On Wednesday, February 24th, Ward 5 for All held a community meeting to discuss the proposed new library to fill the service gap for the Stronghold, Edgewood and Eckington neighborhoods in Ward 5. DC Public Library assistant director of communications and community engagement, Martha Saccocio was on hand to present and answer questions.
Mayor Muriel Bowser 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20004
Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20004
Councilmember Charles Allen 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20004
Councilmember Mary Cheh 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20004
Interim Director Everett Lott District Department of Transportation 55 M Street, SE, Suite 400 Washington, DC 20003
Director Andrew Trueblood Office of Planning 1100 4th Street, SW, Suite 650 East Washington, DC 20024
February 18, 2021
Mayor Bowser, Councilmember McDuffie, Councilmember Allen, Councilmember Cheh, Interim Director Lott, and Director Trueblood:
We, the undersigned Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, community associations, churches, business and individuals, are writing to ask you to fund a concept study for the redesign of North Capitol Street between Massachusetts and Michigan Avenues in the FY 2022 budget. The current design of this corridor falls far short of its historic status and enormous potential and fails to meet the Mayor’s commitment to Vision Zero. North Capitol Street is unsafe, it divides adjacent communities, and it is hostile to the economic and cultural vitality of the mid-city.
In the coming decade, the North Capitol Street corridor will be crucial to the city’s growth and sustained affordability. The adjacent neighborhoods of NoMa, Bloomingdale, Stronghold, Eckington, and Mount Vernon Triangle are thriving, and thanks to your leadership, private and public development will add thousands of market rate and affordable housing units as well as new retail to Northwest One, the McMillan Reservation, and other locations along the North Capitol corridor. We believe that the District should begin planning now for a North Capitol Street that will provide a safe way for these new residents to get to and from their homes as well as create an accessible, appealing commercial corridor to attract visitors to the existing and coming small businesses.
A concept study is needed to gather input from those most affected by this dangerous and divisive corridor and assess the feasibility of major improvements to the streetscape. Among the questions this study should answer are:
How should the District redesign North Capitol Street to discourage speeding and other forms of dangerous and aggressive driving behavior?
How should the District improve the safety, comfort, and accessibility of east-west connections across North Capitol Street for pedestrians and people on bicycles?
How can current bus lines and supporting infrastructure be modified to improve the speed, frequency, and on-time bus service for residents and visitors?
Should the District add transit priority lanes to the corridor to improve bus service?
Should the design of the streetscape better prioritize the needs of local businesses and the safety of those who patronize them?
Should the District fill in underpasses that encourage speeding and cut off adjacent communities?
How can the city leverage private investment to address infrastructure deficiencies in a fiscally responsible manner?
We understand that this year’s budget will prioritize the city’s recovery from the pandemic, associated economic consequences, and the critical needs of residents who have been hit hardest. Nonetheless, we believe that a relatively small investment in planning for the future of this corridor will pay massive dividends in the coming years as our city recovers. We simply cannot wait to begin the process of better connecting our communities by improving the safety and vitality of North Capitol Street.
Response to this letter may be directed to ANC Commissioner Alex Lopez (SMD 6E02) at 6E02@anc.dc.gov.
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6E Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C NoMa Business Improvement District North Capitol Main Street NoMa/H Street Civic Association Eckington Civic Association LeDroit Park Civic Association Sibley Plaza Townhouses Residents’ Association Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Ward 5 for All Pub and the People Republic Cantina Jeffery A Shapiro, Owner, K&B Sodas Karim & Associates Financial Services 7DrumCity
A new report from the DC Public Library charts a course for future expansion of the library system, including a proposed new facility in the Edgewood/Eckington/Stronghold area. Here’s an early look at some potential locations for such a library, and how that might impact surrounding areas.
New decade, new vision
In the last decade, the DC Public Library system engaged in a half-billion dollar capital campaign to expand and modernize its facilities, a campaign that is being capped off by the reopening of the flagship Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library this year. Now, library system officials are looking ahead to the next decade for how they can build upon their success.
