Rebuilding DC: Mayor Bowser’s AlleyPalooza Campaigns Restore 500+ Alleys

A freshly-restored alley near the 4500 block of 43rd Place NW, which was constructed during AlleyPalooza 8.

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s AlleyPalooza initiative, an ongoing campaign to improve the District’s alley system, has restored or repaired more than 500 alleys in the city since the program debuted in July 2015.

The most recent installment, AlleyPalooza 8, kicked off on November 2. As of December 6, DDOT has completed 26 alleys this AlleyPalooza season, bringing the total number of alleys restored or repaired under the Mayor’s program to restore the District’s alley network to 512.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, Director Jeff Marootian and DDOT staff launch the AlleyPalooza 8 campaign on November 2.

“Through our investments in repairing and restoring our core infrastructure, we have made an unprecedented number of alleys more usable and accessible for residents across all eight wards,” said Mayor Bowser, during the kick-off ceremony for AlleyPalooza 8. “Our alleys are an important part of our city’s framework and our day-to-day life, and allow residents, businesses, and organizations to move in and around the city more efficiently.”

The Mayor’s investments in the District’s alleys have been substantial. From FY 2015 to FY 2018 the District has spent an average of $17.1 million per year on repairing the city’s alley system, which is a 270 percent increase over the average allotment for alleys during the previous four fiscal years ($6.3 million per year from FY 2011 to FY 2014).

Below is a look through some of the alleys that were renewed as part of AlleyPalooza 7, which began on June 11 and encompassed the renovation or repair of 65 alleys throughout in the District. To keep track of our AlleyPalooza efforts, please visit our PaveDC website.

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Room to Grow: DDOT Continues Pace of Planting 8,000 Trees Per Year, Takes on New Responsibilities

A DDOT crew plants an American hornbeam tree on the 1700 block of 30th Street SE.

On a crisp October day a DDOT team was planting an American hornbeam tree (Carpinus caroliniana) on the 1700 block of 30th Street SE. The tree, when fully grown, could reach almost 50 feet high – just high enough to peer out from its new home in the District’s Randle Highlands neighborhood onto a city that is greener than ever, and expanding its tree canopy at a feverish clip.

Starting in FY 2017, DDOT has planted more than 8,000 trees annually, which is more than twice as many trees as it averaged from FY 10-13. The agency is accomplishing this at a rapid pace: it is planting around 100 trees per day this tree planting season, which started on October 1.

New Responsibilities

Aside from its breakneck efforts in adding street trees around the District, over the past few years DDOT has helped to expand the city’s tree canopy by taking on the responsibility of planting new trees in the District-owned land, such as parks and schools. Starting in late 2016, DDOT was charged with planting and maintaining trees in District-controlled parks and schools. During the 2017 tree planting season, DDOT planted 370 trees at such locations.

Residents of Greenleaf Gardens in Ward 7 help plant trees provided by the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC), through DDOT. Photo courtesy of ECC.

Additionally, DDOT has partnered with nonprofit organizations, such as the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC), by providing these organizations with grants to expand the green space in public housing developments. In 2017, for example, ECC planted more than 200 trees in public housing developments in Wards 7 and 8.

Finding Room to Grow

DDOT’s new benchmark of planting 8,000 trees per year might be hard to meet in the future for one simple reason: the agency is running out of existing open tree box spaces to plant trees in. As of October 19, DDOT has ensured that trees are planted in more than 93 percent of tree box spaces in the District. Current spaces to plant trees in the public right-of-way are becoming scarcer – in some Wards there are only a couple hundred open spaces to plant trees in.

Taking on the stewardship of trees beyond the scope of what DDOT has traditionally overseen, namely trees in the public right-of-way, is more than a set of new obligations that the agency is happy to take on. It might open up much-needed real estate on which to plant new trees, and grow out a healthier, greener DC.

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Necessary Accommodations: How DDOT Prioritizes Pedestrian, Bicyclist Safety Near Work Zones

A temporary pathway for pedestrians beside a work site on I (Eye) Street SE.

Construction is a dangerous business. According to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 991 people were killed in the private construction industry in 2016, which accounted for more than 21 percent of total private industry worker deaths that year. Of these construction fatalities, a sizable number were attributed to being hit by debris, electrocution or being “struck, caught, or crushed in collapsing structure, equipment, or material.”

