Medians Possible for Georgia Ave?


“Dear PoPville,

I moved to North Petworth last year and happen to live right on Georgia Avenue. Much talk has been discussed about making this area and the more northern parts of Ward 4 more attractive to development – especially by our Ward 4 council member candidates. My suggestion is this: Can we push the city to investigate the feasibility of putting a landscaped median along the northern stretch of Georgia Avenue, starting at the Georgia Avenue and New Hampshire intersection and extending to the border of Silver Spring? Much like the thoroughfares of Sherman Avenue, 16th Street, etc, the landscaped median would be a great way to beautify the space, slow down traffic, make the area more safe, and eventually attract local businesses.

I know there are plans for the Streetcar but those plans look like that will never come to fruition. This can be less expensive and time-consuming and have a more immediate impact on the area and really help it grow. Anybody think this is an idea worth pursuing? If so, let’s get together and figure it out!”

59 Comment

  • We do need a few major arteries in and out of the city for drivers. Even some of your DC neighbors (like me) reverse commute.

    • I agree in principle, but for its size D.C. has more than a “few” such arteries. The real problem is that we don’t provide enough (reliable) alternatives to driving and/or enough incentives to take transit, so people perceive that there’s more of a need for wider roads than their really is. Moreover, even in much larger and more populous cities, the “arteries” are on the whole MUCH narrower than they are here. And the street life and urban environment in those cities is much livelier as a result. D.C. streets are absurdly wide.

      • than *there* really is. Ugh.

      • Most US cities have interstate highways going directly into downtown. All of the traffic coming from MD uses a few streets and virtually no highways.

        • Was just about to post this. I am very glad the full highway plan was not built, and I agree that more transit needs to happen, but this is a HUGE difference between DC and just about every other major city (NYC might be an exception due to its island nature). To get downtown from many MD suburbs, you have to travel at least 5-6 miles on neighborhood surface streets.

          • A project like this might be more feasible HAD the freeway system been fully built out, as much of the GA Avenue commuter traffic would have been transferred to the unbuilt I-70N. As it is now, however, given the heavy use of this road for commuter or more lengthy north-south traffic, I think it is a bad idea.

        • Which is one reason most US cities aren’t very nice to live in! Slapping highways down in the middle of cities breaks up the walk-ability of neighborhoods and creates pockets where no one wants to buy a home. To illustrate this you need look no further than areas EotR near 295.

          • Agreed. Yeah, it’s annoying that it takes such a long time to get between MD and D.C. via surface streets — but we have a much prettier city as a result.

          • To be clear, I’m not saying that it SHOULD take a long time to get between MD and DC. But the laws of physics dictate that we can’t do that primarily with cars and still have a nice city. Only mass transit can move enough people to meet our needs in this area.

          • I’d be totally fine living near a highway if it meant being able to get in and out of the city a lot faster. In CoHi, it takes 15-20 minutes to get out of the city in basically any direction, which SUUUUUCKS when you have to do it every single day. If they had continued with 395 all the way through the city, but kept it below the surface, it would have been an awesome artery to keep traffic off surface streets like Georgia Ave. My commute would be 10-15 minutes shorter if 395 dumped me off near Columbia Ave instead of getting off on Mass Ave and having to drive through traffic and a million lights to get up to Kenyon.

          • Thankfully you are not a city planner, DRC. You may not mind living near a highway, but it’s apparent that most people DO mind. And even if they didn’t, it does mess with the urban fabric.
            The real problem with your commute is that we built Metro (and the city) the way that we did in the first place. In most world-class cities, your job would be downtown, and our entire transit network would be focused on getting you between downtown and your residential neighborhood. In DC, jobs are widely dispersed, and so is the transit network. So lots of people work in DC but have a spouse that works in, say, Rockville or Tyson’s – meaning that at least one of you has to deal with a crappy commute. I don’t really know that there’s an easy way to fix that, especially since the area’s jurisdiction’s are unlikely to cooperate if the fix involves them losing jobs and tax revenue.

        • To clarify: I, like the other commenters, do not think we need more highways. I’m just observing that as a result we have streets like Georgia, New York, and Rhode Island. All those people have to get to work somehow.
          Better transit would help, but it won’t change all that much.

