Dear PoP – What’s Up With Columbia Heights Streetscape?

Photo from PoPville resident

“Dear PoP,

do you know what is going on with the sidewalk expansion/ road narrowing along 14th st and specifically at the park rd and monroe st intersections. i’ve noticed that they’ve really widened the sidewalks (a bit too much) and taken away a lot of road. on the eat side of monroe at 14th st, its barely wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass and the sidewalk morphs into the road. and i noticed today that they are doing some similar on park rd. they put some curb down and right now it looks like it will only be one lane wide. the curb may not be placed yet so i could be wrong but definitely for the past 2 weeks its been mostly one lane running westbound. am i just seeing things? do you have any info about the final plan? the “columbia heights streetscape” website wasn’t much help.”

Personally, I’m all for widened sidewalks. I know some were widened on Park Road to meet ADA requirements. Does anyone know if 14th St will be one or two lanes when all construction is completed? Following is the most recent info from DDOT:

DDOT Roadway Reconstruction on 14th Street in Columbia Heights
Single Lane of Traffic Maintained in Both Directions
Final Phase Scheduled for Completion in Mid-Summer 2010

Full press release after the jump.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) continue roadway reconstruction and repairs as part of the final stage of the Columbia Heights Public Realm Project. Crews are scheduled to begin pavement excavation and asphalt paving in the northbound lanes on 14th Street from Irving Street to Kenyon Street, NW, weather permitting. Similar and previously announced work is ongoing between Park Road and Monroe Street. This is the final phase of the project with substantial completion of the entire project scheduled for mid-summer 2010.

Construction crews will begin placing concrete traffic barriers after 9 a.m. on April 15, 2010 to cordon off the work area.

A single lane of traffic will be maintained at all times, in both directions. Motorists should be aware of transitions and lane changes due to the construction.

Businesses along this busy commercial corridor will remain open during construction with unrestricted access.

The Metrobus stop north of Irving Street will be moved south of the intersection.

DDOT Traffic Control Officers (TCOs) will be positioned at the intersections during am and pm rush-hours to help facilitate traffic. Flagmen and Variable Message Signs will be utilized to assist in directing the flow of both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

DDOT encourages all motorists and pedestrians traveling in this area to stay alert. For additional information on the Columbia Heights Public Realm project visit or

40 Comment

  • All I know is, after it’s FINALLY finished, and they hold a ribbon cutting, with Fenty and Graham there, and the neighborhood is poised to breath a sigh of relief after what, 7 years of unremitting construction, Verizon trucks will come along the next day and dig big trenches right down the middle of the fresh pavement to install fiber-optic cable for Fios…

    • Too late.

      Just when it looked like they were about to make progress on 14th near the Tivoli theater things came to an abrupt stop when Pepco trucks came in and installed new power lines. This slowed down the whole process. I wonder if someone forgot to call Pepco and tell them they had the past 6 years to get this done. Bad coordination.

  • The narrowing of the streets and widening of the sidewalks was one of the fundamental concepts of the entire 14th street improvement project (all of which is available on the DDOT website and had extensive community input).

    There is far more pedestrian traffic in Columbia Heights now than when there was when the old sidewalks were built. They need to be widened for safety. And traffic needs to be slower to minimize danger to those pedestrians, which is accomplished by narrowing the streets.

    The streets are still wide enough for two vehicles to pass, they just can’t be barreling down the road at 30mph.

    • My thoughts exactly. Do you know if they will be widening the sidewalks on Irving street as well? They are far too narrow for all the foot traffic to and fro the metro from Mount Pleasant. One heavy set slow person can cause a major foot traffic jam.

    • I don’t like this narrowing feature.

      As a cyclist, it means you get squeezed while passing through the intersection. There are a couple of these bump outs on Florida and U Street, and it is impossible for cars to pass with a 3 foot gap. Really unnerving. You have a nice gap between parked cars/traffic, and then it disappears.

      It’s particularly unnerving when pedestrians take a step or two into the street while waiting for traffic to clear.

      As for driving 30 mph, I don’t think any vehicle has hit 30 mph in this traffic mess since 1998.

      • Well I’m a Pedestrian first and Cyclist second. I don’t own a car. What I do when the roads are too narrow for shoulder riding is to simply ride right in the middle of the lane as a car would. The cars can pass when the road widens again.

