Greater Greater Washington

K Street reconstruction misses key ped and bike features

Last Saturday, DC officials cut a ribbon on a project to rebuild on K Street NW between 3rd and 7th Streets. The road is better than it was before, but some elements that would have helped pedestrians and cyclists disappeared between earlier studies and the final project.


Photos by the author.

New pavement covers a full-depth reconstruction of the street and upgraded utilities. New granite curbs, Washington Globe lamp posts, brick sidewalk pavers, and planting beds make the sidewalk a nice place for pedestrians and outdoor cafés.

The four large, round, elevated tree boxes on the corners of 5th and K are especially nice. They'll give trees room for their roots to grow, allowing this corner to become a beautiful shaded plaza in the future.

A 2003 Mount Vernon Triangle study from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Office of Planning recommended ways to improve transportation and the public realm throughout the neighborhood. That study proposed putting bike lanes on K Street and consolidating curb cuts, which means fewer places where pedestrians come in conflict with vehicles.

There are still large curb cuts on the 300 and 500 blocks of K Street, and the project reconstructed the curbs around these curb cuts. Had DC been able to close the curb cuts now, it could have saved time and expense in the future. However, that would require the property owners to agree.

What happened to the bike lanes?

The Mount Vernon Triangle study also recommended bike lanes along K Street, but with the exception of a short segment in the 400 block, the blocks have sharrows instead.

DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez said in an email, "We did include bike lanes in the plans for K Street from 4th to 7th. We intentionally dropped the bike lanes at the intersections for traffic capacity reasons, to allow for the inclusion of left turn lanes, thus the actual bike lanes are short, mid-block sections with sharrows at the ends of the blocks."

However, this makes it sound like there are bike lanes for at least part of each block. In fact, most blocks don't have any bike lanes.

While biking down K Street last week, aggressive drivers honked at me incessantly. If there was a lane, drivers would have simply passed by. While sharrows are a helpful reminder to vehicular traffic that cyclists have a right to be in the road, it's likely that other cyclists will have the same experience.

At 3rd Street, the project's eastern end, there's no transition from one very-wide lane with a sharrow to two wide travel lanes with no indication of cyclist right-of way.

Missing crosswalks hurt pedestrian safety

The project also misses out on pedestrian accommodations, especially at the corner of 3rd and K. There's no marked crosswalk on the eastern side of the intersection. I suspect it was left out because westbound drivers accelerate as they crest the bridge over I-395, meaning they wouldn't see the crosswalk until they were almost on top of a vulnerable pedestrian.

Any leg of an intersection is still a legal crosswalk, even if there's no marked crosswalk painted on the street. By not designing this area to be safe for pedestrians, DDOT is just letting an unsafe situation persist.

There's also no traffic signal here. This leaves off a visual cue for drivers to even think about slowing down. Meanwhile, drivers will be merging from two lanes into one here, meaning they'll be looking over their shoulders and in the rear-view mirror to see where traffic is behind them, rather than paying attention to pedestrians in the crosswalk. This corner has the potential to be even more dangerous for those on foot than it was before.

The Mount Vernon Triangle report recommended a mid-block crosswalk on the 400 block, which is very long, but it didn't become part of the project. Hernandez passed on our question about this to the project team, but she wasn't able to get an answer. She wrote in an email, "those decisions were made by former staff during the planning phase." It appears decisions by now-departed employees, decisions to abandon elements from an earlier study, simply disappeared with those employees.

What's with the signs?

Finally, many of the new street sign blades along K Street don't follow the same standard as most others in the city. This happened recently on other projects where contractors have fabricated signs, like on Sherman Avenue NW.

When asked about this, the project team told Hernandez, "The signage that's in place reflects the new federal standard which will be utilized on all new projects." Federal standards appear to define the typeface, not the shape of the signs, and as Mike DeBonis notes, include ordinal notation (3rd instead of 3). Regardless of DDOT's claim, it's clear that signage on their projects are not following one universal standard.

The revitalization of Mount Vernon Square has made K Street an increasingly active and busy urban place, and it deserves a streetscape that supports the people who use it, especially pedestrians and bicyclists. While the new K Street is an improvement, there are many unfortunate omissions that prevent it from being great.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC's Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff's writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer. 

