Planning for Transit on M Street

South by West
Green bike lanes have been painted recently on I Street to emphasize the path at the intersection with South Capitol Street. One of the planning scenarios would remove the bike lanes on I Street and place cycle tracks on M Street. Photo: William Rich

Over the past several months, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has been working on a transportation planning study of the M Street, SE/SW corridor.  The study area includes most of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6D, which includes everything south of the Southeast/Southwest Freeway to the Washington Channel and Anacostia River. ANC 6D is one of the fastest developing areas of the city with massive projects planned throughout Southwest and Near Southeast neighborhoods and the commissioners have made several requests to DDOT over the years for a comprehensive traffic study of M Street. The study began in early 2012 and after three community meetings and months of study by DDOT and their consultant CH2MHILL, three alternatives were developed for the corridor and surrounding streets. Each of the alternatives is distinct, although some aspects of each alternative are common.

The first alternative would remake M Street SE/SW as a “Main Street” which would accommodate more transit service. Under this alternative, there would be a median of variable width, including a center turn lane on the Southwest portion of M Street, two travel lanes on each side of the street, and the outer lanes would be an exclusive transit lane for streetcars, Metrobus, and commuter buses. Street parking that currently exists on M Street SE/SW would be removed under this scenario since the parking lane would be taken up by the transit lane. Right turns would be restricted to certain intersections throughout the corridor so the transit vehicles are able to travel more quickly on the street. In order to compensate for the removal of a traffic lane on M Street SE/SW, a second travel lane would be added to each side of I Street, SW by removing on-street parking. The bike lane configuration currently on I Street, SW would change to include a mixed travel and bike lane in each direction. In addition, P Street, SW would be widened from one travel lane to two travel lanes between 4th Street, SW and South Capitol Street, SW during peak hours. One-way traffic on some streets would be converted to two-way streets. 

Under the second alternative, or the “Balanced Linkages” scenario, M Street SE/SW would accommodate cars, transit, and bike lanes. The typical cross-section of M Street west of South Capitol Street would have an eight-foot cycle track, an eight-foot parking lane, a 12-foot shared travel lane for general purpose and transit vehicles, and an 11-foot travel/turn lane in each direction.  This scenario reduces the number of travel lanes from three currently to two lanes in each direction on M Street. Streetcar service would be placed along I Street, SW, where the parking lane would be removed and replaced with a shared vehicle/transit lane. The streetcar line would connect to 7th Street, SW on the western side. On-street parking on P Street, SW would be removed as well, replaced with a shared travel/transit lane that would serve the DC Circulator (assuming service is restored to Southwest). No Southwest streets would be converted to two-way streets under the second alternative.

Alternative number three, or the “Mobility Arterial” scenario would make M Street SE/SW three travel lanes in each direction with the outer lane serving as a shared travel/transit lane. Streetcars would run on this shared lane.  No parking would be provided on M Street SE/SW under this scenario. However, the middle travel lane would be shared with bicycles. The current configuration of I Street, SW would not change under this scenario. Similar to alternative number two, no Southwest streets would be converted to two-way streets under the third alternative.

Neither of these alternatives looked at traffic patterns during special events such as Nationals games, which was of great concern to some residents when these alternatives were first presented to the community back in September. DDOT has contingency plans in place for game day traffic, so the study focused on traffic patterns on “normal” days.

Some potential projects that can be done in the near-term, or within the next five years, are achievable under any of the alternatives. These near-term improvements include the promotion of car-sharing, increase transit modes and frequency, improve pedestrian access to transit facilities, install solar-powered parking meters capable of dynamic pricing, implement traffic calming measures, provide pervious pavers within sidewalks and café spaces, revise signal timing at intersections, improve signage, install more benches and bike racks, and increase the number of street trees. In the long-term (beyond 2020), more improvements can be made to the area, such as connecting future development in Buzzard Point to the rest of the study area via streetcar and shuttle service, improve east-west connectivity throughout the study area, increase capacity at Metrorail stations including Waterfront and Navy Yard- Ballpark, separate the Metrorail Yellow line from the Green line to create infill stations, enhance commuter rail at L’Enfant, and build a multimodal transfer center.

William Rich is a blogger at Southwest…The Little Quadrant that Could (

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