Bloomingdale’s traffic calming plan gets some new updates

This post was also published on Greater Greater Washington

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.

Flex posts at the 1st and R St NW intersection have also been integrated into the Bloomingdale Farmers’ Market’s socially distanced procedures.  Image by the author.

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.

Last month, DDOT returned to the neighborhood to announce both some additions to the infrastructure, but also what appears to be a concession to the project’s critics.

Additions:

  • 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.)

Subtractions:

  • 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.
Left: Northbound approach to 1st St and R St NW showing visible obstruction of stop sign. Photo by the author. Right: Example of solar powered LED stop sign DDOT plans to install at the intersection. Photo from DDOT.

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.

Unpacking the arguments against a traffic-calming plan for Bloomingdale

This post was also published on Greater Greater Washington

After more than six years in waiting, the District Department of Transportation last fall made good on its commitment to bring traffic-calming measures to First St NW in Bloomingdale. The agency completed the first phase of its work in the last few weeks when it finished installing flexible posts in the street at each of the nine planned intersections along the corridor.

The posts form arcs that wrap around the street corners at intersections. They serve as bumpouts, also known as curb extensions, which physically and visually narrow a street, and reclaim roadway space for sidewalks, beautification, or other measures.

It’s important to note that the posts installed so far are just intended as phase one: DDOT confirmed it will also be adding striping to the roadway as a further visual cue to separate the spaces—a process that it expects to complete in March, as weather permits. Following the striping, DDOT expects to install planters and ground murals; it is working with the Bloomingdale Civic Association to finalize the plan for installation and maintenance of these. The agency expects to have the entire project completed by April.

Efforts like this are a common way to address safety issues at intersections because they have many well-documented advantages. They improve pedestrian safety by reducing the distance—and the amount of space shared with cars—from one side of the street to the other. They’re also a visual signal to drivers to reduce speeds and pay full attention at stop signs.

While many in the community have been eagerly awaiting these measures, there has also been some vocal opposition from a few neighbors who are already attempting to have the flexiposts removed. That effort largely has been led by ANC Commissioner Karla Lewis (5E06), who originally opposed the planned installation because they threatened two illegal parking spaces in her single-member-district, then celebrated them as a “win-win” when DDOT compromised to preserve those spaces. But now she’s introducing a resolution at tonight’s ANC 5E meeting requesting reconsideration of the traffic-calming measures.

This opposition has generally included a mix of the following arguments:

  • It’s too hard to turn around the posts while driving
  • A recent crash at 1st and R St NW proves they don’t work
  • Drivers continue to roll through stop signs, proving they don’t work
  • They block parking near the intersections
  • They’re uglyThere are, I think, some key responses to each of these arguments.

Bumpouts are, in fact, supposed to make it harder to turn. Drivers are forced to slow down and stay farther from the curb, using a heightened alertness to safely navigate the reduced space. Since the posts were installed, thousands of drivers have successfully made these turns without hitting anything. The fact that they have to do so in a more controlled way is an argument for, not against, the measures.

As for the recent crash, it’s true that the bumpouts didn’t prevent it, but they shouldn’t have been expected to. In a video of the crash, a driver appears to have blown through a stop sign and collided with an eastbound vehicle, then accelerated further into the front yard of a nearby house. There’s no evidence to support critics’ specious claim that the bumpouts somehow caused the crash, and it’s incorrect to suggest that the incident means they offer no value.

To the same effect, continued stop-sign violations aren’t proof that the bumpouts don’t work either. The metric of success here is not a binary measure of whether or not they eliminate 100% of all problems. Rather, the goal is a relative reduction in dangerous behavior, though at the moment there aren’t statistics to show a trend one way or the other. Even if the rates of stop-sign compliance haven’t changed, that’s just an argument for doing more, not less: You don’t stop brushing your teeth because you got a cavity. In fact, DDOT confirmed that they are investigating adding such additional measures, specifically around stop-sign compliance.

On the question of parking space, there has been some confusion due to recent regulatory changes. To be clear, the bumpouts did not take away any legal parking spaces. DDOT regulation provides that, unless signage says otherwise, 40 feet from each intersection should be a no-parking zone. The confusion stems in part because, until last year, DDOT had allowed an exception to this rule overnight for vehicles with in-zone residential parking permits. As of last January, that exception was removed and all vehicles are prohibited from parking in this space.

Finally, when it comes to the aesthetics of the bumpouts, it’s important to remember that the goal here is safety. While the coming planters and paint will help the situation immensely, people who are still bothered by the visuals could join supporters in advocating to make the bumpouts permanent, replacing the displeasing posts with actual concrete extensions of the curb. The end result would almost certainly be an aesthetic improvement over not just the current flexipost streetscape, but even over what it looked like before.

Big picture, trying to remove the posts after one month is incredibly premature. The current installations are not the end of this process, but the beginning. As DDOT confirmed, it takes time to change driver behavior, and they won’t be able to take full stock of the efficacy until they finish installing the additional elements. Plus, the benefit of flexiposts is that they can easily be adjusted and modified based on real-time data in order to optimize the design before making any more permanent changes.

