ANC Round-Up: Cars ≠ People Edition

Last night the ANC met for their May session. Unfortunately, as is often the case, a lot of the agenda was built upon the assumption that cars and people are the same thing.

Where this came into focus was during the discussions over street closures in connection with various races. Last night the races at issue were the Nations Triathlon, the Best Buddies Challenge Bicycle Ride, Bike DC, and the Marine Corps Marathon. Each of these events require a few streets in Georgetown to be closed for a few hours on their respective Sunday mornings.

Over the last couple years, the ANC has expressed increasing frustration over the proliferation of events calling for street closures in Georgetown. The heart of these complaints is that street closures, particularly those affecting lower Georgetown, “maroon” people in their homes during the closure. They’re “trapped”. They “can’t get out”.

These street closures can be an inconvenience, GM would just like to remind the ANC that nobody gets “trapped” by street closures, only cars do. People can still leave. They can walk a few blocks and catch a bus or a cab. Or they can just walk to the over 500 stores and restaurants right here in Georgetown. The point is that people and cars are not the same thing.

For the record, each event was approved by the ANC. They badgered a few of the applicants on whether they were charitable “enough”, but with the impacts so slight, the ANC didn’t hold anyone up over it.

Glover Park Streetscape Improvements

As discussed at an ANC meeting last November, Glover Park is currently undergoing a streetscape improvement project that will, among other things, widen sidewalks and reduce Wisconsin Ave. from six lanes to five lanes. This project has generated some anxiety among people who fear the reduction in lanes will lead to an increase in “cut through” traffic on 37th St.

The ANC decided not to object to the project last November, but requested that DDOT perform a traffic count before and after the changes to measure the effect on cut through traffic. Last night the ANC found, however, that the requested traffic count was not performed where they wanted it performed and, more damning from the ANC’s perspective, the “base” count was performed after construction started on Wisconsin. This, the ANC argued, would inflate the traffic count on 37th St. since people would already be avoiding Wisconsin Ave. traffic. Thus when the “after” number is compared to the base number, any increase in cut through from pre-construction numbers would be covered up. Paul Hoffman from DDOT responded to the criticism and stated that they would try to again to get a “base” number during a period of time without any lane closures.

The problem GM sees in this back-and-forth is this: so what if there is an increase in cut-through traffic? Right now Wisconsin Ave. between W Pl. and 34th is a serious hazard to pedestrians. The crosswalks at 35th and Wisconsin are death traps. Have you ever crossed Wisconsin at this intersection? You are seriously risking your life doing so. Even just crossing 35th along the west side of Wisconsin is incredibly dangerous. These conditions must be improved. If a slight increase in cut through traffic is the cost of eliminating the clear and present danger created by the current conditions, that is a cost we have to be willing to pay. Yes increased cut through traffic can create its own hazards, but they’re less than the hazards on Wisconsin right now, and they can be dealt with with other measures such as speed cameras or bulb-outs.

Friendly Estate

The never-ending construction site at the Friendly Estate at 31st and Avon is likely to continue for a while longer. A prospective new owner has emerged who is willing to buy the house, but wants even more additions approved before closing. But the prospective buyer is only buying the house on spec. He/She/It (GM is not sure who or what the potential owner is) only wants to buy the house as it currently is (totally gutted) and finish the plans Marc Teren originally received approval for, and then add even more so to make the property just right for what he/she/it thinks an ultimate owner would want. This new construction would take an additional year, which is on top of the five or so years of construction (or lack thereof) that have already passed.

The ANC and the neighbors expressed skepticism over the plans. Here is yet another investor-owner who wants to make big changes on the hopes that someone else will want it. Teren ran out of money trying to build such a house and has left behind a shell bereft of any interior historic detail. The neighbors probably can’t be blamed for fearing a repeat performance. The ANC passed a resolution approving work to complete the original Teren plans but opposing any further plans.

