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Pedestrians


"Dave Thomas Circle" could get fixes or disappear entirely

A new study of pedestrian and bicycle safety along Florida Avenue NE is suggesting changes to the "virtual" traffic circle at New York and Florida Avenues. In the long run, that "circle" and the nearby Wendy's could become a simpler intersection and green space.


The current "circle" and short-term fixes. Images from DDOT. Click to enlarge.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) created the "virtual circle" arrangement as an "interim solution" in 2010 to deal with this difficult intersection. It was very difficult to navigate on foot or bike, and which had seen some very serious crashes.

The circle pattern routes traffic heading eastbound on Florida counter-clockwise along First and O Streets. It got the nickname "Dave Thomas Circle" because that triangle circumnavigates a Wendy's, and to play off the name for Thomas Circle. Wendy's also has many driveways connecting to the surrounding roads, and Eckington Place NE joins the tangle of roads here as well.

Since DDOT set up the "circle," the severity and number of crashes has gone down, said Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT's planning head who is overseeing the study. However, many people find it confusing and it takes up a lot of space.

Once, some suggested an interchange

At the time this pattern was conceived, DDOT studies recommended building a new overpass or tunnel so New York Avenue traffic could bypass the intersection. Some plans suggested extending the I-395 tunnel from its current terminus near 4th Street NW past Florida Avenue.


Image from the 2006 DDOT study.

But a 2006 NCPC study raised concerns about new tunnels or bridges. NCPC worried about how new large-scale auto infrastructure would create an even larger pedestrian barrier in the nascent NoMa neighborhood and between other adjacent areas. Since then, DDOT has largely dropped the idea of tunneling as a solution.

What could replace the circle?

The Florida study proposes some options to simplify the intersection. They would eliminate some turns, delete the block of O Street that's now part of the "circle," and either eliminate the block of First Street or reroute it to connect to Eckington Place NE.


2 options to replace the "circle."

Florida and New York Avenues would get a bit wider to make room for turning lanes instead of the "jughandles" of the old design. Adding this right-of-way would almost certainly mean the city would have to take the Wendy's by eminent domain. But that could make the intersection significantly better for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike.

It would also open up some land for green space or other uses. The National Capital Planning Commission has long envisioned this intersection as a potential future memorial site. In 2001 they named it as one of their top 20 "Prime Sites" in the region in the Memorials and Museums Master Plan.

In addition to the longer-term proposals, later this year DDOT will make minor modifications to tweak how this intersection works. That includes changing which lanes get used for which types of turns, striping bike lanes, and adding new signs.

One change will widen the turn radius at some key spots so that the 90s buses can traverse the circle. When DDOT set up the circle arrangement, Metro discovered its buses couldn't fit, and had to reroute them onto North Capitol Street, adding minutes of extra time for every rider.

Pedestrians


Florida Avenue NE and nearby streets could get wider sidewalks and bike lanes

Florida Avenue, NE and other roads in the area could become safer and more comfortable to walk and bike along in the future. The public will get to see several options this week that would widen sidewalks and add bike lanes to key roads.


Photo by Yancey Burns reproduced with permission.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT), along with consultants Kittelson & Associates and Rhodeside & Harwell, has been working with the community for the past 6 months to identify safety issues in this area. Florida Avenue suffers from extremely narrow sidewalks, with less than 2 feet of space directly in front of many homes and across from Gallaudet University. That width doesn't meet ADA guidelines.

Officials have said there is room for wider sidewalks and bike lanes, since the current traffic volume on Florida does not warrant more than 2 motor vehicle lanes in each direction.

Currently, the number of lanes on Florida varies from 2 to 6 within the span of a few blocks. Some of the lanes on Florida are also quite wide, up to 17 feet. DDOT will present projections for traffic up to 2040 and considering upcoming land use changes, to demonstrate that more lanes aren't necessary in the future either.

DDOT will propose four alternatives. All widen sidewalks to varying extents. Plus,

  • Alternatives 1a and 1b widen the sidewalk while keeping 6 lanes for motor vehicles.
  • Alternative 2 adds narrower painted bike lanes along the curb on each side, and creates a center turn lane along with 4 travel lanes.
  • Alternative 3 skips the center turn lane and adds a buffer alongside the bike lanes, to give cyclists some extra distance from fast-moving cars.


Cross-sections for Florida Avenue: Current 1a 1b 2 3
Images from DDOT.

