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Upper NW study suggests traffic calming, bike boulevards

DDOT has completed its "livability" study for upper Northwest neighborhoods, which recommends a number of changes to calm speeding traffic and improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.

42nd and Albemarle. Photo from DDOT.

The study focused on Friendship Heights, Chevy Chase DC, Forest Hills, AU Park, and Tenleytown. DDOT tabulated motor vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle crashes; surveyed residents to find out about problem spots; and analyzed the street network.

Recommendations include adding bulb-outs to aid pedestrian crossings, small roundabouts to slow traffic, speed cameras, and new "bicycle boulevards" that have bikes and cars share the road at slow speeds.

Here's a video about bike boulevards from New York:

The bicycle boulevards would go on certain streets which travel through residential areas but stretch long distances. This not only gives cyclists a safe and comfortable through route but also discourages motor vehicles from using the streets for long trips, instead pushing them to use the major arterial routes and making the resident streets quieter and safer.

Map of proposed bike boulevards.

Several other roads would get "sharrows," which also promote sharing space between bikes and cars but don't give priority to bicycles.

For a number of intersections, DDOT is proposing curb extensions, or bulb-outs. Some, where there is a high volume of pedestrians, would be paved, adding space for pedestrians to wait and also shortening the crossing distance.

In other places, they would be "green curb extensions," where most of the added space is filled with plantings and designed to capture and hold stormwater that runs off from the surrounding street.

Curb extensions would go along River Road at 45th/Fessenden (paved) and 44th (green), on Davenport at Reno Road and Connecticut Avenue (both green) and 36th (paved), and at a lot of corners in Tenleytown.

Recommendations for Tenleytown.

At some places where three roads come together, small side roads serve as slip lanes encouraging fast turns and speeding. The study recommends closing a small section adjacent to main streets at 36th Street between Connecticut Avenue and Fessenden Street, and Brandywine Street between 42nd and River Road.

The former road space would either become a basic grass area or get additional stormwater facilities, like rain gardens, to capture and store rainwater and runoff.

From Albemarle to Brandywine Streets just east of the Tenleytown Metro station, between the Whole Foods and Wilson High School, is a pair of parallel roads, 40th Street and Fort Drive. They are only a median's width apart and serve essentially as two directions of one street with a median in between. The report calls the intersection between these and Albemarle Street "awkward, confusing, and obstruct[ing] some views."

40th Street and Fort Drive. (North is to the right.)

It suggests reversing the direction, so cars travel clockwise instead of counterclockwise, and replacing parallel parking adjacent to the median with angled parking, almost doubling the amount of parking. A break in the median for U-turns, currently adjacent to Albemarle, would be moved to the center of the block, lining up with the Whole Foods while also adding crosswalks there.

42nd and Warren.
42nd Street and Warren Street meet in a large, gently curving triangular intersection which also encourages speeding. The plan suggests a pair of small neighborhood traffic circles, essentially small islands in the middle of the intersection which drivers have to travel around more slowly instead of zooming through the large intersection.

These items are far from all the suggestions for improving safety and mobility in Upper Northwest. Part 2 will look at Ward and Chevy Chase Circles, other ideas that didn't make it into the report, and when all of this might actually become a reality.

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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Looking at the problem with the 40th Street/Fort Drive suggestions is that by moving the bus stops and shuttle stop to the median that 1) there will not be enough room for passengers to wait for the bus/shuttle. Especially during rush hour. There will not be enough room for all the people waiting for the shuttle to stand there during the times when volume is highest.

by RRuszczyk on Mar 14, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

To paraphrase Matt Yglesias - The number one "liveability" factor is cost of owning or renting a home. While this addresses a number of good things, it needs to increase the supply of homes before it would significantly improve liveability.

by MW on Mar 14, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

I know this thread is for critiquing this plan but I have a question about how to lobby for some of these common sense upgrades for a stretch of street that needs them more than most. Where can I direct emails to plead for a study of this sort on my street? I live in one of the many apartments on Harvard St NW and 18th St. What pains me about this stretch of road is as follows:
-Harvard st between Lanier and Adams Mill is prone to speeding. Most of it is one-way, it's down hill, and there is no stop sign between Lanier all the way to the stop light at the bottom of the hill. A speed camera there would rake it in...
-There are no cross walks to cross Harvard for the entire stretch between Laneir to the zoo entrance. Meaning no Harvard crossings at the intersection of 18th which has frequent crossers, and none at the Adams Mill intersection which now has more crossers that the Cabi station is there.
-The crosswalk ON Adams Mill where it meets Harvard is about twice as long as it should be due to the road being built to facilitate speedy turns from Harvard onto Adams Mill, seen here:,-95.712891&sspn=28.999965,75.849609&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Harvard+St+NW+%26+Adams+Mill+Rd+NW,+Washington+D.C.,+District+of+Columbia&ll=38.927574,-77.041041&spn=0,0.003337&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=38.927547,-77.042528&panoid=xeNDRqox8kwWv3SHa_pU0Q&cbp=12,234.23,,0,6.45
-There are actually inverted road bulbs at the intersections of 18th street. Meaning the people crossing Harvard at 18th have longer to walk and no crosswalk or stop signs.
View street view here:,-95.677068&sspn=29.025693,75.849609&ie=UTF8&hq=natinoal+zoo&hnear=District+of+Columbia&ll=38.927182,-77.040703&spn=0,0.003337&t=h&z=19&layer=c&cbll=38.927182,-77.041214&panoid=q1mA7FJRNMk8u-MEaoRTPw&cbp=12,126.29,,0,14.39
The same bulb-ins are at Lanier and Harvard
-To add insult to injury this is all on a steep hill where all the extra road leads to extra storm run-off, which makes its way right down to Rock Creek below.

