Crossing Maryland Avenue

Pedestrian Safety Project will not start anytime soon

A concept rendering the proposed road design at the intersections of Seventh, D, and Maryland Avenue. (Photo Credit: DDOT)  

“I'm a neighbor of yours. I live on 12th and D,” said District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Director Leif Dormsjo to a group of residents at Northeast Library on May 12. “I've crossed Maryland Avenue virtually every morning that I go on a run, which is virtually every morning.” Hosted by Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, Dormsjo and his staff gave an update on a pedestrian safety project many residents believe is long overdue. “For me, this is about the safety of my neighbors over and above the safety of the people in the city I work for,” he assured his audience. “It's both professional and personal.”

The impetus for the project, launched in March 2011, came from area Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) who listed problem areas along the Maryland Avenue corridor and offered possible solutions. Then-Councilmember Tommy Wells helped allocate funds to DDOT for the project and a series of meetings for residents to give feedback were held. After ANCs 6A and 6C approved a preferred design in 2012, not much happened. The project went through environmental and historic impact studies, which frustrated residents. 

Then, on June 9, 2014, Elizabeth Lang, the head librarian at the Northeast branch of the D.C. public library, was run over in a crosswalk on Maryland Avenue by a taxi. While DDOT took emergency stop-gap measures (flex posts and extra signage) in that intersection, the residents demanded a permanent solution. Unfortunately, nothing will be done anytime soon.

Issues Addressed

According to Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT's Associate Director of Policy, Planning, and Sustainability Administration (PPSA), the key issues that the road plan seeks to address are speeding along the corridor and a relatively low traffic volume; in fact, the times in which traffic volumes are the highest are during morning and evening rush hours. “When it's peak time, the congestion makes speeding somewhat hard to do,” Zimbabwe explained. “But in the early [morning] and even midday, you start to see a good number of cars [traveling at] over 40 miles per hour. We're talking about 40-50 cars an hour.” Also, the study showed the severity of crashes along the corridor is higher that the city average. 

“A Textbook Road Design” 

Currently, a typical section of road would have two 17 to 18-foot travel and parking lanes, 10-foot travel lanes, and a 4-foot median. DDOT's recommended alternative has two eight-foot parking lanes, two five to six-foot bike lanes, two 11-foot travel lanes, and a 10-foot wide median, which acts as a left-turn lane at intersections. “This is really textbook,” said Zimbabwe. “This is the one that's been tested around the country in many, many scenarios.” According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Road Diet Informational Guide, studies show that road designs like this lead to a 19 to 47 percent reduction in overall car crashes, as speeding drivers are forced to follow the lead vehicle's set speed. Also, the left-turn lanes allow drivers to make safe turns out of the way of other vehicles.

Timeline

“In terms of how much design has actually been done...we're at zero percent,” said Dormsjo. “We don't have anything on paper I can hand over to a contractor.” The meeting was part of the concept stage, in which DDOT conducts extensive community engagement while setting design goals, key issues, and research environmental and historic impact. This month, DDOT hopes to finalize their environmental impact documents and obligate FHWA funds to begin preliminary engineering. During this phase, which could last until spring 2016, DDOT will come up with a more detailed design plan, including road profiles, utility locations, and a detailed cost estimate. By 2017, the design should be finalized and construction can begin.

Community Frustration

“I'm more encouraged now than I have been in the past,” said Todd Hettenbach, a resident who lives on D Street. “But we just can't afford to wait another five years or three years for the construction to be done.” Another resident agreed, saying, “I'm appalled that we don't have Maryland Avenue the way those drawings say. I don't know what monies been spent...but I'm appalled that this thing has dragged on for so long.” Speaking to resident frustration on the project, Councilmember Allen said, “I think we have studied this to death...I really think that DDOT wants to take up that charge, as if to say, 'Let's stop studying it and let's figure out how we design different features.'”

“I have no problem with the feedback that we need to do more, because I agree.” said Dormsjo. “I completely agree. We've got to raise the performance level of this agency.”

 

To learn more about the Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Transportation Project and make comments, visit the website at tooledesign.com/marylandave/index.php or visit the Maryland Avenue Neighhors Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MarylandAvenueNeighbors)


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