Posts about Center Leg Freeway
Since many transit projects have either broken ground or are in the engineering phase in the region, it is important to create long-term visions that will continue to make Greater Washington Greater.
Some projects are new, while others repeat from last year's list because they were good ideas then and are good ideas now.
Build a southern entrance to Columbia Heights: A couple of weeks ago, I walked from my office near McPherson Square up to Columbia Heights. It was a very pretty walk up 14th St. NW. After passing U Street, I couldn't help but notice the gap in vibrance and new economic investment between Florida Avenue and the area surrounding the entrance to the Columbia Heights Metro.
Columbia Heights is a reverse cut-and-cover station. It is not too far below the surface, unlike a tunnel bore station like Wheaton. The single entrance to the Metro station is just north of the platform. There would be an improvement in ridership and economic development from having a second entrance to the south of the platform.
Many more residents who live between U St. and Columbia Heights would have convenient, fast transit access. More people would travel to the station in order take advantage of the amenities that would open near the new entrance. It would also be much cheaper to build a new entrance to a cut-and-cover station as opposed to a deep station like Woodley Park.
VA-7 light rail: Echoing Steve Offutt's vision for rail on VA-7, I envision this project as light rail. VA-7 is a main road in Northern Virginia that connects Alexandria to Tysons Corner and points west. It is also a spine that connects multiple ugly, gas guzzling edge cities that have lots of strip malls and acres of surface parking. Many of these strip malls are aging and would be prime Smart Growth redevelopment opportunities in the same vein as Rosslyn-Ballston.
I envision light rail rather than heavy rail because circumferential lines have traditionally had lower ridership than radial lines, although they tend to be less peak-focused. I also see this project as Virginia building their side of the Purple Line.
VA-7 has a lot of similarities to the current plans for the Purple Line. It connects traditional walkable urbanism, modern TOD, and post-war edge cities, both inside and outside the Favored Quarter. Most importantly, it offers connections to Maryland at the Wilson Bridge and at a to-be-named place east of Tysons. Like the existing plans for the Purple Line, challenges would include balancing speed and frequency of stations.
Complete the Purple Line: Between the VA-7 light rail vision, and the current Purple Line project, there is only one hole remaining in a completed Purple Line between New Carrollton and Alexandria. (There is also a hole between Tysons and Bethesda, but it is much smaller and has its unique challenges.) This past fall, Prince George's officials expressed interest in extending the Purple Line from New Carrolton to Largo through Suitland, (although there are proposals rerouting it to the Westphalia development) Oxon Hill, and National Harbor. This would be a long-term vision to be undertaken after the current plans for the Purple Line see groundbreaking.
National moratorium on highway building: My position has not changed. If anything, it has been calcified as we have experienced the highway lobby's misguided attempts to shove more highway projects down our collective throat. I can't remember who said that trying to solve automobile congestion by paving over more land is akin to trying to cure obesity by loosening one's belt. It's still true.
In Virginia, the laughable terms of the deal with Fluor-Transurban on the I-395 widening are a threat to suck money out of the Virginia budget for decades. Maryland is already experiencing sticker shock on the ICC.
I doubt that it was coincidence that the SHA and highway lobby attempted to get the I-270 widening passed in Montgomery County before toll pricing was discussed for the ICC. They wanted to take advantage of public perception of roads as "free." That project would have locked up money for new transportation projects in the state for decades. Projects like the ICC and the I-395 HOT lanes are emphasizing in the public consciousness that highways are huge, expensive projects with many negative externalities.
Close the Center Leg (I-395) between New York Ave and Massachusetts Ave: I reiterate what I said last year: "This segment induces through traffic on New York Avenue between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and the Center Leg. The existing open cut could potentially be decked over and used as a right of way for a future heavy rail Blue Line at much lower cost than tunneling the same distance."
Separated Blue Line: A separated Blue Line through a new tunnel at Rosslyn, through Georgetown, the West End, the Golden Triangle BID, the Convention Center, Union Station, and along H Street NE will add enormous new commuter capacity and serve important areas that the Metro currently doesn't reach. The separated Blue Line will both solve the problems associated with the zipper at Rosslyn and offer redundant east-west service in the urban core of the region.
Just as I wrote back in June in the wake of the Red Line crash, everyone would be better served by having redundant transfer stations. This project is of high importance to the whole region, not just the District of Columbia. Perhaps the WMATA member jurisdictions could reach some sort of construction funding compromise similar the existing formula that is employed for operations.
Commuters will be greatly positively affected in Virginia on both the Blue and Orange Lines. Commuters from Prince George's County wouldn't have to put up with service delays that reverberate from delays associated with the Rosslyn zipper. Service on both the Blue and Orange Line could be increased since they wouldn't have to share tracks in the District, affecting all three jurisdictions.
