Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Marlene Berlin

Marlene Berlin is a community activist who has lived in DC since 1975. She is the editor of Forest Hills Connection, which covers the Forest Hills/Van Ness/North Cleveland Park communities. She is also on the Van Ness Main Street board.  

Retail


Chick-fil-A's proposed Van Ness drive-thru is denied

A key review board has denied Chick-fil-A's controversial request for a drive-thru in Van Ness. But it might not have the last word.


An early rendering of the planned Chick-fil-A in Van Ness.

At its meeting on Thursday, April 28th, the five-member Public Space Committee voted unanimously to deny Chick-fil-A a permit to widen an existing curb cut for a drive-thru at 4422 Connecticut Avenue, which is now the site of the Van Ness Burger King.

The committee, which has five members from various DC government agencies, made its decision based on testimony from Chick-fil-A, Van Ness community members and representatives, and District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Office of Planning (OP) staffers. Ryan Westrom of DDOT and OP's Tim Maher recommended against approving the curb cuts, concerned that the increased drive-thru traffic projected by Chick-fil-A would result in more conflicts between pedestrians and drivers.

Chick-fil-A says it'll stop traffic backups, but not persuasively

There is already a drive-thru here for Burger King, but it gets little traffic. A Chick-fil-A would draw much more. To try to prevent traffic backups, the store plans to have three to four employees taking orders on iPads on the north driveway, more employees at another station for taking cash in the back, and another area on the south driveway with a door for more staff to deliver the food. They also mentioned using the rear parking lot for overflow, assuming there would be available spaces.

"What would prevent a back up onto Connecticut Avenue?" they were asked. Chick-fil-A had a ready response: They would hire an off-duty police officer to direct traffic. Matthew Marcou, the chair of the Public Space Committee, raised his eyebrow at this, and quipped, "DDOT can't get any for other projects."

Chick-fil-A also promised to have additional staff on hand to quickly handle orders if a surge in drive-thru business was causing backups. ANC 3F Commissioner Sally Gresham said promises of "self-monitoring" – which Chick-fil-A representatives continued to stress – were not enough. The city had no enforcement mechanism, she testified, if Chick-fil-A did not uphold its agreements.

Community groups and experts oppose the drive-thru

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F voted unanimously in February to oppose Chick-fil-A's drive-thru. Steve Gresham, a member of an ANC committee formed to study Chick-fil-A's application, testified about flaws in the drive-thru system, such as the lanes being too narrow to accommodate employees taking orders. And during peak hours of business, he said, cars could be blocking the sidewalk at either the entrance or exit of the drive-thru more than half of the time.

ANC 3F hired Karina Ricks, a former chair of the Public Space Committee, to consult. She stated in written testimony that the drive-thru did not meet regulatory muster. Ricks also said the drive-thru would create an unsafe environment for pedestrians and bicyclists – conditions that would run counter to DDOT's moveDC, the long-term DC transportation plan, and the goals of Vision Zero to reduce all traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the District to zero by 2024.

In addition, she said, the city was making substantial investments in Van Ness, in planning and implementation, to create a vibrant, walkable commercial area.

The Chick-fil-A can thrive without a drive-thru

Dipa Mehta, a co-chair of the economic development committee of Van Ness Main Street, presented research showing a safe, walkable environment is a key ingredient to fostering economic development. The car traffic generated by Chick-fil-A would be detrimental to the business climate at Van Ness, she said.

Chick-fil-A has stated in the past that the Van Ness location does not currently generate enough pedestrian traffic to support its business. However, I as a Van Ness Main Street board member testified that Chick-fil-A was underestimating the chain's potential to attract walk-in customers from the immediate area, given the large number of high-rise residential buildings nearby.

Marcou asked Chick-fil-A about pedestrian traffic in Tenleytown, where Chick-fil-A is building a restaurant without a drive-thru. The answer: They had not done a pedestrian count there.

Though comments on Forest Hills Connection articles about Chick-fil-A's plans indicate at least some residents support a drive-thru, the opposition has been more outspoken and organized. A Ward 3 Vision petition opposing the drive-thru collected 366 signatures. In addition, The Northwest Current published an open letter to Mayor Bowser from several signatories, including the owners of Bread Furst and Acacia Bistro, and co-presidents of the Hastings Condo Association, representing the building just north of the site at 4444 Connecticut. They asked for Bowser's support in opposing the drive-thru.

