Posts about Traffic Calming
What do grocery store aisles have in common with our roadways? More than you might think.
Streetsblog recently posted this video from Norway which shows an aggressive driver using his techniques in the supermarket with his cart.
Many aggressive behaviors that we commonly accept on our roadways absolutely wouldn't fly in a store or other space where people gather.
The video notes that in Norway, 70% of cyclists have had to deal with aggressive driving. We certainly know what aggressive driving can lead to in the Washington area as well.
These days, when I go grocery shopping I can't help but think of paralells between our grocery aisles and features that engineers use in traffic calming and road diets. Many elements in a grocery store aisle resemble a calmed street and provide a glimpse of how someone's behavior changes when the road changes.
Shared space, narrow lanes, tight corners
If a grocery store aisles are too wide, there is is less space to sell items. Plus, the stores don't want people rushing through without having to at least glance at the products on the shelves. Most grocery stores have aisles wide enough for two carts to pass, but people do have to pay attention and navigate more carefully than they would in a wider lane.
Likewise, many many road diets reduce either the total number of lanes or in the width of the lanes. Besides slowing down cars in narrower lanes, such a change also frees up room for wider sidewalks or bike lanes.
But since aisles don't have special lanes for people with and without carts, maybe the closest parallel is the concept of "shared space," where all modes mix equally and drivers usually need to travel close to a walking pace.
In addition, the height of the shelves can mimic the function of buildings on city streets and create a streetwall. That creates the effect of an "outdoor room" and helps define a sense of place for an area.
Intersections in the grocery store are usually at right angles, and end displays can even be wider than the shelves in the regular aisle. This means that anyone entering or exiting has to stop and look both ways before proceeding.
Many street calming projects remove slip lanes that encourage speeding and cause drivers to ignore pedestrians. In their place, tight corners and curb extensions (often called bulb-outs or neckdowns) give pedestrians more room.
Obviously we can only take the analogy so far. There are as many differences as there are similarities. A grocery store and a state or local DOT have different goals; you don't commute through the grocery store.
But this does help illustrate how our built environment influences our behavior. The design of a grocery store aisle forces some cooperation and courtesy from all users, just like a road can induce people to drive at a certain speed (regardless the speed limit) and be mindful of other users traveling by foot or by bike.
Drivers regularly speed on Arkansas Avenue in Petworth, creating a very dangerous place for pedestrians that has already seen one serious injury. Will more have to be hurt before DC brings traffic calming to this area?
A tow truck crashes into parked cars on Arkansas Ave NW on Sunday. Photo by a neighbor, used with permission.
Last October, a speeding driver struck my friend Kelly Dillon outside her house on Arkansas Ave NW. The driver rammed into the vehicle parked behind Kelly's own car on Arkansas Avenue as she was loading it up for a weekend trip.
The impact pushed the hit car forward, pinning Kelly's leg against her own car's bumper and crushing her knee. Instead of heading to Virginia for the weekend, Kelly went straight to the hospital for an emergency operation to save her foot from amputation.
Neighbors organized to call for traffic calming, and officials from the District Department of Transportation told us they would act to make the street safer. But four months later, there is still no timeline for action. Yesterday, Kelly started a new petition calling on the mayor, Councilmember Muriel Bowser (who represents the area), and DDOT to take action to make Arkansas safer.
This weekend, another crash
Sunday morning, a tow truck traveling northeast on Arkansas Avenue slammed into parked cars sitting just north of Iowa Avenue. The impact was so great that the first parked car lurched forward into the second, setting off a chain reaction that ultimately damaged four parked cars.
It's blurry, but in this video you can see that the tow truck was traveling quite quickly. Witnesses tell us that several pedestrians walking to the nearby church were scarily close to the crash area, though thankfully none were hit. The tow truck flipped over on its side and the driver was taken to the hospital to an ambulance.
This is just the most recent in a series of dangerous crashes that have occurred when speeding drivers rear-ended parked vehicles on Arkansas Avenue. After weeks in the hospital, eight surgeries, and months of physical therapy, my Kelly Dillon is on the mend, but still waiting for action.
This is a very dangerous area
Drivers travel far above the posted 25 mile per hour speed limit on Arkansas, especially between 13th and 14th streets. The street is wide, and the rush hour-only lane is confusing. This road connects to Rock Creek Parkway, making it a major route for commuters.
But it's home to many residences, two churches, the Upshur Pool and Park, and several schools. It's not safe to treat Arkansas as a high-speed commuter corridor. Consistently heavy and fast-moving traffic, several unsignalized intersections, and poor or absent crosswalks make it difficult to cross the street safely.
Neighbors clamor for action
DDOT has a clear traffic calming application process on its website. Residents have to obtain signatures from at least 75% of the residents along a street to petition for a traffic calming study.