Rockville Pike streetcar/White Flint: A coalition of landowners surrounding the White Flint Metro have gotten together in favor of a vision to recreate Rockville Pike between White Flint Mall and Montrose Road into a human-scale walkable urban place similar to Bethesda. The landowners recognize the vision as both the right thing to do economically and environmentally as well as an honest business opportunity. It is rare that such a stark opportunity for Smart Growth presents itself. My detailed testimony on behalf of ACT to the Montgomery County Council can be found here.
A major part of transforming the area into a traditional human-scale town is evolving Rockville Pike from its current state as a dangerous too-wide suburban arterial into an urban boulevard similar to Connecticut Avenue between the White House and Dupont Circle. The new White Flint town would be well-served by some kind of super-local transit. A streetcar in the median of Rockville pike will serve as a traffic calming mechanism, a safe haven for pedestrians crossing the road, and contribute to an inviting urban feel.
This would all be accomplished without taking away any automobile lanes. Existing lanes would be narrowed from over 12 feet to 10 or 11 feet. Drivers would drive more cautiously while pedestrians would have less asphalt to cross. The landowners believe in the boulevardization of the Pike so much that they are willing to cede a few feet of their properties in order to make it work.
National high-speed rail: We saw a lot of really cool maps and schematics about national high-speed rail corridors, similar to the existing Acela. While we haven't seen much since, some preliminary funding for studying the project was put in the stimulus package.
The reasons for building High Speed Rail remain as compelling as last year: "Train stations are usually located in the heart of downtown, while airports tend to be located 50 miles away. [Their remote location induces car-dependent sprawl along their access highways.] Delivering people to a city's center will boost demand for amenities downtown. It will also increase demand for regional and local mass transit, since visitors will arrive in the city without cars. As we have seen with our own Union Station, vibrant intercity train stations are powerful ways to create a sense of place."
DDOT is moving ahead with plans to rebuild and widen the 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia with its stimulus dollars. The project will create a new local bridge so drivers, walkers and bicyclists can cross the Anacostia without merging on and off a freeway. It will also provide space for a future streetcar. However, it will also increase cut-through traffic, enticing some drivers to pass through DC between Maryland and Virginia instead of going around over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. DDOT has asked regional TPB planners to investigate a possible solution: swapping freeway capacity to New York Avenue for the new capacity on 11th Street.
This plan would close the Center Leg Freeway (I-395) between Massachusetts Avenue and New York Avenue. To illustrate the rationale, here are some diagrams showing the traffic on our freeways for drivers coming from the US-50 and BW Parkway corridors to destinations in DC. These aren't to scale or based on hard traffic numbers, but instead illustrate the general concepts. The TPB study, when released, should provide hard numbers to defend or refute this thesis.
Illustration of current traffic flow for drivers from the northeast.
Today, the best route from Bowie or Fort Meade to Arlington involves taking New York Avenue to 395, under the Mall, and out the Southwest Freeway to the Virginia part of 395. The other sensible route, staying on Kenilworth/295 until the 11th Street Bridge, is inconvenient because there's no connection from southbound 295 to the bridge. Drivers have to get off 295, circle around on local streets in Anacostia, then get onto the 11th Street or Sousa bridges.
Of course, other drivers use the bridge, such as northbound 295 drivers, but they are mainly headed into DC. For the purposes of this discussion, we're most concerned with cut-through drivers from the north and east.
Likely flow after completion of 11th Street Bridge project.
Once DDOT rebuilds the bridge, a new ramp will let drivers on southbound 295 directly access the bridge. That'll create an appealing cut-through route that avoids the traffic lights and congestion on New York Avenue. According to the Smart Mobility traffic analysis, some people who were using the Wilson Bridge will switch to this new route. It may also entice some commuters to drive instead of taking the Orange or Blue Lines all the way through DC, or to buy houses in Maryland and commute to Virginia thanks to the faster drive.
Potential closure of the New York Avenue ramp to 395.
In exchange, we should discourage cut-through traffic from using the old route. If we add capacity on one cut-through route but substract from another, we can keep the total cut-through volume the same.
New York Avenue is a major boulevard into downtown. It should continue to serve that function. But drivers headed downtown don't need I-395 under the Mall. 395 only goes to Southwest, the House side of the Capitol, and Arlington. Those drivers should just take the new, wider 11th Street Bridge instead.
Drivers using 395 in the other direction don't need this ramp. Those coming from Capitol Hill, River East, and points south who use 395 get off at the US House or Massachusetts Avenue, where they can head downtown. It's impossible to go downtown from northbound 395 at New York Avenue, since all traffic must turn right.
