Thoughts on DDOT’s North-South Corridor Meetings

Detail of the Conceptual Alternatives map showing streets in the greater Park View area that are part of the North-South Study (click for full map)

Detail of the Conceptual Alternatives map showing streets in the greater Park View area that are part of the North-South Study (click for full map)

Having attended both the November 4th North-South Corridor meeting and the less formal November 11th presentation during the Georgia Avenue Economic Development Community Task Force (GAEDTF), its time to pull together some of my initial impressions. To begin with, the area under consideration involves a lot of streets, many of which I can’t imagine will be on the table for long. But, in essence, the study area includes the traffic currently handled by three of the top five busiest routes in the District. The overall corridor handles a quarter of the District’s bus ridership, which is over 60,000 bus riders per day.

During the presentations DDOT was fairly clear that they were open to listening from residents on whether the solution to meeting the transportation demands would be streetcars or something else. However, for several years now, streetcars have been the mode of transportation most discussed, and I think it has an advantage over alternative modes at this time. But … it was also clear that this phase of meetings was a very early step in the process and there will be other opportunities for the public to weigh in. The second series of meetings during Phase one are likely to be conducted in January/February 2014 and the third series could be around May/June 2014. Once they are completed, the study will move on to Phase 2: the environmental study.

Planning process graphic

The purpose of the meetings was also to gather community input on which routes were desired, which routes residents didn’t like, and gather concerns so that the study team has more information to work with. Jaime Henson, the chief DDOT presenter, stated that we, the residents, know our neighborhoods and streets far better than the study team ever could, and that was why community input was so essential to the process. They also made it clear that if someone stated they didn’t like one option over another to tell the team why. That was the best way for the study to understand the underlying issues connected to  the corridor.

One thing I found interesting was that many residents in the SW Waterfront and upper Georgia Avenue areas tended to respond to the presentations positively. I would say that the overall vibe in the room at the GAEDTF meeting wasn’t that keen on streetcars — among the comments expressed were an interest in more circulator bus service, concern about overhead wires, concern that a disabled streetcar will snarl traffic, and that there isn’t room on Georgia Avenue for streetcars, buses, parking, and cars.

However, when compared to alternative routes in the area, I don’t see 14th Street, 11th Street, or Sherman Avenue being superior choices to Georgia Avenue. 14th Street, in particular, is usually a congested mess during morning rush hour and much of that has been in response to efforts to slow traffic down in the area around Park Road.

In looking at the comparison above, a streetcar's capacity is 65 riders greater than an articulated bus.

In looking at the comparison above, a streetcar’s capacity is 65 riders greater than an articulated bus.

In comparing modes of transportation with their size and rider capacity, I think it is fairly easy to see why DDOT has been considering streetcars so seriously. An average streetcar can carry 65 more passengers than an articulated bus. In such a comparison, the streetcar is also only 6 ft. longer than the articulated bus. In comparing width, streetcars and buses are roughly the same. However, driving lanes for buses are typically wider than those needed for streetcars because streetcars travel on rails and remain on their tracks, whereas a bus will naturally travel from side to side a bit more within a lane due to its unfettered nature.

Transportation comparison widths

So, the question becomes, if the District’s goal is to improve traffic between Buzzard Point in the South and Takoma Park/Silver Spring in the north, how does the Ward 1 section of the corridor want to participate? Do residents want the plan to include Georgia Avenue, or do they want it to bypass Georgia Avenue? Considering that a streetcar system would increase capacity the most, is the community willing to give anything up to accommodate this service — or do residents merely want to continue to add buses to the existing 70 network?

From my viewpoint, removing metered parking and establishing dedicated streetcar lanes would make a lot of sense. This would be especially true if the improved transportation service decreased visitors needing to drive to the corridor. The dedicated lane would also address the concern that a disabled streetcar would snarl traffic. Of course, an alternative to this would be to keep the metered parking and have streetcars share the road with automobiles. This is similar to the build-out on H Street where streetcars will share lanes with traffic.

