Posts about Pedestrians
On narrow sidewalks, there's often a tension between different users and activities. But sidewalks in an urban place need to make room for people to do more than just walk through.
On Black Friday, I went to the Apple Store in Bethesda Row to get my computer checked out. Though the area is a really popular destination for shopping and dining, the sidewalks are surprisingly narrow, and seemingly designed to make walking difficult and unpleasant.
Here's the sidewalk two doors down from the Apple Store on Bethesda Avenue. Next to the curb, there's a row of big, mature street trees in large, fenced-off planters. Where the buildings step back, there's also a little seating area with some benches.
The level of the street falls about a foot here, meaning the seating area is actually below the sidewalk. So there's a brick wall around the benches, just in case anyone falls.
That leaves about four feet for the actual sidewalk, which becomes a narrow channel between the storefronts and the brick wall. Since it's also on an incline, there's a railing to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, blocking off about a foot of sidewalk between the railing and the storefronts.
On a busy day, or frankly on any day when people are outside, you can watch folks struggle to pass each other through this slalom course: shoppers with bags, parents with strollers, or groups of friends chatting. They look down to avoid eye contact, form a single-file line, or swivel their bodies to squeeze through. The sidewalk discourages strolling or lingering here, which is part of the attraction of Bethesda Row.
Given, this is right across from Bethesda Lane, a pedestrian-only street. And Bethesda Avenue itself is a pretty narrow and slow-moving street, which is much nicer to walk along than Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring, where the sidewalks are similarly pedestrian-hostile but there's far more car traffic.
But it still shows what happens when designers and engineers don't really think about the experience of walking through a place. Bethesda Row has most of the pieces to be a great place to hang out and gather, and most of the time it works really well. But poorly-designed sidewalks make it hard to enjoy being here.
The sidewalk on the east side of Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring just got a makeover, with new brick pavers and street trees. But will it have enough room for everyone who wants to use it?
Montgomery County's Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) managed the $650,000 project, which began this summer and lasted about five months. The agency's main goal was to level and lower the sidewalk to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It replaced the existing concrete sidewalk, built in the 1980s, with sturdier and more attractive brick pavers, and created large new bumpouts at some intersections.
The new sidewalk is very attractive and will hopefully encourage visitors and shoppers to stray from the Ellsworth Drive strip and check out the businesses on Georgia. But it also reveals the tension between different users on Silver Spring's often-cramped sidewalks.
DHCA also removed all of the mature Zelkova trees along Georgia, arguing that the sidewalk reconstruction would disturb the trees and kill them. The new trees are Princeton or Lacebark Elm trees, which will apparently improve the visibility of shops and restaurants from the street.
The old sidewalks had trees in tree grates, allowing room that businesses could put out tables and chairs and leave enough sidewalk for people to walk past comfortably. But the new trees now sit in long, wide planter boxes with little gaps in between for street lights or people getting out of parked cars.
This isn't the only place in downtown Silver Spring with new planters. The county's Department of Transportation (MCDOT) also installed the same planters along Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street, except with three-foot-high hedges. Some planters, like one on Fenton Street, extend for most of a city block to discourage jaywalking.
In 2009, when planning on the Georgia Avenue sidewalk project started, county-hired arborist Steve Castrogiovanni recommended doing the same thing with the new trees to "strike a [balance] between the trees' needs and the needs of pedestrians." But officials endorsed the bigger planters, saying it would give the trees more soil and help them live longer.
Street trees have a lot of health and environmental benefits. They can provide a feeling of enclosure on a street or sidewalk, calming traffic on busy streets like Georgia Avenue, and making pedestrians feel safer.
However, these planter boxes seem to provide the wrong kind of enclosure. Crowded sidewalks can be a good thing, creating a feeling of excitement and vitality on a city street. But when you push pedestrians and outdoor dining tables into too small a space, it can feel uncomfortable, and people won't want to stick around and spend money.
That's why restaurateur Jackie Greenbaum, who owns Jackie's, Sidebar, and Quarry House Tavern, all on Georgia Avenue, didn't want trees planted on the narrow sidewalk outside her businesses. "THIS WILL ELIMINATE MUCH OF MY PATIO SEATING!" she wrote in a 2010 email to DHCA. "This is NOT an improvement and is unnecessary, even undesirable." In the end, DHCA agreed not to plant any there.
