Old and New Transportation Choices — and 34th Street Traffic Jam

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Will Handsfield of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, Allison Davis of WMATA and Colleen Hawkinson of the District’s Department of Transportation.

The Citizens Association of Georgetown met March 25 at Malmaison at 34th and Water streets for “Talking Traffic, Transportation & Bridges” with the hopes of answering such questions as: “Can traffic congestion ever be reduced in Georgetown? Is there a solution to the nightmarish rush-hour backups on 34th Street? How will repairs on the Pennsylvania Avenue and Key bridges affect us? What happened to the crosstown bus service? And the perennial question: will Georgetown ever get a Metro stop?” CAG’s Christopher Mathews who chairs its transportation committee introduced a trio of experts on the subject.

Allison Davis WMATA, regional planning manager in the office of planning, began by discussing Metro rail service and its benefits: 54 percent of all jobs are half a mile from a station; job growth is four times in neighborhoods with a station.
Davis also noted how expensive rail gets and how long it takes. She spoke of the ambitions in 1960s for a monorail to the newly opened Dulles Airport. Rail, she said, “takes a lot of time.” By 1985, planner got serious about a Metrorail link to the airport. So, she said, it took 29 years for the first rides to begin on the Silver Line that will connect Dulles to downtown. “It is about matching modes and needs,” said Davis, who noted the flexibility of bus service.

As for Georgetown, a Metro subway station is in the future, as in the year 2040. “We’re looking 2040 or beyond,” she said. Long-term commitments are needed from Virginia, Maryland, the feds and the District, she said. She gave a piece of advice on transit choices: “Don’t focus so far in the future.”

Colleen Hawkinson of the District’s Department of Transportation said that it is important to recognize that DDOT not only oversees roads, curbs and trees but also runs the Circulator buses, Capital Bikeshare and the streetcar project on H Street.
Hawkinson said DDOT looks at the “big five,” as it sees them: “pedestrians, bicycles, transit, vehicles and freight. The streetcar has “no fatal flaw” in its system, according to a critical report, she said. Those in vehicles will feel the impact of upcoming projects on Rock Creek Parkway and Canal Road as well as the rehabilitation of Key Bridge.

Will Handsfield, transportation director at the Georgetown Business Improvement District, listed the increasing use of ride services, such as Uber and Lyft. He said that on-demand travel cost can be 30 to 60 percent cheaper and that entrepreneurs were jumping into the transportation sector. Some bus lines were privately run and owners like Leap Line in San Francisco. New companies like Flex Spot were trying to monetize shared parking of homeowners’ driveways. He also said the Bridj, a pop-up bus service, was coming to Washington.

Some of the techie and innovative ideas Handsfield mentioned may take the heat off some systems or streets in the years to come but this day. During the question-and-answer session, residents took their chance to voice frustration about backed-up traffic and potholes in Georgetown, a perennial issue, to be sure – almost as old as the question of what to tie up one’s carriage.

One 34th street resident, Ann Satterthwaite, with her neighbor complained about traffic on 34th street that is snarled from M street north to Q street and sometimes farther. Traffic used to back up later in the week, Satterthwaite said. Now, it is four days at least. A neighbor said his house vibrates with the increased traffic: “I wake up every morning at 5:30 to 7 [a.m.] with the house shaking.” DDOT’s Hawkinson said she would look into traffic signal changes made on M Street by the department in a few months to see if it causes delays up 34th Street. Satterthwaite said one solution would be to divert traffic off 34th Street during rush hour.

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