Without the ramp, we can reduce traffic on New York Avenue. It might even be possible to remove one lane each way. With lower traffic, we can make the road safer for pedestrians and less of a forbidding gulf dividing the neighborhoods around Mount Vernon Square. We can remove the freeway-style signs and lengthen pedestrian crossing times.
If we open the 11th Street Bridge and keep the ramp open, drivers will get used to having more and faster options. It'll then be hard to take something away, even if that only restores the total capacity ex ante. Instead, DDOT should close the ramp at the same time as soon as the new bridge opens. It can be temporary at first: a few concrete barriers and signs would do it. Then, drivers will see the new bridge as switching them from one route to another, instead of taking something away. In fact, if traffic models predict that we could remove a lane from New York Avenue entirely without the 395 traffic, DDOT should also close that lane at the same time.
Once New York Avenue crosses Florida, it passes through historic neighborhoods just like Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Georgia and all the other major routes from Maryland do. It should serve as both a commuter route and a neighborhood boulevard, just like its cousins. Yet it's more a freeway than a boulevard, since it connects to a freeway. Now we're building a better freeway route to the same destination.
I'm working on a series about the controversial 11th Street bridge project and its impact on the DC region. To illustrate various proposals, I've created this diagram of the major highway routes between Greenbelt/New Carrollton and Springfield via DC and Arlington.
Comments welcome. In particular, please let me know if anything is incorrect, including the numbers of lanes (designated by the numbers with arrows). The complex interchanges on the Beltway and the Parkway are mostly stylized; the specifics of the interchanges isn't relevant to the traffic analysis.
Post reporter Eric Weiss went trolling for suburban elected officials to condemn DC's pedestrian-friendly transportation improvements, creating an article that casts DC's efforts to improve pedestrian conditions as hostile moves against suburban commuters. It's a classic newsitorial, sporting this opening line: "The District is escalating what some suburban commuters are calling its war against workers who drive into the city."
Weiss bases his findings on a number of pro-pedestrian proposals being considered, some more seriously than others: cutting I-395 back to Mass. Ave., replacing the reversible lane on 16th Street in Columbia Heights with a median, increasing fines for failing to yield to pedestrians, and the Clean Air Compliance Fee. They've already removed the rush-hour one-way operation on Constitution Avenue in Capitol Hill.
The suburban drivers Weiss's editorializing masquerading as news continues: She placed blame for the problem, in part, on the federal government, which offers many of its employees free parking in the city.
Auto commuters have long suspected that the city's speed and red-light cameras, along with its famously aggressive ticketing policies, have more to do with filling city coffers than with safety. The city's new parking meters, for example, can be programmed to charge escalating rates.That's quite a non sequitur. Parking meters have nothing to do with safety, expensive or not. Despite Weiss's slant, performance parking is not about soaking drivers to "fill the city's coffers"; it's about ensuring people who wish to use curb space pay a market price to use a scarce resource instead of just making spaces impossible to find. Which is exactly what DDOT Director Emeka Moneme says, as a matter of fact:
Moneme said the city will continueMoneme, Councilmember Tommy Wells, and MWCOG Transportation Director Ronald Kirby all sound eminently sensible in their defense of complete streets policies over the blind promotion of high-speed traffic that all suburban drivers crave in Weiss's world. But the gold star on this article goes to the one suburbanite who made it into the article despite her refusal to roundly condemn the District:
"You'd like me to lambaste the District, but we're all in the same boat," said Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large). "I am sympathetic to some of these initiatives. But the challenge is finding the right balance. Not everyone can ride Metro or walk to work."
Floreen makes an excellent point. Free parking does indeed cause problems; policies that mitigate its negative effects are restoring balance, not part of a "war against workers."
Weiss's editorializing masquerading as news continues:
She placed blame for the problem, in part, on the federal government, which offers many of its employees free parking in the city.
The Office of Planning has a public realm plan for the area, which includes two-way streets on New Jersey and Fourth, some narrower intersections, better landscaping along the streets, reconnected L and 3rd streets across I-395, and a Neighborhood Center plaza at 5th and K.
The Triangle wonders if cutting the freeway back would simply generate traffic through the neighborhood to the Mass Ave ramps. It's possible, but we should also remember the principles of induced demand: adding road capacity induces more traffic by encouraging driving; removing road capacity does the opposite. Removing the appeal of a through route here, especially given alternatives, would most likely reduce more traffic than it reroutes.
And I can think of a great use for a long, narrow, below-grade trench running between M and K Streets: the separate Blue Line, which I guessed might run under New Jersey Avenue. But why not save a bunch of money and build that segment where the highway now sits? Coming along M from the Convention Center station, it could tunnel under New York Avenue, break into the existing I-395 trench, stop at a station around K Street, then turn off at H Street just north of where the freeway would now begin at Massachusetts Avenue.
