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No carmageddon at McMillan, says a study

Redeveloping DC's McMillan Sand Filtration site will not choke neighbor­hoods in new traffic as long as the District follows through on transit plans, says a transportation study from the project team.

McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.

The most important element: better transit

The study says that it's quite possible to avoid burdening busy roads in the surrounding neighborhoods, as long as planned improvements to transit actually happen. The report says is transit is actually necessary regardless of whether the project goes forward or the site remains fenced off.

In the short run, improving the Metrobus 80 bus line on North Capitol Street, which WMATA has already designated a "bus priority corridor," will help the most. Other bus lines also need improvements that previous studies have identified.

The report also calls for building the proposed streetcar line along Michigan Avenue from Woodley Park to Brookland Metro. If these projects get delayed, he report recommends coordinated shuttles to the Brookland Metro station.

Along with some tweaks to surrounding roads, the traffic will be no worse with the McMillan project than if nothing gets built.

The report also calls for better bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, including completing the street grid through McMillan, multiple pedestrian access points in each building, ample bicycle storage, and space for three Capital Bikeshare stations.

Top: Transit today around McMillan. Bottom: Proposed transit. Images from the report (p. 92 and 97).

Pitfalls remain

While the study demonstrates the redevelopment can move forward without burdensome traffic impacts, it also points to potential problems that the project team will need to take care to address.

There needs to be ongoing pressure on the city and DDOT to move forward on transit. The city has moved slowly to upgrade transportation elsewhere, so project partners need to keep a close eye on progress.

Walking and bicycling conditions on and off the site also need more attention. Busy driveways on Michigan Avenue pose potential new conflict points for pedestrians and bicyclists. As the city reviews this project, it should take every chance to improve access and safety in the area. Also, while it's great to leave space for three Capital Bikeshare stations, the development should pay for at least one.

The transportation plan specifically cites a proposed DC Circulator route from Brookland to Tenleytown, which covers the same ground as the current H buses. Instead of duplicating existing service, DC and Metro could work together to improve existing H bus service. In fact, Metro recently studied the H lines and made several recommendations to make service faster and more reliable through the area.

New traffic signals will help pedestrians and bicyclists, but the added turn lanes and driveways on Michigan Avenue and First Street NW could pose additional barriers and hazards.

The report also recommends incentives to reduce driving, lower vehicle parking ratios, and encourage transit use in later phases. Instead, these efforts should start now.

With a redevelopment as large and controversial as McMillan, it's important to push for the right policy decisions. To voice your support for the right policy decisions regarding the McMillan redevelopment, head over to the Coalition for Smarter Growth to sign up to speak at an upcoming hearing.

Alex Posorske is the Managing Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Before joining CSG, he managed two top tier Congressional races, organized key constituencies in the 2008 presidential primaries, built grassroots operations in numerous regions throughout the country. Alex has a B.A. in Journalism from Webster University in St. Louis, Mo. 


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I think a new bus route or two is critical especially one that goes from Columbia Heights toward RI Ave Metro using North Capital/ First St. NW. A route going southwest toward Shaw on to downtown using Rhode Island Ave. would also be well used I'm sure. It would definitely be a mistake to not improve east west connectivity in the area as part of the transit upgrade. I took the H8 once in my life and will never again because it's so convulted it took about 50 minutes to make what would have been a 20 minute Metro trip.

by BTA on Apr 7, 2014 3:02 pm • linkreport

Last I'd read, this project was all but dead in the water because of how expensive and difficult it would be to get all the underground stuff removed and filled in. Is that not the case anymore?

by Jon M. on Apr 7, 2014 3:18 pm • linkreport

being situated between the reservoir and the cemetery will make it difficult to serve it with high quality transit

by Richard on Apr 7, 2014 3:37 pm • linkreport

At least as of a few months ago the project was actively moving forward.

by BTA on Apr 7, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

Monorail down North Capitol!

