I Street Bike Plan Triggers Firestorm

ANC 6D Report

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A rendering of the design of 899 Maine Avenue SW. Rendering: Holland & Knight

NOTE: The Hill Rag published an article about this meeting Jan. 18. You can find that here.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6D met on Jan. 10 over Zoom. Commissioners Dr. Marjorie Lightman (6D01), Jared Weiss (6D02, secretary), Ronald Collins (6D03, treasurer), Andy Litsky (6D04), Fredrica (Rikki) Kramer (6D05, vice chair), Rhonda Hamilton (6D06) and Edward Daniels (6D07, chair) were in attendance. Commissioners voted unanimously to re-elect a slate of the current office holders to another term.

DC Dept. of Transportation (DDOT) Transportation Planner Jamee Ernst briefed the commission on the “SW/SE I Street Safety Project,” otherwise known as the I Street protected bike lanes. Now in preliminary and at 30% concept planning, final designs are expected in the spring of 2022 date. DDOT expects to issue a Notice of Intent (NOI) this spring. Construction is planned for this fall. Designed to increase bike use by installing protected bike lanes, the Project spans I Street from 7th Street SE to 7th Street SW.

Taking DDOT to task, Chair Daniels pointed out the difficulties created by the installation of protected bike lanes on New Jersey Avenue and First Street SE. No allowance was made for parcel deliveries, which are made at the front entrances of residential buildings and retail establishments. Unloading trucks, he pointed out, often block an entire lane of traffic due to the lack of curbside parking created by the installation of protected bike lanes, Daniels stated. This creates real safety concerns due to the obstruction of sight lines for drivers on these roads. “DDOT creates fires by installing these bike lanes and then tries to put them out,” he stated in an exasperated tone. He accused the agency of ignoring the commission’s input in its bike lanes plans entirely.

The issue of I Street protected bike lanes had been previously discussed at the commission’s March 2021 meeting. DDOT Community Engagement Specialist Andrew DeFrank briefed the commission on plans for the I Street Bike Lane. Originally, the project called for the replacement of all parking on the northern side of I Street from Seventh Street SE to Seventh Street SW by two protected bike lanes. This would remove over 150 parking spaces. (Here is the original plan: https://www.anc6d.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Eye-Street-SW-SE-presentation-to-ANC-6D-21-2-8.pdf.)

DDOT, DeFrank stated at the March meeting, had changed its thinking about the project. After re-measuring the street, agency engineers discovered there was sufficient roadway to situate protected bike lanes between the curb and parked cars, DeFrank said. The agency now planned to install protected bike lanes on the north and south sides of the street between the parking lane and the curb instead of a double track on the north side. The new plan, he said, preserved current parking from Third Street west to Seventh Street SW. 48 spaces would still be removed between South Capitol and Third Street SW. 20 of these are residential spaces and another 28 are currently metered parking (https://www.hillrag.com/2021/03/31/anc-6d-talks-air-quality-at-buzzard-point/).

The overview provided by Ernst appeared at odds with DeFrank’s earlier pledge. In response to a query from Commissioner Weiss’s, she stated that all parking would be entirely removed on one side of I Street. When pressed by Weiss, Ernst was unable to say out many total spots would be eliminated.

Ernst did address concerns raised by Amidon-Bowen Elementary School parents and commissioners regarding how the plans impact on their I Street pickup/drop-off zone. The current situation, she stated, would be preserved with an unprotected bike lane and parking next to the curb. However, a protected bike lane would be installed along the south side of the street next to Westminster Church. DDOT was working with the developers of the Westminster Church project to address any concerns about the bike lane’s impact, she said.

DDOT is being ageist in its bike lane plans, stated both Commissioners Lightman and Kramer. “I do not see a single vehicle (on these bike lanes) that is useful for a senior to use,” Lightman stated. “The assumption that everyone is going to be on two wheels is ageist and wrong,” said Kramer.

“Why aren’t the seniors and children a priority?” Commissioner Hamilton asked rhetorically.

Commissioners Collins and Litsky echoed the concerns of their fellow commissioners pointing out that risk posed to seniors at Westminster by bicycle riders.

“Your analysis of I Street is no better than one conducted by a high school student,” Lightman stated. “Have you not walked the street? Every single section has a unique set of conditions.” The agency is treating I Street as a thoroughfare rather than a neighborhood street, she said. Citing a laundry list of developments, the school and the churches impacted by the plan, she pointed out the conditions of every block are different. “We need a street by street analysis,” Lightman said.

