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Is the New Wisconsin Avenue Working?

Residents of Glover Park and Burleith are debating whether the Wisconsin Avenue Streetscape Project succeeded.

Whether or not the new lane configuration on Wisconsin Avenue is working depends on how you define "working."

Rick Gersten has lived in or near Glover Park since 1984.

"It’s the first time I’ve been this irritated in 30 years," he told Patch.

Gersten recently posted a note on a local listserv asking if there were enough other people like him who who might want to "speak with one voice in opposition to this new traffic pattern" on Wisconsin Avenue.

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The $5 million Wisconsin Avenue Streetscape Project, which is substantially completed, reduced the number of lanes for traffic from three to two during peak hours and from two to one during non-peak hours; select intersections now have left turn lanes. The lane reductions were developed to make the corridor safer for pedestrians.

The project evolved from a 2006 Office of Planning study that called for improvements to support the business district in Glover Park, like better lighting and wider sidewalks. These upgrades are also now in place.

The neighborhood listservs have been buzzing with comments like Gersten's on the lane changes and realignment of Wisconsin Avenue between White Haven Parkway and Cathedral Avenue.

Though Gersten said he had received at least 40 replies agreeing with him as of Monday, not everyone thinks the project is such a mess.

Several commenters have said they think things are better on the whole and that the problems are just growing pains.

"The Wisconsin Avenue project is meeting its desired goal - it is calming traffic, and making the pedestrian environment along the Glover Park commercial strip safer and more pleasant. Crossing Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park no longer feels like an act of faith," Glover Park Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Cohen said to Patch. 

Cohen acknowledged that there have been some issues with traffic backups that must be addressed. But he thinks they can and will be fixed in time. 

These people live in the same neighborhood. They cross the same intersections. And they completely disagree.

That is the challenge the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) faces. So DDOT is relying on data.

Paul Hoffman, a project manager for DDOT, told Patch that his team was out collecting data on the project in January, even though the final striping and painting is not even finished in some sections of the project area.

Though he said what they have is just the earliest of data—sort of like election polling a year before an election, Hoffman joked—and traffic is moving generally at the rate the traffic consultants had predicted.

"The early returns say it is not going to be so bad," Hoffman said.

DDOT promised to collect data over the course of a year to examine whether the safety improvements and traffic calming measure have been effective.

A year is too long for some.

"If we wait for DDOT to make the changes, it’s going to be too late in a lot of ways," Gersten told Patch.

His wife, Vicki, owns Jonah's Treehouse, 2121 Wisconsin Ave. NW. She told Patch that her customers complain about the "hassle" of Wisconsin Avenue "all the time." She's afraid she might have to move her business elsewhere.

But Cohen said as an ANC Commissioner he has received "virtually no negative feedback" from local businesses. Hoffman, too, said he has not heard much either negative or positive from businesses along the strip.

"Drivers need time to get used to the new traffic pattern," Cohen explained.

He said the ANC has asked DDOT to review light timing to reduce "traffic hotspots." And they have asked parking enforcement officials to prevent people from parking illegally in No Parking and No Standing area and creating backups.

Additionally DDOT has committed to redesigning the intersection of 37th Street and Tunlaw Road to help reduce cut-through traffic that some fear will only grow worse as Wisconsin Avenue becomes a slower route through the city.

"This was not done on the back of a napkin," Hoffman said about the project.

There were traffic studies performed and extensive community outreach resulted in a goal of promoting pedestrian safety, partially by reducing overall speeds.

"I’m empathetic to the traffic problem, but this was not the way to solve it," Rick Gersten said. "DDOT will not do anything until this reaches a tipping point."

Rick Gersten said he is "gauging the community interest" to see if he speaks for the many or the few.

"I’m going to try to make this constructive," he added.

Though DDOT committed to reexamine the project in a years time, as an investment of local and federal monies, the Wisconsin Avenue change should be maintained if it is meeting the goals it was created to accomplish Hoffman said. DDOT will be "very critical" of itself and the project if it does not perform as intended, he added.

But, he asked, "If things are off an extra half a minute in each direction, are we really going to tear up the whole thing?"

What do you think? Are the changes too much? Do you think in time things will improve?