Only one resident testified in support of the Chick-fil-A drive-thru. However, he explained that he had business ties to the location. He said similar driveway situations exist in nearby locations – at the Park and Shop in Cleveland Park, at the Whole Foods in Tenleytown, and at the Tenleytown CVS – and pedestrians adjusted.

Committee member Reg Bazile cut him off. "Those locations are not similar," he said.

Marcou recommended that Chick-fil-A continue to pursue a Van Ness location, only without the drive-thru element. Chick-fil-A also has the option of going to court. That's what a citizens' group did in 1980, when a Burger King franchisee sought and received permits for the drive-thru in 1980. The court sided with the franchisee.

Van Ness Main Street President Mary Beth Ray said the community would support the restaurant without the drive-thru. "Our research has shown how wildly popular their food is, and we hope [Chick-fil-A's] interest in Van Ness goes beyond the drive thru," Ray said in an email. "Van Ness is open for business."

This originally ran on Forest Hills Connection.

Retail


Walkability's next hurdle in Van Ness: A Chick-fil-A drive-thru

Chick-fil-A has plans to put a drive-thru store on Connecticut Avenue in Van Ness. But neighbors are saying the site's business plan doesn't mesh with the neighborhood's aspirations to be more walkable.


Rendering of the Chick-fil-A proposal. Except where noted, all images from DDOT public space permit application.

Chick-fil-A plans to take over the property at 4422 Connecticut Avenue NW, just north of the UDC campus and Van Ness Metro station.

Today, the space is occupied by a Burger King, which also operates a lightly-used drive-thru. The site is sandwiched between a dry cleaners and a heavily-trafficked car wash that already caters to Maryland commuters, causing traffic backups on Connecticut Avenue spilling over to nearby Albemarle Street.

Plans for the Chick-fil-A site include a new sidewalk cafe enclosed by a low retaining wall where today there is unappealing empty pavement, new landscaping and signage, and a renovation of the existing driveway.


Rendering showing the proposed sidewalk seating.


Today's existing conditions.

Neighbors are up in arms over the Chick-fil-A proposal. They see a popular driver-oriented fast food restaurant as decided step backward for the neighborhood. Van Ness has made significant progress toward being a more walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.

In the past few years, neighbors have established Van Ness Main Streets to fight for better walkability, a suburban-style parking-in-front shopping center has redeveloped across the street from the Burger King, and UDC built a new student union that bring will bring to life dead pedestrian plaza once the landscaping is ready.

Increased traffic volume is the problem, for people and cars alike

At the heart of the concern are Chick-fil-A estimates that the drive-thru will see three times as much traffic as Burger King does today. That's more than 90 vehicles per hour during its projected busiest period, Saturdays at midday.

Most of those 90-plus vehicles will be crossing the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk twice (entering and exiting the drive-thru). If Chick-fil-A can keep the line moving, that means a vehicle will be traversing the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk roughly three times per minute, roughly tripling the odds of pedestrian/motorist conflict.

If Chick-fil-A doesn't keep the line moving, it could see traffic backups similar to, or compounding, the ones that are already happening today at the car wash.


On sunny weekends, the line for Flagship Car Wash wraps around the block. (Left: The line at Connecticut Avenue; Right: The line continuing on Albemarle.) Photo from Forest Hills Connection.

In response to the expected traffic increases, Chick-fil-A presented a detailed traffic study and plan to ANC3F at its February 23 meeting. To keep traffic from backing up onto Connecticut Avenue at the busiest times, it would send out employees armed with tablet computers to take orders, collect payments and deliver food to waiting motorists.

In a perfect world, the plan might work. But new Chick-fil-A stores have caused significant traffic chaos in other communities. Bellevue, Washington, had to change traffic patterns and hire police to handle all the business that a new Chick-fil-A attracted.

And while Chick-fil-A presented this plan for dealing with auto traffic, so far, it hasn't addressed concerns about conflicts with pedestrian traffic.

Chick-fil-A's drive-thru plan depends on moving cars into and out of the drive-thru quickly. The chain's drive-thru in suburbs and exurbs rarely have to deal with pedestrians, if at all. But here, drivers will have to wait to turn into the drive-thru and wait again upon exiting for an opening not only in car traffic but in pedestrian traffic.

DDOT will weigh in on the issue

As is standard process for many projects across the District, to move forward with its plans, Chick-fil-A has applied to the DDOT public space committee for two use-of-public-space permits. One permit covers the elements making up the sidewalk cafe seating. The other permit covers the plans to close, renovate, and reopen the driveway. The committee is currently scheduled to hear the application on March 24.


