Image from Google Street View
At a public meeting late last month, District Department of Transportation (DDOT) staff announced an alarming change of plans for their C St. NE rehabilitation project that cuts critical safety improvements for people walking and biking to speed more cars through the neighborhood. We are baffled by the changes and what they mean for DDOT’s commitment to its Vision Zero principles and ending all traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the city by 2024.
Demand That DDOT Reverse Course
C St. NE is a relic of DC’s long-past highway building days. At five lanes wide, it was designed to funnel rush hour commuters through the neighborhood into downtown DC. But highways make terrible neighborhood streets during rush hour. When uncongested the rest of time, empty lanes tempt drivers to step on the gas. In 2013, when the 11th St. bridge was completed, drivers found different routes, leaving C St. NE empty even more of the time. Today, C St. NE is overbuilt for cars and underbuilt for the people who live, work, play, bike and walk along it.
The critical long-term solution has been in the works since 2006 when Rosedale residents started organizing to demand solutions to chronic speeding, unsafe crossings and stressful biking. DDOT responded with over a decade of studies — the Capitol Hill Transportation Study, C St. Traffic Calming Study, C St. Multimodal Corridor Study, and MoveDC Plan — which helped create a vision for a calm, multimodal street with fewer travel lanes, more frequent, shorter crossings, green space, and protected bike lanes where moving cars is not the priority.
C St. NE 65% plans presented in February
In 2017, DDOT started work on plans which promised to deliver on that vision. In February 2018, staff presented 65% design plans that would:
- Remove a travel lane from each direction to help reduce speeding
- Add curb extensions at nine intersections for shorter pedestrian crossings
- Add new crosswalks at 17th Pl and 20th St
- Create 11 raised crosswalks at cross-streets to encourage slow-speed turns
- Add curb-protected bike lanes on C St. and North Carolina Ave NE
- Create five “floating” bus stops that keep buses and people on bikes separated
- Add dozens of new trees, green space, and improved river-friendly stormwater management
- Preserve full-time parking on every block
These plans reflect a decade of study, community discussion, and consensus building around the safety concerns on C St. NE. Residents and experts in traffic safety have been engaged and actively participating in support at every step. Indeed, this project promised to deliver a safe, complete street that would have set a new bar for Vision Zero projects (view the full plans here).
But in April, DDOT announced drastic design changes, striking many of the most critical safety features of the plan. See the new plans here. The changes would:
- Remove seven of the nine curb extensions at 16th St, 17th St, 17th Pl, 18th St, 18th Pl, 19th St, and 21st St, making pedestrian crossings longer and more risky especially for children and seniors
- Add back the third travel lane planned for removal on six blocks. More travel lanes encourage speeding, especially in off-peak hours, in exchange for less driver delay at rush hour. Ironically, DDOT staff are now considering adding traffic signals at two crosswalks because the new proposed design makes these crossings less safe
- Eliminate full-time parking on six blocks either during rush hour or at all times to make room for turn lanes. Residents will lose access to as many as 50 parking spaces for the convenience of moving cars quickly
- Eliminate some raised crosswalks
- Reduce the size of bus stops to move buses out of the travel lane
All of these changes are required, DDOT staff claim, because traffic models show that removing a lane in each direction will create unacceptable delay for drivers by 2040. But traffic models only tell the driving part of the story and they are notorious for overestimating future driving habits. We should not compromise safety today to avoid theoretical delay in 20 years.
Revised April plans. Pink shows curb extensions cut from the plan. Blue cars indicate parking restrictions.
DDOT’s new plan to preserve the C St. NE speedway is simply indefensible. It dismisses a decade of work towards an inclusive design that meets community needs. It contradicts four studies that show lane reductions are needed. It trades away critical safety features for greater risk to vulnerable road users. And it cuts residential parking used today to speed more cars through the neighborhood.
But worst of all, the plan is a glaring contradiction to Mayor Bowser’s commitment to end traffic fatalities by 2024. In December 2015, Mayor Bowser released her Vision Zero Action Plan, and pledged that her administration “will do everything in our power to eliminate transportation fatalities and serious injuries, because no loss of life is acceptable.” To achieve this, the action plan promises that “streets should be designed for all users and need to be built to account for inevitable human errors.” It declares that “streets must be engineered to self-enforce a safe speed,” and that “design speed limit and posted speed limit must both prevent serious injury.”
In March 2018, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen worked with MPD to put a targeted focus on traffic enforcement along the C Street NE corridor near Eliot-Hine Middle School and Maury Elementary. After about an hour each day for three weeks, MPD issued 76 speeding tickets to people driving 11-30+ mph over the speed limit.
Drivers ticketed going 11-15 mph over the speed limit: 25
Drivers tickets going 16-20 mph over the speed limit: 6
Drivers ticketed going 16-20 mph over the speed limit: 7
Drivers ticketed going 21-25 mph over the speed limit: 10
Drivers ticketed going 26-30+ mph over the speed limit: 34
Read that again! 34 people going 50+ mph in a residential neighborhood with not one, but two schools where the posted speed limit is 25 mph. For seven blocks, DDOT’s plan would do little to curb this speeding.
DDOT has a moral imperative to do everything in its power to reduce speeds to safe levels. The February version of the plan does exactly this. The April plan is a mockery of Mayor Bowser’s Vision Zero commitment.
We call on DDOT to drop these indefensible changes and instead return to the inspiring, community supported vision presented in February. Last week, ANC 7D voted unanimously to urge DDOT to do the same (read ANC 7D’s letter here). As this plan moves towards construction next year, it must prioritize safety for people walking and biking and actively slow drivers down. While staff have indicated revisions may already be in the works, it is imperative that safe design, not driver delay, is guiding the plan. Please join us in taking a stand for Vision Zero by sending a letter to DDOT.