I think I saw it in the Minority Report.

by Crickey7 on Apr 7, 2014 3:43 pm • linkreport

Weren't those extra 80 Lines supposed to be in operation by now according to WMATA's own suggestions about the 80 route and North Capitol Street from the metrobus studies site ?

by kk on Apr 7, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

The 80 line study (with the 80a and 80x recommendation) was just released last year. Definitely need to stay on top of it though and make sure the improvements happen.

by Alex@CSG on Apr 7, 2014 3:56 pm • linkreport


How so ? If you are talking about Metrorail you are correct but if its bus or streetcar it could be done.

If this development happens and the plans for the Hospitals with a transit center also happen.

They could create a route parallel to the 80 that runs straight down 1st Street NW to Union Station from the Hospitals, Petworth or Brookland have it run down 1st Street then move to North Capitol via Florida, Rhode Island or New York Ave or some other streets.

What is so hard about it ?

by kk on Apr 7, 2014 4:01 pm • linkreport

Kinda off topic but First St would be the perfect place to put a cycle track as well. Would be useful for Petworth and Park View people as well.

by BTA on Apr 7, 2014 4:14 pm • linkreport

What is so hard about it ?
The problem is that you need people to ride mass transit, and the cemetery, the reservoir, and the golf course to the north are going to be large spaces not contributing people to travel on the mass transit. In order to have enough people to justify quality mass transit with large areas not having any people, the remaining areas will have to be that much denser.

by Richard on Apr 7, 2014 4:42 pm • linkreport

Isn't McMillian being used indefinitely for ground water overflow storage? Or at least for a very long time?

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 7, 2014 4:42 pm • linkreport

As someone who lives next door, I still think they should be doing more to push bus priority lanes/signal priority on N. Capitol or at least Michigan. This area is unique in that for being relatively close in, it's still a mile from about 5 different metro stops. And given traffic patterns, it can take awhile to drive/walk to each metro stop. They need to build some sort of way that the shuttle buses/WMATA buses connecting the site to the metro can get there quickly. If you have to sit in traffic in your shame shuttle/circulator to just get to Brookland metro about 3 minutes faster than it would take to walk, then that's pathetic. We can do better. I read the report and it basically says, nothing to see here, put in place the 80 bus recommendations (which is nothing more than minor tweaks to make the 80 bus line less sucky), and the transport situation will be fine. We need to push them to be more aggressive, and if that means challenging the privileges of commuters from the suburbs, so be it.

by 11luke on Apr 7, 2014 4:46 pm • linkreport

Isn't McMillian being used indefinitely for ground water overflow storage? Or at least for a very long time?

It's only a small portion and not indefinitely. The long-term solution is supposed to be constructed by 2016.

by MLD on Apr 7, 2014 4:48 pm • linkreport

It should be noted that this study compared the impact on traffic with and without the development. The study did not find that traffic will not be detrimental, it found that the development would not significantly compound the situation if all of the recommendations occur. There is a big difference between the two.

To the bus comment, the traffic study highlights that most of the vehicular traffic is generated by the medical office building. It would be helpful to have a comparative study to see how increased public transportation reduces the number of car trips to a medical facility.

The study area was set by DDOT, which is what it is. But it expressly excludes a number of developments that will also impact traffic in this area - namely ongoing work at Trinity and Catholic along with the Monroe Street development. All three were excluded from the study.

A couple questions were already posed to the developer about the traffic study. Another round is coming. The questions and responses can be found here:

by Jackson on Apr 7, 2014 7:05 pm • linkreport

@Richard: the hospital has expansion plans, and Soldiers' Home also plans to build on the southern end of the golf course. So no, this isn't always going to be a low density part of town.

by Payton Chung on Apr 7, 2014 7:37 pm • linkreport

LOL no carmageddon? Everyone who buys one of the $600,000 minimum price condos at this complex will drive a car. They all have underground parking, check the plans.

Ever driven on North Capitol from Massachusetts to Michigan Ave during rush hour in either direction? Or for that matter, on a pleasant Saturday or Sunday afternoon?

