Maryland Avenue Safety Project: FAQ, part 1

OVERVIEW OF CHANGES, HISTORY OF THE PROJECT & current status

Q: How is the City changing Maryland Avenue?

A: First, let’s look at what happened to Maryland Avenue in the past.  Maryland Avenue used to be a boulevard with one lane in each direction and wide, grassy medians in the middle.  In the late 1950s, the Federal Government (before Home Rule) ripped out those medians and converted Maryland Avenue into the wide four-lane road we know today, creating a road that served primarily as a highway for suburban commuters.

Through the Maryland Avenue Safety Project, the City is restoring the grassy medians and is adding public plazas, traffic calming measures, reengineered lanes and traffic signals, rain gardens, bike lanes, historically-appropriate street lights, and other features to convert the road back to a community resource.  Once the project is done, drivers will gain better sight lines and better timed traffic signals, pedestrians will gain safer and less stressful road crossings, cyclists will gain bike lanes, and all of us will gain a beautiful public space.

Q: Why did the City decide to make those changes? Are they necessary?

After years of studying traffic and safety issues along Maryland Avenue, the City determined that the existing layout of the road is unsafe for drivers and pedestrians. The travel lanes were “overbuilt,” meaning that there are more lanes than are needed for the cars that use the road. Those extra lanes make it easier for some drivers to speed through the neighborhood – up to 55 MPH! And the extra lanes encourage speeders to drive around and past slower-moving cars. In addition, the angle at which Maryland Avenue meets cross-streets creates obstructed sight lines at some intersections and “soft turns” at others.  Drivers tend to speed around these soft turns, leading to crashes and dangerous crossings for pedestrians. 

Data shows that car crashes at key intersections along Maryland Avenue are worse than crashes along other roads in the City.  Most accidents are “T-bone” or sideswipe type, which indicates that poor visibility at intersections and impatient drivers changing lanes without looking are the primary culprits.  DDOT documented that nearly 36 percent of the crashes along Maryland Avenue result in severe damage vs. 17 percent across the rest of the City

The existing road design creates hazards for pedestrians as well.  Some of the crosswalks are over 100 feet long, and others are harrowing to cross due to the speeding traffic.  Plus, the multiple lanes of traffic create what safety experts call a “dual threat,” meaning that when one car stops to let a pedestrian cross, other drivers don’t see the pedestrian, swing around the stopped car, and then hit the pedestrian.  

Q: When did the City approve the Maryland Avenue Safety Project?

The City decided to reconfigure Maryland Avenue in early 2012 following extensive outreach to the local community.  The first community meetings on this project were held in 2009, and there have been over 20 meetings since then. It has taken more than four years for DDOT to secure the necessary administrative approvals and to release the first draft engineering drawings.

Q: Where did the idea for making changes to Maryland Avenue come from?    

The history of the Maryland Avenue Project goes back to 2009; read the full history of the project here. In a nutshell:  Local residents raised concerns with the City in 2008-2009 regarding excessive speeding, crashes (some of which left wrecked cars in people’s front yards), and near misses between pedestrians and cars. City officials studied the problem and, after concluding that those concerns were well-founded, hired a transportation design firm to come up with a solution. After many public meetings and further studies, that firm unveiled a solution in 2012. The Mayor, Councilmember, ANCs, and vast majority of participants at public meetings approved the engineering solution (including the lane realignments) a few months later, and DDOT then began the administrative process to implement that solution.  The City has been working (slowly and in fits and starts) to carry out the project ever since.  

Q: What has DDOT already done to implement the Maryland Avenue Safety Project?

DDOT already has taken action on several elements of the Maryland Avenue Project that will become permanent features of the road – no more bollards! – once construction begins.  

The intersection of Maryland Avenue, 7th Street, and D Street was identified by neighbors and the City as the most dangerous intersection on the stretch for both driving and walking at the initial public safety meetings. With three streets coming together across a long intersection, the sightlines for vehicles were terrible, the crosswalks were long and daunting, and near-crashes were a constant. In 2014, DDOT implemented some of the traffic calming measures in the Maryland Avenue Safety plan, including eliminating the ability of cars driving along 7th to cross Maryland, re-angling the approach to Maryland Avenue from D Street, improving sightlines, and shortening crosswalks.    

Through this project, DDOT also changed the placement of traffic signals further east on the corridor. A traffic signal was installed at 10th Street. And one of the two signals at Maryland Avenue, E Street, and 9th Street was removed.  This light was particularly problematic for traffic flow because it had to be timed to allow for traffic flows across three roads rather than two. With the improvements at that corner, DDOT will be able to time the lights on Maryland Avenue to best allow for smooth flow of traffic.

Q: Can’t the City find other ways to make Maryland Avenue safer, like better enforcement, speed cameras, speed bumps, or traffic circles?

In short, because Maryland Avenue is categorized as a “Minor Arterial” in the road classification hierarchy, DDOT cannot install speed bumps or speed humps, and a traffic circle or three-way signal at 7th Street would be worse for drivers than the planned road configuration.

The Metropolitan Police Department has conducted periodic safe driving “stings” along Maryland Avenue and has installed speed cameras. While the cameras have caught a number of speeders (including people traveling up to 50-55 MPH during hours that children were around) they can’t catch all dangerous drivers. Once word gets out about a camera or police car, drivers slow down by that car or camera and then speed up again when they pass it. Moreover, controlling speeding alone would do little to solve the problems of poor visibility, difficult road crossings, dangerous bicycle conditions, and other safety issues that the City is trying to solve by re-engineering the road.

Q: What is the status of the project right now? What happens next? When will it be completed? And how can I stay informed?

The City decided to redesign Maryland Avenue and unveiled its conceptual design for the project in 2012.  It has taken four years for it to release its first set of draft engineering drawings. Nevertheless, we believe that the process will move more steadily now. DDOT and its outside experts currently are reviewing the comments that they received on the draft engineering drawings. They will make changes to those draft drawings and eventually will prepare final engineering drawings that can be used for construction.

DDOT will create a website for people to learn more about the project. In the meantime, you can sign up for our mailing list for more information or to get more involved.