Greater Greater Washington

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.

Marlene Berlin is a community activist who has lived in DC since 1975. She chairs Connecticut Avenue Pedestrian Action as the pedestrian advocate for Iona Senior Services, staffs the DC Senior Advisory Council on transportation issues, and is Vice-Chair of the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council. Most mornings, you can find her out on her daily walk trying to get across the street safely. 

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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-bloc

I don't understand what this means. What stores? What sort of fencing would prevent you from crossing a street mid-block? Or, in this case, not cross the street but walk in the traffic/parking lane.

Closing the sidewalk for 2 years is obviously very unfortunate (not least because it interferes with one of my preferred running routes!). But if you have an idea for a feasible workaround, you're going to need to clearly articulate it.

Also, people crossing Connecticut mid-block is nothing new - it happens all the time and has little to do with the Van Ness Square project. Most of it occurs in the 500-foot stretch between Veazey and the Windom Place stub, and much of the time it is people who don't want to walk the extra 100 feet from Epicurean or Starbucks to cross at Veazey and would rather dodge traffic instead. Not sure what the solution there is.

by Dizzy on Nov 20, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure I understand why a covered walkway isn't allowed. Underground construction? What's that have to do with it?

by Tim on Nov 20, 2013 1:04 pm • linkreport

It's absolutely disgraceful that we as a city allow this kind of thing to happen, and I should note that it happens quite regularly. In almost every case where this type of thing happens, all the car lanes are open and operating without any delay but pedestrians are suddenly forced to make a lengthy detour or walk in very dangerous conditions. This setup show our priorities to be completely backwards.

by TransitSnob on Nov 20, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

Why is the solution that peds have to cross, instead of taking out a lane?

by SJE on Nov 20, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

When that happens downtown they take a traffic lane out for pedestrians. They should close a lane around the site with barriers to protect pedestrians.

by BTA on Nov 20, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport

Why is it so hard to take away a travel lane for cars so that we can actually provide sidewalks on both sides of the road? If they plan on having it this way for two years, surely they can muster up some barriers to create a safe path for pedestrians.

by Gray on Nov 20, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport

Yea, I should've made clear that the obvious answer is to take a lane and build a protected walkway there. My guess is that DDOT is terrified of what this would do to Connecticut Avenue commuter traffic, as well as reverse commuter traffic (you would end up with only one lane northbound there during AM rush hour).

by Dizzy on Nov 20, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

While I in principle totally agree that in this situations, we should look to reduce traffic capacity by a small percentage rather than shut down pedestrian access on half the street - taking a lane here would mean 1 northbound lane in the morning hours, which would probably cause a great deal of increased congestion, air quality concerns, etc. I think it would be better to take a look at exactly why the sidewalk needs to be closed for 2 years and see if there isn't a way to dramatically reduce that time or find a way to get that covered walkway...

The area has a large portion of elderly residents, who are particularly inconvenienced by having to cross CT Ave twice - it really seems like we should be forcing the developer to take on some additional costs, rather than forcing them on the community.

by Matthew Davis on Nov 20, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

BTA: Doesn't always happen that way downtown. G at 9th, for instance, has had no sidewalk for a while now. (It was covered for a while, then that disappeared for construction.)

by DE on Nov 20, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

That's true and I was thinking about that along H st I thought it was? too however in most places this is done and downtown it's a pretty tight grid so it's not that hard to avoid that stretch. I've seen them put up pedestrian lanes on 14th and Mt Pleasant off the top of my head though of course they didnt have to worry about inconveniencing Chevy Chase.

by BTA on Nov 20, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

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.

In other words..go pound sand, we can't be bothered with street safety in this "high crime" area.

Why is the solution that peds have to cross, instead of taking out a lane?

Fecking A-MEN! This solution, however, would mean that the District Department of TRANSPORTATION would have to acknowledge that motor vehicles aren't the only form of mobility, and they're not about to do that. SNAFU.

by thump on Nov 20, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

People could also take alternate routes other than Connecticut Ave. I highly doubt most of those reverse commuters are going to Chevy Chase so they could take Wisconsin and/or Mass toward Bethesda or some combo of Military Rd plus 16th/14th etc. You'd still keep one lane open for local traffic northbound.

