8th Street NE: Traffic Safety, Schools, and Bike Lanes – Questions & Answers
This fall, DDOT released and presented initial plans to improve traffic safety, facilitate school pick-up & drop off, and install protected bike lanes along 8th St NE. These plans follow years of semi-chaos on and along 8th Street, and nearly a decade of yet-unfulfilled concepts and studies, and more than a year of community engagement on 8th Street.
Below find questions, answers, and details about DDOT’s plan.
What’s the plan? What is DDOT recommending?
DDOT’s plan has three main parts:
First, to convert 8th St NE/Edgewood St NE to one-way, northbound (i.e., from Franklin toward Monroe).
Second, to install a two-way, protected bike lane along the west side (i.e., closer to the homes along 8th St, away from the tracks) of 8th St NE.
Third, to make adjustments along 7th St NE – including dedicated left turn lanes from Monroe onto 7th Street and 7th onto Franklin Street – to address the impact on 7th Street NE.
Why is DDOT recommending these changes?
Mostly because 8th Street (particularly before COVID) is not working for anybody right now...
8th St NE has become a “perfect storm” of road safety challenges over the past decade.
First, there are four charter schools – Imagine Hope PCS, DC Prep Elementary and Middle School, and (beginning fall 2020), Capitol Village Academy – clustered along 8th St and Edgewood St NE (8th Street becomes Edgewood Street south of Franklin, and “Edgewood Alley” splits off). This brings significant challenges with morning pick-up and afternoon drop-off, in an area that really wasn’t designed to handle four schools.
Second, the popular Metropolitan Branch Trail runs along 8th St NE between Franklin and Monroe. Hundreds of cyclists, joggers, and walkers use the trail daily. Now, though, all of these users are left to fend for themselves along 8th Street for about half a mile.
Third, 8th Street has an increasing mix of industrial, residential, retail, and institutional uses – everything from homes, to Sunbelt and Extra Space Storage, to Annie’s Hardware, to Dance Place. Two more residential developments – the new Monroe Street Market building near Monroe, and the Hanover apartment complex near Jackson – are coming to 8th Street in the coming months and years.
All of the above presents an increasingly dangerous combination to every single road user – drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. DDOT’s plan hopes to reduce conflicts and improve safety for everybody along 8th Street.
How long have these plans been in the works?
About a decade; maybe more? The MBT opened around 2010. The vast archives of the internet reference 8th Street/MBT plans in 2012, 2015 (twice), and 2017, when DDOT officials called 8th Street a “weak link in the existing trail network” and “an on-street facility, a local street with a lot of activity on the sides of it.” Residents throughout Brookland and Edgewood - and charter school parents - have lodged constant complaints about student pick-up and drop off.
In 2014, DDOT conducted a road safety audit focused on the four schools clustered along the south end of 8th St & Edgewood St NE (which in 2014, included DC Prep Edgewood Elementary School, DC Prep Edgewood Middle School, William E Doar Junior Public Charter School, and High Road Upper School.
That report recommended “Convert[ing] traffic flow on Edgewood Street to One-Way in the Eastbound direction between 7th Street and Franklin Street Overpass during school drop-off and pick-up sessions only.” This recommendation was not implemented. Some recommendations were, and other recommendations were not. You can read all about these here, at pp. 20-26.
Regardless of which recommendations were implemented, many (if not most) problems related to pick up and drop off continued, and the MBT remained unprotected along 8th Street, with effects felt throughout Brookland and Edgewood.
What’s happened since 2018?
DDOT conducted another, more comprehensive, Traffic Safety Investigation in the spring of 2019. This study focused on a slightly larger area, including portions of 7th St NE and up to Hamlin. You can read the 137-page study here.
In short, though, the study identified dozens of obvious problem spots along Edgewood and 8th St NE as well as several of short- and long-term recommendations. One of the key long-term recommendations was, again, to convert 8th Street NE and Edgewood St NE to one-way, northbound.
Following that study, we worked with DDOT to coordinate two community meetings in July 2019.
First, we invited the schools and businesses along 8th and Edgewood Street to discuss challenges, preferences, and thoughts with DDOT, ANC Commissioners, reps from the Mayor’s office, MPD, and our Councilmember staff.
Based on those discussions, DDOT set about revising, studying, and developing refined plans of 8th Street. DDOT released those plans in September, which brings us to today.
How did we arrive at the current recommendation?
DDOT is trying to achieve two main goals, plus resident and business input.
First, DDOT is trying to close the gap in the MBT with a protected bike lane along 8th Street NE.
Second, DDOT is trying to implement one of the key recommendations (converting part of 8th St NE to one-way) of two extensive school traffic safety studies, five years apart. Four schools in a two-block radius - three of which are on a dead-end alley - is a tremendous challenge for our neighborhood. We can't "solve" this problem, but we can try to make it better.
Finally, a number of residents (and several businesses) want to preserve as much parking as possible in the area.