In fact, that has already happened. After initial feedback, workers re-visited the installations at R Street and Randolph Place to pull the posts closer in to the curb. They then used that information to adjust installations at subsequent intersections. Rather than try to rip them out, community members who have similar feedback can pass it on to the agency so they can review and incorporate it into the next steps.

The community waited 7+ years for action on this street. We can wait at least the few months it will take for them to even be completed before rushing to declare them ineffective.

150+ Residents Sign Petition Supporting 1st Street Traffic Calming

Over 150 DC residents have signed a petition asking DDOT to fully implement their traffic calming plan for 1st Street NW. The plan calls for curb extensions at each of nine intersections on the street from Florida Ave to Bryant St and is intended to improve stop sign compliance and lower speeds on this important pedestrian and bike corridor.

The petition comes in response to an ANC 5E resolution encouraging implementation on 1st St north of Rhode Island Ave, but asking for an exemption from the measures at the intersections of 1st and R St and 1st and Randolph Pl. The opposition stems from concerns over the loss of two regulation-violating parking spaces at those intersections.

Signers come predominantly from Bloomingdale residents themselves, with support from those in other ANC5E districts and community members broadly who use 1st Street.

Additional residents wishing to join can add their name at the form at the bottom of this page.

The petition text reads:
We want traffic calming on ALL 9 First Street intersections — no exemptions. The safety of thousands of neighbors is more important than two parking spots.

Signatures:

ANC 5E01
Amelia Dougherty
Christopher Mrstik

ANC 5E03
Peter Krupa
William Reckley
Keith Krosinsky

ANC 5E04
David Whitehead
Nick Sementelli
Victoria Bosselman
Aleek Kahramanian
Andre Sanabia
Shelley Vinyard

ANC 5E05
Ariel Tumin
Beth Ferraro
David Casserly
Nikolaus Schnermann
Kyle Thomas
David Bevevino
Lily Roberts
Jennifer Fletcher
Darien Capron

ANC 5E06 (Includes Bloomingdale South of Randolph Pl)
Aidan Quinlan-Walshe
Alex Lopez
Cameron Blake
Caroline Freedman
Dalila Boclin
Jay Hariani
Joe Sandman
Kristin Frontiera
Ben Levine
Leslie Finnan
Cassandra Many
Louisa Marion
Kristen McCarron
Meredith Walsh
Moira Mclaughlin
Luis Morinigo
Peter Gadfort
Stephen Szibler
William Starr
Jennifer Carr
Katharine Stockrahm
Jonathan Beam
Caroline Andrews
Suki Lucier
Christopher Berg
Taylor Fulton
Adam Stempel
Andrew Campbell
Chris Svetlik

ANC 5E07 (Bloomingdale Between Randolph Pl and U St)
Aaron Wagner
Allan Breed
Adam Beebe
Ben Donahue
Benjamin Samson
Brian Smith
Catherine Dorigan
Ceridwen Cherry
Cheri Hoffman
Catherine Giljohann
Caitlin Reid
Cyrus Chimento
Derik Doughty
Gen Gillespie
Jeff Morrow
Jennifer Schuch-Page
Kristi Cobb
Leah Chandler
Nadia Van De Walle
Preetha Iyengar
Ryan Eades
Timothy Kirby
Victoria Burack
Zarko Palankov
Jessica McBroom
Jon Anders
Irfana Noorani
Arif Noorani
Andrea Brudnicki
Keene Kelderman
Sean Meehan
Brian DeMarco
David Levine
Carolyn Giroux

ANC 5E08 (Bloomingdale Between U St and Adams St)
Aaron Posey
Richard Seutter
Ann Schlegelmilch
Antoine Coste
Edith Laget
Erica Bickford
Huma Imtiaz
Jennifer Chang
Joseph Gersen
Martin Amar
Michael Xanthopoulos
Neil Offner
Nik Philipsen
Snorre Wik
Yavar Moghimi
Walter Tersch
Katharine Pena
Jared Hartzman
Joshua Young
Kiersten Rooke
David Zehr
Travis Elliott
Rick Bright
Katie Magnus
Terry Haynes
Molly Scott

ANC 5E09 (Includes Bloomingdale North of Adams St)
Melissa Boudreau
Marcus Holmlund
Jacquelyn Bengfort
Jason Mogavero
Lola Peres
Michael Anderson
Mary Ryan
Mitchel Hoban
Matthew Dickens
Nathan Ringelstetter
Warren Randolph
Rene Wallis
Robert Hardison

ANC 5E10
C Chang

Friends of Bloomingdale
Jenn Pierson
Adrienne Rose
Pamela Nelson
Brian Cipperly
Sam C
Dana Yanocha
Donya Rahimi
Jeanne Verrier
John Maleri
Kyle Bishop
Mansi Talwar
Nicholas Myroniuk
Paulo C
Patrick McMahon
Patrick Reilly
Ryan Keefe
Teresa Thiele
Ben Varquez
Joshua Flood
Juliana Crump
Kelly Waud
Elliot Seibert
David Ramos
Karyn Schwartz
David Gooze
James Hauser

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Bloomingdale ANC Commissioner Trying to Water Down 1st Street Traffic Calming Plan

This post originally appeared on Greater Greater Washington.

