Make Way for Automobiles

William Faulkner once said, “The American really loves nothing but his automobile: not his wife his child nor his country nor even his bank-account first…but his motor-car.” Even as many Washingtonians turn to bikes, and as our city faces worse and worse congestion, let us not forget our beloved automobiles.

Washington has become bike obsessed. Capital Bikeshare users took over 1.8 million trips last year; that’s over 5,000 trips a day. DC has the largest bike-share program in the country, with over 18,000 members and 189 stations in DC and Virginia. There are now 80 miles of dedicated bike lanes in the District. 

I applaud our city for embracing bikes. I, too, like to bike to work on occasion. Yet since the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in the late 1990s and the “temporary” closing of E Street in 2001, our city has been choked by east-west traffic. Ever try to go from Georgetown to Penn Quarter in rush hour? Good luck. And have you tried it lately?

I’ve sat on the corner of 19th and L and watched each evening as the backup has gotten worse and worse with the addition of the new bike lanes—and I watch as the smog from stopped cars pollutes while nary a bike goes by on cold winter evenings. Only 3% of commuters bike. More than 70% still drive or take the bus.

One has to wonder if there is any strategy to our bike-obsessed city.  Did it occur to anyone to perhaps put the east-west bike lanes on H, N, or I Streets? Streets with significantly less traffic than L or M. Is anyone measuring how many bikes use the lanes in rush hour to determine whether they warrant the increased traffic backup?

In order to get a speed bump in my neighborhood, I must get a petition from 75% of the households and then have the speed and quantity of traffic measured. Are we doing that for bike lanes?

Photo courtesy of Cathy Merrill Williams.

Recently I came across this signal. I assumed it meant to watch for bikers when turning, which I explained to MPD officer who pulled me over–yet I was still fined $100 for “Disobeying A Traffic Control Device.” No warning, no matter that this is not in the DC Driver Study Guide, which lists eleven other signal types.

I love that our city has embraced bikes. But let’s add some common sense to the equation and find ways to also better accommodate the automobiles we love so much.

Cathy Merrill Williams is the president and publisher of Washingtonian Media. She lives in Northwest DC with her husband, Paul, and their two sons.

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CEO & President

Catherine Merrill Williams is CEO and President of Washingtonian Media, a media company that includes the flagship 53-year-old magazine, Washingtonian, the national capital region’s leading monthly with more than 300,000 readers and winner of five National Magazine Awards; Washingtonian.com—the region’s premier lifestyle website with popular blogs, restaurant recommendations, and more; Washingtonian Bride & Groom; Washingtonian Welcome Guide; Washingtonian Custom Media; and Washingtonian Events.

From 2002 to 2007, Ms. Williams served as Director of Operations for Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), where she helped manage and collect 60 percent of the nation’s tolls—$2.7 billion a year—including the majority of the E-ZPass network. Prior to joining ACS, from 1995 to 2002, she was a partner in the worldwide management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

Ms. Williams is very active in the community and serves on the board of directors of multiple organizations including the University of Maryland College Park Foundation (where she also chairs the Board of Visitors for the School of Journalism), Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences, the City and Regional Magazine Association, Ford’s Theater, the Aspen Institute Socrates Society, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and The Merrill Family Foundation. She is a member and former chapter chair of YPO (Young President’s Organization) as well as an active member of the Cornell University Council, the Economics Club of Washington and the Federal City Council. She has appeared on CNN, the Today Show, CNN Headline News, FOX, MSNBC, as well as other local Washington stations.

She holds a B.A. from Cornell University and a M.Sc. from the London School of Economics.

Ms. Williams resides in Washington, DC, with her two sons. She enjoys sailing, skiing, and travel.