Sunday, August 14, 2011

Notes from the Rolling Facilities Meeting - Far NE Livability Study area

Below are notes from the far northeast livability study area riding meeting hosted by Jeanie Osburn,  BAC Facility Advisory Committee (FAC) chair.


The objective of this rolling meeting was to assess the bicycling aspects of the area covered by the Far Northeast Livability Study which is a triangular area bounded by East Capitol Street to the south, Eastern Ave. to the east, and the Anacostia River to the west.  The area itself has many pleasant residential streets, however there are significant challenges in connecting these streets to destinations.  Many of the pleasant streets feed into major arterial roads such as East Capitol Street, Minnesota Ave., and Benning Rd, or they change one-way directions from block to block, or they simply are streets that stay within a neighborhood.  There are only 2 places in the study area to cross the “rivers” created by the Anacostia River, I-295, and train tracks.  At present there is only one way for cyclists and pedestrians to cross from the study area to western destinations in DC, and that is the overpass at Benning Rd.  East Capitol Street is essentially a freeway that goes under I-295 just east of RFK stadium, and is completely unsuitable as it is now for cyclist/pedestrian traffic, particularly since the sidewalk does not connect in the I-295 area.

As stated above, many pleasant residential streets feed onto major thoroughfares.  Crossing East Capitol Street anywhere other than where there is a traffic light is dangerous or impossible.  Due to high traffic volumes and speeds, cycling on East Capitol Street is dangerous, and to accommodate cyclists/pedestrians it needs to have a separated facility.  Given that East Capitol and Benning Rd are the only east-west corridors over the maze of train tracks and highways, they both carry heavy automobile traffic.  The intersection of Benning Road and East Capitol Street is nightmarish.  Here the two east-west arteries meet, and there are 6 lanes (including turn lanes) on Benning Rd and 8 lanes (including turn lanes) on East Capitol Street.  That intersection needs thoughtful attention by an engineer who thinks of things other than moving automobiles/motor vehicles.

From the Benning Rd Station we proceeded on Brooks Street to try to avoid Benning Rd.  The sidewalks on Benning Rd are narrow, have lots of glass and obstacles, and there are many businesses with parking lots where cars cross the sidewalk making even riding on the sidewalk a challenge.  Brooks is a very pleasant (one-way westbound uphill) street that T’s into 42nd Street.  At 42nd Street, you can either go up the hill and take a side street to the MN Ave Metro station, or you feed into Benning Rd.  If trying to get to the shopping center where the Safeway is, you either have to ride along the Benning Rd. sidewalk, or go up and down hills searching for a backway into the Safeway.  Don told us you cannot get to the Safeway from 42nd Street, so we rode along the new (and STILL NARROW) sidewalk to the shopping center where the Library and Safeway are.  The brand new granite curbs have no curb cuts to cross from the north side of Benning Rd into the shopping center.  Whoever designed these sidewalks certainly had no intention of cyclists or handicapped people crossing from the north side of Benning Rd. to the shopping center.  To do that, you have to go down the hill to the intersection of MN Ave and Benning (another nightmarish intersection), cross, and then come back up the hill.  Appalling.  Simply appalling.  There needs to be a curb cut and a signalized cross walk at the Library/shopping center entrance. 

We proceeded to the intersection of Benning Rd and MN Ave, and passed an area on the sidewalk that was more than 50% overgrown with weeds/bushes.  At the intersection of Benning Rd. and MN Ave, the sidewalk is so narrow going from Benning Rd. north onto MN Ave, that we watched as a handicapped gentleman squeezed through with about 2 inches on either side of his wheels to get between the post holding the red-light camera and the curb of the business property there.  We also observed a cyclist climbing the very narrow sidewalk on the south side of Benning Rd to go on the overpass.  Mike rode to Benning Rd. Metro over that same sidewalk, and both ends of that sidewalk are dangerous:  the west end due to ramps feeding I-295, and the east because you come down a pretty steep grade into one of the nastiest intersections in DC (MN Ave and Benning Rd).  There are many businesses in the MN Ave/Benning Rd area and plenty of foot/bicycle traffic, so this is another place where a creative engineer who thinks of things other than motor vehicles is desperately needed.

We then rode north on MN Ave (staying on the sidewalk till we were at the MN Ave Metro).  The street itself is in bad shape, and has 2 narrow lanes each way with heavy bus and automobile traffic.  MN Ave (A Street SE to Sheriff Rd) is part of the Great Streets project, and again, needs an engineer who is cognizant and respectful of multiple modes of transportation including bicycles and pedestrians.  At the intersection of MN Ave and Nannie Helen Burroughs Street, we stopped to check out that intersection.  Don told us the sidewalks on the other side had been completely redone, though getting to them can be a challenge.  Nannie Helen Burroughs goes under the train tracks, and either into a quiet neighborhood just outside the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens or to a ramp to I-295.  I know from having lived in the area that people drive crazy on NHB when trying to get onto I-295.  While there are sidewalks on both sides of NHB under the tracks, they are extremely narrow, and there is no barrier between the roadway and the sidewalk making it very dangerous to go east-west under the RR tracks.

Sheriff Rd, by contrast has good potential for pleasant cycling.  The traffic is much lighter, the lanes are wide, the street has nice tree cover, and we generally felt very safe riding on Sheriff Rd.  We took Sheriff Rd to 49th Street, and it, too was a very pleasant street which runs all the way to East Capitol Street.  Of course, there you have challenges, because there is nothing on the other side of East Cap to continue, though the quiet Central Ave will take you to Sycamore where you can cross E. Cap to pick up 49th on the other side.  If 49th Street is to be a signed bike route, signs need to direct cyclists at Central and 49th  to go east on Central and then south on Sycamore.  We wanted to ride on 55th Street, so we rode to Brooks and turned around, because it was one-way westbound.  We rode easbound on Blaine, and when we got to 55th, we found it was one way south bound, so we turned around and rode back to 49th Street and at the bottom of the hill rode along the Marvin Gaye trail to 55th Street.  It was great seeing people walking and riding along the trail, and just sitting and chatting with neighbors.  55th Street was very pleasant with some new homes and very little traffic.  Though 55th Street crosses E. Cap into SE DC, we took 55th to Ames and 49th to Central to return to Benning Rd to complete the ride.

The priorities for using funding to improve cycling in the Far Northeast Livability Study area should be:
  • Safe east-west passage for bike/ped 
  • Safe accommodation of bike/ped on major arterials (E. Cap, Benning Rd, Minnesota Ave).  
  • Improve minor arterials such as Sheriff Rd (repaving, signing, possibly lane striping)
  • Signage to help people navigate around all the one-way streets.
1 and 2 are critical.  Mike and I were both amazed at the number of people riding in the area particularly given the conditions they have.  Hats off to Don and the other intrepid Far NE cyclists!