Will new lane markings in Grant Circle increase pedestrian safety? (updated)

(Article updated at 5:30pm with a message from the DDOT Chief of Staff, William Hwang.)

A DC DDOT contractor crew was out today painting the new lane markings around Grant Circle. Pedestrian safety at the Circle has been a concern for the people who live around and need to cross the traffic circle. DDOT has finally responded to resident concerns by painting new lane markings as well as using the paint to denote turn lanes and parking lanes. But will these new lines actually make people safer?

Prior Petworth News coverage of pedestrian safety in Grant Circle:
 - Curbing the dangers of speeding cars (June 15, 2015)
 - Painting safety into Grant Circle (June 29, 2015)
 - Grant circle to get new paint for increased safety (July 13, 2015)

This is a pretty good success story for the neighbors who kept up the constant pressure on DDOT to address the issues and focus on the 2009 Pedestrian Safety Plan originally published as the way to address the issue.

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. That plan sat on the shelf for years.

Proposed locations of new painted lines around Grant Circle. (Image courtesy of DDOT)

After another couple of near misses while attempting to cross the Circle, a few neighbors and myself started emailing DDOT in the beginning of the summer, and seemed to convince DDOT to move forward with doing something, anything. They came back with a plan to paint (outlined in a Notice of Intent 15-113-TOA). The lines narrow the travel lanes around the Circle, and bring new lines for entrances and exits, as well as lines denoting a parking lane. 

DDOT missed their self-imposed deadline of completing the painting by September 7th, and it took three more emails from me (ccing DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo and Councilmember Brandon Todd) to finally get a response on Monday. The painting then started yesterday. 

I went out to the Circle today to take photos and see how the new lines impacted traffic, and if cars abided by the lines. The answer is... not very well.

At the southbound exit for New Hampshire, for example, either drivers were confused by the multiple solid lines near the exits, thinking there was an additional turning lane (which there isn't), or drivers just didn't care. After watching for over 40 minutes, my unofficial count is about 85% of all traffic erroneously uses the new parking lane to exit the Circle instead of the turning lane. I even filmed it:

In my time standing in the Circle and on New Hampshire Ave watching cars, it was obvious that DDOT has to make another change. Cars were routinely veering into the parking lane as they exited, then swerving back into the driving lane on New Hampshire. On the NH Ave entrance to the Circle on the south side, cars were using the park lane as a third lane into the Circle.

Three times I saw a potential collision as the car in the park lane pulled close to another vehicle in the travel exit lane. DDOT needs to add more lines demarking where the turn lane is out of the Circle. I'm not convinced that with the paint the way it is now, things will be safer for pedestrians.

Exit and entrance to Grant Circle from NH Ave on the south. The yellow lines are my suggested enhancement; DOT needs to add lines at the exits & entrances

I asked ANC 4C Commissioner John-Paul Hayworth, whose SMD 4C07 covers half the Circle, his opinion on DDOT working on the new paint. "I'm glad to see the district is finally taking our safety concerns seriously," he said. "The paint is a first step. I expect DDOT to fulfill the full recommendations in the plan they created years ago."

Rob Mandle, one of the residents who's been pushing DDOT for years to improve pedestrian safety, said to me via email about the painting, "This success is an excellent example of the community mobilizing to achieve a priority community goal of improving pedestrian safer. Seeing the paint in practice makes it hard to ignore that there is simply far too much asphalt dedicated to the automobile -- there is almost an entire lane width of unused space. Thank you, DDOT, for hearing our concerns and now let's take this opportunity to investigate the next set of enhancements, ones that will expand our signature green space in Grant Circle as well as further enhance safety in the quest for Vision Zero."

Will DDOT continue with the recommendations in the 2009 Pedestrian Safety plan after the paint dries, or will this be the only change for safety to the Circle? What about the problem of cars driving in the park lane?

A new group, called All Walks DC, is trying to drum up support with a petition requesting DDOT review the 2009 Plan and either implement the recommendations, or conduct a new traffic study.

A review of the 2009 Plan should be the next step. Since the Plan was completed, population density around the Circle and in Petworth has increased, and Sherman Avenue south of New Hampshire and Georgia Avenue has been reduced to one lane of traffic. (In fact, 14, 15 and 16 Grant Circle are all being renovated into condos with a total of 10 units between them.) 

What is the impact on the Plan now that the amount of pedestrians is higher, and drivers seeking a quick way downtown can no longer as easily take Sherman Ave? I fear only a constant barrage of emails to DDOT will be the only way to get an answer.

Update from DDOT:

I received an email from William Hwang, the chief of staff for DDOT.

"Grant Circle continues to be a significant project for DDOT and one that is very much in sync with the Mayor’s Vision Zero strategy.  We are committed to making our streets safer for all pedestrians, motorists and everyone using our streets. This week our team began the Grant Circle project and yesterday the actual striping work got underway. Our goal is to complete the project by the end of the month.

The project experienced a delay because we needed to do some additional work to more closely match the installation of pavement markings and pylon work with the installation of updated ADA ramps, which will be constructed at a later date. We know this is an important project for the community and greatly appreciate their patience as the work resumes following this week’s Papal visit.
With respect to the 2009 Pedestrian Safety Plan, the overall plan was incorporated into moveDC, the District’s multimodal long-range transportation plan along with other “modal elements.” Most of the goals and recommendations of the 2009 Pedestrian plan were advanced in the Pedestrian Element of moveDC, and DDOT continues to use those elements to inform how it approaches pedestrian safety. The original pedestrian plan conducted low level studies of “high pedestrian hazard” corridors in each ward, and we have moved forward on a few of these, e.g. Maryland Avenue, NE and East Capitol Street, with more to come.
The plan you are referring to [ed: the 2009 Pedestrian Safety Plan] is a separate plan for Ward 4 that examined New Hampshire Avenue. DDOT used this plan’s information on Grant Circle as a baseline to make improvements. The pedestrian plan’s policy recommendations have helped to move forward several key countermeasures for pedestrian safety and access in the District.
As much as it is possible, DDOT uses the recommendations of the pedestrian plan element to inform the public of the available tools and options when working with Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and other community members. We will continue to involve all of our stakeholders and work as quickly as we can to complete the Grant Circle project."

I responded that I hoped they addressed the turning lane issues, as that's a place of considerable concern for pedestrians attempting to cross the Circle.

WMATA employees more concerned with yelling at me than working?

On a minor side note, I was aggressively harassed by two WMATA employees who were parked on the sidewalk in the Circle, either taking a break or waiting for something. One of them started yelling at me quite loudly about taking photographs at the Circle. "You can't take pictures! It's illegal to take pictures here!"

I politely replied that photographs in public space were indeed legal. He threatened to call the police, and I said that would be great! (Ironically, I wasn't even taking pictures of them, but the roadway.) Instead the two WMATA employees took cell phone pictures of me, so I smiled and waved. Petworth News always wants to look good (albeit in an old t-shirt, shorts and sandals). Seems running trains isn't the only thing WMATA has problems with understanding .