Bicycling and safety improvements are coming to Grant and Sherman circles in DC's Petworth neighborhood. But concerns over traffic delays during a trial this summer means that Grant Circle won't get a protected bike lane.
The District Department of Transportation has studied these two traffic circles for over two years, and neighbors have been asking for safety improvements at each circle even longer. Even though most of the streets that enter the circles, such as Illinois Avenue, Kansas Avenue, and parts of New Hampshire Avenue, only have one lane in each direction, the circles themselves have two. That small chance to pass the car in front of you encourages speeding and dangerous driving, making it unsafe for anyone trying to cross the street or ride their bicycle through the circles.
One of the ideas for making Grant and Sherman circles safer is redesigning the circle so that there is only one lane for cars. That would discourage speeding and provide extra room for other changes, like bike lanes and wider sidewalks. Known as a road diet, taking out a lane can cut down on speeding or other reckless driving.
But road diets generally aren't recommended for busy streets like New Hampshire Avenue, and some neighbors are worried that losing a lane could increase congestion. It has put DDOT in a tricky spot to try and balance everyone's needs.
When DDOT tried to predict what would happen if either circle was just one lane, results were inconclusive for Grant Circle. That prompted a one week experiment back in May, where DDOT simply put up cones inside of Grant Circle and looked at what would happen with a one-lane circle.
Sherman Circle will lose a lane, but not Grant
At Sherman Circle, DDOT's traffic forecasts showed there would be little impact to removing a traffic lane. That means an opportunity to build a new protected bike lane through the circle, giving cyclists better options when riding through Petworth.
But for now, both lanes on Grant Circle are staying. DDOT measured traffic backups during morning rush hour with one lane and found they were longer than before. However, DDOT still plans to add bike lanes, though they wouldn't have a buffer like on Sherman Circle. DDOT will also restripe some of the driving lanes to discourage speeding and make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street. Doing that will hopefully be enough to make Grant Circle safer for everybody, even if both lanes have to stay.
Is this the only solution? The trial period only lasted a week. That may have not been enough time for drivers to adjust and maybe change their behavior. People that may have eventually tried a different route or a different way of traveling may have just dealt with the temporary delays instead. It also rained for a few days during the experiment, and that may have had an effect on travel times unrelated to the lane closures.
At the time, though, DDOT said that a week was all the time they had to work with. Instead, planners tried to use new GPS tools to collect more data to compensate. We'll never know what the results of a longer study could have been, but for now a two lane Grant Circle is not going anywhere.
DDOT will be soon be making final design decisions called a “notice of intent” for each circle, and present those to the public for final comment before actual construction starts. Then Petworth will be that much better for cyclists and pedestrians traveling through the neighborhood's traffic circles.