All-in-all, there will be a lot for the community to consider. I’m certainly looking forward to the next round of public meetings to learn what insight DDOT gained from the last round of meetings and how that will move the process forward.

The full library of presentation materials used during the community presentations is available here. It’s worth a look to become more familiar with the study parameters and the challenges DDOT is attempting to address.

Explore posts in the same categories: Bus service, Streetcars, Streets and Trees, traffic

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13 Comments on “Thoughts on DDOT’s North-South Corridor Meetings”

  1. Lisa Galiber Says:

    Thanks Kent! I look forward to attending the next round of meetings. Keep us posted!

  2. Sarah Says:

    Who would be using the streetcar service? Is the goal to transition bus riders over and have fewer buses? Or is the goal to attract car drivers? I’m not sure how many people who currently drive the GA Ave route as part of their commute would be able to transition to using the street car. Many of them live in Maryland or deep within Petworth and other residential neighborhoods. I like the idea of a streetcar, but I would be re-assured by a study showing that it will be used.

    • PleasantPlainer Says:

      To start, such as study might include: Howard faculty, staff, students, and people attending Howard events; people living within 3-4, maybe 5-6 blocks on either side of GA Ave for the length of GA Ave; workers/residents at the redeveloped Walter Reed site; I believe one street car line is planned to branch off from GA Ave on Piney Branch to Tacoma Park Metro; workers and shoppers up and down the avenue, esp. the new developments around Shaw Metro and planned Howard Town Center; within walking distance from GA Ave to include tourists wanting to go to the Lincoln Cottage; Medical Center staff, doctors, patients, visitors, people going to Howard Theater events; convention center attendees; commuters working north and south of downtown currently using the 70, 72, and 79 bus lines; people that usually use other bus lines connecting at Petworth; Shaw; etc., people connecting from other street car lines crossing a N-S line, and that is just off the top of my head on the northern end…anyone care to add potential riders on the southern side of the city?

    • Byron Tau Says:

      Don’t forget: The city is not using streetcars as just a transportation device. They’re using them as an economic development tool. 7th Street/Ga. Ave from Gallery Place through Petworth is already well covered by rail transit: the Metrorail. As a result, we’ve seen a construction boom along that corridor of upzoning and new construction and a huge increase in property values over the last 20 years.

      But from about Upshur all the way to the Maryland state line, there’s no real, meaningful access to rail transit. The city can shovel all the money it wants into better 70 bus service, but it will never have the same economic development effect as a huge capital investment by the city in rail transit. The idea is get the streetfront along Georgia Avenue between Upshur and Silver Spring to upzone and redevelop. It’s also to connect the Walter Reed development to premium rail transit. Developers simply wouldn’t be as interesting in that site if they didn’t get assurances that it would have access to rail transit.

  3. PleasantPlainer Says:

    I wish I could have attended. I am a lower GA ave community resident in favor of including GA ave in the mix and in favor of street cars. More buses will not cut it. Demand is too great, the 70 is too slow, and the 79 expensive and too infrequent.

    Until Sherman Ave was re-done (looks great!), I thought that was the best location for street car line – one block to GA Ave, and one block closer to 14th. I don’t think that’s a possibility now what with the new islands, etc. Too bad as Sherman is a wide street (well, was). A couple of years ago I was at a meeting where Howard University came out against street cars (with some weak arguments such as “what happens when it snows”? We can ask Boston, and many N. European cities where snow actually sticks about that, but I digress…). At the same meeting, Howard was presenting their plan for reducing “single occupancy vehicles”. I hope they come around in support of street cars towards that goal. And, the investments they are making, as well as the other private investment along lower and upper GA ave (e.g. Wall Mart, Walter Reed) will likely be amplified with a fixed rail system.

