Curbing the danger of speeding cars

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There's been a lot of conversation around the neighborhood and on area listservs about pedestrian safety conditions at Grant Circle. The most common complaint is that drivers fail to stop for people trying to walk across the Circle.

People have told stories about waiting to walk across, have a car stop to allow them to cross, only to have another car come zipping around the first and almost hitting the pedestrians.

Resident Paul Logan reported recently that he was almost struck by a motorist as he was leaving Grant Circle park. “I was in the crosswalk when one motorist stopped as required,” said Paul. “Another motorist blew his horn at the motorist who had stopped and proceeded to come around him at great speed, almost striking me and my dog.”

New Hampshire on the south side of Grant Circle.

There are plenty of stories like these.  Given the residential environment around the Circle, the two driving lanes inside Grant Circle don’t make much sense. The Circle is used mainly as a conduit for those going into the city and back out, as cars predominately come into and out of the Circle from New Hampshire to the north and south, weaving into traffic or exiting from the outer lane of traffic. The additional travel lane seems to be mainly used to pass other drivers -- making the crossing of the street by pedestrians feel like a game of Frogger.

Residents have been asking DDOT and Ward leadership to make enhancements to the Circle for years. In fact, as resident Rob Mandle pointed out, there was a DDOT Pedestrian Safety Plan (pdf) created back in 2009 looking at alleviating this issue along multiple corridors, including New Hampshire Avenue and Sherman and Grant Circles, but it was never implemented for Grant. (The plan was created by the Toole Design Group and is dated November 2007.)

“[The plan] calls for actual physical improvements that reduce crossing distances and perceived lane widths -- both proven methods of enhancing safety,” Rob wrote. “I believe these plans lost momentum after the mayoral administration changes in 2010 and a change in leadership at DDOT. Perhaps with new leadership in the Mayor's office and in the Ward 4 Council Seat we can restart the conversation towards implementation.”

Screen grab of the DDOT Pedestrian Safety Plan for Grant Circle. 

The 2009 DDOT Pedestrian Safety Plan proposes to remove the interior travel lane in the Circle, expanding the park area by replacing the lane with brick paving, and introduce curb bump outs on New Hampshire to help slow vehicles as they enter and exit the Circle, which serves to decrease the distance pedestrians have to travel to cross the street.

Curb extension example.

Local resident David Solimini agrees: “A neck-down curb extension at the entrance to the circle on each major road, particularly New Hampshire Avenue, would put pedestrians closer to drivers' line of sight and decrease the length of road pedestrians have to travel.” He went on to say that the curb extension would help to slow drivers who would be required to make a sharper turn into the Circle.

“The major roads going into Grant mostly have three lanes, two travel and one parking,” David said. “Of course, parking isn't allowed right at the corner, so this kind of thing doesn't reduce parking spaces.”

Commissioner Joe Martin (whose SMD of 4C09 covers the east half of the Circle) wrote an email to Councilmember Brandon Todd and other city officials on June 7th regarding the DDOT plan: “The Grant Circle portion suggests creating a brick-paved inner lane hugging Grant Circle Park for traffic-calming purposes and removing that lane as a travel lane. The Plan also suggests fanning out the New Hampshire Avenue medians as they meet Grant Circle to slow down traffic and move vehicles in the natural turn those vehicles would take when entering Grant Circle. Moreover, the Plan calls for narrowing the travel lane of New Hampshire Avenue north of Grant Circle to Buchanan Street NW for traffic-calming purposes, expanding the island at Allison and New Hampshire as well as other proposed measures.”

Northside of Grant Circle, where cars weave in and out of the circle.

He added that changes a few years ago to Varnum and Webster were putting additional pressure on the neighborhood, with a greater volume of cars and some looking to avoid one-way streets by driving through alleys.

Greg Matlesky, legislative aide to Council Chair Phil Mendelson, contacted Commissioner Martin to say that their office has also contacted DDOT to see what can be done to improve pedestrian safety concerns with Grant and Sherman Circles and specifically to see what projects related to this may be in the pipeline.

Mr. Matlesky mentioned they had seen the conversations about the issue on the listservs. (Good that they are monitoring; however, a response to the listservs as well would be equally valuable to let residents know that city officials are aware and investigating. Nothing like open communication to help people feel like things are being done and not being ignored.)

It's a long walk across both lanes. The plan calls for paving the interior travel lane in bricks.

Personally, if paving the interior lane with brick is the plan, then I would hope the the paved lane would have a curb along it to keep cars from still driving on it. I’m not sure I see the value of creating a brick paved lane that could still be driven on, as opposed to removing the travel lane and expanding the park outward, curbing it, and increasing available green space. 

Hopefully this issue will be addressed by DDOT and Councilmember Todd in the near term. I’m sure if Commissioner Martin gets an update he’ll post it on the listserv and give me a head's up to share here. I would encourage DDOT and our city leaders to do the same to ensure neighbors are informed.

(Ironically, as I was standing on the sidewalk in the Circle taking some of the above pictures -- not standing at the crosswalk at that moment -- two cars stopped at different times to allow me to cross. I thanked them both for stopping. Couldn't hurt to applaud good habits.)

See the follow-up articles in this series:

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.



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