          • I disagree with the last part. Nearly 40% of D.C. residents drive to work. If JUST those residents had the option of either sitting in their cars in traffic or riding a reliable bus in a dedicated lane with no traffic, I think most of them would do the latter. Expand service into a few strategic locations in the close-in suburbs (Wisconsin Ave, 16th through DTSS, RI Ave, and Columbia Pike, just to name a few), and it would make an even bigger difference.

  • I would love to see medians on North Capital too

  • I highly doubt this would ever happen. Georgia, like Connecticut and NY is a major arterial street. With no highway access to downtown from MD this will always be busy. I’d like to see better management of traffic on Georgia, but it will never be a Sherman and 16th Street is residential only and carries less traffic.
    Eventually I think Georgia will be mostly dense residential with pockets of commercial development like Connecticut. If the Walter Reed development ever happens it would really speed this transition.

  • It’s a nice idea, but there’s not space unless you give up parking on one side of the street. Georgia ranges from 60-64′ which means that if you want to keep four lanes of traffic, there’s only space left for parking on both sides. Now, maybe some of that parking would go away anyway with BRT or streetcar, and I’d love to see something that makes Georgia feel more like a street and less like a throroughfare. I doubt there’d be enough support for adding the median, though, to overcome parking objections, sadly.

  • DC1

    I think we’ll see Streetcar before we see medians (revenue-wise medians are not feasible).

  • How do medians “slow down traffic”?

    • Medians and other streetscape elements visually narrow the street. Research has shown that when drivers perceive a street to be narrower or more enclosed (think street trees), they will drive slower. Even painting travel lanes more narrow can help and does not compromise safety.

    • There’s some evidence (albeit mixed) that medians and other measures that narrow travel lanes do slow cars down:

      Medians also help pedestrian crossings by giving a safe space in the middle of the street for pedestrians to wait on while traffic clears.

    • More importantly, why would you want to slow down traffic on Georgia? It’s already one of the slowest and most traffic-filled arteries we have, because of the high density of businesses. I always cut over to 16th because it moves faster (although the Military Road bridge work is making that less attractive these days).

      • Because people drive way too fast? It’s so scary crossing Georgia Ave because people are always speeding and running red lights. I saw someone run a red light and almost take out a guy pushing a baby in a stroller yesterday.

      • I’ve always considered Georgia traffic to be too fast. It’s impossible to bike on it because of the fast cars and lack of space on the shoulder, and it’s always difficult to cross at a crosswalk if it doesn’t have a light.

      • The “slow” characterization is because of the way the lights are timed. You can hit red light after red light going up Georgia.

        I would not however characterize the speed at which vehicles move while between those red lights as “slow.” I believe the speed limit is 30 in most parts, but people routinely go faster than 45. Trying to cross in one of those unprotected crosswalks to get from one business to another is harrowing as an agile young person. When I watch older people try to cross I fear for their lives. No one bothers to stop for pedestrians and at the speed drivers are traveling, they are likely to kill whomever they hit.

      • It’s not slow because of the density of businesses — there are tons of vacant storefronts. It’s slow because a lot of people use it as a route to get between Maryland and central D.C.

      • To save lives. If you’re hit by a car as a pedestrian, your risk of death goes up exponentially as the car’s speed increases.
        We Americans love to move cars as quickly as possible through our cities. And ALL of the top 10 cities in the world for pedestrian fatality rates are American cities (with the most car-centric leading the pack). That’s not a coincidence.

  • jim_ed

    No thanks. I’d much prefer anything that’s going to delete a travel or parking lane on Georga be used for a dedicated streetcar lane.

  • 1st there is no such thing as Norh Petworth, its all just Petworth. Northern Petworth or Souther Petworth work, but there is no North Petworth or South Petworth. Georgia Ave, Kennedy & Rock Creek are the boundaries & have been the boundaries for decades. Petworth doesnt end at Emerson St or go South down towards Harvard. I love seeing people, mostly real estate “professionals” call a house in Riggs Park or Edgewood Brookland so they can get a few grand for a house.

