Capitol Hill is a great place for pedestrians. Most of the time. Those of us who are car-less, or in one-car families, and dependent on our feet, our bikes or our weighed-down strollers cross a lot of intersections to make it home safely. And a few of them in my neck of the woods are worrisome, if not frustrating.
Each time I traverse the intersection between Potomac Avenue, 14th Street and the speedway known as Pennsylvania Avenue, connecting Potomac Avenue Metro, I feel as if I were walking through the embers in a Tony Robins firewall.
The problems go far beyond the traffic lights, the busy Harris Teeter building and drivers who want to make a u-turn to head across the Sousa Bridge. There’s a merge, a right turn on red, and drivers from two different intersecting streets merging to get through the light. Once you drive through the two lights there are two immediate crosswalks, kids coming out of school with their parents double-parked, cars parallel parking, and shoppers and condo residents pulling out of the parking deck. Trust me, I love crosswalks, but these are bit tricky, because there’s another lane coming from Eye Street headed east towards the bridge too. Thank heavens there are traffic guards at those crosswalks when school is dismissed.
Charles Allen, the chief of staff for Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells filled me on how this and other concerns can be addressed.
Allen: “About 2 years ago, they (DDOT) had engineers and planners start exploring different scenarios of what could change to make that intersection work better. I’m not aware that they came up with one consensus recommendation, but I’ve heard recently that DDOT is re-engaging on the intersection and will be reaching out to the community to restart those conversations. It’s something that needs to be done and we’re glad they’re bringing back some urgency to this intersection.”
That’s good news since I’m stunned I haven’t heard of a major accident at the intersection. Let’s make sure the neighborhood keeps DDOT accountable for integrating the community in this process.
If Santa is feeling generous, I’d also like two (not just one) yield signs where E Street, SE merges into Pennsylvania at 11th Street. I nearly got plowed down there the other day. Do you think Santa’s elves can work magic here?
Charles has good news on how residents can make DDOT requests directly through petitions: “This is primarily for things like stop signs and speed humps, but can also be used to make specific requests about a change. Of course, any time there’s a safety issue, we don’t need to wait for a petition to be collected. We’ll always try to bump a problem intersection up on the priority list through our office. The intersection you describe sounds like one we need to get DDOT to look at. I’ll go ahead and ask them to do that now.”
One last thing: a few more minutes for pedestrians to cross Pennsylvania at 13th Street would be an absolute God-send. Otherwise, we all should get track shoes, the elderly included, because we have all of 20 seconds to get through 6 lanes with a generous median strip in the middle.
Charles: That’s a point we hear about crossings on major arteries all the time. What we push for is that the timing of the pedestrian crossings be set for the individual that will be the slowest to move across – perhaps a parent with a small child, a senior with a walker, or an individual in a wheelchair. When we ask, DDOT will typically go out and check the timing to make sure its adequate. But one thing to keep in mind, DDOT’s evaluation of adequate means that the timing allows a pedestrian to get to safe harbor, such as the large median on Pennsylvania Avenue, not necessarily across the entire intersection for streets like major divided arterial roads. A priority for us is that while these streets are major commuter corridors, they are also our neighborhood streets. Therefore, we want DDOT to always err on the side of giving the pedestrian a little more time for a crossing.
Alright, Charles, time for you and Tommy to work your magic with Councilwoman Mary Cheh, the chair of DC’s Committee of Environment, Public Works and Transportation. I might just start getting my wish list to your office all year ’round. Along with sugar cookies and milk, of course.