City Removing New Median on Part of Wisconsin Ave.

Photo by Bill Petros/The Current
The new painted median is being removed from Calvert to Garfield streets, but will remain farther south in Glover Park.
The new painted median is being removed from Calvert to Garfield streets, but will remain farther south in Glover Park.

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.

4 Comments For This Article

JWS

I simply don't go to Glover Park since DDOT made this unholy mess. I'd rather drive a few extra minutes to the hardware store on 17th Street or the Whole Foods on P Street or walk to a neighborhood liquor store than hit Pearson's. I suppose this is what the dimwits supporting this exercise of 'driver irritation' had in mind.

George

While DDOT's decision to scrap medians north of Calvert street is worth applauding as a great first step, the rest of the medians south of Calvert must be removed. Traffic congestion will still continue to bottleneck south of Calvert all the way to the Burleith Safeway at Wisconsin and 34th street.

While I am all in favor of pedestrian safety, the creation of these painted medians in the middle of Wisconsin Avenue has only resulted in congesting more traffic and encouraging jay walking.

I applaud DDOT's reversal of an ill-advised decision, but it is not enough. I fully support Councilmember Evans's efforts to remove the remainder of the painted medians south of Calvert street, and I look forward to doing everything I can to encourage DDOT to do so. Removing one set of medians without removing the other will not solve the problem of traffic congestion. If Councilmember Cheh supports the removal of the painted median north of Calvert, she should equally support removing the medians south of Calvert. Otherwise, this half gesture will have no real effect towards reducing the serious issue of traffic congestion through Glover Park.

If you agree, go to For those who are (https://www.facebook.com/GloverParkTrafficJam) to support the full removal of painted medians south of Calvert Street!

-George

Anonymous

I could not agree more -- throttling traffic down to one lane on one of the most important ingress/egress streets to Georgetown is lunacy. Nobody wants to sit in bumper to bumper traffic to get through the 4 blocks of Wisconin from the Safeway to Calvert! THAT's where the really bad bottleneck is due to this urban planning on steriods!

Anonymous

I am a pedestrian who was hit by a car. Common sense suggestions that pedestrians get off their cell phones, pay attention to traffic, and cross at appropriate times, traffic enforcement, parking lots, seem to be lacking. At least one of the pedestrians hit by a car was drunk, in the middle of the day. What about speed cameras to maintain traffic flow. The money spent on the road could have been spent on improving pedestrian behavior, through traffic enforcement. Face it, a small group from Glover Park imposed their opinions on a significant portion of the city, daily. What happens during major events, like snow storms, an earthquake, emergencies, when a major city route is immobilized? It's my understanding that utility work updates that could have been done while the streets were torn up, were not done in the interest of finishing on time. How could the Council, DDOT, and Mayor, and even Homeland Security stand by and let this happen? Fix it.

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