    2nd once Walter Reed opens up traffic along GA is going to be ugly. Go take a drive on Rockville Pike around NIH where they have those nice looking medians & see how beneficial they are to folks who sit in traffic for 30mins to go 1/4 mile. Every single person I know who lives in that area wants them gone & replaced with extra driving lanes. Medians are nice but they only work in urban settings if the vehicular traffic is adequate & expandable.

    The development is coming on Georgia Ave. Walter Reed and Shady Grove are he last two areas remaining. The City & MoCo have been planning the development of GA Ave for almost 25/30yrs. It started in Chinatown on the DC side & Silver Spring in the MD side. Over the years we’ve seen both the Shaw & Wheaton areas developed. Its coming, just give it time. What we dont want is over development. Just see what happened to Columbia Heights & King Farm. When you put too many residential units in an area that doesn’t have the infrastructure set up you get congestion & that’s never any fun.

  • I would much rather see the street car running up and down Georgia Ave. If the street car is built it will cement more development and business along Georgia Ave as business owners will know they will have more potential customers for years to come verses bus routes potentially changing. In addition to this I would like to see new bike lanes running up and down Georgia Ave. It will always be a thoroughfare, but should be less designed around cars. Either way, it would mean ripping up the street for years to complete.

    Also to those mentioning the Walter Reed development; it is already moving ahead. They are currently in the actual planning stages and bidding out the work from potential firms….which takes a long time.

    What’s all this talk of “North Petworth” name too???

    • Seriously, guys. The streetcar. Isn’t. Happening. At least, not until we’re all dead and cremated (or buried, if that’s your thing). We should really be pushing for dedicated bus lanes, which is 1) realistic in the short- to medium-term, and 2) would smooth passage for dedicated streetcar lanes so that they’ll function for your kids (again, we’ll be dead).

      • Why do you think dedicated bus lines are more realistic than the streetcar? The simple fact is that removing lanes and/or parking is extremely unpopular, whether it’s for a bus or a train. Once you get past that, you can build whatever mode you want.

        • Because in addition to the opposition to removing lanes, a steetcar is an expensive and complex project. All it takes for dedicated bus lanes is some signs, some paint, and some enforcement by police. I’m not understating the challenge of getting the transportation dinosaurs in this town to agree to any reduction of lanes or parking, but dedicated bus lanes are still a more reasonable goal than a streetcar.

          • Right – there are obstacles to both, to be sure. But dedicated bus lanes for sure face fewer obstacles due to less complexity and lower costs.
            Also, it just never made sense to me to add a half-cocked rail system instead of expanding Metro and using better bus service to complement. We’ve duplicated our overhead with the streetcar. How much extra money are we spending on staffing the streetcar project and training staff? The contracting process? Paying for the unique components that a separate system requires (rails, cars, and everything down to seats), and then maintaining them? These costs would have been vastly lower for dedicated bus lanes, and in some case would not have existed at all.

          • WMATA =/= DDOT.
            DDOT has done a really good job with the whole Circulator project — those routes have really helped complement existing Metrorail/Metrobus routes.
            I still think the main problem with the streetcar project has been its conception (no reserved streetcar lane) and implementation (over budget, behind schedule, etc.). I really wanted — and want — to see a streetcar in D.C., but the current project has been such a disaster that I’m wondering whether they should’ve made it a long Circulator route instead.

  • the bigger issue is who maintains them. They are great in theory but usually end up looking like shit with dying trees, trash covered, no grass or flowers (like the one on New Hampshire by the metro) and very soon most of Sherman avenue. The city is not going to provide the weekly maintenance to make it look nice. Unless we have a main street/BID organization to do the plantings, pick up trash and water regularly I wouldn’t bother.

    • The median on New Hampshire by the Metro looks the way it does because the city put down some kind of permeable resilient thing so that the tree roots wouldn’t get damaged by people stepping on the median when jaywalking. (Or something like that — I don’t remember the exact details.)
      The medians a little further up New Hampshire often look very nice (when they’re maintained) — there are plantings and everything. And Sherman looks a LOT nicer ever since it got its medians and streetscaping.

      • Not so fast, have you ever looked at all the trash strewn about on Sherman Ave’s median? They may have improved Sherman but they did so mainly because Sherman was such a dump prior. Well, that’s what me thinks, anyway.

