Greater Greater Washington

One-way schizophrenia from DDOT

I'm confused by DDOT. With one hand, they propose changing one-way 15th Street in Logan Circle into two-way, which is a very good idea (some reasons and some more. From that it seems that DDOT understands how making cars move faster through our neighborhoods doesn't actually improve the quality of life.

Level of Service (LOS) leads traffic planners to
bad conclusions.

But with the other hand, they propose making even more one-way streets in Georgetown, on 30th and 31st, and reversing 33rd Street. The Georgetown Transportation Study, which according to DDOT Ward 2 rep Chris Ziemann has "an emphasis on improving pedestrian and bicycle safety," nonetheless devotes most of its draft report to lane changes and the like.

Any bicycle options are only mentioned at the end of the report as part of alist of other options being considered, without the detail given to traffic improvements. There are some good ideas, such as bus bulb-outs (but only on a few side streets), traffic calming (but only speed bumps, not better mechanisms like making intersections into little tiny roundabouts or bulb-outs beyond just for buses), and widening sidewalks on M and Wisconsin (but only a little). Unfortunately, most of the good ideas are in the Long-Term section, and the bad ideas are in the Medium-Term section. Does this mean the planners in this study would make Georgetown worse before they make it better?

Despite the supposed focus on pedestrian and bicycle improvements, the report spends most of its ink on "Level of Service" (LOS) charts, which measure the average delay a car would wait at each intersection. This is a traditional tool of traffic planners, but thinking of transportation in these terms always leads to planners wanting to widen intersections and add lanes in ways that ultimately make an area more appealing to drive and less appealing to walk, pushing people toward driving over walking and further adding pressure to improve LOS.

So what's up with DDOT? It looks like there are a bunch of people who want to make neighborhoods more livable, other people who just want to make the cars move faster, and others who don't really know the difference. We need a DDOT head like NYC's Jeannette Sadik-Khan to firmly knock DDOT off the fence and over to being a progressive department. Right now, a DDOT study is like a box of partly moldy chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 daughter in Dupont Circle. 


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I'm not sure that Georgetown needs more one way streets. While 30th and 31st are somewhat narrow, the two way configuration actually calms traffic a bit. (If they do make them one way, though, how about adding some bike lanes?) Also, as a cyclist, reversing the direction of 33rd Street (from northbound to southbound, as proposed) seems weird to me.

I bike up 33rd Street, from M Street to Q Street, as a way to bypass heavier traffic when I'm trying to get through Georgetown (say from Key Bridge to Dupont Circle). It's relatively direct and calm, and it connects to which Q Street is a good crosstown route when traveling eastbound. Going the other direction, I take Q Street to 34th Street, and it works pretty well in much the same way.

by hiya on May 21, 2008 10:34 pm • linkreport

I too am confused by the disconnect of rhetoric and action at DDOT. You make a very good point about the streets and intersections being measured by "Level of Service". Yet in the past two days, we have seen two DDOT announcements regarding pedestrian safety measures, both in their corridor study (Master Plan) and the dangerous intersection initiatives.

Yet, when it comes to practice, there is very little being done in terms of innovative solutions that help bring the pedestrian and bicyclist on par with the single occupancy car.

If DDOT wanted to be truly progressive (as it should be), it would make driving in the city much more difficult by having dedicated lanes for HOV/Mass Transit, as distinct from bikes etc.

Further, it would adopt novel approaches to ped safety such as pedestrian signals (look at what they have in Tuscon, Portland, Seattle, etc) roundabouts, etc.

There should be a set of standards about pedestrian safety and access in commercial areas to encourage more walkability. If these measures make it less desirable for the vehicular commuter, then all the better.

Polling clearly indicates that these are the trends in urban design. The National Capital ought to be setting the example for visitors to take back to their home states.

by William on May 21, 2008 11:00 pm • linkreport

DDOT used to have a director who was bike adn transit friendly-Dan Tangherlini. The current director (name forgtten) seems to be much more old fashioned in thinking (i.e. LOS) and car-centric based on his testimony at a recent City Council Roundtable in which he expressed unwavering support for a car-only road in Klingle Valley. When Dan T. was head of DDOT he gave testimony to city council AGAINST a car-only road in KV and had a numerated list of clean fuel busses and bike lanes the city could buy/install with the money it would cost to build and maintain a road in that gorge. Based on what I heard from him at the Roundatable I'm not surprised that DDOT plans are so "1965".

by Bianchi on May 22, 2008 12:58 pm • linkreport

Your use of the term “schizophrenia” in this context is unhelpful. This serious, incurable disorder, which affects about 1% of the population, has many and varied symptoms but ‘two identities’ is not one of them. You do sufferers a great disservice by misrepresenting their symptoms.

A good place to find more information is

by John Sutton on May 22, 2008 3:41 pm • linkreport

Okay, so not "schizophrenic" per JS above - but "intensely ambivalent" seems to be about right. They seem 100% in favor of bike & ped safety & improved streetscapes. But then they also seem to be 100% in favor of increasing vehicle speed/ free flow of traffic. And it's unpredictable what'll happen when those two desires (as always) collide.

As a Georgetown resident & bicyclist, I'd rather have two-way traffic - oncoming traffic forces drivers to slow down more often to negotiate streets that are narrower than they are comfortable with. That also means that drivers are a little more likely to interact with their environment rather than just plow through it at speed.

by Jad on Jun 2, 2008 3:45 pm • linkreport

I work on 31st street right at K and I actually think that making 31st street one way (or removing a lane of parking) is a good plan. I see many times when trucks are coming down 31st and there is opposite traffic it gets completely clogged due to the narrow through lane(s)

by Aaron on Jun 18, 2008 3:27 pm • linkreport

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