This complex will literally cause N. Capitol to collapse under the weight of all the traffic

by Trollie McTrollerson on Apr 7, 2014 9:01 pm • linkreport

Cue the predictable response:
"No carmageddon at McMillan, says a study? Sure, if you can believe the study...."

by Predictable on Apr 8, 2014 10:15 am • linkreport

Whoever wrote this for GGW clearly didn't examine the study and is taking it at face value. GGW please do your homework before commenting on this very complex study. You'll see that very little was studied about the area immediately adjacent to the sites. And even in the comments VMP has stated clearly that traffic WILL increase around the site. And there has been no response to the comments that there will remain no thruways for northbound traffic in Bloomingdale besides taking your chances on turning north onto N. Capitol. Clearly this will result in major congestion throughout Bloomingdale...there is no other option. Nothing south of Channing has been studied till you get to Rhode Island. The study is so broad (the catchment so wide) that it really doesn't mean anything....the plain fact is congestion is inevitable as it now stands. Even VMP seems willing to admit that...their comments seem just to be "yep, it's gonna happen unless the DC gov't installs streetcars". And note this is NOT taking into account development at the VA medical center NOR anything at the Soilders Home site.

by todd on Apr 8, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

You'll see that very little was studied about the area immediately adjacent to the sites.

What? There's plenty of study about intersections right around the site.

And even in the comments VMP has stated clearly that traffic WILL increase around the site.

And? Increased traffic doesn't mean traffic disaster even though that seems to be the implication by project opponents.

Nothing south of Channing has been studied till you get to Rhode Island.

Why is that necessary? They study where people will come from to get onto the roads feeding the site. You don't have to study every intersection to figure out what happens.

Clearly this will result in major congestion throughout Bloomingdale...there is no other option.

Haven't seen the argument or evidence for that.

Even VMP seems willing to admit that...their comments seem just to be "yep, it's gonna happen unless the DC gov't installs streetcars".

The report also talks about improved bus service as an option. How can you demand that transit service designed to support more development exist where there is no demand for that transit service now? That would be a waste of money.

And note this is NOT taking into account development at the VA medical center NOR anything at the Soilders Home site.

How can you study things that are even less planned than this is? If every project is axed on the argument that "all these other 'planned' things are gonna F*** things up too!" then nothing can be built.

by MLD on Apr 8, 2014 11:37 am • linkreport

What are the odds that a study done by the people who need the project to go forward to make money came to the conclusion they wanted? Did anyone think there was any chance it would've said otherwise?

GGW, which I usually like, has been way off base when it comes to McMillan. Not all development is smart development, and the VMP plan is a perfect example of that, the nearly total destruction of a site on the National Register of Historic Places notwithstanding, while huge suburban parking lots remain in tact across the street.

According to VMP, their car-oriented development will put another 2000+ cars on North Capitol, First Street NW and Michigan Avenue EVERY DAY. Their solutions are: bus stops, bike and car share, and "advocating tirelessly" for DC's taxpayers to fund the actual improvements needed to prevent gridlock.

Here's a shocking idea: how about VMP pays for a metro stop or light rail to/from its car-oriented plan rather than saddling DC's taxpayers with its mess.

by 2000Plus on Apr 8, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport

There is no metrorail line that goes through there so that is obviously out of the question except in the long term (I do think it makes sense) and the streetcar has been in the plans for 10 years so its questionable to say this project is going to lead to a lot of new spending. Bus stops and car shares and bike shares add up to practically nothing compared to the new tax base this will add to the city. Also it goes without saying that providing more places to live in the middle of the city could even attract some of those people who are currently driving to get to the hospital center. Which is not to say that it won't probably increase traffic to some degree, but you'd have to prove that that additional traffic will be enough to cause significant congestion. But per the study the walking/biking/transit mode share is already 50% and there is no reason to assume it couldn't go up with improved transit/multimodal facilities.

by BTA on Apr 8, 2014 12:20 pm • linkreport

So is it 2000 trips a day without any transit improvements? If so then yeah, beefing up the buses and providing bike/car share opportunities (all of which, aren'tthere currently because there isn't anything there) seem more than capable of handling that increase.

by drumz on Apr 8, 2014 12:27 pm • linkreport

Also this seems to indicate that they actually were taking the other projects into account to me:

