Parking the SUV -- Temporarily

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty steps off a Metrobus as he heads to a news conference to promote the city's Car Free Day, which is scheduled for next Tuesday.
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty steps off a Metrobus as he heads to a news conference to promote the city's Car Free Day, which is scheduled for next Tuesday. (By Lateef Mangum -- Courtesy Of D.c. Mayor's Office)
By David Nakamura and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The mayor's advisers were stumped. No one could agree on the savviest way to handle the sensitive political situation.

How would Mayor Adrian M. Fenty travel 2.1 miles from the John A. Wilson Building to Cardozo High School on Clifton Street NW for a news conference in which he was to tell residents to protect the environment and leave their cars behind?

Showing up in his usual gas-guzzling, government-issued Lincoln Navigator seemed politically incorrect. The Metro was an option, but Fenty was running late and would have to walk several blocks. Someone offered a vehicle from the city's fleet of hybrids, but the mayor ruled that out. He countered by offering to hop on the expensive Cannondale bicycle he uses for triathlons, but then aides reminded him that he might become sweaty in his navy business suit.

So he walked up 14th Street NW and took the No. 52 bus north.

The mayor's appearance, without security, on the bus caused quite a stir. One woman had her picture taken with Fenty (D), and a male passenger handed the mayor a business card.

"People were very surprised," said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who rode the same bus to the news conference.

At the conference, the mayor helped promote the numerous jobs available in the environmental industry and the city's first Car Free Day, which is scheduled for next Tuesday and was approved by the council in the spring. The District will join 1,500 cities worldwide to raise awareness about alternative transportation, said Wells, who usually rides his steel-gray Bianchi bicycle to the Wilson Building each day.

Wells said that because more people are moving to the District, a day without cars can deliver an important message. "We don't want to create a traffic nightmare," he said. "You don't need a car to get around. That's what makes us different than the suburbs."

The District is a leader in public transportation. Statistics show that the city is second only to New York in the percentage of residents who use public transit and leads in the percentage of residents who walk to work. Residents can find out how to participate in Car Free Day at

In New York, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), whose administration has served as a model for Fenty's, regularly takes the subway to work. But he was recently embarrassed by published reports that he takes a government car a few blocks from his residence to the subway entrance.

During his tenure as chairman of the D.C. Council, the late David A. Clarke was known for balancing his 6-foot-8 frame on a beaten-up bicycle to get around.

Fenty usually takes the Navigator. But a few weeks ago, he lightened its load by dropping his security detail on some days and driving himself through the city.

When the mayor decided on the bus yesterday, Wells had already left city hall for the news conference. A mayoral aide called Wells, who jumped off his bus at 14th and K streets NW and waited for Fenty's bus to arrive. Wells then joined Fenty and mayoral aide Veronica Washington for the rest of the trip.

After the news conference, Fenty took the subway to the Wilson Building. But by last night, he was back in the Ford Expedition he owns, heading to a pair of community meetings across town.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company