“My biggest concern at Van Ness is pedestrian safety. As a pedestrian, I feel my safety is constantly at risk,” Benae Mosby said at a recent meeting of the Van Ness Main Streets board. The communications and community relations manager at WAMU headquarters at Connecticut Avenue and Windom Place, Mosby travels this troubled intersection daily.
It is an especially challenging time for Mosby and others on this stretch of Connecticut. On the east side, a one-block segment of the sidewalk is closed to accommodate the construction at Park Van Ness. On the west side, the entrance to the Metro has been closed since late June.
ANC 3F commissioners pushed DDOT to provide some relief to pedestrians, but to no avail. DDOT said it would add no second crosswalk on Connecticut at the south side on Windom (a few years after one of its own studies recommended one), and after adding a few more seconds to the crossing times at Veazey Terrace and Windom, DDOT said it would add no more. This has left these intersections especially taxed in the morning rush hour. Pedestrians pile up and have a hard time getting through in one full cycle.
With all this pressure on the intersections and pleas falling on deaf ears at DDOT, what was a predictable outcome came to be. Morning commuters, especially those traveling by bus to the Van Ness Metro stop, started taking more risks to avoid missing a walk cycle and potentially their train. Several could be seen crossing mid-block from the bus stop on the west side of Connecticut at Veazey Terrace to get to the Metro entrance on the east side. As the problem grew, ANC 3F Commissioner Mary Beth Ray urged police action to deal with these hazardous crossings.
Perhaps you saw them or talked to one of the officers. On Thursday, August 13th, MPD put up a yellow tape barricade to block mid-block access to the Van Ness Metro station.
Officers were also handing out brochures and talking to pedestrians.
By the next morning, the tape had been torn away. The next week, they tried another tack: Placing the tape where bus passengers are most tempted to cross.
These are short-term measures that do not address the real problem: The infrastructure is unfriendly to pedestrians. One could surmise that having pedestrians bearing the safety risk was preferable to DDOT than accommodating their needs.
It is these hazards that made the “secret” Metro passage under Connecticut Avenue, now lost to the escalator rehab project, so appealing. Dorn McGrath laments the loss of this safer underground route:
“Metro has closed our “secret” shortcut! Pedestrians in the know wanting to cross Connecticut Avenue at Veazey Place could bypass the wait for a walk signal and the heavy traffic and cross in safety by using the Van Ness/UDC Metro tunnel. One could reach or depart from the Starbucks without having to rush across six lanes. Alas, the Metro entrance next to Starbucks is now closed and a pedestrian has no choice but to cross either through the heavy traffic or a block earlier.”
And going back to Mosby’s issue: Even when the Metro entrance and Park Van Ness sidewalk reopens, the traffic and short crossing times will remain hazards to pedestrians at Windom and Veazey, and at other Connecticut Avenue crossings such as the one to the north on Albemarle Street, where resident and seniors advocate Barbara Cline has seen car crashes, red-light running, blocked intersections and cars speeding through an apartment building driveway from Connecticut to Albemarle.
So even with a new 25-year plan from DDOT that makes pedestrians the number one policy priority, the changes needed to make this a reality seem light years away. Photo enforcement can help, but the reality is that we live in a car culture, and pedestrians still need to push for changes to make room for us on the street.