Comments

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Sharrows are a f@*king joke on anything other than neighborhood streets. If a cyclists is ballsy enough to cycle here, s/he'll receive the same "honking" treatment as Geoff.

We intentionally dropped the bike lanes at the intersections for traffic capacity reasons

Translation: Bikes aren't traffic and if you're on one, you're not welcome here. Go pound sand.

by thump on Jun 11, 2013 3:54 pm • linkreport

IOW, Bikers and Pedestrians go s@ck it.

by SJE on Jun 11, 2013 4:05 pm • linkreport

Hopefully there's a take 2 on this when we bring the streetcar through.

by Campy on Jun 11, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks sharrows are a joke. I don't feel any safer riding my bike in a sharrow than I do in a regular lane of traffic. Frankly, on that stretch of K Street, I just ride on the sidewalk. It's wide and there aren't too many pedestrians around.

by Sara on Jun 11, 2013 4:25 pm • linkreport

Good comment thump. I do think this is an improvement, though.

I frequently bike from the bikeshare at 6th and h ne to 5th and k nw to visit my friend who lives in the neighborhood. Generally, k st drivers don't seem too impatient or threatening. It is maddening that they didn't include more bike lanes, however!

by h st ll on Jun 11, 2013 4:31 pm • linkreport

"Hopefully there's a take 2 on this when we bring the streetcar through."

Streetcar is unlikely to come down K st. for this stretch. It will likely take Mass Ave. to Mt. Vernon Square.

Also, those trees will be dead in two years, just like the newly planted trees in Seaton Park are already dying. If nobody is around to water them, why even bother planting them?

by TM on Jun 11, 2013 4:35 pm • linkreport

It's a bit of a tangent, but ... did the city really install new street lamps that are pointing up instead of down? WHY?

by Tom Veil on Jun 11, 2013 4:49 pm • linkreport

I'm usually coming N-S through the 5th and K or 4th and K intersections, and it's nice to see the project fininshed, although it would be nice if it included the bike lanes and crosswalks that Geoff mentions in the post.

My general experience on that stretch of K is that the traffic volume is not too high, which would have made narrowing the lanes for a bike lane quite possible. As it is, the wide roads make for a tendency for many drivers to want to speed through as many blocks as they can.

Perhaps the continued building-out of NoMa (and Mt. Vernon Triangle) will increase the flow of motor vehicles, but it will also vastly increase the local--foot and bike--traffic, making safety issues all the more relevant.

As 440 and 450 K come online, I am guessing they will eventually install that mid-block crosswalk. 500 or so more residents means close to 1,000 additional trips to the shops, gym, and restaurants at CityVista, and many of those pedestrians will be crossing mid-block, regardless of whether it's legal.

by Jacques on Jun 11, 2013 4:56 pm • linkreport

I have not found drivers particularly impatient while I travel from east on this part of K toward Union Station, even though there is just one lane. I am smack dab in the middle of the lane. Is there something about my bike that alerts them that I am from Maryland too?

Conversely, when I have taken Massachusetts Ave in the same vicinity I get honking and deliberate near side-swiping, even though they have a second lane to use anyway. But maybe something about my bike alerts these DC drivers that I am from Maryland.

by JimT on Jun 11, 2013 5:00 pm • linkreport

It's a bit of a tangent, but ... did the city really install new street lamps that are pointing up instead of down? WHY?

I also do not understand why the city continues to install these "historic" street lamps that are light-pollution machines.

by MLD on Jun 11, 2013 5:03 pm • linkreport

From beginning to end, there are so many loose details that it seems like this implementation needs to be corrected, from signage, to paint and lighting. Other than that, it is a success.

#sarcasm

by Andrew on Jun 11, 2013 5:26 pm • linkreport

Tom Veil is 100% right. Those lights point up, creating light pollution, and sending light into peoples bedrooms. Lights should point DOWN where theyre needed. Instead, we get shadows.

Zero logic.

by JJJ on Jun 11, 2013 5:58 pm • linkreport

Add me to the chorus of old-timey-streetlight haters. Besides polluting, they're a safety hazard -- increasing glare instead of highlighting the road and its users, especially pedestrians.

