Greater Greater Washington

Pedestrians


How soon can DC fix Florida Avenue?

Florida Avenue, NE is very dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. The sidewalk on one side is too narrow for people to walk and doesn't meet ADA requirements, while the roadway has more lanes than necessary. How quickly can change come? Can the DC government put in temporary fixes? How soon?


Photo by Yancey Burns reproduced with permission.

If DC expands the sidewalks permanently, it will require new stormwater outlets and pipes, resloping the roadway, upgrading lighting, and more. But could the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) use planters, paint, bollards, and other temporary items to create safe walkable and bikeable places in the meantime?

DDOT is hoping to do just that, said Sam Zimbabwe, Associate Director for Policy, Planning and Sustianability at DDOT. The agency will soon kick off a study to consider how to make Florida Avenue safer, which Zimbabwe hopes will finish by early 2014; temporary fixes to implement the recommendations could come as early as next summer.

Temporary changes can make a difference for safety

There are multiple precedents from elsewhere in the country for how a combination of temporary barriers and paint can quickly recapture excessive asphalt to improve pedestrian safety. New York City, in particular, has led the way under the leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to improve safety for all modes of transportation and create great new public gathering spaces at the same time.

While large projects such as the Times Square renovation have gotten most of the attention, smaller projects throughout the city have included painted bulb-outs to reduce sidewalk crossing distances, and removing "slip lanes" to slow traffic at turns.

In New York, the city DOT provided basic planters and paint to delineate the new expanded pedestrian and bicyclist areas, as well as some simple furnishings. Local business groups and others then provided the plants and additional benches, tables and other items.


Pearl Street Plaza in NYC. Photo by NYCDOT on Flickr.

In DC as well, local developers, businesses and schools could help maintain certain blocks. For example, the NoMa BID includes the 200-300 blocks, Two Rivers PCS and Union Market developer Edens each own property in the 400 block, and Gallaudet abuts the 600-900 blocks. All are willing to take on the landscaping and other maintenance work adjoining their properties.

DC has some precedent for these types of temporary safety upgrades. After a person was killed at 15th and W, NW, DDOT installed temporary bulb-outs and retimed the signals. There's now a permanent design, but in the meantime, people there have enjoyed a safer intersection for the last 4 years and for however many more years it will take to permanently reconstruct the intersection.


Temporary fixes at 15th and W, NW. Photos by Stephen Miller.

Why can't DC do this now?

Must there be any kind of study? Why not simply install some temporary measures tomorrow?

Zimbabwe explained that DC faces some constraints from federal law and the regional Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Florida Avenue is one of DC's "major arterial" roads, is considered a regionally significant piece of the transportation network, and is part of the "expanded national highway system" under the recent federal MAP-21 transportation bill.

In order to change a part of the transportation network that used federal funds in the past, or a regionally-significant link, DC (or Maryland or Virginia) has to go through certain steps. It has to submit the project to the TPB's Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP). TPB takes the list of projects, runs models to determine the overall effect on regional air quality, and makes sure that the air quality is below certain levels as required by the federal Clean Air Act.

Therefore, DDOT cannot go out tomorrowor even this yearto restripe Florida Avenue to reduce lanes for ADA compliant walking areas or bicycle facilities. Instead, it has to decide what it wants to do, submit the project next February, and wait for the TPB to approve the project, along with the others in the region, later in the spring.

For 2013, DDOT submitted streetcar routes, bus lanes on H and I Streets, making New Jersey Avenue NW two-way, and more, but nothing about Florida Avenue. A 2010 NoMA transportation study recommended removing a lane on Florida Avenue NE, but DDOT has not yet included this project in its portion of the CLRP project list.

The best-case scenario at this point is for temporary fixes to happen in about 18 months. In an email, Zimbabwe says that an upcoming study will "assess short-term low-cost design improvements" which DDOT could potentially install in late summer 2014, in addition to planning for the higher-cost, permanent changes.

Paint, signs and barriers are cheap and easy to move around. By trying temporary fixes, DDOT could make the road safer immediately, and also determine what works well before spending more money on a permanent change.

Politics can present obstacles as well

Besides having bureaucratic processes from TPB and federal rules, DDOT officials may feel they need a lot of studies to weather any political opposition that might come up.

Groups like AAA have criticized DDOT for moving too quickly on projects which convert driving lanes for other transportation users. In Glover Park, a traffic calming project is not yet complete, and yet Georgetown residents are already calling to reverse the changes.

It will likely take continued public pressure, and support, from the neighborhood and others to ensure that DDOT can move ahead quickly with temporary pedestrian and bicycle improvements without waiting for a long design and construction process for permanent fixes. Hopefully by the end of next year (at the lastest), DDOT has the opportunity to use Florida Avenue NE as an example for relatively rapid, low-cost upgrades that improve safety for all modes of transportation.

Tony Goodman is an ANC Commissioner for 6C06 in Near Northeast/NoMA. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he is a Construction Project Manager with a Masters degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan and has lived in Washington, DC since 2002. 

