Greater Greater Washington

Roads


Minnesota-Benning road connection would substantially cut traffic

DC economic development rep Ayris Scales claims that a planned road connection around the intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road is a "road to nowhere." But according to a traffic study prepared for DDOT, the connection will meaningfully relieve traffic congestion in the area. It'll also make the main intersection safer by lowering the numbers of cars competing with pedestrians, bicycles, and buses.


Road connection from DDOT's Great Streets plan.

DC Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the committee responsible for selling or giving away public land that DC doesn't need, raised questions at a July hearing based on testimony from local residents, citywide groups and a Greater Greater Washington article. DC purchased parcels at the northwest corner of Ward 7's main crossroads, originally for a government building, then decided to give the land to private developers for housing and office space.

DDOT's Great Streets plan included a recommendation to run a street around the back, from the Metro garage to the Benning Road viaduct over the railroad. The CityInterests plan, one of two finalists, included the road, while the other, from Donatelli development, did not. DMPED chose Donatelli, and has now been lobbying against the connection.

According to the traffic study (large PDF), cars today experience 101 seconds of delay at the intersection in the morning peak. Without changes, the study estimates that will rise to 136 seconds by 2025 with the new development, but the road connection would cut that to 84 seconds. That means the connection would save about 17% today and 32% in the future. The difference is even starker in the afternoon peak: delay is 94 seconds now and will rise to 124 by 2025, but would decline all the way to 48 if DC built the connection. In other words, traffic would be 2½ times worse at the Minnesota-Benning intersection without the road than with.

Of course, vehicular LOS is not the only factor on which to base transportation decisions. The study also computed pedestrian level of service, and the road improves that as well. Unfortunately, the scanned copy I have does not show the pedestrian chart with enough detail to make it out clearly. It is clear that some areas do change from E or F (red) to other letters (black), however. Update: Pedestrian LOS, like vehicular LOS, also doesn't measure the most important factors. Ped LOS just determines how crowded the sidewalk is, not the safety of the intersections or whether pedestrians have to walk long distances out of the way. The apartments could have an entrance facing the back road, allowing pedestrians and bicyclists to walk or ride from the development across the Benning viaduct without going all the way around.

If the main intersection is too harrowing, bicyclists trying to head north or going to the Minnesota Avenue Metro could take the back road. Giving cars an alternative could make it easier to give the many buses that traverse the main intersection a little more space. And as some suggested in the comments on the earlier post, the new connection might also be helpful for streetcars, depending on how DDOT ends up designing the eastern end of the H Street-Benning Road line and its connection to the Minnesota Avenue Metro.

DMPED is arguing that the land is "surplus." Of course, they also argued that it had been "blighted" and "long abandoned," yet the African Heritage Dance Center had happily operated there until the DC government evicted them to clear the land for the development. This doesn't sound like surplus land.

Fortunately, keeping the land isn't incompatible with letting the project go forward. At a July 31 community meeting, Donatelli told the community they could work the street into the plan, "to Scales' vocal disagreement." The Council is only permitted to approve or deny the land transfer, but DMPED should stop fighting against their own city's interests and resubmit the land disposition request with a right-of-way or easement reserved for the road connection.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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In other words, traffic would be 2½ times worse at the Minnesota-Benning intersection without the road than with.

i think there's another, better way to think about this -- adding this road will induce more auto traffic into the area. if that is your goal, then yes, it's a good idea to build this road.

there are other, better ways to reduce traffic -- like raising user fees (decongestion pricing, parking, tags, pollution, etc.) to more appropriate levels.

come to think of it -- the 'pollution argument' against cars is fine (they pollute the air, which has deleterious effects on DC inhabitants, etc.), but it misses the most costly part of car driving in the city -- the terror inflicted on all pedestrians and cyclists by drivers-gone-wild. DC should impose a yearly $500 'Pedestrian and Cyclist Terror Penalty' for all cars registered in the District. We should also toll cars entering the District to collect smaller parts of this fee on the major routes into the city. Having drivers start to pay for this horribly destructive externality will be a good first step towards a Greater Greater Washington. Any car on the streets of DC - whether well-intentioned/well-behaved or not -- strikes terror into walkers and bikers, which prevents walking and cycling -- so car drivers need to pay for this detrimental impact on the city and its residents. $500 per year is not sufficient, of course, but it'll be a good start.

