Georgetown Current

City Removing New Median on Part of Wisconsin Ave.

June 5, 2013

By Elizabeth Wiener
Current Staff Writer

Undoing a controversial piece of the Wisconsin Avenue streetscape project, the D.C. Department of Transportation last week began removing a painted median between Calvert and Garfield streets to restore a lane for cars.

The agency was responding to complaints — voiced loudly at a May 1 D.C. Council hearing — that the narrowed roadway was causing bottlenecks and sending frustrated motorists onto residential streets. The change will not affect the Glover Park commercial district, which runs from Calvert south; that area is not slated to lose its new median or dedicated left-turn lanes.

But the reversal upset some Glover Park residents who say the overall project is both calming traffic and improving pedestrian safety. And some say the Transportation Department acted without proper consultation or consideration of the spillover effects. The change was announced just days before the yellow-striped median between Garfield and Fulton streets was partially scrubbed away.

“It’s abundantly clear DDOT didn’t do any evaluation,” said Brian Cohen, chair of Glover Park’s advisory neighborhood commission. Cohen said the lane restrictions resulted from several years of study, which, he said, “found the pedestrian environment dangerous.”

“I understand there are issues that need to be resolved, but let’s resolve them in a thoughtful, comprehensive way — and this action is the opposite,” Cohen said. He said two pedestrians were hit by cars each year from 2008 through 2010 along that stretch of Wisconsin.

But the latest change pleased residents in Massachusetts Avenue Heights, which flanks Wisconsin’s east side north of Glover Park. They had argued, just as vociferously, that the striped yellow median with its marked turn lanes was not only clogging traffic, but also encouraging pedestrians to jaywalk mid-block and drivers to turn into their neighborhood to avoid the congestion.

“I’m surprised, but pleased,” said Massachusetts Avenue Heights neighborhood commissioner Catherine May. “People really want this striping gone.”

She said her constituents had uniformly protested the loss of a traffic lane, as well as new evening parking restrictions introduced on that stretch of Wisconsin without proper notice. “It doesn’t improve pedestrian safety. It makes it worse,” she said of the initial changes.

Both Cohen and May said the “un-striping” began with minimal and late notice. May said the neighborhood commissions got an email notice about a day before the work began, and Cohen said the Transportation Department sent his to the wrong e-mail address. The agency sent the council a notice May 28 saying it was responding to “a request from [Ward 3] Council member Mary Cheh, [Ward 2] Council member Jack Evans, and community residents.”

“In the interest of pedestrian and vehicle safety, an independent determination has been made” to remove the striping north of Calvert and reopen the middle lane to traffic, wrote chief traffic engineer James Cheeks.

Monica Hernandez, a Transportation Department spokesperson, said only that the removal of the median strip north of Calvert Street is a “permanent change.”

Evans said Monday that after the May 1 hearing he and Cheh had instructed agency director Terry Bellamy to “make those changes in 30 days.” Bellamy had initially said his department needed at least 90 days to evaluate the proposal.

Cheh said she, too, was surprised by the Transportation Department’s quick action and short notice. She said she had only asked Bellamy to study the issue and report back in 30 days.

But the Ward 3 member said that there seemed to be consensus that restoring a traffic lane along that stretch of Wisconsin would improve traffic flow. “We’re restoring something that existed before,” she said. “If from a pedestrian and safety perspective it makes sense, why not respond to a major problem?”

The Wisconsin Avenue project has been under discussion for years, following a 2006 study on ways to improve the business climate and pedestrian safety in Glover Park. The entire project, stretching up Wisconsin from Whitehaven Parkway to Massachusetts Avenue, also produced wider sidewalks, better street lighting and new parking restrictions. But the transformation of a through-traffic lane into a yellow painted median strip, complete with multiple turn arrows, has spurred the loudest reaction.

“This idea of restricting [northbound] traffic to one lane … is unacceptable,” Evans said in an interview, arguing that backups extend down past the Safeway several blocks south, with one illegally parked truck able to bring the entire stretch to a halt. Evans called the return of a traffic lane north of Calvert Street “a half measure,” and said he will continue to push for removing the entire yellow striped median in Glover Park’s commercial area as well.

The first news of the change came last Wednesday, when the Transportation Department posted a news release announcing “temporary lane closures on northbound Wisconsin Avenue” starting the next day “to facilitate the removal of pavement markings in this corridor.” By Sunday, the bright yellow stripes had been roughly scrubbed away between Garfield and Fulton streets, with work farther south to come.

The change sparked criticism on the Glover Park neighborhood listserv and from neighborhood commissioners. Several targeted Evans himself.

