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Adams Morgan streetscape will make pedestrians welcome

Tonight, DDOT will discuss the planned Adams Morgan streetscape project, which will reconstruct 18th Street from Florida Avenue to Columbia Road. The project would widen sidewalks, repair and replace tree boxes, streetlights, and sidewalk pavement. It would also reconfigure the roadway from two travel lanes in each direction and angled parking on one side to one travel lane each way, parallel parking on both sides, and a center median for turns. The single lane would also contain "sharrows" reminding drivers that cyclists are welcome to share the road. At each intersection, bulb-outs would narrow the pedestrian crossing distance.

18th Street around Kalorama Street before (above) and after (below) the proposed streetscape
reconstruction. North is to the left.

Original plans suggested a raised median or one made out of special materials that create more of a pedestrian refuge in the center. However, a median which can accommodate vehicles could allow trucks to stop for loading, and DDOT is leery of different materials that may pose greater maintenance costs or headaches. Therefore, the current plan calls for the utilitarian, simpler, but less attractive striped paint.

18th Street and Florida Avenue after the proposed reconstruction. North is to the top.

The plan will also improve the intersection of Florida Avenue and 18th Street, where pedestrians on the east side of 18th have to cross three separate roadways and where cars race through in many different directions. The current plan consolidates the two islands into one, larger island. Southbound traffic on 18th will have to continue farther south to turn left onto U or Florida instead of swinging through the existing slip lane. An earlier iteration would have moved the islands entirely and created an even larger pedestrian plaza at the northeast corner, but that didn't survive to the final plan.

Businesses and residents support this plan, though many are concerned with the impact of construction. DDOT has not done a good job in recent years of managing these streetscape projects. Work has stretched far beyond the promised end date, temporary closures have impacted businesses, and the unwelcoming appearance of construction has driven people away. However, once completed, 18th Street Adams Morgan will be much more pleasant for walking or biking along.

Tonight, members of the community will decide if they're willing to accept the short-term pain, and DDOT will try to convince them that it can handle the job. The meeting is at 7 pm at the 3rd District police station, 1620 V St, NW.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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As someone who bikes on 18th Street every day, I am very disappointed that DDOT isn't planning on installing bike lanes on this stretch. This could be an excellent way to connect the bike lanes on Adams Mill Rd. and Calvert St. through Adams Morgan and offer cyclists an alternative commuting route to downtown. In fact, if DDOT could figure out a way to eventually connect it all the way down to the bike lanes on New Hampshire and beyond, that would be terrific!

by Matt on Jul 30, 2009 2:19 pm • linkreport

Question: Why aren't the bus stops "bulbed-out"? Doesn't it add a couple extra parking spaces and make it so buses don't have to pull out of and pull back into traffic?

by Justin from ReadysetDC on Jul 30, 2009 2:32 pm • linkreport

I'm surprised they're leaving the curb cut on the old drive-through between Julia's and the Metro Police Dept Third District. Is that for cyclists? Otherwise there is no need for it.

by David C on Jul 30, 2009 3:10 pm • linkreport

I like striped crossings in theory, but Metro Police need to start ticketing drivers who don't stop for pedestrians in striped crossings. If the cops don't enforce the law, then it is no different than a regular crosswalk.

by tom veil on Jul 30, 2009 3:13 pm • linkreport

...and how much will this cost taxpayers?

Took almost 2 years to redo Columbia/Adam's Mill/18th at a cost of $4 million dollars. Someone got rich off that.

by Jack on Jul 30, 2009 3:44 pm • linkreport

I've always been curious as to why they simply don't close 18th Street to vehicular traffic on Friday and Saturday nights? With the ridiculously narrow sidewalks, the smoking ban pushing smokers outside and hordes of drunken idiots running into each other, I can't believe no one has been run over yet because there's no room on the sidewalks in that madhouse. And I can't believe that any widening in the plan is going to be enough.

I'm guessing the reasons why they haven't done this is because of the Metrobus routes that run down 18th Street, and because the lost parking spaces would make an already-bad parking situation in the residential area much worse. But hasn't it even been considered? Or are they waiting for someone to get run over before they take action (you know, the usual DC reactive approach to things)?

by Matt on Jul 30, 2009 3:56 pm • linkreport

"Or are they waiting for someone to get run over before they take action (you know, the usual DC reactive approach to things)?"

That's not inherently a DC problem. In most suburban jurisdictions it takes the death of a child for the transportation departments to make an intersection somewhat pedestrian friendly...

by Justin fromReadysetDC on Jul 30, 2009 4:23 pm • linkreport

I can't tell from the diagrams above -- do these plans include widening of the existing sidewalks? And if the road can't be turned 100% pedestrian on the weekends, how about making it one way, or bus & taxi only, instead?

by DC_Chica on Jul 30, 2009 4:24 pm • linkreport

Now if only they could get the walk signal buttons on the north side or Kalorama to work. For some reason that's the only intersection within several blocks on 18th that hasn't been switched to an automatic walk signal.

by Mike B on Jul 30, 2009 4:39 pm • linkreport

Pedestrian refuge in the middle of the street? Seriously?

The current stretch of 18th street has a steady flow of drunken pedestrians meandering across the roadway on weekend nights. Making the median more "pedestrian friendly" would not be a good idea. It would reinforce this current notion that it's a no rules zone where you can hang out in the middle of the street talking to a cabdriver, dancing the jitterbug, or whatever.

