Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Kishan Putta

Kishan Putta is a Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner who is also an avid District cyclist and health reform advocate. He has lived on 16th Street for several years with his wife Divya. He is also an active board member of Friends of Stead Park. You can find out more and contact him at kishanfordc.com

Bicycling


15th Street cycle track repaving starts tomorrow

Starting tomorrow, DDOT will repave the 15th Street cycle track between K and Swann streets. The agency agreed to fix the protected bike lane in June after months of complaints from cyclists about its uneven and dangerous pavement.


Photo by the author.

The first protected bike lane in DC, 15th Street is one of the city's most popular cycling corridors, used by hundreds of bicyclists daily. But the road surface is uneven and falling apart, causing cyclists to swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid bumps.

At the Dupont ANC, we heard from many, many frustrated cyclists, or would-be cyclists, about the need for repaving the lane. Because we believe good infrastructure is vital to encouraging a diversity of transit options, I and fellow ANC commissioner Noah Smith have worked with the city and the DC Council for many months to get this project accomplished.

The project will cover 13 blocks of 15th Street between K and Swann streets. When completed, the cycle track will have a 4.5-foot-wide southbound lane, which contains a 1-foot-wide gutter but has enough room for cyclists to avoid it. The northbound lane will be 3.5 feet wide, but will also be adjacent to the 3-foot parking buffer, making it feel wider.

Work will begin tomorrow in two main phases. During the first phase, the work will move in two block segments. DDOT will repair curbs, gutters, and pedestrian ramps along the corridor. While construction takes place in each section, there will be restrictions on using the parking lane and the bike lane. This phase should take about two weeks.

During the second phase, workers will resurface the 15th Street cycle track with new asphalt and install pavement markings. This should last one week, but restrictions on parking and biking will cover larger segments of the work area. During this time, DDOT recommends that cyclists use 14th or 16th streets instead.

Throughout the entire construction process, DDOT will post "No Parking" signs ahead of time so residents know when to move their cars. In addition, work should only take place between 9:30am and 3:30pm.

I'm excited to see that this important cycling corridor will get the repairs it needs to keep everyone safe and moving. However, if you encounter any problems or have any questions, please contact me at Kishan.Putta@DupontCircleANC.net.

Retail


Dupont ANC recommends phasing out liquor moratorium

Last night, the Dupont Circle ANC recommended that DC lift a liquor license moratorium for restaurants and stores, but to temporarily keep the cap on taverns and nightclubs. Some commissioners feel it's a step towards phasing out the moratorium entirely.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

In 1990, DC first created the moratorium, which applies primarily to establishments along 17th Street NW, to prevent bars and clubs from pushing out stores and to reduce late-night noise and crime. But today, there are fewer retail stores, and neighbors say the street needs more activity, not less. While the moratorium is a crude and outdated tool, as an ANC commissioner, I strongly believe that it's best to end it in stages to minimize disruptions and conflicts.

Other local ANCs are trying to phase out their moratoria as well. Two years ago, the ANC partially lifted one along P Street NW and have since reported no negative impacts, and a proposed moratorium on 14th and U streets faces widespread ANC opposition.

The moratorium is intended to protect local retailers from being bought out by alcohol-serving establishments with higher profit margins. But today, there are far fewer retail stores, largely due to the rise of online shopping. What retail remains serves daily needs, like pharmacies, hardware stores, and grocery stores.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that the community is anywhere close to becoming too unsafe or too noisy. Residents of all ages who live close to the 17th Street commercial strip tell us that they are not bothered by the current noise and would be happy for the strip to be more lively. While some residents have concerns about safety, police statistics show that crime has gone down significantly in the past two years, including both violent crime and property crime.

According to the Capitol Retail Group, increased foot traffic can revive urban retail corridors like 17th Street. New or better restaurants can generate more foot traffic, helping all businesses in the area. But under the moratorium, restaurants can't get liquor licenses to open here.

A Dupont Circle ANC subcommittee held three public meetings about the moratorium over the last three months. They came up with a compromise following in the footsteps of the West Dupont moratorium, which lifted the ban on liquor licenses for restaurants, but not for taverns and nightclubs.

