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Roads


A stretch of Wisconsin Avenue will test whether narrow lanes work on major roads

For the first time, there are lane markings on the narrow section of Wisconsin Avenue NW that runs from Q Street to R. They make for a nice opportunity to study how narrow lanes work on major roadways in the District.


New lane markings along a section of Wisconsin Avenue NW. Photo by the author.

27,350 vehicles per weekday use the stretch of Wisconsin Avenue that's south of Massachusetts Avenue. It has between four and six lanes during peak traffic, plus rush hour parking restrictions. Wisconsin also serves as an emergency evacuation and snow emergency route.

North of M Street in Georgetown, two marked lanes in each direction allow non-peak parking along the outside lanes. During rush hour, the outside lanes become the second driving lane each way. However, the roadway physically narrows by several feet after the Exxon at P until the library at R Street. North of that Wisconsin widens again and provides two, and in some places three, lanes in each direction during peak hours until it reaches the Maryland line.


Base image from Google Maps.

Until recently, the roadway along the narrow stretch, which is about a quarter of a mile, had no lane markings other than the center line. That made things unclear for drivers: were there one or two lanes in each direction? Some drove in the middle of the available space and others attempted to share the entire width for two lanes on each side.

The "new" lanes are atypical, but DDOT says they've been that way for a while

New lane markings went onto the strip in early October. A simple set of white painted stripes clarifies that on each side of the double yellow lines, the 16.5 feet provides two lanes of peak hour traffic in each direction. In non-peak hours, it's one lane of traffic and a parking lane in each direction.

DDOT usually follows a standard width of 10-12 feet of paved surface width for each driving lane. Along the stretch of Wisconsin between P and R Streets, there is only 33 feet of paved width, excluding the one foot brick gutter along each side. That's seven feet shy of the 40' DDOT often reserves for a roadway with four lanes of peak traffic, during rush hour parking restrictions.

DDOT doesn't usually make changes without considering engineering standards, traffic studies and (usually) community input. DDOT Director of Communications Terry Owens says adding these markings wasn't a "change," but rather a "clear denotation of lane configurations."

"With no markings, it may be unclear to drivers during peak periods that there are, in fact, two lanes of travel in each direction," he adds. But motorists who previously concluded there was only a single lane probably view this as a change. One day there were no markings and the next day there were. Visually, the roadway doesn't resemble most District arterial roadways.

This is a chance to see narrower lanes at work

These newly clarified narrow lanes average approximately 8.25 feet wide, including the lane markings themselves. There's also a one-foot brick gutter next to each outer lane.

Jeff Speck, a leading urbanist author and planner, has made the well-accepted case that narrow lanes make driving safer:

This logic—that higher design speeds make for safer streets—coupled with the typical city engineer's desire for unimpeded traffic—has caused many American cities to rebuild their streets with lanes that are 12, 13, and sometimes even 14 feet wide. Now, cars are only six feet wide—a Ford Excursion is 6'-6''—and most Main Streets were historically made of 10-foot lanes. That dimension persists on many of the best, such as ritzy Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Florida. Yet, many cities I visit have their fair share of 13-footers, and that is where much of the speeding occurs.
By clearly marking the lanes on Wisconsin, DDOT has created a quarter mile where we can see how skinnier, presumably safer lanes work on a major corridor. Four clearly defined and narrow lanes—much narrower than the 10-12 feet DDOT typically goes with—is probably quite appropriate for an urban street with a 25 mph speed limit.

In other words, this simple, low-cost change could go a long way toward making it safer to walk or bike along this corridor, which is adjacent to Georgetown Neighborhood Library and within blocks of Jelleff Recreation Center, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and Hardy Middle School.


Some bus drivers appear to straddle both lanes due to vehicle width. Photo by the author.

This width may not be perfect for every vehicle or situation. The roadway math becomes a bit tighter for an ambulance on its way to Georgetown Hospital, as ambulances are typically eight feed wide. Same for 30 route Metrobuses or Circulator buses, which are eight and a half feet wide. My anecdotal observations during rush hour indicate that bus and ambulance drivers often decide to use the middle of both lanes. Most drivers will find that their cars and similarly sized vehicles will fit in these lanes with room to spare.

