K Street NE. Image created with Google Maps.

The time has come for DC to deliver on the K Street NE Road Diet, a streetscape project designed to make the road safer in the NoMa, Near Northeast, and Hill East neighborhoods. The more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly design will encourage people to travel via these modes, and help the city mitigate climate change.

In February, District Department of Transportation Director Jeff Marootian testified to the DC Council that the K Street NE Road Diet would be installed in 2019. After three years of study, we and other neighborhood advocates are organizing a monthly march, picnic, and bike ride to keep up the pressure on DDOT to get it done.

Sign the petition for a green and safe K Street NE!

The K Street NE road diet will calm traffic by removing an unnecessary rush-hour driving lane. From Florida Avenue to 6th Street NE, it would add full-time parking and curb extensions on both sides. From 6th to 2nd streets NE, it would add full-time parking on the south side of the street, bicycle lanes, and curb extensions to make it easier to cross.

K Street NE project study area. Image by DDOT.

As it's currently designed, the road is quite dangerous. From 2013 to 2015, MPD reported 176 crashes on K Street NE between 1st Street and Florida Avenue NE. That's especially concerning because K Street NE hosts our neighborhood elementary school, J.O. Wilson Elementary, and K Street is one of the few roads that crosses between NW and NE. MobilityLab GPS data identified K Street from 3rd Street NW to 3rd Street NE as one of DC's most heavily used bicycle routes that completely lacks cycling infrastructure.”

Slowing down traffic here will make it easier for people walking to cross the street safely. Installing bicycle lanes will also help save lives, reduce local air pollution, and help us meet our city’s climate targets.

A climate picnic, march, and bicycle ride until K Street is safe

Until this project moves forward, we are holding a climate picnic, march and bike ride on the last Sunday of every month. The first #GreenKSt event will be this Sunday, March 31 at 12 pm.

We’ll hold a picnic on the stub of West Virginia Avenue NE that should be a park and cover it with picnic blankets. We will demand a future with green space, bicycle lanes, slower traffic, and clean air. Then we’ll march and ride at 1 pm.

The current, dangerous setup encourages drivers to travel at high speeds during their commute. The city adds a second west-bound travel lane in the morning from 7 am to 9:30 am, and later adds a second east-bound travel lane from about 4 pm to 6:30 pm. This forces residents to shuttle their parked cars from one side of the street to the other during the day, and leaves people walking and bicycling to pray for good fortune.

The road diet with bicycle lane is the DDOT proposal that our group, Safe Streets for Hill East and Near Northeast, is advocating for. We also want a new park at the car-free portion of West Virginia Avenue between K Street NE and 8th Street NE. DDOT closed this small road segment to cars in April 2018 by installing flexiposts on both sides of the block. Since then it has become a space for dance parties, picnics, and for children to play.

The closed portion of West Virginia Ave NE between 8th and K St. Image by the author.

Both of these projects are long overdue in our neighborhood. It's an area of the city that is not always well-served by Metro, lacks access to green space, and where up to 86% of residents commute car-free. Three years is a long time to have waited for DDOT to complete the road diet study alone. We now expect it to deliver on its promise for summer 2019 installation.

K Street should not look or feel like a highway, because K Street is not a highway. People live here and travel through here. Children attend the elementary school on this road. We ought to be able to breathe clean air and experience the stress reduction that comes from trees and green space. We want our kids and older neighbors alike to walk or ride a bicycle on our streets without undue stress. More than 50 neighborhood parents have already spoken out about our need for this project in a letter to Marootian.

Happily, there's a solution ready to go

The good news is that there's a solution that has been discussed for many years, received unanimous support from ANC 6C, and is ready to go. We don’t need a study or a brand new design—we just need DDOT to implement it!

Some opponents say the three-year process that brought us to a full design is too short. The local ANC 6C, however, passed the original request for a K Street safety study in April 2016. “ANC 6C firmly believes that the safety improvements are essential and that the need for them easily outweighs the desire to preserve a few parking spots,” ANC 6C chair Karen Wirt wrote after the ANC voted a second time to support the road diet.

If every green space and bicycle lane in this city takes three years or more to install, we will never meet our own climate action targets, and our neighborhood kids and adults will continue to breathe excessively polluted air. We need to make sure DDOT does its job and implements this road diet in the coming weeks—not months, and not years.

Concerns about losing a few parking spots are dwarfed by the benefits of lives saved, crashes prevented, clean air, fewer asthma attacks, and our climate targets being met. Join us for the climate picnic, march and bike ride! Use the hashtag #GreenKSt! RSVP to our Facebook event for this Sunday, March 31. And if the road diet isn’t complete by April 28, we hope you’ll join us for another picnic, march, and ride on that day.

Sign the petition for a green and safe K Street NE!

Keya Chatterjee is a mom, a neighbor, a WABA board member, and Executive Director of US Climate Action Network. She grew up in various spots around Greater Washington, but has lived in Ward 6 since 2003. She lives near H Street NE, in 'Old City,' with her husband, son, and huge dog.

Robb Dooling is a member of DC's Multimodal Accessibility Advisory Council, which advocates better transportation options and public spaces for people with disabilities. He is also a bike adventurer and progressive dreamer.

Rachel Maisler is an avid city cyclist and advocate who enjoys exploring DC and beyond. She represents Ward 4 on the Bicycle Advisory Council and serves on the Age-Friendly DC Task Force. When she's not fighting for safe roads, Rachel is a health policy wonk. Rachel has lived inside the Beltway since 2005 and currently resides in Petworth. She also writes for Petworth News.