The new report, Next Libris, outlines priorities for continued renewal and refreshing of existing facilities, as well as priority areas for building additional libraries. Those locations were identified by evaluating both where residents face a geographical gap in service, as well as where existing libraries are too small to service the community. They were then divided into three tiers based on whether they address both an operational issue and service gap (Tier 1) or just one of those criteria (Tiers 2 and 3 respectively). The recommendation is to proceed with expansion sequentially, building the Tier 1 facilities in 1-3 years, Tier 2 in 4-6 and Tier 3 in 7-10.
As a crucial bonus, the report shares DCPL’s preference that, where possible, these new libraries be built as part of mixed-use developments which would include housing — including affordable housing — and potentially commercial space as well. This would replicate the successful model of the West End Library opened in 2017 as part of a multi-use building. Combining housing with libraries represents a real win-win, helping the city address two major needs with each project while giving the new facilities dedicated customer bases who are likely to be high-frequency users.
One of the Tier 1 gaps identified is the combined Ward 5 neighborhoods of Edgewood, Eckington and Stronghold. A significant distance from existing libraries, DCPL data confirms that there are a disproportionate number of residents in these communities who do not currently use the system at all. And many of those that do visit the crowded Shaw library, so officials see an additional benefit of relieving some of the pressure on that high-traffic location.
So far no specific locations are being proposed, but as a very excited Edgewood resident, here are some potential locations I think the city should look into. This list is hardly predictive; I have no particular insight into the likelihood of any of these locations at all; rather, it’s an initial overview of some places that might come into the conversation.
First, here are the factors I considered when evaluating these options:
Size: As the library has made clear, bigger is better. Communal public space is increasingly hard to find. Combined with the increasing breadth of services and resources the library provides — and the unique needs of different age groups — a larger footprint can provide disproportionately large value.
Capacity for housing: The library’s vision to combine housing with these locations is truly a game-changing move to help us make another dent in our housing and affordable housing needs. These two things go together so well it’s a wonder it took us this long to prioritize it. Capacity here means both the aforementioned footprint and the existing zoning. Some zoning can be amended, but it’s easier if that step is unnecessary.
Public or privately owned land: With the right long-term lease, the library could be a great addition to any number of private developments coming to the area, though it does reduce some of the impact of adding net-new housing (on top of what’s already planned), particularly because housing developments on District-owned land are subject to higher affordability minimums.
Accessibility: Maximizing usage of the library starts with making sure it’s convenient and safe to get to — particularly for families, who are a key customer demographic. These neighborhoods face a number of transportation barriers already, from deadly arterial streets to the impassable train tracks to a lack of protected bike lanes. Finding a site that is best located to help residents from across the entire service gap visit is a priority.
Here are a few potential locations that check a number of those boxes:
The Lemuel Penn Center
1709 3rd Street NE, 52,231 sq ft
Currently serving as the temporary site of DCPL’s Operations Center while they search for a long-term home, the Penn Center is sufficiently large that a new building on the site could potentially offer room for Operations, a neighborhood library, and housing (though they would presumably need to find a new temporary home during construction).
Sited directly on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, proximate to the NoMa Metro stop and the P6 MetroBus route, and adjacent to the new Tanner Park and thousands of residents in the mid-rise buildings of East Eckington, the location would benefit from significant network effects. Though currently zoned for production and technical employment use (PDR-2), the proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map (FLUM) pending before the Council would allow for residential use as well.
At the Southern end of the service gap area, this location would be most convenient for Eckington residents, though the trail adjacency makes it fairly accessible for Edgewood neighbors as well.
Fifth Street Terminal
2115 5th Street NE, 63,102 sq ft
Only slightly up-trail from the Penn Center, the Fifth Street Terminal lot is a city-owned property currently serving as a parking lot for the District’s Special Education bus fleet. Accessibility wise, the location is about a ten minute walk along the Metropolitan Branch Trail to the Rhode Island-Brentwood Metro station. Also the same as the Penn Center, the zoning is currently PDR-2 with a proposed amendment to add in residential.
