14 Jan 2021

H Street:

Open Data insights with Charlotte Jackson

Just one of the daily scenes you can encounter at any of the intersections along H Street NE. This is at 3rd and H, which is regularly backed up by the activity at the Giant Foods loading dock.

As 2020 drew to a close and, on top of having to deal with* everything*, we also had to be reminded once again of just how scary H Street NE can be. On December 22, a car sped and imbedded itself into the Atlas Performing Arts Center/Joy of Motion building, partially destroying the dance studio. This was the third accident where a car ended up on the side of a building at a corner of H Street in less than three months. Over on Twitter– where a lot of modern activism takes place– friend of the blog Mark Sussman started his effort to get local businesses signed on to a letter in the hopes of making H Street safer. Over 20 businesses have now signed on to a letter demanding better traffic control, wider sidewalks, and a bus-only lane. You can read that letter here. Although the crash in December did not injure anyone, the truth is that accidents, crashes and near-misses happen on a regular basis throughout H Street NE.

The day after the latest crash, I ran a poll on Twitter that garnered 367 votes. More than 54% of the respondents indicated that they had had more than one bad experience along H Street NE, loosely defined as a close call or a bona fide accident of some sort. Over 9% of respondents indicated that they’d had one bad incident along the street. Therefore, from this informal poll, more than 63% of respondents have had at least one bad experience on H Street.

A letter from ANC 6C was already in the works when a cyclist was struck at 3rd and H Street almost exactly a year ago, demanding that DDOT take a more serious look at intersections at 3rd and 6th Streets NE. Back then, I asked people on Twitter to tell me about their least favorite H Street intersections and summarized it on this post. And as with this poll, a year ago people also shared their own ideas on Twitter.

So if people are having accidents and near misses on H, and if we know that people are getting hurt or dying on the street, and if ANC 6C sent a letter to DDOT back in February of 2020 demanding that the agency look at specific intersections, but nothing seems to truly happen, why is that?

While running the poll above, a data scientist and Ward 3 resident, Charlotte Jackson, reached out to me to offer her help in navigating open data for things like 311 service requests and TSA requests. As it turns out, she’d asked DDOT to consider installing a stoplight at a street near her children’s daycare– a street that, despite its location cutting through a quiet neighborhood, sees a large volume of traffic from Maryland commuters. Although she received a response from DDOT– after appealing to her ANC commissioner about the issue– the response she received was inconclusive and the intersection is still a three-way stop that continues to be dangerous for small pedestrians.

Together with Charlotte, we will be looking at the open data from 311 requests around H Street and other neighborhood clusters in which you may be interested, but I need your support. Here are a few of the things Charlotte and I have stumbled upon, just taking a cursory look at the data:

  • I asked Charlotte to take a look at data from before the DC Streetcar opened, because many people are quick to throw blame on the poor trolley anytime something happens on H Street. And, as it turns out, the 2016 opening of the DC Streetcar did not significantly change the number of crashes reported along H Street.
  • But from the data, it’s also clear that every single major intersection along H Street has seen its share of crashes. Charlotte sent me this somewhat comical map segment, showing the concentration of crashes, incidents or accidents along the street and, as you can see, even 9th Street, which is a three-way intersection with stoplights at that point.
H Street from North Capitol to Benning Road. It’s solid blue with accidents over the last five years.
  • A baffling number of service requests from the past five years (see below) come from Ward 6, but the “winner” is Ward 5– and guessing by the specific location, this might have to do with Florida Avenue and the Dave Thomas Circle area, which we know is one of the worst if not THE worst intersection in DC. There have been plans in the works to fix this for… well, awhile. (GGWash)
  • But the second most requests come from the Union Station, Stanton Park, Kingman Park area. What do all these neighborhoods have in common, besides being in Northeast? That’s right– it’s all the neighborhoods directly affected by H Street. It’s a large volume of requests, most of which are closed without any finality. More curiously, they direct the citizen who lodged the complaint to a place called “the clearinghouse” and are given a number to call, (202) 671-2700. The DDOT Clearinghouse seems to be only available via phone, as its online presence is on PDF here, and on an organizational overview here. Most complaints don’t get sent to the clearinghouse, however, because…
  • Most 311 requests that we looked at are closed without any clear resolution. In the field where whoever looks at the request adds a comment, most requests say “null” or say that there was no follow-up or that there wasn’t enough data to fulfill the request. There are so many of these notes, it makes one wonder if perhaps 311 could educate citizens better on how to fill out forms so that the appropriate information is conveyed.
  • Multiple requests are usually flagged as such, but no added priority seems to be given to them. I saw one from the 200 block of 16th Street SE, where I happen to know reader and former THIHer Jon Penndorf diligently filed 311 requests every time there was a crash or accident near this intersection. Yes, Jon– 311 was aware of it. It still didn’t make it go any faster.

Charlotte and I hope to have more insights but we’d like to hear from you: Which intersections do you want us to take a look at? What kind of data do you think would be helpful to know? Email info@thehillishome or comment on social media!

Parting thought A step in the right direction: Councilmember Charles Allen met with DDOT Director Jeff Marootian and members of ANC 6A to outline needs for a safer H Street — a walk which, curiously, did not include any members of ANC 6C. I suppose this might have to do with the fact that the crash that spurred people into action happened in 6A, but still, it’s somewhat remarkable, unless 6A organized it on their own. If so, kudos to 6A for getting DDOT’s attention where 6C couldn’t.

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