After nearly a month, the change hasn't attracted any noticeable discussion or coverage. We are taking the theory to reality just like Jeff Speck envisioned in his criticism of the fat lanes traffic engineers tend to favor. It might not be clear why DDOT made it clear that this stretch of Wisconsin has two narrow lanes in each direction, but it's fantastic that it happened nonetheless.

What if more of DC's streets got narrower?

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Roads


Petworth residents complained drivers are speeding. DC says it's true, but "acceptable."

Half of drivers on Illinois Avenue in Petworth exceed the speed limit, and residents asked for traffic calming. But an analysis from the District Department of Transportation says that speeding is "acceptable." Instead, DDOT will install signs reminding drivers to stop for pedestrians.


Illinois Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Images from DDOT.

Responding to resident concerns, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, ANC 4D, passed a resolution in January, saying,

Several of these blocks of Illinois Ave. have awkward intersections leading to pedestrian safety concerns. Cars are parking within signed areas but too close to the intersections, blocking the view of crossing traffic. Additionally, the lack of stop signs on Illinois at the intersections with Emerson and Farragut Streets result in speeding traffic. When combined with the difficult visibility, the community believes this leads to unnecessary accidents[sic].
Illinois Avenue has just one driving lane in each direction and one parking lane on each side. The buildings are mostly row houses, some small apartment buildings, and small detached houses. There's also a public school, the Truesdell Education Campus, serving children from 3 years old to eighth grade.

A team from DDOT's Traffic Operations Administration studied the area and reviewed crash data, culminating in a report in June. The report says that from 2012 to 2014, there were 47 crashes including 19 injuries. Three of the crashes involved pedestrians and two involved bicycles.

Two of the crashes involving people not in cars happened at Farragut Street, where there is not a four-way stop or a traffic light, as the ANC resolution highlighted. The other three happened at other intersections.

The speed limit here is 25 mph, and the analysis concludes that only 52% of drivers are staying at or below that level. Another 34.2% are driving between 25 and 30 mph, while 13.8% traveling faster than that (one, it appears, clocked at 56-60 mph).

The report's language casts this as not a problem, such as by saying that 67.8% travel below 30 mph and that the average speed was 23 mph. It concludes:

Additionally, the 85th percentile speed is within an acceptable range for the posted speed. Of note, the criteria typically employed by DDOT for installation of traffic calming measures requires the measured 85th percentile speed to substantially exceed the posted speed limit, defined as exceeding by at least 25 percent (31 miles per hour in this location). Thus, while the 85th percentile speed is 4 miles per hour above the 25 miles per hour speed limit, this measured speed does not substantially exceed the posted speed limit. (Emphasis added.)
In other words, while legally there is a rule that everyone has to travel below a certain speed, DDOT's policy is not to take action unless at least 15% of drivers are traveling at least 25% faster.

This is the opposite of Vision Zero

Certainly, it's fair to say that this is far from the worst street in DC for speeding or for safety. However, DC has adopted a policy called Vision Zero. The objective:

By the year 2024, Washington, DC will reach zero fatalities and serious injuries to travelers of our transportation system, through more effective use of data, education, enforcement, and engineering.
The report doesn't say if any of the 19 injuries were serious or fatal, but the blasé attitude of the report toward speeding and 19 injuries is the polar opposite. It's Vision Zero, not Vision Nineteen.

Remember, the chances that a driver striking a pedestrian is fatal rises from 5% to 45% as the car's speed goes from 20 mph to 30 (and then to 85% at 40).

To eliminate—not just reduce somewhat, but eliminate—fatalities and serious injuries will require a readiness to actually make changes. A policy that nothing can be done beyond posting signs unless 15% of drivers regularly go more than 31 mph in a 25 mph zone will not achieve this.

There will be a lot of ways to improve traffic safety that don't also slow down cars, but DDOT will have to also be willing to calm streets, and not just where speeding is egregious. A smaller residential avenue with a school, where the local ANC wants traffic calming, would be a good spot.