Engine 12 Fire Station
2225 5th Street NE, 30,574 sq ft (including parking lot)
One block north of the bus lot, the Engine 12 Fire Station is interesting not just on its own, but as part of a comprehensive re-development in the works. Last year, developer Jair Lynch (in coordination with the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church which owns a number of the relevant properties) submitted a zoning map amendment for the group of lots abutting the fire station on the south side of Rhode Island Ave NE between 5th St NE and the railroad tracks. The Office of Planning followed suit this month with their own map amendment for the station itself. The library’s early inclusion in the project (whether on the Engine 12 site itself or elsewhere in the development as a long-term tenant) could serve as something of a flagship component the rest of the plan could be built around.
This location would represent one of the more central options, again along the trail, roughly equidistant from Eckington and Edgewood, but with the added benefit of direct adjacency to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station and the G8 and P6 MetroBus routes.
Bryant Street/Rhode Island Center Development
630 Rhode Island Ave NE
Directly across the street from the fire station, the first phase of the Bryant Street development is already underway replacing the shopping center that once housed Big Lots and Forman Mills. Six more phases remain, however, with tens of thousands of square feet of retail to be leased out. With no public land involved, the Library would likely look to sign a very long-term lease guaranteeing their use of the space for the lifetime of the building.
This location would bring all the same benefits of the South Rhode Island one with the additional bonus of even more direct access to the Metro (the pedestrian bridge across the tracks empties out onto the site) and even more immediate adjacency to the cluster of public and affordable housing at the Edgewood Terrace site.
This is by no means a comprehensive list; there are a number of other planned or potential development projects in this area that might make good fits. By allocating funding to a new library in the budget, the city can offer some certainty about the project that may surface a number of interested partners.
Replace or supplement?
The choice of location is not just important in how a new library will best serve new communities, but also for how well it will continue to serve existing ones.
One crucial detail of the Next Libris report is that it recommends closing the small Northwest One Library in conjunction with opening the Edgewood/Eckington/Stronghold library (as well as re-opening the nearby MLK location and expecting decreased pressure on the similarly nearby Shaw library). That’s in line with a general plan the library has to upgrade these low-square-footage facilities (most of which were replacements for even smaller, limited-service kiosks) in order to meet the growing need for meeting and study rooms, program space, and access to technology and collections.
Because these small locations predominantly serve low-income communities, replacing them is a key part of the Library’s commitment to equity in their system. That’s true of the Northwest One facility as well, which is located within the redeveloping mixed-income housing complex of the same name and is immediately adjacent to Sursum Corda (also currently being redeveloped into a mixed-income community).
But for the Eckington/Edgewood library to serve this community, its location needs to be sufficiently accessible to local residents. A transit and trail-adjacent location in Eckington may work, but one further north is unlikely to satisfy the needs currently met by Northwest One.
Not just straight-line proximity, accessibility is also measured by the comfort and safety of the path between the old and new locations. Unfortunately in this case, that’s particularly difficult as the borders between the Northwest One area and the expansion neighborhoods — New York Avenue, Florida Avenue and North Capitol Street — are some of the most treacherous streets in the city, acting as both physical and psychological barriers. Even a relatively close location may functionally see fewer visits from residents on the other side of these streets. That’s certainly what the Library’s data already suggests when it shows low utilization of the Northwest One location by residents in Eckington, Edgewood, and Stronghold.
Still, there are three factors in favor of the relocation. The first is the relatively close proximity of the Northwest One area to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which functions as something of a cheat code to cross Florida Ave and New York Ave. North Capitol would remain a problem — but improvements to pedestrian crossings and the construction of protected bike lanes on K street NE/NW could help.
The second is that North Capitol Street is relatively well-served by the 80 and P6 bus lines, both of which function as safe and relatively affordable ways to travel between Eckington and near-Northwest. (Transit lanes on North Capitol Street could make that access more efficient and reliable during rush hour.)