Inset of driveway plan from public space permit application.

Residents have started a petition against Chick-fil-A's plans, and ANC3F has voted unanimously to oppose Chick-fil-A's application for the driveway. 3F's resolution calls on DDOT's Public Space Committee to reject Chick-fil-A's application, as "A busy drive-thru in the neighborhood now would represent a major step backward."

DDOT's design standards on minimum distances between driveways represent what may be the strongest argument for the ANC and other voices in the community to advocate against the drive-thru.

The DDOT public space committee could deny the driveway permit thanks to it not meeting the minimum distance requirement. But they could also choose to approve the permit. Ultimately in situations like this one, the committee is the final decision-making body, and has discretion to weigh whatever arguments for and against the permit however it likes.

A version of this post first ran on Forest Hills Connection.

Pedestrians


Van Ness residents say their neighborhood isn't safe for walking

"My biggest concern at Van Ness is pedestrian safety. I feel my safety is constantly at risk," Benae Mosby said at a recent meeting of the Van Ness Main Streets board. As the communications and community relations manager at WAMU, whose headquarters are at Connecticut Avenue and Windom Place NW, Mosby walks this troubled intersection daily.


Connecticut Avenue at the Van Ness Metro station. All photos by the author.

It is an especially challenging time for Mosby and others on this stretch of Connecticut. On the east side, a one-block segment of the sidewalk is closed to accommodate the construction at Park Van Ness. On the west side, the entrance to the Metro has been closed since late June.

ANC 3F commissioners pushed DDOT to provide some relief to pedestrians, but to no avail. DDOT said it would add no second crosswalk on Connecticut at the south side on Windom (a few years after one of its own studies recommended one), and after adding a few more seconds to the crossing times at Veazey Terrace and Windom, DDOT said it would add no more.

With all this pressure on the intersections and pleas for changes falling on deaf ears at DDOT, a predictable outcome set in over the summer. The intersections became especially taxed in the morning rush hour, and pedestrians piled up and had a hard time getting through in a single cycle. Morning commuters, especially those traveling by bus to the Van Ness Metro stop, started taking more risks to avoid missing a walk cycle and potentially their train. Several could be seen crossing mid-block from the bus stop on the west side of Connecticut at Veazey Terrace to get to the Metro entrance on the east side.

As the problem grew, ANC 3F Commissioner Mary Beth Ray urged police action to deal with these hazardous crossings.

Police tried to make things safer

On Thursday, August 13th, MPD put up a yellow tape barricade to block mid-block access to the Van Ness Metro station. Officers were also handing out brochures and talking to pedestrians.

But by the next morning, the tape had been torn away. The next week, MPD tried another tack: Placing the tape where bus passengers are most tempted to cross.

These are short-term measures that do not address the real problem: The infrastructure is unfriendly to pedestrians, and right now it looks like DDOT would rather pedestrians bear the safety risk than accommodate pedestrian needs.

Metro escalator work has cut off what was a safer option

These hazards are what made the "secret" Metro passage under Connecticut Avenue, now lost to the escalator rehab project, so appealing.

"Metro has closed our 'secret' shortcut!" lamented Dorn McGrath, a long-time Forrest Hills resident who misses the safer underground route. "Pedestrians in the know wanting to cross Connecticut Avenue at Veazey Place could bypass the wait for a walk signal and the heavy traffic and cross in safety by using the Van Ness/UDC Metro tunnel. One could reach or depart from the Starbucks without having to rush across six lanes.

"Alas, the Metro entrance next to Starbucks is now closed and a pedestrian has no choice but to cross either through the heavy traffic or a block earlier."

To achieve Vision Zero, a lot has to change

Going back to Mosby's issue, even when the Metro entrance and Park Van Ness sidewalk reopens, the traffic and short crossing times will remain hazards to pedestrians at Windom and Veazey.

This will also continue to be the case at other Connecticut Avenue crossings, such as the one to the north on Albemarle Street. There, resident and seniors advocate Barbara Cline has seen car crashes, drivers running red lights,blocking intersections, speeding through an apartment building driveway from Connecticut to Albemarle.

Even with a new 25-year plan from DDOT that makes pedestrians the number one policy priority, the changes needed to make this a reality seem light years away. Photo enforcement can help, but the reality is that we live in a car culture, and pedestrians still need to push for changes to make room for us on the street.

