Friday, May 07, 2010

There Are Ways to Justify Reducing CSTNE Lanes

Regional commuter and commercial traffic, it is the why C Street currently looks, smells, tastes and functions like a freeway.

So, why does 6 blocks of residential street look and act as a pass-through commuter freeway?

There are two probable reasons:

1. Automobile Thoroughfare - 50+ years ago, DDOT probably intended and planned to move vast amounts of regional traffic through the heart of the Capitol Hill neighborhood by building a large surface-level thoroughfare from the Whitney-Young Memorial bridge to downtown. But fortunately, somewhere along the way, this was never completely realized.

2. RFK Memorial Stadium - back in 1961 when it was built, attendees' primary mode of transportation was the automobile. So, accommodating the personal vehicle was the primary goal of supporting transportation infrastructure. Remember, the Stadium-Armory Metrorail Station did not open until 1977.

Until now, these antiquated policies and practices jeopardized residents' health and safety and divided and eroded the neighborhood fabric and connectivity.

The C Street Project is at a critical cross-roads in how we as a community and DC Government envision the future role of C Street NE. With major transportation infrastructure investments, like the 11th Street Bridge Project and Benning RD/H Street Streetcar Line soon debuting around 2012 or 2013, the Capitol Hill community has a unique opportunity to regain lost ground inadvertently given to regional cut-through commuter and commercial vehicle traffic over the last 50+ years.

We have the chance to vastly improve residents' and visitors' health, safety and quality of life by righting a long standing wrong - putting out-of-District commuters and commercial motorists' priorities above residents' quality of life. DDOT's antiquated policies and engineering practices appear to "have to still apply" to C Street. However, in most other parts of the city, DDOT has embraced innovative designs and employed cutting-edge practices/technologies to reprioritize street for residents and non-motorized users with much support, success and acclaim.

We can and should apply the same vision for C Street and the Greater Capitol Hill community.

Great! But what do we do with all the commuter and commercial vehicles that use C Street, East Capitol Street and the subsequent Capitol Hill community street grid as a path of least resistance to move in and out of downtown and connect between DC-295 and southeast/Southwest Freeway?

First the problem, it's two-fold: 1) southbound DC-295 commuter and commercial traffic exits onto East Capitol St heading west on East Capitol St. and C St. and; 2) westbound East Capitol St (east of the Anacostia River) commuter and commercial traffic heading west can only continue westbound into and through Capitol Hill using either East Capitol St or C St. (this traffic has no option to exit onto DC-295)

Now for potential solutions. Inevitably, we as a community, are going to have to put up with some cut-through traffic, but we should think of low cost alternatives which can quickly be implemented using existing, and near future, infrastructure to alleviate the community burden, for instance:


1. Provide an alternative route from East Capitol Street (Whitney-Young Memorial Bridge) via new 11th Street Bridge connection (when completed)



With vehicular traffic moving at an average 30mph (this is a conservative speed), it would take a motorist 4 minutes to traverse the 2 mile alternative route from East Capitol St at the DC-295 underpass (Detour 2 Begin) to entering DC-295 south (Detour 1 & 2 End)

This alternative route provides multiple benefits:

1. Reduces out-of-District vehicular traffic volumes cutting through Capitol Hill - by constricting entry points at C St & East Capitol St and clearly identifying, with wayfinding signage, the alternative route to the 11th Street Bridge traffic can efficiently and effectively "go around" a significant portion of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

2. Minimizes commercial trucks & motor-coaches cut-through traffic - posted signs would require commercial trucks & motor-coaches to use the alternative route to access downtown and point south of the city via the 11th Street Bridge.

Based on multiple discussions with DDOT throughout the CSTNE Project process, there are some within DDOT who are hesitant on a proposal to reduce C Street west-bound lanes because vehicular traffic might back up for a short time-period (during peak morning rush-hour) onto the bridge which could be a safety hazard. DDOT is concerned emergency response vehicles, responding to an event on the bridge, might have difficulty accessing it due to traffic congestion.

There are two simple solutions:

1. Alternative route - as described above, the alternative route can alleviate any potential back up on to the bridge.

2. Create shoulders - to accommodate emergency vehicles, west- and east-bound lanes could be restriped. There appears to be enough bridge width (approx. 42ft) to reduce each travel lane width to 10ft, remove one narrow shoulder and create a 10ft wide shoulder lane.