Obviously also the construction requirements could also be reexamined, we just don't have enough information here to go on really.

by BTA on Nov 20, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

You can put up all the signs you want and have all the police you want, but if this sidewalk is closed, people will walk in that travel lane.

by Crickey7 on Nov 20, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

"Terry Bellamy here."

"Terry, were you aware that pedestrians were walking in Connecticut Avenue?

"Did those planning guys go ahead and close the Cleveland Park Service lanes? I specifically told them that no matter what the data said, they could not do that."

"No Terry. This is up further north on Connecticut, just above UDC."

"Well, I was not aware. I'll get right on that one."

"Will we need to wait as long as it has taken for the M Street bike lane?"

"Click."

by fongfong on Nov 20, 2013 1:56 pm • linkreport

If the underground demolition work is so dangerous as to make the sidewalk a dodgy place to be, I have to wonder if the adjacent traffic lane is safe for cars. So close it, put the pedestrians there, and cancel the rush-hour lane reversals for two years.

by TJ on Nov 20, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

If the builder saves so much money through a construction process that requires taking complete possession of the sidewalk that the city finds it in the public interest to allow the builder to do so, then the builder has saved enough money to pay for a full-time crossing guard and two at rush hour. Off peak, crossing guards can make it safe to travel along the fence.

by JimT on Nov 20, 2013 2:29 pm • linkreport

Good idea Jim: why should the cost be borne by pedestrians?

by SJE on Nov 20, 2013 2:47 pm • linkreport

I'm so tired of DDOT's stupid rules endangering pedestrians. This should NEVER be allowed!

SO MANY other cities simply don't allow this. What is wrong with DC?

by Joey on Nov 20, 2013 3:07 pm • linkreport

When the Connecticut Avenue bridge over the Klingle Road ravine (between Woodley Park and Cleveland Park) was under major reconstruction a few years ago, DDOT erected temporary electronic lane marking signs and shifted lanes accordingly. It wasn't perfect but Connecticut Avenue rush hour commuters adapted and the arrangement worked.

Since this construction is going on for two years, it seems prudent for DDOT to make similar arrangements. Yes, this new construction corridor includes a signalized intersection at Connecticut Avenue & Yuma Street, so it's tricky, but if DDOT made the signalized intersection at Connecticut Avenue & Devonshire Place work during the Klingle bridge reconstruction, they can surely make some lane-shift work here, too.

by Michael_G on Nov 20, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

Hey look, it's the same crap they pulled on the 1600 block of Rhode Island Ave NW for the longest time, and the same thing happened. People walked in the street, crossed mid-block, etc.

Seriously, no sidewalk for TWO YEARS? Are you f-ing kidding me?

by MLD on Nov 20, 2013 3:43 pm • linkreport

I investigated this issue before for projects on 14th Street near U Street. Though converting a lane to a sidewalk is possible and has been done for one site, it was difficult to do for the other site. The reasoning is that the second site was landlocked and could not receive trucks from a side street or alley. The result is that the 14th St parking lane was the only place where trucks could stop and unload material or pick up material to haul away.

DDOT was reluctant to permit pedestrians to mix with trucks in that limited space, so the sidewalk and parking lane were closed for a few months. I don't know if these circumstances apply to this site, but that could be a contributing factor.

by Eric F on Nov 20, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

Based upon your picture, there are five traffic lanes and two pedestrian lanes (aka sidewalks). If a lane has to be closed for 2 years, a traffic lane is the easy choice.

by tour guide on Nov 20, 2013 4:46 pm • linkreport

Take a lane?

Yeah, ok...take a lane from a road that services 42K vehicles a day in that stretch to serve the handful of people who think too highly of themselves to do the safe thing and cross the street as directed.

