Paying attention to the wrong thing

Jet pack (courtesy Lord Jim)

The Washington Post picked up the story of ANC 4C Commissioner Taalib-Din Uqdah's idea of building walkways underneath Grant and Sherman Circles to ensure pedestrian safety. Unlike the Greater Greater Washington story that looked at the realistic problems with tunnels, the WaPo reporter, Perry Stein, doesn't do research into the issue on why pedestrian safety is a priority. Instead, she focuses on the wrong aspect, and calls the tunnel idea "interesting to envision." So are jetpacks. Jetpacks are interesting to envision, too. And they're just as unrealistic.

The problem with the WaPo story ("Can pedestrian tunnels help make streets safer?"), is the same problem with Uqdah's hopefully (but doubtfully) tongue-in-cheek idea: neither addresses the reasons for the need for better safety or the history at Sherman and Grant Circles, nor consider cost-effectiveness. In the story, Ms. Smith gets wrong the reasons ANC 4C voted against the DDOT Livability Study before they saw the draft recommendations, stating the reason in the article as "Some of the commissioners believed that a bike lane would mean less room for cars, and thus exacerbate traffic in an already congested area." Alas, that's incorrect. 

The ANC's regressive vote had nothing to do with congestion at the Circles or along New Hampshire Avenue. The reason for ANC 4C Commissioner Timothy Jones' resolution against the recommendations (again, before reading DDOT's draft recommendations) was the fear of losing Sunday parishioner parking at the local churches on a stretch of New Hampshire Avenue, and fear by some residents of losing street parking, neither of which was offered up for removal by the Study. (Note that parishioners park along the median-side travel lane on New Hampshire Ave, a compromise brokered by ANC 4C years ago, to stop double-parking and manage resident and parishioner frustrations.)

DDOT's recommendation outlined in the Study is to engage in discussion with the churches and residents before finalizing a bike lane solution on New Hampshire Avenue. Taking away church parking was not suggested -- finding a compromise was. The ANC 4C vote had nothing to do with pedestrian, motorist or bicyclist safety, let alone traffic congestion. 

DDOT's suggestion for Sherman Circle, with similar changes to Grant Circle (from the Livability Study)

Tunnels under Grant Circle are ludicrous, not just because Metro's green line is under the Circle, but because the expense of building a tunnel far over-shadows the easier and more logical solution of following DDOT's older 2009 Pedestrian Safety Plan and the newer 2016 Livability Study, which call for eliminating one travel lane from both Grant and Sherman Circles and creating better sight lines and safer crossings.

There has yet to been raised one reasonable argument for keeping both travel lanes on the Circles. The density of traffic does not require it. It seems the only time cars travel on the inside lanes is to go around cars stopped for pedestrians. All the roads leading into and out of the Circles are single-lane, except for the short stretch of New Hampshire Avenue south of Grant Circle (that turns to single lane beyond Georgia Avenue). 

We can all have a laugh at the idea of building tunnels, because it is sadly, laughably, not a realistic solution. But DDOT and the DC government, including the ANCs, should be serious about looking for realistic solutions to pedestrian, bicyclist and motorist safety.

If Commissioner Uqdah or anyone else wants to make reasonable suggestions on creating better, long-term safety along the corridor and the Circles, please do. DDOT spent months soliciting suggestions and ideas. Let's avoid the under-ground-tunnel-jet-pack approach and focus on realistic ideas. Let's stop with the tunnels already.

Discussions with the community, allaying unfounded fears and implementing the recommendations of the Livability Study is the logical next step.