Georgetown’s Water Street corridor targeted for safety fixes

Georgetown residents hope the city will improve K and Water streets NW below the Whitehurst Freeway. (Brady Holt/The Current/June 2017)

Troubled by southern Georgetown’s congested streets, Lisa Palmer ran for her local advisory neighborhood commission last year to help address traffic issues.

Last Wednesday, ANC 2E (Georgetown, Burleith) voted 6-2 to support a D.C. Department of Transportation plan that Palmer helped bring to the K Street/Water Street NW corridor below the Whitehurst Freeway.

The planned traffic changes, aimed at mitigating congestion and improving safety, include a protected bike lane along Water Street from 30th to 34th streets NW; rumble strips on approaches to Thomas Jefferson Street and Wisconsin Avenue; a left-turn lane approaching Wisconsin into Water Street; additional signage redirecting drivers up Wisconsin Avenue to reach Maryland or Virginia; and bump-outs on crosswalks to reduce pedestrians’ crossing distance from about 50 to 30 feet. The project would also eliminate 48 parking spaces along K Street/Water Street. The Transportation Department has issued a notice of intent to implement its plan on a six-month trial basis.

Palmer said changes are essential to help her constituents.

“I get tons of emails from people who are stuck in their garage,” she said. “They can’t get out, they can’t turn out of Grace Street, they can’t get off Water Street.”

Palmer pointed to the “unpredictable mix of users” as the corridor’s key problem. “You have pedestrians crossing where there are no crosswalks. You have bikers driving in and out of traffic. You have cars that are frustrated because they can’t get anywhere,” Palmer said.

Parking issues in Georgetown are often hotly debated, and the Transportation Department’s proposed parking reduction has sparked opposition from small businesses in particular.

The owners of Gypsy Sally’s, an intimate venue offering live music and casual refreshments at 3401 Water St. NW, expressed strong opposition to the plan in an open letter.

“I am opposed to any plan that eliminates parking spots,” owners David and Karen Ensor wrote. “Parking spots equal customers, and Water St. already has too few of both.” The Ensors said they’d selected their Georgetown location in part because of an acceptable level of on-street parking.

However, in Palmer’s view, the updates, including the new bike lane, are valuable upgrades.

“One of our tasks on this ANC, I believe, is to position Georgetown for the future — to continue to attract people of all age brackets and lifestyles so that we can continue to live in a vital, interesting and forward-thinking community,” Palmer said at ANC 2E’s meeting last Wednesday. While the corridor has a bike lane already, cycling advocates contend that it is narrow and unprotected — and unable to accommodate the hundreds of riders using the corridor each day.

Although the traffic updates are being implemented on a six-month pilot basis, Transportation Department bicycle program specialist Darren Buck said the plan will probably become permanent. “We don’t think there’s much of a chance of failure — it depends how you define failure,” said Buck.

Palmer noted that if problems with the plan become apparent, ANC 2E and the Georgetown Business Improvement District would push the Transportation Department to modify it.

“If those modifications were not deemed successful, they would revert it back to where we currently are,” Palmer said.