Stretch of Massachusetts Avenue slated for safety overhaul

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

The city’s transportation planners are proposing substantial changes to Massachusetts Avenue NW from Waterside Drive south to 20th Street in response to poor pavement conditions and high crash volumes.

The D.C. Department of Transportation intends to narrow travel lanes to make room for a pedestrian refuge; alter three intersections; and replace damaged sections of sidewalk and roadway. The department recently released an initial proposal and is in the process of obtaining community feedback.

“Going forward, once we collect all the review comments from our stakeholders and the public, we are advancing our design to the intermediate design phase,” the agency’s Huntae Kim told The Current.

The current proposal involves reducing the roadway’s four existing lanes from 12.5 feet to 11 feet, which creates room for a 6-foot-wide pedestrian refuge in the middle. This design is based on a review of 2013-2015 crash data, which showed many sideswipe and rear-end collisions, Kim said.

Parking in the outer lanes during off-peak hours would continue to be allowed under the department’s proposal. Kim said the envisioned change in lane width, however, would address a major safety problem that arises now: Because the parked cars don’t take the entire 12.5-foot lane, drivers often try to pass the parked cars by splitting lanes, increasing the risk for accidents.

The project area runs along Massachusetts Avenue NW from Waterside Drive to 20th Street. (Brian Kapur/The Current/November 2017)

Some neighbors have expressed concerns about their ability to maneuver around parked cars with the proposed narrower lanes, especially because some motorists park illegally during peak hours, Kim said. The department is now in the process of considering an alternative proposal to reduce the inner lanes to 11 feet, but expand the outer lanes to 14 feet. This option would not include a pedestrian refuge.

According to Kim, this alternative proposal would allow more space for parking, as well as bicyclists. However, Daniel Warwick, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B (Dupont Circle), is concerned that this proposal would result in further safety concerns, such as increased double-parking.

Warwick is pleased that the department is working to improve the corridor, but wants the city to consider reducing the lanes to 10 feet and adding a 10-foot, two-way protected bike lane.

The project also involves changes to the Massachusetts Avenue intersections at Waterside Drive, 20th Street and Q Street such as updating lighting and paving, increasing accessibility for disabled individuals and updating pavement markings. Modifications to the sharply angled intersection of Massachusetts and Q would be the most significant — it would be effectively separated into two, with coordinated traffic signals, Kim said.

Other changes include the creation of flow-through planters, permeable pavers and a bioretention pond. Kim said that the Department of Energy & Environment requires these kinds of stormwater management facilities in streetscape improvement projects. However, ANC 2B commissioner Mike Silverstein expressed concern that the bioretention pond could become a sanctuary for rats.

The project also includes the replacement and repair of pavement and sidewalks along the corridor as needed. The department also plans to replace existing parking meters with multi-space units.

Kim said that the department intends to return to the public in February or March with a draft of the intermediate design proposal. A final design is planned for July or August 2018, with construction commencing in fiscal year 2019.