Having healthy street trees and vibrant sidewalks aren't mutually exclusive. DHCA could have still created a bigger soil pit for the trees, giving them room to grow, while putting tree grates or permeable pavers on top, ensuring that there's still enough sidewalk space.
Wider sidewalks mean ample room for walking, for dining, and for nature. Photo by Jim Malone on Flickr.
And if county officials really wanted planters, they could have at least used a more attractive design, like these low, stone planters in NoMa that provide space for trees and plants while staying out of the way. Or they could have looked at a bioswale that cleans and filters stormwater in addition to looking pretty.
The real issue isn't the planters, but that the sidewalks on Georgia Avenue aren't appreciably wider. DHCA's project was simply to make the sidewalks meet ADA regulations.
This sidewalk may not get rebuilt for another 30 years, meaning we've missed an opportunity to have a larger conversation about how Georgia Avenue works. Wider sidewalks mean we wouldn't have to decide between landscaping, walking space, and outdoor seating. They mean we could have added new features, like benches, or a "shared use trail" for cyclists similar to the Green Trail on Wayne Avenue.
Doing this would require taking space for cars, which today constitutes the vast majority of Georgia Avenue, and giving it back to people. While that would probably be bad for drivers passing through, it would ultimately be a good thing for downtown Silver Spring, whose historic main street would become a more attractive, pleasant, and safer place to walk and spend time.
The last time the sidewalk by the Van Ness Square demolition site was closed to pedestrians, it was a temporary measure. But the latest closure could last much longer.
Photo by Pat Davies.
Developer Saul Centers will tear down the shopping center and replace it with a new apartment building. At a pre-construction meeting last week, representatives from Saul told the community that the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk alongside the construction zone will be closed for two years. DDOT regulations won't allow a covered walkway because of underground construction that was too close to the street.
Instead, pedestrians would have to cross to the west side of Connecticut at Albemarle and Windom. By last Saturday, Saul had already closed off the sidewalk, and it was clear how dangerous this situation was going to be.
I saw a blind man walking north in the street and a man with a toddler on his shoulders coming toward him. Of course, the blind man could not see the large sign announcing the closed sidewalk, but the father definitely could.
ANC commissioner Sally Gresham was also out on Saturday afternoon and spent an hour monitoring "how folks were dealing with" the sidewalk closure. "The results are very scary!" she wrote. Gresham counted 102 people walking on Connecticut Avenue itself, including 6 young teenagers on skate boards, 22 strollers with 1, 2, or 3 adults, 35 people carrying bags of groceries or small children, 26 elderly people, and 13 people using canes, walkers, or leg braces.
Luckily, this was the weekend, and parked cars did provide something of a buffer between traffic and pedestrians. But I wondered about the march of pedestrians on automatic pilot during the Monday morning rush hour.
When asked if there will be a police presence to monitor the situation, Commander Reese of the 2nd Police District said the agency would pay attention to it, but did not have enough officers to have them out on the street.
On Monday morning between 8:30 and 9 a.m., I decided to take a look. Most pedestrians were crossing where they should:
All photos by the author unless noted.
But there were quite a number crossing mid-block and walking in the street.
People crossing mid-block on Connecticut Avenue.
People walking in the street.
And with no police in sight. I forgot they were only monitoring the situation.
I emailed the photos to DDOT, and Director Terry Bellamy replied, "I am alerting our Public Space Team to investigate and make recommendations." According to Saul Centers' Kimberly Miller, construction superintendent "Jason" met with DDOT inspectors, who noted that pedestrians weren't following the posted signs, but that the project still complied with DDOT requirements.
This is not a satisfactory outcome. After pondering the issue, and thinking of the places I have traveled that control pedestrian crossings a lot better than we do, the solution came to me on my afternoon walk. I went home and dashed off another email proposing that pedestrian path be controlled through fencing that allows people to enter stores but prevents pedestrians from crossing the street mid-block.
New legislation may also improve pedestrian safety around construction sites as well. The Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013, which will take effect December 20, requires anyone seeking permits from DDOT to block a sidewalk or bike lane to also provide a "safe accommodation" for pedestrians and bicyclists to use instead.
As of today, the sidewalk is open again, but it's unclear for how long. Will the council's new legislation make a difference for pedestrians on Connecticut Avenue over the next two years? We will keep you posted.
