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Gear Prudence: Every two years, D.C. elects ANC commissioners, and a bunch of them are always anti-bike. It sucks and I feel like they hold our city hostage when it comes to simple and necessary bike projects. They’re not listening no matter how many times we try, and it’s so frustrating to have these big fights over every little project. How are we supposed to get these people stuck in the past to embrace a better pro-bike future? —Spurned Advocate Dreads Veto Of The Eminently Reasonable
Dear SADVOTER: Max Weber wrote that “politics is the strong and slow boring of hard boards,” and in hyperlocal politics the boards are thicker than usual. But Max Weber never had to respond to a listserv thread titled “Re: re: re: re: re: re: Fwd: re: re: Save Our Parking,” so his insight here might be somewhat limited, if still generally correct. Change is hard, and while it seems apparent to you (and GP) that anti-bike viewpoints are a dead end, that’s hardly the case for everyone.
In D.C., the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) is often the first hurdle for people advocating for new bike lanes or street redesigns. The commissions are composed of elected representatives from a few adjacent neighborhoods and they often review and vote on things like street changes, liquor licenses, real estate projects, and other things that impact the community.
Persistence is good, and it sounds like there’s been no lack of effort on your part. Many commissioners are open-minded, and providing a pro-bike perspective is often a useful corrective to the reflexive ‘just say no’ attitude that can pervade neighborhood-level politics. But your frustration is understandable. Changing opponents’ minds is good, but beating your opponents is better, and that might mean going around them rather than through them. Your individual ANC commissioner is just one vote on the commission; other commissioners might be more receptive to changes. Keep showing up and enlist like-minded neighbors to do the same.
Moreover, while the ANC is given “great weight” on projects, meaning that the city must take the commission’s vote into consideration, you can also advance your pro-bike plans via other avenues. There are often meetings on individual projects where residents can provide their own feedback directly. Additionally, you can contact the councilmember for your ward, and the at-large councilmembers, and even testify at a Council hearing. The D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council 1) exists, and 2) is another great avenue for getting your perspective to the powers that be. And lastly, you can support the professional advocates at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, who have proven effective over the years in advancing many causes, local and regional.
There’s no one right path, but feeling hopeless and clamming up doesn’t help. Progress isn’t inevitable, so keep pushing. —GP