Triantis says he is not anti-bike. In fact, he says, he rides plenty near his home outside Annapolis.
But for everyday cyclists in DC, the larger issue is that a private entity—in this case, Metropolitan AME—was able to convince officials to alter plans for a public project along one block, even though there were plenty of similar complaints from other community members. The M St. bike lane, slated to run between 14th and 28th streets, is meant to be the westbound companion to the lane along L St.
“It's not just bike infrastructure, it's any project,” says Greg Billing, the advocacy coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “The ability for any landowner to opt out of public projects is not a great precedent to set.”
Metropolitan AME isn’t just an ordinary landowner though. The church opened in 1886—the congregation goes back another half-century—and hosts large events throughout the week. President Obama and former President Bill Clinton have attended services there. And even with the on-street parking, the church still shells out $25,000 to nearby parking garages to accommodate its parishioners arriving for busy events.
“The District took all of this into consideration and came up with a solution that allows it to meet the needs of the bicyclists, the church, the safety of pedestrians and the flow of traffic in an important corridor in our city,” the Rev. Ronald Braxton, Metropolitan AME’s pastor, says in an e-mail statement.
Cyclists, though, feel their needs were not addressed. Bike advocates frequently say that physically protected bike lanes are the best conduits to encourage ridership, and having a one-block break on one of downtown DC’s busiest corridors inserts an unsafe stretch into an otherwise secure route. When the bike lane is finally installed in October, the 1500 block will place cyclists in a painted track between parked cars and moving cars without any physical barrier.
The last public meeting on the M St. bike lane was in May, when Metropolitan AME and Triantis voiced their opposition. “It's hard to appeal a decision that wasn't made in any public process,” Billing says.
Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for DC Mayor Vince Gray, says the decision to modify the bike lane rested entirely with transportation officials, though the mayor’s office did ask DDOT to deal with the complaints raised earlier this year.
“After the contentious public meeting in May, the mayor's office did ask if we could work constructively to find a solution,” says Sam Zimbabwe, a DDOT associate director who oversees the city’s bike program. “We think we did find a compromise that can work for everyone.”
Zimbabwe also says that aside from the alteration across the street from the church, no other changes have been made to the bike lane’s design. But it’s possible he might be hearing more complaints from entities along M St. that don’t want to see a protected bike lane on their doorstep.
“I wasn't aware that AME got an exception,” Triantis says. “I’m going to give DDOT a call to see what’s going on.”