District subsidizes H-Street partiers

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, December 19, 2009

The H Street shuttle is a D.C. Council budget earmark worthy of review in light of the city's projected multi-million-dollar budget shortfall. It's also a compelling example of how District politicians cater to narrow interests even when the spending contributes, albeit unintentionally, to this city's racial and class divide.

First, two stipulations. I understand why owners of new restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues along the H Street corridor in Northeast worry that the city's two-year streetscaping project might hit them hard where it hurts the most -- the bottom line.

Second, I would be sorry to see a slowdown in the H Street corridor's return to glory. Some of the King family's happiest moments were spent participating in the H Street Halloween Day parades in the late '40s. Crowds of costumed children filling sidewalks for blocks, smiling merchants, confetti flying everywhere. It was great fun.

So bring on the H Street renaissance, the theaters, clubs and sushi happy hours. And cheers to risk-taking entrepreneurs trying to bring nightlife back to a part of the city that needs an economic shot in the arm.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, accountability for the risks inherent in private ventures has been assumed by taxpayers citywide. It comes in the form of the H Street shuttle, a privately operated, D.C. taxpayer-financed nightly bus service that is free to patrons who want to party hardy and do high-end dining in a resurgent neighborhood.

But is a free bus service really necessary?

The H Street corridor is not an island, cut off from the world. Parking is available in the neighborhood. And the Metrobus is convenient to H Street fun spots.

The X2 runs along H Street from Lafayette Park near the White House to Minnesota Avenue NE. And the X8 runs along Maryland Avenue from Union Station: Get off at 13th Street NE and walk only two blocks to H Street.

Access to H Street by Metrobus may not be the problem, however. There seems to be a perception that some of Metrobus's X2 clientele can be, shall we say, a little rough around the edges. "It ain't the bus, it's us," is the way one civil rights activist described opposition to school busing.

The H Street Business Cooperative, which operates the shuttle system, makes it plain in an online promotion that it wants the private bus to serve patrons, "from different areas of the city and the surrounding regions."

"Without the shuttle," an H Street bar owner complained in a statement to dcist.com, "we are really isolated."

"Isolated"? From what? Never mind.

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