On 6th Street north of Florida Avenue, which separates Gallaudet University from the Florida Avenue Market, the lanes are 22 feet wide, or more than double typical widths. For this segment, there are three options:

  • Wider sidewalks and and painted bike lanes, plus "curb extensions" (also known as "bulb-outs") to shorten the distance pedestrians have to cross (Alternative 1)
  • Wider sidewalks and a cycle track in each direction, plus curb extensions (Alternative 2)
  • A "curbless flex space" along the market side of the road and a two-way cycle track on the Gallaudet side (Alternative 3)


Cross-sections for 6th Street: Current 1a 2 3
Images from DDOT.

The agency also plans to reconstruct 6th Street between K Street and Florida Avenue, NE; West Virginia Avenue NE; and "Dave Thomas Circle," at the intersection of Florida and New York Avenue (which currently has a Wendy's in the center, hence the nickname). DDOT's report will also likely include some safety improvements within the Florida Avenue Market.

Officials will present the proposals at a public meeting Wednesday, April 2, at the Two Rivers PCS Middle School building on 1234 4th Street, NE, at 7 pm. Feedback from this week's meeting will shape the final report, expected later this spring.

The agency has not announced construction dates for any of the projects. Before it can build anything, changes will also have to go into the regional Constrained Long-Range Plan, which according to DDOT planning head Sam Zimbabwe is the reason the agency can't make any temporary changes to try out new configurations and make the road safer in the meantime.

Public Spaces


New sidewalk shows tension between people and trees

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?


New brick sidewalks and street trees on Georgia Avenue. All photos by the author unless noted.

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 on Georgia last year.

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.


A corner bumpout at Georgia and Silver Spring avenues.

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.

Events


Events roundup: Better buses and touring Tenleytown

This week, speak out on bus improvements in Montgomery County, learn about bus improvements in DC and Prince George's County, and take a tour of Tenleytown, and more at events around the region.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

Time to support BRT: On Thursday, Montgomery County holds its second public hearing on its proposed 82-mile proposed Bus Rapid Transit system. The hearing will be at 7:30 at the Council Hearing Room at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville.

Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth and other transit advocates to show your support for the plan by attending the hearing. For more details, visit the CSG website.

More Metrobus improvements: WMATA is holding an open house in Hyattsville about their study to improve bus service on Route 1 in Northeast DC and Prince George's County, including the 80-series buses and routes G8 and T18. You can come at any time and tell WMATA how you think bus service can be made faster and more reliable. The meeting runs from 6 to 7:30pm at Hyattsville City Hall, 4310 Gallatin Street.

Walking from the Top: Come join the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Ward3Vision on a walking tour this Saturday of Tenleytown's commercial district to learn about its past, present, and future. The walking tour will include a discussion of the growth of Tenleytown and visits to sites where development has occurred as well as areas that are prime for future development. The discussion will also focus on your ideas on how to improve the streetscape and walkability in the coming years.

The tour kicks off at the eastern entrance of the Tenleytown Metro station at 10am on Saturday. To RSVP, click this link.

Exciting events next week: Visit our calendar to see all of the exciting events coming up next week, including the kickoff for designing Franklin Park, the Smart Growth Social, an educational event about Rapid Transit on Rockville Pike, and many more!

As always, if you have any events for future roundups, email us at events@ggwash.org!

Public Spaces


K Street reconstruction misses key ped and bike features

Last Saturday, DC officials cut a ribbon on a project to rebuild on K Street NW between 3rd and 7th Streets. The road is better than it was before, but some elements that would have helped pedestrians and cyclists disappeared between earlier studies and the final project.


Photos by the author.

New pavement covers a full-depth reconstruction of the street and upgraded utilities. New granite curbs, Washington Globe lamp posts, brick sidewalk pavers, and planting beds make the sidewalk a nice place for pedestrians and outdoor cafés.

The four large, round, elevated tree boxes on the corners of 5th and K are especially nice. They'll give trees room for their roots to grow, allowing this corner to become a beautiful shaded plaza in the future.

A 2003 Mount Vernon Triangle study from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Office of Planning recommended ways to improve transportation and the public realm throughout the neighborhood. That study proposed putting bike lanes on K Street and consolidating curb cuts, which means fewer places where pedestrians come in conflict with vehicles.

There are still large curb cuts on the 300 and 500 blocks of K Street, and the project reconstructed the curbs around these curb cuts. Had DC been able to close the curb cuts now, it could have saved time and expense in the future. However, that would require the property owners to agree.

What happened to the bike lanes?

The Mount Vernon Triangle study also recommended bike lanes along K Street, but with the exception of a short segment in the 400 block, the blocks have sharrows instead.

DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez said in an email, "We did include bike lanes in the plans for K Street from 4th to 7th. We intentionally dropped the bike lanes at the intersections for traffic capacity reasons, to allow for the inclusion of left turn lanes, thus the actual bike lanes are short, mid-block sections with sharrows at the ends of the blocks."

