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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Assessing DDOT’s Impact in Ward 8

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is all-in for equity. On its website, DDOT uses 28 words to describe its mission, 61 words for its vision, and 287 words for its commitment to equity; this includes a statement and a definition.

The emphasis continues in moveDC—the District’s Multimodal Long-Range Transportation Plan (2021)—where DDOT Director Everett Lott pledges: “Equity will be considered in everything we do — moveDC will ensure that our investments in transportation benefit all residents, visitors, and commuters.” The plan overflows with references to equity, including in its Policy Statements (e.g., N: “Improve economic equity and accessibility through safe, efficient, integrated, and affordable transit options), its Goals (e.g., “Equity”), and its Strategies (e.g., #1: Ensure Equity in DDOT Projects).

Despite the fervency of its rhetoric, DDOT’s observations are rather predictable, such as this section from its Equity Statement:

Deep-rooted structural injustices and inequities have contributed to the disparate access to safe, affordable and efficient transportation… DDOT also acknowledges these inequities have disproportionately and negatively impacted environmental and health outcomes in our underserved communities. 

This is true. It is very obviously true. The reality that underserved communities are not treated equally is not news to residents East of the River. Ward 8 suffers from many of the “deep-rooted structural injustices and inequities” that DDOT references; this reflects decades of decision-making about transportation that—by intent and impact—diminish communities in Ward 8.

This is not a rhetorical problem—it’s a real problem.

Try crossing the 11th St. Bridge on foot towards Navy Yard without getting plowed by cars exiting Interstate 295. Because of the monumental stupidity of the crossing, pedestrians must dangerously extend themselves—unprotected by a curb extension—into the intersection before they can even see (or be seen by) vehicles exiting the interstate.

The Rhetoric

Or try pushing a wheelchair or stroller through the Good Hope Road & Martin Luther King Jr. intersection during rush hour. The hostility of the infrastructure is palpable—everything is working against the safety of the person: this is what it feels like when the speed and convenience of automobiles are prioritized over the lives of Ward 8 residents.

Or try biking into Congress Heights along Martin Luther King Jr. to visit the Entertainment and Sports Arena, or along Good Hope Road to Lidl in Skyland, one of the few groceries East of the River. The dysfunctional infrastructure on these roads enables high-speed, reckless driving that threatens everyone, especially those walking or biking.

Dangerous, hostile, and dysfunctional—that is what transportation inequity looks like, and it’s everywhere in Ward 8.

Solving This Inequity
It is good that our culture—including DDOT—is awakening to the terrible reality of inequity. But the point is not to admire the problem; the point is to solve it.

Solving a problem like transportation inequity starts with the idea of a flourishing community. Communities can be assessed by any number of measures—schools, jobs, recreation, safety, governance, housing, transportation, etc. Communities “rich” in these measures can flourish. When limited resources are divvied up, neighborhoods with more economic or political clout receive more investments and resultant infrastructure; areas like Ward 8 are excluded. In the context of transportation, this means that Ward 8 is impoverished by fewer, inferior options for moving around.

This isolates neighborhoods East of the River from the life of the city; it creates expensive dependency on private car ownership; and it causes a disproportionate number of injuries and deaths from preventable collisions. The way to change the lack of transportation options is very simple—it’s to create new transportation options. It is only within this context that bike lanes can be considered.

Currently, children do not bike safely around their neighborhoods in Ward 8. Residents do not bike safely to work, to shop, to exercise in Ward 8. Visitors do not bike safely to explore Ward 8. This is the reality of transportation inequity.

Biking exemplifies the safe, sustainable, and reliable transportation the District needs. It reduces vehicular congestion; it’s good for the planet; it saves money; it’s a fun, functional way to exercise; and it sparks joy.

DDOT knows this.

New Project—No Bike Lane
Yet when it comes to projects in Ward 8, DDOT’s rhetoric about equity devolves into the reality of exclusion. Recently, DDOT initiated a Good Hope Road SE Corridor Safety Project to address safety issues on Good Hope Road between Minnesota Avenue and Alabama Avenue; this project has the potential to transform Good Hope Road. Yet when DDOT presented its plans, it declared at the outset: “This project does not include a bicycle lane…”

Good Hope Road is an extraordinary candidate for bicycle infrastructure: it serves as the first welcome to DC’s East of the River communities after crossing the 11th St. Bridge. It connects Wards 7 and 8, and numerous neighborhoods including Anacostia, Fairlawn, Skyland, and Hillcrest.

Beginning this project without even considering bike lanes is an injury to Ward 8, but the insult is revealing: it directly contradicts DDOT’s approach to equitable transportation. Ward 8 is treated differently for the same reasons Ward 8 is always treated differently: indifference (“they don’t need it”), condescension (“they don’t want it”), disdain (“they don’t deserve it.”)

Ward 8’s biking community is growing. Photo Paul Davis

Here’s the rub: it is unsurprising when people on the outside impose damaging policies on Ward 8. But this time, the calls are coming from inside the house. There are prominent voices in Ward 8 full of passionate intensity against bike lanes: the damage they create is self-inflicted.

These voices insist—loudly—that bike lanes don’t belong in Ward 8. Not everyone bikes, that’s true. But not everyone is an elementary school student either, and people of common sense and decency still want good elementary schools in their communities. Bike lanes are good, like clean water, good schools, safe streets, and affordable housing are good. The absence of these things represents a problem to be fixed, not to be coddled. All voices have the right to express themselves, even misanthropic ones, but DDOT leaders have the responsibility to be serious.

When DDOT fails to deliver multimodal transit options like bike lanes in Ward 8, it moves Ward 8 backwards, and communities East of the River are served another missed opportunity for equity.

DDOT’s rhetorical commitment to equity is a good place to start. But words don’t keep Ward 8 residents safe. If DDOT is serious, it should go all-in for an equitable transportation system in Ward 8 that includes bike lanes. Ward 8 residents and visitors deserve to bike and walk around their communities and neighborhoods without risking their lives.

Paul Davis wasn’t born in Ward 8, but he got here—gratefully—as soon as he could. He is helping to build a community initiative, Ward 8 Bike Alliance, to organize support for safe cycling in this wonderful ward. Drop him a line at paul.timothy.davis@gmail.com 

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