Cross-posted at Forest Hills Connection.

Transit


The Van Ness Metro station's west entrance isn't closing just yet

The west entrance to the Van Ness Metro station was supposed to start a three-year closure for escalator repairs today. But after pushback from nearby residents and DDOT, the project is on hold.


Photo by David Bardin.

"I am putting WMATA on notice that all public space permits are suspended until further notice," DDOT's Matthew Marcou said. He spoke in response to an audience member's question at a community meeting on Thursday, which ANC 3F Commissioner Mary Beth Ray organized.

Marcou, who chairs the DDOT committee that oversees permits to use public space for construction staging and other work, went on to explain that this means no trucks can bring any supplies or equipment to the site.

It's not clear how long DDOT can hold up the work. ANC 3F has asked Metro's interim general manager for a delay until the closed sidewalk at the Park Van Ness site reopens at the end of this year.

Marcou is no stranger to the community or that project. He, along with ANC 3F and developer Saul Centers, hammered out the traffic safety control plans that have closed the Park Van Ness construction site to pedestrians since late 2013.

DDOT hasn't had a chance to plan for the entrance being closed

During a community meeting with DC's Office of Planning last Tuesday, DDOT's Ward 3 transportation planner, Ted Van Houten, revealed that DDOT wasn't notified of WMATA's plans until April 21st, the same day as the general public. Further, at that point WMATA had not set up any meetings with DDOT to discuss the Van Ness station entrance being closed.

At that same meeting, Council member Mary Cheh said she would be talking to WMATA and DDOT, and specifically asking DDOT about the possibility of a temporary sidewalk at the Park Van Ness site.

Because closing the Metro entrance will add more stress to this heavily-traveled stretch of Connecticut Avenue, Marcou explained at the meeting that all options for relief are on the table. Community members' suggestions, which came in via written comments and questions, included:

  • Increasing crossing times for pedestrians at Windom Place and Veazey Terrace.
  • Marking a crosswalk on the south side of Windom
  • Installing a Barnes Dance crossing which stops cars coming from all directions so pedestrians can all cross at once.
  • A temporary sidewalk at Park Van Ness
  • The repairs at Van Ness will require a multi-step process

    WMATA sent Cedric Watson, its head engineer of escalators and elevators, to the meeting to explain the escalator replacement process. He gave a presentation and answered questions from ANC 3F commissioners.

    Watson stated repeatedly that WMATA had notified the community about the work at an ANC meeting about 18 months ago, when a representative spoke about a five-month closure of the east entrance at Van Ness that was also for replacing escalators.

    At the meeting's end, however, Watson acknowledged that ANC 3F had not been given a date for the west entrance project.

    He explained that the Van Ness station has certain constraints that are going to keep it closed for a long time. Removing the escalator at the entrance will create a chute through which workers will drop sections of three longer escalators, some of the longest in the Metro system, down tot he mezzanine level. Also, a lot of the work can only happen at night, while the station is closed. Finally, there's electrical work to do and structural upgrades to make since the escalators have been there since the station opened almost 35 years ago.

    Steve Strauss, DDOT's Deputy Director of Progressive Transportation, asked whether closing the station over the weekends would have a significant impact on shortening this time frame. There wasn't a clear answer, but the question appeared to warrant further discussion.

    ANC Commissioner Sally Gresham asked whether the entrance stairway could remain open. Watson said that might be possible if it remains structurally sound.

    Van Ness is only the first of a number of stations that need escalator repairs

    Asked about delaying the project for eight months, Watson said that would affect the timetable for the contractor, which will tackle the Cleveland Park escalators after this project is complete. He said an entrance will close for three years at that station as well. Medical Center, Woodley Park and Friendship Heights are other Red Line stations due for escalator replacements.

    Watson also said the decision about whether to delay the project or move forward with it ultimately rests with Jack Requa, the interim general manager at WMATA.

    3F Commissioner Malachy Nugent captured the frustration and anger at the meeting, stating that WMATA made working with its contractor a higher priority than getting input from the community. He warned that an injunction was not out of the question. This got resounding applause from the audience.

    It was clear that WMATA did not fully consider how closing a Van Ness station entrance would affect the community. But after the community meeting, the tone changed. DDOT's Marcou and WMATA's Watson met on Friday. And Ann Chisholm, WMATA's head of government relations, told me that Metro needs to do a better job of outreach.

    To see Metro's advisory addressing questions about the work itself, see wmata.com/vanness.