More:

  • Wisconsin Avenue Construction 'Substantially Complete'
  • Neighbors Worry About Impact of Glover Park Streetscape Project
J.C. February 12, 2013 at 01:07 AM
I like the new streetscape and I haven't found traffic to be that much more of a problem though admittedly I walk a lot more than drive. It seems if we're trying to get more cars off the street, this doesn't seem to be working. Many people don't see the buses as a viable option if they think they're going to be equally stuck in traffic as cars. Perhaps if we had a dedicated express bus lane or street car in the middle, then people would be more likely to take public transportation. I love the bus, especially the circulator but it can be very slow.
JoannaP February 12, 2013 at 03:11 AM
I live in Georgtown and I'm amazed at the traffic jam now every single morning on 35th Street. I can't even turn right onto 35 Street to go north - it's backed up from N Street up to Reservoir. It can take me twenty minutes now to get from P Street to Reservoir. It's an incredible mess and getting worse as more and more drivers come up to 35th to avoid Wisconsin. When summer comes, the idling engines are going to cause a lot of pollution and really hurt the air quality in Georgetown. Please change Wisconsin back!
Jack Smith March 16, 2013 at 04:01 PM
There seems to be a fundamental misinterpretation of what happened here. Glover Park never had 6 lanes of traffic south of Calvert. It had 4 of which there were regularly would be a car stopped waiting to turn left. The addition of the left turn lane removes that "obstruction" from the through traffic. During rush hour there are effectively 5 lanes of traffic here from the previous 4. This should be an improvement...the only time traffic doesn't work is when motorists illegally stop in the lane. The commentary here seems to indicate it would be better to have a narrow sidewalk for pedestrians so we can accommodate illegal motorists behavior...classic issue of prioritizing one groups convenience (motorists) over other groups safety (pedestrians). It is also amusing that people are so up in arms complaining about cut through traffic when it sounds like they use 35th Street to avoid the 2 lane mess of Wisconsin Ave through Georgetown. Somehow it is okay for Georgetown to allow parking on Wisconsin south of 35th even though traffic is backed up there 16 hours a day because that is good for business and pedestrian safety. If the commentators were consistent here they would advocate removal of parking on lower Wisconsin and M Street to improve "air quality" reduce "delay" , improve transit and to compensate for the lack of metro. It is also interesting that the decision of Georgetown 50 years ago to reject a Metro Stop are showing up as a reason to move more traffic now.
RNM March 16, 2013 at 04:57 PM
Jack Smith: Interesting response, minus a few assumptions that congestion is caused by illegal motorists. However, where you lost any credibility is voicing the long since debunked argument about Georgetown rejecting a metro stop. It shows your ignorance of history as well as rationale for transit decisions. In short the Metro system was used to both facilitate mass transit and push development. Georgetown was not a major destination at the time and was already at 100% build out. On top of at it would have been the deepest and most expensive station in the system to build because of the underlying bedrock. So when someone repeats that delusional "choice" story it undercuts any rational point they make. That said, I agree that opening up flow on Wisconsin in Georgetown is very worthy of consideration. If that means removing parking so be it. The issues on Wisconsin in Georgetown are where the pipe is choked down to one lane in either direction, essentially turning this artery into a residential street. That is why I have historically used 37th and 35th or 34th as alternatives to upper Georgetown Wisconsin Ave. M Street already has a constant of four lanes with more at rush hours so it isn't a choked pipe. Unfortunately ere are some in Georgetown that are trying to choke that pipe too. RNM
RNM March 16, 2013 at 05:02 PM
Alternatively, there are two other options... One could resurrect the Three Sisters Bridge using the Glover Archibold Park to carry traffic north of Glover Park and Georgetown, but I highly doubt that plan would be any more popular than it was 40 years ago when it was rightly shot down. Or in a Swiftian solution, what is the underlying issue is with our proximity to the Key Bridge. It drives traffic both in and out of the city by creating one of those rare traverses of the Potomac River. It also adds to the community and that proximity is a selling point. However if one wanted to truly tame, suppress or all but eliminate traffic congestion in both communities the easiest option is to remove the Key Bridge. Well placed charges could create a pile of rubble in the river, I mean there are cracks in the bridge already that are scheduled for repair. Once gone, the traffic would go too, just anger modest proposal. Then again one could just add (with a tip of the hat to Kurt Vonnegut) a little Ice-9 to the Potomac and facilitate driving across the water, making Wisconsin Avenue an ideal place to cross the river...at least until the loss of the worlds water supply became an issue. ;) RNM

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