Radically Anti-Car Because of Parking: Outgoing ANC6B Chair Dan Ridge
by Larry Janezich
CHC talked to Dan Ridge, outgoing ANC6B Chair, about his decision not to run for ANC6B again and his service on the Commission. An edited version of that conversation follows.
Ridge cited two reasons for not seeking re-election: “I’m so anti-car I’m far beyond the mandate my constituents gave me – I don’t think I can go back and get a mandate in line with my views.” Ridge also says he is recovering from some medical issues which make it difficult to do the detailed work involved.
So, why anti-car? Ridge, a former 20 year owner of a 1977 Fiat X1/9, said, “I was raised a car guy. I love cars – I have always loved cars. I once worked for Formula One at the Grand Prix in Italy doing computer work in their broadcast center. I collected every Road & Track magazine from the late 60s until a few years ago. One of the things that interrupted that was ANC service. I have become radicalized anti-car in a way I never expected – not on climate or environmental or petroleum – but on parking.”
“Essentially every contentious issue taken on by the ANC where the contention came from constituents – you could find parking at its root. And it made me come to think we are addicted to cars. I really re-evaluated. Often, taking a position against cars was the only way to settle some of these issues. There was a case where people on same side of one square had radically different ideas whether a street should be one way or the other way and that came down to cars and traffic. And in trying to be a good listener and servant the way to reconcile views is to burn it all down. That’s where I find myself now.”
Ridge has a self-parking electric car (parked off-street) which saves on average 2 feet of parking space because it parks in smaller spaces. Ridge says that doesn’t solve the problem – “people expect to store a 4000 pound piece of machinery [in public space] for ten cents a day.”
Asked what drew him to run for the ANC, Ridge said, “It’s a cliché to say my heart is in service, but it is.” In 2016 while shoveling snow in his alley during Snowmageddon, a neighbor told him there was a rumor that he was going to run for the unexpired term of Commissioner Brian Flahaven who had relocated that winter. Ridge says, “I had heard no such rumor,” but decided to use the tactic on other neighbors who he thought would do a great job. He found no takers. So, Ridge said, “When nobody will do a thing, I do that thing – following G.K. Chesterton, ‘When a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly’. The bar was low. All I knew was somebody had to do it.”
“But there was another thing,” he said, “another reason I was primed to do this.” He had a job interview with a hedge fund technology company where some of his former NASA co-workers had ended up. Ridge says of the interview, “It was terrible. Terrible. I think I sabotaged the interview when I realized 30 seconds into it I could not do this work. It was extractive – like timber mining but the environmental costs are higher. Basically, I can only do public benefit work.”
Looking back on his experience as a commissioner and Chair of ANC6B, Ridge said the ANC is highly effective if representing community interests on zoning, historic preservation, alcohol licensing, transportation and public space, but the case volume takes up so much time and energy, it is less effective on other things. He cited ANC4C’s vote to request an investigation into whether CM Brandon Todd misused constituent’s email addresses to aid Rhonda Henderson’s campaign for the Board of Education. Ridge said, “It’s hard to see 6B taking something like that on after bike share and zoning commission issues. There’s not a lack of appetite … it’s just we have a higher case load than other ANCs.”
Asked what role he sees for himself post-ANC, Ridge says, “Well, I don’t need to look far to imagine a role because everywhere I look, there [former commissioner] Francis Campbell is. I don’t mean to be flip. I spend a lot of time thinking about homelessness and mental illness, particularly about how to preserve dignity for people who choose to stay on the street. That’s a much harder problem than finding the will to build more beds or do more rapid re-housing. One thing I’d like to do post-ANC – having done homeless sleep out events – is to figure out how to cut and fold left over Coroplast [corrugated plastic] protest and yard signs into a better sleep surface against concrete than soggy cardboard.”
On the related topic of affordable housing, Ridge says, “That’s one reason I’m interested in alley renaming – alley lots are one of the few reservoirs for affordable housing space on Capitol Hill.” DC regulations require an address for a building permit, and alley lots in unnamed alleys, have no address.
The logical approach to affordable housing is increased density, and citing a recent DC Housing Authority (DCHA) presentation to ANC6B seeking support to extend the use of a city-owned square as a parking lot for 5 years – again delaying proposed construction of mixed income affordable housing – Ridge’s takeaway was that DCHA prefers not to re-house displaced residents in condos because of condo fees – and would rather use row houses. Ridge called it “heartbreaking” to see a city agency gravitating to low density housing for people who could benefit from higher density.
That’s why Ridge is “super-excited” about the new development of micro units going up on Frager’s former garden site on Pennsylvania Avenue. He says what developers are doing is establishing a market for units of a few hundred square feet, which is dignity-preserving for those needing affordable housing. He says, this “creates a template for co- housing – the kind that Capitol Hill Village is involved in with the former Boys and Girls Club – assisted living run more efficiently.”
Another of Ridge’s interests is his desire to see is a “makerspace” in Ward 6 which would benefit both children and the community. A makerspace goes beyond the craftsy workshop that comes to mind. (See here: https://bit.ly/2Rmt5bz) Ridge says a revolution in the kinds of tools has produced laser cutters and 3D printers which are safe and much more approachable by children who can use them independently. He says constructing physical objects gives kids a better relationship with the world. Historic preservationists would find a maker space beneficial since all the machines you need to reproduce otherwise unreproducible fixtures would be available to them.
Ridge says he has a couple of interests in solar power. “I’m intrigued that city regulations allow an owner with solar panels installed to block increase in height on a neighbor’s house. I think that’s terrible public policy and the way to make plain it’s terrible policy is to encourage it.”
“One thing I tell neighbors is if they want to insulate themselves against pop ups, put a solar panel on the roof of every other house and you’ve blocked increase in height much more effectively than screwing around with a bunch of zoning cases.”
I think solar is great, and a capital investment with a useful life of decades … there is a window of several years where low-rise minded individuals can weaponize current policy to their benefit and that they should. In the longer term the only way to block popups is through easements. The city should make it much cheaper to record light easements … thousands of households would benefit from selling a light easement to neighbors and thousands of households would benefit from exchanging mutual light easements for solar installations.”
Circling back to parking to wind up the interview, Ridge added, “One car thing I wish to pursue post-ANC is to establish a city program to buy and retire unwanted cars. It would accomplish what I want while seeming to be about ‘creating’ new parking by getting underused cars off the street. I would estimate that there are at least dozens of cars in my SMD that are held by car hoarders. Many others sit on the street with flat tires and dead batteries for months. I would fund the program with a Residential Parking Permit (RPP) surcharge.”
Ridge moved to Potomac Avenue in 2003 when his wife was finishing graduate school in Berkeley, California, and ready to move back to the area. They have a 10 year old daughter and an 8 year old son. Ridge works as a computer scientist for a non-profit research institute
ANC6B will elect its new Chair and other officers at it first meeting in 2019 on January 15th at Hill Center.