Ward 5’s Thoughtful Warrior on Council

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From Great Street funding to McMillan to a bus depot, Kenyan McDuffie is already a veteran of the DC Council with just six months into his post as Ward 5’s representative. No longer the junior member of Council, Chairman Phil Mendelson recognized McDuffie’s balanced, yet determined, focus and diplomatic ways by nominating him as Chairman Pro Tempore of the Council. But this position is nothing compared to the job ahead as Ward 5’s Councilmember. Taking over a seat of disgraced former Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr, McDuffie wants to bring integrity back to the seat and help bring all residents to the table as Ward 5 sees itself transforming and is constantly front and center on many of the issues facing the City.

The Insider recently sat down with Kenyan McDuffie at one of Rhode Island Avenue’s breakfast spots, FlipIt, to have a conversation about the past six months since his election, and what his priorities will be in the coming new year.

How has the transition from the average citizen of Ward 5 to now being its Councilmember been?

It’s going well. I have been aided by a solid and knowledgeable staff. I feel that I am working well with the rest of the Council and staff members. I came into office and the number one issue I wanted to focus on was integrity and ethics. In fact, everybody on my staff must have high ethics and integrity. I’m proud of the staff I have.

What are some of the highs of your first six months in office?

The best thing over the last six months has been then continued support of the community and other Council members. The Industrial Land Transformation Task Force Act of 2012 is one of my proudest achievements over the past few months. This task force, supported by my colleagues on Council, and working with the Mayor, is really important, especially in Ward 5. This will allow us to have more control over the industrial properties in the City.

Flood Assistance Fund Amendment Act of 2012 is another proud achievement. This will provide some relief and address the disastrous flooding that residents of Bloomingdale, Eckington, Edgewood, and LeDroit Park have had to deal with. We have so much more to do on this issue. It is a decades old problem and it has been nothing but patch work in the past. We are looking forward to a more permanent fix to help residents that have been affected by floods and backups.

What have been some of the lows of your first six months?

I wouldn’t call them lows but maybe more like “challenges”. The car barn at Springarn High School was a challenge. (editor’s note: immediately after coming into office, McDuffie asked Mayor Gray to consider other locations for the 15,000 sqft car barn in the City other than the high school property in Ward 5 that residents were angry about).

Another issue, and one that I had to face as soon as I got into office because it was an issue that started before then, is the bus depot/garage on North Capital. The issue with the bus depot and the car barn, in my opinion, other than the poor location is that the City was doing nothing to bring up or support the surrounding communities. It was as if they were putting these eye sores in these communities and not looking at the residents that lived around it. I made certain that I gave a voice to these residents as their Councilmember during these discussions with the City.

Looking ahead, what are some new bills or issues that you are focused on for 2013?

One of the biggest things we need right now is campaign finance reform. This is a priority. The issue lies with people donating to campaigns from multiple LLCs or businesses, or bundling. As you may remember, during my campaign, I refused to accept bundled donations.

Another issue that I want to tackle is to enhance Ward 5 development so that it can create more jobs for our residents. I want to ensure that our community college’s curriculum is in line with our job market. So its students can be ready for area jobs as soon as they graduate.

The McMillan Reservoir is another focus. We need to make sure that the community is engaged as much as possible for this project. It needs to be reflective of what the community wants balanced with the capabilities of the developer for the project to be successful.

What about Rhode Island Ave NE specifically?

The pedestrian bridge at the RIA metro is important. When DDOT put the project out to bid last year, there was only one bid received. They are looking to put it out to bid again soon. Bladensburg Road is also a focus. It is sandwiched between so much redevelopment as well.

Recently, I was able to get RIA and North Capitol Street funded as a Great Street. We passed funding of $1 million dollars for these streets to make them a Retail Priority Corridor. I am asking DDOT, who will recieve the money to distribute and use along these two corridors, on what is possible with the funding. In my opinion, this is not enough for these Great Streets and I will continue to work to get more interest and money for them. I would like to see more for infrastructure and facade improvements. I would also like to see bike lanes as part of DDOT’s plans for RIA NE. With up to four BikeShare stations coming to RIA, we need to create the infrastructure to keep bicyclists part of the roadway and keep them safe.

