Posts from December 2011
Local activists questioned Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry's commitment and leadership when he failed to appear at a Thursday rally in opposition to a women's services shelter in Anacostia.
Amplified with a bullhorn, ANC Commissioner Greta Fuller's voice cut the early morning cold, echoing down the 1200 block of Good Hope Road SE.
"We have been fed lies over and over again that are our community will be revitalized," Fuller said to more than 50 people who gathered. "Marion Barry, you are not in touch with our community. You don't know what we want, you don't know what we need."
Organized by former Barry spokesperson Natalie Williams, now challenging Barry for Ward 8's 2012 DC Council Democratic nomination, the rally attracted community leaders and residents that have sought information on Calvary Women's Services' plan to open a 50-bed shelter on Good Hope Road for the past 6 months without success.
A self-identified "old foot soldier," known widely as the grande dame of Anacostia for her tireless work with children and the homeless, Hannah Hawkins expressed her disappointment in Barry.
"Marion Barry, I love him," said Hawkins, the matriarch at Children of Mine Youth Center on Mount View Place SE. "But he has backed off a lot of these social services issues."
Many in the assemblage questioned Barry's nonattendance. In a recent press release criticizing Williams' candidacy, Barry addressed the women's shelter asserting "This is an issue I investigated and have been working with the Community [sic] on for over three months. Her Johnny-come-lately efforts are just that." No one in the crowd could account for Barry's claims, while some even questioned if there are ulterior motivations for his reluctance to respond to his constituent's concerns.
In reaction to Barry's statement, DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown reprimanded the former mayor for a "potential violation of the Council's Code of Official Conduct" in addition to existing city and federal law that bar electioneering with public resources. The DC GOP questioned Barry's ethics in attacking an opponent on government time.
Many speakers at Thursday's rally were direct in marking the distinction of their opposition. "We are not against women's shelter, we are not against homelessness," Fuller said. "What we are against is the oversaturation of these services in a condensed area."
2011 closes as the last year that Washington will probably lead the nation in bike sharing stations after having the most in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, New York City will launch a 600-station system, dwarfing DC's system.
Here are the current US bike sharing systems, ranked by number of stations. The list is more impressive than last year's version.
Nationwide, the total number of cities with bike sharing expanded from 8 to 18, and the total number of bikesharing stations more than doubled, from 251 to 559.
- Washington/Arlington, DC/VA: 140 stations
- Minneapolis/Saint Paul, MN: 115 stations
- Miami Beach, FL: 70 stations
- Boston, MA: 61 stations
- Denver, CO: 52 stations*
- Madison, WI: 27 stations
- Broward County, FL: 20 stations
- San Antonio, TX: 20 stations
- Boulder, CO: 15 stations*
- Washington State University - Pullman, WA: 8 stations
- Chicago, IL: 7 stations
- Omaha, NE: 5 stations
- University of California - Irvine: 4 stations
- Des Moines, IA: 4 stations
- Tulsa, OK: 4 stations
- Louisville, KY: 3 stations
- Kailua, HI: 2 stations
- Spartanburg, SC: 2 stations
* Denver and Boulder are counted separately, but cross-honor memberships. Combined, the system has a total 67 stations.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Good Hope Road SE, one of East Washington's historic thoroughfares, has been home to many places now forgotten. While still a pastoral area the arterial road hosted, from the late 1800s into the 1960s, an orphanage for children of German ancestry, one such place with an obscured memory.
Too rural for street addresses, the German Orphan Asylum at 2300 Good Hope Road wasn't given an address until 1945. It first opened its doors in August 1880. Today, the Marbury Plaza apartment complex looms over Good Hope Road where the orphanage previously stood.
"In the second half of the nineteenth century, Washington's native-born and immigrant German population was significant in numbers," writes Mona E. Dingle in 1996's Urban Odyssey, A Multicultural History of Washington, DC. At their peak presence, Germans represented 10% of the city's population, significantly less than Chicago and Baltimore where nearly one-quarter of city residents were of German ancestry.
