Florida Avenue, NE is one of the most dangerous roads in DC for all modes of transportation, and a 71-year-old pedestrian was just recently killed trying to cross. Past studies have recommended widening the sidewalks here, but residents likely have to wait even longer for fixes as DDOT embarks on yet another study.

Photograph by John Nelson reproduced with permission.

Gallaudet University, a Metro station, an elementary school, homes and businesses line the 6-lane road. It has very narrow sidewalks which don’t meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and no parked cars or street trees to serve as buffers.

This road has seen many deaths over the past few years. Most recently, 71-year-old Ruby Whitfield was killed while walking across Florida Avenue NE in a marked crosswalk. The driver, a 32-year-old Annapolis man, was reportedly drunk and speeding, and fled the scene. MPD quickly apprehended him.

While the section of Florida Avenue from 2nd Street NE to West Virginia Avenue NE is 6 lanes wide, the block where Ms. Whitfield was killed has fewer driving lanes, with relatively wider sidewalks and street trees. The driver had just crossed West Virginia Avenue into this adjacent block.

At a vigil on Florida Avenue a few days after Ms. Whitfield died, Mayor Gray committed to quickly installing a new traffic signal at the intersection with 11th Street NE, and allowing parking at all times on this block to reduce the road to one lane per direction. This might have saved Ms. Whitfield’s life, and is a positive first step, but it is not nearly enough.

Photograph by John Nelson reproduced with permission.

The road is not adequate for growing pedestrian usage

Pedestrian traffic has increased significantly in this area as the NoMa area grows and new attractions such as Union Market open.  Florida Avenue is also home to Two Rivers Public Charter School and Gallaudet University. The NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station, which opened in 2004 one block from Florida Avenue, has the fastest growth rate of any in the system.

The sidewalks in many areas, especially on the south side of the street, are often only 2 feet wide. Numerous obstructions such as light poles and sign posts reduce the effective width even further.  The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) repainted some of the crosswalks in 2011, but this is not as helpful as creating actual ADA-compliant sidewalks with proper widths and ramps.

Photos by Yancey Burns.

For the thousands of students, staff, and visitors to Gallaudet University, the narrow sidewalks are particularly hazardous because it’s not possible to communicate in sign language while walking single-file down a narrow sidewalk. 

Hansel Bauman, the University’s Director of Campus Planning & Design (and a resident of the Trinidad neighborhood) has led an initiative called “DeafSpace” to create architectural design guidelines that quantify ways to enhance communication and livability. It is ironic and sad that the main street to campus does not provide for the needs of their community.

The volume of cars traveling on Florida Avenue NE does not justify the current road configuration, particularly because this street is already narrower for most of its length.  DDOT & the Office of Planning have written numerous studies and reports over the past few years that recommend reducing the number of travel lanes and installing wider sidewalks on Florida Avenue. 

Most recently, the NoMa Neighborhood Access Study & Transportation Management Plan included this project on its “Immediate Action List” for completion within 24 months.  That study was published in early 2010, and to date DDOT has not put forth any preliminary plans or come close to starting construction.

Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT Associate Director for Policy, Planning, and Sustainability, said in an email that DDOT is “starting a planning study from New York to West Virginia with the goal of improving safety and operations, and that will explore the ability to reduce the number of travel lanes.”

The planning study won’t wrap up until the middle of 2014.  Then, if funding is available, DDOT could potentially begin design and construction. However, all of this would take several years. Ms. Whitfield’s neighbors and friends, and everyone else who uses this street, should not continue to wait.