Reno Road’s intersection with 39th and Ingomar to receive controversial changes

There have been numerous collisions at the complicated intersection of Reno Road with 39th and Ingomar streets NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/May 2017)

After months of dispute regarding the crash-prone intersection of Reno Road with 39th and Ingomar streets NW, the D.C. Department of Transportation is moving forward with its controversial solution to the safety issues there.

The project, due to be implemented incrementally throughout June, calls for converting 39th Street between Reno Road and Jenifer Street to one-way northbound; installing a southbound bicycle lane on the west side of that short stretch of 39th; and improving pedestrian crossings, among other changes.

At a Transportation Department community meeting on the proposal last Thursday, officials said 17 reported crashes occurred at the intersection from 2013 through 2015. But neighbors have remained split on whether the agency’s steps will address the problem.

Proponents have argued that the agency’s plan improves conditions at the intersection while reducing the number of vehicles that use it, by no longer allowing 39th Street drivers to approach it from the south.

But critics have said it doesn’t go far enough, and that drivers diverted from the intersection will still face danger wherever they try to cross Reno Road. Many pushed instead for a stoplight or four-way stop, which Department of Transportation officials have said wouldn’t be appropriate given the traffic counts there; or for additional speeding enforcement, which the agency says is the responsibility of the Metropolitan Police Department.

The Transportation Department is optimistic about its current approach.

“The first thing we’re considering is traffic safety. What’s unacceptable to us is 17 crashes,” the agency’s Suzette Robinson told residents.

A resident shot back: “Understand it’s not safer on my street, or anyone’s street, if traffic increases.” She worried about traffic increasing on other streets, although the city does not project a net increase in traffic volume for the area.

Soumya Dey, the Transportation Department’s associate director for transportation operations and safety, said his agency will monitor the intersection for six months after the project is completed. Other planned changes include converting the short stretch of Ingomar Street between 39th and Reno to one-way eastbound; adding a four-way stop at 39th and Jenifer streets; installing high-visibility crosswalks; adding a 2-foot curb extension to the south side of Reno to reduce crossing distances and deter speeding; and removing parking on the north side of Jenifer between 39th and Reno and on the west side of 39th between Jenifer and Reno, to accommodate diverted traffic and the new bike lane, respectively.

Nearby resident Steve Seelig endorsed the changes, but said at the meeting he would have liked to see more on-street parking taken away to improve sightlines.

However, Matthew Ossolinski, who lives adjacent to the intersection of Jenifer Street and Reno Road, said the plan has “exacerbated the problem by diverting more traffic” to other roads. He also fretted about a lack of maintenance of pedestrian crosswalks, and added he would prefer the installation of more stop signs on Reno Road.

At last Thursday’s community meeting, Randy Speck, chair of ANC 3/4G (Chevy Chase), said his commission had sent a list of questions to the department but had not received a reply. “The ANC is quite disturbed we’ve been treated rather cavalierly in this process,” Speck told officials.

Complaints also emerged during a D.C. Council oversight hearing on the Transportation Department in March, when Jenifer Street resident Sally Martin O’Briant complained that it was “frustrating” to discuss the issue with the agency. “DDOT has responded to our suggestions defensively, with almost no consideration of the alternatives we propose,” she said.

Staff writer Brady Holt contributed to this report.