DDOT presented initial data for the Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront Safety Assessment they will conduct Winter 2018/Spring 2019. The agency’s operations team will take public input and study problem intersections and road features. Safety interventions will be limited to cosmetic and temporary road assets. DDOT bureaucracy, as well as stringent guidelines from federal agencies, make unorthodox street design politically improbable.
DDOT Will Study Only Part of The Larger Capitol Riverfront Neighborhood
DC government, non-profit business organizations, and DC residents have conflicting thoughts about neighborhood names. DDOT Operations calls this evaluation a Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront effort, but it’s only looking at areas North of M Street SE, South of I-695, East of South Capitol Street, and West of 5th Street SE. So that’s mostly residential in Southeast with signalized intersections only at the limits of the study area. Capitol Riverfront BID calls this Navy Yard, which is different from Buzzard Point, The Waterfront, The Yards, and several other uniquely branded sub-areas.
The DDOT Navy Yard Safety Area Is Mostly Local, Residential Roads
The study area is mostly “Local Roadways” as classified by the Federal Highway Administration, decided on by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and shown in this DDOT map. Those carry the least traffic at the slowest speeds. The study area has a few “Collectors,” the next highest up in speed and traffic: 4th Street SE, New Jersey Ave SE, and I Street SE. M Street SE, the Southern boundary of the study is the next higher up, a “Minor Arterial,” and South Capitol Street is a Principal Arterial. 695 is an Interstate, which is limited access where traffic is very much vroom vroom.
The Circulator Bus runs along M Street SE and a Metrobus line does a loop using 1st Street SE and New Jersey Ave SE. Other than that, there’s no transit traffic within the study area. There are bicycle facilities along 1st, I, some of New Jersey, and some of 4th Street—all Southeast. Nearly all of the study area roads have both-sides sidewalks, but the notable missing sections came up during the meeting. There’s some block-long, no parking areas, but most of the study will cover metered parking and residential parking zones. Most of the study area is zoned D-5 (high-density development of commercial and mixed uses), with RA-2 (moderate density residential like townhomes) East of 2nd Street SE and a CG-3 parcel for mixed-use development regarding employment and public facilities.
DDOT Data Show Crashes Happen Everywhere in Navy Yard
DDOT presented to meeting attendees slides focusing in on the reported street safety problems along M, I, 1st, and 4th Streets SE. These problems were submitted by the public through DDOT’s Vision Zero Safety Map. That crowd-sourced street safety map got most of its contributions through Mayor Bowser’s initial VZ push in 2015-16, but residents in attendance said they continue to add to the map. The map is still open for editing. I added a problem on my own block today.
DDOT finally dissected crash data within the study area, breaking out vehicle, cyclist, and pedestrian incidents with different looks by the severity of property damage and injury. These data ran from January 2014 through October 2018 and showed collisions evenly distributed throughout the study area. However, specific cases clustered along more heavily trafficked streets. M and 1st Streets SE say the majoring of injury crashes involving a pedestrian or bicycle.
DDOT analysis showed finally the traffic volume in area streets and the Bicycle Levels of Traffic Stress (LTS), a measurement of how cyclists perceive road danger and whether they will, therefore, use the road to ride. Very little of the study area is LTS 1—“Strong and Fearless” cyclists only and most is LTS 2 or 2, only “enthused and confident” riders. Thus, the study area streets are not safe enough for the 50 to 60 percent of residents who are “Interested but Concerned” in riding on their streets.
DDOT’s Assessment Will Identify Small Problems and then *Maybe* Fix Them
Using the data explained above, and after studying problems shared by residents, DDOT will identify the study area’s problem and perhaps fix them. Perhaps, because DDOT Operations is running this study and their purview as an agency department are cosmetic modifications and “low hanging fruit” changes with little engineering complication and minimal necessary political buy-in. For most, nearly all, of the changes that would address the core problems of street design, the study team in Operations would need to partner with and win buy-in of other DDOT departments—before even getting the necessary support from other DC Mayoral Agencies.
At their most optimistic, DDOT’s presenter responded to almost every concern with a “we’ll study it.” Most of the problem spots or failing designs mentioned were at locations that presented a need to clear a higher bar of rationale than Operations can assert alone. The study area contains some 2-way stop signs, and DDOT said traffic flow is probably too low on the perpendicular street to make the intersection a 4-way stop. Operations could look into traffic calming or road diet measures on the streets classified as “Local,” but modifications to the higher classified roads—the ones with the most problems—would need inter-departmental buy-in before perhaps seeking Federal Agency and Congressional Approval.
When asked about 3D crosswalk paint and other innovative, cosmetic traffic calming measures, DDOT shot the idea down. Federal Highway Administration won’t let them use the cool, safer paint. When asked about green “Kermit” paint in bike lanes to more strongly deter bike-lane blocking, DDOT said that’s not federal standards—only in the middle of intersections. When asked about Chinatown’s painted crosswalks at 7th and H, DDOT said: “we got in trouble for that.”
Parking Spot Removal May Stymie Safety Improvements
There was extended discussion, raised by residents who face danger walking within the study area every day with their children, about blocked intersection views and how to clear the areas for safer walking. DDOT explained that parking spots would probably have to be removed and that was an unlikely possibility. They could check to make sure the parking spots met the minimal regulations, but getting curbside parking removed—in a city where agency decisions consistently take the side of enshrining parking rights on a public street—was probably a no-go.
The biggest safety problems in the study area are also the roads higher classified and so it’s not likely Navy Yard residents get safety interventions that solve the core problems. Unless DDOT bucks federal regulators who work down the street (literally) and the Operations department gets cross-agency buy-in, this study will most likely fix a few, small problems. Trim the weed sprouts, rather than apply Round Up and dig with a trowel.
DDOT hopes to come back to the community with study results in March 2019. DDOT is asking for additional feedback
Emily Dalphy, email@example.com
Julie Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Naomi Klein, email@example.com
The study area’s ANC Commissioner is Meredith Fascett, firstname.lastname@example.org
Full Recording of DDOT’s Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront Study Meeting from 11/28/2018
Audio is an MP3 file uploaded and shared via Google Drive. You can listen in a web browser or download the file. Audio produced by Gordon Chaffin for DC Commute Times.
Photos by Gordon Chaffin for DC Commute Times.