Photo from Google Street View.

DDOT plans to reconfigure a completely pedestrian-hostile intersection near Fort Totten into one that’s only a little bit pedestrian-hostile.

You can encourage them to go further and make pedestrians and cyclists full citizens of this area.

Today, the intersection of Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue is a high-speed net of curving ramps more appropriate for a suburban freeway than an low and moderate density urban neighborhood next to a Metro transfer station. The area is slated to get several major development projects to turn some of the warehouses and big box stores into mixed-use communities, including one right at this intersection and the recently-approved Arts Place just to the south.

One day, this area could be a vibrant, walkable district where many more residents walk to Metro than the disappointing 20% today. That definitely won’t happen if they all have to take their lives in their hands crossing the street.

To its credit, DDOT wants to reconfigure the intersection into a traditional four-way. They also plan to add on-street parking on two of the roads. Unfortunately, the design team came up with something that looks more like what you’d find on Route 7 or Rockville Pike than in DC. Two-lane roads widen to four approaching the intersection, with multiple turn lanes in various directions.

Left: The intersection today. Image from Google Maps. Right: Current plan. Click to enlarge (PDF).

Most importantly, there are only three crosswalks instead of four. The designers say that a crosswalk wasn’t compatible with two left-turn lanes from northbound South Dakota to westbound Riggs. Even if that’s true, why not therefore say that two left-turn lanes was incompatible with the necessary crosswalks and cut one of the turn lanes? Somehow we seem to get by with four crosswalks at busy corners like 14th and U. If these consultants were designing that intersection today, would they insist that we have to ban pedestrians from the west side of 14th?

Pedestrian refuge in extended median.

In addition to the missing crosswalk, the medians stop short of the crosswalks, giving cars very wide turn radii (meaning they’ll take the corner at high speed) instead of extending beyond the crosswalk to provide a pedestrian refuge as people cross these wide roads. And bicycles get no assistance navigating this corner.

These roads don’t need 12-foot travel lanes. Those encourage speeding and also incite drivers to try to pass bicyclists very close without changing lanes. Many DC roads, including many of the L’Enfant avenues, have 10-foot lanes. These would fit into an intersection with a “design speed” of 25 mph, an appropriate speed for an urban neighborhood which should one day accommodate large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists.

Today, most of the buildings around this intersection are low, commercial or industrial structures with large paved expanses around. It doesn’t feel like U Street or Clarendon. But one day, it will. One day, people will live at the northwest corner and want to walk to the Fort Totten Metro to the southwest. Designing what will one day become a central mixed-use corner in this neighborhood to move cars very fast while shuttling pedestrians the long way around will only become an albatross around DC’s neck 20 years from now. And with senior housing among that planned for the area, do we really want to design another intersection that will exacerbate the recent epidemic of seniors getting mowed down by drivers?

We should design every intersection (even on Route 7 and Rockville Pike) with the same design philosophy: no one mode trumps another, and we don’t prohibit one mode, like pedestrians, from using part of the road network just to make it faster for another.

It’s not too late for DDOT to change this plan, and you can encourage them. The Coalition for Smarter Growth has created a petition to ask DDOT to improve pedestrian access at this corner, particularly by adding the missing crosswalk.


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David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.