Based on these goals and input, DDOT's proposal (1) implements a key recommendation from two school safety studies, (2) enables a full-length, protected bike lane along 8th; and (3) preserves much more parking (than allowing two-way traffic would). Also, the spot under the Franklin Street bridge where 8th Street turns into Edgewood Street, and meets the MBT, is a *major* chaos and choke point in the morning and afternoon. A one-way conversation should alleviate this problem.
Finally, the proposed bike lane is on the *west* side of the street instead of the *east* because the east side of 8th Street features dozens of curb cuts that would make the lane extremely ripe for blocking. This is the right view, in my opinion.
What about parking?
Oh yes. Parking.
As ANC, I consider parking impact on projects like this (regardless of my personal opinions), because I know it’s important to residents. So I support solutions that preserve parking, consistent with safety goals and my oath to "exercise my best judgement" and "consider each matter before me from the viewpoint of the best interest of the District of Columbia as a whole." DC has established (and reaffirmed) goals reduce trips made by car, and increase trips made by bike, foot, and transit.
At the same time, we can't elevate parking over road safety, especially when it comes to more vulnerable road users (i.e., those not in cars and trucks), including children going to and from schools. Regardless of how we got here, 8th Street has four schools and is a major cycling/walking route. Its design needs to reflect that. So: I will fight for safety improvements in our neighborhood – even if it costs parking! – but I will also try to minimize parking impacts.
That said: there are roughly 1,000 parking spaces along, or coming to, the area between 7th, 8th, Monroe, and Franklin. This includes about 350 spaces at the 7th and Monroe structure, 450 on-street spaces, and about 300 more coming to the new buildings at 8th and Monroe and 8th and Jackson. Some of these spaces are public, some are RPP, and some are private spaces for apartment building residents. Also, the above totals exclude every off-street, alley, and driveway space.
Fortunately, we have pretty good, recent data on parking use (from a study related to the new Hanover development along 8th Street, which you can find here). The data suggests that, on a typical day (pre-pandemic, school in session), roughly 65% of the 458 spots between or along 7th, 8th, Monroe, and Franklin are used. This varies, of course – major neighborhood events (schools, Dance Place, farmers market) mean more people parking, street sweeping and construction mean fewer spots etc. But at least we have some information on the baselines.
The 8th Street plan would remove 30-50 spots, give or take. DDOT is juggling a couple priorities here: (1) keeping good sightlines near corners and driveways; (2) making it safer for trucks to maneuver; and (3) allowing curbside space for deliveries and loading.
Two other parking factors to consider: first, the plan would preserve as many spaces as possible in front of the residences along 8th Street – specifically between Franklin and Hamlin, and Jackson and Kearny. Second, DDOT would consider converting additional blocks to Residential Parking Permit (RPP) to preserve parking for residents.
Why do we need a protected bike lane here? Why not (1) behind the buildings on 8th, (2) off-street, or (3) on 7th Street or 9th Street or 10th Street?
Long story short on (1) and (2): the time to put a trail behind the buildings along 8th Street, along the train tracks (like the trail south of Franklin) has passed, and the time to put a trail off-street, between the buildings and 8th Street, is not anytime soon. For example, while DDOT's long-term plan is to have an off-street cycletrack on the east side of 8th Street (the side closest to the tracks), doing so now would take years of legal and operational planning.
The choice right now is not between these options and the on-street PBL option, it is between an on-street PBL or nothing.
As to (3) – the MBT runs along 8th Street because the MBT ends at the south end of 8th Street (Franklin) and picks up again at the north end of 8th Street (Monroe). Soon, the trail will extend even further north, to Fort Totten and, eventually, Silver Spring. South of 8th Street, the MBT is expanding through Edgewood and Eckington.
Simply put, hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists use the MBT/8th Street daily, as do trucks and an increasing number of cars. 8th Street should more safely accommodate those users now.
I mean just look at these pictures!
Here's the crux of the issue: with four schools and an expanding MBT, hundreds of cyclists, pedestrians, and children are using 8th Street on a normal day. So are dozens of trucks, thousands of cars, and - with two large residential buildings opening on 8th soon - more of all of those things.
The status quo on 8th Street cannot continue. If it does, there’s an unacceptably high risk of it ending in tragedy. At least eight years of discussion and study of 8th Street has so far gone nowhere. We can debate the benefits and drawbacks of different approaches, but there is no "solution" and no "plan" that will solve every problem. Every proposal had tradeoffs, but so does doing nothing, and the potential costs of doing nothing are increasing.
What about pedestrians?
There are at least five major pedestrian safety benefits in this plan, or in the near future, on 8th Street.
First, a one-way conversion reduces both the number of cars on 8th Street and the direction in which those cars are coming, which makes walking safer for pedestrians.
Second, a narrower street should reduce the speed of cars along 8th. Right now, 8th Street is relatively low volume, but pretty wide in many spots. It's ripe for speeding.
Third, while DDOT should try to minimize parking losses, much of the parking reduction will be to increase visibility at the corners and intersections along 8th Street. This means drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians will have an easier time seeing each other along 8th Street.
