To Reduce Risk of Death, Calm Franklin Street
In 2017, DDOT began to develop plans to calm traffic and install bike lanes along Franklin St. NE between 4th and 12th St. In response to questions from the DC Council during recent performance oversight hearings, DDOT indicated that they hope to implement these changes during 2019. Below is an overview of the proposed changes to Franklin St., the problems the plan is trying to solve, answers to various questions, and a path forward. In the meantime, you can view the full collection of project materials here.
Franklin Street now
Franklin St. NE spans 1.3 miles between Rhode Island Ave and Michigan Ave NE. For most of that stretch - west of 4th St. and east of 12th St. - Franklin has one travel lane in each direction:
Between 4th and 12th streets, though, Franklin changes. If you are driving west - from Rhode Island toward Michigan Ave., Franklin widens to two travel lanes at 12th St (though the careful observer will note that many cars simply straddle the two lanes for a couple blocks).
And Franklin widens again - from 30' to 44' - just after you pass Noyes Elementary School, Noyes Park, and 10th St.
After three blocks of wide travel lanes, Franklin quickly narrows again at 7th St. NE. Here, the total driving space shrinks from 44' to 30', with one travel lane in each direction, and a rush hour restricted parking lane on the north side of Franklin.
This pattern continues until you approach 4th St., where the right (north side) parking lane turns into a "Right Turn Only" lane that everybody ignores and just uses to whip around cars turning left.
Finally, after using the right turn only lane to accelerate around cars turning left, cars skirt back to the left to avoid yet another parking lane on Franklin St. west of 4th.
So ends Franklin Street's eight block stretch of briefly expanding to two travel lanes in a single direction, then increasing in width by 36% for three blocks, then narrowing again just in time for traffic to speed by, 30 feet from residents' front doors - but only some of the time, because the rest of the time the northernmost lane is a parking lane.
What's wrong with Franklin Street?
It's a poor road design that is probably going to get somebody killed, especially as Edgewood continues to add residents, homes, and schools. For example, Single Member District 5E01 alone has added over 1,000 residential units since 2013, and there are now seven schools within two blocks of this stretch of Franklin. The road design fails drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists in several ways.
First, the design encourages speeding, and does so in particularly dangerous places - between 10th and 12th St., as Franklin passes between Noyes Elementary School and Noyes Park, across the bridge and the busy 7th and Franklin intersection, and between 4th and 7th St., as Franklin passes narrowly between homes on both sides.
According to DDOT, 15% of drivers exceed 35mph across the Franklin St. Bridge. Based on the DDOT data above, that equates to roughly 2,000 cars a day traveling this stretch of Franklin at more than 35mph. The speed limit is 25 mph.
Second, the traffic flow is unbalanced. Two rush-hour-restricted travel lanes going west help traffic zoom into the city, but eastbound traffic on Franklin has only one travel lane for the entire stretch. Left turns in particular can cause backups and provoke abrupt-and-dangerous lane changes and swerving at intersections.
Third, the current configuration does not work for pedestrians or cyclists. Despite serving as a critical east-west route and connector to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, the Franklin Street Bridge is extremely inhospitable to all but the most experienced and brave cyclists. The current pedestrian paths on the bridge are not wide enough; narrow sidewalks bring pedestrians dangerously close to speeding traffic at 7th and Franklin, and sight lines along the stretch are poor - particularly when trying to cross Franklin along 5th and 6th St.
Fourth, the configuration encourages abrupt lane changes and swerving at multiple intersections. As westbound Franklin expands from one travel lane to two, cars race and jockey for position before having to quickly merge back into one travel lane at 7th or 4th. The extra-wide bridge lanes mean cars try to swerve around turning vehicles; sometimes into crosswalks. And the absence of dedicated left turn lanes mean cars accelerate around other vehicles making left turns. This half-mile stretch of Franklin averages 30 reported crashes a year - a number that is likely conservative, as it includes only reported crashes.
Whether you drive, walk, bike, or scoot, this stretch of Franklin Street fails the residents of Brookland, Edgewood, and DC as a whole. And it puts our most vulnerable road users at risk.
What is the plan?
DDOT's proposal adjusts Franklin in three segments.
Between 10th and 12th: reduces one westbound travel lane and adds dedicated bike lanes in each direction.
Between 7th and 10th (the bridge): (1) adds a dedicated left turn lane from WB Franklin onto SB 7th St.; (2) adds a dedicated left turn lane from EB Franklin onto NB 10th; (3) keeps one travel lane in each direction, but narrows each lane to 10' (from 15'); adds protected bike lanes in both direction.
Between 4th and 7th: two options: (1) remove the parking lane on the north side of Franklin and add bike lanes in both directions; or (2) keep the parking; bikes share the road with cars.
Here's an overview; more detail below:
Franklin Between 10th St. and 12th St.
