Pastor Robert Price III made it very clear Saturday afternoon: His position had not wavered, and he would still not support a protected bike lane that could jut into his church’s parking spaces and make the streets more congested for his congregants.
“We are not going to allow someone’s pastime to destroy our lifeline,” Price, a pastor at the United House of Prayer church in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood, said at a D.C. Department of Transportation community meeting Saturday. “We have to protect what’s ours. We are going to be peaceful, but we are going to stand.”
Price was one of more than 300 people who attended the community meeting to discuss proposed northbound and southbound bike lanes that would connect Shaw to downtown, between Fifth and Ninth streets NW. The city is considering four options for the project, which have drawn impassioned testimony from detractors and supporters, unearthing simmering tensions in a prominent African American neighborhood that has rapidly gentrified in the past decade.
The transportation agency says it has received more than 2,000 emails about the city proposal and has had more than 40 individual meetings and calls with stakeholders. In October, the city hosted another packed meeting about the bike lanes.
“It’s a lot bigger than a bike lane in Shaw and downtown,” Leif Dormsjo, the head of the transportation department, said at the meeting. “We’re trying to strike the right balance for all the modes of transportation and all the users of transportation, and we want to protect the community interest.”
What’s best for the community, however, isn’t a simple equation. United House of Prayer, located in the 600 block of M Street NW — and other prominent churches potentially in the path of the bike lanes — say they’ve seen historic African American churches flee the District for the suburbs because of parking constraints. The bike lanes, they say, are a sign they could be next.
The churches have called Shaw home long before one-
bedroom apartments cost $2,000 a month, and before cocktail bars and safe nighttime strolls were the norm in the neighborhood. Cycling has always existed, so they ask why the city is proposing lanes now, when a new wave of largely young and affluent residents have moved in.
“To make it inconvenient for us to come to these places that make the city what it is, is unacceptable,” said William Lamar IV, a pastor at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. “We intend on keeping the Bibles and the land.”
On the other side, the neighborhood is teeming with young residents and other people who chose to move to an urban area so they could ditch their cars. They’re biking to work anyway, and some residents argue that it’s the city’s responsibility to provide safe infrastructure.
The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has cited data, which it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, showing that 12 cyclists were hit in 2014 on the stretch of Sixth Street where the bike lane is proposed.
Bike lanes also are a component of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s much-touted Vision Zero Initiative, which aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities on the city’s streets and its public transportation system by 2024.
“Biking is not a pastime for me; it’s the way I get around,” said Philip Koopman, who owns a bike shop in the city. “It’s the way my children access the resources of the city.”
The four options include: protected bike lanes in both directions on each side of Sixth Street NW; a two-way protected bike lane on Sixth Street NW; a two-way protected bike lane on Ninth Street NW; and a northbound bike lane on Fifth Street NW, coupled with a southbound one on Sixth Street NW.
In all, there are about 1,800 metered parking spaces in the area of the proposed bike lanes. On Sundays, cars are allowed to park at an angle, amounting to an additional 230 spaces. The bike lane, according to data from the transportation agency, would at most affect 190 metered spaces and 10 Sunday angled spaces. Traffic time increases would vary from three minutes to upwards of 20.
The city said it would consider not putting in a bike lane at all.
“The status quo is an option,” Dormsjo said.
The Department of Transportation is accepting public comments on the proposal through March 15.