    Somewhat related, is E-W transit North of Florida Ave and South of Military Road along the N-S corridor. Very few E-W streets bear the brunt of the traffic, and they are mostly one-way streets. Try moving on Columbia Rd, during rush hour for example. The Medical Center needs better connections – and when the McMillan Park site is developed, combined with the Brookland developments finishing up, E-W traffic has potential to get much worse. I think the city should look at East-West transit in this area north of Florida and South of Military Rd as part of this study. Arguably, it’s all connected. So, while you’re at it, Include E-W street car lines to make direct/indirect connections between Brookland, Petworth, Columbia Heights metro stations, Medical Center and maybe another Red Line metro station further west.

    • db Says:

      I agree about the E-W traffic. It’s terrible now, both for commuters and us residents who have to bear the brunt of clogged streets during rush hours and dangerous speeding traffic during other hours. My suspicion is that that the 1 way configuration of Kenyon/Irving/Columbia/Harvard is a vestige of the days when they were planning on building highways through the city (you see other odd pockets of streets that don’t seem to belong in residential neighborhoods, such as the stretch of Porter by Wisconsin and 15th Street before they put in the bike lanes). The entire area around the hospital center needs to be re-looked at, what with the stupid highway-like on/off ramps to North Capitol that feed people directly into a residential neighborhood. My personal preference would be for them get rid of the rush hour restrictions that open up the lanes. This would discourage some of the speeding and maybe cars would divert to the more appropriate thoroughfares (NY Ave, for one). Really the only benefit to residents for the 1 way streets is added parking, but because the rush hour restrictions are ALL DAY it really only helps on nights/weekends (and there is even a small part of Irving where the restrictions, for reasons unknown to me, apply on Saturdays which really, really sucks). I’m not sure why the Park View neighborhood should be putting commuters first and residents second when it comes to street configuration. While a lot of the traffic is for the hospital center, a lot of it is also people cutting across town. And it will only get worse with the McMillan development.

      On the other hand, I’m 100% for the streetcars running along Georgia Ave. I believe the long term plan includes a street car line for Michigan Ave but it would go further west than the new development at McMillan.

      • Byron Tau Says:

        DB… I’ve been screaming on the neighborhood listservs about Irving and Kenyon and Columbia Road being treated like expressways by drivers coming on/off North Capitol and no one else seems to care. I’d love to the rush hour parking restrictions to go away. Or return them both to two-way streets. Or add a bike lane. Or speed bumps or something. But the current set-up is obnoxious.

      • PkView Says:

        Has it occurred to you that many of your neighbors ARE commuters trying to get across town every day? I work in PG County, and need to drive from Park View several times a week. It really stinks. Rather than make driving across town impossible, can we re-engineer the road system so that there’s at least one relatively fast crosstown route north of Rhode Island?

  4. PleasantPlainer Says:

    Byron, can you point me to those listserves? It is obnoxious, but moreover it is dangerous and a nuisance. Trash is another spillover…I find on Harvard St that the trash blows down from GA Ave, and combined with the trash tossed out of car windows, blatantly, I might add, it gets bad by the time the streets are cleaned. And we know in the winter, well, they don’t get cleaned.

    Does anyone think we could get traction with the City to include the E/W streets intersecting with the corridor area as part of the N/S corridor planning? Is a “corridor” simply a street, or does it include the spillover opportunities/benefits/issues in the area “around” the corridor? How would we go about that?

  5. […] bus and subway service, each of which have their own benefits and drawbacks. The Park View blog has a nice write up that matches the presentation provided to the PQNA and includes graphics and links to the presentation […]

  6. […] DDOT held their first round of public North-South Corridor meetings in November 2013 (my review and opinions of those meetings here). […]

  7. […] are the second of three rounds, with the final series currently planned for around June. The first round was in November and was very general in its approach. It focused on streetcars and buses, along with a variety of […]

  8. Charles McDonald Says:

    I have respect for all but how can we feel sorry for the bus drivers when people who catch buses lose their jobs for being late? I have been late even when i leave home six hours ahead of time. I was suspended for two weeks without pay for it. I love detroit but please keep in mind we have feelings to.

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