    This post originally appeared on Forest Hills Connection.

    Transit


    An entrance at the Van Ness Metro station is about to close for three years

    The escalator at the western entrance of the Van Ness Metro station needs serious work. Three years' worth, to be exact.


    Photo from WMATA.

    When WMATA closed Van Ness' eastern entrance for five months in 2013, it seemed like an eternity. But that's nothing compared to the three years the agency is estimating this project is going to take.

    Like with the eastern entrance, I'm concerned about safety for people on foot, as more of them will have to cross Connecticut Avenue to enter the Metro on the east side.

    The closure is scheduled to start on May 4th. But why's it set to last so long? Because WMATA isn't just replacing the one escalator at the western entrance; it's also replacing the three long escalators that descend into the station to the mezzanine.

    Workers will tackle each escalator replacement one at a time, and the work will be done only when the station is closed. That will stretch the work to 40 weeks per escalator, or approximately three years. It's not clear why WMATA needs to keep the west side closed while working on the internal escalators.

    To the north of the station, the sidewalk on the east side of Connecticut is closed for Park Van Ness construction and will remain so until at least the end of the year. That means Metro-bound pedestrians crossing Connecticut at Albemarle to avoid the work zone will have to cross the avenue again at Windom Place, which only has a crosswalk on the north side.

    Every weekday, Metrobus carries scores of commuters to the Van Ness Metro stop. They, too, will be crossing busy Connecticut Avenue, this time at Veazey Street.


    The Van Ness Metro station, with Windom Place to the north and Veazey Terrace to the south. Base image from Google Maps.

    It is frustrating to receive notice of this project less than two weeks before it is to begin, especially since the planning process likely took months. WMATA should have used the time to reach out to DDOT and prepare a pedestrian safety plan, but nothing of the sort is mentioned in Metro's news release.

    In October 2013, shortly after Metro announced the five-month closure of the eastern entrance, I spoke to Ann Chisholm in the Office of Government Relations at WMATA. She mentioned the possibility of lengthening the crossing time on Connecticut at Veazey. However, she was concerned about DDOT wanting a traffic study, which would hold up the project.

    WMATA dropped the ball in 2013. I intend to learn more about how it's going to avoid doing the same next week.

    This post originally appeared on Forest Hills Connection.

    Pedestrians


    Van Ness construction could close sidewalk for 2 years

    The last time the sidewalk by the Van Ness Square demolition site was closed to pedestrians, it was a temporary measure. But the latest closure could last much longer.


    Photo by Pat Davies.

    Developer Saul Centers will tear down the shopping center and replace it with a new apartment building. At a pre-construction meeting last week, representatives from Saul told the community that the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk alongside the construction zone will be closed for two years. DDOT regulations won't allow a covered walkway because of underground construction that was too close to the street.

    Instead, pedestrians would have to cross to the west side of Connecticut at Albemarle and Windom. By last Saturday, Saul had already closed off the sidewalk, and it was clear how dangerous this situation was going to be.

    I saw a blind man walking north in the street and a man with a toddler on his shoulders coming toward him. Of course, the blind man could not see the large sign announcing the closed sidewalk, but the father definitely could.

    ANC commissioner Sally Gresham was also out on Saturday afternoon and spent an hour monitoring "how folks were dealing with" the sidewalk closure. "The results are very scary!" she wrote. Gresham counted 102 people walking on Connecticut Avenue itself, including 6 young teenagers on skate boards, 22 strollers with 1, 2, or 3 adults, 35 people carrying bags of groceries or small children, 26 elderly people, and 13 people using canes, walkers, or leg braces.

    Luckily, this was the weekend, and parked cars did provide something of a buffer between traffic and pedestrians. But I wondered about the march of pedestrians on automatic pilot during the Monday morning rush hour.

    When asked if there will be a police presence to monitor the situation, Commander Reese of the 2nd Police District said the agency would pay attention to it, but did not have enough officers to have them out on the street.

    On Monday morning between 8:30 and 9 a.m., I decided to take a look. Most pedestrians were crossing where they should:


    All photos by the author unless noted.

    But there were quite a number crossing mid-block and walking in the street.


    People crossing mid-block on Connecticut Avenue.


    People walking in the street.

    And with no police in sight. I forgot they were only monitoring the situation.

