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Roads


Use this map to share your ideas for better east-west travel across DC

Is it frustrating to try to travel from Columbia Heights to Brookland on foot, bike, bus, or car? The District Department of Transportation is studying ways to make it easier to travel east-west in this area, and a new interactive map lets you point out problems.


Map by DDOT. map. Click for an interactive version.

This WikiMap is part of DDOT's Crosstown Multimodal Transportation Study, the goal of which is to improve all modes of travel between 16th Street NW and South Dakota Avenue NE. It lets users identify problems with and suggest solutions for
walking, riding a bike, driving, transit, public space, parking, and intersections, and is a user-friendly way to participate in DDOT's search for long-term solutions.

People who frequently commute by foot, bike, bus, car, or other means through the corridor have firsthand knowledge on the area's congestion, safety, and streetscape issues. They're also likely to have ideas on how these issues can be addressed to improve transportation mobility and mitigate impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Beyond the crowdsourced map, DDOT recently kicked off the first in a series of public meetings for the project aimed at gathering feedback.


A map of the study area.

The interactive map will be available on DDOT's website (just click the first image in this post) for several months.

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Pedestrians


"Bulb-outs" could make crossing the street safer at key trouble spots

People on foot could get a little more space at the corners of 14th and U NW, Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue NE, and M and Wisconsin in Georgetown. Those are a few of the concepts in a new analysis of how to make DC's most dangerous intersections safer.


Image from NACTO.

Transportation officials, local community and business members, bicycle and pedestrian advocates, and councilmember Mary Cheh toured five of the highest-crash intersections in August and September. A new report from DDOT recommends ways to make each safer.

The intersections were: Columbus Circle in front of Union Station, New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE, 14th and U NW, Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road NE, and Wisconsin and M in Georgetown. Between them, three people died and 12 had "disabling injuries" since 2012, a total DC is committed to reducing to zero.

The report is full of interesting statistics on crashes and small fixes for people walking, biking, and driving. One piece of note is are a few spots where the study team is proposing temporarily or permanently creating some more space for people on foot, such as "bulb-outs" at corners which add to the sidewalk space and shorten crossing distance.

At 14th and U, plans are already underway to rebuild that intersection as part of a 14th Street streetscape project expected to start this fall. That design includes bulb-outs at the corners:

On Benning Road, DDOT will look into adding a pedestrian refuge using flexible posts for the spot where people walking and biking get onto the bridge sidewalk to go over the railroad tracks (and later the river).

The always-thorny corner of M and Wisconsin has large numbers of people waiting on the narrow sidewalks to cross the street (and then short times to cross). The report suggests studying possible bulb-outs for three of the corners to add more space for people to wait.

For New York Avenue and Bladensburg and Columbus Circle, the report doesn't recommend any changes of the same scale, but notes that there are sidewalks and pedestrian islands on New York Avenue that are too narrow and which should be widened, as well as are some missing crosswalks on Columbus Circle.

What else do you notice in the report?

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Roads


DC's traffic cameras could reduce deaths if they were more swift, certain, and fair

This is part 2 in a series on traffic enforcement. Read part 1 on DC's proposed fines.

DC plans to raise traffic fines as part of its Vision Zero plan. But criminology research says that "swift, certain, and fair" punishments work better than infrequent, highly punitive ones. Traffic cameras offer a way to make enforcement work, if done correctly.


Speed camera image from Shutterstock.

Street safety is a big problem, but there's a lot of reason to doubt that raising a fine from $50 to $500, when people rarely get a ticket for the infraction, will actually do much. There's also reason to worry that getting police to make more traffic stops could exacerbate existing racial disparities in traffic stops (aka "driving while black").

However, the status quo isn't the answer either. We need to find ways to eliminate traffic deaths. Is there a way to enforce traffic laws that's "swift, certain, and fair"? More traffic cameras in more intersections could achieve the "swift, certain, and fair" enforcement.

However, DC would have to change a few things; right now, the cameras are anything but swift, and could also be more certain and fair.

Make tickets come faster (swift). Our household recently got a ticket for speeding in the K Street underpass under Washington Circle. We've signed up for automated emails from the DMV about tickets. The speeding happened on October 21; the email arrived on November 5. The paper notice took even longer to arrive in the mail.

This misses a lot of the opportunity to change behavior. There doesn't seem to be a good reason the tickets couldn't be issued much faster, like the same or next business day, and emailed and mailed out right afterward. The consequence of this is that people will have long forgotten what they were doing by the time they got the ticket, and plus, people might get many tickets before finding out what they've done.

Add more cameras (certain). A few spots around the District aren't enough to let people know that speeding or other violations will actually lead to a ticket. Now, it's too easy to just memorize the few places to watch out, like in the underpass, and then speed everywhere else.

