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18th Street Streetscape Project – Changes Coming Our Way by John

by Prince Of Petworth September 1, 2008 at 10:17 pm 12 Comments

Expanded Sidewalk

Ed. note: John does a phenomenal and thorough job detailing the changes coming to 18th Street. It’s hard to imagine what it will look like when completed. Do you think it’ll be an improvement?

Most residents agree that the sidewalks and intersections in Adams Morgan could do with a facelift.

On 18th Street the sidewalks themselves are too narrow to accommodate the crowds, especially over the weekends and particularly after the smoking ban banished tobacco aficionados to the sidewalks.

The intersections at Columbia and 18th and at Florida and 18th are generally considered pedestrian unfriendly to the point of danger with “slip roads” allowing cars to come from seemingly all directions and confusing even those walkers who try to obey traffic laws. (These “law-abiding” pedestrians can become fewer and further between as the night progresses and drinks are consumed).

Although the strip of 18th between Florida and Columbia is often derided as the locale of choice for “bridge and tunnel/VA frat boys/suburbanite interlopers” (feel free to add to this list of disparaging generalizations), the area is an important nightlife destination for Washington, DC and more importantly, the neighborhood is home to thousands of residents, many of whom do not own cars and rely on bikes, buses and pedestrian power to get around.

While most agree on the need for improvements, there remains a great deal of debate over what these improvements should ultimately look like and how the work should be carried out. Story by John continues with lots of details after the jump.
IMPACT ON LOCAL BUSINESSES

A similar project to improve the sidewalks down on P Street west of Dupont Circle is now complete and the neighborhood is certainly looking better for it. Yet local businesses complained that the time taken to do the work and the extent of the ripped up sidewalks that blocked entrances to buildings caused a massive, potentially fatal downturn in income.

At least one local business – a donut shop named the Fractured Prune – went out of business during the work and – anecdotally – the sidewalk reconstruction was blamed for their financial troubles.

While 18th Street will likely continue to generate enough foot-traffic even during construction to support the businesses on the street, these are legitimate concerns.

PARKING

Another hotly debated issue is that of parking. Some local residents who don’t drive would like to see a reduction in the availability of parking. After all, fewer parking spaces will discourage people from driving to the neighborhood and encourage the use of public transport.

 

Residents who do drive naturally want to protect the existing parking spaces, fearful that changes on 18th may result in even more competition for scarce spots. Some local businesses argue that adequate parking is necessary to attract people from outside the neighborhood to frequent the bars, restaurants and stores. Others, already concerned that the traffic and the perception of unsavory crowds on weekend evenings are actually discouraging people from visiting Adams Morgan might argue for a reduction in parking or at least consideration of certain measures to make the area more pedestrian friendly.

LONG TERM USABILITY

While most of us would naturally support more aesthetically pleasing renewal – brick sidewalks, flower beds etc – we should also take into consideration the durability of this renewal, given the crowds that congregate in the area on weekends. On P Street there are already reports of deterioration to the re-laid brick sidewalks and in general there are questions about how long until new or refurbished street furniture (benches, tree boxes etc.) would deteriorate in the busy Adams Morgan area.

DDOT Recommendations – What Can We Expect?

A full copy of the DDOT 18th Street Transportation and Parking Study is available here: http://www.ddot.dc.gov/ddot/cwp/view,a,1249,q,636709.asp.

In summary, expect to see some of the following changes in Adams Morgan:

Gateways

The DDOT report focuses on the two main “gateways” to the heart of 18th Street strip: the intersections at Columbia and 18th and at 18th & Florida, both of which are notoriously unfriendly to pedestrians.

18th & Columbia

  • The approaches to the intersection at 18th Street and Columbia Road will be two-lane and the right turn slip lane between Columbia Road and Calvert Street will be eliminated, creating a public plaza where the “island” currently stands.


  • The right-hand approach lane northbound on both Columbia Road and 18th Street would be used principally as a bus stop, with right turns permitted. On the far side of the intersection from these bus stops would be a lane to “catch” the bus and allow it to merge into the traffic stream. The southbound approach on Calvert Street would have a dedicated left turn lane and a shared through plus right turn lane.


  • The two lanes on the Columbia Road southbound approach will have a lane assignment that varies by time of day. During commuting peaks there would be an exclusive right turn lane, and during late night peaks there would be an exclusive left turn lane. The lane assignment could be accomplished with LED or fiber-optic “blank-out” signs.


  • Marked, shared bike lanes on intersection approaches should be considered on the 18th Street, Calvert Street, and southbound Columbia Road approaches, with “bike boxes” in front of the vehicular stop bar.

This work is already underway, as you can see from the pictures:

18th & Florida

  • Eliminate the right turn slip lane between U Street and 18th Street.


  • Create a dedicated right turn lane from southbound Florida Avenue onto northbound 18th Street northbound and a dedicated left turn lane on southbound 18th Street onto northbound Florida Avenue.


  • The other two approaches will have one travel lane plus a parking lane that could be used for right turns. U Street should form a signalized T intersection with Florida Avenue.


  • Planned bicycle lanes on Florida Avenue and 18th Street should be accommodated all the way to the intersection, most likely as marked, shared lanes.


  • A public plaza in the northeast quadrant of the intersection will be created. (Outside D’Vino’s)


  • There is also a suggestion that the east end of Vernon Street should be closed, maintaining a mountable emergency vehicle access, and reconstructing Vernon Street as a shared surface to heavily calm traffic and permit vehicles to turn around.


Sidewalks

  • The proposed 18th Street cross section creates 16 feet of additional space that can be used for sidewalks.


  • The DDOT report recommends that ten feet be added to the east side of 18th Street and six feet to the west side. It is felt that because the west side of the street has heavier pedestrian use and currently has narrower sidewalks, a larger increase on that side is warranted.

Crosswalks

  • A new midblock crosswalk will be installed approximately half way between Belmont Road and Columbia Road. This crosswalk could be as broad as 25 feet across and will be raised to reinforce its use as a pedestrian zone over that of a vehicular zone.

Parking

  • Metered parallel parking will be available on both sides of the street, using multi-space meters.

Other Details

  • 18th Street will feature re-laid brick sidewalks with trees spaced at irregular or varying frequency to enhance the streetscape and allow views of notable architecture or murals.

  • Tree boxed will have tree grates around the trees to maximize the width of the sidewalk available to pedestrians and protect the trees themselves.

  • Street furniture, including benches, bike racks, trash receptacles, bus shelters, and even artwork will be in a more contemporary than the traditional type used elsewhere in the city, reflecting Adams Morgan’s character.

Conclusion

In general these changes seem well thought out and represent a positive step for the neighborhood. No-one wants to live, eat, drink or make merry in a construction site, but hopefully the work will be completed as quickly and with as little impact as possible on local businesses and residents.

While I have an layman’s interest in these issues I have no expertise whatsoever in urban planning, traffic flow, beautification etc. so I’m looking forward to hearing from readers who are knowledgeable in this field or simply have their own opinions.

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