Monday, October 19, 2009

Cut-through Commuter & Commercial Motor-vehicle Traffic is a Chronic Systemic Capitol Hill Problem

It is time, we as a Greater Capitol Hill community, look at cut-through commuter and commercial motor-vehicle traffic as a chronic systemic problem. In order for our community to truly thrive as a livable, walkable and bikable village, we need to shift vehicular-traffic routes, for instance regional and city rush-hours, from the neighborhood street grid to existing principle arterials and commercial corridors. These motorist/vehicles create hostile, inhabitable environments throughout our community, from our parks and schools to our residential streets, and divide neighborhoods, making it treacherous for residents to access (walking, cycling or even driving) their own community amenities.

Excerpted DDOT 2006 Function Classification Map showing the Greater Capitol Hill region

Excerpted DDOT 2006 Function Classification Map Legend

The existing archaic hap-hazard network of residential streets used and/or designated to expedite and accommodate commuter and commercial traffic pits residents against commuters. We can efficiently, effectively and safely convey existing motor-vehicle traffic volumes in, out and around DC without compromising residents’ quality-of-life. It is possible to strike a balance between residents and visitors (workers, tourists, Fed. Gov., national events, etc.) to create and maintain a vibrant city both ‘users’ can enjoy. And realistically, it is a symbiotic relationship, the two user-types need each other to thrive.

So, how do we achieve such a righteous goal? We need to develop and systematically execute a consensus-based master plan with a definitive time-line.

The master plan should include:

1. Prioritize pedestrian and cyclist safety and enjoyment
2. Restore and improve existing parks and open-spaces, tree canopies and vegetative areas
3. Safely connect neighborhoods to public open-spaces, parks, schools and commercial corridors with minimal direct interaction with vehicular roadway traffic
4. Shift regional and city rush-hours vehicular traffic patterns/routes from the neighborhood street grid, and surrounding open-spaces, to existing designated principle arterials and commercial corridors
5. Educate and condition motorists (commuters, tourists, commercial-drivers) to the benefits of using designated routes to either access downtown or regional freeway infrastructure
6. Fund maintenance of existing mass-transit infrastructure and heavily invest in capitol improvement projects that enhance access to our existing mass-transit, walking and cycling systems.

Ward 6 has all the pieces to begin and follow-through with such a transformation...

• Residents' Support - indirect and direct through lifestyle & activism
• Leadership – folks like Council Member Tommy Wells who is a leader in the DC urban movement and DDOT Director Gabe Klein who is reprioritizing DDOT to focus on mass-transit and residents’ desire for pedestrian and cyclist oriented streets and neighborhoods
• Existing Transportation Infrastructure - Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, Stadium/Armory, Eastern, Potomac and Union Station Metrorail Stations, Future H Street/Benning Road Streetcar, bicycle lanes, metro-bus routes, DC/I-295, I-395 and the Anacostia River
• Existing Natural & Planned Outdoor/Open-spaces - Stanton Park, Lincoln Park, Anacostia River and waterfront, Kingman & Heritage Islands, Langston Golf Course, Steward Park, Garfield Park, National Mall, etc.
• Amenities - acces to Barracks Row, Eastern Market, H Street/Benning Road Corridor, Union Station, Pennsylvania Ave Corridor, etc

The key to our success is redirecting commuter and commercial vehicle/motorist cut-through traffic onto existing principle arterials and commercial corridors. Make it less appealing to use the Greater Capitol Hill neighborhood street grid and make it more appealing to use existing east-west principle arterials and commercial corridors.

The below map indicates existing east-west oriented principle and minor arterial roads (in red), which are primarily commercial corridors and interstates, that could carry a majority of the existing volume of commuter and commercial motor-vehicle traffic traversing in and out of downtown and regional traffic traveling to destination beyond city limits. As the map indicates, using these existing roadways, large residential areas could be spared and relieved of the vast majority of the daily cut-through motor-vehicle traffic.

Let's discuss it and move forward together; we can definitely achieve a great balance within a few years! Policy, advocacy, education, design, implementation and maintenance (actually, continual improvements) collectively can create a truly livable, walkable, bikable community for Ward 6.

Thoughts? Ideas? Comments? ...let me know,

Ken G.
C Street, NE Project


ibc said...

Right, but what do we actually do? I wish commuters/trucks/etc... would use the major arterials instead of C St, or Constitution, or East Capitol, but how do we shape that behavior.

Ken said...

Oh, if I only had a simple, easy answer to that question.

I guess my answer would be - a long-term campaign to deemphasize the neighborhood street grid and emphasize principle arterials and mass transit.

