Residents along DC’s Connecticut Avenue want the city to study ways to make it safer, including removing the current reversible lane, adding a protected bikeway, and/or otherwise changing the traffic patterns. Mayor Muriel Bowser has set a goal, Vision Zero, to eliminate the district’s traffic-related deaths by 2024, and fixing this vital corridor could move the city closer to this target.
Connecticut Avenue runs from the White House north into Maryland, connecting the National Zoo, the city’s biggest hotel, and scores of DC’s businesses and residents. Each day, approximately 35,000 motor vehicles plus many cyclists and pedestrians travel the thoroughfare.
Many people try to cross to reach businesses and neighborhoods on both sides while many more try to travel north-south, this major artery is also a safety risk. In 2008, Charles Schwartz was hit and killed by a driver allegedly on a cell phone. This year, a three-vehicle crash overturned one car. Some Van Ness residents have declared that their neighborhood “isn’t safe for walking.”
Resident Peter Krupa reported a cyclist got a concussion on Connecticut Avenue just recently, and it’s not an isolated incident:
nice work to whatever motorist turned left from NB Connecticut Ave. onto Tilden in front of an oncoming cyclist. guy locked his brakes to avoid a crash and now he has a concussion. #bikedc— Peter Krupa �� (@peterkrupa) July 27, 2018
this is the third crash i've seen on Connecticut Ave. in two weeks. last night i saw a van try and speed through a yellow in the leftmost lane as another car tried to turn left from the not-leftmost lane.— Peter Krupa �� (@peterkrupa) July 27, 2018
A reversible center lane sends cars one way in the morning rush and the opposite in the evening. While it was created to add car capacity, it’s also become a safety threat. Confused drivers frequently take the lane in the wrong direction.
Cyclists traveling the corridor have to tangle with multiple lanes of fast-moving cars, turning cars, and parked cars, or take much more circuitous routes. Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) called for a protected bikeway on Connecticut Avenue at an oversight hearing for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).
Adding bike lanes and otherwise revamping Connecticut Avenue would make the road safer for people biking and walking, and represents a prime chance to move toward the city's Vision Zero goals. Transit and bicycles take up less space than single drivers in personal vehicles, and boosting the former could help move more people through the corridor.
Previous studies have looked at the area only piecemeal
To date, DDOT has never released a comprehensive examination of the entire corridor. The department's last significant study of Connecticut Avenue looked at Cleveland Park in 2013. Before that, DDOT most recently looked at a section of the road further north in Van Ness a full decade earlier in 2003.
The 2011 Rock Creek West II Livability Study studied Connecticut Avenue from Van Ness to the DC border at Chevy Chase Circle, and identified dangerous hotspots for vulnerable road users up and down the corridor. Incredibly, the study’s “focus areas” for traffic calming improvements did not include any segments of Connecticut Avenue. Given the safety issues uncovered by this study, it’s long past time for us to discuss changes to this arterial.
Throughout the corridor, DDOT’s aim to “move traffic efficiently” can compete with initiatives to increase the safety of other transportation modes like cycling and local neighborhoods’ desire for greater walkability.
Much of the streetscape also has untapped potential to protect our environment by adding green infrastructure, removing existing impervious paving, and adding new plant landscaping. Similarly, efforts that could help capture hundreds of millions of dollars worth of local neighborhood retail spending by improving pedestrian and cycling connections, revitalizing public spaces and better organizing the identity of the corridor largely remain in their planning stages.
Simply put, the information our communities need to help one of our city’s most important streets reach its full potential is either incomplete, out-of-date – or both. That’s why some communities are asking DDOT for a better vision for Connecticut Avenue.
Two ANCs call for a study
In the last few months, ANC 3F and ANC 3C passed resolutions requesting a comprehensive study of Connecticut Avenue from Woodley Park up through Chevy Chase Circle.
The resolutions ask DDOT to analyze a wide range of potential improvements that could be made to the street. These include changes to the rush hour reversible lanes policy, establishing protected bikeways, and improving traffic management on Connecticut Avenue and surrounding streets.
The resolutions don’t include specific demands or requests. They simply ask for the agency to explain consequences and benefits various changes would entail, with the goal of improving the quality of life for all of the people who live, work, and travel along Connecticut Avenue.
DDOT is already studying Connecticut Avenue from Dupont Circle to California Street, and has floated two potential options to make it friendlier for cyclists: either a two-way protected bikeway on the east side of the street or one-way protected bikeways on each side. These lanes would connect to a bike lane being studied for 20th, 21st, or 22nd streets from Dupont Circle to the National Mall.
But without studying the rest of the corridor, DDOT will be in the dark about the best way to continue these lanes northward — whether two-way lanes on one side of the street should turn and connect to Columbia Road, or one-way lanes on each side of it might continue across the Taft Bridge towards Woodley Park.
That’s why a detailed examination of our options to improve Connecticut Avenue is so important. It would help answer that question and so many others.
Want to help boost pedestrian safety, walkability, and the economic vitality of this crucial corridor? Join with ANCs and neighbors and sign our petition: ask DDOT to take a comprehensive look at what a better Connecticut Avenue could look like.