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?