This Is How Bad Transportation Decisions Are Made

At the last ANC meeting, the issue of the south exit of the Safeway was discussed. GM discussed this after the meeting, but he thinks it’s worthwhile to walk through the story of the changes to this intersection because it demonstrates how too often bad transportation decisions are made.

Prior to the construction of the new Safeway, and shortly after it opened, there were three different phases for the lights and crosswalks of this intersection:

During the first phase (which is 60 seconds), car traffic on Wisconsin Ave. had a green light and pedestrians were allowed to cross the curbcut at the Safeway exit. Cars leaving Safeway and pedestrians crossing Wisconsin were shown a red light.

During the second phase (which is 20 seconds now, but was much shorter before the changes), pedestrians were allowed to cross Wisconsin, but pedestrians were not allowed to cross the curbcut, nor were cars allowed to exit the Safeway, either north or southbound. Car traffic on Wisconsin was obviously also stopped.

During the third phase (which is ten seconds), cars could leave Safeway, but pedestrians couldn’t cross Wisconsin. Pedestrians obviously couldn’t cross the curbcut, nor could cars on Wisconsin proceed.

Back in February of last year, the ANC took a look at that second phase. They reasoned that with pedestrians crossing Wisconsin on the north side of the intersection, there was no reason not to allow cars from exiting Safeway to the south (since there was, as still is, no crosswalk on the south side of this intersection). The ANC recommended also that the second phase be extended.

So let’s just look at what they decided. It’s true that the second phase, as it originally was shaped, didn’t make a lot of sense. Either cars should have been allowed to exit Safeway, or pedestrians should have been allowed to cross the curbcut. Moreover, pedestrians probably should have been allowed to cross Wisconsin on the south side.

But rather that make these pedestrian-friendly changes, the ANC decided that the real problem was that for six seconds or so drivers had to wait for pedestrians to cross when the drivers could be exiting southward. So the ANC convinced DDOT to change the second phase to this:

Pedestrians could still cross Wisconsin from the north side of the intersection, but they still couldn’t cross the curbcut. Cars still couldn’t make a right turn, but they were now allowed to make a left turn. The phase was extended to the 20 seconds it is now.

As mentioned above, rather than allowing cars to turn left, DDOT could have allowed pedestrians to cross the curb cut, or they could have created a new crosswalk, allowing pedestrians to cross Wisconsin without crossing the curbcut first. The ANC could have put pedestrians first, but to some members of the ANC, even the slightest delay for a car is enough of a reason to oppose a measure, so putting pedestrians ahead of cars doesn’t even cross their minds.

Ok, fair enough.

But  now some on the ANC are pushing for yet another change. You see, sometimes the first car waiting at the Safeway doesn’t want to make a left turn. So cars behind it that do want to make a left turn have to wait a whole twenty seconds before the first car can leave, and then they can leave. So some of these impatient drivers have complained to the drivers-should-never-ever-have-even-the-slightest-delay caucus of the ANC to create a new left-turn lane at the Safeway exit. Craig Muckle of Safeway came to the ANC meeting saying they’d be happy to add the new lane.

But widening the curbcut (or simply adding a new travel lane without widening the exit) would be yet another anti-pedestrian move. For instance, while turning right on red is not allowed at this intersection, that doesn’t mean drivers don’t do it anyway. And with another traffic lane, the visibility for cars trying to make this illegal right-turn-on-red could be reduced and could cause them to not see pedestrians crossing the curbcut legally. And just generally, Safeway has put a lot of money into making this block more urban and pedestrian friendly, for them to increase the curbcut traffic by 50% diminishes the gains.

But some don’t see it this way. Some completely forget the history of this intersection and only care about the fact that some drivers now are frustrated at missing out on the new left turn arrow. This is how bad transporation policy is made: by making incremental concessions to the endless impatience of drivers. Attempts at appeasing drivers will never succeed and only will result in more demands, which results in cascading decisions that further push pedestrians and bikers out of the way.

