DC economic development rep Ayris Scales claims that a planned road connection around the intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road is a “road to nowhere.” But according to a traffic study prepared for DDOT, the connection will meaningfully relieve traffic congestion in the area. It’ll also make the main intersection safer by lowering the numbers of cars competing with pedestrians, bicycles, and buses.
DC Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the committee responsible for selling or giving away public land that DC doesn’t need, raised questions at a July hearing based on testimony from local residents, citywide groups and a Greater Greater Washington article. DC purchased parcels at the northwest corner of Ward 7’s main crossroads, originally for a government building, then decided to give the land to private developers for housing and office space.
DDOT’s Great Streets plan included a recommendation to run a street around the back, from the Metro garage to the Benning Road viaduct over the railroad. The CityInterests plan, one of two finalists, included the road, while the other, from Donatelli development, did not. DMPED chose Donatelli, and has now been lobbying against the connection.
According to the traffic study (large PDF), cars today experience 101 seconds of delay at the intersection in the morning peak. Without changes, the study estimates that will rise to 136 seconds by 2025 with the new development, but the road connection would cut that to 84 seconds. That means the connection would save about 17% today and 32% in the future. The difference is even starker in the afternoon peak: delay is 94 seconds now and will rise to 124 by 2025, but would decline all the way to 48 if DC built the connection. In other words, traffic would be 2½ times worse at the Minnesota-Benning intersection without the road than with.
Of course, vehicular LOS is not the only factor on which to base transportation decisions. The study also computed pedestrian level of service, and the road improves that as well. Unfortunately, the scanned copy I have does not show the pedestrian chart with enough detail to make it out clearly. It is clear that some areas do change from E or F (red) to other letters (black), however. Update: Pedestrian LOS, like vehicular LOS, also doesn’t measure the most important factors. Ped LOS just determines how crowded the sidewalk is, not the safety of the intersections or whether pedestrians have to walk long distances out of the way. The apartments could have an entrance facing the back road, allowing pedestrians and bicyclists to walk or ride from the development across the Benning viaduct without going all the way around.
If the main intersection is too harrowing, bicyclists trying to head north or going to the Minnesota Avenue Metro could take the back road. Giving cars an alternative could make it easier to give the many buses that traverse the main intersection a little more space. And as some suggested in the comments on the earlier post, the new connection might also be helpful for streetcars, depending on how DDOT ends up designing the eastern end of the H Street-Benning Road line and its connection to the Minnesota Avenue Metro.
DMPED is arguing that the land is “surplus.” Of course, they also argued that it had been “blighted” and “long abandoned,” yet the African Heritage Dance Center had happily operated there until the DC government evicted them to clear the land for the development. This doesn’t sound like surplus land.
Fortunately, keeping the land isn’t incompatible with letting the project go forward. At a July 31 community meeting, Donatelli told the community they could work the street into the plan, “to Scales’ vocal disagreement.” The Council is only permitted to approve or deny the land transfer, but DMPED should stop fighting against their own city’s interests and resubmit the land disposition request with a right-of-way or easement reserved for the road connection.