Harry Jaffe: Cars losing war for D.C. streets

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe,Phil Mendelson,Vincent Gray,Tommy Wells,Metro and Traffic

Bike jams are driving me nuts!

I'm biking down 15th Street one recent morning toward downtown for a meeting. I am running late. If I can zip through Rhode Island Avenue, I might make it to K Street on time. I'm hammering the pedals. I hit 25 miles per hour. I slow down for a line of cyclists easing into the intersection. The light changes. I am 10 bikes back. I am doomed -- again.

Drive or walk through the downtown streets of the nation's capital these days and you see bikes. And buses. And weencey Zipcars. And cops on Segways. There seem to be fewer cars, which worries the auto advocates.

Lon Anderson, venerable spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, believes the District government has declared "war on cars." That's a bit of an overstatement, designed to inflame his membership of motorists, but if we accept the dire conflict, I have bad news for Anderson: Cars are losing. And in my humble opinion, the residents, businesses and developers of Washington, D.C., are winning.

We will always have cars on our streets. No way the boulevards and roundabouts designed by Pierre L'Enfant will become pedestrian and biking byways, like Lucca, the walled city in Italy's Tuscany. But AAA and the automobile face a juggernaut bent on giving residents and commuters options beyond cars for getting around.

Autos face a formidable command structure in Mayor Vince "Sustainable" Gray, who's pushed proposals to make D.C. among the greenest cities in the world; Tommy Wells, the council member who used his transportation committee to promote streetcars and policies for a livable D.C.; planning chief Harriet Tregoning, who's been a leader at the national level for smart growth and sustainability for decades; and transportation boss Terry Bellamy, who learned to love bike lanes when he was deputy to Adrian Fenty's transportation chief, Gabe Klein.

Tregoning is proposing growth plans and zoning rules that will make the city and its neighborhoods more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. Bellamy is moving in with plans for bike lanes and streetcars, which could one day take people from Union Station to Georgetown. Gray is finding funds to pay for any changes. Tommy Wells will help shepherd them through the council, now chaired by Phil Mendelson, who leans toward bikes and buses.

Tregoning's planning office is in the process of proposing changes to zoning regulations that would release developers from including a mandatory number of parking spaces in new buildings. Lon Anderson told WAMU that the proposal "threatens the future of Washington."

On the bricks and mortar front, Bellamy's operation is in the process of creating a dedicated bike lane west across M Street, through downtown. That would eat up a traffic lane and put a bike path in front of the strip joints on M Street between 18th and 19th streets.

When Camelot erects bike racks in front of the club, we'll know the war is really over.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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