Yes, there is a privacy concern with ubiquitous cameras which is important to address, but that's a concern that's already relevant with parking enforcers logging every license plate and other automated readers already out there.

Lower fines and more neighborhood cameras (fair). Hitting people with a little fine many times will do more than one big one. This is a debate the District has had many times before, but it's always been a tradeoff just between lower fines and few cameras, and higher ones and few cameras. More, less punitive enforcement has never been on the table.

The cameras also don't need to be in places like the K Street underpass where there are no pedestrians and few crashes. Those spots only embolden opponents of any enforcement. The cameras in neighborhood danger zones don't make as much money, but they're doing important work to make that neighborhood safer.

Cameras are also more fair because they don't racially profile. As long as police put the cameras equally in black and white areas where roads are dangerous, there shouldn't be a disparity between the rate of offenses and the rate of tickets.

Will any of this happen?

While these changes seem like clear ways to improve a messy situation, there hasn't been the political will to do it.

MPD has added cameras, but slowly. Each new purchase requires long procurement lead times and then the cameras themselves take a long time to deploy. Such things can move faster when the government wants to make them a priority, but that hasn't yet been the case.

The revenue from cameras has gotten built into the budget, and reducing fines would create a budget gap. If DC is raising some fines, that might be an opportunity to lower others, or automatically lower fines as more cameras come online.

In 2012, Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells convened a task force to discuss these issues and wrote a bill to lower fines and dedicate revenue to safety. But Chairman Phil Mendelson modified the bill in a way that eliminated most of the good reforms and even would make streets more dangerous. Mayor Gray ultimately reversed most lower fines in a subsequent budget as well.

Speeding up the notification process is doable. Some councilmembers could start by asking why this takes so long during next year's oversight hearings. Legislation could force a speed-up by setting a short maximum lead time, though this would likely reduce revenue in the short run; it would be best to couple it with other reforms that balance out that effect.

This is part 2 in a 3-part series. Read the next part about a man whose reckless driving killed four people, and whether a long prison sentence is actually worthwhile.

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Roads


DC may raise traffic fines. Criminology says that's unhelpful.

DC's new plan for Vision Zero, the effort to reduce road deaths to zero, contains significant steps forward like lowering some speed limits and trying out protected intersections. It also raises some fines by 350% to 1000%. Is that wise? I'm not convinced.


Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

Here are some of the old and new fines:

OffenseOld fineNew fine
Speeding 26+ mph over the speed limit$350$1,000
Not yielding to a busNone$500
Not stopping at a stop sign$50$100
Not yielding to a pedestrian when turning right on red$50$200
Parking in a bike lane (private car)$65$200
Parking in a bike lane (commercial vehicle)$65$300
Dooring a cyclist$25$100
Striking a cyclist$50$500

Some of these are pretty egregious. To drive more than 26 mph over the speed limit, for instance, means going over 55 in a 30 mph zone. That's fast. Striking a cyclist, of course, is a horrible thing to do, even if drivers almost always don't mean to.

Some of these, though, represent everyday, if dangerous, behaviors. People turn right on red without yielding to pedestrians or fail to yield to buses pulling into traffic all the time, though they shouldn't. Will the news of a multi-hundred-dollar fine jolt people into thinking twice about these actions?

The goal here is to change people's everyday behavior—to get them to realize that when a bus is trying to get into traffic, or when a person is crossing at a crosswalk, that it's wrong to try to pass the bus before it merges in or turn right without waiting for the person to finish crossing.

What criminology can teach us about traffic safety

There's more research about changing behavior when it comes to lower-level criminal offenses, like drug dealing. UCLA law NYU public policy professor Mark Kleiman has demonstrated that "swift, certain, and fair" penalties—when most offenders get caught quickly but face lower punishments—have far greater effect of changing behavior than large but rarely-imposed ones.

In traffic enforcement, it's currently true that almost none of the people who run stop signs, turn right on red illegally, speed, park in bike lanes, etc. get caught. Cranking up the fine but not raising the certainty of catching offenders seems to be falling into the same trap as when lawmakers lengthened prison sentences. They didn't stop drug dealing, but did end up incarcerating a huge proportion of the American population at great cost to taxpayers and to society.

I asked Kleiman on Twitter about the fine proposal. He, and DC Councilmember David Grosso, don't think they will work:

What's that third point? Make fines proportional to income? It's an interesting idea which Finland and several other European countries use. The "day fine" charges people some proportion of what they might make in a day, or a week, or a month.