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Roads


Petworth residents say changes to a dangerous traffic circle should go further

Many people in Petworth lament how dangerous it is to cross the street and get to Grant Circle, one of their neighborhood parks. DDOT has an initial plan for addressing the problem, but pedestrian advocates say the real way to make the circle safer is to make the streets narrower and add more crosswalks.


Photo of Grant Circle by Eric Fidler on Flickr.

Like a lot of circles in DC, Grant Circle has a design that's invites people to use the interior space as a park but, more recently, has made moving traffic between its several intersections a major priority.

Drivers tend to speed through Grant Circle, partly because it has two wide lanes surrounding it that encourage passing. With drivers entering from the eight different intersections around the circle, and sometimes speeding to pass each other, it can be a harrowing place for people on foot or riding bikes.


Streetview of Grant Circle today. Image from Google Maps

Every few months, a new thread starts up on the Petworth neighborhood listservs about near misses or actual crashes around Grant Circle like one last week, when someone drove their car into the circle.

"Grant Circle is an absolute mess for pedestrians," wrote one resident recently. "When I drive, I often hesitate to stop for pedestrians because I know cars will zoom around me and make it much more dangerous for the people that are crossing. When I do stop I often go between both lanes to try to ensure the pedestrian safety which is obviously not the best thing to do."

While well-intentioned, that second solution obviously isn't a safe alternative to Grant Circle's hazards.

"The design of the circle is so wide and big that instead of helping to slow down cars, it makes them to speed up," added another. "If so many of us have already had nearly misses, some tragedy will end up happening."

Plans to calm Grant Circle's traffic have fallen short of a bigger vision

After hearing from community members and ANC commissioners, DDOT released initial plans to both add new striping to the streets around Grant Circle and to narrow their lanes. Both should calm traffic as it enters the circle.


DDOT's immediate plans to add striping to Grant Circle to narrow lanes and calm traffic as it enters the circle. Image courtesy of DDOT.

This is a step in a process that started in 2009, when DDOT completed its Pedestrian Master Plan. The plan's goals were to make it safe and comfortable to walk anywhere in the city, both through city-wide policy solutions and targeted changes to certain streets' designs.

The Master Plan placed a heavy focus on L'Enfant's radial avenues, which is where the majority of today's crashes involving pedestrians happen. It plan designated "priority corridors" in each ward, which were places that saw a lot of pedestrians, had a dangerous design, and had a lot of crashes involving pedestrians as a "priority corridor."

New Hampshire Avenue, including Grant Circle, is Ward 4's priority corridor, and it was slated to get bumpouts along New Hampshire and a new design to calm traffic around the circle. These plans represent a more complete vision to calm traffic than the initial striping DDOT is proposing, though new ideas in traffic engineering could help even more.

Grant Circle's two-lane design is needlessly dangerous

Every street intersecting Grant Circle is one lane in each direction, except for New Hampshire Avenue south of Grant Circle. There, New Hampshire has two lanes in each direction until it turns into Sherman Avenue, which has one lane in each direction.

If New Hampshire has one lane in each direction north of the circle and again a few blocks south, does it really need two lanes in the first place?

The two lane design means that parents with kids, dog owners with dogs, elderly people and those with disabilities, and anyone else trying to get to the park have to contend with serious traffic, which enters the circle from eight different points, to do so. And while relatively few cars use the passing lane, those that do tend to speed and pose an extra risk to people walking.


Grant Circle today. Image from Google Maps

Let's consider some possibiltiies

All Walks DC, an organization I'm a part of, has a few thoughts for how Grant Circle could be made safer to walk and bike to and through.

When you look at Grant Circle's interior paths, you can see where the original designer intended for people to be able to cross into and through the circle (though for some reason it leaves out paths to 5th Street NW). But out of the 12 places that those interior paths intersect Grant Circle, only 5 have crosswalks today. Some streets, such as Varnum on the East, don't have any crosswalks at all, meaning that all the neighbors on that street have to walk a block south to use a marked crosswalk.