        • That makes sense to me, except that with the bump outs, you have to swerve into a traffic lane at a point where the driver is not expecting it. Their traffic lane doesn’t narrow, so they aren’t slowing…

          • as a cyclist and a driver, my recommendation is you should anticipate the bumpouts, decide early, make eye contact with the affected driver behind you if any, signal your intention, then increase and maintain your speed if necessary while you merge. Consider it a “cardio bump”. Hope you’re not riding a beach cruiser 🙂

    • Honestly (I drive, walk, and cycle through DC, so I don’t think I’m too biased here), this area should be primarily pedestrian traffic. If through traffic is altered by a block or two around this intersection, there would be much less of a congestion issue. Right now, whenever I do this my drive time and my blood pressure thank me.

  • I am excited for the finish. My new company providing scheduling services for this project, so it will be nice to see the outcome.

  • does it seem like the construction company is working super slow? usually there are like two people working and the other workers are just standing around talking.

  • I wish they’d widen the sidewalks on U Street and in Chinatown, where the crowds can be overwhelming on the weekends and the current sidewalks are barely wide enough for two people to pass in places.

  • On thing they do need to do is put up no parking signs along the north side of park west of 14th. That is clearly supposed to be a no parking zone for the block before the DCUSA parking entrance, but there are no signs, so it is always parked up. I’m a huge fan of traffic calming and would always choose sidewalk over road, but this is just so stupid, it makes traffic dangerous for everyone, including peds as angry, frustrated drivers gun it though the intersection.

  • One thing that drives me nuts, why do they leave little pieces unfinished that could be done in a few hours? I understand the idea of a punchlist, but it gets a bit ridiculous. For example right outside Chipotle there are a pile of gray bricks to finish off one of the gray oval strips that have been sitting there, with one tiny portion of the strip unfishined, for months and months. Just finish that off for the love of G-d, it would take an hour. Several other items like that, like the planter near Sticky Fingers. Seems silly to get stuff 95 percent done, then leave the remaining five percent unfinished for months, especially when that last five percent creates (a) a human traffic jam by Chipotle and (b) a giant garbage receptacle where a planter should be by the Sticky Fingers, to name two examples. Argggghh…

    On the plus side, the civic plaza has REALLY been hopping with the good weather, live music, people chilling, kids playing in the fountain, it’s a huge success.

    • You and I are thinking alike on this! It’s extremely frustrating to have them come close to finishing a seciton of sidewalk, or stretch of paving, and then drop everything and go dig a new hole somewhere while leaving a bench unfinished, a streetlamp without the top (14th and Monroe), a half-assed treebox. the planter by Sticky Fingers is a good example. Reminds me of what my mom said when I was a kid – if you want to take out a new toy to play with, put the old one back first! Why didn’t they just completely finish the sidewalks from curb to building, THEN do the street part? I’m concerned things will get left behind in the shuffle.
      Not to mention my fear that none of this has been coordinated with Verizon Fios installation, gulp!

    • I know, right? What is the deal with that? Finish a task, please! It’s just foolish. Major intersection completely backed up at the height of rush hour on a regular basis. This is taking far too long.

  • By default, anything that makes driving difficult in this city I’m all for it.

  • Seems to me that the sidewalks are getting very wide, and it would not have been difficult to shave some of that for bike lanes, particularly since 14th street both north and south of that area have bike lanes.

    • Is there a drawing/rendering somewhere that shows where the bike lanes will stop and start again on 14th? WTF is with DDOT creating all these discontinuous segments of bike lane? Are we supposed to f’ing levitate for a block or two while the bike lane magically disappears then reappears?

  • I have always wondered why they dont put in some kind of fence (nice posts with chains or something) between the sidewalk and the road, with breaks only at the crosswalks. That would cut down on on the likelihood that someone would get hit.

    • Possibly because it would look unpleasant?? Who wants to live in a place that looks like the nuclear summit all the time?

  • That giant widening of a sidewalk in front of CC’s Liquor is sort of silly. When you’re driving you have to basically go left to make a right, especially since they seem to have made the sidewalk to the same height as the road. They did that by the fountain too and it makes absolutely no sense.

  • What it might be is that the bit of Park Rd in front of Giant will also become one way only and the curb the original poster/question asked about might be to separete a lane for turning right onto 14th St and having a small “island” for pedestrian crossing 14th and/or Park Rd.

  • Oh and anonymous, those kind of things are often used in e.g. London (not for the whole sidewalk but around/near crosswalks) to guide pedestrians to crosswalks in a more “orderly” manner. Can’t recall seeing them in the US though.