Here's a radical idea: close off that stretch of 18th to car traffic altogether. A pedestrian (and bike) paradise!. Widen Champlain St., finishing it's cut through the Marie Reed lot, and run buses and taxis through there, and improve 19th St. as well.

by Ward 1 Guy on Jul 30, 2009 5:40 pm • linkreport

It was really hard to tell in the documentation exactly how much wider the sidewalks were going to be, and whether or not it was going to be a uniform width all the way down 18th. That's always been my single biggest complaint — tiny tiny sidewalks so they can park more cars with angled parking. I'm all for whatever part of this plan ends up with 15 foot sidewalks. Seriously.

by Steve on Jul 30, 2009 7:21 pm • linkreport

If you look at this picture it shows that sidewalks will change from around 12 feet wide to something between 12.5 feet and 20 feet.

by David C on Jul 30, 2009 8:22 pm • linkreport

Thanks for blogging on this issue. I've lived in off 18th st. for the past 3.5 years, bike to work daily (K St.), and greatly appreciate that they're trying to improve the situation. Thoughts:
- There's a wide consensus that 18th st. between florida and columbia should be car-free on weekend nights. Please, for the love of god, make it so.
- Widen the sidewalks. This is one of the best pedestrian areas in the city. People love to walk around here. The biggest nuisance is not being able to walk more than 2-people wide and having to step into tree boxes (doggy toilets). Let's make it more walkable! --Bulb outs are a great start. Also, it's better not to have a raised median since that would hinder walking across in the near future.
- Make 18th st. more bike friendly. Bike lanes please! More bike racks please! (thank you Switzerland!)
- The new parking situation will have one major effect on local business customers: All of those Ethiopian cab drivers will have no where to park when they change the parking spot scheme. DDOT might want to put metered parking in on the side streets to accommodate (Kalorama, etc).

by Ditro on Jul 31, 2009 9:54 am • linkreport

I like your idea, Ward 1 guy.

by NikolasM on Jul 31, 2009 11:16 am • linkreport

Bulb-outs narrow the crossing distance for pedestrians, but are very dangerous for bicyclists because the cyclist must suddenly veer into the main traffic lane to pass the bulb-out. The curb bulb-out is not a good design for this reason. Possibly the bulb-out area could be protected with bright color posts or flags instead, leaving plenty of room for bikes to ride through. (taking care not to harrass or hit any pedestrians of course!)

by Sylvia Rhomberg on Jul 31, 2009 12:24 pm • linkreport

Parts of this seem like a solution in search of a problem.

Left turn lanes = good
More parallel parking = more blocked traffic, less spaces
Less parking overall = bad
Wider sidewalks = bad
Bulb outs = bad (for bicycles, cars that don't see them in the dark, etc)
Sidewalk furniture = nice

I would like to see more on pedestrian traffic control. Right now there is just a crosswalk on Belmont Road, with not even a stop sign. This intersection (and/or Kalorama and Columbia) could really benefit from the type of pedestrian crossing signals that stop vehicle traffic in all directions and let pedestrians cross in any direction (including diagonally) simultaneously. This works very well in other pedestrian-heavy streetscapes like old town Pasadena, CA.

by Wayne on Jul 31, 2009 5:46 pm • linkreport

Wayne, it's bad for people who want to drive and park there. It's good for people who want to walk, take transit or bike there. Though I do agree with that a Barnes Dance intersection would be helpful.

As a pretty active cycling activist I don't agree with the "bulb outs are bad for cyclist" line. They only stretch out as far as the parallel parking. You should not be riding your bike in the parking lane. You should be over in the traffic lane (or possibly on the sidewalk).

True, in some places bulb outs were poorly planned and built and they do force cyclists off the shoulder or places where they would ride. This is not one of them. Some bulb outs are bad. These are not.

by David C on Jul 31, 2009 5:53 pm • linkreport

Late to the game, I missed this post but feel compelled to comment anyway. I believe the design proposal is by HNTB, a firm known for insipid and inoffensive design work.

While I agree that the proposal will marginally improve 18th St., the design does next to nothing for the intersection at the bottom of the hill.

Seems the designers were simply at a loss for what to do, gave up and let the traffic engineers push them around. This is the definition of insipid.

A solution to this intersection requires a serious intellectual effort that must include a broader analysis of the larger patterns of social activity in the adjoining neighborhoods.

Briefly, the problem of the intersection should be addressed not only as a problem of crossing from one side to the other, but at a critical connection between neighborhoods that in its present form (and I would argue in the proposed "improvement") is more a barrier than a link.

The objective which should be driving the design is to radically improve the public space connecting the hubs of social activity. That intersection is no more than an end. The new design not only fails as a solution but is the work of a useful idiot acting to deceive the public into thinking something useful is being done by DDOT. This is the definition of insipid.

by JH on Aug 3, 2009 11:57 pm • linkreport

Like JH, I'm late to the game on this, and like him I agree with the issues he raises at 18th and Florida/U Sts.

The biggest problem with this intersection is "right turns" from eastbound Florida to U Street. These cars have no need to slow down, as the turn is probably a 20-degree angle instead of a right 90-degree angle. As such, pedestrians in the crosswalk on the eastern-most part of the intersection crossing U st are targets for high-speed conflicts with drivers. The plan does nothing to solve this problem.

I'd recommend leaving this intersection out of the project all together and studying it in full on its own so it gets proper attention.

by Michael on Aug 10, 2009 12:22 pm • linkreport

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