With an increase in the city's German population, a concern emerged to care "for orphans and the aged." In 1879 parishioners of Concordia German Evangelical Lutheran Church at 20th & G Street NW began to raise money for an asylum for needy German orphans. With financial support from leaders within the city's established and emerging German American community, the "German Protestant Orphan Asylum Association of the District of Columbia" was incorporated with a twenty year charter from Congress. The Protestant designation was later stricken from the title to allow admission of children of other religions and eventually non-German children were accepted.
"Admission requirements, based on race and age, stipulated that a child must be of the white race … at least three (3) years old but not over eleven (11) years,'" according to Louise Daniel Hutchinson's seminal 1977 work, The Anacostia Story: 1608-1930. These restrictions were relaxed in later years.
Before the turn of the century, the German Orphan Asylum was one of the first institutions built for the care and welfare of children in Anacostia, but other charitable efforts soon followed. The Stoddard Baptist Home for "colored elderly and indigent women" was founded in the Garfield community near Hamilton Road, present-day Alabama Avenue. In 1904 the Episcopal Diocese expanded its work to provide "for winter service to homeless children at Anacostia, D.C." according to Hutchinson.
Local beer manufacturer Christian Heurich, known for his popular "Senate" beer, was one of the earliest benefactors of the German orphanage. Later contributors included local department store owner Julius Garfinckel.
Simon Wolf, a German Jewish immigrant and successful lawyer, assisted the orphanage, with funding from Congress, in purchasing the 32-acre Good Hope Hill Farm from Captain Samuel G. and Flora Cabell in what is today the Fairlawn neighborhood. With the help of Wolf and friends of the asylum, a new brick building was constructed and dedicated in October 1890. The asylum had formerly occupied space in downtown Washington.
"The new two-story home, perched on top of Good Hope Hill measured 52 feet x 100 feet, and was designed to accommodate up to 80 children," according to, "To Help A Child: The History of the German Orphan Home," an article in the 2006 edition of Washington History by local historian Anna Watkins.
According to Census records from 1900, the orphanage had 52 "inmates" and was run by the Henry and Elizabeth Harrold along with their four daughters and one son.
The board of directors controlled the admission and release of the children, and selected their schools until they reached the age of about 14. The youngsters were then placed in carefully surveyed homes where they worked as household help or nannies, or were assigned as an apprentice to a trade or profession. The board retained responsibility for the children until they reached legal adulthood. The older adolescents attended public school in Anacostia, while the younger ones prepared for school at the asylum.
The orphanage taught, studied, and used both German and English. Due to the national mood during World War I, the board decreed in 1918 that use of the English language would take precedent "because we must show ourselves thoroughly patriotic and loyal; we are American in every sense of the word and proud of it." During this time the American flag was raised daily on the main building. However, in 1929, when an illustrated 50th anniversary history book was published, it was done so in both languages.
The Orphanage's relocation
With the growth and development of Washington following World War II the neighborhood dynamics around the orphanage began to change.
"Increasingly developed with housing and institutions, the area was no longer conducive to having children do farm chores as heavy traffic sped down the hill bordering the property," according to Watkins. Long-time Superintendent George Christman "noticed that more people were walking across the home's grounds. Some ran dogs on the property, teenagers had parties and played games there displaying loud and annoying behavior, and drunks used the front steps to take a rest."
With the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 and other factors, such as the construction of the Barry Farm housing development and urban renewal of the SW waterfront, the demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods began to shift. Herein the orphans began to face difficulties in the neighborhood schools.
The board began to consider relocating and selling their property on Good Hope Road. In early 1964, developer Charles Smith offered to rent the property for 99 years at a price that allowed the orphanage to relocate. The Smith Company would later demolish the facilities and build the present-day apartment complex Marbury Plaza.
Soon thereafter the directors of the orphanage purchased a large parcel of land in Prince George's County, opening a new home on Melwood Road in Upper Marlboro, Maryland in 1965. In December 1978, at the end of the semester, the orphanage closed to its last student.
In outer-ring DC suburbs designed without them in mind, a surprising number of brave souls are getting around by bike, willingly mixing with cars and trucks on busy, fast highways.