A version of this post appeared on Forest Hills Connection.
After a survey that says residents don't want traffic calming on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3B will support returning the street to six lanes.
The District is working on a new streetscape that includes measures to discourage speeding and increase pedestrian safety. But ANC 3B commissioner Brian Cohen, a longtime supporter of the project, said at a meeting last night that it will oppose the median at a December 4 public hearing. Most of the 300 responses to a constituent survey favored returning to the six-lane configuration, he said.
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh first called a hearing in May as a response to concerns from Massachusetts Heights residents about a painted median that replaced one of the through lanes on Wisconsin between Calvert and Garfield streets. Councilmember Jack Evans was vocally opposed to the median, saying it created more traffic congestion as he drove his children to and from school.
The District Department of Transportation created the median to draw attention to the commercial strip, give pedestrians a safer way to cross the street and planned to keep it for a one-year trial. Though this section of Wisconsin Avenue was the site of multiple pedestrian strikes, DDOT removed the median after about six months. DDOT has yet to release any empirical data supporting their decision.
In addition to the lane configuration, the survey also solicited opinions on installing alternative traffic calming measures such as a HAWK light or speed cameras. ANC3B did not disclose the specific survey results on this question, but indicated that the results on these survey items were less definitive and suggested the community is more divided on such measures.
Commissioners explained that the wider sidewalks, streetlights, and aesthetic improvements will remain in place. There is still enough room to keep the wider sidewalks along with a six-lane street. The few residents in attendance at last night's meeting voiced their agreement with the ANC, and repeated their frustration with the slow traffic between 35th Street and Calvert Street.
The commissioners also noted that they have repeatedly complained about delivery trucks impeding the flow of traffic. and will work on pressing new rules for nighttime deliveries. Despite all the ideas residents floated from removing parked cars and ticketing delivery trucks, there was a perception that it was not working.
"I wanted it to work, but no matter what fixes we tried, it didn't," said Commissioner Jackie Blumenthal. "What did work are the sidewalks, the streetlights, and especially the new intersection at 37th and Tunlaw."
It's likely that the lanes will return to their previous form. However, there remains strong support to some kind of traffic calming measures to protect people crossing the street.
The Wisconsin Avenue streetscape has exposed DDOT as being particularly vulnerable to political pressure. It sets a precedent for opponents of other progressive transportation initiatives, particularly in Ward 3. Opponents of the brand-new bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue can only come away emboldened by DDOT's eagerness to placate many of the same people on Wisconsin.
It's clear that DDOT is willing to make significant decisions on highly politicized issues while offering no empirical support. It's a sobering reminder of the need to be vocal in support of progressive transportation projects, even after they're built.
Now that I have a baby, I've been pushing a stroller around DC sidewalks quite a lot. Our neighborhoods are great for walking and give our baby plenty to look at and experience. The only drawbacks are too-narrow sidewalks in some places (I'm looking at you, 17th Street in Dupont) and the occasional impolite operator of some kind of vehicle.
A few drivers come a little too close for comfort, though most take a little extra care when they see the baby carriage. Likewise, most people on bicycles give us plenty of room, except for a small minority who think that squeezing right next to a parent and baby at high speed is a totally peachy idea.
Most likely, if you are reading this, you are not one of those people, but just in case: knock it off. There are times when cyclists need to be on the sidewalk, and if you pay attention, everyone can get where they're going safely.
This comes up most often on curb ramps, which you need to get something with wheels on and off the sidewalk. Those of us pushing strollers need them, and it's annoying when, sometimes, whoever built a street put the ramps awkwardly off to the side. (I'm looking at you, New Hampshire Avenue.)
If someone is riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, they will also use the ramps. And that's okay by me. Sometimes people need to ride on the sidewalk because they're about to dismount or the street is one-way and there's no other good alternative. Some people just feel too uncomfortable riding in the street, and while I hope they will gain confidence, DC also needs to do more to make the street bike-friendly. Sometimes there just seems to be no good reason and it's probably not a smart idea.
We shouldn't ban sidewalk riding. There are too many reasonable times to be riding, and there's no way to craft a good rule that distinguishes the okay times and the not-okay ones. But just as drivers need to drive with courtesy and care toward more vulnerable road users, so must people riding bikes give the same deference to walkers, whether with babies or not.