As a group of us started to knock on doors, we quickly realized we would have no problem. Most neighbors we spoke with had their own stories of drivers crashing into parked cars, and one neighbor had been hit recently while walking his dog. In the end, we were able to reach 80% of the homes along the street, and 100% of those neighbors signed on. This response rate demonstrates how necessary and non-controversial this issue really is.
After receiving our petition, representatives from DDOT, the mayor's office, and Councilmember Bowser's office agreed to meet with us and other neighbors to discuss problems with the street and what they could do to make it safer.
At that meeting, last December, DDOT's James Cheeks committed to studying the street and coming up with options to improve safety. Cheeks told us that by spring DDOT would have preliminary results. But so far we have seen nothing, and we have been unable to get a response on when we can expect the results.
DDOT has calmed traffic on nearby 13th Street and Kansas Avenue, which could serve as template for Arkansas Avenue. On those streets, the agency long ago eliminated the rush hour lanes, installed more stop signs, updated crosswalks, and added bike lanes on Kansas.
Parking, bike lanes, and a stop sign on Kansas Avenue NW could provide a good example for Arkansas Avenue NW. Image from Google Maps.
The rush hour lane in particular is a major problem. Residents can't leave their cars on the northbound side all day, and because parking is plentiful in the area, there are often only a few cars parked. As a result, drivers traveling northeast on Arkansas often assume they can take up two lanes or use the wide street to pass slower cars, only to realize they have to merge into one lane at the last minute to avoid a parked car.
Just in the past year, we have personally witnessed two instances where cars have rear-ended parked cars along Arkansas. Neighbors told us many more stories of this same crash scenario repeating over and over. Simply painting a narrower lane and eliminating the rush hour lane can visually narrow the street and slow traffic.
We have counted at least 6 pedestrians and cyclists struck on Arkansas in the last few years. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of pedestrians seriously injured increased 20% citywide. It's time for action to make Arkansas Avenue, and all of our streets, safer.
Virginia legislators are considering a bill that would repair preserve nearly 300 miles of unpaved roads in western Loudoun County. While it may not seem relevant to the state's urban areas, it would make the state consider more than cars in assessing the needs of a street.
HB 416, sponsored by Delegate Randy Minchew (R-Leesburg), requires the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to maintain Loudoun's unpaved road network, many of which date to before the Civil War. The roads are narrow and some feature old stone walls or are steeply banked. But some are still heavily used and have become badly rutted, frustrating residents who otherwise prefer unpaved roads.
If passed, it means VDOT would have to consider more than just the movement of cars when assessing the needs of these roads. Notably, the bill also asks that VDOT maintain the roads as is "whenever practicable," rather than paving, straightening, or widening the road.
Unpaved roads in Loudoun County.
In this case, the bill is aimed at keeping roads that already demand careful driving the way they are. But the unpaved road network also adds to the value of rural communities. People enjoy the aesthetics of the road and don't want to give that up in exchange for pavement and a slightly faster commute.
This supports Loudoun County's policy as well, since officials want most of development to go to the eastern half of the county closer to Dulles Airport, allowing the rest to remain rural. It also helps the county support its growing agritourism industry.
Recreational cyclists appreciate the gravel roads as well. "Gravel Grinders" are cycling enthusiasts who like riding on unpaved roads. Blogger DKEG has a self-made map of many of Loudoun's unpaved roads that any cyclist in the DC area could enjoy.
The proposed new standards are a tacit acknowledgement that people in rural and more car-dependent areas also appreciate calmer streets, and that wider or faster isn't always better. Communities can make drivers more mindful of their surroundings by narrowing or removing lanes, but in this case the roads are already narrow. It's great that Virginia and Loudoun County want to keep it that way.
The recent snow made for the best sneckdown spotting weather in DC since the term first entered our lexicon. Last week we put out a call for photos of sneckdowns in the wild, and plenty of you responded. Here are some of the best.
In the wonky world of urbanism advocacy, sneckdowns have gone viral. The term, referring to places where snow formations show street spaces cars don't use, first popped up in New York. Since then it's made headlines in Philadelphia, Chicago, Vancouver, and more.
It's true that actual engineers shouldn't design streets solely around piled snow, but certainly sneckdowns are a handy illustration of how we give too much pavement to cars.
Here are more local examples, sent in by readers.
Thanks to everyone who sent in photos! Keep watching #dcsneckdown on Twitter for more.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Now that we've had a big snow in DC, send us pictures of sneckdowns you spot in the wild. You can tweet them with hashtag #dcsneckdown, or email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Monday, Greater Greater Washington and BeyondDC will publish the best ones.
Sneckdowns are where snow formations show the street spaces cars don't use.
GGW reader Ralph Garboushian sent us this one already. He describes it:
Shoveling and plowing patterns in front of my house show how the intersection of Potomac Avenue, E Street & 18th Street SE could be made safer for both pedestrians and motorists. The current design is a disasterWe look forward to seeing more!
