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.
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.
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.
Below is the letter of opposition that was passed by ANC 5E at their June 18, 2019 meeting. Authored by ANC 5E04 Commissioner Sylvia Pinkney, and passed by a vote of 7-2, the letter outlines concerns about the proposed location at N. Capitol and R St NE and encourages DDOT to choose an alternate location to the South in the median between Lincoln Rd and N. Capitol.
The letter displayed here is the draft presented at the outset of the meeting. A friendly amendment from Commissioner Bertha Holliday (5E07) was accepted, adding “And Support of Alternate Location” to the title. That change has been reflected here in pen.
Over 160 neighbors signed a petition in support of a new Capital Bikeshare station in Eckington at the SE corner of North Capitol St and R St NE.
The petition came in response to the announcement of a letter of opposition to the station from ANC 5E04 Commissioner Sylvia Pinkney (but before the text of the letter was public).
The petition includes the following statement of support for the location:
This new station will be a great resource for the neighborhood, filling a gap in the bikeshare network near us, providing more bikes during the high-demand morning commute and a dock close to current and future local businesses on North Capitol. The station will also help with neighborhood safety by activating that empty block and providing more “eyes on the street.”…[it] will not impact on-street parking nor will it impede pedestrian access. The sidewalk is extremely large, and the station would occupy only a third of the available width.
Morgan Van Dunk
David De La O
Stephanie J. Tatham
Friends of 5E
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.
ANC 5E06 (Includes Bloomingdale South of Randolph Pl)
ANC 5E07 (Bloomingdale Between Randolph Pl and U St)
Nadia Van De Walle
ANC 5E08(Bloomingdale Between U St and Adams St)
ANC 5E09 (Includes Bloomingdale North of Adams St)
Friends of Bloomingdale
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.
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.
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.