Palisades residents seek faster action on cut-through traffic

Residents near Sibley Memorial Hospital say their normally quiet streets grow noisy and dangerous as commuters speed by during rush hour. (Brian Kapur/The Current/May 2017)

A group of residents living near the intersection of Loughboro Road and Dalecarlia Parkway NW have complained for nearly three years about an onslaught of drivers using their quiet residential streets to avoid a stoplight at that corner. Now, after numerous delays and escalating frustrations, the D.C. Department of Transportation is promising that relief is close — though the agency hasn’t promised specific solutions.

At last Wednesday’s meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D, the D.C. Department of Transportation distributed preliminary results of a traffic study of a small area around Loughboro, Dalecarlia and MacArthur Boulevard near Sibley Memorial Hospital. Officials promised more details at a community meeting next week, and more traffic calming within six months. Still, neighbors hesitated to get excited, and in some cases, lamented that more progress hasn’t been made.

“I think what we’re hearing quite clearly from the community is the time for studies is over,” ANC 3D’s Michael Gold said at the meeting. “If I were DDOT, I would come to that next meeting with immediate remedial actions.” (ANC 3D includes Foxhall, the Palisades, Spring Valley and Wesley Heights.)

ANC 3D first requested a traffic study in July 2014, shortly after the Transportation Department installed the controversial Dalecarlia traffic light. Since then, issues of speeding drivers on residential streets have come up at numerous ANC 3D meetings and there have been conversations between commissioners and Sibley officials, but little progress has been made, stakeholders say.

Upon hearing a barrage of complaints, at times with multiple neighbors yelling over one another, the transportation agency’s Emily Dalphy agreed at last Wednesday’s meeting to pursue what she described as “low-hanging fruit” — a short-term action plan that will address the most pressing issues while waiting for a more comprehensive study. That initial plan will likely include sign and marking improvements, according to agency spokesperson Maura Danehey.

“We don’t want to just throw up signs and walk away,” Dalphy said. “We want to make sure that we’re coming up with solutions that the community has input on and that we can monitor once they’re implemented and then modify if necessary.”

Residents have primarily blamed the traffic woes on speeding Virginia commuters heading to and from the Chain Bridge. The preliminary traffic study supports that claim, and adds that traffic is particularly congested at the intersection of Loughboro and MacArthur, a key landmark on the path to Sibley.

The study — which focuses on the area bounded by MacArthur to the west, Loughboro to the north, and Macomb Street NW to the south and east — also pinpoints various traffic management deficiencies: unprotected left turns at MacArthur and Loughboro; few, if any, stop-controlled intersections on the west-to-east residential blocks; and unrestricted parking on Watson and Macomb streets and Manning Place. Some mechanisms do exist to deter speeding, though, including do-not-enter signs in the morning near Arizona Avenue and Sherier Place, and an overall preponderance of speed humps, according to the study.

Absent from the study so far are concrete data or specific solutions. The agency plans to adjust signal time along Loughboro, “which could encourage drivers to use MacArthur Boulevard instead of local neighborhood streets,” the study reads. Farther out, a “Rock Creek Far West Livability Study” planned “in the near future” could provide additional insights.

Neighbors blasting the agency at the ANC 3D meeting included former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, who has lived in the neighborhood since serving in the Clinton administration. Babbitt says he can’t take his grandchildren out for walks near his home for fear of a run-in with a speeding vehicle. He described the agency’s recent actions in the area “unplanned, disorganized and unfocused.”

Another neighbor said she spends many mornings at Watson and MacArthur screaming at speeding cars or pretending to film them. She attributes the issue in part to the 25 mph speed limit on Watson, the same as on four-lane MacArthur. Vulnerable residents, meanwhile, are left to fend for themselves, she said. “It is elderly people. It is people in chemo taking a stroll in between treatment,” the resident said. “It is puppies — puppies! We have no sidewalks. It’s a mess.”

The transportation agency will present study details on Wednesday, May 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Palisades Recreation Center, 5200 Sherier Place NW.