To safeguard transit users in the District – especially vulnerable users (bicyclists and pedestrians) – from these all-too-common construction zone hazards, the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) Public Space Regulations Division (PSRD) reviews, approves and monitors safe accommodations near work sites. Although these accommodations sometimes inconvenience pedestrians and bicyclists, they are put in place for the sole purpose of protecting transit users.

One example of such a necessary inconvenience is a full sidewalk closure, which PSRD approves sparingly, most often when buildings are being razed. Closing walkways that abut a construction site is necessary during demolition; it’s less safe to be immediately adjacent to a building being razed, which is why DDOT allows for temporarily shutting down a sidewalk and directing pedestrians to sidewalks across the street, away from danger. Although this might pose a burden to pedestrians, it’s a necessary safeguard to protect pedestrians from an extremely perilous construction process involving heavy, hazardous materials, which often leads to deaths, as shown in the aforementioned OSHA report.

DDOT-approved traffic control plans (TCPs) for a particular project change depending on the phase of construction – sidewalk and bike lane closures and/or detours reflect the phase of construction at the work site. For more information on PSRD’s criteria for pedestrian safe accommodations during active construction zones, please see the table below or view PSRD’s Pedestrian Safety and Work Zone Standards – Covered and Open Walkways“:

For a look into how PSRD prioritizes safe accommodations for bicyclists during active work zones, please see the table below:

For more information on the District regulations that guide PSRD’s safe accommodations practices, please see District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR) Section 24-3315, which can be downloaded by clicking on “View Text” on the bottom of the DCMR page.

 

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Moving Toward Vision Zero: DDOT Continues to Grow Its School Crossing Guard Force

DDOT school crossing guard Kiarra Hunt helps ferry a student across the intersection of 5th Street and M Street SE.

It was closing in on the end of the school year and Kiarra Hunt was waiting for what had become a daily ritual: a high five from a passing Dad who was ushering his two small children to Van Ness Elementary School. The father was one in a long line of parents, guardians and children that Ms. Hunt, a DDOT school crossing guard (SCG), looked forward to greeting as she safely ferried them across 5th Street SE on their way to school.

Ms. Hunt is one of the many new faces that DDOT has welcomed to the growing ranks of its SCG program. Since it began overseeing the District’s crossing guard program in 2007, the agency has steadily grown its SCG ranks to 265 staff members as of FY 2018, which is more than a 31 percent increase from the number of SCGs that were employed in FY 2017.

DDOT’s SCGs are deployed on weekdays during the morning and afternoon to help students safely cross nearby intersections when they report and are dismissed from school. DDOT prioritizes locations at which SCGs are posted by using the following criteria:

  • Crossing Difficulty
  • Number of Schools Affected: This factor measures the number of PK-6 schools that would benefit from a SCG being posted at a particular location. More
    points are given to locations that would benefit more than one school.
  • Distance to Other SCGs: More points are given for locations that are far from existing SCGs.
  • Traffic Engineering Factors: This factor measures a number of other elements that affect the safety of a given crossing location. These elements include – but are not limited to – sight distance, the complexity of the intersection and the presence of turning vehicle conflicts.
  • Pedestrian Volume: A minimum of 20 student pedestrians and/or bicyclists are required during a one-hour period for DDOT to consider posting a SCG.
  • Reported Pedestrian Crash History: This factor takes into account the number of police reported pedestrian crashes that have occurred at the requested location during the last three years.

SCGs are currently stationed at hundreds of public and charter elementary and middle schools around the District, and sometimes at multiple locations around a single school: from three SCGs stationed around LaSalle-Backus Education Campus off of Riggs Road NE to six SCGs around Deal Middle School. To view all of the schools where DDOT has stationed SCGs, please view our interactive map.

Requesting a New School Crossing Guard

Until DDOT achieves Mayor Bowser’s Vision Zero goal of reaching zero fatalities and serious injuries to travelers, our SCG program has room to grow. With this in mind, we are currently fielding requests for new SCGs. To request a new SCG, please view our “School Crossing Guard Request Instructions” and fill out a “School Crossing Guard Request Form.” Please note that completed request forms must be submitted by the principal of the school that a new SCG is being requested for. 

