First, I want to offer my prayers of healing for all those involved in yesterday’s accident. I was on my way back from New York City for work when I saw the alert on my blackberry. I didn’t realize the severity of the situation until I saw the FOX news report and videos.
Coincidentally, the Mayor was schedule to be in the area, so the camera crews were already onsite. They asked him for his take on the accident and he said: "I say Pennsylvania Avenue and Alabama is definitely a trouble intersection. It's steep, it's rush hour. A lot of cars, a lot of pedestrians and it’s a busy intersection. And busy intersections need traffic calming especially more than other intersections."
I don’t know who prepped the Mayor prior to the interview, but clearly they didn’t do a good job. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t drive on Penn Ave. The Mayor is correct there are very steep hills along Penn Ave, which causes some blind spots. Many cars travel along Penn Ave. In my experience driving at all times of the day, rush hour is not the issue as the Mayor stated. The real issue is the off-peak times when Pennsylvania becomes a high-speed raceway. When the Mayor said “a lot of pedestrians”, I had to keep myself from laughing. I can count on one hand the amount of people I’ve seen walking on Penn Ave on any given day. Granted people are outside, they are usually standing around (read: loitering) the Fairfax Village Shopping Center or the Corner of 38th and Alabama being unproductive. I’d hardly call them pedestrians. But enough on Fenty… He’s in enough hot water with the car accident he had this weekend and using taxpayer money for his Frat’s event. No need for me to stir the pot.
Problems and Solutions
I am a firm believer that if you bring up a problem you should also present solutions. Otherwise, you are just making noise.
Problem #1: In my experience, one of the dangerous parts of Pennsylvania Ave is at 33rd St SE going Eastbound where three lanes all of a sudden become two lanes. For whatever reason people just don’t know to merge there.
Solutions: Drivers need to be warned further up that the lanes are merging, probably closer to the Exxon station. There should be consideration to painting a merge arrow on the pavement right before 33rd St. Implementing both are relatively low cost solutions.
Problem #2: Speeding on Penn Ave. The trouble stretches are from Branch to Alabama and Fort Davis to Southern Avenue. The problem with Branch to Alabama is there are only two lights in between those two intersections and really the one at 38th doesn’t count because it is so close to the one at Alabama. Between Fort Davis and Southern coming westbound you have people coming from Maryland were the speed limit is significantly higher.
Solutions: A high cost solution would be speed cameras along those stretches. A lower cost solution would be posting a cop during off-peak hours with a radar gun at the intersection of Penn Ave and either Texas Ave or 38th St and the intersection of Penn Ave and Fort Davis. The other lower cost option would be adding rumble strips to slow people down. The point is these two stretches of road really need traffic calming.
Problem #3: As a pedestrian, you are playing roulette with your life if you try to cross Penn Ave at Fort Davis St. It’s bad enough trying to drive across or make a left turn from Fort Davis. I would argue that that is a more dangerous intersection than Penn and Alabama. Fort Davis is right at the top of the hill, so drivers westbound really can’t see pedestrians or cars on Fort Davis until they are right on them coupled with the fact that people fly through that area.
Solutions: Basic strictly on traffic engineering, I don’t know that Fort Davis Street has the traffic volume to warrant a stop light. However, there could be consideration of putting a light at that intersection that flashes yellow for Penn Ave and red for Fort Davis, but pedestrians could press a button to stop traffic on Penn Ave so they can cross. They have them in Arlington.
My plan is to write up the problems and solutions in a more formal manner and send to Councilmember Alexander by early next week. I know it may take some time to address these issues, but we should strike while the iron is hot.