There's a real danger that high fines will end up pulling even more money from poor communities, just as we've seen in places like Ferguson, Missouri. As Adonia Lugo has written, there's also the danger that greater enforcement by police will just exacerbate existing racial bias.

Black and white people use marijuana at nearly equal rates, but black people are (or were in 2013, anyway) eight times as likely to get arrested for marijuana in DC as white people. Will $500 fines for not yielding to buses be different?

Correction: The initial version of this post incorrectly listed Professor Mark Kleiman's affiliation as UCLA. He was formerly with UCLA but is now at NYU. Also, he is a professor of public policy, not law.

This is part 1 in a 3-part series. Read the next part about how traffic cameras could make enforcement swift, certain, and fair.

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Roads


Bad pedestrian design mars the intersection where Vision Zero launched

On Wednesday, DC officials unveiled the Vision Zero plan to make roads safer for walkers and cyclists, as well as drivers. But at the very intersection DDOT made the announcement, pedestrians are already getting short shrift.


The new beg button to cross Maryland Avenue at 10th NE. Photo by Andrea Adleman.

A new traffic light recently went in at the intersection of 10th and Maryland NE after years of community requests to make traffic along the street safer. But at the signal's crosswalks, a pedestrian walk signal only comes on if you press a button and wait. DDOT's rules say these "beg buttons" are a bad idea, but they keep installing them anyway.

After requests by the local ANC, DDOT changed the light to be pre-timed from 7 am and 7 pm, meaning it has a pedestrian walk signal during every cycle from green light to red light. But at all of the other lights along Maryland, there's a walk signal during every cycle at all times.

Moreover, at 10th and Maryland, if someone presses the button during a green light, they have to wait for the light to turn red and then green again to get a walk signal, despite the fact that the sensor will extend the green time if more cars show up during the cycle.

The ANC had asked that this signal always be pre-timed but DDOT responded that they would have to study the issue more to ensure that it wouldn't delay vehicles. However, DDOT's own study has shown that many cars are actually speeding at this intersection, with over 90% driving over the 25 MPH speed limit at 5 am.


Image from DDOT.

DC's rules discourage beg buttons

Pedestrian Actuated Signals, or "beg buttons" as they are often derisively called, are more common in outlying areas than they are in the city but can still be found in the District. Another location that has them is the intersection of North Capitol & L and along M Street NE at the NoMa Metro.

DDOT specifically discourages them, including in the MoveDC plan, because they make people wait longer to cross on foot, they're less predictable, and they're more challenging for people with disabilities who may not see or be able to easily reach them. Specifically, MoveDC says beg buttons should not be used near transit stops or in any area where pedestrians are present for at least 50% of the cycle during the hours that see the most use.

This does not mean, of course, that such signals should be used at areas that don't meet these conditions.


Image from DDOT.

While it's true that DDOT has recently made some helpful changes by adding the traffic light and changing the layout of 10th and Maryland, the pedestrian buttons violate the spirit of Vision Zero that the Mayor showcased at Wednesday's event.

Retiming the light to make it so all cycles have a pedestrian phase would make crossing at 10th and Maryland much safer. And on a bigger scale, DDOT's engineers and consultants would do well to follow the agency's pedestrian safety policies a bit more closely.

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Transit


DC recommends a rush-hour bus lane for 16th Street

It won't appear immediately, but DC took a big step toward speeding up buses on 16th Street by recommending a rush-hour bus lane and a package of other ways to make bus service better.


Photo by truthaboutit on Flickr.

16th Street is DC's busiest bus line, carrying over half of rush hour trips on the street. Advocates have been pushing for bus lanes there since at least 2010, and DDOT's moveDC plan supports the idea.

A detailed study considered over 30 strategies to speed up bus service in the corridor, including combining some bus stops, letting people pay before boarding, and building either full-time or rush-hour lanes.

According to information DDOT's Megan Kanagy presented at a meeting Tuesday night, DDOT is going with the rush-hour option. From 7-10 am, the curb lane heading south would be for buses only; from 4:30-7:30, it would be the northbound curb lane. The bus lane would extend from Spring Road down to Lafayette Park.


Typical lane configuration in Columbia Heights in the AM peak (left) and PM peak (right). Images from DDOT.

DDOT would further analyze making 16th Street south of U Street, which right now is 4 wide lanes, into 5 narrow lanes so there could be a reversible lane. This would mean a reversible lane during rush hour for this whole stretch (the median north of Piney Branch wouldn't go anywhere).

Why not two-way, full-time lanes? One of the study's options created bus lanes in both directions from 7 am to 10 pm. However, the analysis showed that the effect on traffic was just too great, seriously jamming up 16th Street and likely spilling a lot of traffic onto adjacent streets.