The "one travel lane in each direction" configuration that exists east of 12th St. continues west of 12th in DDOT's proposal, and the extra road space is used for two bike lanes. The lanes could be semi-protected, probably with flexposts, but there isn't enough space for the customary 2' buffer. Each driving lane would be 10', same as the current lane width along this stretch.
Franklin Street Bridge (7th St. to 10th St.)
The extra-wide bridge allows for ample space for bike lanes, two narrowed (10') travel lanes, and a dedicated left turn lane to facilitate turns at 7th and 10th. This reconfiguration aims to put this stretch of Franklin on a "road diet." By narrowing the lanes and adding a dedicated left turn lane, we can reduce traffic speed *and* reduce the number of potential crash points. The added bike lanes, meanwhile, will improve safety for cyclists and keep the sidewalks clear for pedestrians. This is a solution that improves Franklin St. for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
For more on "road diets" check out this video:
Franklin Between 4th St. and 7th St.
There are two options for Franklin St. from 4th to 7th. One keeps the current configuration; bikes would share a lane with traffic. The other, shown above, removes the parking lane on the north side of the street and adds dedicated bike lanes to both sides of the street.
Questions and Answers
Are there any related traffic studies?
Yes. You can view DDOT's traffic analysis summary here. The analysis concluded that "All study intersections [Franklin at 4th, 7th, and 10th] are expected to continue operating at acceptable levels during the AM and PM peak hours with the planned road diet project. The vehicle queuing results indicate that all queues on Franklin Street NE are expected to be accommodated within the planned storage lanes and without spillback to adjacent signalized intersections under planned conditions."
Where can I view the actual plans?
Technical plans can be found here.
Have these plans been publicly discussed?
Yes. These plans were discussed at Edgewood Civic Association, Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association, and ANC 5E meetings in the fall, and Single Member District 5E01 and 5B04 meetings in 2019. My preference would be to work with DDOT to hold a joint discussion, involving the Brookland and Edgewood communities, focused on this specific project. And soon.
What has the community reaction been so far?
There is a strong consensus that this stretch of Franklin Street is unsafe, plagued by speeding, and uninviting to pedestrians and cyclists alike. Residents particularly dislike the speeding, traffic volumes, noise, and difficulty crossing Franklin St. from north to south.
To be honest, the most common reaction I've heard to the plan to calm traffic and install protected bike lanes on Franklin is "it's too dangerous to bike on Franklin." So...
Anyway, I attempt to address other concerns below.
Won't this project increase congestion along an already-congested Franklin Street?
Maybe. Maybe not. Franklin is indeed a busy street, and removing travel lanes could increase congestion - though the only potential travel lane removals are between 10th and 12th, and 4th to 7th (during morning rush hour, as this lane is used for parking the rest of the time, which also presumably increases congestion).
But it's important to consider the following. First, while congestion peaks at certain times of certain days, residents have to live with Franklin St. all the time. While I empathize with commuters and parents dropping off students, the goal is to make Franklin safe for all road users, not simply to get people through our neighborhood as quickly and conveniently as possible.
Second, the traffic study mentioned above concluded that traffic would continue to flow at acceptable levels. The left turn lanes on the bridge in particular will mitigate certain backups on the bridge. Now, for example, a vehicle turning left from the single EB Franklin travel lane onto NB 10th can cause EB traffic to backup. With a dedicated left turn lane, that shouldn't happen.
Third, "traffic flow" is not "safe traffic flow." Residents know what free-flowing traffic does on Franklin - it speeds by a school and a park, flies over the bridge, and continues through a residential neighborhood. This is indeed traffic flow; it is not necessarily safe for anybody.
What about the Northeast Boundary Tunnel Project/Rhode Island Shopping Center Construction/Hanover 8th St Development/DC PLUG Project? Won't those increase traffic?
Probably. Which is why it is absolutely critical that we focus on developing safe alternatives for people to get around the city.
I've heard some version of this concern - "What about these nearby construction/development projects?" - in response to nearly every transportation proposal brought up at any meeting I've attended. I get it: traffic isn't pleasant, the nearby project will make it less pleasant, and that's why we shouldn't do anything to hinder traffic.
But traffic is never getting "better." DC just passed 700,000 residents; 6.2 million people live in the DC region. Ward 5 is brimming with construction and development projects. If we wait until these projects are all finished, we're going to be waiting a long, long time. We *have* to make sure people can get around our neighborhood and city safely now, without getting in a car for every trip.
Not to mention, Brookland and Edgewood residents are under no obligation to accept a broken, unsafe street simply because we're building and fixing other stuff nearby.
And even if you do choose to drive, (1) every other person who chooses not to drive benefits you; and (2) you're less likely to hit a pedestrian, cyclist, or another driver on a street designed to safely accommodate all these users.
Won't this impede emergency vehicles?
