Last week, a letter from George Clark and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City called on Mayor-Elect Vince Gray to remove District Department of Transportation Director (DDOT) Gabe Klein from his post.
The Committee of 100, a planning group with a history of opposing development in the name of historical preservation, accuses DDOT and Klein with moving too quickly on a network of bike lanes that they claim has produced “confusion” for road users. However, the Committee offers no evidence or concrete details to support this claim. Instead, it opts for generalities, bureaucratese, and innuendo about Klein. Here is the unedited version of the section of the Committee’s letter concerning Klein:
We also urge you to appoint a more experienced Director of DDOT. While Mr. Klein has no shortage of ideas, his implementation of them has been uneven and may have cost the city potential federal funding for streetcars. Expanding the public transportation systems requires more than mapping routes. It demands thorough financial and governance planning, environmental and historic preservation review and compliance, planning for maintenance and other ancillary facilities, assessment of streetcar technologies worldwide and much more. Under his directorship, none of this has occurred except in a most superficial way. Mr. Klein has associated DDOT with the symbols of a “livability” agenda but hasn’t done the hard work of ensuring long-term sustainability.
Similarly, the DDOT initiative to create a network of bike lanes lacked depth of planning which has resulted in confusion for all roadway users and questionable safeguards for any of the users. It would have been helpful and prudent if DDOT had accompanied the promotion of bike usage with an aggressive campaign to demonstrate the safe and lawful role for each category of roadway users and an active enforcement of laws governing each of the users. The singular goal was to produce another symbol of the “livability” agenda and to declare victory despite the created tension among pedestrians, bikers, drivers, and public transit operators.
I follow bike news closely, often use the District’s bike paths, and have seen very little evidence that suggests Klein’s work on the bike network has produced “confusion” or “questionable safeguards” in comparison to his work on any other mode of transportation in the last few years. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that the bike infrastructure has reduced confusion for all road users and likely made cycling safer. And, as WashCycle notes, DDOT has planned the network exhaustively and underwrites plenty of educational outreach, notably the StreetSmart program.
More to the point: if the Committee of 100 has access to evidence that suggests something to the contrary they should state it openly for all to see. Are they worried the accident rates are going up near bike lanes? That cyclists aren’t using hand signals enough? That cyclists are hitting too many pedestrians? That the colors used to paint bike lanes are an unpleasing color?
Who knows. It is impossible to tell from the letter, and the Committee’s website is nearly as cryptic in regards to bike issues. It is particularly unfortunate that an organization with a long and successful history of opposing highways would turn its fire on biking, a mode of transportation that Klein sees as an important tool in making the region less dependent on automobiles.
Presumably, the “depth of planning” dig is a veiled reference to the last minute changes that Mayor Fenty -- not Gabe Klein -- requested on the new bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue, a lane that the Committee of 100 opposed on aesthetic grounds. Still, if that is the case, the group should simply state it openly.
The Committee of 100 was once a powerful voice in the District, but has seen its influence dwindle in recent years, particularly in light of the growing influence of the younger and tech-savvier crew that runs the Greater Greater Washington blog.
If the Committee of 100 wants to regain credibility, it needs to do a lot better than this. The Committee ought to revise its letter, and next time around it should cite specific criticisms of Klein, verifiable facts, and actual evidence to back its call for his ouster. If they are unable to produce any specific and well-substantiated concerns, they should retract the letter.