The third is that Northwest One is fairly close to both the Shaw and MLK library locations. With the re-opening of the latter in particular, residents who currently use Northwest One may be able to replace their service at those facilities instead. Library customer data may be able to help determine the percentage of customers for whom that’s true.
That said, there’s another option as well, which would be not to close the Northwest One location at all. The Library’s recommendation for replacement is undoubtedly related to budget considerations. With staff costs one of their greatest expenses, shifting that investment to a full-service library certainly provides better bang-for-the-buck. But if the Mayor and the DC Council felt like a new library would not sufficiently serve the previous community well enough, there’s no reason that they could not increase DCPL’s operational budget in a sufficient amount to cover the cost of both.
Ultimately, the budget process is the next step for this project either way. Right now all of these plans are entirely theoretical; elected officials will need to allocate the required capital and operational budget to make this plan a reality. As FY22 budget season approaches, now is the time to reach out to the Mayor and your council member if you are interested in seeing that happen.
Adding a library here would be a major boon for our communities. More than just books, the library’s resources, programming, and physical space provide substantial opportunities for students, families, seniors, job-seekers, and more.
Even better, the library’s report outlined two additional goals to maximize the impact of this project:
1) To include affordable housing at the site 2) To pick a location that emphasizes accessibility, particularly given the number of dangerous major roads in the area that act as barriers.
These two additions would supercharge the benefits of this facility, and make this new library a triple win.
This report is just a vision to start; it’s now up to the Mayor and the Council to include funding for this expansion in the budget.
This year Ward 5 for All reached out to every ANC candidate running in our Ward (using the publicly-available emails they provided on their BOE paperwork) to ask a series of questions related to housing, transportation, local business and safety.
We are extremely grateful to the 20 candidates who took the time to complete the questionnaire. You can download their full responses here.
Some additional traffic calming measures are in the works on First Street NW, including adding striping to the bump-outs and new higher-visibility LED stop signs. However, flex posts from all but one side side street have been removed.
When the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) installed traffic-calming curb extensions on First Street NW this February, it was the culmination of over six years of advocacy from Bloomingdale neighbors.
Marked by flex posts, the extensions (also called bump-outs) increase safety by visually cueing drivers to drive slower through the narrower area, requiring slower, more controlled turns, daylighting the intersection so all road users can more easily see each other, providing additional space for pedestrians to wait and reducing the distance they have to physically cross.
Unfortunately, their implementation was immediately met by some backlash from a local ANC commissioner concerned that the new posts made it harder for drivers to move quickly through the intersection (and were ugly to boot). Thankfully, however, the pilot program was allowed to move forward in order to evaluate its impact on neighborhood safety.
DDOT announced they would complete the originally planned striping which will delineate the bump-out area in paint in addition to the flex posts.
The agency also confirmed they were still working with the Bloomingdale Civic Association to install planters within the bulbouts for added protection and beautification.
In response to particular concerns about stop-sign compliance at the 1st and R Street NW, the agency is going to install solar-powered LED stop signs. (This intersection in particular suffers from poor stop sign visibility and has seen multiple related crashes.)
DDOT also announced that they would remove the flex posts along all of the East-West side-streets aside from R Street (which will receive further study with the new stop signs first). Flex posts will remain along First Street.
DDOT’s statement said the decision was in response to community concerns that there were too-many flex posts, but they declined to respond to questions about whether those concerns were about the efficacy of those posts or simply aesthetic distaste.
The risk is that removing the flex posts could reduce compliance with the parking limitations that improve visibility at the intersections. While the flex posts provide a physical barrier, these side streets reduced only to striping may see a return of illegal parking that would require additional enforcement resources to rectify.
In the weeks since the announcement, DDOT has completed the removal of the side-street flex posts; the other changes appear to still be in progress.
On Sunday, May 31st, a driver speeding down North Capitol Street struck another vehicle, then fled the scene on foot. Despite heroic rescue efforts from neighbors who helped suppress the resultant fire and pull the two victims from their car, neither ultimately survived.