With Hyattsville and Mt. Ranier just over the border and part of the RIA corridor, I would like to continue part of the arts theme along RIA. I would like to see some pop up art places to help bring people to the Avenue. This will also help support local businesses. Speaking of local businesses, I would like to build on a Ward 5 business meet and greet that I held and start holding round table meetings on how we can bring more local businesses to Ward 5.

We have new (and old) ANC commissioners being sworn in next month. They are all good people that care about this Ward. I look forward to working closely with them and bring them together to help move our Ward forward including RIA.

Schools are another priority.Schools are community assets that should serve as resources to both students and residents. In 2013, I will continue to work with educators, students, and the community stakeholders to ensure that the children in our community receive the best education, one that provides them with the skills they need to succeed in in life.

Finally, your next election will be here before you know it (May 2014). Are you going to run again for re-election and if so, how are you preparing?

I am focused on the task at hand of improving the lives of Ward 5 residents. My record will speak for itself when the election comes around.

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9 thoughts on “Ward 5’s Thoughtful Warrior on Council

  1. Looks good.

    But what are the RIA streetcar line? When will the streetcar be coming to RIA? Can bike/streetcar lanes co-exist without reducing our wide sidewalks? Will there be more parking along RIA?

    Will McDuffie continue the community meetings he held throughout the ward this past Fall? He only visited a handful of Ward 5 communities. We have a lot of quality of life issues including making the streets more pedestrian friendly, not just bike friendly. Any way to reduce the excessive truck traffic on RIA? It’s just toooo noisy. There are still issues with those illegal posters throughout the ward. Can he work on this issue, too?

  2. Well, this is a hopeful sign. I’m particularly interested in the Metro bridge, as that is a crucial connection for the neighborhood and between the neighborhood and the rest of the city. I had been trying to figure out when it might be re-bid, as it looked to be nearly dead, and am glad to see it’s on the radar. Hopefully he will also remember that it’s not just RIA proper that needs some help to make the area more friendly to ALL road/sidewalk users. MANY thoroughfares in the area are inhospitable to those not in cars, and could be helped with investments, some very small (maybe some new street lights to provide more visibility for people crossing the street, more marked crosswalks/crosswalk enforcement, traffic calming, good street trees, etc.).

    @Woodie, we’re in phase 2 for the streetcar. Just the promise and some more concrete time lines would help, but I wouldn’t expect to see specifics for at least 5 years. Completion, last I saw, wasn’t predicted before 2020-2025, maybe longer. Much depends on getting the H St. line up and running and then expanded. Given the anticipation, I expect the first part to be successful, and that’s the biggest help as far as pushing the whole plan forward.

    There are many ways to make bike lanes peacefully co-exist with street car tracks. I wouldn’t bank on much more parking, though major losses of street parking seem unlikely (maybe a few spots near corners for streetcar stops and pedestrian bump-outs, though that would allow all-times parking, so I would classify that as a net gain over rush-hour restricted spots). Good transit, pedestrian, and bike facilities help to limit the amount of parking needed (if I felt that I could safely grab a bike at the 15th & RIA CaBi station, ride up to Woodridge, and park it at the 20th & RIA station (or others maybe yet to come!), I’d be there with no parking needed). Another option is to encourage a FEW larger mixed-use developments towards the northeastern end of RIA that could include public, off-street parking. But, honestly, getting people 12-or-so blocks up the street (that would be from the Metro to Woodridge) is best accomplished by something other than a car.

    1. Parking will be needed when people try to buy artwork. It’s hard to fit a $200+ portrait on a bike without damaging it or having an accident trying to transport it. There is a zip car lot at 17th & RIA. I’ve used it but don’t find the cars in good shape. Car2Go just doesn’t have enough space for passengers and cargo. The Rhode Island Avenue Small Area Plan from 2008 has sites where parking can be incorporated in mixed-used. I don’t see why they need to be larger, just include underground parking. This was suggested for the new Woodridge Library, but DCPL doesn’t want to deal with the extra building cost.