A Few More Things

  • The new hotel on 31st St. where the old Trial Lawyers Association used to be is going to be crazy high end. The starting rate will be $800 a night.
  • The secretive Vornado came back before the ANC with plans for exterior changes to the mall. The changes were actually pretty modest and mostly involved adding doors to the alley between the mall and Dean and Deluca and some windows to the back facing the canal. No hint at what will actually occupy the mall was offered.
  • Taste of Georgetown is moving from October to June to avoid competing with other events. So make some room for paella.
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19 Comments

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19 responses to “ANC Round-Up: Cars ≠ People Edition

  1. Joan Kennan

    Those concerned about cut-through traffic on 37th Street should be reassured by the fact that there is a stop sign at almost every street intersection making it difficult for drivers to speed even if they were inclined to do so.

  2. RNM

    There is something reassuring about predictable bashing of cars at every chance and the people who drive them at every chance. This blog is really more about anti car zealotry than anything else at this point.

    As to the various races, I actually could care less if they want to shut every street down in Georgetown for a Sunday morning…what sort of person isn’t sleeping in after a late Saturday night? ;) I do wonder how supportive the ANC or this blog would be for shutting down the streets for say the old style Halloween festivities. Running for charity is acceptable reason to deny access to public facilities but a party isn’t is basically what I would expect.

    The Glover Park traffic count is s clear example of people trying to create the results they want. Why not do a traffic count of the cars on Wisconsin Ave at 4am on a Tuesday morning to asses the standard traffic flow. Lies, damn lies and statistics.

    Is Wisconsin really a “death trap” for pedestrians? I have never had an issue navigating that area, in about 20 years of doing so. Granted pedestrians do have a tendency to not follow the law at crosswalks (as do some drivers) so that can exacerbate the issue. For example I watch people walk against the little red hand signal (the one that means don’t walk) all the time at many places. Granted the defiance of traffic laws and flow by pedestrians is nothing compared to the absolute failure of any biker to follow the laws…but I digress. Still, the term “death trap” is a bit hyperbolic don’t you think? I really don’t remember a lot of “deaths” up there…and if it was a trap you would think it would have sprung. Blah, blah, blah…

  3. Anon

    I’m too am concerned that this blog is indeed becoming a one-way discourse on the pros and privileges of pedestrians and bicyclists to the detriment of those who – gasp! – dare to drive cars! Remember, some of us who shop and “live” our daily lives in Georgetown (many of whom even drive to churches on Sun. a.m.!), pay taxes and support Georgetown charities on a regular basis and are dues paying members of CAG, etc., do NOT actually reside 3-6 blocks from where we need to go. Some are not young people with new babies – they are actually over 50, 60 or – gasp again! – 70, thus often needing to drive for physical reasons, particularly on Sun. mornings.
    I hope we can have a more balanced approach rather than a one-man bully pulpit supporting personal interests on this otherwise wonderful website. Thanks!

  4. Topher

    RNM:
    And there’s something reassuring about the predictable comment I get from you each time I suggest the slightest of shifts in priorities from drivers to pedestrians. Even here when you agree with me that street closures are not really that bad, you still manage to make it sound like you disagree!

    As for Halloween, I too think shutting down M St again would be great and I used to love it when they did, but the city decided that the safer approach was to shut down the side streets and keep the main drags open. It’s safer for the kiddos that way I suppose.

    As for Glover Park, a woman was nearly killed at 35th and Wisconsin last year. Maybe you need to see someone actually die before you recognize the hazard, but for me one near-death is enough.

  5. heynerdlinger

    RNM’s comments would carry a lot more weight if they weren’t simply the same comment regurgitated each time.

    Anecdotal evidence of good, responsible drivers aside, cars are clearly more dangerous when their operators disregard traffic laws than bikes (or pedestrians) are. Sure, it would be nice if everyone obeyed the laws and signs were enough to establish safe traffic patterns, but that’s obviously unrealistic. That some are trying to identify and address these issues in a systemic way should be applauded.