A series of actions, both on and of the streets; some of which are already taking place, like the 11th Street Bridge Project. But, we also need to reeducate and recondition motorists’ to the advantages of using such principle arterials (and programming those arterials for optimal function and capacity during peak periods) so there is a real incentive for the motorist to use them instead of traversing the neighborhood street grid. All the while, enhancing alternative modes of transportation and mass transit. Also, update city and regional maps, roadway signage and other transportation information tools so users can have options on how to get in and out of downtown in a safe, efficient without the expense of residents quality off life.

Deemphasize accommodating the motor-vehicle and emphasize pedestrian and cyclist by redesigning traditional neighborhood commuter corridors like C Street, Independence Ave, 11th St, 17th St, Potomac Ave, Barney Circle, etc.

The relationship of C Street, East Capitol St, 17th St and Barney Circle is a great example. 1,000s of Commuter and commercial vehicles use the above series of neighborhood streets every weekday to circumvent the missing connection between I-295/Kenilowrth Ave and I-395/Southeast Freeway. Once the 11th Street Bridge Project is near completion, hopefully before, we need to reduce C St and E Cap. St. lanes, convert 17th St, 19th St and Potomac Ave to two-way traffic and close the access ramp from 17th St to the Southeast Freeway. I suspect you will see a dramatic reduction in non-DC registered vehicles in the neighborhood during rush-hours trying to connect between the two freeways.

More than happy to get together and discuss with folks one evening. Maybe we can get a community coalition together, team up with CM Wells’ office and DDOT and make somethings happen.

These are just my observations.


IMGoph said...

i understand the wish to keep long-distance and commuter traffic off of certain neighborhood streets, but i feel like you could be heading down a slippery slope of psuedo cul-de-sac-ing of the neighborhood.

the grid exists because it is the most efficient way of making sure that any two points are easily accessible to each other. i know that sometimes that means that you get more than ideal amounts of traffic on residential streets. the problem is when you follow the "direct all traffic to certain routes" logic, you end up with traffic sewers that people don't want to walk along or bike on because they are clogged with out-of-state cars filling them up to come and go from the city. that leads to the push to replace these congested routes with freeways. of course, we already went down that path once, and we know it doesn't work.

i'm not accusing you of going all the way down this path. advocating for more help for transit is the right way to go. i just wanted to help us think about the potential pitfalls of thinking that we need to funnel traffic to certain routes.

Ken said...


The idea is not to "direct all traffic to certain routes", but to efficiently and effectively convey peak-period commuter motor-vehicle loads using principle arterial and commercial corridors and not dispersing them hap-hazardly throughout the neighborhood street grid.

And, I agree the neighborhood street grid is a asset to the community. It is an efficient model to convey motor-vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists from point A to B. But it should benefit residents, not non-District motorists.

The current archaic traffic network is backwards model. It benefits the commuter motorist, not the resident. It divides neighborhoods, instead of unifies them. It accommodates the motorist at the expense of pedestrians and cyclist safety and enjoyment. It is unsafe for both.

I am all for enhancing the grid to benefit the residents' mobility and connectivity to community amenities all the while efficiently and effectively moving the peak period motor-vehicle traffic volumes to principle arterials designed for such capacity.

Personally, all the pieces are there, they just need to be reassembled in the proper order.

Thanks for the input, really appreciate your perspective.

Again, just my observation.


IMGoph said...

ken: i'm with you, and i understand your concerns. what do you think would be the one best thing that would help achieve your goal? an increased number of stop signs on certain streets? speed humps? strategic one-way blocks?

or do you feel that it's less an example of "blame the road" and more of needing to re-educate the drivers?

Ken said...

I think it is a combination of "all of the above" implemented strategically over time. I leave the particulars to those who are educated and experienced in transportation policy, planning and design.

I know I sound like a broken-record, but make it less appealing/inefficient/inconvenient for commuter-motorists to use the neighborhood street grid and make it more appealing/efficient/convenient to use existing principle, commercial arterials, freeways and mass-transit.

One element, constrict traffic flow into the neighborhood street grid and optimizing capacity on existing commercial/principle arterials. A good example, CM Tommy Wells asking DDOT to revert the morning eastbound one-way traffic pattern on Constitution Ave, from North Carolina Ave to Maryland Ave, back to two-way traffic all the time. DDOT had allowed commuter-motorists, at the expense of residents, to use both Const. Ave. lanes to travel east-bound to get downtown. Once it was change to two-way all the time, commuter either had to put up with the longer drive time on Constitution Ave, find an alternative neighborhood street or find an alternate route all together.

