For the first time in my life I became a community organizer over the last few months. It’s not an experience I’ll want to repeat any time soon. With a group of neighbors I took on City Hall and a rag-tag group of bicyclists who wanted to replace on-street parking with dedicated bike lanes on the most dangerous street in my city of Alexandria VA.
King Street, Alexandria is very steep (a 5 percent grade) and a major city artery (Virginia Route 7) with 13,000 cars and trucks that speed by each day, mostly well over the speed limit. It’s also only 29 feet wide, which means that when the bike lanes are installed and two city buses pass each other, they’ll have zero leeway unless they move into the bike lanes.
It’s the dumbest place in the world for bike lanes, in short, an attractive nuisance, an accident waiting to happen. But that didn’t seem to matter to anyone, and that taught me something about municipal politics.
City Council, first of all. They’re so far to the left that they’re an embarrassment to the Terry McCauliffe Democrats in Richmond. The People’s Republic of Alexandria, they call us. City Council has also jiggered the election laws to empower themselves. We used to elect councilors by district, but now they run city-wide, and at the same time as the presidential election. City Council is also busy repopulating Alexandria with their Pajama-Boy supporters. We’re an old historic city, and that’s just what Council hates. Instead, they keep approving condos with mini-apartments, six-story boxes with a Trader Joe’s on the ground floor and bicycle racks in the basement.
Then there are the cyclists. Backed by powerful lobbies, they knew what they wanted and they were ruthless. Some keyed our cars, stole our “NO BIKE LANE” signs, physically threatened one of us. They’re not from the neighborhood, but in city-wide elections that doesn’t matter. They also don’t have lives, jobs, families. What they have are their bicycles and an inexhaustible desire to attend community meetings.
Finally, there’s us, the residents of King Street who wanted to retain our on-street parking and sense of neighborhood. There were determined fighters amongst us, but also Vichyite collaborators who would lie on their backs and wiggle their feet if a Council member rubbed their tummy.
So it really wasn’t much of a contest. But then it’s not really over. It’ll be over when the accidents begin to happen on King Street.