  6. adam

    Does anyone know where RNM is being held hostage and forced against his/her will to read this blog? Somone should organize a rescue. I, for one, only read for the anti-car screeds. Keep up the good work!

  7. Erik Bootsma

    I don’t live in Georgetown, but I work here, and I ride my bike to work every day. Driving here is a nightmare, but I’m ok with it being so, it’s something I just don’t do. Perhaps Georgetown would be a lot more pleasant, and commuters would be more pleasant if more rode a bike or walked, what’s so wrong for hoping that?

  8. gg

    I must disagree with your assessment that only cars get marooned, not people. Pedestrians can indeed be trapped by foot races through neighborhoods: for example, try to cross Reservoir Rd. at 37th St. when hundreds of runners are passing through from Wisconsin Ave. on their way to Canal Road. The wait could be 20-30 minutes, and there is no option to walk a “couple of blocks” to get a bus when one wants only to walk to Holy Trinity from Burleith on a Sunday morning.

  9. gg

    PS: All those stop signs on 37th St. between Calvert and Reservoir? They do not mean stop to most drivers; those signs seem to mean either “Slow in order To Observe for Police ” or “STopping is OPtional.”

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  11. Todd

    I’d like to point out that closing streets can, indeed, maroon people. Street closures also affect buses and, as mentioned above, when a race goes through there’s no way to cross the street.

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  13. @gg — I’ve lived on 35th just north of Reservoir for the last five years, and I can’t remember the last time that a race went down Reservoir, on the way to Canal or anywhere else. Am I forgetting one, or have I been mercifully out of town during all the races that use that stretch? (The only event that regularly comes through the neighborhood is the Avon Walk, but they just use the sidewalks on 35th).

    As for M Street, I have crossed the line of Marine Corps Marathon runners on foot almost every year, in order to get somewhere south (or to Rosslyn) and while it takes some alertness, it is totally doable.

    @RNM — It’s hard to know how pedestrians could be breaking the law at 35th and Wisconsin, when there is no signal, just a crosswalk and signs that say “stop for pedestrians in crosswalk.” However, as a pedestrian, I will never use that crosswalk except when absolutely necessary, as it is built like (and many drivers treat it like) a drag-racing strip. And it’s hard to blame drivers, as the road design there feels highway like, with a 200-yard stretch that has far too much capacity for the traffic that can get there from the north or the south. There’s also a lot of jockeying for position among cars that want to get ahead of the other cars before the road narrows again.

  14. RNM

    Last night, about 9:30 pm as I was driving back from dropping a friend off at the Dupont Metro there were multiple bikers on P Street. No worries, it was a great day to be biking (I did an hour in the afternoon on the Capital Crescent Trail), so I stayed well back until I had a chance to pass without creating a danger. Then was passed by the same bikers only a few seconds later as I was following traffic laws and completely stopped at a four way stop…they didn’t even slow down. Again, it may be anecdotal but if I ever, just once in my life, see a biker obey the traffic laws at a STOP sign, I will be amazed. If bikers want to share the road, as they are very entitled to do, then they have to follow the rules of the road not feel they are some sort of superior being as the posts on this blog often makes them out to be.

    Topher:
    Well played and touche. :) Glad I can be hear to speak reason to hyperbolic dogma. Ultimately, the issue between our positions seems to be simple. I don’t think things are bad, you do. I seek to maintain the good for all not great for any compromise that allows for all forms of transportation to use the assets that our tax dollars funded. You seek to shift that balance in favor of one group, essentially setting a “this group is better” position. If you look at most of the posts, you are talking about pedestrians and bikes using roads that were created for cars (well I guess horses and carriages at one time too, though I don’t hear a lot of advocacy for the return of those). Now if you were making an argument of improving access for all groups on all paths of transportation, maybe I could get behind that…but I have yet to read a post supporting bikes on sidewalks much less cars on sidewalks. ;)

    As for why I read and post in this blog…simple. I stumbled across it awhile back and find much of the information interesting and valuable…oh and with a background in photography enjoy the photos posted. I also understand that part of civic discourse is to argue opposing views, not to just have people separate and segregate from each other thus to kill the discourse. To let good ideas beat out bad ideas. Now if the answer to anyone who is in dissent it to just go away…well isn’t that just so darn civil, and ultimately undermines the very concept of community. I have lived in Georgetown for almost 23 years, have owned my home for 22 years. Not planning on going anywhere…so I feel a certain degree of standing to engage in this discussion both with the people who have been here far longer than I have and with the newcomers to the community like Topher.