However, this makes it sound like there are bike lanes for at least part of each block. In fact, most blocks don't have any bike lanes.

While biking down K Street last week, aggressive drivers honked at me incessantly. If there was a lane, drivers would have simply passed by. While sharrows are a helpful reminder to vehicular traffic that cyclists have a right to be in the road, it's likely that other cyclists will have the same experience.

At 3rd Street, the project's eastern end, there's no transition from one very-wide lane with a sharrow to two wide travel lanes with no indication of cyclist right-of way.

Missing crosswalks hurt pedestrian safety

The project also misses out on pedestrian accommodations, especially at the corner of 3rd and K. There's no marked crosswalk on the eastern side of the intersection. I suspect it was left out because westbound drivers accelerate as they crest the bridge over I-395, meaning they wouldn't see the crosswalk until they were almost on top of a vulnerable pedestrian.

Any leg of an intersection is still a legal crosswalk, even if there's no marked crosswalk painted on the street. By not designing this area to be safe for pedestrians, DDOT is just letting an unsafe situation persist.

There's also no traffic signal here. This leaves off a visual cue for drivers to even think about slowing down. Meanwhile, drivers will be merging from two lanes into one here, meaning they'll be looking over their shoulders and in the rear-view mirror to see where traffic is behind them, rather than paying attention to pedestrians in the crosswalk. This corner has the potential to be even more dangerous for those on foot than it was before.

The Mount Vernon Triangle report recommended a mid-block crosswalk on the 400 block, which is very long, but it didn't become part of the project. Hernandez passed on our question about this to the project team, but she wasn't able to get an answer. She wrote in an email, "those decisions were made by former staff during the planning phase." It appears decisions by now-departed employees, decisions to abandon elements from an earlier study, simply disappeared with those employees.

What's with the signs?

Finally, many of the new street sign blades along K Street don't follow the same standard as most others in the city. This happened recently on other projects where contractors have fabricated signs, like on Sherman Avenue NW.

When asked about this, the project team told Hernandez, "The signage that's in place reflects the new federal standard which will be utilized on all new projects." Federal standards appear to define the typeface, not the shape of the signs, and as Mike DeBonis notes, include ordinal notation (3rd instead of 3). Regardless of DDOT's claim, it's clear that signage on their projects are not following one universal standard.

The revitalization of Mount Vernon Square has made K Street an increasingly active and busy urban place, and it deserves a streetscape that supports the people who use it, especially pedestrians and bicyclists. While the new K Street is an improvement, there are many unfortunate omissions that prevent it from being great.

Pedestrians


How soon can DC fix Florida Avenue?

Florida Avenue, NE is very dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. The sidewalk on one side is too narrow for people to walk and doesn't meet ADA requirements, while the roadway has more lanes than necessary. How quickly can change come? Can the DC government put in temporary fixes? How soon?


Photo by Yancey Burns reproduced with permission.

If DC expands the sidewalks permanently, it will require new stormwater outlets and pipes, resloping the roadway, upgrading lighting, and more. But could the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) use planters, paint, bollards, and other temporary items to create safe walkable and bikeable places in the meantime?

DDOT is hoping to do just that, said Sam Zimbabwe, Associate Director for Policy, Planning and Sustianability at DDOT. The agency will soon kick off a study to consider how to make Florida Avenue safer, which Zimbabwe hopes will finish by early 2014; temporary fixes to implement the recommendations could come as early as next summer.

Temporary changes can make a difference for safety

There are multiple precedents from elsewhere in the country for how a combination of temporary barriers and paint can quickly recapture excessive asphalt to improve pedestrian safety. New York City, in particular, has led the way under the leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to improve safety for all modes of transportation and create great new public gathering spaces at the same time.

While large projects such as the Times Square renovation have gotten most of the attention, smaller projects throughout the city have included painted bulb-outs to reduce sidewalk crossing distances, and removing "slip lanes" to slow traffic at turns.

In New York, the city DOT provided basic planters and paint to delineate the new expanded pedestrian and bicyclist areas, as well as some simple furnishings. Local business groups and others then provided the plants and additional benches, tables and other items.


Pearl Street Plaza in NYC. Photo by NYCDOT on Flickr.

In DC as well, local developers, businesses and schools could help maintain certain blocks. For example, the NoMa BID includes the 200-300 blocks, Two Rivers PCS and Union Market developer Edens each own property in the 400 block, and Gallaudet abuts the 600-900 blocks. All are willing to take on the landscaping and other maintenance work adjoining their properties.

DC has some precedent for these types of temporary safety upgrades. After a person was killed at 15th and W, NW, DDOT installed temporary bulb-outs and retimed the signals. There's now a permanent design, but in the meantime, people there have enjoyed a safer intersection for the last 4 years and for however many more years it will take to permanently reconstruct the intersection.