The analysis of future traffic without the PUD is based primarily on existing traffic plus traffic generated by nearby developments, including the VA Medical Center hospital, the large mixed-use Armed Forces Retirement Home development, and changes to the nearby Howard University. The results of the analysis without the PUD showed significant growth in traffic volumes, which will require some improvements to reach acceptable levels of congestion in the future, as outlined in the report. It should be noted that these improvements are not included as mitigation measures for the PUD, as they would be needed regardless of whether the McMillan redevelopment were to be approved and constructed.

by BTA on Apr 8, 2014 12:36 pm • linkreport

2,000 cars over 3 streets every day? So one extra car every 75 seconds on each of those roads throughout the day? Doesn't sound like a lot.

Imagine a car going by. Now wait 75 seconds. I'll wait too.............

Watch while we wait:

You're back! Here comes the next car coming down First St NW! The horror!

by MLD on Apr 8, 2014 12:37 pm • linkreport

It's also worth mentioning that bike/walk/transit mode share in more transit friendly but comparable locations is like 70/80% so it isnt just conjecture to say that improved transit could make a difference.

by BTA on Apr 8, 2014 12:37 pm • linkreport

I could swear the developer was saying over 6000 new car trips a day at McMillan. But, maybe that number is only tossed around when promising jobs and affordable housing. It is amazing, that we will have hundreds of jobs and residents and shoppers and yet they will have almost no impact on the traffic. That is amazing. Of course traffic is already bad, just ask the residents of First St. who see the overflow traffic from N. Capitol. How will the ambulances get through to the hospitals?

by Eric on Apr 8, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

@BTA: Your comments hit upon a serious issue here. This study only looks at the traffic impact of the development on top of other proposed developments. There is absolutely no assurances that DDOT is proactively looking to mitigate the effect of these projects collectively (to include McMillan). Any questions such as, why were Trinity, Catholic and Monroe developments excluded from the study, receive a response "that is the study area dictated by DDOT." A large part of my concern for this study is the level of faith being put into DDOT; an entity whose judgment I think everyone in this city has seriously questioned numerous times.

@MLD I believe the poster misspoke when talking about 2,000 new cars a day. This study only looks at one hour in the morning rush hour and one hour in the evening rush hour. So projections are only for two hours of the day (peak congestion). When coupled with the other three projects captured in this study, the area will see 5,220 new trips between 7:45 and 8:45 AM and 6,358 new trips between 4:45 and 5:45 PM. That is certainly NOT one new car going by every 75 seconds. I can't remember the figures on North Capitol but that street currently sees something like 20,000 trips a DAY and Michigan sees another 40,000 a day. You're talking about potentially more than doubling that level of traffic each day.

It should also be noted that this is the SECOND traffic impact study commissioned by Vision McMillan Partners, LLC. The first was performed by Symmetra Design, LLC (founded by Nicole White, former senior associate of Gorove/Slade who performed the recent one) but was deemed to be 'inadequate.'

by Jackson on Apr 8, 2014 1:38 pm • linkreport

Ahh, got it that the 2,000 per day was wrong. That seemed awfully low.

But it doesn't look like it would double the traffic volume except on the parts of 1st St NW that currently see ~900 vehicles during peak hours. I'm looking at the maps with pie charts that start on page 45. No part of North Capitol is going to see an increase of over 25% from this development.

Again, I don't see how anyone can expect that improved transit service be put in place before anything is developed. Once this project is approved there will be plenty of time for the city to make plans for improved 80s bus service. This study recommends changes in transit service to deal with this new development. What more could be done at this point?

by MLD on Apr 8, 2014 2:06 pm • linkreport

Given that the number of cars flowing in from Maryland will only increase with time, there's going to be worse traffic anyway in the coming years. It might as well come from people who actually live in the District -- such as residents of the new McMillan site. The study did not examine patterns and problems north and east of McMillan. Maybe that would be the area to try the traffic calming incentives and beef up transit. BTW, McMillan is an easy 15-20 minute bike ride from downtown.

by Sydney on Apr 8, 2014 2:29 pm • linkreport

MLD, citing VMP's study is a joke. Cite an independent and unbiased study, please. Improved transit doesn't have to be in place before the site is developed but it does have to be planned for accurately with a dedicated funding stream.