“I suggest you step back from your plan,” advised Lightman, “You should involve the community and begin all over again.” “I am absolutely appalled that you have come to a public meeting to share projections that you are going to implement over the next 12 months,” she said.

“I don’t trust DDOT. They don’t collaborate with the ANC,” added Commissioner Litsky.

Ernst pledged to return to the commission to present her agency’s plans as they mature.

899 Maine Avenue Gets a Hearing
Representatives of developer Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners briefed the commission on their plans for Planned Unit Development (PUD) for a residential building with ground floor retail on the triangular site of a former Department of Agriculture office building at 899 Maine Ave. SW. Lynch is now asking for the land to be rezoned from MU-12 to MU-9, allowing a building of up to 120 feet in height.

The developer plans a single structure stepping down in height from 120 feet on Maine Avenue to 100 feet on G Street SW. The building is shaped into two main elements with a connecting structure incorporating a Ninth Street residential entrance. A continuous set of retail bays are planned for the Maine Avenue side wrapping round the corner with Ninth Street SW.

Developers envisioned creating a private driveway on the east side of the property, which would run from the existing G Street curb cut to a new one planned for Maine Avenue SW. All loading would take place in a dock on the opposite side from the residential entrance. Two levels of underground parking are planned. Developers plan to file a PUD application in early February.

This is not anywhere near a finished project, stated Commissioner Lightman. Moreover, the existing intersection at Ninth Street and Maine Avenue SW is already a disaster, she said. Commissioner Collins echoed her assessment and inquired about construction traffic routes. No plan has been developed as yet, representatives said, but access from the G Street SW is envisioned. Truck traffic is banned from G Street SW, Collins retorted.

“This is the most problematic site to develop in Southwest unless you reconfigure Ninth Street,” said Commissioner Litsky. *Unless you are bringing in the construction materials by drone, this is going to be a difficult project to build. I don’t see how the entrance on Ninth Street is going to function. The community benefit for this project should be “Don’t screw up the traffic for the rest of Southwest.”

Commissioner Kramer criticized the Ninth Street residential entrance and construction entrance on G Street SW. “Pickup and drop off on Ninth Street is not tenable and G Street SW construction access will not work, she stated. “You are halfway to a clever solution to a difficult project, but a long way from a complete solution,” she observed.

Commissioner Litsky asked whether the developer intended to build and sell, pointing to an earlier project on H Street NE. Jair Lynch intends to hold the property, representatives stated.

Commissioner Kramer pushed the developer to commit to more affordable housing. “I would hope you could push this much higher than 15 percent,” she said.

Commissioners Kramer and Hamilton questioned the impact of the building’s shadow on neighboring Jefferson Academy and Jefferson Recreational Field. The project will now create shadows on the football field, project representatives stated. Both took exception to increasing shadows at the tennis and pickle ball courts immediately adjacent to the project site. The worst shadows created by the development will be around 3 p.m. in the afternoon when the field is most used by students and others, Hamilton pointed out.

Commissioner Lightman suggested the commission form a committee meet with developers to work matter out. Her colleagues concurred, but took no formal action.

Other Matters
Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) outlined his plan for redrawing ANC and SMD boundaries now that the redistricting plan has been approved by the DC Council. Allen intends to appoint a commission of residents, excluding elected ANC commissioners. The process will take roughly two mouths. It will follow the model of 2010. Each SMD will contain approximately 2,000 residents. Allen welcomed all feedback from commissioners. Allen is open to an ANC crossing ward boundaries, which is allowed under DC law.

MPD First District Captain Darren Haskis briefed the commission on public safety. Violent crime is around the same as last year, Haskins said. While there were no burglaries, motor vehicle theft doubled compared to last year in the past month. There was a carjacking at gun point, he stated, in front of the HUD building on the evening of Jan 9. The car was later recovered.

Pepco Public Affairs Manager Jamaal Jordan provided an update on the utility’s Capital Grid Project. The section in the commission will be completed by June of 2022.

The commission unanimously:

  • approved a restaurant license with an indoor entertainment endorsement along with a community agreement for Pink Taco, 100 M Street SE;
  • approved a restaurant license for & Pizza, 55 M St. SE;
  • decided not to take action on the change of hours requested by Tap 99, 1250 Half Street, SE;
  • approved a letter to DPW detailing enforcement and traffic marking concerns at 1103 Half Street SW;
  • approved its FY22 Q1 Quarterly Financial Report;
  • approved a resolution celebrating the 50th Anniversary of DC Home Rule.

ANC 6D meets at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of every month. The next meeting is Feb. 14, 2022 via Zoom. For more information and links to join ANC meetings, visit www.anc6d.org.