Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Tomorrow's transportation paradise is today's commuting nightmare

March 15, 2012 - 01:52 PM
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Pedestrian amenities. (Photo: DDOT)

Earlier today I drove down 18th Street NW and beheld chaos. As I drove south, the entire left side of the street appeared to be shut down. Construction workers were everywhere. Bright cones and road blocks kept me limited to driving in a narrow strip of hardly even concrete, a path that I also precariously shared with a bicyclist in front of me. There wasn't room for both of us, so I slowed to a snail's pace behind him and kept my eyes locked on the road to ensure the vehicle didn't brush against the potential intrusions on either side of my Pontiac Grand Am. It's a long stretch of blocks, from Columbia Road to Kalorama these days and to Florida overall.

Welcome to the $6.5 million Adams Morgan Streetscape Project and the landscape that the Post recently termed an "obstacle course" and a frustration to local businesses like Amsterdam Falafel and the art gallery Toro Mata (which has taken a "huge financial hit," its employees noted on the Adams Morgan listserv this week).

God forbid the thought of commuting through this mess every day, I thought as I drove. But as the Post observes, the streetscaping benefits are real — wider sidewalks, better lighting, sharrows, and more, expected to be completed this summer. The District Department of Transportation fought back against the grumbling online, posting several photos of the different enhancements already out there.

Yet DDOT officials likely understand why the city's residents would "overlook" any progress. It's natural to focus on the problem you face rather than the benefit that's peripheral or anticipated, especially when construction blocks off much of a major avenue. WMATA faces the same struggle with its six-year $5 billion campaign to rebuild the system. Metro officials may present pretty slideshows about the overall strategy and announce solid stats about the amount of fasteners they've installed, but at the end of the day, the pissed commuter on the platform will still see the subpar service of the moment. They'll see the weekend station closures, the single-tracking, the inexplicably long Dupont Circle entrance shutdown.

Both WMATA and DDOT seek to alleviate these reactions with fancy videos and photos of the improvements. DDOT has its community liaison Twitter account for Adams Morgan, for instance. These gestures help residents understand why their commutes suck on a psychological level but perhaps not an emotional one. People also tend not to blame DDOT in quite the same way they do WMATA, which is more easily personified as a wasteful monolithic beast by area commuters. But the real goal, in either case, is to show folks that yes, these delays and frustrations will pay off. Pedestrians will benefit. Metro riders will be safer and experience more reliable service. That's their message, at least, and half the battle is earning residents' trust.

The city is also offering around $3 million in loans as part of "streetscape relief" to the businesses affected in Adams Morgan.

"We know the construction would be difficult for businesses, residents and visitors," Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham wrote on the Adams Morgan listserv this week. "But this will help. And pressing forward to conclusion will of course be the best remedy."

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: DDOT)
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