New bicycle lanes on Alabama Avenue by the author.

Alabama Avenue SE is a heavily-trafficked east-west corridor that runs along the edge of the District near the Maryland border. The four-mile stretch from Randle Place in Ward 8 to Ridge Road in Ward 7 provides important connections to neighborhoods, commercial areas, and Metro stops east of the Anacostia.

However, right now it’s confounding and dangerous for all road users. A 2017 DDOT study said Alabama Avenue was “identified as one of the 15 corridors throughout the District that had more than one fatality during the period of 2010 – 2014.” Two schoolchildren and a grandmother were hit by drivers there last year.

The city plans to update Alabama Avenue with bicycle lanes and a road diet, among other measures intended to make it safer and more pleasant for people traveling via all modes. On May 30, District Department of Transportation (DDOT) representatives came to the Frederick Douglass Community Center to discuss the plan and to hear from residents about the modifications it has already installed. Some were excited about the updates, while others were worried about losing parking.

Alabama Avenue project study area by DDOT.

Recommended changes key by DDOT.

Among the recommended updates are new bicycle lanes on Knox Place SE, curb extensions to slow drivers who turn too fast, new crosswalks on Suitland Parkway and 24th Street, and a simplified multi-leg intersection on Burns Avenue.

In an email, DDOT spokesperson Lauren Stephens said some of the installations, including striping, marking, and signage, began the third week in May. The street will get new flex posts along the bicycle lanes as well as other traffic calming devices. Bus stops will move to Webster Place, and that cross-street area will get a median refuge island, four crosswalk ramps, and two bus landing pads, as well as fresh crosswalk paint.

“The premise around all of this is safety,” Deputy Director Everett Lott told residents at the meeting. “The main concern is trying to reduce the speed of traffic and allow for a safer route for pedestrians walking, cyclists, and also those in cars.”

Some residents were concerned about seniors and people with disabilities losing parking due to the modifications. Others complained about receiving multiple parking tickets and said they didn’t receive proper notification before the changes.

Councilmember Trayon White (Ward 8), who was at the meeting, echoed the sentiments of some of the attendees. “I did get a lot of complaints from residents. And I did hear about the seniors in this community about their inability to park. From what I am hearing is a lot of people aren’t happy.”

Lott said that DDOT will keep coming back to listen to residents, and said the agency will consider extending some parking boxes if necessary. While concerns over losing parking are a common refrain at community meetings, other residents are excited about the update.

Ameen Beale, who lives in Ward 8, was happy about the modifications so far. “When I first saw this modification I was in the car with my 11 year-old,” Beale said. “When I saw it I was excited. I said it’s great they are taking multi-model transportation in Ward 8 seriously.”

Residents weighed in on safety updates to Alabama Avenue. Image by the author.

Beale, who had been attending meetings since the initial study in 2017, knew the modifications would take time. So would the time it takes for the community to adjust to the changes.

“I’m always saying there is no difference between a dude on a bike and a cyclist. We have to stop believing that cycling is a white thing or that making traffic improvements are a white or gentrification issue,” Beale said. He does hope the bike lanes will be get a barrier to protect them from cars though: “I feel in order for it to be adequate it needs to be protected,” he says.

As for neighbors’ concerns about parking?

“I am sympathetic to seniors and those with disabilities. I think for the greater goal of traffic safety, it’s going to be tough.” Beale said. “As a parent, I feel it’s a step in the right direction.”