After years of community pressure, multiple deaths, and an emergency bill in the DC Council, DC is working to make Florida Avenue NE safer. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) presented details to community members last week, and is putting in interim changes until September while it finishes designing the permanent project. At least some people are still opposing the changes, however.
This is one of DC’s most dangerous stretches of roadway.
Ruby Whitfield was killed by a speeding driver while trying to cross on foot in front of hte New Samaritan Baptist Church in 2013. The signpost in front of the church commemorates her with a “Ruby Whitlock Way” sign. Dave Salovesh was killed by a speeding van driver at 12th and Florida on April 19. In a tragic and comic turn of events, another driver rammed into the ghost bike memorial, destroying the bike and the light post to which it was chained.
Speeding on this road, mostly three lanes in each direction, is rampant. People on foot and bike navigate narrow sidewalks with little to no protection from vehicles.
A permanent project has been working its way through designs since at least 2013, but with constant delays; a study was completed in 2015. In February 2017 officials said designs would be finished in the spring of 2018, but they still haven’t been. That delay, and Salovesh’s death, prompted emergency legislation from Ward 6 councilmember Charles Allen to lean hard on DDOT to get that design done.
How about a temporary solution? Yes!
But the people of the H Street area, Trinidad, Gallaudet University, and other area communities shouldn’t have to watch their members killed as they wait for a transportation engineering process that takes years at best. Six years ago, GGWash contributor and area resident Tony Goodman suggested temporary measures to narrow the road, slow traffic, and provide protected walking and bicycling paths in the interim.
Other cities, especially New York, have found great success with temporary changes. For very little money, an agency can put in a few posts, repaint some lanes, change some signs, and try out a potentially better road configuration. If it works, build a more permanent version. If not, make adjustments to make it work, or put things back the way they were for very little money again.
Staff at DDOT, including director Jeff Marootian and new Vision Zero head Linda Bailey (who spent six years at NYC DOT) are recently embracing this philosophy, not just with this project but ones like the pilot bus lanes on H & I streets NW, which didn’t go through a decade of study but were cooked up and painted on in a matter of months and seem to be working so far.
Florida Avenue project manager Emily Dalphy, who’s part of the Vision Zero team, presented temporary plans for Florida at a community meeting on June 20, located in the basement of the same church Whitfield, the 2013 victim, worshiped in.
Here’s what will happen
The road changes take two forms, one west of West Virginia Avenue and one east. To the west, the road is now six lanes with no parking at any time. The H Street neighborhood is to the south and Gallaudet and Union Market are along the north side.
Here, there will be a two-way protected bikeway on the south side. The six lanes will become five, two in each direction and a center turn lane.
Also in this area, residents of 6th Street NE and their Advisory Neighborhood Commission, ANC 6C, have asked to make 6th Street one-way northbound to cut down on “aggressive driving.” The road between K and M streets NE will become one driving lane, parking on each side, and a protected bikeway in each direction. There’s already a two-way protected bikeway north of M.
You can see all the details, including a little zig-zag they’ve got to get the southbound bike lane from one side to the other, on this detailed diagram.
At West Virginia Avenue, DDOT wants to cut off 9th and L streets west of West Virginia from the avenue itself, just a mini-block south of Florida. This corner has a lot of users traveling in different directions, and ANC 6C asked DDOT engineers to take a look and come up with solutions.
Back on Florida Avenue itself, east of West Virginia Avenue the road has residential neighborhoods on both sides. It is narrower, with four lanes most of the time and five sometimes; parts of it have rush hour restricted parking.
Here, the plan is to make the road three car lanes wide, one in each direction with a turn lane for the third at some corners and permanent parking, rather than off-peak only, in the middles of the blocks. There would be a protected one-way bikeway on each side of the road here.
This means 89 part-time parking spaces become 47 full-time spaces. DDOT’s Vision Zero team and leadership believe that this change is more than worth it to save lives.
DDOT will also use a new, chonkier plastic bollard instead of the flimsy “flexiposts” that protect bikeways today. While these plastic bollards are not as strong as a concrete curb, they seem to be a step up in sturdiness.
Surprise!! My order of K-71s arrived this week. Gonna pilot these in a few locations to see how they hold up and improve safety for #bikedc! There’s another 650 coming for #FixFLAve :P #VisionZeroDC https://t.co/AkblixD6mQ— Emily Dalphy (@TrafficEnginerd) June 21, 2019
Work has already started on another spot right off Florida Avenue, at 12th and K, where a curved “slip lane” is being removed. Drivers turning right from 12th onto K Street NE will have to take a tighter and slower turn, keeping people on foot crossing K Street more visible and making them walk along only one crosswalk instead of two.
Some people say it’s not enough input
DDOT’s efforts to reach out to residents and collect public input has led to at least one person flyering area houses to argue DDOT hasn’t been asking for public input. A photo of this flyer was posted on an area safe streets email list:
Gordon Chaffin, who writes the Street Justice newsletter (to which you should subscribe and support Chaffin!), also reported that church members were not supportive. “To a person, they said it’s bad and they don’t like the removal of space they’ve used thus far for the chance to park near the church steps,” he wrote. The pastor said they’re looking into options for parking such as at Gallaudet University, though the parishioners Chaffin spoke to weren’t enthusiastic about having to walk from the campus, whose near edge is one block away.
In this case, DDOT’s new commitment to road safety and the unquestionable safety problems here mean this interim change will all but certainly start construction next month. If it can succeed, it could not only fix a glaring danger spot in DC but provide a template for doing similar trial-period safety improvements all around the city.
DDOT will also continue to develop the final design, building on recommendations from the 2015 study. According to their website, this final phase will take 16 months to complete, and ought to begin construction in 2021, if there aren’t further delays.