What more can be done? The developers who will make big bucks from the project should pony up serious funds for real infrastructure improvements, not silly plans for upgraded 80 service and car and bike share.

by JoeReasonable on Apr 8, 2014 4:50 pm • linkreport

So is anyone else frustrated by the fact that the Coalition for Smarter Growth has never actually testified against a planned unit development but either doesn't testify or testifies in support? I don't see how every proposed project can be in the best interest of both the city and a community.

by Anthony on Apr 9, 2014 2:56 pm • linkreport

I have heard them be critical of details but supportive of proposals that are aligned with the core values related to Smart Growth.

So, no, not frustrated.

by William on Apr 9, 2014 2:58 pm • linkreport

I have heard them be critical of details but supportive of proposals that are aligned with the core values related to Smart Growth.


by MLD on Apr 9, 2014 3:03 pm • linkreport

I am pretty sure there are PUDs on the edge of the metro area they are against.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 9, 2014 3:07 pm • linkreport

I've read plenty of testimony and emails critical of projects. Especially sprawl-inducing ones in Maryland or Virginia.

by drumz on Apr 9, 2014 3:08 pm • linkreport

Oh true, I guess I was only thinking about DC.

by MLD on Apr 9, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

*transportation projects, like last years transpo bill

by drumz on Apr 9, 2014 3:35 pm • linkreport

This is slightly off topic but, with all of the potential development of the area and the difficulty of currently traveling east-west through this area (and lack of true traffic on Irving), has anyone ever considered putting in a cycle track or even just a bike lane on Irving?

Sure there's the "bike path" that is a glorified sidewalk that requires you to do all sorts of crazy crossings to get on/off from either side of the complex but, it's pretty ridiculous and not a true solution.

I, personally, always take the road itself and just take a lane. There are three of them, for goodness sake. It would be so, so simple to just add the small amount of infrastructure to create bike facilities to overcome, what I see, as one of the biggest barriers of east/west cycling in the city. I'm sure all of the incoming businesses in Monroe St. Market would certainly appreciate people west of the hospital complex being able to actually get to their businesses, and vice versa, too...

by Ann on Apr 9, 2014 4:05 pm • linkreport

Smart growth is no longer smart when it overwhelms existing and proposed infrastructure and causes increasing inconvenience and misery to neighborhood residents. The McMillan project is unique as it abuts residential neighborhoods (not a Metro station), whose characters can be endangered by traffic and other factors associated with a large $700 million development. This fact has been overstepped by the McMillan traffic study, which focuses almost exclusively on the streets immediately abutting the development. The study notes that currently, only 35% of Wsshngton hospital employees (whose proposed medical office buildings will be the development's primary traffic generator) are DC residents. Thus one may presume the vast majority of the development's employees will be inter-jurisdictional commuters, who under the bus/shuttle scenario would often have to engage in 3 types of transport to reach work. The majority will choose to forego this onerous scenario -- and many will drive using the major arteries of I-395/295, BW parkway,and U.S. 50. This means, they will enter and exit the development on North Capital and First St, NW heading to/from New York Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue, driving through the Bloomingdale, Bates and Hanover neighborhoods. Many will seek to avoid the North Capitol rush hour parking lot in favor of First St. -- thus transforming a neighborhood 2-lane collector for residents into the newest DC parking lot. Getting beyond the ideology of smart growth -- these are the realities related to the McMillan transportation plan. And the realities of these neighborhood impacts have not been addressed by that Plan. The Bloomingdale Civic Association (BCA) has identified the "reducing and slowing of traffic on First St. NW" as its highest priority related to the McMillan development. For more information on BCA's concerns, go to the McMillan case file (#13-14) at the DC Zoning Commission website.

by oldgal on Apr 9, 2014 4:32 pm • linkreport

I don't know if anyone is interested, but the structural engineering report came out for the site (somewhere at the bottom of this page):

by Scott on Apr 11, 2014 5:10 pm • linkreport

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