        Same same will happen on Georgia Ave should medians go in. Unless, I suppose, the city budgets for O&M and not just construction.

        • Hmm… I was mainly noticing the plantings, but I’ll take your word for it on the trash. Even still, Sherman Avenue still looks a lot more attractive now than it did before. (I admit that perhaps that’s not saying much.)

  • If we are going to go through the trouble of tearing up the street, I would rather see protected bike lanes rather than a median. These would serve the same purpose of slowing down traffic, and would provide a transportation alternative at the same time. Of course this would also require removing on-street car storage, which is a great idea but unfortunately is next-to impossible politically.

  • Maybe we can do medians along Georgia in certain sections like near the Petworth metro or other heavy commercial/retail corridors? There is no doubt Georgia Ave needs some LOVE. Too many vacant store fronts, not enough economic long and short term planning and too many of the same type of stores near each other. We need more diversity in businesses.
    Maybe we can require some of these condo developments to pay for some streetscaping and beautification? All we ever demand is parking spots. Yes, parking is a concern, but it’s not the only one.

  • Instead of medians, how about some center turning lanes like we have in the South?? 🙂 It would ease traffic on the main thoroughfares.

  • The real problem here is federal highway money. If it takes three years to even discuss putting a stop sign on Maryland Ave NE because of federal roadway designation (read: money), how long would adding a median to Georgia Ave take? This is America. We move cars, not people. We build highways, not communities.

  • Streetcars please.

  • What we need is a dedicated lane for buses or streetcars. Buses would be significantly cheaper and more reliable. I think what they did on route one in Virginia is genius. It’s been done for a long time in LA, The Bay area and Boston. I’m sure we can figure this out.

  • The intersection of Georgia and Missouri, and the surrounding areas, would be in eternal gridlock. Street parking was already taken so that Walmart could have a turn lane. Add a median and you would never get through that area! Georgia Avenue needs many things, but a median is not one of them. Let’s try to help out the local businesses (which means preserving parking), unemployed, etc., in the area instead of “beautifying” the street. And Brightwood Park is north of Petworth… not North Petworth.

    • More parking and lanes for cars is not the answer for me. Space can be utilized for way more useful purposes than parking lanes and lots. Eventually the ton of space required for cars to park is at too high a premium for that convenience alone. I feel Georgia Ave can be redesigned for multiple transportation uses and not just solely cars.

  • This is insanity. Slow down traffic? It takes 30m to get downtown (4 miles) look at Ct Ave in Cleveland Park and Chevy Chase- is that beautiful? If so, no medians. Instead they have figured out how to move traffic to and from downtown by expanding lanes and limiting parking during peak hours. Why? Economics. Notice thriving buildings and businesses instead. Continue to limit movement on GA and you will continue to have ugly and depressed.

    • “Continue to limit movement on GA and you will continue to have ugly and depressed.” — Georgia Avenue is indeed “ugly and depressed,” but that has nothing to do with traffic speed. Speeding traffic up on Georgia would make things easier for commuters, but it wouldn’t have any salutary effect on businesses.

  • Good thoughts but I think it would be better to focus on traffic calming and improving bus service.
    -a median all the way may not be practical but you can put refuge islands at several points along the street. At New Hampshire this would really help improve safety’s
    -great streets a few years ago did a lot to improve Georgia in this area. If anything it is lower ga ace that needs the most to improve.
    -brt style service akin to what they are doing in New York would greatly improve transit and be an opportunity to improve pedestrian conditions. Also very easy to implement.

    This should not be about how long it takes someone to drive from a to b. It should be about making a street that has vehicles moving at safer speeds and moving people efficiently (transit).

  • We live in Brightwood and it feels sometimes like our stretch of Georgia belongs to Md, like its main purpose is to help non-dc residents blast through. 13th street used to be this way, too. I’m all for medians and inconveniencing Maryland drivers. There should be a major tax on parking garage spaces as a proxy for a commuter tax to start.

    • Agree completely. The more we can slow down traffic on Georgia, the better. We surrender tons of space to Maryland commuters, when we should be using it to enrich our neighborhoods and our businesses by widening sidewalks, installing bike lanes and planting trees. Make cars go real slow in order to make other modes of transportation more attractive.

  • Dedicated bus lanes!

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