by Marlene Berlin
If you’ve been to Van Ness today you’ve seen it: WMATA has closed the west entrance of the Van Ness Metro station to begin the three-year process of replacing four escalators. However, Metro now says we’ll regain use of the entrance after about two months, not three years.
At ANC 3F’s June meeting last week, Cedric Watson, the WMATA project manager who oversees escalators, said this entrance should reopen by September first. This is another major shift for Metro, which at first had said the entrance would close for three years, period. After a community outcry, Metro then said the stairway could reopen for a few months at a time, but only if it was deemed structurally sound.
Watson set no such conditions at the June 16th ANC meeting. He said the stairway leading from street level to the upper mezzanine can reopen to riders once workers have reinforced the structure, if necessary, and he said he was confident that the entrance could reopen by September first.
Here’s the video of the meeting. Metro’s presentation begins about 30 minutes in.
Commissioner Sally Gresham expressed surprise at this two-month timeline, because it is quite a bit shorter than the schedule Metro officials described to ANC 3F commissioners during a May 29th walkthrough of the work area. They had said the contractor would need five months to set up the cranes and hoisting mechanisms, remove the short escalator leading to the street level, remove of one of the three 270-foot-long escalators, and bring in the new escalator parts. Only then, they said, could the stairway reopen for a time.
If the rest of the work schedule remains the same, this means that the entrance will be open for five months – September through January – while WMATA installs the first of the three long escalators. Then it will close again in February to repeat the process of removing the second long escalator and bringing in new parts. This will pose an inconvenience to riders but not as many, because by this time, the sidewalk along the Park Van Ness construction will be at least partially restored.
From now through August, however, Metro-bound pedestrians coming from north of the station will need to cross Connecticut Avenue to get to the east entrance at Van Ness. And they’ll have to do cross the avenue twice if they are coming from the east side of Connecticut, due to the closed sidewalk at the Park Van Ness project.
This can create bottlenecks for drivers trying to turn onto Connecticut from Windom Place and Veazey Terrace since those are the only pedestrian crossings between Park Van Ness and the Metro station. ANC commissioners and other members of the community had asked DDOT for accommodations such as increased crossing times at each intersection (which would also give drivers more time before the light changes). But DDOT Deputy Associate Director Matthew Marcou stated at the ANC meeting that walking times were already longer than standard for for this pedestrian crossing, based on the geometry of the intersection, and could not be increased. And he doesn’t anticipate adding a crosswalk to the south side of the Connecticut Avenue crossing at Windom.
Commissioner Gresham said DDOT had sought pedestrian accommodations from Park Van Ness developer Saul Centers, which submitted a plan in May. She asked Marcou whether DDOT had a response. Marcou said Saul’s plans had been received and assessed, and that DDOT decided the best option is no change.
The sidewalk area cannot accommodate pedestrians yet (there’s a large hole at one end), and Marcou said that using a curb lane for a pedestrian walkway would have a substantial impact on the entire transportation network, given the number of vehicle trips Connecticut Avenue handles daily. Marcou also said that opening the curb lane to pedestrians on weekends or other non-construction, non-rush-hour periods would have an unintended safety consequence by changing pedestrians’ perception of the most efficient and safest path. In other words, DDOT thinks opening a walkway there even part-time would encourage people to walk on the east side of Connecticut even when there’s no place for them to do so safely.