Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Capital Bikeshare launch: After his primary loss, Fenty goes for a bittersweet ride

September 20, 2010 - 05:33 PM
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(Dave Jamieson)

“The only thing better than talking about biking is biking,” D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said this morning.

Fenty had come to Tingey Plaza, behind the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Navy Yard, to celebrate the launch of Capital Bikeshare, a regional bikesharing network of 1,100 bicycles throughout the District of Columbia and Arlington. A few hundred cycling enthusiasts and D.C. employees had shown up for the rollout of what’s being billed as the largest system of its kind in the country. There was, indeed, a lot of talk about biking.

What there was little talk about among the crowd was politics – specifically, Fenty’s primary loss last week to D.C. council chairman Vincent Gray, who, in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, will almost certainly be chosen mayor in November’s general election. But the loss surely loomed for many, including the Fenty cabinet members who’d come out for the launch. With a widespread housecleaning likely with a new administration, those officials need to be polishing up their resumes.

Fenty, in fact, said he had just held a cabinet meeting. “I told the whole cabinet this is the best cabinet in the entire country,” he said.

The “epitome” of his forward-thinking team, Fenty said, was D.C. transportation director Gabe Klein. Last year Klein and his team conceived of the bikeshare program after he’d visited Montreal, a city that used a massive bike-rental network to transform cycling into a primary mode of transportation. Working with Arlington officials, the transportation department managed to put Capital Bikeshare together in a swift 12 months.

In his remarks, Klein made the day’s only glancing reference to the looming change in power. “This is personal for me,” Klein said. “I want to thank our mayor, Mayor Fenty, for his vision to support bikesharing and biking in general. Someday we’ll take this program and all the improvements we’ve made over the past couple years that will lead to many more improvements in the next ten or twenty years – and we’ll take it for granted. It’s important that everybody know this couldn’t have been possible without the backing of Mayor Fenty.”

The city has seen a considerable network of bike lanes sprout up in Washington during the tenures of Fenty, who’s an avid cyclist and all-around fitness nut, and his appointee Klein, who’s generally loved by proponents of walkable urbanism. Along with dog parks, the bike lanes had taken on a strange significance during the campaign, as symbols of Fenty’s alleged catering to white progressives and yuppies at the expense of the city’s working class. The majority-white pro-Fenty crowd at the bikeshare launch certainly played into that portrait; most of the attendees (this blogger included) would have fit nicely in a Courtland Milloy sneer at the new urban “creative class.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was on hand for the bikeshare launch, said she never understood all the chatter about race and code words leading up to the election. “What he did with bike lanes was terrific,” Norton said of Fenty before giving a short speech. “Dog parks – how did all that become a part of this? African-Americans have dog parks, too. They ride bikes. [The election] was about Mayor Fenty.”

After his remarks, Fenty was asked whether he thinks progressive infrastructure projects like Capital Bikeshare will move forward with the same enthusiasm under a Gray administration. “I not only hope they do, I really believe they will,” he said. “The Democratic nominee has been around the city long enough to know how much momentum there is.”

Asked whether Gray would be wise, as some have said, to hang on to Fenty’s more popular cabinet members on the planning side – Klein and planning director Harriet Tregoning specifically – Fenty demurred. “I’m going to stop short of giving any advice to my successor,” he said. “He was chosen by the voters to make decisions and the city has confidence in him to make the right ones.”

Eventually, it was time to stop talking and start riding. Fenty snapped on his helmet, hopped on one of the shiny, fire-engine-red bicycles, and led a congregation of cyclists out of Tingey Plaza on an inaugural ride. As he made his way out of the park he was reminded to ride slowly, the better for a photo op. But once he hit the road he apparently couldn’t resist. He cruised up First Street SE at a quick clip, leaving the photographers behind.

“You’re going too fast!” someone shouted at the mayor, but he was already out of sight.

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