I still like the "zombie rule":
Ride on the sidewalk if you don't feel comfortable on the street, or if it's one-way the wrong way, but NOT if the sidewalk is crowded.Anyone on a bike knows that sometimes you suddenly have to swerve a bit. Coming within inches of a pedestrian, adult or baby, means that in that unlikely chance, you'll hit them. That's never okay, and especially not okay for babies.
If you do ride on the sidewalk, assume that all pedestrians are inviolate. It's their sidewalk, not yours; you are a guest. You can use it as long as you don't get in their way.
Treat them like they are...say...zombies. Pedestrians move slowly, and you can't make them change direction, but you absolutely don't want to touch them.
So if you're riding on the sidewalk, come close enough to a person that they could reach out and touch you or your bike, and are moving faster than a slow walking pace at the time, you're being a jerk or, worse, putting someone in danger. If you brush by someone other than me, you might well contribute to the stream of silly letters to people like Dr. Gridlock saying things like "we shouldn't build a bike lane anywhere until every cyclist obeys every traffic law all the time."
You also give ammunition to those who want to ban sidewalk cycling. They have a valid point that sidewalks should be primarily for people walking and strollering. They point out very real bad behavior by a small number of cyclists.
I disagree with their proposed solution, but that doesn't mean there's no problem. So please help keep sidewalks safe and sidewalk cycling legal at the same time. Give me, my baby, and every other person on the sidewalk a wide berth, or go slow, or ride in the road.
If you aren't that comfortable riding in the road, consider taking one of WABA's Confident City Cycling classes or the Bike League's online module, and join WABA so they can more effectively push to make the roads safe for everyone.
Highway officials tell pedestrians to wear bright colors so motorists will see you and won't hit you. So why do drivers still crash into brightly-colored Dunkin' Donuts stores?
A driver crashed into a Dunkin' Donuts in Golden's Bridge, New York in 2010. Photo by Golden's Bridge Fire Department.
One incident involved a motorist who took ill while driving and died in the collision. Otherwise, only a few people were hurt. But the outcome could easily have been worse if someone had been standing in the wrong place.
The excuses drivers make when they strike pedestrians aren't available when they hit Dunkin' Donuts. "I didn't see it" would lack credibility. "It jumped out in front of me" even more so. It should be easy to assign fault when car and store collide.
Yet police chose not to cite the drivers who caused four of these crashes. (One driver died, the driver of a stolen truck is still being sought, and two police departments did not return my calls.) Law enforcement officers seem to think that motorists are under no legal obligation to control their cars. As a Dover, New Hampshire, police lieutenant explained, a woman who hit the gas pedal instead of the brake and smashed into a doughnut store committed no violation because she was sober and not texting.
Motorists have nothing special against Dunkin'. A consultant on retail store safety estimates that Starbucks might get hit as much as once a week. His advice to merchants is to put bollards out front.
Cars colliding with buildings should not be a normal part of life. They are a signal that our highway system is seriously out of whack.
Roads will never be safe unless drivers are held accountable for their ton of deadly steel. One way to start is with fewer lectures about how pedestrians should dress. If bright colors don't protect Dunkin' Donuts, they won't save those on foot.
If you're a pedestrian who uses a state road in upper Montgomery County, don't expect much help from the State Highway Administration (SHA).
That's the message in highway planners' response to a letter from the Action Committee for Transit (ACT) about pedestrian safety in the upcounty. ACT's letter asked SHA to look at 4 problem areas for pedestrians on state roads designed to prioritize driving over everything else.
At one location, SHA agreed to conduct a pedestrian audit, but did not agree to actually use its audit's recommendations. At 2 others, SHA declined to mark a crosswalk because not enough people use the unmarked crosswalk. And at the fourth, SHA declined to mark a crosswalk because it would inconvenience people in cars.
The first problem area is Germantown Road (Route 118) between Wisteria Drive and the I-270 interchange in Germantown. This stretch of road has up to 9 lanes of high-speed commuter traffic. At least 5 pedestrians have died there in recent years, including a student at Seneca Valley High School.
ACT asked for a pedestrian road safety audit, and SHA agreed to conduct one. This is a good start. But will SHA then do what its own audit recommends? SHA says only that they will evaluate "which suggestions [from the SHA audit] are warranted and feasible".
