tl;dr

Community Action

There are two current community actions to further safety and livability along South Dakota Ave NE.

DDOT public meetings

On May 15, DDOT announced two public meetings on the South Dakota Ave project:

  • on Thursday, May 30 at 6pm, virtual over WebEx
  • on Saturday, June 1, from 10am-12pm, an in-person Open House at the Taft Middle School building (1800 Perry St NE; building contains Perry Street Prep and Sojourner Truth schools)

SDA meeting flyer

W5FB/FoSDANE flyer

Please, if at all possible, attend these meetings and be prepared to advocate constructively and specifically for the important improvements DDOT needs to invest in to make our neighborhood safer. Consider printing and distributing the Ward 5 Family Biking and Friends of South Dakota Ave NE flyer to neighbors, and help them to do the same.

The aligned request many residents and advocates are making of DDOT is to deliver:

  • a road diet on the central span of this roadway, ideally from Bladensburg Rd NE north to Taylor St NE
  • protected bike lanes in the residual crosswidth, which will provided 24/7 lane reduction (as opposed to variable-use parking) which would keep all drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and transit users safe in addition to creating a safe new active transportation route for bikers, scooterers, and wheelchair users who have difficulty using the narrow and interrupted sidewalks here
  • spot fixes for any remaining spans while we shore up more funding in FY25 and later years (possibly including federal support)

It’s important to stay focused, and steer less focused neighbors towards constructive feedback. Remember that the scoping of this project, as it’s tactical in nature, will not include granite or poured concrete road features, and will be initially installed using flexposts and pre-fabricated concrete modules.

The concerns DDOT and many neighbors will hold are valid, but do not change the importance of progress, namely:

  • the accommodation of vehicle volumes on South Dakota Ave, which preliminary study indicates are low enough to accommodate the lane reduction. While peak congestion may initially increase, peak roadway utilization has a tendency to stabilize and it’s worthwhile to increase the safety of the roadway the other 22 hours a day
  • cut-through behavior spilling over into interior blocks as drivers get frustrated with traffic. This is already a huge problem, and already requires an aggressive solution, currently delivered through DDOT’s Traffic Safety Investigation process. Many mitigations are in progress to force drivers to slow down on interior blocks and deter them from seeing advantage in bypassing the arterial, and many more can be delivered between now and any installation work on South Dakota Ave (which likely won’t occur for a couple years)

There may also be less valid concerns outside the scope of providing safety on this arterial, such as wanting to prioritize other issues, other roadways, or general condemnation of other modes of travel besides driving. Neighbors who want to advocate for greater safety should try to respectfully and politely steer conversations in a productive manner.

Councilmember Parker has already indicated that he’s working on similar funding for Michigan Ave in the FY25 budget, so success on SDA directly feeds into success on Michigan Ave. Our Michigan Ave neighbors can join us now so we can join them later in pushing DDOT for this progress.

WMATA Better Bus feedback

We need to watch WMATA’s work continue and advocate for two proposed brand-new SDA bus lines: dubbed DC214 and DC207 in the draft. These lines were not in the most recent version publicly released.

FY24 Tactical Safety Funding

The FY24 budget contains $1M in funding for tactical safety improvements on South Dakota Ave. Tactical improvements generally:

  • involve flexposting and concrete curbstops to modify traffic patterns
  • don’t modify curb or other concrete components of the roadway, which requires costly construction and analysis of issues like drainage
  • can provide an outline for future more permanent changes, like a pencil sketch to be colored in later

An example of a tactical safety project of this kind is the late 2022 improvements made to New Jersey Ave from N St NW north to Rhode Island Ave NW. You can see the Notice of Intent issued by DDOT in May 2022 for that project.