Safe Routes to School

Aside from deploying SCGs to safeguard students as they travel to and from school, DDOT works to improve safety for students who walk or bike to school through its DC Safe Routes to School Program. The program works to:

  • Improve safety for students who walk and bicycle to school;
  • Encourage students and their parents to walk and bicycle to school; and
  • Boost student physical activity, reduce parents’ fuel consumption and reduce pollution and traffic congestion near schools.

To help achieve those goals, DDOT offers Safe Routes to School planning assistance for DC Schools that are interested in improving safety for student walkers and cyclists. For more information about requesting a safety plan for a District school, please visit our Safe Routes to School Program webpage.

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DDOT’s Good Samaritans Get Eyes on the Ground

ROP transportation assistant Byron Beckham cleans up the scene of a crash at Suitland Parkway and Firth Sterling Avenue SE.

It was 20 degrees and Roadway Operations Patrol (ROP) transportation assistant Byron Beckham was helping to nudge a towbar under the collapsed hull of a maroon sedan. In the next few minutes he’d sweep up the assortment of glass, metal and plastic shards still left at the scene and spread a chemical absorbent so passing vehicles wouldn’t slip on the freshly-spilled oil. It was 6 am, and Mr. Beckham’s day was just getting started.

Mr. Beckham’s shift usually starts at 5 am, which coincides with the uptick in vehicular crashes during the morning rush hours. The frequency of crashes that the ROP team responds to on weekdays is at its highest point from 6 am to 10 am. This is attributable, says Mr. Beckham, to a dangerous cocktail of tired third shift drivers and under-rested commuters rushing to get to work on time. On the weekends, the majority or ROP’s responses fall between 10 pm and midnight.

DDOT’s ROP team receives the highest amount of calls for assistance on weekdays during the morning rush hours.

Helping Hands to Hazmats

The bulk of the incidents that the ROP team responds to are related to disabled vehicles and traffic crashes, which collectively accounted for 81 percent of ROP’s service calls in 2017 (1,697 disabled vehicle responses and 1,350 calls to the scene of traffic crashes). However, the situations that DDOT’s ever-mobile good Samaritans are called to respond to run the gamut: from traffic control (170 incidents in 2017), to vehicular fires (16) and Hazmat spills (5).

DDOT recently installed CCTV cameras on four of its ROP vehicles.

Because the ROP team covers so much ground in the District and is a vital presence at precarious scenes, DDOT outfitted four ROP vehicles with rotating CCTV cameras earlier this year to be the agency’s eyes in the fields during critical situations. The live feeds from these cameras, which are securely bolted on beams attached to ROP’s trucks, can be viewed by DDOT traffic management personnel and other agency officials.

These CCTV cameras are useful tools when DDOT staff need a live perspective to respond to a traffic crash, coordinate special event traffic management or address a problematic intersection. They’re also windows into situations like these, one time out of thousands a year when a ROP team member lends a helping hand to a stranded motorist in need:

Be safe out there, and if you should need our help please don’t hesitate to ask for ROP’s assistance by calling DDOT at 202-671-3368.

Note: DDOT recorded the CCTV camera footage above manually for the purposes of this blog post and does not record or archive footage from the its CCTV cameras.

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A Full Circle Approach: DDOT Aims to Take Lessons from Traffic Safety Gains in Grant Circle NW to Rest of District

A vehicle on southbound New Hampshire Avenue NW waits to merge into a newly-redesigned Grant Circle NW.

After almost a year of traffic studies and input from local community members the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) installed a series of safety improvements around Grant Circle NW. These improvements were swiftly installed – unburdening nearby residents from undergoing a lengthy construction process – and have proven to dramatically increase safety in the area.

Before DDOT installed safety improvements at Grant Circle, nearby residents expressed concern about motorists (especially on large thoroughfares like New Hampshire Avenue NW) making perilous, high-speed turns into the circle, and sometimes veering off course and crashing into the circle itself. To address these and other traffic safety issues without increasing congestion in the area, DDOT moved forward with a design at Grant Circle that retained two traffic lanes and included several improvements, such as a bicycle lane with a buffer, narrowing the New Hampshire Avenue approach to the circle to one lane, revised striping, shorter crosswalks and new flexposts. This “full circle” approach was intended to:

  • Reduce aggressive driving by tightening turning radiuses and narrowing entrances into the circle, which forces traffic to enter the circle at slower speeds;
  • Reduce conflicts between traffic entering, exiting and continuing around the circle; and
  • Improve safety for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.