Temporary fixes at 15th and W, NW. Photos by Stephen Miller.

Why can't DC do this now?

Must there be any kind of study? Why not simply install some temporary measures tomorrow?

Zimbabwe explained that DC faces some constraints from federal law and the regional Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Florida Avenue is one of DC's "major arterial" roads, is considered a regionally significant piece of the transportation network, and is part of the "expanded national highway system" under the recent federal MAP-21 transportation bill.

In order to change a part of the transportation network that used federal funds in the past, or a regionally-significant link, DC (or Maryland or Virginia) has to go through certain steps. It has to submit the project to the TPB's Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP). TPB takes the list of projects, runs models to determine the overall effect on regional air quality, and makes sure that the air quality is below certain levels as required by the federal Clean Air Act.

Therefore, DDOT cannot go out tomorrowor even this yearto restripe Florida Avenue to reduce lanes for ADA compliant walking areas or bicycle facilities. Instead, it has to decide what it wants to do, submit the project next February, and wait for the TPB to approve the project, along with the others in the region, later in the spring.

For 2013, DDOT submitted streetcar routes, bus lanes on H and I Streets, making New Jersey Avenue NW two-way, and more, but nothing about Florida Avenue. A 2010 NoMA transportation study recommended removing a lane on Florida Avenue NE, but DDOT has not yet included this project in its portion of the CLRP project list.

The best-case scenario at this point is for temporary fixes to happen in about 18 months. In an email, Zimbabwe says that an upcoming study will "assess short-term low-cost design improvements" which DDOT could potentially install in late summer 2014, in addition to planning for the higher-cost, permanent changes.

Paint, signs and barriers are cheap and easy to move around. By trying temporary fixes, DDOT could make the road safer immediately, and also determine what works well before spending more money on a permanent change.

Politics can present obstacles as well

Besides having bureaucratic processes from TPB and federal rules, DDOT officials may feel they need a lot of studies to weather any political opposition that might come up.

Groups like AAA have criticized DDOT for moving too quickly on projects which convert driving lanes for other transportation users. In Glover Park, a traffic calming project is not yet complete, and yet Georgetown residents are already calling to reverse the changes.

It will likely take continued public pressure, and support, from the neighborhood and others to ensure that DDOT can move ahead quickly with temporary pedestrian and bicycle improvements without waiting for a long design and construction process for permanent fixes. Hopefully by the end of next year (at the lastest), DDOT has the opportunity to use Florida Avenue NE as an example for relatively rapid, low-cost upgrades that improve safety for all modes of transportation.

Roads


New Hampshire Avenue latest to get 2-way and bike lanes

DDOT is on a roll changing roads from traffic sewers to multimodal neighborhood streets. It's remaking New Jersey Avenue, and now you can add New Hampshire Avenue in Foggy Bottom and the West End to the mix.


New Hampshire Avenue at L Street. Photo by keever04 on Flickr.

An upcoming streetscape project will add bike lanes between Washington Circle and Dupont Circle, bulb-outs at some corners, and change the one-way segment north of Washington Circle into 2-way.

The project will start in September and last until about March 2014. It includes a complete reconstruction from M Street to Dupont Circle, and just resurfacing from H Street up to M.

Washington Circle will get new crosswalks and traffic signals, which we discussed in March. Right now, Washington Circle is extremely unfriendly for pedestrians, and that will change with the project. In addition, the intersection of 22nd and K, just east of the circle, will get new pavement, crosswalks, and ADA-compliant curb ramps.


Intersection of NH and L. Images from DDOT.


Intersection of NH and M.


Plan for Washington Circle.

A lot of District streets were last reconstructed with a cars-only mindset. Engineers optimized all of the public space to maximize traffic, give pedestrians only the scraps left over, and make bicycles an afterthought at best. The changes, especially to Washington Circle, restore more of a balance and create a street for all users.

The sidewalks will stay brick south of Washington Circle, but the sidewalks north of Washington Circle will be concrete aggregate. Other Dupont-area streetscapes, like on 17th and 18th Streets, have chosen concrete with a brick strip along where the tree boxes are. It doesn't look like that brick strip is part of this one.

One concern I've sent to DDOT is to make sure the bulb-outs on M Street don't interfere with a future cycle track, as DDOT has promised to add. A cycle track on M would go along the curb lane. It might replace parking on one side, as it is on L, or if there is parking, the parking should go between the cycle track and the street. Either way, a bulb-out immediately adjacent to the current curb isn't right for a cycle track street. I'll update the post if I hear back.

Here is the presentation DDOT showed to community groups last night. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it; was anyone there who can relay any comments or concerns from the ANCs or other residents?

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