One victim was Donald Malloy, 81, of Temple Hills, Maryland, while the other has not yet been identified. The driver was subsequently found, arrested, and charged with second-degree murder the following day.
These deaths continue a tragic trend; since September 2018 there have now been eight fatalities on the corridor.
A common thread has been that these fatal crashes have generally occurred at off-peak hours, when a lower volume of traffic on the wide streets invites excessive speeding.
Prior to the pandemic, that meant during late-night or early morning hours. But the current situation has extended those high-speed conditions to twenty-four hours a day, and made North Capitol Street a perpetual race track.
Plans to improve safety conditions along the corridor, particularly for pedestrians, are still outstanding. In March, a coalition including more than 20 ANCs, community organizations, and businesses sent a letter to the District Department of Transportation calling for renewed attention, but no updates have been announced yet.
Last year, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) made important progress on the pending redesign of the dangerous intersection of Florida and New York avenues NE, colloquially known as “Dave Thomas Circle.”
After a series of updates since then, it appears that the agency’s most recent plan is even more aligned with advocates’ vision of a safe intersection for pedestrians and cyclists.
In March 2019, the agency released a redesign plan dubbed Concept 6 that involves removing the Wendy’s fast food restaurant from the center of the intersection.
DDOT was receptive to the feedback, and the next version of the design, dubbed Concept 6D, included a number of those recommendations — specifically, the closing of O Street, an additional crosswalk on the east side of 1st Street and New York Avenue, and straightening out the 1st Street bike lane.
There was one key recommendation that the updated design didn’t incorporate though. Rather than extend the Florida Avenue cycle track all the way through the intersection, the new plan left it unchanged, curving around the southern edge of the intersection to 1st Street.
Advocates continued to press for that change, and now it looks like they may have earned at least a partial victory. While the next formal street designs aren’t expected until later this year, a related presentation gave some clues. On May 18, the NoMa Parks Foundation (NPF), DDOT, and design firm SWA/Balsley hosted a webinar debuting potential designs for the 43,000 square feet of new park space that would be created as part of the redesign.
The park concepts are interesting in their own right, but the street maps they include also reveal new information. They seem to indicate that DDOT has already decided to edit the bike lane path in their next official design, showing Florida Avenue lanes extending across New York Avenue to 1st/Eckington Place.
While it’s not the full extension advocates asked for, this allows a direct connection to the Eckington neighborhood to the north and sets up a potential future extension in further planning of Florida Avenue NW.
Perhaps more revealing though, is that the plans show a change in the design of that bike path. Instead of Concept 6D’s two-way cycle track on the south side of the street, these drawings show single-direction bike lanes running on each side of the street (many transportation experts recommend split lanes as they reduce complexity and conflict points for road users).
After the meeting, DDOT Bicycle Program Specialist Will Handsfield confirmed the design change on Twitter, saying that the lanes would be protected on each side.
The change, however, has implications bigger than just this intersection. This plan, of course, connects to the rest of Florida Avenue NE, which already has a two-way cycle track installed as part of the interim improvements added last year. The most recently released designs for the permanent changes maintain that structure.
But if DDOT is switching to split one-way lanes for the Florida-New York intersection, it will either require a tricky north-south crossing to connect to the two-way cycle track or, more likely, indicates that they may be applying this split-lane change across the whole corridor.
Such a change would represent a significant alteration at this point in the design process, but highlights the value of planning both of these projects at the same time, allowing for decisions that best serve the entire corridor.
In response to a neighboring Advisory Neighborhood Commission’s request for a street safety study on Florida Avenue NW, ANC 5E, voted to send a letter to DDOT opposing any result of that study that might cut lanes in order to keep enough space on the road for drivers attempting to flee the city during an emergency like 9/11.
Those plans, however, only cover the eastern portion of the road, from H St to 3rd Street NE, while the dangerous conditions extend further west. In order to help address the larger problem, ANC 6E, which includes a portion of Florida Ave in the Shaw neighborhood, passed a resolution at their July 2019 meeting asking DDOT for a Traffic Safety Assessment of an additional segment of the corridor from New York Avenue to Georgia Ave NW.