Upon my return to Silver Spring from Philadelphia for the holidays, I found myself driving much more than I'm used to in the course of Christmas shopping. While I anticipated a lot of car traffic, I've also been pleasantly surprised to see bicyclists everywhere I go, on roads nobody would consider bike-friendly.
Inside-the-beltway suburbs, while far from an ideal environment for bikers, are still a cyclists' paradise compared to sprawling outer-ring locales. Closer-in neighborhoods have relatively narrow streets and boast short distances between places of interest, while farther-out suburban areas were designed under the assumption that everyone would have a car.
I have nothing but respect for these hardy individuals I observed over the past week (all photos by the author):
A couple in matching coats tries to cross Route 50 at Pickett Road in Fairfax City. It took me three light cycles to make a left turn here, but they had to wait much longer for a right-turning driver who'd stop for them.
A bicyclist waits between trucks and SUVs to cross Route 175 at Dobbin Road in Columbia, a massive intersection bordered by the even bigger Columbia Crossing shopping center. This is probably the most inconvenient bicycling environment imaginable: fast roads, no sidewalks, and nearly every building is on a hill and facing away from the street, making each trip a long, tiresome trek.
I found this bicyclist at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue and Route 1 in Beltsville. Unlike the last two examples, the streets here aren't as broad. But since it's a mile north of the Beltway, this intersection can get very congested. Rhode Island Avenue also doesn't have sidewalks for much of its length, meaning bicyclists don't have a choice but to "share the road."
I have happily pedaled around Philadelphia and the District for a year and a half now, but I haven't enjoyed many forays outside the city. Arlington, for all of its bike lanes, is quite hilly and has some really confusing intersections. The Capital Crescent Trail is pretty, but frequented by super-serious, capital-B Bicyclists who thought nothing of shoving me or my 12-year-old brother out of their way when we biked it last summer. Nor have I had a pleasant time biking in downtown Silver Spring, where the bike network is so lacking that a route on Cedar Street was once declared the "Stupidest Bike Lane in America."
When the District can't build its planned bike lanes, it's hard to believe that surrounding suburban communities will do much better. It is heartening that Montgomery County, Alexandria, College Park and even Columbia are trying to join Capital Bikeshare or looking to start bike sharing programs of their own. Yet these remain, for the most part, inhospitable places to ride a bike, discourage their residents from choosing a healthier, greener, and much cheaper way to get around.
Despite unsympathetic drivers, spread-out communities and unaccommodating infrastructure, a considerable number of outer suburbanites get around by bike. Better planning and simple policy fixes are needed so that a safe, enjoyable experience awaits those who choose to take to two wheels.
After four months in my new, inside-the-beltway job, I'm firmly entrenched within the ranks of DC-area bicycle commuters. The local bicycling and transportation community deserves much of the credit for giving me the information, support and confidence to bike to work every day.
With nearly 500 miles of riding to and from work under my belt to date, I've saved money, benefited from a great new workout routine and developed an appreciation for some additional daily outdoor time. And, keeping my car off the road means that I've also made a drop more room on crowded transportation routes for traditional car users.
Looking back, I know that none of this would have been possible without an extensive and multifaceted network of resources available to bicyclists, and bicycle commuters, in particular, throughout the Washington region.
Last year at this time, I commuted by car 22 miles each way from Glover Park to Fort Belvoir. My three-day-a-week compressed shift schedule took me along the Key Bridge, Route 110, Route 395 and Route 95. There was rarely any traffic driving outbound for most of my oddly timed shifts, but on my return trip when shifts ended at breakfast or dinner time, I participated in and contributed to congestion on both Route 110 and the Key Bridge.
My work at Fort Belvoir consisted of three, one-year mobilizations by the Army Reserve. Some time ago, the temporary need for my expertise and labor started to wind down. I started my job search with a basic requirement to work inside the Beltway. Ideally, I wanted a position in downtown DC or Arlington where I could at least bicycle to work once in a while. At the time, riding a bicycle to and from work everyday was only a dream.