Thankfully DDOT is against the new demands, and GM hears that after the ANC meeting little progress was made. But it would be nice if the ANC would stop being the voice of the incredibly impatient and would put pedestrians first.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “This Is How Bad Transportation Decisions Are Made

  1. charles.eason@anc.dc.gov

    While you are thinking about this intersection, be reminded that the Safeway-owned properties to the south are under development and intend to connect to the Safeway driveway. So volume will surely increase. This factor wasn’t in play when the traffic studies were under consideration for the new store. Nor was the possibility that customers of Noodles & Company, or other tenants of the adjacent Safeway properties, might use the Safeway garage/lot. This intersection is, at best, awkward, so our planners need to give it close scrutiny.

  2. I agree that the choices are far from ideal, but I have seen a number of cars left exiting from the Safeway ramp by going around cars waiting for the right turn arrow. It is fortunate that nobody (pedestrian, cyclist or driver) has been injured.

    The way I see it, there are two potentially good solutions, though I think the second is better for all parties:
    1. Add a third lane to the ramp and keep the light sequence as is.
    2. Do not add a lane to the ramp. Add a crosswalk in front of Cafe Divan, on the south side of the ramp/curbcut. Revise the light scheme to three phases.
    – Traffic on Wisconsin (and pedestrians crossing the curbcut).
    – Traffic exiting the ramp in both directions (no pedestrians in any direction)
    – Pedestrians in all directions (no vehicular traffic).

  3. RNM

    And another “I hate cars and the people who drive in Georgetown” post.

    How about just using the other exit from the Safeway garage, that is what I tend to do on the occasions I shop there. Of course I tend to prefer the Harris Teeter in Pentagon Row. Even before the Safeway was revamped I avoided the light at the old entrance to the surface parking lot like the plague.

    So, can we also expect a series of articles about the asinine behavior of pedestrians? Just hang grab a cup of coffee and hang out at the corner of 33rd and M Street to watch people almost get picked off due to walking against the light, standing in the middle of the street to take a photo of a cupcake, walking in the street because of a line where cars have been squeezed tighter with the creation of a bike lane (that I have never seen anyone use other than once going the wrong way on it).

    Anyhow, I now return you to the blah, blah, blah…I hate cars blog.

  4. RobRob

    “How about just using the other exit from the Safeway garage, that is what I tend to do on the occasions I shop there.”

    This reads like a prescription to resolve the concerns without making the concessions to the add-a-left-turn-lane crowd, but the rest of your post reads as a screed against any opposition to driver-friendly changes.

    It makes more sense to have a pedestrian-only cycle than to offer a left-turn arrow to a lane that’s not left-turn-only.

  5. RobRob

    Is there another exit from that garage? Maybe they could add a left-turn only lane at Wisconsin, but move the garage entrance? That would accomplish both goals without adding to the curb cut, although it may possibly make it harder to enter the garage from Wisconsin.

  6. Topher

    Rob,
    There is another exit at the north end of Safeway that is unsignaled. You could make the south exit left turn only and the north exit right turn only, but it would mean that you couldn’t leave Safeway and go down 34th St. Thus if you wanted to get to that block, you’d have to make a decent sized loop.

    So, while it would make a lot of sense to designate each exit as either left turn only or right turn only, that would be nixed by the residents who literally could not live any closer to the Safeway and still choose to drive.

  7. RobRob

    To be fair, driving from Safeway to 34th Street doesn’t necessarily mean that the shopper drive from 34th Street to Safeway. They could be driving home from work, stopping for groceries along the way.

  8. asuka

    GRR! ACK! CARS! TURN SIGNALS! CROSSWALK CYLE! LEFT TURN! CARS!

  9. RNM

    For the record…my other half somehow managed to drive to Safeway yesterday and successfully navigate her way back (and we live down 34th Street from there). Oh, the problems people create when they are out of real problems.

    It just isn’t that hard to get in and out of the Safeway…for cars or pedestrians…next.

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