A Traffic Safety Assessment (TSA) is a formal mechanism for District residents to bring particular traffic safety concerns within the public right-of-way to DDOT’s attention. Any community member can initiate the process by filling out a questionnaire detailing the concerns and obtaining a letter of support from their ANC commissioner. DDOT will then evaluate the issue (which they advise takes approximately 120 days), and if they determine safety mitigation is necessary, develop a recommended solution. If those recommendations involve changes to existing traffic control and/or on-street parking, DDOT will issue a Notice of Intent (NOI) which includes a 30 business-day public comment period.
ANC 6E’s TSA resolution matched a request the Eckington Civic Association had also made and was subsequently endorsed by the Bates Area Civic Association and replicated by ANC 1B at their meeting later that month.
At the ANC 5E meeting this past month, however, that commission went in a different direction, voting to send a letter to DDOT expressing reservations about potential results of the study. Authored by 5E06 Commissioner Karla Lewis, the letter does identify that “speeding cars and red-light running have resulted in pedestrian, cyclist and motorist collisions and fatalities” and says the commission “wholeheartedly agrees with traffic calming measures that will address this issue,” however, it jumps to undercut the potential findings of the study by adding a major caveat. The letter’s support for traffic calming measures ends if the study recommends reducing the number of lanes on the street.
As justification, the letter cites the need to prepare for emergency scenarios that might prompt a mass exodus of people in cars, specifically harking back to the street conditions on September 11, 2001 when “those of us that commuted by car experienced the nightmare of traffic paralysis.”
Questionable word choice aside, this is not a particularly strong argument. Generally speaking, transportation professionals don’t plan neighborhood street capacity around black swan events. In fact, in their changes to the segment of Florida Ave in Northeast DC, DDOT has already repurposed a driving lane for wider sidewalks and bike infrastructure to good success. While the study will determine if that’s a good solution for this portion of the street as well, the agency has already shown that concerns about access to evacuation routes are not sufficient reason to take that option off the table.
This is not really about emergency access
While the written letter cites only the emergency argument, the discussion on the dais revealed additional motivation. The commissioners who voted for the measure were clear in their perception that traffic on Florida Ave at peak times is already a problem and feared a lane reduction would make driving more inconvenient.
In fact, this debate mirrors a very similar one this same commission had earlier this year. In that case, Commissioner Lewis attempted to pass a resolution calling for DDOT to prematurely terminate a curb extension pilot program on First St NW only one month after it was initiated amidst similar driver convenience concerns. That resolution did not earn majority support, however.
During the latest debate, the 5E commissioners also directed some ire at ANC 6E itself, accusing the neighboring commission of trying to disguise their preferred lane-reduction outcome in a resolution that facially only asks DDOT to keep all options on the table. Commissioner Robert Brannum (5E08) challenged 6E to a more “honest” approach of explicitly naming the design changes they prefer.
Commissioners also chided 6E for not doing more outreach to them, though they failed to mention that a member of the ANC6E transportation committee presented at their September meeting and reached out to the commissioners whose single-member-districts include Florida Avenue to solicit support on this resolution but did not receive a response.
Missing the opportunity
Generally speaking, debates over street size usually pit the street safety and air quality concerns of local neighbors against the convenience preferences of drivers from further away. In this case though, ANC 5E commissioners seem to view their proximity to those fast-travel driving corridors as an amenity to protect.
This a priori prioritization of driver convenience on Florida Ave specifically is misguided though. The 5E neighborhoods this street affects most (Eckington, Bloomingdale and Truxton Circle) are notable for being almost completely trapped by dangerous, high-speed thoroughfares.
Rhode Island Ave and the deadly North Capitol Street are heavy commuter roads that slash through the hearts of these communities while New York Avenue to the south is a literal interstate highway. Not directly connecting downtown to the District’s borders, Florida Avenue is the one corridor in the area that could most easily be repurposed back into a safer, slower neighborhood street.