  15. Dizzy

    Now, now, it’s not at all fair to call what Topher wrote an “anti-car screed.” The search for a more balanced approach to transportation, as opposed to the almost entirely auto-centric approach we have today, is not simply “personal interests.” If what Topher writes on the topic comes off as “a one-way discourse,” it’s because he is indeed seeking “to shift that balance.” Except it’s not a balance now, it’s completely skewed and out of balance.

    The underlying issue here is that urban planners of the past bifurcated our conception of roadways in the same way they did zoning. Just as we ended up with residential zoning and commercial zoning, and never the twain should meet, we ended up with “arterial streets” and “residential streets.” Anything perceived as slowing down or otherwise impeding the flow of traffic on arterial streets is perceived by many as bad, despite all the negative externalities that may accrue from prioritizing auto traffic over all else, including to the safety of those who live or shop along those streets.

    These same people tend to see (their) residential streets as sacred and reserved almost exclusively for their use only. Topher asks “so what if there is an increase in cut-through traffic?” and I agree – so what? That’s the point of a street grid – effectively diffusing traffic, rather than bottling it up into limited paths that are likely to become choke points. I only wish that he had been equally vocal when certain Georgetown residents strong-armed the University into rerouting the Dupont GUTS bus to a much more circuitous route, simply because they do not like having their “residential” streets sullied by something as pedestrian and gauche as a bus.

  16. Topher

    RNM:
    The roads weren’t “I guess” built for horses and carriages, they were *absolutely* built for those purposes, plus walkers. They existed for over a century before the first car drove on them. Which is a great example of how roads built and used for one purpose can be redesignated and redesigned for another use. Kinda like I’m suggesting.

    The main difference between pedestrians/bikers and drivers, and why I favor shifting the balance to the former is capacity. We can add many factors more pedestrians and bikers before street capacity becomes an issue. Cars, on the other hand, quickly use up all the capacity and drive out (pardon the pun) other uses. It’s just a matter of math. A single occupancy vehicle uses up so much more space, both in driving and parking, than a biker, walker or busrider do. The optimal residential density for hassle-free driving is significantly less than Georgetown’s. It’s why we have such dissonance on the topic.

    Oh, and I’ve lived in Georgetown almost half the time you have. If I’m still to be considered a “newcomer” then so are you.

    But rest assured, if I didn’t want you commenting, I’d have blocked you a long time ago.

  17. asuka

    You can’t be serious. So if one has a pressing engagement in, say, Bethesda, Fairfax, or (gasp!) Gaithersburg, they should “walk?” Take multiple forms of public transport, turning a 30 minute drive into a multiple hour odyssey? That’s what you think the ANC’s response to such complaints should be? At least you’ve dropped all pretense of being “balanced” in your approach to urban transportation issues.

  18. Jacques

    @asuka — actually, if somebody has a pressing engagement in any of those places, the streetscaping on Wisconsin Avenue might (in the most extreme case) increase their travel time by 2 minutes, and most likely, not even that.

    Or if you’re referring to the races, and someone has a pressing engagement in one of those places, they can take an alternate route, as very few events block off all of Wisconsin and M. Do some take the Key Bridge or the Whitehurst out of commission, sure — but it’s an extremely rare case that would box someone in entirely (e.g., those who live in the Georgetown Park apartments, or otherwise south and west of Wisconsin and M), and even those can typically avoid being boxed in with a little extra planning, a change in schedule, or moving their car the night before to ensure access.

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