Maryland Avenue Safety Project: FAQ, part 2


Q: What do people mean when they say that the Maryland Avenue Safety Project includes a ‘Road Diet’? 

A so-called “road diet” is the reconfiguration of travel lanes when there are more lanes than are necessary to carry the traffic on a road. 

See examples of successful road diets. 
Read a helpful fact sheet from AARP on road diets.

Road diets have many benefits, including traffic calming, speed control, improved visibility for drivers, simplification of road crossings and turns, and elimination of the dangerous “dual threat” for pedestrians. This dual threat happens when cars in one lane stop for a pedestrian and block the view of the pedestrian from the second lane, creating a risk that a car driving in the second lane – or swinging into that lane to get around the stopped cars – could hit the pedestrian. Road diets have been used in cities across North America for over 30 years, including places like Brooklyn, Orlando, Indianapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, and many others.

The City is reconfiguring Maryland Avenue from four travel lanes to two travel lanes plus turning lanes. The same number of cars will be able to use the road, they just will do so more efficiently. In addition to the safety benefits, the road diet on Maryland Avenue is necessary to create the space necessary for the wider medians, the bicycle lanes, and other upgrades to the road. Our city has successfully implemented road diets on E ST NW (across downtown), Reno Road in NW DC, 11th Street (south of Logan Circle), 6th Street NE (south of Union Market) and Sherman Avenue (which carries over 13,000 cars per-day). 

Study after study has found that road diets significantly reduce the rate and severity of crashes, with no net decrease in traffic volume and travel time. See an example study from Iowa. In Orlando, for example, vehicle crashes decreased by 34 percent and related injuries declined by 68 percent along one stretch after that city implemented a road diet, and Athens, GA saw a similar (53 percent) decrease after it implemented one. Overall,federal government statistics show that road diets reduce the rate of crashes from 19 to 47 percent. 

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, road diets are "proven safety countermeasures: “It has been shown that roads with 15,000 [average daily traffic (ADT)] or less had very good results in the areas of safety, operations, and livability.” Maryland Avenue has 8,500-11,000 ADT, well below that 15,000 limit.

That is why the AARP and other organizations strongly support Road Diets as a way to create livable communities. For additional information see the federal government’s page on “Debunking Road Diet Myths.” 

Q: How do you know that eliminating two travel lanes on Maryland Avenue will not lead to traffic backups?

The City conducted extensive traffic studies to consider this very issue. Those studies found that the way traffic moves through the corridor now leaves room for modification without much increase in delays, even during rush hour.

Most cars enter the corridor from Bladensburg Road to the East and from Stanton Park to the West, creating “platoons” of vehicles that entered at the same green light cycle. These vehicles bunch up as they traverse the corridor, but have significant space between them. The single lane with a turning lane will smoothen out the space between those platoons without creating significant congestion within the platoons.

In addition, the inclusion of long turn lanes to divert turning cars out of the travel lane and better light timing through the corridor, will streamline flow of vehicles through the corridor.  Under current conditions, traffic stalls when cars stop for a left turn, and conflicts arise as cars switch lanes to avoid turning vehicles.  Similarly, until very recently, it was not possible to time the lights on the corridor to allow cars to move smoothly through it. As part of the Maryland Avenue Safety Project, the City recently removed a traffic light where both E Street and 9th Street cross Maryland. This traffic light controlled traffic on three streets (unlike all the other lights on the corridor that only control two streets) and could not be timed to create smooth traffic flow.  When this project is complete, the lights will be timed to enable cars to move through the corridor more smoothly.

It is useful to note that there are several roads in the District that carry substantially more traffic than Maryland Avenue each day that operate with one lane and a turning lane. This includes Reno Road in Northwest.  

Q: I know what the bike lane is for, but what is the purpose of the curb extensions and the wider median in the middle of the roadway?

The curb extensions are a passive ‘traffic calming’ measure that force both cars and buses making right turns to slow down when entering the residential neighborhoods.  They also make it much easier for pedestrians to cross the street.  Whether they are children with bikes, seniors pulling shopping carts, or young adults walking dogs; the extensions help them to safely stand closer to the roadway to see on-coming traffic.  And equally important, drivers can see the pedestrians who might otherwise be hidden by parked cars.
The center median is part historical; part traffic calming; and part pedestrian refuge. While an important part of the project, those wider medians do not run the entire length of Maryland Avenue – in fact they are on only 30 percent or so of the road length from D Street to 14th Street. See a map of the planned widened medians. 

Q: Will there be enough room in the roadway for emergency vehicles, trash and delivery trucks and brief residential passenger off-loading?

DDOT and its outside experts have designed the road with a travel lane, turning lanes, wider than usual bike lanes and a parking lane to make it easier for people pass stopped traffic.  This is not the first (or second or third) road that they have designed and they are confident that there will be enough room for people (including delivery trucks) to pull over, unload, and let traffic pass.  It is worth noting that only 30-percent or so of the roadway from D Street to 14th Street (the stretch in which DDOT plans to reduce a lane by using wider medians) has wider medians. The vast majority of that part of the road has no median (see a map of the planned widened medians), so the potential for conflict between parked cars, trucks, etc. and passing truck exists on less than one-third of the affected portion of the road. Nevertheless, if residents have specific concerns, they can reach out to DDOT.

Q: What about parking? It looks like the curb extensions might prevent cars from parking too close to the cross walk and longer bus stop might take away valuable parking spaces.

Parking is not just a matter of convenience on the Hill but for many a matter of safety as well. The draft drawings that DDOT released in July indicate that there will not be a substantial loss of available parking due to the project. A few spots may be lost here and there, but a few spots will be created as well.  The curb extensions are located almost entirely in No Parking Zones.

Q: Can’t the City create a pilot of the new layout for Maryland Avenue as a test before it pours concrete? Didn't DDOT consider running a pilot of the design with flex-posts?

Yes and No. During the conceptual planning phase DDOT briefly considered a corridor-wide pilot and did in fact install some temporary flex posts at 7th and D Street near the NE Library. But DDOT later announced at a community meeting in May 2015 that it was not going to be able to conduct a pilot throughout the entire corridor. There are a few good reasons why a full scale pilot will not work:   

  1. The concrete median that currently is in the middle of the street prevents DDOT from being able to create a pilot that incorporates all essential parts of the design—an appropriately-sized turning lane, a travel lane, a lane for bikes (and for cars to pull over when necessary), and a parking lane. That means that either cars and delivery vehicles will not be able to pull over to the right when they need to stop or pull over to the left when they need to turn, both of which are key parts of the design.
  2. The proposed pilot would have required lining Maryland Ave with lanes defined on all sides with flex posts.  Drivers likely would be confused by such a large number of posts alongside the lanes, and this confusion could create safety hazards.
  3. DDOT and its outside experts spent years studying auto and pedestrian data, and they concluded that the redesign will not have a significant impact on traffic flows.  That conclusion was based on weeks of traffic studies, computer modeling, experience with other road corridors, and the unique aspects of the Maryland Avenue corridor.  Particularly given all of that analysis, a pilot was not necessary.
  4. A pilot would have delayed by years the basic safety upgrades that the City decided to install in 2012.