    I emailed the photos to DDOT, and Director Terry Bellamy replied, "I am alerting our Public Space Team to investigate and make recommendations." According to Saul Centers' Kimberly Miller, construction superintendent "Jason" met with DDOT inspectors, who noted that pedestrians weren't following the posted signs, but that the project still complied with DDOT requirements.

    This is not a satisfactory outcome. After pondering the issue, and thinking of the places I have traveled that control pedestrian crossings a lot better than we do, the solution came to me on my afternoon walk. I went home and dashed off another email proposing that pedestrian path be controlled through fencing that allows people to enter stores but prevents pedestrians from crossing the street mid-block.

    New legislation may also improve pedestrian safety around construction sites as well. The Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013, which will take effect December 20, requires anyone seeking permits from DDOT to block a sidewalk or bike lane to also provide a "safe accommodation" for pedestrians and bicyclists to use instead.

    As of today, the sidewalk is open again, but it's unclear for how long. Will the council's new legislation make a difference for pedestrians on Connecticut Avenue over the next two years? We will keep you posted.

    A version of this post appeared on Forest Hills Connection.

    Pedestrians


    DDOT sidewalk gap policy has gaps of its own

    Sidewalks are a network to get us from one place to another, just like roads. But the procedures DDOT uses to identify and fill sidewalk gaps take a piecemeal approach that sets up barriers to completing the network.


    Photo by the author.

    Currently, DDOT requires that 51% of households on a single block approve the addition of a sidewalk, and that the neighborhood ANC file a corresponding resolution. If we consider sidewalks to be roadways for pedestrians, then we need to treat them as such. The default position should be that neighbors have to put forth the effort to oppose a sidewalk, instead requiring supporters to petition for one.

    In other words: If folks wanted a sidewalk, they would contact DDOT, and those who opposed it would have to organize against it. The community would have to jump through fewer hoops to get a sidewalk built.

    The DC Council's Priority Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2010 moves us in this direction, but DDOT needs to update its procedures.

    Iona's Pedestrian Advocacy Project has studied the issue and has come up with a set of proposed procedures. In addition, we will request that DDOT develop a 5-year plan to fill sidewalk gaps in priority areas throughout the District of Columbia, as part of the agency budget to be presented to the Council during its budget approval process this spring.

    1. Sidewalk gaps shall be filled on both sides of all "main streets," defined as those that have on-going traffic throughout the day and require pedestrians to walk in the street or cross at unsafe locations to a sidewalk.
    2. Sidewalk gaps shall be filled on at least one side of the street on roadways under construction, as specified in Section 2 (a) of the Priority Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2010, and on roadway segments for which residents have petitioned for sidewalks.
    3. Sidewalk gaps shall be filled on at least one side of the street within one-quarter mile of priority areas: schools, recreation and park facilities, and transit stops.
    4. For streets within priority areas not undergoing construction, 75% of residents on a block may petition NOT to have a sidewalk. The ANC for the area shall consider the petition and forward its recommendation to DDOT. DDOT shall determine whether the absence of a sidewalk presents a pedestrian safety issue or conflicts with an ADA requirement that cannot be resolved without a sidewalk.
    5. For those streets that do not have a sidewalk on either side due to engineering issues: If the residents have petitioned for no sidewalks and their request is approved by DDOT, the speed limit on that street will be lowered to 15 MPH.
    6. Residents may submit petitions to the ANC at any time to register their opposition to a sidewalk on their block.
    7. DDOT will notify all residents of these new procedures.
    8. DDOT will keep a record, including the dates, of these petitions on their website for five years, after which they will no longer be in force.
    9. DDOT will update the sidewalk gap map as gaps are filled.
    What do you think? You can rate and comment on these procedures on a survey we have set up. Please do so by March 1st, so we can consider your input and include it when the pedestrian advocacy group presents the proposals to DDOT at the end of March.

    Cross-posted at Forest Hills Connection.

    Pedestrians


    Where in Ward 3 needs sidewalks most?

    Sidewalks are more than a way to get from one place to another on foot. They connect us to our neighbors and neighborhoods. And they become even more crucial as we age.


    Children from the Franklin Montessori School enjoy the new sidewalk on Brandywine Street. Photo by George Branyan.

    Iona Senior Services has spearheaded a pedestrian advocacy effort to focus on filling priority sidewalk gaps in Ward 3. This effort and has focused on updating the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT)'s 2008 map of sidewalk gaps for Ward 3 and proposing new procedures for closing gaps.

