Twice in the last three months, a car has careened through the storefront windows at 6th and Penn Street NE, on the western side of Gallaudet. The crashes are symptoms of a common problem: drivers reaching dangerously high speeds on 6th between Florida Avenue and Brentwood Parkway. Here are some thoughts on how to fix that.
Two drivers have crashed into Dolcezza at the intersection of 6th Street, Brentwood Parkway, and Penn Street NE since January. Photo by Jonathan Neeley.
The January 9th and March 8th crashes saw cars traveling northbound on 6th Street NE (and presumedly looking to veer onto Brentwood Parkway) barrel into the storefront of Dolcezza, a gelato and coffee shop north of Union Market and west of Gallaudet University. The driver was reportedly asleep at the wheel in the second incident.
Take a walk along the three-block stretch of 6th that’s between Florida Avenue and Brentwood Parkway and one thing will quickly become clear: it is basically a drag strip. The road is about 70 feet wide with 12 foot wide lanes, with little by way of traffic calming. Drivers get the impression they can drive much faster than is actually safe.
There have been attempts to slow traffic here. In 2014, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) installed large flowerpots to narrow the road and painted a new crosswalk at Neal Place NE (adjacent to Union Market’s entrance), and added a protected bikeway.
But people walking, riding bikes, and even some drivers say that despite DDOT’s efforts, people still drive way too fast along this stretch. The recent spate of crashes into Dolcezza, along with the planned development along 6th Street, make it clear that the streetscape is due for a redesign.
Five ideas for a safer 6th Street NE
1. A traffic circle could go in at the three-way intersection of 6th Street, Brentwood Parkway and Penn Street. That would force drivers to slow down as they approached and entered the intersection.
An example is the circle on Brentwood Parkway at 13th Street NE and Bryant Street NE that slows traffic as they yield to automobiles in the circle without a stoplight.
The traffic circle at Brentwood Parkway, 13th Street and Bryant Street in northeast. Image from Google Maps.
However, a circle would require the District to take land from the adjacent landowners, likely making it more difficult to implement.
2. A sharper corner would also force drivers to slow down in order to navigate the turn like with the traffic circle. This would also require taking land from adjacent landowners, however.
3. Chicanes artificially narrow and often add curves to otherwise straight stretches of road. Adding them to 6th Street would force drivers to slow down and pay more attention to the road, but they could be difficult for delivery trucks (which frequent the area) to navigate.
4. A stoplight could go up on 6th Street at either Morse Street or Neal Place. This would break up the roughly 1,500-foot long stretch of road into more city block-length segments.
However, a number of Greater Greater Washington contributors discussed the matter yesterday, a number said they doubted a light would have as much of an impact on speed as other traffic calming measures would.
5. A speed camera is a likely the quickest and easiest solution to slowing cars on 6th Street. Cameras have successfully slowed traffic on other roads around the District and almost certainly would have the same effect here.
These ideas are just part of the discussion of how to transform 6th Street NE into a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly corridor. DDOT was not immediately available to comment, but the topic will become increasingly pertinent as the neighborhood around these blocks transforms into one full of residents, students and shoppers from its more industrial past.