The second problem area is the intersection of Great Seneca Highway and Dairymaid Drive in Germantown. People who live in the townhouses and apartments east of Great Seneca cross here and then follow a desire path to the Kingsview Village shopping center. ACT asked for signs, pavement markings, and engineering so that people can cross safely and conveniently.
SHA responded that too few people cross this intersection on foot to warrant a marked crosswalk. In addition, they explained that a marked crosswalk would be more dangerous, because people might then feel safe crossing there, even though crossing there is not safe. How could SHA make crossing there safe? SHA's letter does not say.
The third problem area is the intersection of Clopper Road (Route 117) and Mateny Road in Germantown. Both drivers and pedestrians have died along this stretch of road in recent years. ACT asked for walk signals and high-visibility pavement markings for all 4 legs of this intersection, as well as signs to alert drivers about people crossing the street on foot.
SHA responded that there are plans (it's not clear whose) for improving the intersection for pedestrians, including marking the crosswalks across Mateny north and south of Clopper. Thus, 3 of the 4 legs will have marked crosswalks, instead of just one. This is good news. However, the fourth leg will still not have a marked crosswalk. SHA explained that a marked crosswalk is unnecessary because not enough people cross there.
The last problem area is the intersection of Route 355 (Frederick Road) and Shady Grove Road, between Gaithersburg and Rockville. A pedestrian needs eight and a half minutes to cross the street here. ACT asked for high-visibility pavement markings, signs, signals, and appropriate walk intervals for all 4 legs of the intersection, in conformance with the Shady Grove Sector Plan.
SHA explained that they can't mark the crosswalk in the south leg of the intersection, for 2 reasons. First, if drivers turn from northbound Shady Grove onto southbound 355 using the combined right-turn/through lane, they cannot see people in the crosswalk well. Second, the amount of car traffic makes a separate pedestrian-only signal phase impractical.
7 of the 11 pedestrian deaths in Montgomery County in 2013 so far occurred on state roads. The Montgomery County government says that "crossing the street [should not be] a death defying act" and that engineers should design and operate roads so that people on foot can use them safely and conveniently. Wouldn't it be great if SHA learned this lesson too?
Cleveland Park businesses say they need a service lane on Connecticut Avenue. But a new study says that most people walk, bike, or take transit to their shops, suggesting they need a bigger sidewalk instead.
The District Department of Transportation recently outlined four options for reconfiguring the service lane along Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Ordway streets, built in 1962. The service lane has just 25 parking spots, but takes up most of the 24.5-foot wide space between the curb and the buildings, leaving just a narrow sliver of sidewalk.
The agency has now released a 330-page study of how people use this block, which found that 80% of Cleveland Park residents walk or bike to shops there, while 61% of all visitors arrive on foot, bike, or transit. The lane's awkward five-way intersections at Macomb and Ordway are unsafe too; a driver crossing there is 6 times as likely to have a collision than one at the bigger intersection of Connecticut and Porter one block away.
Let's talk about merchants, parking, and rush hour
The debate over the service lane is often seen as a conflict between local businesses and the neighborhood. Neighbors say they want more pleasant public spaces, pedestrian amenities, and gathering places, while the merchants say they can't survive without the service lane, ugly and hostile as it is.
But at the end of the day, we all want this commercial strip to thrive. Most days, I personally eat lunch somewhere on this stretch of Connecticut Avenue. My family depends on Brookville Supermarket for groceries and on CVS and Walgreens for convenience goods. We buy gifts at Wake Up Little Suzy and Transcendence, bread at Firehook, and beer and wine at CP Liquors. And we visit the Uptown Theater as well.
How can we deliver the most customers to our beloved neighborhood stores to make sure we continue to enjoy a vibrant commercial strip?
Just 12% of Cleveland Park residents and 31% of all visitors come by car. And the service lane doesn't bring that many customers overall. According to the study, average turnover for parking spaces ranges from 75 minutes on weekends to 87 minutes on weekdays. Assuming these spaces are full all the time (and they often aren't), the spaces serve a maximum of around 250 customers each day. Meanwhile, between 200 and 700 pedestrians pass through each hour.
Number of people arriving in Cleveland Park during a weekday evening rush hour.
Graphic by author using DDOT data.