Everything could be solved relatively easily by reclaiming the road "bulb-ins" (not sure what to call them) with rain-garden bulb outs. Turning the Triangle park at 18th and Harvard into a rain-garden catchment area. A rain garden bulb out at the bottom of Adams Mill, and even rain garden bulb outs at Harvard and Lanier.
This would calm traffic, narrow pedestrian crossings, and nearly eliminate all that runoff from entering the sewer system/rock creek, which must amount to hundreds of thousands of gallons a year. Given the proximity to Rock Creek the environmental reasons are reason enough to take these steps, but the way traffic moves with no stop signs at 18th, tourists parking on Harvard to enter the zoo, cyclists using the bike lanes on Harvard to connect with Rock Creek Park, its a recipe for disaster. So, sorry for posting this long tangent but I just wanted to bring these issues to light. Maybe a blog post here could be dedicated to it? Or if I can find out what tree to bark up I'll gladly organize my neighbors to lobby for these changes as well. Thanks

by John on Mar 14, 2011 1:02 pm • linkreport

The problem I have with diverters is that it can be a slippery slope. Start closing intersections to cars, and it's great for bike and pedestrians to get through, but do it to too many streets, and you end up with all traffic on a few arterials, and those roads become very dangerous for bikes and pedestrians. Not to mention the fact that a full-on traffic sewer isn't a good environment for a commercial district, etc.

You end up with New York Avenue NE.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 14, 2011 2:20 pm • linkreport

One of my biggest concerns as a cyclist living in NE, but frequently needing to commute to NW is indeed crossing NY Ave. The Met Branch Trail is quite simply the only safe place to do it east of Mount Vernon Square.

I agree with Geoff's concerns that too many diverters could be a bad thing for upper NW. All 3 of the "State" roads in Upper NW are incredibly busy and fast. As a driver, I don't mind that, given how long it takes to get up there in the first place. However, pedestrians and cyclists also need to be able to use those roads, or at the bare absolute minimum, be able to cross them safely.

by andrew on Mar 14, 2011 3:09 pm • linkreport

So do they think reversing the directions of 40th and Fort will make these less confusing? Because you are essentially having people drive on the left, which I imagine is not very intuitive.

Also, are the lines for angled the right way? It seems you would want them angled so that the angle to turn in is not as severe, or are they for backing in?

by Steven Yates on Mar 14, 2011 3:26 pm • linkreport

closing Fessenden is a terrible idea, it is one of the few through routes to Wisconsin Avenue for cars and Nebraska gets snarled if there is ever an accident or just heavy traffic. Closing off Brandywine is fine as long as you keep the alternate routes however; good luck if you want to drop your kid at Wilson hs if these plans come to fruition. I live a block away from that short section of 36th street and cross the road a block down (I cross at least 4 times a day) and I can attest that the drivers are almost always driving too fast but I think adding a sidewalk on the right hand of the sidewalk would be a better use of money. Also I think closing that off would cause major headaches and backups on connecticut ave from all of those people turning and thus delay the movement of both busses and cars for almost no benefit. Set up a speed trap or something along those lines if they are so worried about speeding. I am someone who walks or takes transit almost everywhere (by choice) but I know that my parents would oppose these changes and so would many of my neighbors, making most changes hard to implement. On the other hand any bike improvement I believe would be met mostly with support (I certainly will fight for these if there are community meetings that I know about.) The curb extensions in Tenley would be appreciated but the changes to the traffic flow behind the Whole Foods seem like its made to confuse people and cause accidents. Also we certainly don't need more parking in that area, it is on top of the metro and there is a garage at whole foods and a surface parking lot at the cvs on the block so this would be incredibly poor planning.

by astonvillan on Mar 14, 2011 9:32 pm • linkreport

Reverse Angle Parking (RAP) aka, back-in, is safer than forward angle. It's the same procedure for parking as the first half of parallel parking, plus when leaving the driver can usually look and see if vehicles are coming. Street grade can affect where it is placed and the rear bumper might hang over the curb. So the trunk is easily accessible, but exhaust pipes might be a concern if there are cafe tables nearby.

by ScottRAB on Mar 15, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

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