First Street NW in Bloomingdale is a residential street, but many drivers use it as a commuting thoroughfare, making it dangerous to people walking in the neighborhood. Residents have complained about it for years, but happily there’s a plan to add better pedestrian infrastructure and to slow drivers down. There’s just one catch.

The plan requires the removal of six to seven illegal parking spaces, but one local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) is stridently opposed to losing any parking at all. She’s so opposed that she got the city to exempt key intersections on her block from a plan, even though the two parking spaces she’s trying to protect may ultimately be removed anyway.

A long-awaited change

Conversations about calming traffic on First Street go back many years, and have picked up steam in the last few. The District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) original recommendation in the 2013 Mid-East Liveability study was to install mini roundabouts, but agency officials told neighbors in 2018 the best they could do was digital signage. Backlash to that announcement sent planners back to the drawing board, and they came back to the community last month to introduce their latest plan.

The updated proposal would install curb extensions (also called bulbouts) to each of the nine all-way stop intersections between Florida Avenue and Bryant Street NW. The extensions and accompanying large planters would visually and physically narrow the road, cueing drivers to slow down and giving pedestrians a shorter crossing.

Example of painted curb extensions from DDOT’s First Street Traffic Calming Proposal.

The plan’s scope is rather modest, and it would not radically affect parking on the street. The extensions use the existing no-parking zone of 25 feet in front of each crosswalk required by DC municipal regulations. However, in assessing the area, DDOT found that some of the intersection corners are currently in violation of that rule. So as part of this implementation, DDOT would be removing six or seven illegal parking spots.

This stretch of First Street alone has over 200 spots, and hundreds more on cross- and neighboring streets. Just this past month the neighborhood gained new spots when DDOT recategorized 38 spaces on North Capitol Street from rush-hour-restricted to permanent residential parking. That’s six times the number of spots being removed for the calming project, and a net gain of more than 30 spots.

So while the plan falls short of the more interruptive mini-roundabouts or speed bumps many residents preferred and does nothing to address the gaping hole of safer biking infrastructure in this section of the city, it still represents an improvement on the status quo. The plan earned the support of the Bloomingdale Civic Association (BCA) at its February meeting.

A bad bargain

However, Bloomingdale ANC5E06 commissioner Karla Lewis did not share the views of the BCA. At the March ANC meeting, she opposed the plan (starts at 2:14:14) because some residents in her single-member district already complain about a lack of parking and are unwilling to sacrifice the six or seven spots in question.

As a “compromise,” Lewis offered a motion to support implementation along the northern section of First Street north of Rhode Island Avenue, but exempt the streets in her district on the south side. That motion initially failed in March, but passed at the April meeting this week. The final form exempted the intersections at R and Randolph streets.

In exchange for hobbling nearly 25% of the traffic calming plan, Lewis preserved two parking spots.

One of the two illegal parking spots that is too close to the crosswalk and scheduled for removal.

Except, not even. While DDOT Vision Zero Traffic Engineer Emily Dalphy immediately offered to shave off intersections in response to Lewis’s concerns, she later confirmed that she could not guarantee those parking spots would remain either way.

“If the commission doesn’t want to move forward with specific locations, we won’t [touch the parking], but if another resident brings up a safety concern at the intersection specifically related to something like sight-distance, our typical remedy is to pull that parking back to the 25 feet,” Dalphy said. “So I can’t say it will stay that way forever, but because that is the law it will most likely be moved at some point.”

DDOT is free to ignore the ANC’s viewpoint and proceed with the traffic safety plan, but it seems like they’re choosing not to. So the likeliest result of this resolution is that the illegal parking at R and Randolph is removed anyway, without adding any traffic calming measures in return.

Disappointing leadership

The math on this tradeoff should be non-controversial. The traffic calming measures would benefit thousands of neighbors and visitors who walk and bike on First Street to get to their homes, take their kids to the park, grab a meal or cup of coffee, shop at the farmers market, or otherwise just safely enjoy being outside in their neighborhood.

Opposing it would maybe, temporarily save two marginal car owners a slightly longer walk to their car. Lewis’s reflexive dismissal of any solution that even lightly threatens a single parking space would be comical if it weren’t so shameful.

Bloomingdale residents have been clamoring for action for over five years, and now that it’s finally here, it’s in danger of being hamstrung from the very start. At a time when the city’s failure to meaningfully address mounting pedestrian and cyclist deaths on our streets is at the center of our local political conversation, it’s more than frustrating to see local leaders object to even the mildest of improvements. It’s equally frustrating to see DDOT’s Vision Zero team so quickly discard their plans at the first sign of a single point of pushback.

Real change is going to require much bigger decisions with much bigger tradeoffs and much more entrenched opposition. If we’re going to see any progress in making our built environment safer, we need to start by changing the political culture that prioritizes the convenience of drivers over the protection of the whole community.