Cleveland Park streetscape eyed for safety, drainage upgrades

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Quebec and Porter streets NW intersect close to Connecticut Avenue, creating potential for unsafe conditions and traffic gridlock. (Brian Kapur/The Current/May 2017)

The Cleveland Park commercial district is on tap for a host of safety, aesthetic and environmental upgrades, as the D.C. Department of Transportation works to redesign potentially dangerous intersections — including the local service lane — and improve drainage.

The Transportation Department has previously weighed potential upgrades for the neighborhood’s stretch of Connecticut Avenue NW, but the project took on greater urgency after videos of water cascading down the Cleveland Park Metro station’s escalators went viral last summer.

To address the water issue, the agency has proposed a series of “bioretention planters” — essentially, vegetated areas along the road and sidewalk that are specifically designed to capture and absorb stormwater. Some areas of sidewalk would also become porous rubber. But the Transportation Department is also taking the opportunity to carry out broader streetscape improvements, which would extend from Porter Street NW to south of Macomb Street. The agency will discuss its plans at a community meeting next Thursday and hopes to begin 12 months of construction in mid-2018.

Perhaps the most prominent change would be to Connecticut Avenue’s northbound service lane, which provides extra parking for local businesses. The agency has previously discussed closing the lane to increase pedestrian space, but the current plans instead call for paving it with cobblestones — intended both to slow traffic and create a more cohesive design aesthetic. The plan also relocates the service lane’s exit away from the Ordway Street intersection, instead putting traffic back onto Connecticut.

Depending on how far the service lane would shift away from Ordway Street, the new design would eliminate between four and eight parking spaces near the corner — half from Connecticut itself and half from the lane. The service lane currently provides 29 parking spaces that local business owners have staunchly defended, saying they’re of particular value when evening rush-hour restrictions take effect along Connecticut.

In a March review of the streetscape proposal, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts suggested that eliminating the service lane entirely would be the “best design solution” for Cleveland Park. But Transportation Department spokesperson Maura Danehey told The Current that the commissioners understand her agency is holding firm.

“While there may be benefits if the service lane was removed, the public consensus, which included input from business owners, was to keep the service lane,” Danehey wrote in an email. “Adding tree canopy by using the existing island [between the service lane and Connecticut Avenue] and taking additional parking spaces will have to be explored with the current design. Every available square foot of area along the service lane’s east side is competed for.”

The city’s plans for the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Porter Street NW include eliminating a direct lane from Quebec Street to Connecticut. (Brian Kapur/The Current/May 2017)

The plans also call for redesigning the complicated intersection of Quebec and Porter streets, which meet right at Connecticut. The agency would eliminate the lane connecting Quebec to Connecticut — replacing it with landscaping and a wider sidewalk — and also remove Porter’s median. Narrowing Porter east of Quebec would also reduce pedestrian crossing distances, and eliminate the Exxon station’s driveway right at the corner.

The project zone is split among areas represented by three advisory neighborhood commissioners. All three told The Current they were looking forward to the June 8 community meeting on the project, which will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Eaton Elementary School, 3301 Lowell St. NW. Commissioner Nancy MacWood declined to comment in advance of the meeting, but the other two said they were eager to see pedestrian safety improvements at Ordway, Porter and Quebec streets.

Commissioner Emma Hersh wrote in an email that “much work needs to be done to ensure pedestrian and biker safety” at the Porter/Quebec intersection with Connecticut.

“Commissioner [Beau] Finley and I have met with DDOT to discuss opportunities to enhance safety in the near-term, but this larger project is critical to ensure the long-term safety of pedestrians and bikers within our community.”

Finley told The Current that he does have concerns about traffic backing up on Quebec Street if the current stoplight at Porter is replaced with a stop sign, but called the status quo “incredibly unsafe for pedestrians.” He also praised the planned change to the service lane.