“I’ll be honest,” said Cohen. “Jack Evans is concerned about getting his kids back and forth to school, and he doesn’t give a damn about people who live, work and play in Glover Park. All he cares about is driving through Glover Park as fast as he can. That’s the problem with politicians making traffic decisions, instead of traffic engineers.” Evans lives in Georgetown, and his triplets attend school at the National Cathedral and at Maret.

Evans said Monday that his push to remove the median “has nothing to do with me driving my children to school.” He said he spoke repeatedly at the hearing of his “firsthand experience” with traffic on Wisconsin Avenue because that would be more effective than simply repeating complaints of his constituents. “It has nothing to do with me, but understanding the frustration experienced by everyone” who drives the corridor, he said.

Cheh, in a separate interview, said she would not support removing the median strip in the commercial area of Glover Park, as Evans is advocating. “We’re not going to do that,” said Cheh, who chairs the council’s transportation committee. “I don’t think we’re at the stage yet of throwing out all that work in Glover Park.”

This article appears in the June 5 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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City Details Transit Options to Connect Georgetown, Union Station

May 29, 2013

By Alix Pianin
Current Staff Writer

After several months of traffic analysis, the D.C. Department of Transportation last week presented three possible “premium transit” systems — two streetcar options and one bus system — that could connect Union Station with the Georgetown waterfront.

Using three months of data from more than 140 intersections along the K Street corridor between 33rd Street NW and 3rd Street NE, the Transportation Department anticipated a major increase in ridership for the route, now served by the DC Circulator and various Metrobus lines. The agency expects weekday transit ridership could jump from the current 7,000 riders to an estimated 13,500 in 2040, said project manager Lezlie Rupert.

“We’re establishing that there is an actual need; you can actually quantify that,” said Rupert. “There is a real demand for a premium transit service.”

Last Thursday’s event was the final in a series of public open houses that the agency has hosted since the start of the year to discuss options for rapid and consistent service for the corridor. The Federal Transit Administration had awarded the department a $1 million grant to conduct the analysis, and the local agency hopes to eventually land federal support to construct the new system.

The first option would install a streetcar line starting at K Street in Georgetown from Wisconsin Avenue and 29th Street. It would proceed east along K Street before cutting over to H Street NE via New Jersey Avenue NW. The route would end on H Street’s Hopscotch Bridge.

This option would run 3.41 miles through eight stations and eliminate approximately 278 parking spaces, according to the agency. Estimates for construction costs are between $340 million and $370 million.

The second alternative, also a streetcar route, would begin on M Street NW between Wisconsin and Pennsylvania avenues. The streetcar would take riders along Pennsylvania Avenue around Washington Circle, on K Street to Mount Vernon Square, south on Massachusetts Avenue to Union Station, and then on H Street east to a final station at Hopscotch Bridge. Heading west, this line would pass Mount Vernon Square to take I Street back toward Washington Circle.

This second streetcar prospect would run 3.6 miles with nine stations, eliminate approximately 814 parking spaces, and cost between $380 million and $415 million, according to agency estimates.

The third option, a premium bus, would begin at the same location in Northwest D.C. as the first streetcar option and follow the same route along K Street — though the bus would continue east past New Jersey Avenue and turn south on North Capitol Street, to reach a final stop at Columbus Circle. Premium bus service generally has fewer stops, dedicated lanes and faster fare collection, all with a goal of reduced travel times, consultants said.

The bus line would wind 3.67 miles with nine stops. It would eliminate approximately 321 spaces, and it would most likely be the cheapest of the various proposals, with estimated construction costs of $210 million to $230 million.

Rupert said her team was pleased with the estimated travel times: Each transit option would typically be able to run the route either direction in 21 to 25 minutes during rush hour, according to the Transportation Department.

But Bradley Green, a Ward 4 resident who attended the presentations, said that he was disappointed that the study area didn’t include the Georgetown University campus — especially since creating a connection with the university is a priority for many following the issue.

“There’s a lot of benefit to be gained to having that included,” said Green. He also encouraged the city to explore utilizing M Street as a possible transit artery to the school. “There’s certainly a lot of concentration of potential riders along that corridor.”

The agency’s second streetcar option and premium bus plan may allay those concerns, though. According to the Transportation Department, both schemes could possibly be extended farther west along Canal Road in the future — right up to the driveway entrance of Georgetown University.

For forum attendee Howard Marks, president of the board of the 1150 K Street condominiums, the answer is anything but the first streetcar alternative. Marks said in an interview that his building’s residents fervently object to that proposal, which would widen K Street from four to six lanes from 10th Street to 12th Street — right in front of his building.