Establishments with restaurant licenses must serve food and alcohol and are subject to certain food sales minimum requirements. Many of the popular new places on 14th Street, like Masa 14 and El Centro, have restaurant licenses, even though they have bars, music, and dancing. They may seem like bars and clubs to some, but they face limitations that taverns and nightclubs do not.

Meanwhile, establishments with tavern licenses don't have to serve food, but they're not all the same. Some are peaceful, like Room 11 in Columbia Heights, while others are very fun, but loud dance clubs, like some of the taverns on U Street (one of which has "Boom Boom" in its name, which I enjoy and have no objection to in its current location). 17th Street residents might welcome taverns like Room 11, which probably would not have an impact on noise or safety, but the latter ones may not be as well received.

ANCs and the DC Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) have some tools to try and minimize the negative effects of these establishments, but they aren't perfect. And once a tavern gets licensed, it's not easy to enforce prior agreements, and the immediate neighbors have to face the consequences.

If DC agrees to lift the moratorium on restaurants and stores, I and some of my colleagues will consider it the first stage of phasing out the moratorium entirely. During this first stage, the ANC should strengthen and clarify its policies and tools so that it can ensure that any new taverns or nightclubs on 17th Street are successful, but also responsible members of our community.

Not everyone agrees with lifting the moratorium, but it is not the best tool for making 17th Street and Dupont Circle a better neighborhood and a stronger retail environment. Many people want to eliminate the moratorium, and I agree, but it will be less disruptive to do it in phases. When the moratorium ends, we want the supporters to remain friendly with the opponents, because we have a very convivial community. And we want it to stay that way as we make progress together as a community.

Our recommendations will go before the ABC, which will decide whether to lift the moratorium. To send them your recommendations, visit their website. You can also see a list of recently-awarded liquor licenses.

Bicycling


DDOT agrees to repave 15th Street cycle track

15th Street bike commuters, don't worry about getting those shock absorbers installed. Following months of appeals from the community and elected officials, DC will repave the 15th Street cycle track.


Photo by the author.

The 2-way 15th street cycle track was DC's first protected bike lane and now carries hundreds of bike commuters during rush hour. When it opened in 2009, then-mayor Adrian Fenty and Councilmember Jack Evans rode SmartBikes down it for reporters.

However, the cycle track has long needed maintenance. The parked cars that once occupied the lanes dripped gas and oil that eroded the asphalt, creating a bumpy bicycling surface. When the cycle track was changed from one-way to two-way, the southbound lane contained part of the street's brick trim edge, which is also bumpy but avoidable. Cyclists often have to choose between protecting their tires or protecting themselves by trying not to swerve into oncoming riders.

Last fall, I held a Dupont-Logan bike safety meeting with Noah Smith and Chris Linn, where we asked the District Dpeartment of Transportation's Mike Goodno and George Branyan to address this problem. The agency's Asset Management team inspected the cycletrack and put in a work order (WO#356774) on October 26, almost 8 months ago.

As an ANC commissioner who campaigned to solve this problem, I was prematurely pleased with this quick response. Since I was elected, Noah Smith, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and I kept reminding the agency about it.

Over the winter and spring, I went out to the cycle track and talked to cyclists. All agreed that DDOT did a wonderful thing by installing the track, but such a popular lane needs to be in better shape. Most complained about the unsafe bumpy conditions and several even said they had blown tires because of them.

We related these stories to DDOT without any progress. I even spoke to WAMU about it. "I've heard from people who've had near accidents because they were avoiding potholes," I said. "I heard from a father-to-be who wants to take his infant to daycare by bike but he's afraid all the bumpiness would be bad for the baby." (The audio story link includes a cute quote from a toddler and dad on the cycle track complaining about riding over the "camels" and their many "humps.")

Finally, Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT's Associate Director for Policy, Planning, and Sustainability, committed to repave the track this year. "It was always intended for us to come back and resurface it, but it's taken us a few years," he told WAMU.

After further appeals from myself and Councilmembers Jack Evans and Mary Cheh, DDOT agreed to move up the project and potentially start within the next month, according to Zimbabwe. We have proposed that the work start during the slow July 4 week and that the schedule avoid disrupting rush hour. To help protect pedestrians and drivers as well as bicycle riders, we have asked for better signage at all intersections, especially the almost-hidden alleyways off of 15th Street.