    • That sort of plays into the whole British ‘nanny state’ thing. I feel like traffic planners here tend to think that pedestrians will follow the rules, even though in the DC area that’s pretty far from true. Hell, in Langley Park so many pedestrians were were struck/killed/injured around the intersection of University Blvd and Rhode Island Ave that they built a 5′ tall fence for about a 1/4 mile in each direction from the crosswalks to keep people from jaywalking. A friend who lived up there used to call it a ‘Darwin fence’.

  • People, have common sense. Obviously when all is done the street will be lower than the sidewalk. They do have lots of digging and hauling away though.
    Agree with you guys about the unfinished work here and there. For example there are several light posts that will eventually be moved closer to the curb, but at the moment blocking the sidewalk (near the heights, as well as near Alero.) Also, the stretch of sidewalk on the east side of 14 near Newton needs to be completed with pavers. I also sure hope when all finished the pavers are nicely cut around the light posts and other corners. Please do this right.

    • I’m actually pretty sure the final concept called for sidewalks and street level to be the same in this stretch. Regardless I think everyone needs to wait until all is complete to see how it all jives.

  • I feel bad for any tree planted on the stretch of 14th between the metro station and the 7-11. Narrow sidewalks, litter, loitering, and spitting-oh-my.

  • I believe the term is Traffic Combing (screwing with the traffic pattern to make driving seem less attractive). In urban transportation circles, apparently DC is the leader. Even NYC DOT uses DC as a model!

    • alternating the traffic pattern makes drivers reduce speed and drive defensively. Which is a must in an area where foot traffic outweighs vehicular. Especially since they are trying to attract people to the civic plaza and to shop. Nobody wants to stroll sidewalks alongside loud speeding cars. 16th street on the other hand you have cars going double the speed limit and about 1 pedestrian death a year.

      • I wonder if this alternating the traffic pattern has in fact reduced pedestrian accidents/fatalities on that stretch of 14th. Considering there are way more pedestrians on 14th St than on 16th St, I’d expect more accidents as well, but I think 16th street has more problems.

        • It does. I used to cross 16th at Irving and am now on 14th. Narrower roads and the resulting slower speeds enable drivers to pay more attention to the crosswalks.

  • I hate trying to get out of the parking lot of Target – either way you go, Park or Irving, it’s a cluster f. I drive in thinking, gosh I love how this is here now, I don’t have to drive out to Rockville or Arlington or whatever, but I drive out thinking holy batman the traffic light letting traffic eastbound on Irving is the worst timed EVER. Yes I drive – how else am I going to to get my enormous pile of loot home from the store? And by loot I mean diapers.

  • Most of the work should have been finished in 2006. Efforts to remove funding for the project and related political deals delayed the start of the project therefore completion.

    Pedestrian flow has been given priority over car traffic so one lane is being taken. To address traffic flow traffic light timing and traffic patterns will be adjusted. This will improve things once implemented.

    Wideside walks next to the Tivoli will make sidewalk cafes possible. So all the space is needed.

    The area in front of Sticky Fingers is a retro-fit because the building architects and engineers screwed up lining up the building with the sidewalks.

    The streets are being re-leveled so they will not be the same height as the sidewalks once complete.

    The current pavers are a compromise; however, they will be fixed to properly align. Some of the street lights and other features will be removed so it makes no sense to align with them now.

    Some of this complaining is just plain silly and lazy, given most the information is posted publically and the construction office is open to allow community members to review the plans. I guess some just want the benefits but none of the sacrifice or work. It’s ashame.


    • Thanks William. It is all public record and you laid it out.

      But it’s still a political and physical clusterf**k. Construction companies are making out well, though.

  • haha, “barreling” at 30mph. classic.

  • “But it’s still a political and physical clusterf**k. Construction companies are making out well, though.”

    Sure, but he folk most hurt by this are the smaller businesses. They never got much of the $2M set-a-side for them, suffered through the rocks and several rounds of construction. The construction team is actually doing a pretty good job of attempting to allow business as usually in the mist of a hugh construction zone. We actually pushed to get the plaza done atleast to this point so we could use it vs. waiting until the end of the project. Given the hand we where dealt this is actually amazing.

    Believe me, the will go back and fix everything unless DDOT cuts the budget need to complete the job. Given the budget times some emails to CM Graham and Gabe Klein demanding that the streetscape funding be protected would not hurt.


  • I’m puzzled why Park Road is blacktop and Irving is concrete(unless they anticipated digging up again). The concrete will last much longer.

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