What does 14th Street need for buses, bicyclists, and walkers?

Image by thisisbossi.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is taking a closer look at how to improve 14th Street NW in the area around and south of the Columbia Heights Metro station. Nothing has been proposed yet, and the agency and local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are hosting a community work session to discuss solutions on June 23. Let's ask for a bus lane!

Supporters of better bus and bicycle infrastructure can get in at the ground floor of this conversation. Especially the addition of 59 bus (we GGWash readers fought hard for and won!), improvements like a bus lane on part of 14th Street would be a big win. Sign here to let DDOT know you want it to prioritize faster buses and safer biking, and most importantly show up to DDOT’s community work session on June 23!

Bus lane on 14th Street NW? Yes please!


What’s going on in this section of 14th Street?

14th Street NW is a major thoroughfare for the city that has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade. Now 80,00 residents live nearby and over 14,000 businesses call the corridor home. This was one of the reasons over 750 neighbors and advocates fought so hard (successfully!) for the 59 express bus in 2016-2017, which you can see running up and down 14th Street during rush hour times.

For anyone driving or commuting along this corridor, the bottleneck at and around the Columbia Heights Metro stop is a familiar headache. There a number of complicated intersections, narrow roads, and lots of people moving through.

ANC Commissioner Joshua Mater (1B08, which encompasses the area east of 14th Street NW from Girard to Clifton Street), says:

14th Street is a major artery for commuters from Maryland and the bottom line is that there are just too many cars and not enough lanes to support [them].

Fellow commissioner Nicole Cacozza (1B10 and chair the ANCs Transportation Review Committee chair) agrees and says the intersection at 14th and Park (which actually lies in ANC 1A) is particularly a chokepoint:

[T]he Tivoli corner is extremely confusing for everyone. There are traffic signals and some pedestrian islands, which undoubtedly help, but its not easy to navigate crossing two roads diagonally by any method of transportation.

Beyond that particular intersection, this of 14th Street between the Metro stop and U Street struggles with traffic flow because of a the number of drivers turning off into side streets. Again from Cacozza:

This small area of 14th street is heavily impacted by turning vehicles. Cars and shuttles wait a long time to turn onto 14th street, cars going off of 14th have to squeeze onto narrower side streets, which can also take time. DDOT has said that a lot of northbound drivers turn left from 14th to go to 16th in Columbia Heights using really narrow streets. All of this turning causes backups, and slows down the cars and buses (including the new 59 express bus) who only want to go straight.

14th & U Street NW. Image by Mike Maguire.

Both commissioners also point out that cars, taxis, and ride-hail vehicles stopping in the road for pick-ups and drop-offs are increasing and adding to the congestion.

So far, a few steps have already been taken to ease the problem. Last year DDOT set up a Barnes Dance at the intersection of Irving and 14th Street which helps pedestrians cross the area on top of the Metro entrance. Commissioners also say the bike lanes have been big pluses, though they worry enforcement has not been good because cars and trucks continuously block the lanes.

Both agree something more needs to be done. Cacozza:

The concern is that the headache of getting to Columbia Heights causes people to avoid the area altogether. We have to address transportation here to make the neighborhood inviting and accessible for visitors as well as for residents who deserve to enjoy public streets and sidewalks. I think everyone who spends time in Columbia Heights wants to have safer, more predictable traffic. It's a better ride for drivers and it means more reliable bus service, and an easier time walking across the street. I think to get there we need to have fewer cars on 14th street all of the time, and clearer rules for the cars that are on the road.

Bus lane, anyone?

There are a lot of things that can be done here, which is why DDOT is hosting the upcoming community meeting to discuss options. However, it’s clear that some of the most impactful changes, such as a dedicated bus lane, would certainly involve removing parking.

From Mater:

"[W]e need to promote more non-vehicular transportation in the area. This includes bicycles, potentially (and I know this is contentious) eliminating street parking in many areas to allow for bus-only lanes, and probably a host of other actions.”

Commissioner Zach Rybarczyk (1A03, the area adjacent to the Columbia Heights Metro stop) is also looking forward to solutions, but recognizes neighbors are concerned about trade-offs:

Neighbors and commissioners I've spoken with are clearly frustrated with the congestion along the 14th Street corridor, but they are also concerned that steps taken to improve traffic flow could be to the detriment of side streets and the east/west arteries. We're really hoping this workshop will be a chance to bring together folks that rely on all forms of transportation to explore potential fixes, consider the tradeoffs of those changes, and arm DDOT and other decision makers with community feedback for moving forward.

All three commissioners have said they would be interested in seeing a DDOT study of how a dedicated bus lane could help this section of 14th Street. DDOT has yet to produce any plans hopes to discuss different options with neighbors and riders at upcoming community workshop on June 23.

Did you help bring about the 59? Now take the next step.

In late 2016 at the very first gathering of supporters for the 59 bus campaign, we discussed the Columbia Heights bottleneck and whether or not winning the 59 would really be enough to improve transit along 14th Street. It was clear that the 59 was certainly not a comprehensive solution, but it was a very important first step and that the advocacy for that bus service could pave the way for additional transit improvements for 14th Street.

Commissioner Zach Rybarczyk agrees that the 59 efforts helped instigate this dicussion:

Commissioners and community members really jump started this discussion with widespread support for the 59 express bus, but everyone (including representatives from DDOT that we've spoken with) quickly recognized that congestion sort of negated the "express" aspect of that line.

Well, here’s our chance to push for more! It's important that transit advocates show up for this conversation. We know there will be many who (as always) will come with one concern in mind: parking. It’s up to us to make sure that DDOT hears from people who want to support better bus service over parking.

Sign here and we’ll make sure to deliver the message to DDOT on June 23rd: Better bus service, safer biking! If you can attend DDOT’s community workshop, it’s 10 am to 12 pm at the Rita Bright Family and Youth Center (2500 15th St NW).

Sign the petition!