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Ever since getting my nifty map of all the land the National Parks Service owns in the District, consequences of those holes in District sovereignty have been popping out at me all over the place. Most recently, I noticed that the broad, planter-sprinkled sidewalks of Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House—recipient of a much-heralded set of bike lanes—has a distinct lack of bike racks, which are scattered liberally through the rest of downtown. Especially on sunny weekend days when people are at a festival or protest, bikes are locked to every bench and post (which is technically illegal).
How could this be? You guessed it—that’s National Park Service land. On sidewalks that belong to the District, anyone can ask for a rack, and as long as it’s ok with the abutting property owner (who can request and pay for a rack themselves) the District Department of Transportation will put it on a list for installation. On Pennsylvania Avenue, by contrast, bike racks would have to be approved by the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission on Fine Arts. Who’s going to fight that hard for a legitimate place to park their ride?
To add insult to injury, NPS ownership extends to the sidewalk in front of the Wilson Building. Bike racks behind the building are frequently overwhelmed.
All of this isn’t to say that Park Service sidewalks are the only ones woefully underpopulated by bike racks. I typically have no good options for locking my bike in Georgetown, where the only real parking capacity is down at the very western end of the waterfront. One would think that a metro-less neighborhood where automobile parking is so confined might want to invite alternative modes of transportation. I asked the Business Improvement District whether additional bike racks had been considered; I haven’t gotten an answer.