Why not midday? Early presentations in this study showed that 16th Street buses also bunch up during the middle of the day as well as rush hours, and the bus is not faster outside rush either. The rush-hour lanes could continue into the day, but that would require forbidding parking during that time.

At previous community meetings, residents expressed a lot of opposition to that idea, which would mean 500 fewer parking spaces all along 16th Street during the middle of the day. While a bus lane would help transit riders, there aren't as many riders then, and DDOT appears to have decided this trade-off isn't worth the fight.

More than just lanes: Besides the rush-hour lanes, the study recommends converting the S1 bus into a limited-stop bus like the S9, and working on technology to let people pay before getting on the bus and (since they've paid) be able to use the back door as well as the front to get on.

Nine bus stops would be combined, where there are multiple bus stops in very close proximity, and some bus stops would get longer shelters to accommodate more people.

According to a handout from the meeting, this lane would speed up each trip along 16th Street by 2 and a half minutes, and the full package of changes would speed up service by 4-7 minutes (7 being for the S1 becoming limited-stop). A few minutes is quite a lot, especially across the 20,000 people a day who use the S buses.

In addition, the study team anticipates the changes will reduce bunching and make the bus trips much more reliable, letting riders count on a more consistent wait time and travel time.

More details will be coming in a meeting on January 21 from 3:30-8:00 pm at the Jewish Community Center at 16th and Q. People will be able to stop by at any time to peruse posters showing the options and talk to planners, and they will give a presentation about the study at 4 and 7 pm.

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Roads


Here's how DC plans to eliminate road deaths

This morning, DC officials released their plan for Vision Zero, the campaign to eliminate all deaths on the roadways. It lays out analysis about crashes and strategies to make roads safer.

The Vision Zero team collected a lot of data about actual crashes, and also asked people online and at events where they felt unsafe. For pedestrian safety, the most crashes are (not surprisingly) downtown where there are lot of pedestrians. However, people seemed to talk about some other places where the road design or other factors might deter them from walking, like Pennsylvania Avenue SE and the Hill East area.

For bicycling, respondents seem to have talked a lot about places like the 15th Street protected bikeway, where a lot of people are riding and drivers frequently block the box at corners, but crashes happen in some other real hotspots like Connecticut Avenue and Columbia Road.

Driving crashes basically seem to happen everywhere people drive, in approximate proportion to how much traffic there is. Drivers seem to be concerned on H Street/Benning Road NE and in a variety of trouble spots in places like Takoma and Petworth. South Capitol Street, Barney Circle, and a lot of spots on Capitol Hill also got many mentions.

More than half of pedestrian and bicycle deaths happened in the 15 high-crash corridors in this map. (Much of the traveling happens there too, so this isn't a huge surprise). But these identify places where changes could have the most impact.

This map shows where camera tickets happen in relation to crashes. There are a few very high-ticket cameras in spots, like the K Street underpass under Washington Circle, but it's not clear from this map that the locations correlate that much with danger spots.

What to do about this?

The report lists a lot of strategies to reduce and eliminate road deaths. You can read them all in the report, but here are a few highlights:

  • Fill sidewalk gaps on 40 blocks.
  • "Install or upgrade" 20 miles of bike lanes and bikeways. At least five miles would be protected bikeways.
  • Build two "protected intersections" as a pilot project. This concept was proposed for New Jersey Avenue and M Street, but wasn't put into effect.

  • Create an Urban Design Unit in the Office of Planning. Have it redesign some dangerous public spaces to be safer and also more inviting.
  • Pilot some lower speed limits, including two major streets with 25 mph limits, two neighborhoods with 20 mph limits, and some 15-mph limits around schools and other spots with youth and seniors.
  • Revise the manual engineers use to design streets so that it mandates designs that accommodate all users, not just cars. There would also be a Complete Streets law requiring this. Mandate that a road's "design speed" as well as the speed limit are right to ensure the street is safe, rather than designing a fast street and posting a low speed limit.
  • Organize some "hackathons" to get residents engaged in analyzing safety data and devising solutions.
A lot of the plan is about tracking more data: Data about sidewalk maintenance, bike traffic with authomated counters, Capital Bikeshare crashes, construction closures, seat belt usage, and more. The plan calls for more data to be collected and also more to be publicly released.

Increased enforcement, especially against unsafe behaviors, is another real focus. One area the plan calls out is U-turns through bike lanes, dooring, passing cyclists too closely, and other dangerous behaviors around cyclists. It also recommends enforcing good behavior for everyone around work zones and parking garages.

It will be the responsibility of DDOT and other agencies going forward to turn this plan into actual action on the ground. That will require residents continually pushing agencies and also insisting that politicians take the principles seriously.

What do you think about the plan?

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