— I have seen several [crashes] at this intersection, including one that sent a car nearly into my front yard and another that took out a historic call box and nearly knocked down a utility pole. In addition, this intersection is right in front of Congressional Cemetery and on the way to the Metro and sees heavy pedestrian traffic.
The intersection's poor design combined with motorists speeding down Potomac create a hostile and dangerous atmosphere for pedestrians. This intersection desperately needs traffic calming and these plow/shovel patterns illustrate how it could be done.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Every time it snows, vast sections of city streets remain covered by snow long after plows and moving cars have cleared the travel lanes. These leftover spaces are called "sneckdowns," and they show where sidewalks or medians could replace roads without any loss to car drivers.
Next time it snows here, be on the lookout.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Red light cameras are supposed to improve safety, but in 2013 their use actually went down. Are they on the wane? Our contributors give their insight.
Modesto, California has found that cameras may not be worth the trouble. They don't monitor all the lanes at an intersection, most of the revenue goes to the vendor that operates the system, and the fines are shockingly high. And studies, including one of local Virginia jurisdictions, conclude the red light camera effect on safety is ambiguous. Should we fix the problems with cameras, or focus our efforts elsewhere?
Dan Malouff: Many people don't like cameras because they intrude on our collective sense of entitlement to break traffic laws with impunity. But that entitlement should be intruded upon. Yes, governments should of course strive to get cameras right and deploy them fairly, but laws should be enforced. If it turns out that enforcing these laws is somehow unsafe (a claim I'm skeptical of), then the law should change, not the tactic of enforcing it.
Canaan Merchant: Data I'd seen before had convinced me of a red light camera's effectiveness. This and other studies I've seen recently have cast some of that into doubt. Still, I think the problems that people have with automated traffic enforcement mainly stem from poor management in developing the systems, usually by just selecting a vendor without a clear oversight process, and problems that people have with due process once a ticket is issued.
The former should absolutely be an area of concern while the latter may just be indicative of problems that have always existed but ignored because an individual's likelihood of getting a ticket was lower. If both of those issues are handled competently then I think camera enforcement will generally be a net-positive for a given intersection.
Still the best way to tackle the problem would be to make red lights more irrelevant. That means focusing on solutions that move people without requiring the use of a car.
Neil Flanagan: Traffic cameras, whether they're at red lights or to control speeding, should always be a second choice. Better design of the roadway should always be the priority. Narrower lanes, neck-downs, medians, and shorter distances between intersections can discourage speeding and remind drivers that they're approaching an intersection. Marking the pavement where a driver should brake if they see yellow might also help.
The goal should be to make intersections safe for all users, not uphold the law strictly. Starting from there, you can see another problem. Left out of this article, too, were non-motorists. Cars are engineered to protect drivers. The street is the only protection a pedestrian has.
That said, I'll echo the sense of entitlement to the right-of-way. The top comments on the article are a slew of excuses for traffic violations, like this one by "Biceps:"
Perfect example: a co-worker of mine got a photo of herself from an RLC in the mail - it was *classic*. It was a perfect pic of her driving through the intersection, looking way to her left, mouth wide agape, with a cellphone right up against her head. She didn't even remember running the light. It was a [expletive] awesome photo."It wasn't her fault, he explains: she wasn't trying to speed through the light, she just wasn't paying attention! The engineer of the recent Metro-North accident was not given the same benefit of the doubt for spacing out, even though railroads are still safer per passenger-mile.
Adam Froehlig: I have always seen red light cameras as a local jurisdiction's attempt to replace traffic enforcement with a revenue generation tool. This is especially apparent in DC, where the revenues the cameras generate is well publicized and leads to much of the public angst against the program. A well-designed program puts this revenue back into safety programs and street improvements, but DC simply adds it to its general fund.
The safety record of red light cameras is a bit mixed. While they do help prevent the more serious right-angle crashes that often result in injuries and the occasional fatality, they can actually increase the overall crash rate due to rear-end crashes caused by the lead driver slamming on their brakes to avoid the red (and the camera ticket) and the driver behind them not stopping in time to avoid the rear-end crash.
Another item to consider: due to legal reasons, the red light camera can only fine the owner of the vehicle, it cannot target the operator. While the vehicle owner is usually the operator, this is not always a case. Compare this with a law enforcement official pulling over a vehicle and issuing the driver a ticket, where the driver (if unsuccessful in their "defense") will not only have to pay a fine, but will also lose points on their license.
While it helps reduce crash severity, it's at best a mediocre replacement for an actual law enforcement official doing traffic enforcement.
Ben Ross: Surely the reason for rear end crashes at red light cameras is that the driver in the first car doesn't expect the camera and then stops suddenly, and the driver in the second car also doesn't expect the camera and is therefore unprepared for the first driver's sudden maneuver. With more cameras these problems would vanish. It's like with cyclists, there's safety in numbers.