DDOT has asked the TPB to study traffic on I-395 (the "Center Leg") and evaluate the closing the section between Mass Ave and New York Avenue, according to WTOP. From their letter:
Based on a Transportation Planning Board finding that a high proportion of New York Avenue traffic has neither an origin nor a destination within the District, DDOT has requested the option of closing a section of I-395 between its current northern terminus at New York Avenue and its interchange with Massachusetts Avenue.This actually isn't a new idea: NCPC brought it up it in 2006. The volume of traffic on New York Avenue and the way those roads have been over-engineered for high traffic volumes makes it difficult to revitalize the neighborhoods in that area. New York Avenue isn't going away as a main route into DC from the BW Parkway and from Annapolis, but it certainly should not be a primary through route.
Some would argue that the solution would be to run the freeway all the way through the city, reducing traffic impacts on non-freeway streets. This is a bad idea from an induced demand standpoint and also completely unrealistic. It would cost billions, and if the city was unable to run the freeway through during the golden age of highway construction, it damned sure wouldn’t be able to do it now.While we consider making through-driving more difficult on New York Avenue, we're also making it easier on the Southeast Freeway. Maybe the long-term effect would be to move traffic bound for the House office buildings and the Southwest Federal Center area off New York Avenue and onto the newly-connected Anacostia Freeway-11th Street Bridges-Southeast Freeway route? That would enable improvements in Northeast, but at some cost to residents along the freeways. A worthwhile tradeoff?
reported that developers have been chosen for Northwest One, which will replace the Sursum Corda and Temple Court projects near New York Avenue and North Capitol with mixed-use redevelopment that has the potential to become a walkable neighborhood. But it also reveals some very different views on how to handle traffic around New York Avenue and I-395.
The master plan from 2005 has a lot to recommend it. In addition to building mixed-income townhouses on the side streets and larger apartment buildings with retail facing the larger thoroughfare of K Street, it will reconnect many of the smaller streets like L Street. Right now, that area is a hodgepodge of dead-ends and superblocks; the more connected the street grid the more walkable a neighborhood.
But I noticed one very bad idea briefly mentioned on page 24 of the plan, the section on traffic. The neighborhood is very close to the intersection where the I-395 freeway comes out of the tunnel under the Capitol and dead-ends at New York Avenue. This is one of the last pieces to be built of the original DC interstate plan. The Northwest One master plan (from 2005, remember) says, "There is significant congestion along New York Avenue between the I-395 tunnel and North Capitol Street... This study recommends... the extension of the I-395 tunnel from its current terminus to Florida Avenue."
DC planners may have good ideas on smart growth, but at least in 2005 they still were stuck in the past on traffic. Adding more traffic lanes does not reduce congestion; at most it pushes it elsewhere. Extending the tunnel might allow New York Avenue to become a pedestrian-friendly road, but will also make I-395 even more appealing for drivers, increasing traffic volume there. If there are bottlenecks in the tunnel, more drivers may divert to the same city streets the plan aims to protect. And what about New York Avenue east of Florida Avenue? Enabling more traffic will make that area even more difficult to turn into walkable urban neighborhoods one day.
Continuing to surprise me, however, is the federal government: the National Capital Planning Commission conducted a charrette with Federal agencies and six consultants, which resulted in a report recommending the opposite of DC Planning's tunnel extension. Noting that many drivers use New York Avenue and 395 to cut through the District between Maryland and Virginia instead of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the Beltway, the report advocates designing New York Avenue to serve DC residents instead of suburbanites. It recommends planners "encourage more smart, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development" and "create a corridor with a better balance of transportation modes (e.g. transit, walking, bicycling)."
For the New York/Florida Avenue intersection, the group suggests policies to "discourage drive-through, auto-oriented uses at the intersection" and "employ traffic-calming measures to slow traffic to a level compatible with the urban neighborhood." Most remarkably, the report recomments DC evaluate congestion pricing in the area, and even cutting I-395 back to end at Massachusetts Avenue (a road which leads to DC neighborhoods on both ends, rather than connecting directly to a Maryland freeway).
This is remarkably progressive thinking from a federal board. This is a major intersection that carries large amounts of traffic, but is also ugly and overly designed for cars. Most Departments of Transportation would only be able to think about increasing its traffic capacity, but NCPC is instead recommending restoring the area to a vibrant urban fabric. And it can be done while still enabling people to drive in and out of the city, just as people successfully do along the avenues to the north, which work relatively well as neighborhood main streets and commuter boulevards at the same time.
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