Voices at the Sept. 12 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B sometimes barely contained the emotion in their voices as they discussed the addition of bus priority lanes on Barracks Row.
Some commissioners and residents spoke in support of increased safety; other commissioners expressed doubt that the proposed changes would improve conditions, with one saying, “I don’t buy what DDOT is trying to do.”
District Department of Transportation (DDOT) DDOT Planner Andrew Grinberg shared concepts for the Eighth St. SE Bus Priority Project at the meeting. It is the third time the commission has discussed the project.
The project aims to improve bus operations and safety on the street between East Capitol and M Streets SE. DDOT is collecting feedback on the project until Oct 10.
Design will begin in January 2024 with 30 percent designs expected in March and final designs in June, with a goal of construction beginning in Fall 2024.
Grinberg introduced the project at the ANC’s June meeting and presented initial concepts at a similarly charged Sept. 6 meeting of the ANC Transportation Committee (TC), where residents discussed the proposal for an hour, said TC Chair Matt LaFortune (6B09). At that meeting, participants proposed that smaller buses be used on the route. Others argued that the buses are underutilized.
The Eighth Street Study focuses on Metrobus routes 90 and 92, routes that were assessed by WMATA in 2022 as having the second highest contribution to the bus network. 2,900 riders pass through the corridor on those buses daily; 1,200 board there, Grinberg said. 380,000 riders (about half the population of Delaware) ride the two routes annually, he added. Current maps show congestion hotspots for buses in all parts of the day. Buses are largely running under 8 mph and are rarely on time.
DDOT concepts, which Grinberg stressed are in the very early stages, showed a revamp of the north side of the Eighth and D intersection (near Trader Joes). Pedestrian Refuge islands will be maintained but the crosswalks will be consolidated to increase safety. A contraflow bike lane will be added to the north side of D Street SE and traffic will be reversed on the 800 block.
The concept will convert angled parking on the 500 block of Eighth Street SE (between E and G Streets) to parallel parking, creating space for a southbound bus lane. Streeteries will be preserved. Lighting has already been improved for the underpass car park between I Street and Virginia Avenues SE. The currently proposed changes will result in a loss of 51 of the 660 parking spots along this segment of Eighth Street, half of which (25) will be removed to bring the street into compliance with DC regulations.
There was some discussion about bus stop bulb-outs proposed for some of the bus stops, including the ones at Eighth and G Streets. Vice Chair Chander Jayaraman (6B06) said he was concerned about the bulb out on the north side, arguing that if a bus cannot pull up to the curb there, it will instead stop in the traffic lane, frustrating traffic, which will then turn right onto G Street towards Tyler Elementary. Because they are frustrated, Jayaraman said, drivers will be going fast.
“This is my overall concern with this,” Jayaraman said, “this rush to move traffic onto our side roads is endangering our children.”
Later, Chair Edward Ryder pushed back against that idea, calling that characterization “disingenuous” and arguing that it is the current status quo that endangers children. “It is not a safe corridor,” Ryder said. “The traffic on Eighth Street encourages traffic on side streets.”
Reversing D Street Proposed (Again)
Perhaps the most controversial proposal from DDOT was to reverse traffic on the 700 and 800 blocks of D Street SE. North of the playground on D Street, traffic would be directed eastbound (towards RFK Stadium); in front of Hill’s Kitchen, traffic would be redirected westbound, away from Eighth Street SE. DDOT says these changes will increase pedestrian safety.
Former ANC Commissioner Steve Holtzman represented the area north of EMMP until 2022. He appeared at the meeting to ask the commission to note concerns with reversal of D Street. Holtzman asked those be included in any ANC letter about the project.
A similar proposal to reverse the flow of D Street SE was made in 2019 around the construction of the EEMP.
Echoing comments from Jayaraman, who was also on the commission in 2019, Holtzman said that the ANC had concerns when reversal was proposed as part of that project. While DDOT might be able to mitigate those, Holtzman said, the agency did not provide any details on how to do so when asked by the ANC four years ago.
At a meeting in 2019, EMMP Project Manager Cassidy Mullen said that the street reversal would reduce traffic flow around the park area as well as take traffic flow away from the Eighth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE intersection.
Manual redistribution analysis presented in 2019 by engineering firm A. Morton Thomas (AMT) shows that, after reversal, traffic would flow down Seventh, Eighth and Tenth Streets rather than down South Carolina to Ninth or D Streets SE. Similarly, in 2019 eastbound traffic was projected to choose E Street to Ninth or Tenth or up Sixth street directly or via D Street to Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
Resident Mark Sussman also appeared to speak to the need to change the configuration of the street, in particular this intersection. He said his child attended STEM preschool, in the 700 Penn building near the intersection of Eighth and D Streets SE. The playground is most busier in the day, not the evening, he said, when kid regularly cross in inchworm-style lines even as cars attempting to turn left onto Eighth from D Street block the box and endanger them.
“Someone is going to die if we do not change the configuration of this street,” Sussman pleaded with the ANC; “and please do not put fake news out there around when is busiest around the street, because I don’t want my child to die crossing Eighth Street.”
Bus Priority Program
The project is part of a DDOT bus priority program launched in 2021, aiming to improve the efficiency of public transit. 51 bus corridors were identified, including the Pennsylvania Avenue SE project, now nearing completion. Eighth Street NE is also part of the project.
A DDOT conditions analysis found that on Eighth Street SE, there are a lot of pick-up and drop-off (PUDO) obstructing bus stops, as well as double-parking and commercial loading, which detract from rider and pedestrian safety, Grinberg stated. The angled parking near the Marine Barracks and underpass parking at Virginia Avenue SE are underutilized. Buses are also being delayed by a line of cars waiting to turn at the intersection between Eighth Street with North Carolina and Independence Avenues SE.
In addition to improving speed and reliability, the project aims to alleviate concerns with deliveries, loading and walkability. The project could include any combination of the following: bus lanes, transit signal reprioritization; PUDO zones; commercial loading zones; streeteries; and changes in parking regulation management. Bus stops may be relocated or removed. Curbs could be extended to reduce turning speed, increase pedestrian visibility and decrease crossing distance.
ANC 6B supported a letter to DDOT and DC Council that asks DDOT to work with Barracks Row Main Street (BRMS) to address the concerns of businesses on the corridor. It thanks DDOT for sharing plans, but flags neighborhood concerns about the impact of the change in direction on the 700 and 800 blocks of D Street SE. And the letter expresses concern with parking for employees of the businesses and the use of “geofencing” to redirect delivery drivers during periods of high area traffic, encouraging DDOT to work with businesses on these issues.
DDOT is looking for public input right now. You can offer detailed opinions online until October 10.
See the ANC presentation and give your views at buspriority.ddot.dc.gov