People are more than welcome to take their lives into their own hands and walk up the street. It is pretty clear the sidewalk is blocked, its sigage is clear so if you decide to jaywalk, or walk up the street with your groceries or your kid when you could have simply taken 30 seconds of your life and crossed the street, thats on you.

by CPer on Nov 20, 2013 4:48 pm • linkreport

Eric: I can understand DDOT's perspective, but I bristle at their presumption that is completely OK to close the sidewalk for 2 years, and particularly in a commercial district near UDC and the Metro. If they gave the sidewalk more priority, they might come up with different solutions. If trucks need access, how is this different from cars and trucks that access lanes, including trash pickup? If there is a special need, they could get two guys with stop/slow signs.

If its important, they will find a solution.

by SJE on Nov 20, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

CPer,

Why are people driving through an area more important than people walking through an area? Sidewalks are obvious two way but removing the sidewalk here literally halves the capacity of the roadway for pedestrians. Who already face enough hardships on a good day (like the fact they can be easily killed by a car). If instead DDOT just went ahead and took the car lane would people be demanding that it be restored and saying that pedestrians shouldn't complain they can just cross the street?

by drumz on Nov 20, 2013 5:02 pm • linkreport

CPer. You can rail at peopel all you want, but I can tell you that every day, dozens of people will do exactly what they're not supposed to. They won't realize it until they're mid-block, and then would have to walk back to the light. Or they just don't feel like waiting for a light, then crossing 5 lanes of traffic, not once, but twice.

It's creating an inherently dangerous situation that can probably be avoided, though I agree removing a travel lane is problematic. I'd prefer a covered walk.

by Crickey7 on Nov 20, 2013 5:16 pm • linkreport

Why are people driving through an area more important than people walking through an area?

Because they're not poors who have to walk, of course! Why should some titan of industry be delayed by 10 seconds just because the peasantry can't be bothered to cross the street?

by MLD on Nov 20, 2013 5:18 pm • linkreport

If instead DDOT just went ahead and took the car lane would people be demanding that it be restored and saying that pedestrians shouldn't complain they can just cross the street?

You better believe they would.

by Dizzy on Nov 20, 2013 5:23 pm • linkreport

Well...yeah.

by drumz on Nov 20, 2013 5:28 pm • linkreport

Pedestrians here will actually be made safer by the fact that this lane is where cyclists ride.

I'm already feeling the love.

by Crickey7 on Nov 20, 2013 5:29 pm • linkreport

Just think of how the new building will not be set-back from the sidewalk!

CPer: Yeah, ok...take a lane from a road that services 42K vehicles a day in that stretch to serve the handful of people who think too highly of themselves to do the safe thing and cross the street as directed.
Agree with that.

SJE : If its important, they will find a solution.
What would you suggest? The only access to the site is from Connecticut Ave. and maintaining pedestrians through conflicts with construction vehicle access.

Crickey7: They won't realize it until they're mid-block, and then would have to walk back to the light.
They'll repeat that for two years?

Crickey7: Or they just don't feel like waiting for a light, then crossing 5 lanes of traffic, not once, but twice.
You can't seriously be using this as an argument.

by Bob See on Nov 20, 2013 6:20 pm • linkreport

Why not? A light cycle would be on average around 90 seconds. Crossing the street adds another 30. You say, "but the light cycle isn't always starting at 0." To which I respond that the pedestrian doesn't usually know that--they assume each time they come to this obstruction, the new way adds around 3-4 minutes to their commute each way.

People will definitely walk in the road to save 6-8 minutes a day.

by Crickey7 on Nov 20, 2013 6:27 pm • linkreport

I see cars drive illegally on the shoulder for upwards of a quarter mile every day, includig through turning lanes and merge lanes, to save a quarter of that amount of time.

by Crickey7 on Nov 20, 2013 6:30 pm • linkreport

"People will definitely walk in the road to save 6-8 minutes a day."
And they can't file a legitimate injury claim against the city if they do and get hit.

by Bob See on Nov 20, 2013 6:31 pm • linkreport

That's really not the point.

by Crickey7 on Nov 20, 2013 6:33 pm • linkreport

Devil's Advocate Time:

If we would have built a flippin expressway parallel to Connecticut or through Rock Creek Park, we wouldn't have this problem because Conn Ave wouldn't be a traffic sewer (and for that matter, neither would 16th street).