One simple fix would be to to add the crosswalks that are obviously missing.


DDOT's 2009 plans for Grant Circle include a raised brick inner lane to calm traffic. Image from DDOT.

Narrowing Grant Circle to one lane would make crossing on foot much safer. DDOT's 2009 plan includes a proposal to make the inner lane raised brick, which is a half step in this direction. But while this would discourage speeding and passing, it would likely be expensive, and there are probably better uses for that space.

For a lot less money, DDOT could bring down speeds and make Grant Circle more pedestrian and bike-friendly by allowing parking in the inner lane and building bumpouts at all the crosswalks.


Bumpout on 18th Street in Adams Morgan. Image from Google Maps.

DDOT could also car lanes by creating a protected bikeway, which the Move DC plan calls for, along the outside of the circle.

Finally, it's worth considering using lanes to increase park space, which has happened in New York City. Extending Grant Circle outwards would be more complicated due to coordination with the National Park Service, but would add about a half acre to the area of the park.

Calming traffic around Grant Circle is an important part of kicking off DC's Vision Zero efforts, as it would be an example of a community-supported project to make a street with known dangers safer for people walking. Several residents have already noted dangers around Grant Circle on DDOT's Vision Zero map, which you can view and add to here.

If you live nearby and would like to sign a petition for a safer Grant Circle, click here.

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Roads


Finally, the stop signs residents pushed for... along with some startling news

Residents near the intersections of Kansas Avenue and Quincy Street NW spent the last few years asking for four-way stop signs at the intersection. Recently, the intersection saw two traffic collisions on the same day. The stop signs followed soon after.


The new stop signs on Kansas Avenue NW. Image by the author.

Whether you were on foot, bike, or car, poor lines of sight made it very hard to cross Kansas via Quincy when there were no stop signs. In asking DDOT to install stop signs in every direction at the intersection, Petworth ANC commissioners noted that they were a feature at almost every other four-way stop in the area.

Still, DDOT representatives refused the neighborhood's requests for a long time, suggesting instead that the solution was to remove parking spaces to make it easier to see. Residents objected, saying doing so would both cut needed parking supply and entice people to drive faster on Kansas.

About a month ago, the community members turned up the pressure after yet another avoidable crash. On Saturday, July 11th, back-to-back collisions in the morning and afternoon prompted a deluge of neighborhood concern, expressed at the scenes of the crashes, over local listservs, and even in the Post.


The aftermath of the first July 11th crash. Image from a neighbor, who lives adjacent to the intersection.

Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, along with representatives from the mayor's office, the police department, and DDOT, were quick to pay attention. DDOT's representatives tracked traffic patterns and deployed a Traffic Control Officer.

On Thursday, July 16th, all-way stop signs went in at the intersection.

Neighbors are thrilled. People on foot no long have to detour around the intersection when walking with their children or pets, and drivers on Quincy have a much easier time crossing Kansas.

When it comes to traffic safety, there's still work to do

Because the second July 11th crash was less serious than the first, officers at the scene didn't file an official police report. When witnesses asked why, they learned that the Metropolitan Police Department doesn't require reports on some minor collisions.

Given that DDOT decision makers consider the number of reported crashes at an intersection in a 12-month period when weighing whether or not (PDF) to install an all-way stop, MPD's policy creates a dangerous information gap.

If crashes go unreported, are decisions that affect safety all that reliable? How many other intersections in DC meet the criteria for an all-way stop?

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Roads


DDOT director Brown stands up to opposition to mini-circles

Permanent traffic circles will go in at two intersections in American University Park despite a last-ditch effort by some residents to block them. Transportation chief Matt Brown personally got involved to keep the project going.


Photo by waltarrrrr on Flickr.

On Friday, November 14th, DDOT Traffic Systems Maintenance Manager James Cheeks asked American University, who had agreed to pay for the circles, to delay the construction until there could be another community meeting. Residents, who had already endured a number of meetings on this topic, were surprised at the sudden shift from DDOT at the eleventh hour.

