Adams Morgan weighs solutions for 18th Street safety issues

18th Street NW in Adams Morgan is home to many nightlife establishments. (Mark Lieberman/The Current/July 2017)

The Adams Morgan nightlife scene is among the city’s most vibrant — but it comes with some drawbacks for nearby residents, as the neighborhood’s commercial streets fill up with pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles all jockeying for space.

Such conflicts take place regularly along 18th Street between Columbia and Kalorama roads NW. They reached a disastrous conclusion on June 9, when a pickup truck swerved around a stopped Metrobus and slammed into two Metropolitan Police Department officers and a D.C. Department of Transportation employee who were standing on the northern stretch of that block.

The truck’s driver has since been charged with assault with intent to kill and possession of an unregistered firearm. While that incident was isolated in nature, it’s prompted neighborhood groups to take traffic safety concerns off the back burner.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C (Adams Morgan) weighed in last Wednesday, with residents agreeing that changes must be made.

“There are separate issues. The hit-and-run was terrible,” commissioner Brendan Reardon said at ANC 1C’s July 5 meeting. “It also happens that 18th Street on Friday nights is a disaster, and we should probably look at ways to improve it, because it benefits all of us to make it better.”

Ideas floated in recent weeks include installing “geofencing” for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft along that stretch of 18th. Users of those services would be blocked from ordering cars to pick them up there, and would instead be directed to the closest nearby pickup point.

A similar but less dramatic measure would designate one existing parking space on each side of 18th Street that would serve as a staging area for Uber and Lyft drivers waiting for riders. Those vehicles tend to blcok the roadway more than taxis that pick up riders more quickly — indeed, shortly before the June hit-and-run, an Uber driver blocking 18th Street was causing a traffic backup nearby, commissioners said.

“That is a pretty simple idea with an incredibly difficult policy challenge because there’s nothing in the Department of Transportation books to make something like that happen,” ANC 1C member Wilson Reynolds said last Wednesday.

Uber and Lyft drivers can be particularly obtrusive when they sit on a crowded street, whether they’re preparing to connect with a rider or waiting for someone in the area to request a ride. Those companies have attempted to address the problem by implementing temporary geofencing around major events like the presidential inauguration and the Super Bowl, and in heavily trafficked local spots like the area immediately surrounding Nationals Park.

A similar effort a few years ago to manage taxicab pickups in the area proved “remarkably unsuccessful,” according to ANC 1C chair Ted Guthrie, when drivers boycotted Adams Morgan on weekends in fall 2009. Guthrie expressed optimism that Uber and Lyft would be more willing to partner with the neighborhood, especially with backing from the city government.

One resident suggested Unity Park, a block east of 18th, as one possible safe place for pickups and drop-offs. ANC 1C’s Hector Huezo said other options like Kalorama Park must be considered simultaneously.

A less popular proposal would close 18th Street between Columbia and Kalorama to all vehicles during particularly crowded periods at night and/or weekends. While some in the neighborhood are supportive, commissioners said last week that such a measure could prove problematic for emergency vehicles and the business community.

One resident at last Wednesday’s ANC 1C meeting criticized Ward 1 D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau for failing to send representatives to at least two recent meetings about Adams Morgan traffic issues. Nadeau replied that attending every meeting isn’t logistically feasible for her team, and added that she’s been in touch recently with Metropolitan Police Department chief Peter Newsham on this issue and others.

Further discussion of solutions to nighttime traffic issues on 18th Street is scheduled to take place at the July 19 meeting of ANC 1C’s Committee on Planning, Zoning and Transportation.