ex-Democrats who had “walked away” from the party, they gathered, a couple hundred of them, on the concrete expanse of Freedom Plaza.

The Florida bomber wasn’t mentioned. Nor the Pittsburgh shooter. Instead, they complained that they were the victims, renounced by friends and family for “walking away” from liberalism.

Over and over, speakers claimed that they weren’t racist, to a very white and old crowd. I have never seen so much vaping in DC. One woman said that she couldn’t be racist because she had a black husband and a black baby.

“You won’t see this picture on the mainstream media!” she shouted in front of a collage of portraits of people in the movement, steps away from the Press tent, where the media could check in. Trumpkins desperately want coverage from the media that they scorn.

Political group demonstrates in DC isn’t news, especially if there’s only a couple hundred of them. This is a city which has seen anti-Trump demonstrators by the millions.

Q

Another speaker bragged of his ignorance. He only got the news from Twitter, as a couple circulated through the crowd holding a “Q” in red, white and blue. It’s the right’s favorite conspiracy theory, too complex and stupid to summarize. Basically, the government that Republicans have cursed as incompetent is secretly so competent that they can organize a deep state conspiracy against Trump.

The dangerous part is that these conspiracy theorists believe that Trump will strike back soon, with a military coup, that they cheer and encourage, as they work to make Trump a dictator.

It’s important to know your enemy. I went to see and record their anti-democratic beliefs and oddball notions. There is a temptation to ignore the madness of our fellow citizens.

But it’s better to know what they believe, for they are Trump’s base and provide cover for acts of violence like the Florida bomber. They are the sea in which terrorists swim.

For the Trump movement is a fascist movement. If the leader of another country called the media “enemies of the people” and winked at acts of violence against them, that’s how the American media would cover it. They’d call it fascism and refer to Trumpkins as right-wing militias or violent supporters of the regime.

But, since it’s here, we deny what occurs before our very eyes. We can’t be 1970s Argentina. Or Franco’s Spain. Yet, we have much in common with these fascist states, including a vast military, economic inequality and a leader’s cult of personality.

We should take seriously the words of Trump supporters. Calls for dictatorship and violent suppression of enemies (“lock her up”) are preparation for the real thing.

A couple hundred people rally in DC, walking away from reality and into the comfort of authoritarianism. It’s easy to mock them as old and stupid and sick. But we do so at our peril.

Safe Streets Needed in the Nation’s Capital

Man blocks traffic to protest city's negligence in protecting people

“A tragedy,” you hear on the news but when you encounter real grief it’s almost impossible to process. You look away from the mother alone in her pain. She lost her son doing something that should be safe – riding an electric scooter in Washington, DC.

And here she was, days after his death, on the spot where he was killed, as cars honked and drivers cursed.

This was the scene at the memorial ride for Carlos Sanchez-Martin, who was run over by an SUV in a Dupont Circle crosswalk. A white ghost scooter was erected to memorialize him, placed at the spot where he died. We then occupied the street for ten minutes, placing our bikes and our bodies on the asphalt for safe streets.

Drivers couldn’t wait ten minutes. Someone died here and they couldn’t wait ten minutes. They honked and honked and a couple even got out of their cars to confront us, a situation thankfully defused by the Metropolitan Police Department.

Ten minutes. Drivers won’t even give ten minutes for someone that they killed. This is why we need safe streets in the nation’s capital.

Untitled

After the ten minutes were up, we left the intersection. Drivers poured through, nearly hitting people in the same crosswalk where Carlos Sanchez-Martin was killed. Drivers ran red lights despite the presence of uniformed officers. No tickets were issued.

Rachel Maisler organized the memorial ride. It has become her sad duty to coordinate these events, having brought mourners together for cyclist deaths on H Street and M Street.

And there will be another one, on Thursday, for Thomas A. Hollowell, who was hit by a red-light runner at 12th and Constitution, just off the National Mall.

If you’re murdered by a gun in this city, the police flood the neighborhood. Lights are put up. Squad cars are posted on corners to reassure people that they’re safe.

But if you’re a murdered by a car, nothing is done. I visited 12th and Pennsylvania the day after Hollowell’s death and cars were still running red lights. A more enlightened city would make physical changes to the intersection to make it safer and crackdown on red light runners.

But not the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). Safety is not a priority for this unresponsive bureaucracy.

At the memorial for Carlos Sanchez-Martin, a man sat down in the street. This wasn’t planned – no one even knew who he was. He sat down in front of four lanes of traffic with his scooter next to him.

DDOT does so little to stop rampaging drivers that ordinary citizens are willing to put their bodies on the line for safe streets.

The memorial rides are grassroots affairs. Organized by Rachel Maisler, they have forced the city to make changes that keep people safe, like removing parking spaces on the M St bike lane. Negative media coverage is the only thing that DDOT responds to.

The memorial ride for Thomas Hollowell is Thursday 5:30 PM at Farragut Square. People on bikes, scooters, rollerblades or even just walking – anyone who believes in safe streets is welcome. Wear white. It will be a silent procession to where Hollowell lost his life. Follow Rachel Maisler on Twitter for more details.

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.