This article by David Alpert was originally posted on Greater Great Washington. It has been cross-posted here with permission from the author and input from All Walks DC.
DC’s 15th Street NW protected bikeway will soon extend a few blocks north, past a dangerous intersection. The area will also become safer for pedestrians. But one thing is missing: a few crosswalks.
The current 15th Street bikeway lets cyclists ride in both directions from Pennsylvania Avenue to V Street, but north of there, 15th Street is one-way northbound. Someone wanting to get from the bike lane on W down to the bikeway has to ride a block in the wrong direction, use the sidewalk, or take busy 16th or U Streets.
The intersection where 15th crosses W Street, Florida Avenue, and New Hampshire Avenue is also a bad one for walking. A pedestrian was killed there in 2009. DC officials put in temporary barriers to extend the curbs, and promised a more permanent redesign. This is it.
The final plans will extend the two-way protected bike lane from V St. NW to W St NW and will be separated from traffic by granite curbs. The bike lane will also incorporate curbed pedestrian refuge islands between the bike lane and travel lanes to provide a safe place to wait for people walking.
That’s not the only improvement for pedestrians. Today, as drivers head north on 15th, the road divides gently into two, one continuing up the hill on 15th and the other going to W and Florida. That, coupled with 15th being a wide, one-way road with timed lights, encourages speeding in this portion to beat the lights at Florida.
The branch to Florida will go away and become a new pocket park. There will be a number of the planted areas that also retain stormwater, which have been popping up around DC. To turn right onto W or Florida from 15th, drivers will instead make a more standard right turn onto Florida, and then can turn right again to W.
Last year, planners hoped to extend the lane all the way up the hill past Meridian Hill Park to Euclid Street. That portion will have to wait a little longer, but this was a necessary first step.
What about the crosswalks?
Amid all this good news for people walking, there is one conspicuously missing piece, which you can see in this image Greg Billing tweeted from the community meeting. There are four legal crosswalks (which I’ve marked with red lines) without crosswalk markings.
If you’re walking along the east side of 15th Street, you will have to detour all the way to the northeast corner of Florida and W (blue line in the diagram) instead of using the small triangular island. Now, it’s true that this is what you would have to do today, but pedestrian-unfriendly design now is not a good reason to continue it.
According to DC law, all four sides of any intersection are legal crosswalks, whether marked or unmarked. That means it would be legal for someone to cross at the “missing” crosswalks. Traffic engineers sometimes push to leave out crosswalks because having people crossing the street would interfere with “traffic flow” more than they feel is appropriate, but people can still cross the street anyway.
DC now has a Vision Zero policy, which means it’s a priority to try to eliminate any traffic fatalities. It’s safer to slow down the traffic flow and let people cross instead of inviting a crossing without an actual crosswalk. And while it’s legal to cross, people in wheelchairs, pushing strollers, and others can’t take advantage of the legal crossing since there are no curb ramps at these missing crosswalks.
Billing asked about this at the meeting, and as he reported on Twitter, the team said “something about traffic movement, etc. But, the @DDOTDC project manager quickly realized that it should be possible.”
DDOT spokesperson Keith St. Clair provided this statement:
DDOT believes the redesign of this complex intersection cluster achieves a very good overall balance between pedestrian, bicyclist, and vehicular traffic, safety and operations. The design of this intersection has been thoroughly vetted by the ANC and the community.
There are currently four unmarked crosswalks in the new design that are not accommodated with ramps, markings and pedestrians signal heads:
However, unmarked crosswalk A, on the north side of New Hampshire Avenue, is so close to the crosswalk running east-west on the south side of W Street that it is effectively repetitive of what already exists. To include unmarked crosswalk B, on the east side of 15th Street across Florida Avenue, would create hazards for pedestrians because the through and heavy right-turning vehicle traffic from northbound 15th Street move at the same time. Timing it to allow a protected crossing phase here for pedestrians would impact the signal timing of the whole intersection, resulting in delays for both vehicles and pedestrians.
The utility of unmarked crosswalks at C and D is not substantial given that the distance to get to the east or west side of the intersection to proceed southbound on New Hampshire or 15th is relatively short. Furthermore, if C and D crosswalks were marked and signalized, pedestrians would still have to cross east or west from the island to continue southbound.
The project is currently scheduled to start construction on Aug. 24.
This is “all too common” around DC
The triangle where New Hampshire Avenue meets 20th and O streets, just south of Dupont Circle, is also missing sidewalks to cross 20th along the north side of O, and to cross New Hampshire on either side of O.
This area was recently redone as part of a major reconstruction of New Hampshire Avenue which turned it two-way and added bike lanes—very welcome steps. The crosswalks were missing before the project, too, but it didn’t make the situation better.
The same issue arose near Fort Totten, when DDOT removed slip lanes at a pedestrian-hostile intersection of Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue. Initial plans left out a crosswalk so there could be more turn lanes; following community outcry, then-DDOT Director Gabe Klein had the agency reconsider.
Pedestrian Advisory Council co-chair Tony Goodman said in an email,
That’s actually been a major focus of PAC discussions this year. From a pedestrian safety standpoint, there is no reason to not stripe a crosswalk on all four sides. It rarely makes sense for traffic operations either. It’s a massive inconvenience and also can be quite dangerous to make extra crossings, especially for those with difficulties with mobility or vision.
This sort of situation is all too common in DC where an avenue meets a street. Those angled intersections often force pedestrians to deviate from their straight-line travel and hunt out what is essentially a permanent detour. Mass Ave in particular is horrible for that, all across its length.
What other areas do you know about that have missing crosswalks?
The author, David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle.