Around and around: DDOT final proposed changes to Grant and Sherman Circles

Ted Van Houten from DDOT presents to Petworth residents

Increasing pedestrian safety while decreasing the potential for vehicle collisions have been driving factors in residents pushing the DC Department of Transportation to make changes to both Grant and Sherman Circles. 

In the past decade, this push culminated in the 2009 Pedestrian Safety Plan that outlined specific proposed change (some drastic) to both the curbs, painted lines, signs and lane configurations on both Circles. Nothing really happened until last summer, when new painted lines and safety poles went up at Grant Circle, and the Rock Creed East 2 Livability Study was completed. Now DDOT is ready to make changes to both Circles, and presented their proposals at a meeting on Wednesday, July 26th. 

DDOT representative Ted Van Houten presented their proposed plans to a pretty full audience at the EL Haynes gym, discussing why these changes were proposed, with the primary focus being resident concerns over safety. From the comments that attendees made, a good number of them weren't aware of the changes (clearly, Petworth News needs to be read by more people!).

Ultimately, based upon field tests conducted at Grant Circle and computer modeling for Sherman, DDOT decided that Grant Circle must remain two lanes, while Sherman Circle can be reduced to one lane. Both have room for bike lanes.

Update 7/31: ANC 4D Commissioner Amy Hemingway sent an email stating that DDOT has committed to conducting a live one-lane test at Sherman Circle in September. Details to come.

Two lane design for Grant Circle with a cycle track.

Mr. Van Houten said that originally, DDOT was not confident that the computer model they use to determine roadway changes would properly model traffic impacts to changes at traffic circles, which is why they decided to do a real-world test by closing one lane at Grant. After that study completed, they found out the the results of the field test matched the results the computer model predicted, and they were pretty negative for vehicles. They found an increase of 122% average queue length (traffic backup) and an 80% increase in travel time due to the one-lane test. He said while resident reported feeling safer crossing the Circle, there are ways to improve pedestrian safety without significantly impact vehicles.

With that confidence, they modeled changes to Sherman Circle, and based on the analysis showing minimal delays, they came up with the proposal to close one lane on Sherman.

The rationale for removing a driving lane is to reduce the distance pedestrians have to travel to cross the roadway (both circles have a lane design that is 40 feet wide, double the normal street width). The other reason is to slow traffic down, thereby creating better conditions for both vehicle and pedestrian safety, as higher speeds increase severity of collisions. Sherman Circle has 7,000 vehicles traveling it daily, compared to 10,000 vehicles for Grant Circle, and Sherman has 10 crosswalks, while Grant has five.

DDOT's computer model predictions of traffic queuing (or backups) for 2-lane and 1-lane designs at Sherman Circle

DDOT says that the data they have on crashes and struck pedestrians shows 14 collisions at Grant, and 4 at Sherman for 2013-2015 (based off of police reports), so the necessity to make changes due to vehicle collisions is not as high for these Circles as others in the city, but resident concerns remain the driving force.

This is where I remind readers and DDOT that MPD does not file police reports (PD Form 10) unless a vehicle needs to be towed, a person is injured, a driver is absent or a collision involves a government vehicle. This also doesn't take into account all the near misses that occur daily at these two Circles.

The recently completed Rock Creek East II Livability Study calls for both Circles to see reduced vehicle speeds, greater safety features (new painted lines, signage, etc), and possibly remove a driving lane. But that plan will take 4-8 years to implement. DDOT believes that changes should be made sooner, based upon strident resident concerns. 

Mr. Van Houten reiterated that Grant Circle is part of the 2009 Pedestrian Master Plan, and changes to the Circle is included in the Priority Corridor Map for Ward 4, and that the Pedestrian Master Plan was updated by moveDC, specifically the Pedestrian Element.

On Grant Circle, DDOT is looking to maintain two lanes, along with:

  • Narrowing of New Hampshire Avenue down to one lane south of Circle (above Upshur, not the full length between the Circle and Sherman Ave... that's to be discussed)
  • Bicycle lane with buffer (flexposts added where parking not present)
  • Revised striping (painted lines)
  • Converting approaches to yield
  • Reduce turning radii to slow down vehicle turns
  • Narrow travel lanes to 11 feet
  • Shorter crosswalks into the Circle

On Sherman Circle, DDOT is suggesting a one-lane design with a bike lane, curb bump-outs and maintaining the parking and bus stops. 

Sherman Circle proposed one-lane design

There was pushback by some attendees on why Sherman even needs to have a lane removed, with some residents thinking all of the changes were solely to accommodate bicycles (which is not the case). A DDOT representative pointed out that bike lanes don't change the options of one or two lanes for each Circle, as either design can accommodate them. 

Some residents wanted to put speed humps or tables at the crosswalks to slow down traffic in the Circles, but Mr. Van Houten said this was not possible in the Circle and on arterial roadways like Kansas Avenue, but could be looked at for side roads like Varnum. They said they want to remove stop signs around the circles to maintain "consistency of Circle design," but would be willing to consider putting in more stop signs if that is a community desire, as one resident asked for a sign at Kansas and 7th Street.

DDOT took pains to point out that these proposals are not set in stone, and they do want resident feedback. Mr. Van Houten said there are different ways to try to reduce vehicle speeds and increase pedestrian safety, such as crosswalk lights, and they're open to hearing back from residents and ANCs. If they decide to move forward, they will release two separate Notices of Intent for each Circle sometime in late August or September, and are looking for resolutions from ANCs 4C and 4D. You can view DDOT's presentation, and provide feedback via email to Ted Van Houten.