But in an email Monday night, Director Matt Brown said DDOT had collected enough public input and heard enough discussion to move forward with the circles. Installation should start today.

Simply put, we believe that these mini-circles are an appropriate way to improve safety. That said, we will continue to work with American University, MPD, and you to monitor these locations after installation. DDOT will also reach out to neighbors near the southern mini-circle, where we have heard specific concerns about operations, to discuss how we've addressed those in the final design. We are committed to making these mini-circles valued elements of the community.

For these reasons, I am asking American University to proceed with construction. Once again thank you for contacting me with your comments and concerns. I know that this action will not please everyone, but I am confident that safety will be improved.

Why Cheeks asked American University to hold off or who asked for another hearing in the first place remains vague.

"The reason for the delay and how it came about is unclear," wrote Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E commissioner Sam Serebin, who represents the area. "This project has certainly not suffered from too little process (anyone who suggests as much just hasn't been paying attention) and the ANC still supports the project."


The current, temporary circles.

One possibility, though, is 3E chair Matthew Frumin, who was the target of the opponents' petition. Though he himself supports the circles, Frumin a message to Cheeks, Brown, DDOT's Sam Zimbabwe, and Councilmember Mary Cheh at 3:15 pm on Friday afternoon asking for another community meeting. Cheeks' request for a delay came just three hours later. Meanwhile, Cheh's office reiterated her support for the circles.

In multiple emails to DDOT and councilmember Mary Cheh, other 3E commissioners made it clear that Frumin had taken his action without first discussing the issue with the entire commission.

Director Brown deserves praise for standing up for this project despite efforts to delay it further. There has been enough public input; city agencies need to decide when they've heard all of the substantive arguments about a project and then be willing to move forward. AU Park residents will enjoy safer streets because Brown took action.

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Roads


Mini-circles calm traffic in AU Park but stir opposition

For a year now, drivers and cyclists on 42nd Street NW encountered a traffic calming device that's new to DC: Small traffic circles made out of plastic pylons. Permanent versions will soon replace them. But not all neighbors are pleased.

42nd Street is a popular route through American University Park. It offers a way to reach homes, schools, and a senior center without using busy Wisconsin Avenue. But drivers speed through the area and it was not safe enough for pedestrians, a 2011 study of the area found.

The solution? Mini-circles, a traffic calming device that's common in places such as Seattle, Portland, and Palo Alto, California. These provide a more pleasurable way to slow traffic than a speed bump. They are more effective than stop signs, since drivers may ignore a sign but must slow down to navigate the circle.


Photo by Seattle Department of Transportation on Flickr.

On 42nd Street, DDOT installed two mini-roundabouts a year ago to slow cars but keep the road working as a through route. Warren Street splits a block to the west and meets 42nd in two separate curved intersections where drivers take the turns too fast and often blindly.

American University agreed to pay for the traffic calming as part of negotiations over its most recent campus plan. That will fund more permanent versions, whose construction is scheduled to start on November 19.

Some neighbors say no

When the circles first appeared, some drivers complained of being confused. Sherry Cohen, a resident, said she thought the circles were dangerous.

The data, at least in Seattle, says otherwise: A 1997 study found that crashes dropped 94 percent in areas that got mini-circles. The city found that, "In addition to reducing [crashes], traffic circles have been effective at reducing vehicle speeds but have not significantly reduced traffic volumes."

Recently, Joan Silver, who lives right at the corner of 42nd and Warren, started circulating a petition opposing the permanent circles. She wants a new study to consider instead using stop signs or speed bumps.

Silver complains that the circles "do not satisfactorily or adequately address the range of traffic-related safety issues at the specified location, and ... have generated a number of dangerous conditions in their own right and negative impacts on properties immediately surrounding them."

Matthew Frumin, who chairs the area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission (3E), canvassed the neighborhood after receiving the complaints. In an email to the other commissioners and some of the petitioners, Frumin said that neighbors around the northern circle strongly favored making it permanent.