The study also computed pedestrian level of service, and the road improves that as well.

wow -- i didn't even know there was a pedestrian level of service (LOS). nice.

i guess that means we should figure out how to calculate a cyclist level of service, too, right? that's probably the only way we'll see real improvements for cycling.

i find it difficult to believe that attracting more and faster-moving cars and buses into this area is a good strategy for improving pedestrian LOS. i can't imagine it'd be good for cyclists, either. surely there are other ways to improve transportation in this area, no? how difficult is pedestrian LOS? make the sidewalks wider, provide leading indicators, make the crosswalk signals longer, provide countdown clocks, provide automatic crosswalk signals (no pushing of broken buttons required), provide a Barnes Dance signal, fancy-up the crosswalks, provide trees with shade, etc.

more and probably-wider streets with more cars zooming around in more directions with less traffic around them to inhibit their speeding? doesn't sound like fun. i'm open to the facts, but i have the idea that any pedestrian LOS study carried out by a car-centric organization is not going to reflect reality from a pedestrian point of view.

maybe the connector road should just be a multi-use path? the only issue with this is 'eyes on the street'.

If the main intersection is too harrowing, bicyclists trying to head north or going to the Minnesota Avenue Metro could take the back road.

statements like these make me think that we need to formally adopt a city-wide policy for transportation based on the green transportation hierarchy -- in short, walking and biking should get priority in all projects, always, new construction and reconstructions -- cars are always considered dead last. mass transit is in the middle somewhere. SF has a 'transit-first' policy -- it's not completely worthless, but DC can lead the way with a 'pedestrian- and cyclist-first' policy.

the phrase 'too harrowing' suggests that after looking out for the interests of car drivers (Auto LOS), we're going to give lip service consideration to the three daily bikers who may attempt to brave the mean Minnesota-Benning corridor. it's just all wrong. more options and calmer 'back roads' are good, of course, but why should we consider 'auto LOS' at all, much less first?

by Peter Smith on Aug 19, 2009 6:46 pm • linkreport

+1 for PS' rant.

by ibc on Aug 19, 2009 8:54 pm • linkreport

@ Peter Smith

Taxing all cars in DC is not realistic in any manner; you say it prevents people from walking and biking; all areas in DC dont have the same amounts of people biking, walking, etc that would be a burden on masses of people from really a bullshit reason. Apparently you have never in certain areas of the city in which biking would make no damn sense because of you would be biking for miles to reach anything beyond housing

Then you seem to have a disregard to people who can not walk or bike elderly, disabled and others biking or walking to them because of aliments would be hell on earth.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Thinking of the area I have never seen anyone ride a bike at all anywhere there and Iam over there more than 4 times a week at times through out the day; the area is mostly bus, car and walking where do they get the thought of people riding bikes from or is this build it and they will come.

Some of the recommendations for the bus stops in the pdf seem not to take into account where stops beyond this area are, some of the changes would create quite longer distances for some stops and very short distances for others , harder to reach stops and less transfer points if you don't want to go all the way to the station the plan should be to minimize the time of travel for people walking not increase it.

The new configuration of the station seems to be less effective in the consideration of distance and time to move between the stops within the station and the actual station entrance as some would push the buses further away from the escalators and elevator.

The southern portion of Minnesota Ave has a giant problem East Capitol Street creates major problems in-terms of accessing one from the other no matter how you and traveling via car, walking or another means you either have people walking trying to dodge cars or cars trying to dodge cars that are accessing one street from the other.

The plan with the round about and ramps create another problem traffic lights which seem to not be there either because they do not seem them to be necessary or they forget which would be dumb since the rest of the designs have them highly noted. In reality the streets should have been at the same level but that isn't the case and doing anything with ramps will add all kinds of problems if not done properly

by Kk on Aug 20, 2009 12:00 am • linkreport

I think it's more important to look at these roads from an urban design perspective. Adding those roads around the back of the lot in question adds more connections and intricacy into what is otherwise essentially a superblock. It's not a superblock in the modern planning sense, but the existence of the natural barriers in the area (railroad tracks, Metro, etc) means that there are few route options.

Saying the road would induce traffic is the wrong way to think about it. Adding that road would drastically increase the number of pedestrian options. It shortens the walk across the Benning Road viaduct significantly, and if/when that development takes shape, it will provide a much more usable link between the Minnesota/Benning intersection and River Terrace to the west.