Abigail Zenner: Although I wish that red light and speed cameras were not needed, sadly drivers' impatience has a tendency to cause very dangerous situations. We also see that law enforcement either cannot be everywhere all the time or cannot always pull over the driver who runs a red light. Drivers also complain that red light cameras catch legal right turns at some intersections, although I have often wondered if the driver came to a complete stop prior to the right turn.
I would love to see some more awareness campaigns on driver attentiveness and explain to drivers why we have the laws we do. Many times, impatient behavior by drivers actually slows traffic down and creates more hazard.
I am fascinated by some experiments, like the one in Texas that rewards drivers for good driving behavior with cash or prizes. Cameras could also provide these rewards. The winner of the VW Fun Theory contest had this idea to enroll good drivers in a lottery when caught driving at or below the speed limit. Maybe we can come up with more carrots and more education to balance out the stick of a ticket.
Jim Titus: Do you remember what it was like before the red-light cameras?
We had trains on tires. Drivers regularly ran red lights as long as they were within 30 feet of the rear end of another car going through the intersection. Drivers with a green light often had to edge their way into these trains of red-light runners. Most drivers in the District of Columbia stop at red lights now.
Maybe today, some tailgating distracted drivers rear-end cars that stop at yellow lights. But in those days, people who stopped at newly red lights faced the same fate.
In January, the District Department of Transportation replaced two lanes on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park with a painted median and turn lane to calm traffic. But due to pressure from residents and local elected officials, DDOT will end their year-long trial and return the street to six lanes.
DDOT created the median between 35th and Garfield streets NW to draw attention to the commercial strip and give pedestrians a safer way to cross the street. But after complaints from drivers and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, the agency already removed part of the median in May.
Since DC received federal funds for this project, it must comply with federal lane width guidelines. Putting the original six lanes back would violate those guidelines, meaning the city will have to do so with its own funds.
Residents say they want pedestrian safety, but not at drivers' expense
The Glover Park ANC originally supported DDOT's plan, but reversed its position after conducting an informal online survey in October that said most Glover Park residents support a return to six traffic lanes. Just 300 of Glover Park's 10,000 residents completed the survey, but Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh agreed with the ANC's position.
Opponents claim the traffic calming has added to travel times, with anecdotal accounts citing times twice as long as the previous configuration. DDOT's official report indicates that average northbound drive times have increased by two minutes. Opponents have criticized this figure as only reflecting rush hour times and suggest that other times of day have been heavily affected as well.
Some business owners claimed a drop in customers because of difficulties driving to their locations. However, several new restaurants opened or will open in the corridor during the past year, including Sprig and Sprout, Arcuri, Einstein Bagels, and Jimmy John's. Meanwhile, Rocklands BBQ, whose owner signed a letter from local businesses saying they were getting fewer customers, recently announced that it will double in size.
At a recent community roundtable on the changes, Cheh and Glover Park ANC Chair Brian Cohen said very clearly that they did not want to change the lanes back without doing some pedestrian safety improvements to the area. Most residents testified in support of returning the street to six lanes, and some residents were open to speed cameras and HAWK lights, but little else.
DDOT Director Terry Bellamy noted in his testimony that it is difficult to both keep vehicles moving and build in safety measures. He also said that Wisconsin Avenue is too narrow for six lanes, as it is only 55 feet wide in the Glover Park commercial district.
Compromise proposal would remove just one lane
At the roundtable, Georgetown resident and GGW contributor Ken Archer offered a compromise plan, which would return one of the traffic lanes, but make them narrower, providing room for a northbound bike lane and rush-hour dedicated bus lane.
Archer argued that congestion will only get worse, pointing to residential developments all along Wisconsin. The only solution, he said, is to get drivers out of their cars. Cheh said that DDOT should consider Archer's plan for the long term, but in the short term all traffic lanes should be returned.
Political pressure on DDOT appears to work
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh first called a hearing in May as a response to concerns from Massachusetts Heights residents about the painted median between Calvert and Garfield streets. Though this section of Wisconsin Avenue was the site of multiple pedestrian strikes, DDOT removed part of the median within weeks of the May hearing. DDOT has yet to release any empirical data supporting their decision.
The hearing this month was a response to continued demands to remove the median south of Calvert. And like the first hearing, DDOT agreed afterwards to undo its lane configuration with no empirical data supporting their decision.
This experience shows that DDOT is being particularly vulnerable to political pressure. It sets a precedent for opponents of other progressive transportation initiatives, particularly in Ward 3, where Cheh opposed converting the Cleveland Park service lane to a sidewalk. And it bodes well for opponents of the new bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue, who can only come away emboldened by DDOT's eagerness to placate many of their neighbors on Wisconsin.
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.
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