Two Petworth traffic circles to receive safety fixes

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The D.C. Department of Transportation intends to remove one travel lane from Sherman Circle NW to improve safety at the Petworth roundabout. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

A pair of Petworth traffic circles are under consideration for modifications as the D.C. Department of Transportation works to identify safety measures that won’t cause excessive traffic congestion.

Grant and Sherman circles have wide travel lanes and high traffic volumes, presenting hazards to pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers, according to officials. The Transportation Department’s initial idea for each circle was to eliminate one travel lane — leaving one travel lane, one parking lane and a new bicycle lane.

But after a May trial at Grant Circle left long queues of cars on nearby streets — particularly New Hampshire and Illinois avenues and Buchanan Street — the agency has proposed a range of alternative measures there. A notice of intent, issued last week, includes the following changes to Grant Circle:

? installing a bicycle lane with a 2-foot-wide buffer area, protected with flexible posts in the areas they wouldn’t interfere with cross traffic.

? installing flexible posts near certain intersections where roads enter the circle, to reduce the pedestrian crossing distance and force motorists to slow down to make their turns.

? reducing the outer travel lane from 12 feet wide to 11 feet.

? eliminating one travel lane in each direction on New Hampshire Avenue from Grant Circle south to Upshur Street, and narrowing New Hampshire’s northern approach to the circle.

? converting all approaches to Grant Circle into yields, replacing the stop signs now at half of the intersections.

The plans would retain two travel lanes throughout the circle and would not affect parking, according to the Aug. 8 notice of intent.

The District’s plan for Grant Circle NW includes reducing pedestrian crossing distances while preserving parking and travel lanes. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

A separate Transportation Department letter, sent to community leaders a week earlier, stated that the agency is open to further measures if issues remain. These would include constructing raised crosswalks on Illinois Avenue, 5th Street north of the circle and Varnum Street; installing a lighted pedestrian signal or flashing beacon on busier streets, specifically 5th Street north of the circle and New Hampshire Avenue where recently a local resident had suffered an injury from a pedestrian accident; installing additional flexible posts; and adding further signage and pavement markings.

Meanwhile, despite the results of the pilot program on Grant Circle, the Transportation Department still intends to reduce Sherman Circle to one lane. At a July 26 community meeting on the two circles, officials said Sherman handles 3,000 fewer cars per day than Grant and that computerized traffic modeling showed positive results. Several attendees urged the Transportation Department to conduct a similar pilot program at Sherman Circle before making permanent changes, which traffic planner Ted Van Houten agreed to consider.

But some residents didn’t think lane reductions are even worth studying, calling such reviews a wasteful and unnecessary expense. Resident Charles Lockett urged planners to implement smaller-scale tactics.

“You need to be spending this money paving and striping the roads. They’re horrible,” Lockett said. “You just wasted our tax dollars. That’s all you did.”

The Department of Transportation spent $16,500 on the Grant Circle study, according to agency spokesperson Maura Danehey.

There’s widespread consensus that improvements are needed. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4D member Amy Hemingway, who lives near Sherman Circle on Kansas Avenue NW, said she finds it terrifying to cross the roundabout with her 2-year-old.

“Seventy-five percent of the time, the cars don’t stop at all,” Hemingway told The Current. “When they do, it’s always that second car that whips around.”

The Transportation Department shared data showing that in 2013 and 2014, a total of 18 collisions were recorded — four at Sherman, and 14 more at Grant. Hemingway said these figures don’t capture the full picture of the safety conditions. “The near misses don’t show up on the police reports,” she said. “There’s no data for that.”

Regarding Grant Circle, Joseph Martin of ANC 4C (southern 16th Street Heights, western Petworth) said he supports the Transportation Department’s plans. He expressed optimism that the changes will improve safety and praised the designs for preserving the existing parking.

“At the end of the day, my neighbors and I want to be able to walk across Grant Circle in the crosswalks with our families, children and friends without feeling we are taking our lives in our hands,” Martin wrote in an email. “Anything that helps to increase pedestrian and traffic safety is welcome and needed.”

ANC 4C voted 7-0 to endorse the Grant Circle plans last Wednesday.

Residents may send comments on the Grant Circle notice of intent to theodore.vanhouten@dc.gov. The agency will review all feedback received by Sept. 7. Van Houten is also continuing to solicit comments on Sherman Circle.