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Transportation Nation

D.C. Makes Progress on Bike Lanes But Advocates See Room For Improvement

Friday, May 17, 2013

WAMU

Bike lanes in Washington, D.C. vary from the simple—narrow lanes marked by thin, white lines squeezed between vehicular travel lanes and parked cars—to the advanced: protected cycle tracks lying between parked cars on one side and the sidewalk on the other.

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Transportation Nation

Virginia to Study Traffic over Potomac River

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, stretching over the Potomac River in Virginia (photo by catface3 via flickr)

The Virginia Department of Transportation will study traffic volume over the Potomac River in an effort to determine where the most people and goods will cross as the region’s population grows, the agency said Tuesday.

The study – scheduled for completion next spring – will not recommend a solution but instead provide a basis for consultations with transportation officials in the District of Columbia and Maryland about how best to improve transportation across the river from Point of Rocks in the west to the Route 301 bridge in the east.

“We want to essentially gauge and develop the data from which we can make some informed decisions regarding the best alternatives to deal with the current traffic conditions and what we expect in the future,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton in an interview with Transportation Nation.

Connaughton downplayed the possibility his office would push for the construction of a new bridge over the Potomac.

“We’re really not prejudging anything. In fact, we’re not really getting into what’s the best alternative,” he said.

The study already has its critics, who say the Republican administration of Governor Bob McDonnell has been pushing for a new Potomac River bridge for years.

“They are pushing for another bridge even though the real fixes we need to make are at the American Legion Bridge,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supports expanding mass transit instead of road expansions.  To Schwartz, a new bridge connecting Virginia and Maryland would lead to more congestion and sprawl.  He favors implementing transit options on the American Legion Bridge.

“In the near term, that can be buses on dedicated bus lanes with frequent service, connecting the Red Line and the Silver Line, connecting Tysons Corner and Fairfax County job centers with the Montgomery County job centers,” he said.  “Fortunately, Fairfax County and Montgomery County have already met and are pursuing the transit investments that are needed both short term and long term.”

Connaughton disputes the allegation the McDonnell administration is after a new “outer beltway” at the expense of mass transit investments.

“This is one of the things that will be the hallmark of the McDonnell administration, is that we are pursuing increased transit opportunities, as well as dealing with congestion on our roadways, and looking for bike paths and pedestrian paths.  We are doing everything.  This is not a one-solution-fits-all,” he said.

If Virginia officials privately favor building another Potomac River span, they may meet resistance across the river.  In an October letter to Secretary Connaughton, Acting Maryland Secretary of Transportation Darrell Mobley clarified his agency’s position.

“The Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT's) highest priority remains the preservation of our existing infrastructure and the safety of the traveling public. MDOT does not intend to revisit the years of debate regarding new crossings of the Potomac River,” the letter said. “We are interested in the study of potential improvements to existing crossings, including: the Governor Nice Bridge along the US 301 corridor, the American Legion Bridge on the Capital Beltway, and the potential addition of transit across the Wilson Bridge.”

Connaughton said he believes D.C. and Maryland officials are in agreement that a study of future traffic volume is necessary. As far as a possible solution, he said, “we haven’t gotten there yet.”

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Transportation Nation

Streetcar Tracks on DC Streets Restored -- Evoking a Bygone Era of Urban Transit

Friday, June 01, 2012

(Washington, DC -- WAMU) Older D.C. residents may remember their city's streetcar era. The trolleys stopped operating in 1962, a full half-century ago. In Georgetown, where streetcars started running in the late 19th century, the tracks remained in place on O and P Streets. The roads, however, became an obstacle course for cars as the underground conduit that used to contain electric cables eroded, sinking the streets into uneven, tire-tearing, pothole-filled paths. Now, after more than a year of work and much public support, a project to restore the streets is nearing completion.

Since last March, O and P Streets have produced a cacophony of construction. Men wielding shovels, back hoes, circular saws, and a very loud machine called a plate tamper, have reconstructed the roadways made of granite stones and trolley tracks to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood. Construction is slated to finish this fall.

"We're reusing as much of the old material as absolutely possible," says project spokeswoman Dara Ward.

The work has been painstaking. All the granite pavers (their actual name is setts) were excavated and inspected for reuse. About 90 percent were deemed good enough to be power washed and then, one by one, hammered into place. Sand and gravel were swept over the setts to fill the cracks and crevices. The last step is handled by the operator of a plate tamper, a loud machine that can be heard a couple of blocks away. The tamper levels out the roadway so it can accommodate vehicular traffic.

Before the $11.8 million project began, the trolley tracks rose above the grade of the road, forcing drivers to "surf" the narrow railings to keep their tires from tearing.

"There were pieces of jagged metal sticking up," says Georgetown resident Stephen Martin. "I'd say I was replacing the tires on one of my cars every year. They never made it through the tread life."

"We have actually been getting one complaint in particular from the residents who live on these blocks that are newly done, and it's that the cars are driving too fast," says Ward. "They don't have to go so slowly because the road has been evened out now."

Residents are looking forward to the end of construction and their new "old" roads.

"I like the fact that it is so quaint looking," says resident Rebecca Clay. "That's why we live in a historic neighborhood. It would be sad to make it plain old asphalt again."