    The Priority Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2010, initiated by Councilmember Mary Cheh, establishes routes to schools, recreation and park areas, and transit stops as priority areas for filling in missing sidewalks. And when streets with no sidewalks are due for reconstruction or new curbs and gutters, the law requires building a sidewalk on at least one side.

    Sharon Bauer, a former traffic analyst from Austin, Texas, with the assistance of DC Office of Planning, has put in many hours of work to update the DDOT map. She based her changes on the latest Google Street View data. The map includes quarter-mile radius zones (light blue circles) around schools, recreation areas and Metro stops. This is an approximately 5 to 10-minute walk, which we propose as the highest priority areas for filling missing sidewalks.

    We have three categories of streets denoted by different colors:

    We need your input

    If you live, work, or spend time in Ward 3, please download the PDF file of the map and zoom into the areas you are familiar with—your ANC, schools, etc.

    Focus particular attention on priority areas—the quarter-mile circles around significant pedestrian features such as schools, Metro stops, rec centers and playgrounds.

    Check for inaccuracies on the map, especially the streets marked in RED (no sidewalk on either side) and GREEN (partial sidewalk on one or both sides or difficult to tell).

    Then, go to this survey form to provide feedback or recommendations for areas that should receive high priority for sidewalk installation, or in some cases, point out areas where no sidewalk is needed or reasonable. You may also email your feedback to use at info@foresthillsconnection.com.

    Cross-posted at Forest Hills Connection.

    Transit


    Taxis could make paratransit service cheaper

    WMATA's MetroAccess paratransit service has become too expensive for both its clients and the governments that fund it, and has suffered from some serious problems with its service. Using more taxis to transport persons with disabilities could decrease costs and improve service quality.


    Photo by dominiccampbell on Flickr.

    People with certain disabilities qualify for Metro Access service. Riders pay twice the quickest fixed-route transit fare, up to a maximum of $7 per ride. But that doesn't cover the cost of a trip. To cover the rest, the local jurisdiction pays WMATA $45 for each trip.

    WMATA will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) on March 31 for new paratransit operators. But if the RFP follows the original proposal, it will make a big mistake: It would restrict taxis to serve no more than 5% of paratransit trips.

    MetroAccess is saddled with a poor customer service record. At a town hall meeting this past October, MetroAccess customers complained about poor treatment by drivers and call dispatchers, poor routing, long waits for pick up and drop off, and vehicle breakdowns. On a couple of occasions, clients of Iona Senior Services' Alzheimer's Day Program were dropped off at the wrong location, and it took hours to locate them. WMATA can do better than this, and taxis could help.

    MetroAccess head Christian Kent has crafted a plan to fix the quality of MetroAccess service. Instead of having one vendor bid on the whole package of services, as in the previous contract, the RFP lets vendors bid separately to run the call center, the fleet services, and quality assurance.

    Most jurisdictions of similar size do the same. Experts I spoke to feel that this is the best approach, especially having a different vendor handle quality assurance from the one(s) actually running the service.

    But one piece of the plan does not make sense: decreasing taxi use from 20%, as specified in the old contract, to only 5%.

    Research (cited at bottom) is clear that taxi paratransit services can be less costly than standard ADA paratransit:

    • In 2005, Arlington County's taxi paratransit cost $20.50 per trip, versus $35 for WMATA.
    • San Francisco's taxi paratransit costs $15-$18, versus $40 for Muni paratransit.
    • Houston's ADA taxi service per hour is $32.10, versus $42.65 for paratransit van service.
    • 50% of jurisdictions surveyed reported taxis saved money for transit agencies.
    Beyond cost savings, there are other advantages. The taxi system has more flexibility. Taxis are there when you need them, can handle a trip without needing to know the day ahead of time, often come quickly, and force riders to wait less. They provide a safety net for peak service times, and fill in gaps in coverage. And customers like the direct, exclusive ride.

    There are also challenges with using taxis. Some try to defraud the transit service. It's hard to monitor it, and drivers don't have as much training as the van services. Christian Kent cites these as reasons to decrease the amount of taxi use in the system.

    Nevertheless, Arlington paratransit manager Steve Yaffe makes a strong case for taxi use. His system uses taxis to provide 50% of its paratransit service. He has demonstrated that the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages.

