Saturday, May 07, 2016

DC clubs could be challenged by ending of Metro service after midnight

Local gay businesses could face serious economic challenges due to the rather sudden implementation of Washington DC’s Metro Safe Track Plan (Issues Blog, May 5, 2016).  But much of my concern has more to do with the attitude of the businesses and political community to bars and restaurants, which often face renewal and legal restrictions.  As much as some of us would like to believe, Washington DC is not Manhattan (although it may cost almost as much to live there), and Georgetown-Dupont Circle-U Street are not Greenwich Village or Midtown.

The Washington Post story Saturday morning by Paul Duggan, Lori Aratani, and Robert McCartney (link wrote dismissively “And starting June 3, the system will shut down at midnight instead of 3 AM, on Saturdays and Sundays, limiting options for bar patrons and others.”  But on Saturday morning, the Post published online a perspective by Frederick Kunkle, “Party’s over: Metro’s Massive Rebuilding Will Put on Crimp on Nightlife.”

Last call on weekends in Washington is 3 AM, so presumably some patrons and bar employees are already used to getting home somehow without Metro. And, to its credit, some establishments have offered events earlier than in the past.  Town has offered square dances and bear nights earlier in the evening, partly to cover the gap caused by the closure of Remington’s and Eagle (the latter re-opened in NE).  The attitude of many people, however, is to stay out as late as possible, drink, and hope for the best.  There may be an expectation of crashing with a partner, but that behavior is much less common post-AIDS crisis (which is still out there, but much more so in minority communities now) than it had been in the early 80s.

Real estate development (especially new apartment buildings) and city restrictions have put a crimp on parking in the area, and little is done about it.  There are relatively few 24-hour garages.  The Dupont Circle and U-street areas each need a secure, multi-level, credit-card-operated 24-hour public garage.  Business owners should be trying to get them built. A possibility would be to use Union Station, or to encourage Metro to keep its Minnesota-Ave garage open and park free all night on weekends, provide more security (police patrols and cameras), and run a circulator service from Minnesota-Benning (the Eagle is nearby already) to U-street, and Dupont.  The Circulator could be privately owned.

I had thought that the midnight closing would be delayed until after the July 4 weekend (June 3 allows only four more weekends, counting today(, to allow more time for Capital Pride (which does start earlier) and the Independence Day celebrations.  Maybe Metro can be talked into doing that. Business owners have very little time and advance notice to plan for the loss of service.

I have used it Metro only once after midnight this year, and usually catch cabs after midnight.  Wiedefeld says that after midnight ridership has dropped on its own by 50% since 2010. (It was initiated in 1999, before the U Street corridor was expanded).  I have not yet learned to use Uber, and need to.  It’s hard to say if Uber can fill the gap for more affluent consumers, or if serving possibly intoxicated consumers becomes an issue (to stop DUI).  It can’t fill any gap for employees.  Cans were always easy to catch on 17th St near Dupont Circle, but were much more difficult on U-street until late in 2015.

Completely missing from the discussions are any mention of whether the late night weekend service could be simulated by surface busses running on the same routes.  City Council member Jack Evans is well known for working with the gay community and business owners, and should be a go-to person on this question.  It was Evans who broke the story to the media on March 30 of the upcoming massive rebuilding.

Will extended hours resume after one year when repairs are complete?  Don’t count on it.  It seems Metro is not designed for 24x7 use, and needs more time for scheduled maintenance.  It was designed originally for regular workforce commuters and mainstream monument tourists, not for nightlife. New York City has the advantage of much more redundancy of tracks and lines (especially on the west side of Manhattan).  I know West Fourth Street in the Village only too well.

The culture of city governments is an issue.  Washington’s situation is exacerbated by Congress and compromised home rule.  By way of comparison, Baltimore has lost at least one major bar (Hippo) partly because liquor licenses can’t be transferred, and the city’s reputation was tarnished by the riots, curfews, and inept administration.

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