Bike lifestyle moves into H Street Corridor


Sam Pearson

A streetcar is coming to H Street Northeast late this year, but Austin Stubbs won’t be using it.

“There’s absolutely no reason to get on the bus or Metro,” Stubbs said.

Stubbs, 27, shapes his life and livelihood around the bicycle.

The area around H Street is flat, and bike lanes plentiful, making the five-minute ride from Stubb’s home at 15th Street Northeast and East Capitol Street a breeze.

It’s new residents like Stubbs who are behind some of the changes to the H Street Corridor. Forbes Magazine named the street on its top ten list of “America’s Hippest Hipster Neighborhoods” in 2012.

Stubbs, who works as a bike mechanic at The Daily Rider at 1108 H St. N.E., sees the neighborhood’s changes as a positive development.

“The Atlas District on H Street has completely blown up,” Stubbs said.

But he bristles that the word “gentrification.”

“Not completely the right term,” he said, adding that he preferred to think of the new development as changes that reduced blight that can spread to other neighborhoods.

Those changes make H Street “the good part” of Northeast Washington, according to Aeke Moore, who works making sandwiches at Taylor Charles Steak & Ice.

Long a worn-down area that never recovered from riots after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, city officials set out to turn it around. The government provided tax incentives for restaurants to open in the area in 2004, fueling a hodgepodge of storefronts that seem to change by the month. It’s made the neighborhood a target for trendy take-out joints and ambitious fusion eateries like Smith Commons, which opened in 2011. The upscale restaurant, built at a corner where a 20-year-old man was shot and killed in 2003 in a case that remains unsolved, drew a visit from President Obama in October.

The owner of a dollar store called Z-Mart closed last month and left the space to his sister, who plans to open an organic market. The sister, Hareg Messert, told a local blog customers weren’t interested in discount stores anymore.

Stubb says residents are interested in a different kind of business, noting that owners of the new generation of stores and restaurants hang out and often have drinks together after work.

Taylor Charles Steak & Ice has been in business since December and stays open until 3 a.m. on weekends, but Moore says midday business is slower.

Part of the challenge is transportation. No Metro station reaches H Street. Office workers looking for lunch would have to drive or take the crowded X2 bus, which links Lafayette Park and the Minnesota Avenue station to the east.

Stubbs says he thought the streetcar would be a tipping point.

“It’s going to basically give H Street a Metro stop,” Stubbs said.

Stubbs and his coworker, Dave Cahill, remember the road closures last year when Obama visited. A night of police roadblocks and dozens of black sport-utility vehicles added another hurdle for customers hoping to reach the neighborhood.

“Free pat downs during happy hour!” a neighboring restaurant tweeted in jest.

Cahill jokes that the situation could have been avoided.

“He should have been on a bike,” Cahill said. “That would have been better.”