My contention, make it inconvenient for the commuter to use the neighborhood by constricting the “inlets” and “outlets” that go through our residential neighborhoods. One example, C Street, NE (beginning at 21st St) and East Capitol St (beginning at RFK) are two inlets/outlets that are strictly residential streets, but handle tens of thousands of commuter vehicles each weekday. Why? Constrict the inlets before the commuters enter the neighborhood, educate them on alternative direct routes and you may see reductions in traffic volumes (and all the other negatives that come along with it). Note, the above constriction should coincide with the 11th Street Bridge Project completion, since most of those commuters use the above roads to either connect to the Southeast Freeway or go downtown.



Anonymous said...

No, the grid is best. Let all parts of it work equally for maximum efficiency. Capitol Hill is not your park, it's part of the city.

Ken said...

Anon 10:52

Thanks for the comment, to respond:

1. "No, the grid is best"

OK, let all parts of the neighborhood street grid work equally for maximum efficiency, then open up the whole neighborhood grid instead of concentrating 20,000 + commuter vehicle for 5 blocks on C Street and THEN opening up the grid and distributing motor-vehicles throughout the neighborhood...the so called 'share the wealth' concept (which I am personally not in favor of).

2. "Capitol Hill is not your park, it's part of the city"

It is primarily a residential neighborhood, so keep the streets primarily residential except for its arterials and commercial corridors. And, I agree that the City (streets) should be used for "City residents" to traverse between city neighborhoods and amenities. But, I disagree that out-of-district commuters should be accommodated and be able to wildly, and I mean wildly, cut-through OUR neighborhoods, at residents' expense, so they can get to wherever they are going that much faster. And, there are plenty of parks and open-spaces in Capitol Hill which Capitol Hill residents access regularly by walking and biking.


Alex B. said...

Your map with proposed alternate routes is telling. All of them connect up to an Anacostia River crossing, yet you leave the East Capitol street crossing blank and unused (in this regional focus).

I get the desire to change C St NE's character. The roads leading into and away from RFK are essentially freeways - that's the problem. What you're arguing for, however, doesn't seem logical with your principles.

You harp on the virtues of the grid, yet you want to concentrate traffic someplace else. If you say you're not in favor of the 'share the wealth' idea of splitting that traffic up amongst the grid, then you're really not in favor of the grid's virtues at all.

My counter-proposal would be to re-design C St, Independence, Constitution, and the roads around RFK as actual streets, not quasi-highways. Look at making them two-way streets, etc. If you slow traffic down to reasonable speeds, high traffic volume and residential neighborhoods can indeed co-exist. Likewise, if you slow those streets down, traffic will naturally disperse itself amongst the grid, as there's no obvious fast route out.

Ken said...

@ Alex B,

Yes, yes and yes. Maybe you have said it better then my rants, thank you.

De-emphasis residential streets as commuter corridors and restore residential streets used and designed as quasi-freeways.

I guess I have a hard time swallowing the "use the residential street grid to convey commuter vehicles" pill. But, again, I really don't know enough to make an educated argument. I just know we all can have a lot better quality-of-life if we work on optimizing both the commuters' and residents' experience.

Appreciate the input.


IMGoph said...

i also think alex said it very well.

Alex B. said...

Ok, glad that makes some sense.

If I were to re-phrase your objections, where the traffic is coming from isn't really the issue - it's how that traffic is treated.

The idea of embracing the grid is really antithetical with trying to exclude traffic, and so long as the East Cap bridge is there, there will be significant traffic traveling through the Hill. The solution, in my mind, is to use the grid's advantages. Instead of trying to funnel traffic on a few streets, spread it out amongst them all. Design the streets as actual streets, not mini-highways, and the drivers will respond in kind.

If a person drives down the street quietly and relatively slowly, you won't be checking their license plate. This kind of solution can still handle a great deal of volume, even at lower speeds, but doesn't attempt to mimic a freeway in doing it.

The root problem isn't through traffic, it's the outdated notion that we need to move traffic as quickly as possible.

I think all of your ideas are good, Ken - but the rhetoric about shifting traffic away from the grid did concern me - that's what we have now. Let's use the grid's natural advantages, rather than trying to turn grid streets into mini-freeways.

Chris said...

As a resident of 7th street between C and D, I'm very interested to see where this goes...

I don't want to come across with a "they're our neighborhood's streets, keep out!" attitude, but on the flip side, I'd like to see the commuters treat them with more respect.

The manner in which people drive C street, Constitution, and Maryland is often reckless and dangerous. Not to paint with a broad brush, but cars with Maryland tags appear to have no respect at all for pedestrians.