And during an average weekday rush hour (from 4:30 to 7:30pm), the service lane delivers an estimated maximum of 85 people to the neighborhood. During the same three hours, 2,273 people exit the Cleveland Park Metro station and 215 people arrive by bus.
There are better ways to manage parking demand
Cleveland Park's commercial area has about 545 parking spots. Without the service lane, it would have 520. We could destroy the remaining sidewalks in the neighborhood to create parking lots, and then maybe we'd have 570 spaces. Either way, we can't make significant changes to overall parking inventory.
The service lane makes up a small fraction of Cleveland Park's supply of parking spaces.
Image from DDOT.
So it doesn't make sense to focus on the supply of parking, but rather demand management: encouraging turnover and improving the overall parking experience.
DC is one of many cities experimenting with performance parking, which uses variable pricing to ensure that on every block no more than 85% of parking capacity is used at any time. This means that when you need to park somewhere, there's always a spot for you. It also increases turnover, so that any given parking spot delivers more customers per hour.
Image from DDOT; annotations by the author.
We can also better manage the supply of parking by ending rush hour restrictions. This would reduce the number of northbound lanes on Connecticut Avenue at rush hour from three lanes to two, but it would give merchants the parking they say they want and help justify restoring the historic sidewalk. It would also improve safety; according to the study, 25% of collisions occur just during the two hours when there are reversible lanes on Connecticut Avenue.
Other major commuter routes in Northwest DC, like Massachusetts Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, and 16th Street, function just fine with two lanes. "Road diets" of this sort are shown to have a negligible effect on throughput and drive times while vastly improving the pedestrian experience.
A question of neighborhood character
A few years back, when DDOT suggested eliminating 150 curbside spots on 18th Street to make room for wider sidewalks, local business owners were initially taken aback. But they eventually got behind the project, realizing that they had much more to gain by making space for pedestrians. The neighborhood is now much more pleasant as a result, and the commercial corridor is as lively and diverse as ever.
Ultimately this comes down to the kind of neighborhood Cleveland Park wants to be. To some, Cleveland Park is a strip mall where people stop, run an errand or two, and then keep driving. An alternative vision of Cleveland Park's future is one where people come and linger because it's a nice place to be.
Will some customers choose to go where parking is abundant? Perhaps. But Cleveland Park's competitive edge is never going to be that it's easy to park here. It's never been easy to park here, and it never will be. If we're going to talk about competing with other neighborhoods for customers, we should be thinking not of areas where it's easy to drive, but areas like Woodley Park or Dupont Circle, which are more welcoming to pedestrians and have more vibrant public spaces.
How to get involved
To express your support for restoring the historic sidewalk in Cleveland Park, write to ideas@CPtransportationstudy.com. You can also sign this petition and participate in this informal survey. DDOT will hold its third and final open house on this study Wednesday, November 6 from 5:30 to 8pm at the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, located at 3310 Connecticut Avenue NW.
After years of asking for change, Cleveland Park residents could finally see a wider sidewalk along the east side of Connecticut Avenue, which became a service lane and parking lot 50 years ago.
In 1962, a liquor merchant on this stretch of Connecticut Avenue used his political influence to replace the wide sidewalk in front of his store with a "service lane" that effectively serves as a parking lot for 27 cars.
Neighbors have been asking for their sidewalk back ever since. Over the last few years, the issue flared up every few months on the Cleveland Park listserv. Polls on that list have consistently shown a two-to-one majority in favor of removing the service lane. Hundreds of neighbors have signed a petition to restore the sidewalk.
Representatives from the District Department of Transportation met with residents September 12 and presented four design options for reconfiguring the space. They range from keeping the service lane exactly as is to completely restoring the original historic sidewalk. Let's take a look at each of the options:
Option 1: Keep the current service lane
The first possibility is to keep the current arrangement.
While the service lane may have seemed like a good idea in the 1960s, when streetcar service had just ended, it's completely inappropriate for what is today a vibrant urban neighborhood with a Metro station.
For starters, the lane is unsafe. I have two young children, and I can't walk down the service lane's narrow sidewalk without gripping their hands. Pedestrians often step off (or are forced off) the sidewalk, sometimes into the path of oncoming traffic. This is a particular problem for older or mobility-impaired persons. The anomalous traffic pattern created by the service lane, with five-way intersections at each end, is disorienting.