In the future, everyone involved would also like to see bike-specific traffic signals to prevent confusion and increase efficient traffic flows. This was among the recommendations from a recent study that evaluated the 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes.

The DDOT planners are also studying whether they can widen the lane slightly, so cyclists don't have to ride on the brick "gutter pan." Right now, Zimbabwe said in an email, it's not possible to narrow the car lanes any further, but they can readjust how they use the 11 feet between the edge of the parking lane and the curb.

Now, there is a 3-foot striped buffer, then a 4-foot northbound lane, and a 4-foot southbound lane that includes the bricks. Zimbabwe said, "We're still working out how we would address [this issue], but we could narrow the buffer a little bit or restripe the 7' of bike lane excluding the gutter pan as 3'6" in each direction, or leave as is since the repaving will address the asphalt/brick connection and make that better."

Zimbabwe said he and Goodno would appreciate hearing from riders about which they would prefer. Please post your thoughts in the comments.

Public Spaces


Council commitee funds Stead Park upgrades

Parents from around DC who throng Dupont Circle's Stead Park can rejoice: Yesterday, after months of community advocacy, a DC Council committee voted to fund upgrades that will expand play space, install a jogging track, and better utilize the large playing field.


Photo by afagen on Flickr.

Stead Park has an endowment from the Stead Family, which will help maintain the transformational renovations, but the project requires city funds. Mayor Gray originally included $1.6 million in capital funds in his budget, but not until Fiscal Year 2015, which starts in October of 2014.

Residents asked the Council to approve the funding and move it up to FY 2014. Marion Barry (ward 8), the chairman of the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs, was very supportive; yesterday, his committee voted 5-0 to put the funding in FY 2014, which will allow the construction happen over the next year.

The committee report says,

While the Committee applauds the Mayor for funding this initiative, the community and advocates of Stead Park are ready now for the much needed project... In order to not slow down the major progress of advocates, the committee recommends that 1.6 million of funding be moved into the FY14 budget so that the project can begin in the next fiscal year.
While playground is packed, field often goes unused

Stead Park, on P Street between 16th and 17th, has some playgrounds for children, a basketball court, and a large playing field. A few wonderful sports teams and after-school programs use the field loyally and lovingly, and know how rare such space is in this part of the city.

However, the field currently doesn't get much use during the rest of the day. It's also in bad shape. Holes and dirt patches mar the surface, and large puddles make it unusable after heavy rain.


Photo by tedeytan on Flickr.

Meanwhile, Stead's extremely popular playground draws parents from Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, U Street, Shaw, Logan, and Dupont. Friends of Stead Park, whose board I serve on, has been gathering community input since last year. Because the playing field is so underused, many residents without children that we've spoken to didn't even know the acre of greenspace exists behind the playground.

On Sunday, the field hosted a rare community event: a Jewish Music Festival organized by the nearby JCC. But even though the field was bustling, the playground was still very crowded with visitors from all over. Over 20 strollers and dozens of kids and parents were trying not to bump into each other as they crammed among the jungle gyms.

The playground was renovated 6 years ago and is very popular, while the field has sadly been neglected. Many of the parents we spoke to said that while they want to stay in the city and raise their kids here, they worry that there currently is not enough multi-use space or outdoors options for recreation and community building located nearby.

Project will provide fitness, recreation, and entertainment for all ages

With the city assistance, Friends of Stead Park plans to renovate the field with a smoother surface, better drainage, and artificial turf that will hold up better with use. A jogging track with trees and benches around the edge will give people another way to use the field during the day, while it will remain large enough for the organized sports leagues that use it in the evening.

A small part of the field space will become a kiddie splash park. A performance stage behind the existing building will allow the field to host more concerts, films, and cultural programming.


Plans for the park.

Parents and community members are excited to let their kids run around the field safely and reduce congestion on the playground. They are happy that more concerts, films, and cultural programming will come to the performance stage. They were relieved that there will finally be trees, shade, and seating, and places for children to splash on hot days. They are excited to be able to go for a jog without having to battle with street traffic.