The P and O Streets of another era

While real streetcars are making a comeback in other parts of D.C., the restored trolley tracks on O and P Streets only evoke memories of a bygone era. The streetcar system reached Georgetown in 1872 and lasted until 1960, says Jerry McCoy, the special collections librarian and historic preservationist at the Peabody Room of the D.C. Public Library.

"The community was already over 100 years old before the streetcar system was authorized by Congress," says McCoy, who says the Metropolitan Railroad Company, chartered in 1864, operated the first trolleys in Georgetown.

The first streetcars were pulled by horses. In 1892, Congress decided to eliminate horse-drawn trolleys from the District.

"Congress deemed that all horse-powered vehicles had to cease and some other form of power had to be found," says McCoy. "That was the period when cable cars were introduced into history, just like those in San Francisco."

Georgetown's electric cables were run underground in the conduit that remained long after the trolleys stopped running. That empty, rotting conduit was what led to O and P Streets collapsing over the past 50 years.

"You're talking about almost 150 years of rainwater and salt and people losing their coins and purses and everything down here. The time really took a toll on this underground chamber between the tracks," says McCoy.

The streetcar operators briefly experimented with another type of propulsion: batteries.

"They were storage batteries," says McCoy. "Like when we complain about our smartphones not lasting very long on batteries, it was the same problem back then in the 19th century. These power storage batteries were not capable of holding charges long enough."

There were three main reasons why streetcar service ended in Georgetown in 1960 and across the District in 1962: Congress wanted to open the roads to car traffic, create a city-wide bus system to replace the trolleys, and follow the example of other cities attempting to modernize their transit systems.

"Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York were all ripping up their streetcar tracks at the time," says McCoy.

The tracks on O and P Streets are only for show, but McCoy says they are still important to Georgetown nonetheless.

"I think it is really important that this small piece of time be preserved in Georgetown," he says. "Georgetown isn't only about 18th century colonial America. There is really some important 20th and 19th century history embodied here."

As for motorists who may not be aware of the streets' rich history, they will be grateful for the smooth ride.

Listen to the story here.

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Transportation Nation

D.C. Brings Back Potholepalooza

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

(photo by Wayan Vota via flickr)

They come in a variety of shapes, are several inches deep, and can cost hundreds of dollars in car repair bills: potholes, the bane of every driver's commute. In an effort to eliminate some of them, the District of Columbia is launching its annual Potholepalooza.

Along one stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the Anacostia neighborhood of southeast D.C., the road looks like it used to be riddled with potholes but has been patched up with globs of asphalt. It's not a smooth ride, but resident Anthony Johnson says it's a minor improvement.

"They are getting better," Johnson says. "They have started working on it, but they have been bad for years. That's nothing new. There are still a lot of them that's not done."

Johnson says the District's Potholepalooza, which filled 5,000 potholes during a single month last year, is much needed again.

"See that truck over there? I want to keep it for a little while," he says.

Potholes are car killers. Portia Perkins says her friend hit one pothole on Pennsylvania Avenue in southeast that wound up blowing a huge hole in her bank account.  "It messed up her muffler, and so she had to get that fixed," says Perkins. "It cost her a couple thousand dollars."

The city is asking for help in locating potholes. Individuals can email repair requests, tweet them to @DDOTDC, call information at 311, or use the District's new smart phone app. The DDOT says it will work to repair identified potholes within 48 hours; normal response time is within 72 hours.

After hearing this report, a WAMU listener who identified herself as Karen said in an email, "I hit a pothole the morning of 4/12/2012 on 15th just north of Euclid, NW.  I was going about 15-20mph and the force of the impact cracked my oil pan and knocked the alignment out.  The car was towed and the repair was approximately $1,100."

Listen to this story here: http://wamu.org/news/12/04/15/dc_brings_back_potholepalooza

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Transportation Nation

DC's Post-Earthquake Gridlock Raises Questions About Emergency Evacuations

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gridlock traffic backing up in downtown DC after Tuesday's earthquake (photo by Elliott Francis)

(Diane Hodges and Markette Smith, Washington, DC - WAMU) Tuesday's earthquake triggered some of the worst traffic jams since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the massive traffic problems have prompted questions about the way District officials handled the situation.

Many commuters sat in their cars for hours, trying to get home after the earthquake ended. Others crowded in train and Metro stations, after some lines were temporarily shut down while crews inspected lines.

John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic said the panicked reactions only made the mess worse. "Although people had been assured that their buildings were safe and sound," he said, "most peopled decided to head for the exits at 3 o'clock."

He faulted D.C. officials for not anticipating the reaction and giving workers more direction -- more quickly.

"They didn't plan for a public panic and that's exactly what happened," he said. "There should have been greater communication."

Townsend said the District Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security have set up 25 evacuation routes out of the city, but many people don't know where they are. Commuters should find the one nearest to their offices, so they'll be ready for the next emergency. There are "E-route" signs placed around the city.

One important fact: during an emergency evacuation, Pennsylvania Avenue divides the city between North and South and no vehicles are allowed to cross any part of the road.

You can listen to this story on WAMU.

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Transportation Nation

DC Mayor Slams Predecessor On Transportation, Could Politics Be Involved?

Friday, February 18, 2011

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) A scathing report has just been released by the transition team of incoming D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. The report is something of an indictment against the city's Department of Transportation, as led by Gray's mayoral predecessor, Adrian Fenty, and his young, charismatic transportation director, Gabe Klein.

Among its grievances:

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