It should not. The amount of pavement remains the same throughout this stretch of Franklin. Also, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration specifically identified road diets like the one planned for the Franklin Street Bridge as a road feature that can "significantly improve response times." See here!
Contrary to popular belief, Road Diets do not degrade response times for law enforcement and emergency services. Instead, one simple Road Diet feature can actually improve response times: the two-way, left-turn lane.
Cyclists don't follow the rules/should be required to wear helmets/should have to carry insurance/annoy me.
Cyclists should follow the rules of the road, and those who don't undermine their own cause.
Cyclists should also wear helmets; maybe they should be required to do so by law. Same with insurance. I don't know.
But these are all different discussions for different days. Right now, we're discussing how to improve Franklin Street for all road users. In doing so, it's important to keep a few things in mind.
First, even if you're justifiably irked and worried about cyclists weaving through traffic, that's a sound argument for giving cyclists dedicated space on the road. Just as we have sidewalks for pedestrians, a safe road should have dedicated spaces for different modes of transit.
Second, I think drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians can all agree that your right to live or avoid injury should not depend on other road users perfectly following all the rules. A safe road *assumes* that not everybody will follow all the rules all the time. On this very stretch of Franklin, for example, data suggest that 2,000 drivers a day fly through our neighborhoods more than 10mph over the speed limit. Everybody deserves a safe road, and road design should reflect this reality without insisting on perfect compliance under penalty of pain.
Finally, the consequences of not following the rules, or making a mistake, are far more severe for pedestrians and cyclists. These individuals are not surrounded by steel cages, and are necessarily more vulnerable than drivers, who are. Again, this is not a blame game, but rather a reality that our road design must acknowledge.
Wouldn't this remove parking spaces along Franklin between 4th and 7th?
One version of the plan would, yes. It is something we remain willing to discuss with residents, though it's pretty safe to assume residents with parking spaces directly in front of their homes would like to keep them, just as people who ride bikes would like protected spaces in which to ride them. Tradeoffs abound.
Two thoughts on the parking issue: First, it's a bit difficult to reconcile concerns about increased congestion and concerns about removing parking on consecutive blocks. If the goal is to keep traffic moving as freely as possible, fine. If the goal is to preserve as much parking as possible, ok. But the two are a bit difficult to reconcile.
Second, the vast majority of homes near this stretch have alley access/parking in back.
But as the potentially affected parking spaces are in my SMD, I do empathize with residents and will continue to work to find a solution that provides the most benefit to residents and the District as a whole.
What about speed bumps/raised crosswalks/rumble strips?
A few suggestions I've heard at meetings. The short answer is that Franklin is classified as a "minor arterial," and you can't put these things on a minor arterial. Plus, the rumble strips (and probably the speed bumps) would drive Franklin St. residents nuts.
The raised crosswalk idea is most intriguing, especially between 4th and 7th, where residents have voiced concerns about crossing Franklin on foot. Bike lanes would shorten the crossing distance and make it easier for residents to cross Franklin, but raised crosswalks might also be viable. For more on raised crosswalks, click here.
Why do we need bike lanes on Franklin Street?
Franklin Street is an important east-west route in an area that doesn't have many. A bike lane here would better connect both Brookland and Edgewood with the MBT, the 4th street cycletrack, and, eventually, the crosstown lanes along Irving.
More broadly, the more good, protected bike lanes we build, the more people will feel comfortable biking, and the easier it will be for people to get around the city on a bike. Every time somebody takes a trip by bike instead of by car, that's a benefit to us all.
What if this plan is a failure and everything we worried about come true?
Then we do something different! Modify the plan. Make changes. Address any problems.
What we shouldn't do, though, is accept an unsafe status quo because we're paralyzed by discussion and analysis. Discuss, analyze, and engage, yes. But do so deliberately, with an eye toward action, not perpetual analysis. Also, implementing a plan will allow residents and officials to see and react to actual outcomes instead of hypothetical worries.
Where do we go from here?
These plans were first developed in 2017 and have been presented at several community meetings since then. The Mayor, City Council, and DDOT have consistently touted their "Vision Zero" initiative and emphasized the importance of safer streets and protected bike lanes. Unfortunately, though, action has not followed the talk.
Our elected officials and the agencies they oversee owe it to residents to publicly engage with and promote the ideas, policies, and projects they claim to support. If Vision Zero is more than just a slogan, officials should back it up. If modifying our transportation infrastructure so people don't die on our streets is truly a priority, then we need to engage residents with a purpose, and with an eye toward action.
So we will work with DDOT, Councilmembers, and the Mayor's Office to organize a discussion on calming Franklin Street. This will happen soon. And it will happen with a purpose: improving the safety of a road in our neighborhood to benefit everybody who uses that road. This is either a priority for our city, or it is not. Now is the time to find out.