K Street NE. Image created with Google Maps.

DC traffic engineers say that a K Street NE safety project, which eliminates a rush hour driving lane and adds curb extensions and bicycle lanes, will be complete just in time for the start of the school year. This means that by the end of August, kids, parents, and other neighbors will be able to bike more safely on K Street, breathe cleaner air, and cross the street without fearing for their lives.

Say Hurray for K!

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.

We hoped that everyone living in the area would support these safety changes. Exchanging a few parking spots for a life seems like a good trade to us. Unfortunately, we do have neighbors whose priority is parking. That’s not a trade we are willing to make, nor is it a trade that we believe that most of our neighbors are willing to make.

Just a few weeks ago, there were two crashes in the K Street NE corridor, which underlined how desperately overdue these changes are. Thankfully no one was hit on the sidewalk by these drivers—not all of our neighbors have been so lucky.

A recent crash on K Street NE.

Ever since March, our group of residents, ‘Safe Streets for Hill East and Near Northeast,’ has been meeting on the last Sunday of every month to demand safety improvements on K Street NE. At our first ride in support of a #GreenKSt in March, local bicycle advocate Dave Salovesh was one of the first to sign in and partake in the potluck picnic. He was killed weeks later, before we could do the second group ride in April, on Florida Avenue just blocks from where we had gathered to demand a safe K Street.

In April, we visited the ‘ghost bike’ that marked the spot where Dave was killed, before riding on K Street in his memory. By June, another driver had crashed into his ghost bike, and it’s no longer there for us to visit. We cannot keep losing our friends and neighbors to traffic violence. We need safe streets.

Children and deaf riders need safe routes to school

Safety measures in this area are especially important because students walk through to get to J.O. Wilson Elementary. Gallaudet University is nearby, so there are many deaf cyclists riding our streets (including one of the authors of this piece). Dozens of parents wrote a letter to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) asking for this K Street NE road diet for the sake of their family members’ safety (including another author of this piece).

Safety for these vulnerable neighbors is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

K Street NE project study area. Image by DDOT.

That’s why we are saddened by neighbors who have been fighting these safety improvements for years. This past winter, one resident wrote to WUSA Channel 9 to ask if the project would reduce the number of parking spaces. No one is trying to hide that there will be a parking impact on one side of the street, but the alternative is more crashes—potentially lethal ones.

There have been multiple Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and other community meetings on this topic, and the ANC unanimously voted in support of the safety measures knowing that it would affect parking. We are grateful that all of our elected officials, from the ANC to the Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, support the project. The city has studied this corridor for years and held countless meetings. Now it’s time to act.

Recently, our local bicycle safety membership organization, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), began a push for 20 miles of connected bike lanes by 2020. It includes a bike lane on K Street NW connecting to NE. This corridor is critical for the region to have a connected biking infrastructure.

Image by WABA.

City-wide plans like MoveDC have shown that we have needed a bike lane and safety measures on K Street NE for years. K Street is the only two-way street in this part of the city that crosses the Red Line tracks to connect Northeast and Northwest.

Since K Street NE is a critical connection for the city, it is therefore also a critical part of how our city can meet the climate change targets we have put forward in the absence of federal action on climate change. Transportation is the number one source of the heat trapping pollution that is causing our climate to become unstable. DC can begin to address this by building connected and mostly protected bicycle lanes, and narrow roads so that people can cross the street safely to access transit.

Thank DDOT for taking action on K Street!

As residents, we believe strongly in streets that our kids can cross safely, in a connected bicycle lane plan that will stop the killing of our friends and neighbors on bicycles, and in action on the climate crisis before the heat waves and flash floods get beyond our capacity to adapt.

We don’t want to be the next people to be killed by traffic violence, and we don’t want any of our neighbors to be either. No one should be killed while crossing the street, walking on the sidewalk, or riding a bicycle to work or school. We want there to be zero road deaths. We want Vision Zero to be real.

For that reason, we write today to thank DDOT for taking action to save lives, and to invite our neighbors to join us on Sunday, August 25 at 10 am at 8th and K Street NE to show our gratitude and appreciation for these safety measures. We hope you will join us!

Correction: We first listed August 31 as the date for the event. It’s August 25.

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.