In January, the District Department of Transportation replaced two lanes on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park with a painted median and turn lane to calm traffic. But due to pressure from residents and local elected officials, DDOT will end their year-long trial and return the street to six lanes.
DDOT created the median between 35th and Garfield streets NW to draw attention to the commercial strip and give pedestrians a safer way to cross the street. But after complaints from drivers and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, the agency already removed part of the median in May.
Since DC received federal funds for this project, it must comply with federal lane width guidelines. Putting the original six lanes back would violate those guidelines, meaning the city will have to do so with its own funds.
Residents say they want pedestrian safety, but not at drivers’ expense
The Glover Park ANC originally supported DDOT’s plan, but reversed its position after conducting an informal online survey in October that said most Glover Park residents support a return to six traffic lanes. Just 300 of Glover Park’s 10,000 residents completed the survey, but Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh agreed with the ANC’s position.
Opponents claim the traffic calming has added to travel times, with anecdotal accounts citing times twice as long as the previous configuration. DDOT’s official report indicates that average northbound drive times have increased by two minutes. Opponents have criticized this figure as only reflecting rush hour times and suggest that other times of day have been heavily affected as well.
Some business owners claimed a drop in customers because of difficulties driving to their locations. However, several new restaurants opened or will open in the corridor during the past year, including Sprig and Sprout, Arcuri, Einstein Bagels, and Jimmy John’s. Meanwhile, Rocklands BBQ, whose owner signed a letter from local businesses saying they were getting fewer customers, recently announced that it will double in size.
At a recent community roundtable on the changes, Cheh and Glover Park ANC Chair Brian Cohen said very clearly that they did not want to change the lanes back without doing some pedestrian safety improvements to the area. Most residents testified in support of returning the street to six lanes, and some residents were open to speed cameras and HAWK lights, but little else.
DDOT Director Terry Bellamy noted in his testimony that it is difficult to both keep vehicles moving and build in safety measures. He also said that Wisconsin Avenue is too narrow for six lanes, as it is only 55 feet wide in the Glover Park commercial district.
Compromise proposal would remove just one lane
At the roundtable, Georgetown resident and GGW contributor Ken Archer offered a compromise plan, which would return one of the traffic lanes, but make them narrower, providing room for a northbound bike lane and rush-hour dedicated bus lane.
Archer argued that congestion will only get worse, pointing to residential developments all along Wisconsin. The only solution, he said, is to get drivers out of their cars. Cheh said that DDOT should consider Archer’s plan for the long term, but in the short term all traffic lanes should be returned.
Political pressure on DDOT appears to work
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh first called a hearing in May as a response to concerns from Massachusetts Heights residents about the painted median between Calvert and Garfield streets. Though this section of Wisconsin Avenue was the site of multiple pedestrian strikes, DDOT removed part of the median within weeks of the May hearing. DDOT has yet to release any empirical data supporting their decision.
The hearing this month was a response to continued demands to remove the median south of Calvert. And like the first hearing, DDOT agreed afterwards to undo its lane configuration with no empirical data supporting their decision.
This experience shows that DDOT is being particularly vulnerable to political pressure. It sets a precedent for opponents of other progressive transportation initiatives, particularly in Ward 3, where Cheh opposed converting the Cleveland Park service lane to a sidewalk. And it bodes well for opponents of the new bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue, who can only come away emboldened by DDOT’s eagerness to placate many of their neighbors on Wisconsin.