    Yaffe said,

    I recognize the difficulty in finding taxi vendors with sufficient internal controls and oversight over training, maintenance and accounting. Another difficulty with using taxis for this type of service is the dearth of jurisdictional reciprocity privileges for taxis being used to transport people with disabilities. However, new business models are being developed and have been implemented elsewhere to get around these obstacles and provide the necessary level of accountability and service oversight. The Metro Access RFP should not preclude the flexibility to increase future levels of taxi participation.
    DC disability advocates testified at a January hearing on taxi service, chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3), about the importance of providing more wheelchair-accessible taxis and drivers with training to serve those with disabilities. When I talked to Cheh about the possibility of the MetroAccess RFP reducing the use of taxis, she acknowledged that this appears to move in the wrong direction.

    Instead of defining a percentage of taxi use for the system, WMATA should include specific quality standards for taxis. This will give all the jurisdictions the flexibility to improve quality, so that taxis can provide services for Metro Access users. This could lead to lower costs and better quality. 22 senior service providers in the District signed off on this recommendation. We hope Christian Kent listens.

    Research citations:
    Arndt, J. & Cherrington, L. (2007). The Role of Private-For-Hire Vehicles In Transit In Texas. Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
    Burkhardt, J. (2010). Potential Cost Savings from taxi paratransit programs. Institute of Transport Studies (Monash). Social Research in Transport Clearinghouse.
    Burkhardt, J., Doherty, J., Rubino, J., Westat, & Yum, J. (2008). A Survey On The Use of Taxis in Paratransit Programs. Easter Seals Project Action. Retrieved from www.projectaction.org
    Chapman, Koffman, Pfeiffer, & Weiner (2010). Funding the Public Transportation Needs of an Aging Population. American Public Transportation Association.

    Pedestrians


    Speed kills. Traffic cameras save lives.

    More and better traffic enforcement is key to reducing pedestrian crashes along our main streets. Last week, Mayor Gray announced that he is giving the green light to a new set of traffic cameras which MPD has been trying to buy for over a year. This is great news for DC pedestrians.


    Photo by ell brown on Flickr.

    Older folks are at particular risk in crossing our streets, such as Connecticut Avenue, because speed kills. A driver traveling 30 mph who hits a pedestrian is only 45% likely to kill that person, but at just 10 mph faster, the odds jump to 85%. For seniors, the risk is even greater.

    Seniors feel very vulnerable crossing the street, because drivers don't wait for them to cross when making right- and left-hand turns. And, of course, there are those cars that blast through red lights. In fact, most pedestrians hit by drivers are struck when in the crosswalk and crossing legally with the light.

    Pedestrians will welcome any measures to slow down cars, make drivers stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, and clear the box so that parents crossing the street to take their small children to their preschool don't have thread their way through the cars blocking the intersection and the crosswalks.

    Lisa Sutter, head of photo enforcement for DC's Metropolitan Police Department, first presented her photo enforcement program to the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council in December or 2010. I thought Santa had delivered the absolute best Christmas presents. The new cameras will catch violators not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks, speeding through red and green lights, and blocking the box.

    Ms. Sutter has the proof. She collects data on how her cameras affect driver behavior.


    Cameras work. Drivers slow down and stop going through red lights. Plus, revenues drop over time.

    Many of the complaints against cameras, such as those from AAA, say that the measure is just a play for revenue. But it is not really a good revenue source once drivers learn and begin to follow the law. Maybe new cameras would help plug a budget gap this year, but DC will not be able to count on a lot of revenue over time. What they can count in is safer streets.

    Look at Connecticut Avenue north of Chevy Chase Circle. The cars go the speed limit. As a pedestrian who has had many near misses, I am all for it. And I drive a car, as well.

    Besides, we all want safer streets, and we need to invest the resources to get there. If an effective method pays for itself and provides funding for more expansion, should we not support it?

    Each pedestrian killed costs $3.84 million (in 2005 dollars) from losing wages and productivity, medical expenses, motor vehicle damage and employers' insurance costs. A pedestrian injury costs $52,900 (also in 2005 dollars, according to the National Safety Bureau.)

    Aren't these fines a small price to pay to reduce crashes?

    ANCs 3C and 3F passed a resolution in favor of photo enforcement, and other ANC's across the city are considering similar actions. It is time to view the risk of bodily harm from the traffic violations on our streets as we do the risk from crime. In fact, the risk is greater.

    In their report of Traffic Safety in the New Millennium, the International Association of Chiefs of Police wrote, "More people are killed and injured and the economic losses to society are greater from traffic crashes than that from crime."

    It's long past time to install more traffic cameras and make our streets safer. Mayor Gray took the right step, and the DC Council should approve the program as part of this year's budget.

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