My larger point is to think of streets not as traffic arteries, but as public spaces used to access land. Adding these streets would be a huge plus in the long term. Given the eventual redevelopment of the Pepco plant on the other side of the tracks, it's important to think long term about the infrastructure in the area and how it can bridge that gap.

by Alex B. on Aug 20, 2009 9:25 am • linkreport

Taxing all cars in DC is not realistic in any manner

i disagree. i believe it already happens, anyway -- through registration fees, sales taxes, etc. there's no reason DC can't jack up the registration fees to a more appropriate level. we know that cars are taxed very heavily in other countries -- let's do the same, here.

you say it prevents people from walking and biking; all areas in DC dont have the same amounts of people biking, walking, etc

that's kind of my point. terror-inducing cars are not the only reason more people don't walk and bike -- just one of the reasons, probably the primary reason.

Apparently you have never in certain areas of the city in which biking would make no damn sense because of you would be biking for miles to reach anything beyond housing

i've lived in plenty of suburbs all over america and have visited many more in foreign countries. i also lived in downtown DC and in Reston. i don't believe i've ever lived in a place where there was nothing for miles but housing, but i'll take your word for it. for the sake of argument, let's assume these places exist in DC and/or in the Greater Washington area -- would that mean that we should not build walkable and bikeable streets? shouldn't people be able to walk and bike around their neighborhoods in safety and comfort? shouldn't kids be able to visit their friends in safety and comfort, even if they're five miles away? shouldn't everyone have the option of not being forced to buy a car just to take care of their daily needs -- even if those daily needs are ten miles away by bike? shouldn't moms and dads be able to walk and bike and play with their kids and kids-in-strollers and tag-a-along bike trailers and such in safety and comfort, without the fear of the unthinkable happening?

we need walkable and bikeable places/streets -- even and especially in the various 'no mans lands' of DC -- those places are not going to become inhabitable on their own.

Then you seem to have a disregard to people who can not walk or bike elderly, disabled and others biking or walking to them because of aliments would be hell on earth.

i think it's funny that people often accuse me of forgetting about disabled people and the elderly. what infrastructure do you suppose these people use to get around? if someone is in a wheelchair, or has a walker, they want nice sidewalks with proper curbs so they can walk or ride/scoot around in safety and comfort. they want proper bicycle infrastructure so they don't have to share the sidewalks with speeding bicycles. the elderly want nice sidewalks so they're not tripping and falling and breaking their hips. people who have trouble walking and jogging often take up biking because it is very low impact on the body's joints -- these bikers want proper bicycle infrastructure. more elderly people would gladly ride a bike -- even recumbent trikes -- if they had safe places to ride them. this stuff is not rocket science -- if you actually care about disabled people and the elderly, then support walkable and bikeable places and streets everywhere -- in the city, and the suburbs, everywhere. and make walking and biking priorities #1 and #2 when (re)building your town.

Thinking of the area I have never seen anyone ride a bike at all anywhere there and Iam over there more than 4 times a week at times through out the day;

and, as JHK says, those theoretical pedestrians and bikers will never be there because the area was designed for cars, not humans.

I think it's more important to look at these roads from an urban design perspective.

not trying to be snarky, but i think that's what everyone here generally tries to do. that was my intention, anyways.

Adding those roads around the back of the lot in question adds more connections and intricacy into what is otherwise essentially a superblock.

i'm with that. good point. any Jane Jacobs recommendation is probably a-ok in my book. :)

but, it should be a street that gives priority to pedestrians first, then bikers, then everybody else, in that order. even if it were a so-called 'complete street', it will still be dominated by cars for various reasons -- keeping walkers and bikers relegated to 'refuges' of various sorts. i suggested a multi-use path -- that would ban cars -- the only real way to give priority to pedestrians and bikers. maybe it could even be some kind of traffic-clamed street, like a woonerf -- something that would make it not so attractive for cars speeding through and terrorizing everyone.

i also mentioned i was skeptical of 'pedestrian LOS' studies that were carried out by car-oriented organizations -- i think i was right. NYC did their own pedestrian LOS study a few years ago and said the national standards were 'insufficient' or some other politically-correct language. i would call the federal standards a bad joke. this suggests to me that we should probably develop our own pedestrian and bike LOSs, then we can set city policy so that DC becomes a walk- and bike- and transit-first city, in that order.

now there's a happy thought.

:)

by Peter Smith on Aug 21, 2009 5:29 pm • linkreport

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