Comments

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It seems like the issue w/ Florida Avenue NE and NW is that it's just too damn busy. As in, crowded with traffic. So sure, it's a critical arterial, but it's lunacy to try to crowd through as much traffic as is passing through it now.

What would ameliorate that vehicular traffic? Bus service? Shorter Florida-only routes? DC doesn't need TPB approval for that, does it?

by Arrgh Street on Apr 8, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

Why stop with Florida Ave NE? I think New York Ave NE should also be studied. The reason I've been supportive of the 11th Street Bridge project and the addition of the full interchange connections between the SE-SW Fwy and I-295/DC-295 was so when the project is complete (hopefully) a lot of the cut through traffic using New York Ave to travel between US-50 and downtown/northern Va. via I-395 would instead use the new ramps to/from DC-295 and the SE-SW Fwy.

by Transport. on Apr 8, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

the link under "very dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists" is broken.

by goldfish on Apr 8, 2013 1:20 pm • linkreport

If Florida gets a makeover, they'll have to deal with even more cars cutting through on K Street NE - which is perhaps even more of a concern since not only is K flanked on both sides by houses (i.e. residential), but J.O. Wilson is also on this street.

by Laura on Apr 8, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

@Arrgh Street

I walk home on FL Ave. along the 6th St. to 12th St. NE stretch a few times a week. The street is not crowded with traffic. Along that stretch, it generally flows freely, which is what allows drivers to drive at such high speeds. There is usually a break in traffic for me to cross at a marked (no light) crosswalk within 30 seconds of reaching the intersection. I am often able to cross immediately.

by Ann on Apr 8, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

Narrowing lanes is one way to reduce speeding. When you pull the lane into 8-9 feet, people have to drive more slowly in theory. Same thing with an on street parking lane which makes drivers more cautious. I still think a dedicated busway would be the best use and could make it easier to accomodate streetcars in the future.

by Alan B. on Apr 8, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

I drive on FL Ave NE every morning to get from my house in Capitol Hill to North Capitol Street to go up to Silver Spring. I agree that as a pedestrian and cyclist, the road is terrible. As a driver, a lane could be eliminated but the FL/NY/First St intersection is one of the worst in the city for everyone involved and one can easily spend 20 minutes just getting through that one intersection during rush hour. One of the major problems is a lack of functional East/West routes to get through the city for drivers, so when there is an open area (like on FL NE), drivers tend to speed through it to make up the time they are going to spend later (like the 20 minutes at the NY/FL intersection), which is a safety issue for the cyclists and pedestrians.

by DCDriver on Apr 8, 2013 2:27 pm • linkreport

@DCDriver

Take the metro, bro/broette!

Also, I totes agree about NY/FL/1st traffic circle. NY ave should be an underpass of Florida here, just like what N. Cap does with Rhode Island and NY. Pedestrian unfriendly, yes, but literally everyone on that section of NY ave in a car is just trying to get to Maryland (or into DC from MD). If we had this, the 9/10 cars that are not using Florida or 1st and are just continuing onto the expressway would be out of everyone's way.

by Nick on Apr 8, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

It is paragraphs like this that give government a bad name:

'Zimbabwe explained that DC faces some constraints from federal law and the regional Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Florida Avenue is one of DC's "major arterial" roads, is considered a regionally significant piece of the transportation network, and is part of the "expanded national highway system" under the recent federal MAP-21 transportation bill. '

I get this every month on my local APB. There are dozens of perfectly valid and absolutely ridiculous reasons why virtually any common sense improvement can't be done.

So we sit around and discuss how nice things would be if ever we could do anything nice.

I'm wondering why more local governments don't just take common sense actions and see who sues them. Will the feds really withhold funding? Would the state really come out and dig up a bulb out and restore the high-speed right turn? I think more jurisdictions should put these ridiculous rules to the test and see whether they're really valid. And if called on it, appeal to the court of public opinion. Local elected officials need to show some hormonal fortitude and not let ridiculous rules put in for the shadowy benefit of Who Knows? constrain them from acting for the public good.

by Greenbelt on Apr 8, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

@Nick-if I'm not mistaken, the feminine of bro' is sis'!

by Tina on Apr 8, 2013 4:11 pm • linkreport

Question: Where is the majority of traffic on Florida coming from and where is it going to? If it's people from Maryland, why should District residents submit to their desires for speed along what is effectively a neighborhood street?

The argument seems to be that if Marylanders spend money in the District, regardless of the amount, they are entitled to free parking and speedy access to and from their destinations. Residents should rethink that equation.

by Randall M. on Apr 8, 2013 4:33 pm • linkreport

Florida Avenue NW (at the intersection of 18th) could really use some of the same attention given to 15th and V...while bump outs are probably not feasible, retiming the lights seems much needed. It is unsafe for drivers and pedestrians alike.

by WL on Apr 8, 2013 5:10 pm • linkreport

The argument seems to be that if Marylanders spend money in the District, regardless of the amount, they are entitled to free parking and speedy access to and from their destinations. Residents should rethink that equation.

That's an excellent point. For many, many years, it was assumed that the only viable model for DC was as a place of widespread concentrated poverty whose only income was Federal largess, and whatever it could skim off of suburbanites who would come into town. So we maximized the number of out-of-towners who could come in spend money and leave. Of course, the way you do that is antithetical to creating decent places where people want to live.