My partner takes 7th street every day to and from the Eastern Market Metro, and I constantly worry about the crossings at C St and Constitution, where cars often travel way too fast, and in the afternoon, the really confusing signal configuration at Constitution.

Anonymous said...

At least one of the major arteries identified here is not entirely commercial, and runs close to heavily residential sections. You're not so much talking about relieving traffic on the Hill as you're talking about making residents living close to this corridor shoulder all of it.

I agree with @Ken 1:38 -- Creating major arteries through communities divides communities in ways more efficient to commuters than residents. Traffic is a given, and peak rush hour rarely moves fast or efficiently, and usually comes to a dead stop at some point in either direction.

I'd rather see fewer lanes and dedicated bike lanes along Penn Ave. Make these "short cuts" less efficient and drivers will seek out better options. Max. two lane traffic in a single diretion,dedicated bike lanes, and streetcars would also condition drivers away from the speedway mentality the current configuration encourages and condition drivers to the urban population that inhabits this space in addition to their cars and the road. It's ultimately safer for our community.

Ken said...

@ Alex,

First, I really appreciate the input; you appear experienced in this subject and I am just learning. Thank you for taking the time to discuss this issue, constructive debates amongst different perspectives usually results in a better outcome, which we all want for the community.

A few of questions:

1. Why have principle arterials and freeways at all in a city, if not to effectively and efficiently move motor-vehicles?

Just my opinion, but I suspect most suburban motorists want in and out of the city as quickly as possible. That doesn’t mean we need to create freeway for them, but using existing downtown-direct commercial arterial corridors with large capacities allows the city to better control concentrated volumes of a specific user at peak time periods and somewhat separates the different user types during those peak periods.

2. Why are commuter-motorists directed and channeled using large freeways/roadways outside city proper, but when motorist enter the city they should be dispersed into neighborhood streets instead of continued principle arterials?

I guess it is completely counterintuitive to me to use residential streets, even if calmly and slowly, to move tens of thousands of out-of-District commuter vehicles from regional freeways to downtown destinations. It still puts residents, students, pedestrians and cyclists competing for the same space as commuter motorists. They have opposite, conflicting objectives.

3. Can you direct me to any US cities where this has successfully happened or is happening at Ward level scale? I would like to study how residential streets are designed and how commuter-motorists habits were changed.

Lastly, at least from my perspective, I don’t think commuters are currently channeled; commuter-motorists are dispersed throughout the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Again for example, once the approximate 20,000 vehicles are funneled through C Street between 21st and 16th St., they are dispersed deeper into the neighborhood either continuing of C St or primarily through Constitution Ave, 17th St, 15th St and N. Carolina Ave.


ibc said...

I'm all for sharing road resources, but the question is, will we ever get to a point where commuters can be trained to drive courteously and safely through residential streets? 30 mph is unacceptable to me and most residents I know. 25 is close to unacceptable. Many of these streets are narrow enough that 20 mph is about the *maximum* speed that a car should be travelling when there are pedestrians, children, and cyclists present.

Like a lot of other issues, it's in the best interests of *commuters* to find solutions, because the political demographic of Capitol Hill is changing rapidly, and there will be change one way or the other.

IMGoph said...

ibc: you're absolutely right. speed is the biggest problem. i bike to and from work on K street at the northern extreme of the hill, and the biggest problem is people who believe that there's no problem going 45-50 mph in a residential neighborhood. if these people would all just move along at 25, i feel like traffic would actually flow better and pedestrians and cyclists wouldn't have to fear for their lives.

ibc said...

One other thought: increased enforcement would be one effective way to change commuter attitudes for the better, but right now it's a manpower issue--there simply are limited resources.

One thought I had was to implement something like the "traffic control" folks in the downtown area during rush hour. These people already have ticketing authority. Would there be some way to hire and station these folks at problem areas, and allow them to ticket folks? Even if they couldn't stop them, they could note their tag numbers, and a ticket could be sent to violators.

Anonymous said...

When I see the evening commuter traffic on Independence Ave SE backed up from 14th Street to almost 8th Street I laugh and question why this problem has not been addressed. Residents should be more involved. Our local leaders move to slow on traffic safety/congestion issues. Months turn into years and nothing gets done. We on Capitol Hill continue to suffer from the pollution, noise and safety issues associated with this traffic congestion.

Steve said...

When they re-develop the RFK site I would like to see the East Capitol Street/Whitney Young Bridge feed all of the incoming and outgoing traffic right down East Capital Street, where some of our national and local leaders live. What made city planners connect this bridge to C Street NE an Independence Avenue? They are narrow streets with properties very close to the road. I think Mr. L'Enfant would be dismayed...