Fourth, a narrowed one-lane street reduces the driving space that pedestrians have to cross. In other words, instead of crossing 20’ of travel lanes with cars potentially coming from two directions, pedestrians only have to cross 10’ of travel lanes with cars coming from only one direction.
Finally, the Hanover development between Kearny and Irving will rebuild two blocks of sidewalk along the east side of 8th Street. While we’ll still have a gap south of Irving, this is one step closer to a safe walking path along the entire east side of 8th Street.
I know from experience that whenever a bike lane is proposed, everyone focuses on the bike lane and ignores everything else. That doesn't mean the many pedestrian benefits don't exist. They do, and they're equally important.
What about the impact on 7th Street?
There will likely be some impact along 7th Street NE. The impact should be relatively minor; DDOT spent much of the past year studying this. You can review that analysis yourself here. But a few things to keep in mind.
First, there’s an inevitable impact on the entire neighborhood from new buildings at 7th and Irving, 7th and Monroe, the coming 8th Street development, the St Paul townhomes on 4th Street, and the six schools in a four block radius. These are certainly impacts and challenges for our neighborhood, but they’re separate from a one-way 8th Street.
More importantly: DDOT estimates a moderate traffic impact on 7th Street, with about 2-3 additional cars per hour. DDOT also recommends two dedicated left turn lane adjustments – from Monroe onto 7th, and 7th onto Franklin – to deal with some of the effects. Finally, I will likely suggest an additional all-way stop at 7th and Lawrence to improve crossing and visibility issues at that intersection, similar to the all-way stop installed at 7th and Hamlin earlier this year.
What about other study recommendations for the schools?
The studies and analyses contain several other recommendations related to the schools along Edgewood & 8th Streets. Some have been implemented, some have not, and others require coordination between the schools, and DDOT. I will facilitate that coordination as much as possible.
Some of these recommendations affect schools outside of my Single Member District, which ends at Franklin Street. While I will express my thoughts and opinions on a plan DDOT has presented publicly, I try to stay out of issues affecting specific businesses and schools outside of my Single Member District.
Below you can find an overview of the school safety recommendations.
What’s the timeline? What are the next steps?
Three parts to this: (1) where we are; (2) where we’ve been; and (3) where we’re going.
First, where we are: before DDOT moves forward, they will issue what is called a “Notice of Intent,” or “NOI.” The NOI (1) allows an ANC to make a formal recommendation, and (2) allows all residents a some time (usually 30 days) to provide comments. The NOI typically includes actual project (“blueprint” type things) as well.
We’re not there yet. DDOT completed its analysis in August and presented it to ANC 5E in September. I’ve circulated DDOT’s preliminary plans to businesses and residents; you can view everything related to this project here. DDOT’s most recent presentation is here.
Second, where we’ve been: frankly, going in circles for about a decade. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different story and a different set of opinions on the problems along 8th Street, why they haven’t been meaningfully addressed, and how they should be addressed.
But I think all residents can agree that 8th Street will see more road users and an increasing mix of road uses, and that several of the major issues identified over the past decade - particularly with school pick up and drop off - have not been addressed. I am committed to addressing those challenges, even if they’re hard, and even if they involve tradeoffs.
Finally, what's next. DDOT is working to develop an actual plan (i.e., something that looks more like blueprints than a PowerPoint presentation). I would love this process to go faster; I also understand and appreciate the number of moving parts involved in this process. I'd rather have a considered plan than a rushed plan.
Once those plans are complete, DDOT will conduct coordinated outreach to residents and businesses, particularly along 8th Street. This is *in addition to* the extensive outreach conducted to date. But it's an important step.
DDOT will then develop final designs and, before moving forward, issue a "Notice of Intent" which opens a formal period for public, ANC, and resident comment. Installation would then follow.
Where do I stand on this project?
As ANC, I support it. For two main reasons:
First, the school pick-up/drop-off situation is unsustainable. Four schools in a two-block radius - three down a dead-end street! - is incredibly challenging. This is one of the issues I heard about frequently while campaigning for ANC in 2018, and ever since; I've observed it with my own eyes, and heard about it from residents, the schools, and the crossing guards. It's a mess that requires a serious solution. A one-way street is a serious solution that matches the severity of the problem.
Second, it's increasingly negligent for DC to leave the MBT unprotected for a half mile on 8th Street. The MBT is one of our premier cycling routes (and heavily used by pedestrians). DC has plans to extend the MBT north to Ft Totten and beyond; major developments are in progress along the MBT in Edgewood and Eckington. The COVID crisis has sparked a "bike boom." The MBT is a critical part of a growing bike network in a city trying to get more (though not all!) residents to travel by bike instead of car. It is outright dangerous to create an enticing bike trail with a half-mile, unprotected section in the middle. It is a disaster waiting to happen.
That said, after two years as ANC - and after working with the community on Franklin Street - I understand the wide range of opinions that come along with every project or proposal, especially those that include bike lanes, and especially those in changing neighborhoods. As always, I am open to questions, comments, and suggestions. Please reach out at 5E01@anc.dc.gov.