Go go go!

by Nick on Nov 20, 2013 7:26 pm • linkreport

Here's the freeway parallel to Van Ness:

http://wwwtripwithinthebeltway.blogspot.com/2006/12/1959-northwest-freeway.html

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Nov 20, 2013 8:20 pm • linkreport

This 6 story building on Connecticut Ave, should be 200 feet tall, or about 20 stories tall, to be at least as tall as Ft. Reno Reservoir, where it gets its drinking water. It is on a site uniquely suited for tall residential development. It is on the north east side of Connecticut Ave and north of Metro stop, in the buried portion of the Red line (between Union Station and Bethesda Naval Medical Center), making an ideal for density, without casting shadows on the Metro station and avenue, most of the day and year.

Connecticut Ave has not only Metro rail (subway), but strong Metro bus service to downtown already. Future BRT stations if ever built would be at the Metro stop, to provide additional and emergency fall back capacity for Metro rail, near this building.

This building site is walking distance to a Giant grocery store, CVS pharmacy, and several lunch options in minimal walking distance. There is a WholeFoods premium grocery store one Metro stop away, also above its Metro station, or 20 minutes walk. One Metro stop in the other direction is the very desirable street level commercial fabric of bars and restaurants and Uptown movie theater, in Cleveland Park.

The opportunity cost of not permitting drastically more people to live here, to the DC economy, and DC tax base, is shockingly high, and will last decades.

by Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 21, 2013 12:07 am • linkreport

There is no way closing a sidewalk at Van Ness is acceptable. A great deal of traffic, families, children, elderly, and disabled live in that area and they must have a safe path on both sides of the street!!

by AndrewJ on Nov 21, 2013 6:57 am • linkreport

Because we failed to build a tunnel highway a half century ago that would make Boston's Big Dig look like a sandcastle, pedestrians must now be run over.

Or something.

by Crickey7 on Nov 21, 2013 9:05 am • linkreport

Even without the construction, the signal light sequence at Connecticut and Van Ness and at Veazy for years has backed up southbound traffic on Connecticut. DDOT needs to put its best minds on that stretch of corridor to ensure pedestrian safety and smoother traffic flow.

by Alicia on Nov 21, 2013 10:34 am • linkreport

Even without the construction, the signal light sequence at Connecticut and Van Ness and at Veazy for years has backed up southbound traffic on Connecticut. DDOT needs to put its best minds on that stretch of corridor to ensure pedestrian safety and smoother traffic flow.

by Alicia on Nov 21, 2013 10:34 am • linkreport

Why isn't this addressed in the building permit or site plan conditions?

by Michael Perkins on Nov 21, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

If a Jersey barrier took 5 or 6 feet away from the lane, with restriping the remaining lanes would still be wider than the lanes on Connecticut north of Chevy Chase Circle.

by JimT on Nov 21, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

That's a very good point,JimT

by Dizzy on Nov 21, 2013 12:09 pm • linkreport

There is also a chicken and egg problem. Those who oppose ANY inconvenience on cars point to the lack of peds, without considering that the lack of peds is also a result of favoring cars in planning and spending.

by SJE on Nov 21, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

It is not what this thread is about but I agree with @Nathanial Pendleton's point about the lost opportunity with this building and posted as much in the original thread on the proposal - it is rare in Upper NW to find a site with single family homes as far away from a site as they are from this one.

So to build just a 6 story building instead of a 10 story building is IMHO just irresponsible and stupid.

But that is what you get from decades of opposition from unreasonable folks to very reasonable development proposals - another example of a lessor matter of right project.

by TomQ on Nov 21, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

Park Van Ness is six stories high along Connecticut, but the side facing the park goes down another four stories. It's similar to Quebec House, where I used to live. The Quebec Street entrance is on the 5th floor.

by TJ on Nov 21, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

Also, if you've done any hiking in Soapstone Valley lately on the backside of the building, you can see that the demolition of the interior of the building is coming along quite quickly. Let's hope the construction crews have taken proactive measures to protect the valley from construction runoff.

by Michael_G on Nov 21, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

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