Anonymous said...

When they re-develop the RFK site I would like to see the East Capitol Street/Whitney Young Bridge feed all of the incoming and outgoing traffic right down East Capital Street, where some of our national and local leaders live.

...Which leads head on into Lincoln Park and requires routing around the park. Sounds suspiciously like the Town Square concept around Eastern Market Metro plaza which has many people on the Hill up in arms.

Isn't this all just thinly veiled NIMBYism? Why is rush hour traffic down East Cap any better than C St., H St, Independence, Constitution or PA Ave?

Traffic calming measures should be implemented, and more focus on forcing commuters to share space with pedestrians and cyclists is a more workable solution.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I think we should all be NIMBYs if it means resisting change. The planners seem a bit naive. The people that knocked down all of Southwest and wrecked it had the same noble inentions of making things "better." I would hate to see Capitol Hill become the next victim of planners. I'm starting to think Tommy Wells is a complete fool. The idea of putting in trolley cars on Eighth Street will add more traffic to surrounding streets, these things are bound to impede traffic. We are much better off without any change than the changes our leaders are proposing. As neighbors we should oppose all change. By making traditional commuter routes two ways you just add traffic to nearby neighborhood streets. If you will remember the reason the neighborhood was up in arms about the original Barney Circle project was because they were planning to knock down the neighborhood to put in a freeway interchange. Now the people who did the protesting have some of them passed away (Rest in Peace Chesty Graham) similar ideas are resurfacing to deal with traffic and commuters. Get rid of the freeway, hmm. won't that add more traffic to neighborhood streets? Knocking at the door for years and years. And yes, I realize urban planners are idealists and that your intentions are noble, but the actuality is these changes inevitably are not well-implemented. People come here, love it, and have all these fresh ideas about how to change things. Wait another thirty years until you really have a sense of things and then we will think about your ideas.

Anonymous said...

And as for traffic calming measures, I think under the Barry administration we had things the right way, just don't fix the potholes and nobody will speed.

Cody said...

As a resident of the 1200 block of C St NE, my main gripe is the volume of traffic in the AM rush (although PM speed is also an annoyance).

Apart from getting commuters out of their cars or into carpools, it seems like we could 1) make neighborhood streets less attractive to cut-through traffic without a neighborhood destination and 2) make the principle arteries more attractive.

Some changes that might reduce cut-through commuter and commercial motor vehicle traffic on the narrower residential streets:

1) Complete the Benning Rd, H St, and Starburst construction projects. The principle arteries will be more appealing once all the construction is out of the way.

2) Close the southbound 295 East Capitol Street exit--the nearest exit for southbound traffic would then be Benning Rd. There isn't a northbound 295 East Capitol exit.

3) Shrink the lane width of C St NE between 16th and 21st St NE so traffic lines up around the Stadium and across the bridge.

4) Interrupt the neighborhood street grid at various points with sections only open to bus/bike/pedestrian access. I wonder if C St NE couldn't be turned into a bus/bike boulevard by restricting access to the 1500 block of C St NE to bus/bike only. Interesting video on the bike boulevard concept here

5) Sprinkle some roundabouts through the grid.

6) Complete the 11th St Bridge to connect 295 and 395 so commuters can get further into the city core before jumping onto smaller streets.

In general I agree with the idea of converting one-way residential streets back to two-way. It seemed to help on Constitution Ave NE, although perhaps just shifting some commuter traffic elsewhere. However, I really like the bike lane pair on C St NE and D St NE. I'm not sure you could fit a two-way street, all the parking, AND a bike lane. Large-scale parking removal is probably a non-starter.

Anonymous said...

Isn't a street's capacity to "handle" traffic partially a function of the width of the public right-of-way? (By public right-of-way, I mean distance from building front to building front across the street.)

For streets with equivalent residential character, it seems like the ones with greater public right-of-way (E. Capitol, Maryland, N. Carolina) can accommodate more traffic volume than streets with lesser public right-of-way (C St, Constitution).

inchirieri apartamente cluj said...

I like your master plan. It is clear. You basicly have 6 main objectives, that are designed to create a safer city.

For your first objective: 1. Prioritize pedestrian and cyclist safety and enjoyment- It is very important to encourage people to give up their cars and walk ot use their bike instead. I believe that sidewalks for each street is a must, + a bike lane.

2. Restore and improve existing parks and open-spaces, tree canopies and vegetative areas - you can plant some trees and vegetation in an intersection; For the rest of the objective you definetly need the help of an architect or engineer.