The design would take away about 11 feet of sidewalk, Marks said, and would force the removal of a beloved shade tree and other landscaping, cut off part of the complex’s driveway, and bring noise and air pollution closer to the building.

“Our condo board is not opposed to a streetcar at all — we are opposed to widening the roadway,” said Marks. “We are going to use every legal recourse at our means to stop this widening from happening.”

But Marks said his primary concern is actually the impact on Asbury United Methodist Church, located at 926 11th St. If the roadway were widened, the historic church could lose some of the trees and plants that grow in front of the entrance, as well as a railed stairway needed for handicapped and elderly parishioners, he said.  

The Transportation Department is accepting public feedback about the three options. The selection of a recommended option is slated for June, and the release of a final report on its analysis this summer.

This article appears in the May 29 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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Ellington School to Premiere Student’s Opera

May 22, 2013

By Deirdre Bannon
Current Staff Writer

When Juan Amaya was a young child, he started writing short stories to entertain himself. As an elementary school student, he taught himself how to play the saxophone and later the viola. Now, as a high school senior at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Amaya has brought his two passions together by writing and composing an original opera.

Called “Cinde’ella,” the opera brings a religious twist to the classic Cinderella story. It will premiere at Ellington this weekend — marking the first time the Burleith public arts school has produced an original opera created by a single student.

Amaya has spent nearly three years working on the piece, composing the music and writing the libretto. His teachers say it’s a remarkable accomplishment for any high school student, particularly one who had no formal training in music composition before arriving at Ellington.

“Juan was determined to learn how to compose, and he’s gone from zero to 100 during the past four years,” said Janet Peachey, a music theory and composition teacher at Ellington who has worked with Amaya on “Cinde’ella” since the beginning.

The opera is “full of brilliant melodies and really original, great ideas for how to set the text and illustrate the story musically,” she added. “There’s something vital and exciting about a piece created by someone so young, and ‘Cinde’ella’ has that quality.”

Amaya’s first exposure to opera was watching “Madame Butterfly” on YouTube as a freshman — and then he was hooked.

“I loved the feeling I got when I listened to the music — it really moved me — and I decided I wanted to create an opera,” Amaya said.

The works of George Frideric Handel and Giacomo Puccini, which Amaya describes as “luscious and religious,” further inspired him as a sophomore, and from there he sought to incorporate those same qualities into his own piece.

Mary Jane Ayers, chair of the vocal music department and a teacher at Ellington for 25 years, is directing the production of “Cinde’ella.” She created the school’s opera workshop class in 2000, a yearlong course that culminates in a staged opera production each May. In past years, students have performed classics like “Carmen Jones” and “Don Giovanni,” and a group of students once worked together to create an adaptation of “Porgy and Bess.”

Three years ago, Amaya approached Ayers when “Cinde’ella” was in its earliest stages to see if the school might one day produce it.

“When Juan first came to me, it was difficult to know if it would work because I didn’t know his skill level,” said Ayers. “But he just kept coming back, and soon it became clear that it was going to work.”

“The music is at a very high level,” Ayers added. “There are elements of Jamaican music because the fairy godmother character is Jamaican, but Juan also quotes Handel’s ‘Messiah’ very subtly and with wit. There’s dancing — Cinde’ella has a waltz — and like Puccini, there’s a lot of humor in it.”

There are 23 students in the cast, and 30 more are in the orchestra. The production runs about 75 minutes.

Amaya wrote the words for the opera first, and then “messed around on the piano to see what the words wanted,” he said. He also used a computer program to work out the music composition.

Amaya said he loved staying up late to refine the characters and make revisions to the piece. He will also be participating in the production as a member of the chorus, which made him appreciate how challenging it can be for singers to learn brand-new vocals.

“I learned how to adapt to people’s skills, and if a note was too hard, I would change it to make it easier,” Amaya said.
Both teachers who worked with Amaya said the senior stands out for his persistence and focus.

“What separates Juan is his determination to make things work,” said Ayers. “It’s an unusual quality in a teenager. He doesn’t give up until everything is in place — but he isn’t the least bit pushy about it, and that will carry him through life very successfully.”

Amaya is determined to make music his career. In the fall he will start as a freshman at Catholic University, majoring in music composition. He plans to work on orchestra and piano pieces as well as stage music, opera and ballet.

“Cinde’ella” will be performed as part of “A Night at the Opera: The Many Faces of Cinderella,” this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the school’s Ellington Theatre, 3500 R St. Tickets cost $10 and are available at or at the door.


This article appears in The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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