The blueprints for the redesign of Grant Circle NW called for the installation of roadway markings and flexposts that would improve safety for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

DDOT started installing its recommended improvements to Grant Circle in late October 2017 and completed the project in under two weeks. The improvements reaped immediate gains in traffic safety. DDOT staff noticed a dramatic increase in compliance for motorists yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks: motorists were now twice as likely to obey posted traffic signage and yield correctly compared to before the installation of the traffic safety improvements. Additionally, the buffered bike lane around Grant Circle made it easier for bicyclists to navigate through the area, including for this DDOT cyclist who made a video of their (safer) bike trip around the circle.

DDOT installed new, buffered bike lanes around Grant Circle NW.

DDOT hopes to replicate these gains in traffic safety by installing the same kind of holistic traffic safety improvements in Sherman Circle NW, which the agency looked into along with Grant Circle and other locations as part of its Rock Creek East II Livability Study.

Moving forward, DDOT also aims to take its tried and true approaches to improving traffic safety to other areas in the District under Mayor Muriel Bowser’s DC Vision Zero initiative. In 2017, DDOT identified several locations for safety improvements under the Vision Zero program:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr., Avenue and Good Hope Road SE
  • Southern Avenue and Wheeler Road SE
  • 3rd Street and D Street NW 
  • 9th Street, Florida Avenue and U Street NW and 9th Street, Florida Avenue and V Street NW
  • Connecticut Avenue R Street and 20th Street NW and Connecticut Avenue, S Street, Florida Avenue and 21st Street NW

Stay tuned for a more in-depth post about the short- and long-term improvements that DDOT has recommended for these locations.

 

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Restoring Critical Links: Upgrading the District’s Robust Bridge Network

DDOT’s South Capitol Street Corridor Project will replace the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge (middle top) and the I-295 (Anacostia Freeway) Bridge over Suitland Parkway (middle left).

Mayor Muriel Bowser broke ground on construction of the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge on February 13. The new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge is the largest facet of the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) South Capitol Street Corridor Project, the largest public infrastructure project in the history of the agency. It’s also the biggest step that DDOT is taking to improve the District’s bridge network, which has a far smaller percentage of structurally deficient bridges than the nation as a whole.

In a recent analysis of the US Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) 2017 National Bridge Inventory database, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) found that 11.3 percent of bridges (54,259 out of 612,677) in the nation are rated structurally deficient. By comparison, 2.39 percent (5 out of 209) of bridges that are maintained by DDOT in the District received the same designation. (Three other bridges in the District that were rated structurally deficient fall under federal jurisdiction.)

The South Capitol Street Corridor Project also includes the reconstruction of the I-295 (Anacostia Freeway) Bridge over Suitland Parkway, one of five bridges maintained by DDOT that is categorized as structurally deficient. The bridge, which was built in 1964, carries over 80,000 vehicles each day. Construction is scheduled to start this Spring and last until in December 2021.

DDOT knows that doing better than average isn’t enough when it comes to the structural integrity of our infrastructure so it also has plans to repair the other four structurally deficient bridges in the next four years:

  • Pennsylvania Avenue SE Ramp to Southbound DC 295 – The ramp from Pennsylvania Avenue SE to southbound DC 295 (Anacostia Freeway), which crosses over Nicholson Street SE, was built in 1963. It carries an average of 62,500 vehicles per day. Construction of the new ramp is scheduled to be completed by 2019.
  • Northbound DC 295 Ramp to Pennsylvania Avenue SE – The ramp from northbound DC 295 (Anacostia Freeway) to eastbound Pennsylvania Avenue SE, which crosses over Nicholson Street SE, was built in 1963. Construction of the new ramp is scheduled to be completed by 2019.
  • 31st Street NW Bridge over the C&O Canal – The 31st Street NW Bridge over the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal was built in 1929. Construction of the new bridge is scheduled to start in November and be completed by 2021.
  • Ramp from Eastbound Benning Road NE to Northbound DC 295 – The ramp from eastbound Benning Road NE to northbound DC 295 (Anacostia Freeway) was built in 1955. DDOT plans to start construction on a replacement ramp in 2019; the project is scheduled to be completed by 2022.

For a more detailed, map-centric look into DDOT’s plans to repair structurally deficient bridges in the District, please visit a Story Map on the topic.

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