Letter to the Editor: Agency’s plan for Massachusetts Avenue raises questions

Transportation planners say Massachusetts Avenue's wide lanes encourage risky lane-splitting, leading to crashes. (Brian Kapur/The Current/November 2017)

I would like to comment on The Current’s Nov. 15 article “Safety fixes eyed for Massachusetts.” There are many issues with the city’s plans for Massachusetts Avenue between Waterside Drive and 20th Street NW that were not discussed in the article and have not been addressed by the D.C. Department of Transportation.

The city’s presentation on the project cites figures for the numbers of accidents along the corridor. At the public meeting on the proposal, I asked the consultants how the number of accidents on this stretch of Massachusetts Avenue compared with other arterials like Connecticut Avenue or Rhode Island Avenue. They had no idea. Therefore, the accident rate may not be valid as a reason for the project. It could be lower than comparable areas, and they should be addressed instead.

The idea of a pedestrian refuge in the middle of a four-lane arterial road is ludicrous. To be in the center of Massachusetts Avenue at rush hour with two lanes of speeding traffic on either side seems dangerous and terrifying.

Is the road deteriorating to the point where it is hazardous and needs to be rebuilt? The city has not made that case. There are any number of roads in Washington that are pockmarked with potholes and a danger to a car’s wheels and suspension. This stretch of Massachusetts Avenue looks to be fine. If there are structural issues, the city needs to point out what they are. Why is the city targeting this stretch of arterial road? Where does it fall on the priority list of city thoroughfare repairs?

What is the city’s plan for commuter gridlock mitigation? If the city closes or restricts traffic on a block or two on this stretch of Massachusetts Avenue during construction, it will create a major traffic jam and divert cars onto California or S streets, which will then become clogged with traffic. The Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood could suffer from constant cut-through traffic for a year or more while the work goes on.

When writing about such projects, The Current’s reporters need to look beyond the PR from the Transportation Department and raise questions about the rationale and impacts, as well as whether the planned work is really necessary. Hopefully, your reporters will do so in future articles.

Thank you to The Current for bringing this project to the attention of your readers. I hope that Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, will hold a hearing on this project. Her constituents may be seriously inconvenienced.

Christopher K. Chapin, Sheridan-Kalorama