Signage in DC is another pet peeve. There's often no easy way to tell where you are, with street signs on just one out of 4 corners, obscured by poles or other signage, and unreadable in the dark. For pedestrians, there should be street signs at the exit of every Metro station, and painted/carved into the curbs at every corner.

by Matt O'Toole on Jun 11, 2013 8:43 pm • linkreport

It's a bit of a tangent, but ... did the city really install new street lamps that are pointing up instead of down? WHY?

The only time I ever saw them asked about this, DDOT made a point of saying that the Washington Globe streetlight is a symbol of the city and that they were committed to using it as much as possible. Sadly, this policy has not been changed.

Write your city councilmember. Try to nail down Mayoral candidates on it. Make a stink. Right now, they think people love them and they plan to install them everywhere. That won't change without a coordinated effort.

by David C on Jun 11, 2013 9:54 pm • linkreport

Here's more. It would make a good GGW post, if I had the time.

http://dcmud.blogspot.com/2012/01/dc-embraces-iconic-streetlight.html

by David C on Jun 11, 2013 9:56 pm • linkreport

I'm with David C. The lights might have some history, but they are a bad design, and are not so iconic that we should overlook bad design to be historically accurate.

by SJE on Jun 11, 2013 10:01 pm • linkreport

It's possible to do something to the globe to direct the light downward I think.

by Richard Layman on Jun 11, 2013 10:20 pm • linkreport

If nobody is around to water them, why even bother planting them?

How do you know no one is around to water them. In most BIDs in DC, watering trees and plants is one of the things they handle.

It's possible to do something to the globe to direct the light downward I think.

I think you're right. They can put shields on the top or something.

by David C on Jun 11, 2013 10:24 pm • linkreport

Sharrows are the lazy person's way of addressing mandates to increase bike usage. I have yet to see a convincing study that shows they're effective. If politicians and planners are serious about promoting bike usage, they will find a way to implement bike lanes and cycletracks through road diets and parking reductions.

by Kevin Posey on Jun 12, 2013 12:25 am • linkreport

There are some that are pointed downwards but I think they look too much like those cobra lights on highways. Win some, lose some I guess.

by Adam L on Jun 12, 2013 12:39 am • linkreport

Seems to me they just should've left K St as 4 lanes. Would've been better for bikes at the intersections than this design.

But then there wouldn't have been any on-street parking for the Lon Anderson's of the world to park right in front of Busboys...

by Froggie on Jun 12, 2013 2:00 am • linkreport

It's a pet-peeve of mine when road diets include massive sidewalks and no bike lanes. There's more than enough space to build curb-separated cycle tracks, but DDOT seems to think those need to only be in very high-traffic areas. New York Ave, Mass Ave, and now K Street all have extremely wide sidewalks but no cycle track.

To me, if it's not going to be a safe and comfortable ride for a cargo bike with kids in the front it's just a half measure. A regular bike lane is better than nothing, but it cannot bring bicycling to the masses.

There's no accommodation of the streetcar, which under the original plans would have come down K. Either they will reroute it down Mass or they'll have to tear up this street again for the tracks. At least if they do Mass there's a chance they'll cut cycle tracks into the sidewalk and narrow the lanes.

by David Edmondson on Jun 12, 2013 8:34 am • linkreport

Regarding the sharrows, I think they are most effective when used with "Bicycles may use full lane" signs. Even then, it's still not going to stop an aggressive driver from acting dangerously around cyclists.

Regarding the street lights, it is possible to direct the light in these street lamps downward by adding a covering to the top half of the lamp. They did this in Arlington on Columbia Pike last year: http://www.columbiapikeva.us/streetlight-upgrade/

If you're interested in guidelines for keeping the ground lit and the sky dark at night, I recommend checking out the International Dark-Sky Association site: http://www.darksky.org/

by bobco85 on Jun 12, 2013 8:37 am • linkreport

I imagine reflectors or shades could be installed inside the globes to solve the light pollution problem. But they never are, and a lot of people in my area paint them to reduce the light going into bedroom windows.

