28 Jul 2022

What is the recall in SMD 6A04 all about?

Handwritten note spotted along North Carolina Avenue. Photo by María Helena Carey

All projects around town come with their fair share of opposition: Change can be hard to accept, due to negative perceptions and the disproportionate negative effects it can bring to some groups. Sometimes, change can be pleasant. For instance, most neighbors appreciate having what is now being billed as Suburban Safeway in their midst. The completely renovated store, which now occupies the bottom floor of the Beckert’s Park development, is large and airy and boasts a poutine bar– a far cry from its predecessor, known as the Unsafeway, with its large parking lot and perennial MPD patrol outside. 

For decades now, neighbors have demanded change around C Street NE, from 14th to 22nd Streets NE. The road is entirely too wide and there are many problems related to speeding, such as crashes. Speed and its attendant aggression also create an unsafe route to school for neighborhood children going to Eliot-Hine Middle School and Eastern High School. 

Finally, in 2021, a project to tackle this problem got underway. 

You may be familiar with it, but if you’re not, you can check out an overview at their website. In essence, the project takes a wide street with painted bike lanes and converts it into a narrower, multimodal road with raised and protected bike lanes, bioretention areas and raised crosswalks designed to prioritize safety for all road users. It’s almost a wonder a project as ambitious as this one was passed, but it’s been great to see similar formerly congested commuter roads such as Maryland Avenue become streets you feel safe crossing, pedaling or driving through.

The one flaw in the C Street project? The omission of a large, mostly quiet city block that connects directly to Lincoln Park. As opposed to the other roads involved in the project, which happen to be minor arterials, the 1300 block of North Carolina Avenue is a collector road, connecting traffic from C Street into Capitol Hill. As a collector, the road gets no Federal money and therefore was never part of the big C Street project. But creating a bike lane that would connect the eastern part of the neighborhood to Lincoln Park –– a community gathering place which also happens to have a Capital Bikeshare station in the northeastern corner–– seemed like a logical extension of the project, and the District Department of Transportation agreed.

Bike lanes are not universally loved. As a pedestrian and not a biker, I used to think that bike lanes did not involve me or my needs, until I understood that a robust bike infrastructure provides a space for bicycle riders to exist and thrive, allowing us both to transit safely. For many drivers, infrastructure that slows them down can feel oppressive and inconvenient, and when bike lanes interfere with parking, some of the most bitter fights crop up. Take the long, fraught history of bike lanes in Shaw, where some of the most vocal opponents of this infrastructure have gone so far as to call them “a cancer.”

Back to the 1300 block of North Carolina Avenue; the task wasn’t easy: How to connect a bike hub to a network of bike lanes, all while respecting parking and not disturbing the status quo? The answer is of course, that you cannot have it all. DDOT came up with six possible configurations for this small yet significant stretch of road, and out of those possibilities, ANC 6A unanimously voted for the version that will go forward soon: one that converts that stretch of road to one-way westbound, flanked by protected bike lanes and more parking than currently exists, albeit in a slightly different configuration. For instance, by eliminating the need to have a right-turning lane from 13th Street NE onto North Carolina Avenue, several parking spaces are regained. In addition, a narrower one-way street reduces the stress of looking in both directions for pedestrians and combined with speed mitigation and a raised crosswalk breaking up the road, makes for a safer and more calm collector road. (Not all one-way streets are safer––cf. Independence Avenue SE––, but the narrower the one-way street is, the safer it can be.)

As a bridge between the neighborhood and government agencies, here at The Hill Is Home we’ve seen current ANC 6A04 commissioner Amber Gove do her job as commissioner with efficiency, respect and professionalism. Ever since she started her service to the community, she has endeavored to keep not just her single member district informed, but us at THIH as well. She has also done right by her community bringing several traffic calming features to different streets and intersections, some of which have put her temporarily at odds with neighbors, only to be welcomed once they are implemented and become the new status quo. After witnessing a terrible collision at the intersection of Constitution and 13th a few years ago, where the child of the after-care program teacher was hit by a speeding driver, Amber worked tirelessly to ensure that there were traffic calming features in place at that intersection. She also was able to bring a crosswalk to 13th and North Carolina at Lincoln Park. For someone who is in a volunteer position, and who has a busy family life and a day job, Amber goes above and beyond her call of duty. ANC meetings can last upward of two hours, and the past few years have demanded additional time on account of redistricting efforts and special construction projects. 

Amber’s single member district, 6A04, has some of the most idyllic streets on the Hill. In the heart of this SMD is the 1300 block of North Carolina Avenue NE and its sister block, the 1300 block of A Street NE: a mixture of flat-front and porch rowhomes, with flower-dotted front yards and several little free libraries, known across the Hill for their decorating whimsy and cohesive spirit. But even in this picture-perfect paradise, where the spirit of celebration prevails, conflict and spats can arise, and the rifts between neighbors can turn ugly. And so, Amber’s efforts as an ANC commissioner to help develop projects with District agencies and the rest of her fellow commissioners for the well-being of this specific part of the community have earned her some pretty vocal detractors. 

There is a group of neighbors actively petitioning for her recall. I asked a couple of these neighbors if they wanted to talk to me for this blog post and share why they wish to recall Amber, but they declined because they felt I’d be biased. The neighbors have also put up signs such as the one below, which reads “300 more cars on East Capitol due to North Carolina Avenue one-way conversion. Voice your concern now! Email Charles Allen at callen@dccouncil.us” and one handwritten note warning, “Neighbors– Are you aware of major traffic and parking changes about to occur in this area? Wake up!” 

Poster admonishing neighbors of increased congestion with upcoming changes. Photo by María Helena Carey.

ANC recall efforts are not very common. ANC commissioner, Trinidad Carver Langston resident and woman who loves controversy Kathy Henderson has tried recalling fellow commissioners in her area at least four times. The last time she tried was in November of 2021, when she unsuccessfully challenged ANC 5D05 commissioner Sydelle Moore, due to a lack of signatures. Prior to that, there was a commissioner in Ward 4 back in 2012 who was apparently not vocal enough in his objections against Walmart and was successfully recalled by his constituents

In the spirit of representing their point of view, I am sharing their objection to Amber in the original recall petition (click here for link), filed at the end of May of this year by neighbor Alexandra Kelly. I am also attaching an email from Amber Gove dated April 23, which addresses directly some of the concerns raised in the recall petition. As a heads-up, and since this is an election year, if you live in this SMD, you may have different groups of people coming through to ask for your signature, whether it be to sign the recall petition or to add a candidate to the ballot. If this group of neighbors files 200 valid signatures, the recall will appear on the November ballot alongside Amber’s bid for re-election. Make sure you take time to read what you’ll be signing.

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