Our advocacy will be determinative of how much progress we can make on South Dakota Ave.

budget process/history

Since the beginning of the FY24 budget process, the issue of funding safety improvements to South Dakota Ave has been a high priority of mine, Councilmember Parker, and the Councilmember’s team. Efforts by FoSDANE during the budget process

early letters

In a February 3rd email to Councilmember Parker’s team, I wrote in part:

My other major ask is that dedicated funding be included for large-scale whole-corridor studies of our principal arterial roadways, including Rhode Island, South Dakota, and New York Aves. I believe the ongoing work on Bladensburg Rd, from Starburst Plaza all the way up to Eastern Ave, is a good example of the scale and scope such a project requires (especially should the final designs more closely align with Concept One). Meanwhile, the other three major arterials surrounding my SMD are in need of fundamental redesigns that prioritize those in our neighborhood over those only driving through it, and all have been the subject of studies that have not resulted in major implementation

I also mentioned the mobilization of efforts of South Dakota Ave residents that would become the Friends of South Dakota Ave NE:

Residents of South Dakota Avenue have mobilized, forming an initiative for action that has grown in short time, and has residents from Riggs Park to Fort Lincoln, intent on raising the need to make South Dakota Ave a less violent and more welcoming corridor.

In Councilmember Parker’s February 16th letter to the Mayor on budget priorities, he wrote:

…I am eager to partner with DDOT to improve many other dangerous arterial corridors in Ward 5, including South Dakota and Michigan Avenues and the other Ward 5 high-injury corridors identified the 2022 update to the Vision Zero Plan. I request that you direct DDOT to leverage existing operational funds to improve safety on these corridors as expeditiously and aggressively as possible.

DDOT Performance Oversight and Budget Oversight hearings

Sherin Koshy of FoSDANE testified before T&E to the urgency of safety improvements to South Dakota Ave at the 2/27 Performance Oversight and 3/30 Budget Oversight hearings. Chris Leis additionally testified at the 3/30 Budget Oversight hearing.

Mr. Leis testified, in part:

South Dakota Ave (SDA) is a primarily residential street that gets treated like a highway by drivers and their behavior is enabled by the negligence of DDOT design and lack of enforcement by MPD. Unfortunately, this is not a new issue and according to a 2007 DDOT study this street suffers from more than just reckless drivers and “throughout the corridor, complex multi-approach intersections, faded and inconsistent pavement markings, and inconsistent signal timings contribute to a degradation of safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles.” These issues were identified over 15 years ago and I’d be hard pressed to find one of the recommended solutions that has been implemented, except additional speed limit signage and that was done just last year, after over a year of TSI requests and direct involvement from ANC 5c. Prior to the additional signage in 2022, there were 2 (not a typo) speed limit signs in the 1.5 mile stretch between New York Ave NE and Rhode Island Ave. The lack of signage and the deteriorating road conditions point to clear neglect from DDOT and something that should be remedied in the FY24 budget.

The speeding along the SDA was also evident in the 2007 report and showed an 85th percentile speed that is 80% above the posted speed limit. Now, that might be considered an old study, which is fair, but a 2021 study on the 3000-3100 block of SDA confirmed that 80% of all vehicles were still speeding and that the 85th percentile speed is still 40% above the posted speed limit.

ANC resolutions

On March 15th, ANC 5B unanimously passed a resolution reinforcing Councilmember Parker’s asks. Among other things, this included resolution “to leverage existing operational funds to improve safety on South Dakota and Michigan Avenues”

A similar resolution was introduced in ANC 5C the same night, but was tabled by a 4-2 vote.