It's also unappealing. The strip is drab and ugly; it feels crowded and unwelcoming. The only shade trees are on the median on the other side of the service lane, so there's no shade or shelter.
There's no room for pedestrian amenities. This study is part of a larger streetscape project that DDOT is working on with Cleveland Park citizens, which has provided park benches, bike racks, and other amenities along other parts of Connecticut Avenue. There's no room for any of this along the service lane, nor is there room for sidewalk seating for any of the 14 restaurants and cafés along the strip.
Option 2: Flex space
In this option, the current service lane would rise to the level of the adjoining sidewalk with ramps to allow cars to drive on and off the sidewalk. Parked cars and moving cars would then share this sidewalk with pedestrians.
The only advantage to this arrangement that I can see is that it would eliminate the complex intersection geometries we have today where Connecticut Avenue crosses Ordway Street and Macomb Street. But the entry and exit ramps would still create confusion and create pedestrian-vehicle conflicts. Southbound drivers, no longer able to legally turn into the service lane, would be tempted to do a dangerous U-turn up onto the sidewalk just before the intersection.
And it's hard to imagine how the "shared space" would work in practice, with cars driving on the sidewalk alongside pedestrians. There's no other sidewalk in the District that cars are allowed to park on.
Drivers might be more careful while driving on a sidewalk than they are now in the service lane, but I still wouldn't relax the grip on my children's hands as I move through the area. Nor would the flex space make room for any new fixed amenities like sidewalk cafés, bicycle racks, or park benches. And we would still lose 7 or 8 parking spaces to make room for the curb cuts.
Advocates of this option compare it to the narrow streets in the old city centers of Europe, where cars, pedestrians, and sidewalk cafés sometimes share the road out of necessity. Blurring the line between pedestrian space and roads can sometimes work as a traffic-calming device.
But cars already occupy two thirds of the total right-of-way on this stretch of Connecticut Avenue. And even those old European city centers are increasingly becoming car-free or restricting vehicle access to residents only.
Option 3: Partial sidewalk extension
A third option restores most of the original sidewalk, but cuts two parking bays into it, to create a full-time parking lane alongside Connecticut Avenue that would accommodate 24 cars.
This would restore the sidewalk while preserving roughly the current the number of parking spaces available during rush hour. The evening northbound rush hour is when parking is at its most scarce in the neighborhood, so this would preserve parking when it's most needed.
However, this approach would require relocating or replanting several mature trees. It would destroy the symmetry of the avenue's original design.
What this option brings to the forefront is that providing rush-hour parking is the most important role that the service lane provides. But perhaps there's a better way to ensure parking availability during peak periods.
Option 4: Restore the sidewalk
The final option presented by DDOT's team of consultants requires the least explanation. It would restore this space to its original condition: A wide sidewalk like the one on the west side of Connecticut Avenue, where I can let go of my kids' hands and let them explore. On that side of the street, there are pleasant cafés, park benches, and lovingly maintained tree boxes full of flowers.
Of all of the options (other than doing nothing) this would clearly be the least expensive. It wouldn't require relocating any trees or infrastructure. It would restore the Connecticut Avenue boulevard's original grace, symmetry, and human scale, and make valuable public space available for gathering places and amenities.
The current service lane would never be approved if it were proposed today. It's no longer even legal to build a strip mall in the District of Columbia: Zoning now forbids parking spaces between storefronts and the sidewalk on private property, let alone in public space.
This was originally a sidewalk. It should be a sidewalk again. And sidewalks are for people, not for cars. This study is our best chance in many years to finally make this commercial strip more walkable and pedestrian-friendly.
To express your support for one or more of the options, you can send a quick email to the study team at ideas@CPtransportationstudy.com. And if you'd like to restore the sidewalk to its historic state, you can also sign this petition to our elected representatives.
DDOT will hold a third and final public meeting on this study Wednesday, November 6 at the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, located at 3310 Connecticut Avenue NW. In the meantime, you can also learn more about the Cleveland Park Transportation Study and read more about the history of this issue.
Trends indicate that Americans are driving less and have diminished interest in owning a car. But what happens when the transportation modes they switch to become as crowded as the highways they left?