When the pieces fell into place and I accepted a challenging position in Arlington along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, I wasted no time breaking the news to my wife: with this change, at the very least, the car would become a last resort for my commute. In fact, I decided that the bus and Metro would play second fiddle to my leg-powered two wheeler.
My wife's concerns mounted as she peppered me with questions of safety and "What if?" scenarios at the dinner table. I had a number of concerns of my own. Luckily, the bicycle community in and around DC was integral in making me a smart, safe and road-ready bicyclist.
The initial inspiration for trying my hand at bicycle commuting came from a blog, of all places. With great admiration and awe, I started reading Brian McEntee's Tales From The Sharrows and following @SharrowsDC for his tidbits on Twitter. He didn't portray his daily rides as always easy or relaxing. Brian identified problems, some caused by others and some by him, and how he overcame them. I figuratively took notes as I plotted changing my commuting method.
I took my remaining questions to Gil Nissey at the free bike clinic he provides to patrons of the Glover Park-Burleith Farmers' Market. Beyond basic bike maintenance, I needed to know what it was like to rely on a bike for work everyday. Gil put my concerns to rest with one simple fact.
In a soft voice, and without an ounce of bragging, Gil stated that he had biked to work during every day of Snowmageddon except for one. I think that at least 10 times I asked him to recount his technique and equipment so that my novice mind could digest it all.
I obtained free printed bike maps from the District Department of Transportation and Arlington County. I also spent considerable time with Google Transit working through bicycle and WMATA routes. I needed to know all my options.
For better or worse, one of my shift rotations would begin earlier in the morning than Metro buses started to run. That meant that the bike would serve as my only choice for transportation to work during those times. I also mapped out several different routes because I knew that some of my rides would occur along side commuting traffic and some during the darkness of night.
On the DC side, it was a no-brainer straight route from Glover Park to the Key Bridge through Burleith and Georgetown. In Arlington, I selected two routes mostly based on bike accessibility, hills and scenery. Going to work, I take the Custis Trail uphill, pass through some neighborhood streets parallel to Wilson Boulevard and finish on the Fairfax Drive bike lanes. Coming home, I return on the Fairfax Drive bike lanes and turn onto the Clarendon Boulevard bike lanes.
After several rides, I had more questions than answers. I consulted the Washington Area Bike Forum to work through what I did not know about biking etiquette, traffic laws and rain gear. This supplemented what I had learned last year in WABA's Confident City Cycling part 2 course.
To address my wife's numerous "What if?" scenarios, I signed up for Capital Bikeshare and the free Guaranteed Ride Home program. I also carry a WMATA SmarTrip card and taxi fare. I have taken my bike on Metrorail a few times when I have had to run more distant errands after work.
I religiously track each trip with the free My Tracks app. This has enabled me to reliably predict the end-to-end time for my entire routine. Depending on weather, time of day and route, I know how long the bike ride should take give or take a couple minutes. I add in sufficient time to put on and take off all my gear.
For winter biking, I have up to seven thin layers for my upper body laid out and ready to go to compensate for the exact temperature. I also purchased inexpensive rain gear and a back fender for wet days. I'm close to purchasing studded bike tires to help me safely traverse winter hazards.
We have retained my car for now, which I still need for my monthly Army Reserve service. Its motorized four wheels remain as backup transportation, though the vehicle now sits unused most days. And, as my biking experience continues to broaden, with every workday, I can swap stories, good and bad, with the bike commuters in Glover Park who continue to encourage me with their many years of biking to and from work.
This transition into the world of bicycle commuters was a combination of luck, research, inspiration and encouragement. My small payback so far has been to coordinate a bike and pedestrian safety program at our local elementary school.
I'm almost beyond being a newbie among bicycle commuters. My gratitude towards the bicycle and transportation community grows with every pedal.
- Metro maps out loop line between DC and Arlington
- Ask Congress to give DC self-rule on building heights
- Alexandria board rejects King Street bike lanes
- It's fine to not build parking at Tysons Metro stations
- DC sports spaces give short shrift to girls
- Sexist Metro ad asks "Can't we just talk about shoes?"
- The reason cyclists love green bike lanes