Friends of Stead Park told the committee that we are glad the city is upgrading playgrounds, including the Harrison playground on V Street. That is necessary since the number of adults and children is growing so rapidly. Stead's playground is already quite nice and doesn't have much room to expand, but this great piece of green space is crying out for better and more use.

Starting the project this year will go a long way toward encouraging families to stay in the city and to be actively engaged, as community members said recently and during public meetings last year.

We would like to thank Councilmember Barry and the other members of the committee for voting to accelerate the funding. We ask that the full Council retain this relatively low-cost, high-value project in the FY2014 budget when it votes on May 22, so we can move forward this year to start improving the field and provide some much-needed space and options for our families and our community.

Transit


More bus service may come to 16th Street's southern half

WMATA might beef up service on the busy 16th Street (S) line with a bus starting in Columbia Heights, where existing S buses often become too full to pick up passengers. That was one of the options WMATA and DDOT bus planners discussed with riders at a meeting last Monday.


Photo by Jess J on Flickr.

Every bus commuter knows that during morning rush hour, the people who board a bus early in the route are the ones who get the seats. They can get some reading or work done, or fit in one final snooze before they start their days.

But to riders who board the 16th Street "S-line" buses on the the southern half of the route, it's not just a matter of getting a seat. Full buses pass them by, one after another, during the morning crunch. More and more commuters in that section have been giving up on the bus altogether and either waste money and gasoline on taxis and cars, or walk relatively long distances, making them late to work.

25 residents packed a daycare room at the Jewish Community Center on a cold and rainy night last Monday evening and shared not only their frustrations, but also their thoughtful ideas. Express and Current reporters also were there. Dozens of residents who could not attend emailed me their concerns and ideas, which I shared with WMATA officials.

For example, rider Mary M. wrote,

Just this week (Tues, Wed, and today, Thurs), it has taken me 45-50 minutes to get from 16th & V to 14th & I, and anywhere from 4 to 6 buses have passed the stop each morning because they are too crowded to accept any more passengers. (Also, on Tuesday morning, 2 buses that had hardly anyone standing passed us by in the cold). There are usually 15-20 people waiting at V St in the mornings.
At the meeting, S bus riders heard from WMATA bus planners Jim Hamre and David Erion and DDOT's Steve Strauss. All 3 have a wealth of experience with District bus service. They have worked to make improvements in the past, like the S9 express bus. Rapid population growth in central DC has created challenges for bus service to keep up, they said.

But they offered hope of addressing this problem without affecting service for those who live along the northern half of the route. On Friday, in a follow-up phone call, Hamre also told me that WMATA is working on new proposals which he can discuss with the community around the 3rd week of February.

New route could serve half of 16th, if there's a space to lay over

One possibility discussed with Hamre during the meeting is a rush hour route focused on the morning problem strip: Columbia Road to downtown DC. But one obstacle is layover spacea bus route requires a location for the bus drivers to park, pause, and get ready for an on-time departure. My ANC colleague Noah Smith proposed inquiring about space in nearby neighborhoods.

We asked whether the route could run for only the 8-9 am hour, and therefore perhaps avoid the need for the parking stop. But the availability of a layover space is a very important part of running a bus route, the planners said. Would the elusive search for bus-length parking in one of the most congested parts of town stall this idea?

After the meeting, my wife Divya, who often jogs to Rock Creek and back, suggested asking about using the existing turnaround area on Calvert Street, by the Duke Ellington Bridge, where the 90s bus lines end today. That is less than 5 blocks from Columbia Road, and then just another 5 blocks from the 16th & Columbia intersection.

Hamre was intrigued by the idea when we discussed it by phone. While it's not ideal, he said he'd look into it, among other possibilities. (None of those possibilities include reducing service to the northern half of the S route).

Other ideas that came up at the meeting include posting bus supervisors along the current S line to efficiently reorder buses en route, and consolidating certain stops that are very close together (at least during rush hour) along 16th Street.

We are looking forward to seeing WMATA's proposals later this month. As soon as the meeting is confirmed, we will share it here and elsewhere to hopefully get an even bigger turnout than the one we had last Monday. Thanks go to the Jewish Community Center for providing the space, WMATA and DDOT officials for attending, and Noah Smith, who collaborated with me to organize the event.

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