A woman with a baby crosses Maryland Avenue, with the new bright white flex posts intended to tighten the road and encourage drivers to slow down.
An intersection that gained a reputation as dangerous for both motorists and pedestrians along the Maryland Avenue Northeast corridor has received a makeover.
Just weeks after librarian Elizabeth Lang was badly injured when she was run down in a crosswalk by a taxicab, the District Department of Transportation installed long-planned, temporary fixes at the intersection of D Street, 7th Street, and Maryland Avenue in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, part of a larger safety program for the entire corridor that eventually may include the removal of vehicular travel lanes.
“We still have four lanes of traffic on Maryland Avenue,” said George Branyan, a pedestrian program coordinator at DDOT, in an interview at the intersection. “What we've done is create curb extensions in the parking lane where there was no parking anyway as a way to visually tighten up the roadway, which tends slow down cars a little bit,” he said.
“Probably most significantly, we have cut the through-traffic off 7th Street with a large curb extension that now allows some refuge for pedestrians. It also prevents the car crashes actually that were a big problem.”
The changes also carve out pedestrian refuges along the intersection.(Martin Di Caro/WAMU)
Temporary fix for long-term problem
In fact, car crashes outnumber pedestrian-involved incidents in the corridor.
At the nine intersections along Maryland Avenue Northeast between 7th and 14th streets, 188 crashes have occurred over the past six years, according to DDOT data. Nine involved pedestrians and bicyclists. Before Lang was struck in early June, only one crash injured a pedestrian at the intersection of 7th, D, and Maryland.
Not only is Maryland Avenue a rather wide commuting corridor where cars often speed, but the complicated intersection at 7th and D had poor sight lines. Motorists entering the intersection from 7th or D would struggle to see either cars coming or pedestrians crossing, slamming the gas in a bid to make it across the wide avenue.
Now road users are greeted by white flex posts and bright white striping carving out more space for pedestrians at street corners, forcing motorists to slow down before turning.
“We go to the library all the time and I know the librarian was hit by a car, so we started avoiding crossing here and going down to the light to cross,” said Capitol Hill resident Rebecca Borden as she pushed her baby stroller Wednesday morning. “I do think it is better. It couldn't have been worse."
The challenge along Maryland Avenue Northeast is one DDOT faces across the District as growing numbers of walkers and bikers share use commuter routes that cut through residential neighborhoods.
“This is a short-term treatment until we can do more on the avenue. We have other plans,” said DDOT’s Branyan. “We are working on the process to move forward ultimately with a reconstruction of Maryland Avenue to have one lane in each direction with turn pockets.”
While some residents want Maryland Avenue reduced from four car lanes to two, more immediately they are asking the District to install a traffic signal at the intersection with 10th Street Northeast. DDOT is expecting a study on whether a signal is warranted to be completed soon, Branyan said.
“While we appreciate the interim steps at 7th Street, DDOT has identified serious dangers all along Maryland Avenue. We need immediate action before another one of our neighbors gets seriously hurt,” said resident Todd Hettenbach, who has been pushing DDOT to speed up the review process.
Turning Maryland Avenue into a two-lane road is the most time-consuming aspect of DDOT’s plans for the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
“We can't just take lanes away willy nilly. We have to really do a lot of traffic analysis,” said Branyan.
Not a quick fix
Because DDOT intends to use federal funding to reconstruct the avenue, it is required to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. Branyan said the agency completed a traffic analysis dealing with air quality impacts from a change in traffic patterns, but the historic preservation process is unfinished.
Maryland Avenue is part of the L'Enfant grid and is therefore registered as a national historic place. Any changes would have to be approved by state historic preservation officials. For instance, historic preservationists may raise objections to permanent curb extensions along Maryland Avenue, Branyan said.
“When you start changing the number of lanes impacting a historic L'Enfant street that brings up a lot of other questions,” Branyan added. “The community had a lot of questions, too. They wanted to know whether this would work, which is one of the reasons they wanted us to do a temporary [lane removal], which we may or may not do.”
Residents say DDOT has not provided a timeline for what has been a years-long process already.
“DDOT has promised for years that it will make Maryland Avenue safer, but it has delayed progress with study after study,” Hettenbach said. “The City has a solid plan for significant improvements, and we need action on that plan. DDOT needs to finish its studies and start construction.”
Maryland Avenue DDOT Study