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New Lanes On Wisconsin Avenue Provoke Fight Between Residents, D.C. Legislator

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City planners recently reconfigured lanes on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park, but one legislator has started undoing that work.
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City planners recently reconfigured lanes on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park, but one legislator has started undoing that work.

Across the District of Columbia transportation planners are trying to improve the flow of traffic while improving pedestrian safety, at times a tricky balancing act that involves finding new ways to use the same road space, with each neighborhood presenting its own unique challenges.

In Washington’s Glover Park, the District Department of Transportation tinkered with Wisconsin Avenue NW, a six-lane road where residents complained of speeding cars and difficult crossings.

After years of study DDOT made some changes. But after complaints by a D.C. Council member, the agency reversed the traffic calming measures and returned the road to its old condition, angering Glover Park residents who claim DDOT bowed to political pressure.

From six lanes to four

If you stand at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue NW and Calvert Street you will see two different traffic patterns, depending on which way you are facing. South of the intersection, Wisconsin Avenue has been reduced from three north-south lanes in each direction to two plus a center turning lane. The changes were part of DDOT’s Wisconsin Avenue streetscape project to widen sidewalks and slow cars down.

North of Calvert Street, Wisconsin Avenue had the same new traffic pattern—until last week. Only six months after removing a travel lane to calm traffic, DDOT returned the avenue to its old condition of three lanes in each direction.

D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) was unhappy with the changes because they slowed down his frequent trips on Wisconsin Avenue.

“The project really had its genesis back in 2006 when there was a Glover Park study to really improve the commercial area,” Evans said in an interview with WAMU 88.5. “The idea of re-lining the roadways to change the traffic flow, though, was a much later idea.”

Slowing down traffic to protect pedestrians is a worthy goal, Evans said. “However, you don’t reduce it to a stop almost and there had to be a balance between slowing down traffic and stopping traffic.”

DDOT provides few answers

For two days WAMU 88.5 submitted questions to the District Department of Transportation about why the traffic calming measures, implemented after several pedestrians were struck by cars, were reversed without notifying the Glover Park ANC.

The repeated requests for comment were answered with a brief statement from DDOT spokesman Reggie Sanders.

“The reason for the change in each instance was safety. Safety for all modes,” the statement said. “During the trial period DDOT implemented numerous signal plans. Traffic Control Offices monitored vehicular movement and in many of the segments public safety remained the key issue of focus. We have received numerous citizen reports and our safety team closely monitored the situation and will continue to work with the community throughout July and August as we continue to monitor the operations.”

ANC furious: “Councilman Evans has a veto over pedestrian safety projects”

Evans seems to view Glover Park simply as a place for him to get through as quickly as possible as he drives back and forth.

The Glover Park ANC lobbied DDOT to slow down traffic on Wisconsin Avenue because the six-lane road had become a high-speed thoroughfare—despite the 25 m.p.h. speed limit—between Georgetown and upper Northwest.

After a long study period and only six months of implementation, the changes north of Calvert Street were stripped away in a matter of days.

“We went through years of study, millions of dollars to figure out how to make this road work for pedestrians and for cars. DDOT put those changes into effect and then in a blink of an eye, without any real analysis, they changed them back,” said ANC Commissioner Brian Cohen in an interview with WAMU 88.5.

“I don’t understand how Councilman Evans could get DDOT to make these changes that make our community less safe. He doesn’t live in this community. He doesn’t even represent this community,” said Cohen, who said traffic has not slowed to a crawl despite what the councilmember contends.

Glover Park is in Ward 3, represented by Council member Mary Cheh. Cheh and Evans held a transportation roundtable discussion in early May about the traffic calming measures. The Cleveland Park ANC also complained because the new lane alignment took away valuable parking spaces on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue north of Calvert Street—which is not part of Glover Park’s ANC3B.

But Cohen believes alternatives to simply reverting to the old six-lane traffic pattern should have been considered, like tweaking rush hour parking times, improving traffic light timing, and better enforcement of illegally parked cars.

More changes for Wisconsin Avenue?

South of the Calvert Street intersection during non-rush hours, Wisconsin Avenue provides motorists just one lane in each direction because parked cars consume the far-right north and southbound lanes. In Evans’ view, traffic is too slow on that stretch of Wisconsin Avenue, too.

“It’s really unacceptable because on the weekends the traffic gets so backed up that you can’t traverse Wisconsin Avenue,” Evans said. “We’ve heard from merchants and others that it is hurting their business. People are very upset. [The ANC] are very committed to keeping it the way it is. They are not concerned about people getting frustrated.”

ANC Commissioner Cohen says the opposite is true: the narrower lane configuration has made Glover Park more, not less, livable. “Prior to the Wisconsin Avenue project starting, we had had empty storefronts for years in Glover Park. Over the last year since the project started and since it’s been completed, we’ve filled just about every empty storefront in Glover Park,” Cohen said. “This has been good for business.”

Cohen says the ANC is concerned more pressure from Evans and others may force DDOT to mess with the traffic patterns on Wisconsin Avenue again to the detriment of pedestrians.

“Evans seems to view Glover Park simply as a place for him to get through as quickly as possible as he drives back and forth. He doesn’t seem to care about the people who live here. The balance in Glover Park had tipped too far to where our community had become nothing but a high-speed passage for cars to get from Bethesda to Georgetown,” Cohen said.

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