      1. I never said that off-street parking couldn’t be included in some mixed-use developments (in fact, I think I suggested that as a possibility), but not every trip needs to be done by car. Buying $200 artwork is not a daily, weekly, or even monthly activity for most people. Things that people do frequently might include getting dinner, drinks, or a snack; picking up some books at the library; shopping for small items, etc. It’s my understanding that people are interested in having shops like bookstores, boutique stores, pet shops, and the like in the area, and I regularly shop at places like that without a car, where transit makes it possible. Between buses, bikes, walking, and the coming streetcar, most of those can be accomplished without a car. I can tell you first-hand, I use a car to make major shopping trips like the one you’re suggesting only a handful of times a year. Today I dropped $200 on household decorations/textiles and carried them home on the Metro/foot. No, they were not valuable artwork, but that’s a direct example of being able to accomplish a major errand without a car. Some parking will, of course, be needed, but losing a few street parking spots for streetcar stops/pedestrian bump-outs (which make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the street), can actually get more people into the area while REDUCING parking demand. Right now, at times, the only reasonable way to get up there for many people is a car. We can change that, the groundwork is being laid to do so, but it will never happen if people get up-in-arms about losing a few street spots to accomodate the much larger number of people who can get to the area and shop, dine, and recreate (and, not to mention, LIVE) using transit and non-car transportation.

  3. http://reconnectingamerica.org/news-center/half-mile-circles/2010/profiles-in-planning-vision-elizabeth-avenue-business-corridor-project/

    Here’s one example of mixing bike lanes and streetcar tracks in Portland. I know it’s tired to bring up Portland w/r/t biking and street cars, but after visiting there about 2 years ago, they really are doing it right. The little bit that I drove was not stressful (even though I did mix with the bikes and streetcars for that brief driving bit), and walking, biking, and taking the streetcar for the rest of my trip was very pleasurable, easy, and stress-free. One thing I observed is that, unlike Metro but somewhat like the bus routes I use, the streetcar was MORE crowded on the weekend than the weekdays. Streetcars are an EXCELLENT way to improve the mobility of LOCALS to do LOCAL things!

    1. Ms. D.,

      This isn’t attractive at all! It looks pretty much like H Street. H Street won’t have any bike lanes. The bike lanes will be placed on the streets north and south of H.

      On other listservs people have talked about having grassy medians on RIA, etc. Again, I don’t know how that would fit in with the streetcar. I’d like to see more trees lining RIA like you see when traveling down Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. The trees are mature and spectacular.

      Parts of Michigan Avenue have bike lanes. I’ve tried walking from 14th & Michigan to 12th & Michigan and for some reason bikers use the sidewalk and not the bike lanes. I hope this won’t happen on RIA.

      I do hope McDuffie can speed up construction of the RIA streetcar. 2020/2025 is just too long to wait! DDOT really should be laying tracks for the other sections. It’s a no-brainer streetcars will be popular and successful. Just make sure they are maintained properly, else we’ll have problems like the Metro subway system.

      We also need better public access to Costco. I heard McDuffie wants the MARC train to stop near there. Is this true?

      1. H St. can have the bike lanes on parallel roads because parallel roads exist. RIA is a diagonal, and is the only efficient E-W connection between “hubs” (Bloomingdale, the Metro, Woodridge). People don’t use the bike lanes on Michigan because Michigan is a dangerous traffic sewer. Just painting bike lanes doesn’t make a route bikeable. Traffic calming is necessary to keep people from racing along, putting bikers at risk. Even skilled bikers with excellent equipment are not going to be able to bike 40 or 45 miles an hour to keep up with overly-fast (speeding) traffic. Good bikers do okay on streets with typical speeds of 30-35, speeds need to typically be a little lower than that to entice unskilled bikers.

        Trees are great. They look good, absorb pollution, provide shade for pedestrians, and, actually, CALM TRAFFIC. I suggested good street trees above, and I still think they’re a great, and relatively simple and low-cost, idea. To get the connectivity and aesthetics we desire, we’re going to have to lower the priority for cars. Most of the time, outside of a few bottlenecks, traffic moves at a pretty good clip on the NE part of RIA, even during high-volume times. The bottlenecks are not caused by pleasant streets that keep people traveling at the speed limit, but by poor road design. There’s capacity to accomodate alternate transit modes as well as “decoration.”

  4. #GreatNewsForRIA

    The Green Team is back on RIA! The Shaw Columbia Heights Family Collaborative is finally back cleaning up RIA. I saw them today around noon in front of the Woodridge Library and expressed my gratitude. I am so glad my postings on this blog are finally being answered. Good work, McDuffie & Crew!

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