Historic design should be abandoned if it does not work.

by goldfish on Jun 12, 2013 8:54 am • linkreport

This is very, very frustrating. I think this is one more example that shows Mayor Gray's level of commitment to biking and pedestrians. He isn't 100% against better infrastructure, but he is perfectly content for whatever improvements go in to be small, slow, and of varying quality.

Meanwhile he will go the distance to find a billion dollars to spend on an overbuilt auto bridge.

And honestly, it's probably a shrewd political calculation. While those who care about biking and pedestrian infrastructure can bring a little pressure, we can't churn out the major votes or dollars on this issue that will change his tune.

by Tim H on Jun 12, 2013 9:01 am • linkreport

Tim: I think this particular project is about 3-4 levels of bureaucracy down from Gray. He gives Terry Bellamy high-level instructions. Bellamy gives somewhat less high-level instructions to directors of the administrations within DDOT. Down somewhere are people whose job is to get the streetscape project done, and they aren't even the same ones who did the engineering design, maybe.

There's no way there was some meeting with the mayor where he personally decided whether to jettison bike lanes.

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." - Hanlon's razor

by David Alpert on Jun 12, 2013 9:14 am • linkreport

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." - Hanlon's razor

This isn't stupidity, it is ineptitude.

by goldfish on Jun 12, 2013 9:21 am • linkreport

goldfish: Yeah, it probably is. That should be a version of Hanlon's razor, and in fact is probably a better version. "Never attribute to malice or stupidity or even a single person's deliberate act that which is adequately explained by organizational ineptitude."

by David Alpert on Jun 12, 2013 9:25 am • linkreport

Are you going to do an article about the new re-designed Union Station areas, intersections at Mass. Ave & 2nd Street and roads go into Columbia Plaza and F Street? And behavior of pedestrian? I do not believe the re-designed is an improvement - it worst or new problems.

by Dave on Jun 12, 2013 9:39 am • linkreport

I don't mind the streetlamps. Seems like an attractive design. I do wish they would plant more trees in that area though. That second pic in particular is a huge open expanse of blazing sun.

by Chris S. on Jun 12, 2013 9:47 am • linkreport

I still don't understand DDOT's streetscape template, particularly when it comes to street lights. One of the photos shows a newer model, more decorative hanging street light next to the fugly, metal, highway style, cobra-lights. On some modernization projects, DDOT is still installing the cobras, when other cities, including NYC, have been upgrading the design of street lights for some time. What gives at DDOT?

by James on Jun 12, 2013 9:48 am • linkreport

The project also misses out on pedestrian accommodations, especially at the corner of 3rd and K. There's no marked crosswalk on the eastern side of the intersection. I suspect it was left out because westbound drivers accelerate as they crest the bridge...

Gotta say this is unbelievable. That little hump is a hill? It is so small I didn't even notice it.

Consider San Fransisco -- they have real hills, with intersections with crosswalks at the bottom. Apparently drivers can manage applying the pressure on the brake.

by goldfish on Jun 12, 2013 9:55 am • linkreport

BIDs always seem to love old timey street lights... I don't hate them but I do agree that downlighting is better.

by Alan B. on Jun 12, 2013 10:08 am • linkreport

James - their method seems to be placing decorate/hanging streetlights at intersections, while old-timey/short globe lights fill the space in between. The metal/ugly/highway-style lights probably mark the boundary of the streetscaping project and were thus left alone.

by Tombo on Jun 12, 2013 11:24 am • linkreport

Seriously. The latest round of DDOT projects have had great motivation behind them, but have been seriously lacking in attention to detail. Stuff like the street signs should have never slipped through.

The traffic light timing around Columbus Circle still makes no sense for pedestrians (Delaware Ave's timing is egregiously bad for no apparent reason)

by andrew on Jun 12, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

Clearly, this segment needs some "follow-up study":

https://twitter.com/KLShack/status/344816691265556482/photo/1

by xmal on Jun 12, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

@ andrew

Columbus Circle is just bad for pedestrians in general. There were hundreds of things that could have been done to fix problems for pedestrians there but none were done.

by kk on Jun 12, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

I like the picture xmal-I want to punch the engineers right in the nose when they say "there isn't space". BS...there is, you just don't have the stones to take it away from motor vehicles.

by thump on Jun 12, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

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