In the United States, we usually focus on gridlock and time lost while driving, the "primary mode" for a majority of commuters. For me, and for a growing number of people, driving alone is the "alternative mode" of transportation, a term traditionally used to describe transit, biking, and walking.
Meanwhile, my primary modes of transportation are increasingly congested. I stand in crowded buses and Metro cars, jostling around to let fellow passengers on and off, nearly falling over as I try to read a book or edit a report for work. In order to relieve congestion on all modes, we have to change the way we talk about congestion.
In 2008, Washington D.C.'s Metro identified multiple stations where platforms are overcrowded or will soon be overcrowded, and one of the main purposes of Metro's Momentum plan for investment through 2025 is to relieve crowding in the system's core.
The rapid roll out of bicycle infrastructure in the region is also suffering from success; heavy volume on the 15th Street and L Street cycletracks, as well as where the Custis Trail hits Lynn and Fort Myer in Rosslyn frequently causes backups for me and, based on the queues of cyclists that I see, many others.
Day after day, my colleagues and I at Arlington County Commuter Services send the message that, as transportation demand management (TDM, or mobility management) professionals, we make the transportation system work better. Yet our key measure of success is based on only one portion of the transportation system: the number of automobile trips that we shift off of the road network each day and on to other modes (see graphic below).
When TDM/mobility management is practiced with the goal of removing single-occupancy-vehicle (SOV) trips from the road, it can increase congestion for those of us who do not drive. Where is the TDM/mobility management for people like me?
As TDM/mobility management professionals and behavior changers, we must expand our horizons, and work to relieve congestion across all modes in the transportation network. If we do this, we can improve the commutes of the many individuals who, either by choice or by force of circumstances, do not drive. Focusing on all modes will keep our industry relevant for this growing segment of the population.
Using TDM strategies for other modes is not new. A London Underground poster from 1942, which encourages staggered work schedules in order to relieve crowding on the tube, is evidence of how to apply the active outreach and marketing that we use to shift SOV trips to transit.
In our own region, we already see transit-oriented TDM in the form of Capital Bikeshare, which is shifting trips off of the congested Metrorail system. Of course, Capital Bikeshare also suffers from congestion in the form of bike-rebalancing problems.
Broadening the TDM/mobility management industry's sense of responsibility to include the efficiency of the entire transportation system will elevate the importance of transit, biking, walking, and sharing rides in conversations about transportation. Just as we need to eliminate use of the phrase "alternative modes" ("high-efficiency modes" instead?) and the implicit privilege that the phrase gives to driving, we need to stop considering automobile travel as the mode needing management with the support of other modes.
In addition to applying our toolbox of monetary incentives and outreach and education programs to other modes, we also need to measure our programs' success against levels of transit congestion, bike congestion, and the flow of people regardless of mode. Why does this change in measurement matter? As the legendary 20th century management consultant Peter Drucker said, "what gets measured gets managed."
The Texas Transportation Institute's oft-quoted Urban Mobility Reports create buzz and urgency around reducing highway congestion, but we do not regularly talk (or generate panic) about congestion on other modes. In a recent Business Vancouver article, writer Peter Ladner observes that "while car congestion costs are consistently assessed and circulated, the costs of transit congestion are rarely measured and never discussed."
Ladner notes that because the Vancouver public does not discuss transit congestion much, support for transit funding suffers. Thus, if researchers start making regular reports of congestion on other modes, then political support for funding TDM, transit, biking, and walking infrastructure could be easier to obtain.
A multimodal approach to congestion would be beneficial even in regions where there is little congestion on transit or in bike lanes; in a car-dependent region with heavy road congestion and low bus ridership, for example, showing volume and delay on both modes side by side could spark conversations about shifting travel from one mode to the other.
Make no mistake, reducing SOV trips (a "low-efficiency mode?") remains an important and valid TDM/mobility-management goal, and I am proud of the work that Mobility Lab is doing to estimate the number of drive-alone (or SOV) trips that Arlington County Commuter Services takes off of our region's roads. These estimates allow us to compare more readily our work to that of road and transit builders, and I cannot yet offer a comparable equation or method for evaluating our work on the basis of all modes.
However, getting to an efficient, multimodal future requires us to become truly multimodal. In order to advance our efforts we, as the people who create behavior change, need to look at ourselves, and change our own behavior.
Crossposted at the Mobility Lab blog.
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