What happens next with the traffic study
ANC 5E’s letter does not provide a formal obstacle to the Traffic Safety Assessment request. DDOT owes ANCs 6E and 1B a response either way. But 5E’s letter does increase the risk that DDOT will make the political decision to slowplay or water down that response in order to avoid potential conflict.
Hopefully, DDOT won’t let familiar ideological complaints impact its obligation to do a rigorous, honest study considering all possible options.
If we’re truly going to bring traffic deaths down to zero, we’re going to need even more ambitious investments in the corridor to restore North Capitol Street to the safe, livable corridor that it used to be.
Just three days into 2020 two pedestrians were killed by drivers, one was struck and killed on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, and two days later another person was killed on North Capitol Street NW, in the Truxton Circle neighborhood. It was a grim reminder of how far away we are from the reality of Vision Zero.
What’s worse, the tragedy on North Capitol Street was the sixth pedestrian death on the corridor in just eighteen months. This toll is heartbreaking, but not surprising. Along many stretches, the street’s design resembles a six-lane highway even though it passes through multiple residential neighborhoods.
This road is doing exactly what it was designed to do—move vehicles quickly through our communities with little concern for the safety of those who live, work, and attend school nearby. We need to change this.
A map of the six pedestrians killed on the North Capitol corridor between September 2018 and January 2020.
This problem is very familiar to city officials. In 2013, the District Department of Transportation’s Mid-City East Livability Study outlined the safety challenges on this street and recommended fixes, including many that could have been implemented in under a year.
Five years later, after little progress on even short-term items, the NoMa BID published the North Capitol Needs Assessment study in partnership with DDOT and with collaboration from area Advisory Neighborhood Commissions representatives and community leaders. That January 2019 study outlined a series of over sixty specific improvements, both big and small, that were necessary to make this road safer for the thousands of residents and visitors that use it every day. Of those sixty recommendations, forty-five were given a completion estimate of one year or less. But a resident-led survey in November 2019 revealed that only 12 of the recommendations had been completed at the time of the audit.
It’s time for action
It’s clear that the problem isn’t a lack of planning, but rather a dearth of attention and political will to implement solutions that have already been identified. To change that equation, a coalition of neighbors from across the North Capitol Corridor’s neighborhoods have joined together to call for action.
The coalition, consisting of ANCs, civic associations, business groups, and parent-teacher associations from local schools, has delivered a letter to DDOT asking for them to immediately finish executing the short-term recommendations from the two planning studies, and to jumpstart the process of implementing the medium and long-term fixes.
Some of those fixes include: New signage and pavement markings, protective barriers, safer lane configurations, sidewalk and crosswalk improvements, public space activations and the addition of traffic control officers.
The existing plans are a great start, though not a complete solution. For one, they don’t address the full length of the corridor. The identified fixes focus on the area between Massachusetts Avenue and R Street, but the problems extend even further North. Further planning is needed at least up to Michigan Ave to cover Bloomingdale, Stronghold and the coming development at McMillan (and ultimately to replace the cloverleaf interchange north of that).
It’s also time for bigger changes to North Capitol Street
The Mid City East Livability study and the needs assessment identify many smaller fixes, but leave some of the bigger questions unresolved. In particular, the pattern of recent deaths points to a major problem with excessive speeds, especially in off-peak hours when the lighter traffic on the wide roads invites drivers to go above beyond the 25 mile-per-hour limit.
If we’re truly going to bring traffic deaths down to zero, we’re going to need even more ambitious investments in the corridor to restore North Capitol Street to the safe, livable corridor that it used to be.
For example, the city likely needs to address the three highway-inspired underpasses that encourage drivers to pick up speed and limit pedestrian accessibility. They could also install dedicated transit lanes, add more signalized intersections, and increase automated speed enforcement to discourage unsafe driving behavior. Weighing those kinds of bigger picture plans is something the community groups that have coalesced around this letter would be in a good position to help DDOT plan as well.