T&E Committee markup and draft report

Thanks to the stewardship of Councilmember Parker and Chairperson Allen, the following was added to DDOT’s budget during markup by the Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment (T&E):

$1 million for the installation of tactical road diets along South Dakota Avenue NE to help slow down cars down the residential corridor;

More details, per the draft Committee report released April 26th:

The Committee is also establishing a new sub-project within DDOT’s Safety & Mobility master project to fund tactical safety improvements on South Dakota Avenue NE. South Dakota Avenue is one of the most dangerous corridors in Ward 5. However, due to the presence of even more dangerous arterial corridors in Ward 5, South Dakota Avenue NE was not designated a high-injury network corridor in DDOT’s 2022 Vision Zero Report. The Committee is placing $1M in the new sub-project to fund efforts to improve safety on the corridor in the short term, preferably by constructing a road diet on a segment of the corridor to calm traffic, reduce injuries, and improve connectivity along the corridor. DDOT shall determine which segment of the corridor would be a suitable starting point for safety improvements; however, the Committee recommends that DDOT consider either the segment between Bladensburg Road and Monroe Street NE or the segment between Sargent Street NE and Riggs Road NE.

May 11th Site Visit

On May 11th, Councilmember Parker and DDOT Director Everett Lott conducted a site visit and walk along South Dakota Avenue. Members of FoSDANE and many ANC Commissioners representing the roadway (including myself) were present.

After budgeting was secured

At DDOT’s 5/20/2023 Open House for ANCs, I discussed SDA work with an assigned traffic safety engineer. In the conversation, I sensed a lot of skepticism over implementing a road diet, specifically citing traffic volumes and inducing cut-through traffic. It was indicated that new traffic volume measurements would be taken as part of the work, to determine if the existing driver volume is too heavy for these fundamental needs of safety and sustainability.

In CM Parker’s 7/20/2023 letter to DDOT Director Lott, he notes:

I appreciate you and your team joining me and neighbors for a safety walk on South Dakota Avenue this Spring. I look forward to working with you to leverage the $1 million I secured in the FY 2024 budget to install quick-build safety enhancements on the corridor, such as a road diet. I am eager to work with DDOT to develop a concept for corridor-long safety improvements once those funds become available in the fiscal year that commences on October 1, 2023.

On 1/17/2024, ANC 5C passed my Resolution on Comprehensive Public Safety, which included an urging of DDOT to pursue “due consideration for a road diet in the $1M-dedicated South Dakota Ave tactical safety project”

On 2/9/2024, during the Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment’s DDOT Performance Oversight hearing, then-Interim Directory Kershbaum stated a road diet on South Dakota Ave was not viable.

This prompted a letter from FoSDANE and another from Councilmember Parker urging more information and reconsideration.

By Late March, DDOT had backtracked on the assertion, and a road diet continues to be a high possibility as work moves forward to public meetings on 5/30/2024 and 6/1/2024.

Better Bus Network Redesign

There are two new major bus lines proposed as part of Better Bus Network Redesign, which reimagines our bus service for modern needs:

  • DC214 (24-hour Fort Lincoln/SDA/RIA/downtown line)
  • DC207 (all-day bus line running from Fort Totten to down past Fort Lincoln, covering the entirety of South Dakota Ave)

Folks can provide feedback on the importance of these lines making it into the final set of recommendations.

roadway history

Part of moving forward is understanding how we got here.

South Dakota Avenue is entirely outside of the original City of Washington designed by Pierre L’Enfant, and has no origins in that plan. By 1898, it appears in the DC Permanent System of Highways master planning document, which implemented Congressional directives to extend the logic of L’Enfant’s plan outward to the entire District of Columbia. Some more historical map artifacts on the piecemeal construction below.

timeline/maps

date composition sources
1865 No indication of SDA in a civil war fortification map LoC
1898 The full length of SDA (minus link to NYA/50) appears in DC’s Permanent System of Highways; a segment from Irving to Bladensburg appears to overlap with the ring road connecting Civil War forts LoC
1903 Named Prospect Ave, the only segment of what would become SDA exists between Vista and Brentwood Road (at a segment later becoming part of Rhode Island Ave). Baist/LoC
1933 Most of the modern-day roadway has been built, save for a planned portion north from Sargent to Riggs, and the hook into NYA and Route 50 to the south. RareMap
1954 New York Avenue is extended from Bladensburg Road to US-50, presumably joining in South Dakota Ave.