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Glover Park Group Asks D.C. To Undo Traffic Lanes Changes On Wisconsin Ave.

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The changes made to Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park included the addition of a painted median and dedicated turn lane.
WAMU/Martin Di Caro
The changes made to Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park included the addition of a painted median and dedicated turn lane.

Nearly one year after backing lane changes to one of the busiest north-south avenues in the District, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission says it will ask the D.C. Council to return Wisconsin Avenue NW in Glover Park to six lanes, succumbing to criticism that the new lane configuration created traffic bottlenecks.

In a move designed to slow down speeding cars for the sake of pedestrians and cyclists, the District Department of Transportation turned Wisconsin Avenue from 35th Street to Garfield Street into a five-lane road: two lanes in each direction plus a center turning lane. The lane changes were part of DDOT’s Wisconsin Avenue Streetscape project that also widened sidewalks and improved crossings. But after six months DDOT scrapped the changes north of the Calvert Street intersection, angering the leaders of ANC3B.

“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 in June.

Now Cohen and his fellow ANC3B commissioners are giving up on the changes south of Calvert St., too. After complaints about traffic backups from motorists and businesses, ANC3B surveyed the public. Only 300 people responded to the survey; 250 were residents of Glover Park. By a 2-1 margin respondents favored returning Wisconsin Ave. to six lanes. Cohen and ANC3B vice chair Jackie Blumenthal will testify before a D.C. Council hearing next month and ask lawmakers to scrap the five-lane traffic pattern south of Calvert St.

“At our November 14 ANC meeting, we released the results of a survey taken of Glover Park residents over the past month registering their opinions of the lane changes on Wisconsin Avenue. The response was overwhelmingly in favor of returning to the old six-lane configuration,” Blumenthal said in a written statement to WAMU 88.5.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), the chair of the transportation committee, will hold the hearing on Dec. 4.

“I want to see a configuration that allows the traffic to move smoothly but also protects pedestrians. I think our experiment with the change in the lanes has not worked out well. I still think there are many things we must do to protect pedestrians but maybe all we wound up doing was frustrating drivers,” said Cheh, who said speed cameras and more pedestrian crossings should be considered.

The tensions between motorists on one hand and pedestrians and bicyclists on the other are not confined to busy Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park. Sharing road space is a challenge across a city with a booming population and with forty percent of households without cars. But the yearlong battle over Wisconsin Ave. shows reaching a consensus on the touchy issue of sharing finite roadway is not easy.

Cheh, who often bicycles to work, said she is sensitive to the concerns of everyone.

“We have to understand there are multiple users now. This is not just a car economy. It’s not just a car community and we have to make way for everybody,” said Cheh, who suggested the Council should also consider protected bike lanes on Wisconsin Ave.

Supporters of the new five-lane configuration on Wisconsin Ave. are unhappy ANC3B is giving up so soon. The District Department of Transportation has yet to submit its analysis of whether the slower traffic pattern is effective. A DDOT spokeswoman said its yearlong analysis will wrap up next month, so no data is available to the public as this time. It is also unclear if DDOT will present any data at Cheh’s hearing on Dec. 4 or if the agency would support changing the avenue back to six lanes.

At least some residents of Glover Park are indifferent. As she walked down Wisconsin Avenue Monday afternoon, Jane O’Grady said she hadn’t noticed any difference in pedestrian safety over the past year.

“I’d hate to say it, but I don’t know if I’d have an opinion about that. People I know who drive have complained about it. There is a backup of traffic occasionally,” she said.

Another resident, Jay Gibbons, says the traffic backups caused an unintended problem.

“The other consequence of this kind of mistake is now the side roads and neighborhoods they become main thoroughfares for people who know this is going to be a busy road here on Wisconsin,” he said.

As November draws to a close, there is only anecdotal evidence to define both public opinion and the effectiveness of the traffic calming measures. The ANC3B survey was not scientific and DDOT’s traffic assessment remains underway.

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