Now that people actually *want* to live here, the obvious course of action is to prioritize the quality of life for people who choose to live here, not to prioritize ease of access. Or in other words, make it easy to leave the city (at the expense of those who choose to stay) and people will leave the city.

It's not a surprise that the slow inversion of that dynamic is incredibly threatening to the people who have come to rely on their privilege, though.

by oboe on Apr 8, 2013 6:22 pm • linkreport

@WL -that intersection was part of a major renovation of 18th from Fl to Columbia NW. It was finished less than a year ago.

by Tina on Apr 8, 2013 6:27 pm • linkreport

The ADA is a Federal law, too. Does anyone know why Federal highway requirements are trumping another Federal law? Is there something in the ADA that says, "Make your sidewalks compliant unless it would impede traffic"?

by Eileen on Apr 8, 2013 9:34 pm • linkreport

DOT has plans to employee cosmetics fixes to address the same issues of speeding traffic and narrow walk ways along the section of East Capitol that is east of the river. It is my opinion that a more comprehensive and permanent solution should be pursued to transform one of the gate ways into the city into a safe and usable place for pedestrians cyclist and motorist. Reducing the speed limit which is posted as 35mph and adding lights at key cross walks along with synchronizing the light are must haves improvements.

by Myron on Apr 9, 2013 12:20 am • linkreport

"If it's people from Maryland, why should District residents submit to their desires for speed along what is effectively a neighborhood street?"

A lot of Hill residents use Florida Ave a lot.

by Hillman on Apr 9, 2013 7:01 am • linkreport

"Local business groups and others then provided the plants and additional benches, tables and other items."

Does anybody really think these won't become de facto homeless camps within weeks?

by Hillman on Apr 9, 2013 7:13 am • linkreport

Your pictures of 15th & W NW are old. The plastic bollards have pretty much been run over and are gone. The 6" artifical curbs have been chewed away by snow plows and trucks. The paint still remains. The timing of the lights makes it impossible to cross 15th street in one light cycle, which encourages crossing against the lights. I find it hard to consider this intersection a success.

by tour guides on Apr 9, 2013 7:50 am • linkreport

Not saying that this is a good thing but couldn't someone sue DC over the ADA issues for a few million and that would motivate DC to fix Florida Ave

by kk on Apr 9, 2013 8:06 am • linkreport

The ADA just requires making things compliant when building them or making substantial changes. An existing road doesn't have to change immediately for the ADA, just like many old buildings can keep being non-compliant until they are substantially renovated.

by David Alpert on Apr 9, 2013 8:12 am • linkreport

@Tina

Nah, pretty sure its broette ;)

by Nick on Apr 9, 2013 9:03 am • linkreport

"Does anybody really think these won't become de facto homeless camps within weeks?"

I do, but so what if I'm wrong? Where should the homeless camp?

by David C on Apr 9, 2013 9:35 am • linkreport

I don't think the examples in NYC have become de facto homeless camps.

by drumz on Apr 9, 2013 9:48 am • linkreport

Not saying that this is a good thing but couldn't someone sue DC over the ADA issues for a few million and that would motivate DC to fix Florida Ave

Good idea, but could we get them to sue the regional TPA rather than DC?

by oboe on Apr 9, 2013 9:51 am • linkreport

@ David Alpert

What is considered a substantial change when it comes to road/sidewalk. Does tearing the ground to repave or is fixing a water main break considered substantial change.

Speaking of that why was the work on NY & FL Avenues a few years ago not used as a point to bring up ADA issues on Florida Ave atleast between North Capitol & 6th street NE

What are exactly some ADA issues with sidewalks beside the size, does non flat surface, lose bricks, abrupt change in grade or surface, bus stops that are in grass and not pavement count

by kk on Apr 9, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

Yeah. Adding my voice to the chorus of "it's not actually that busy." The road's pretty wide, but the traffic volumes are generally very light.

Remove a lane, add some turn lanes, fix the placement of the bus stops, and I'd bet that traffic would actually flow more freely. The current configuration encourages a ton of weaving.

Oh, and apropos of nothing, the timing of the light at 4th & FL NE has never made sense to me as a driver or cyclist or pedestrian.

by andrew on Apr 9, 2013 12:05 pm • linkreport

I don't expect good sense to trump bureaucratic nonsense anytime soon, but if DDOT cared about the safety of the residents, pedestrians, cyclists, etc. who utilize Florida Avenue NE, they would be out yesterday afternoon installing temporary fixes.

by Sunny Florida Avenue on Apr 9, 2013 4:46 pm • linkreport

Excellent article. You are 3 for 3 here tony g.

by h st ll on Apr 10, 2013 9:20 am • linkreport

@andrew:

I think the timing of that light is due to the hill/grade coming up from the Met Branch underpass. Giving both directions of Florida the green at once would cause problems for those turning left from Florida to 4th...they'd have difficulty seeing oncoming traffic because of the hill crest.

by Froggie on Apr 10, 2013 9:38 am • linkreport

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