2. Provide clear and concise wayfinding signs and electronic displays to direct commuter, commercial and tourist motorists to use principle arterials and freeways to directly access downtown and points south of the city without cutting through neighborhoods.


Potential locations to provide wayfinding elements to direct motorist around the Capitol Hill neighborhood.


Current DC-295 Southbound Benning Rd Exit Sign - "Benning Rd, Foote St, RFK Stadium, All West Bound Trucks"


Currently, one small sign "Downtown Washington" remains to directs motorists to use East Capitol St to access downtown destinations (this sign should be removed)


Currently, this motorist-oriented wayfinding sign "Downtown" on C St, just west of 17th St., directs motorists downtown via North Carolina Ave (this sign should be removed)


3. Provide Commuter Parking for Stadium-Armory Metrorail and Metrobus Users



Note: Parking is currently available for $7/daily at RFK's Lot 3.

This program could be expanded and better advertised to make it an advantageous and appealing alternative for commuters rather then battling downtown traffic and paying higher parking rates.


4. Provide Commuter Parking for Cyclist and Streetcar Users



Streetcars - since the first phase of the H Street/Benning Road Streetcar Line ends at the intersection of Oklahoma Ave and the North RFK Stadium parking lot is always vacant during the week, why not create incentives for commuters to use the streetcar. Considering potential parking fees and ridership fares, the community, DC Government and commuter all stand to benefit.

Bicycles - considering the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and hopefully cycle-tracks along C Street and North Carolina Ave from 21st St to 14th St, cyclists could park for free, access their bicycle from secured storage stalls and cycle to Capitol Hill or downtown.

**********************************************************************************

Thoughts on these ideas? Does anyone have other ideas?

7 comments:

oboe said...

And of course, the main reason that C Street (and Constitution) have been treated as de facto freeways, is that for the last many decades, the neighborhood has been poor.

In America, the lead smelting plant always gets built in the poor neighborhood.

dymaxion said...

Reducing the number of through lanes is a key factor. If parking was restored to both sides of Constitution Ave. along with a bike lane, an entire lane could be taken out. Constitution would become like C St., a one-way. Independence Ave. could be restored back to a two-way street. This would also remove a key rush hour lane out.

I don't think that changing signs will have much effect on cross-Hill commuter habits. Having fewer lanes will change perceptions and eventually commuter route choices.

Ken said...

I agree dymaxion that lane reduction, constricting volume, is key.

But, I believe it also takes a variety of tools to make each effective in execution.

Reconditioning commuter/visitor motorists to use alternative routes is essential. If not, excessive spill-over onto other Hill streets could result. If we don't redirect them with wayfinding elements prior to entering the Hill and through alternative routes, they could end up attempting to use the old route, now constricted, and get "stuck". Then, they start traversing erratically through the neighborhood street grid frustrated trying to find any way possible to get to there destination beyond the Hill. All the while, other efficient and effective routes are available and not being used optimally.

Just my thoughts…

Jody said...

Some of these commuters have been using their routes for years and it will be difficult to get them to change. One way is to make it unpleasant for them to use their tried and true routes. You do however run the risk, as Ken pointed out, that they start erratically traversing the neighborhood. Have seen MD motorist bail on Conn., go screaming down 9th to Maryland Ave and in from there.

Ken said...

Thanks Jody, I agree.

Constricting neighborhood entry points, directing/educating commuter motorists to alternative efficient principle arterials/highway routes and providing cost-effective mass-transit and alternative transportation modes collectively can drastically change how our residential streets function.

It take an incremental, broad approach to implement successful changes. Now is the time to start putting some these ideas to the test and analyze and refine them as we go. Just my opinion...

oboe said...

@Ken,

If we don't redirect them with wayfinding elements prior to entering the Hill and through alternative routes, they could end up attempting to use the old route, now constricted, and get "stuck". Then, they start traversing erratically through the neighborhood street grid frustrated trying to find any way possible to get to there destination beyond the Hill.

This should be considered a feature, not a bug. Commuters want to get where they're going. They're only going to get stuck in a maze of residential streets once (maybe twice) before they make the rational choice to take the new, more effective route.

Ken said...

Oboe - I agree, let's hope that is how most commuters will (rationally) bahave.