"While they do not think the circles are the only possible solution, they believe even the temporary northern circle has improved traffic conditions considerably," he wrote, "and that in the next phase when the circle takes its new shape and the crosswalk is added, conditions will improve further. If there is not a unanimous consensus around that, there is a very strong and decisive one in favor of the circle." Residents around the southern circle had more mixed views.

Comments on the petition say that the circles confuse some drivers (who even may go around the wrong way) or cause backups. Others complain that the pylons are ugly.

The permanent circles should address the aesthetic complaints. They will have landscaping that will create an attractive focal point for the residential neighborhood.

And fewer drivers will be "confused" as they get used to the circles. In other cities, drivers have not found them confusing or have adjusted. Perhaps a sign could help; some circles have them, though signs are also less attractive.

Trying new designs that have worked elsewhere should be the norm for our neighborhood streets. Hopefully DDOT will continue to experiment with ways to slow traffic down and make streets safer and more pleasant for everyone.

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Roads


After more crashes, DDOT pledges to remove Arkansas Avenue's rush hour lane

In the year since a speeding car struck a friend on Arkansas Avenue NW, more drivers keep getting into crashes. New crosswalks and a traffic camera haven't helped much, so now DDOT says it will re-stripe the street to eliminate its dangerous rush hour driving lane.


Photo by an Arkansas Avenue neighbor.

Last Tuesday night, yet another crash left a car totaled on Arkansas Avenue. Neighbors report that an SUV crashed into a parked car, pushing it onto the sidewalk and into a tree.

Tuesday's crash was at least the third like it in a month. Residents count at least six in the past year where drivers have crashed into parked cars. The culprit appears to be a dangerous combination of aggressive driving and unclear lane markings.


The parked car struck in Tuesday's crash. Photo by an Arkansas Avenue neighbor

After residents organized to demand a fix, DDOT studied the corridor to consider changes. Earlier this year, DDOT added new high visibility crosswalks and installed a traffic camera, but that didn't address the root problem.

The primary culprit of the crashes seems to be the northbound curbside lane. Normally it's a parking lane, but at rush hour it becomes a second travel lane. But there's no paint indicating where one lane ends and the other begins. Drivers see a very wide street that might be one or two lanes, with no indication of lanes or parking.

That situation encourages drivers to speed, and sometimes to pass on the right. When that happens and they encounter the occasional illegally parked car, crashes occur.

Eliminating the rush hour driving lane, allowing cars to park all day in both directions, and painting parking boxes to visually narrow the street should inhibit the most dangerous driving.


Arkansas Avenue NW. Image from Google.

Eliminating the rush hour lane wouldn't be a radical idea. DDOT eliminated other rush hour lanes, such as the one on nearby 13th Street, years ago. Meanwhile, the recent parking study included a map of rush hour restrictions that doesn't include Arkansas Avenue.

Another major issue is there are no stop signs or signals for almost 1/3 of a mile between Allison Street and the intersection with 13th Street. That enables drivers to build up speed. In the neighborhood's traffic calming petition to DDOT, residents requested a new stop or signal along that stretch to slow motorists down.


Length of Arkansas Avenue with no stops or signals. Image from Google.

In May, DDOT recommended removing the rush hour lane, and said the agency would continue to study the unsignalized intersections, as well as the potential to add bike lanes.

Six months and about the same number of crashes later, DDOT's director Matt Brown confirms the study is now complete. DDOT will re-stripe the street and change the parking restrictions in the next 30 days.

While it's not yet clear whether any new stop signs or bike lanes are also in the plans, eliminating the rush hour lane is a great victory for safety on Arkansas Avenue.

Kelly Blynn was a co-founder of 350.org and is currently the Next Generation of Transit Campaign Manager for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. However, the views expressed here are her own.

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Roads


What a supermarket can teach us about road design

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.

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Pedestrians


Cars keep crashing on Arkansas Avenue, imperiling pedestrians. When will DC take action?

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.


Northbound rush hour lane on Arkansas Avenue NW. Image from Google Maps.

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.

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Roads


Virginia's unpaved roads bill acknowledges that it's not all about cars

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.


A gravel road in Loudoun. Photo by mdmarkus66 on Flickr.

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.

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