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Not So Calm About Conn. Avenue

Many letters have come in during the past few days about a traffic in Montgomery County.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
They have done some really odd road work on a stretch of Connecticut Avenue between Bel Pre Road and Georgia Avenue (Conn. Ave. cuts across and reconnects and crosses over Georgia just off Bel Pre Road in Maryland.

They have made it into one lane (was 2 lanes each way) resurfaced and put in large cement squares right in the lane of traffic! I have never seen such a strange thing. Do you have any idea what Maryland Transportation is
doing? Two of the new sections are for the handicap access across both sides of the roadway. The rest of cement squares are oddly placed on both sides of the road in the far right lanes ... strange.

Goodie Shannon

Conn Ave 5.jpg Montgomery County reduced travel lanes on a portion of Connecticut Avenue. (Robert Thomson)

Many commuters who know Connecticut Avenue as the important commuter artery between Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County and dowtown Washington may be unfamiliar with this stretch on the east side of Georgia. It's part of a triangle of roadways completed by Bel Pre Road and Georgia Avenue. There are apartment complexes on either side and a park, but many drivers are just passing through as they travel between Bel Pre and the junction of Georgia and Connecticut.

Many of them are going over 55 mph through this 40 mph zone between Bel Pre and Grand Pre roads. Montgomery County recently launced a program to reduce speeding by changing the configuration of the roadway.

Conn Ave 2.jpg One of the concrete islands reducing the roadway's width. (Robert Thomson)

The county's Department of Public Works and Transportation set up several concrete islands that reduce what was a four-lane roadway to two lanes. Three bus stops were relocated, and cross walks are being repositioned to improve pedestrian safety. The department says it's planning a similar treatment for Arcola Avenue, another popular cut-through.

Conn Ave 4.jpg Concrete island also gives walkers a fighting chance of crossing road. (Robert Thomson)

I liked what I saw between 8:30 and 9 o'clock this morning. Traffic was relatively light at that hour, perhaps summer vacations added to that, or some drivers may have decided to avoid the area. In Montgomery County, I'm more used to seeing speed bumps or speed cameras employed to slow traffic, but this is an interesting solution.

The technique doesn't always work. The District abandoned its traffic-narrowing effort on Military Road west of Rock Creek Park after slowed-down commuters started bailing out onto other routes, including neighborhood streets. But some of the factors that hindered that effort don't apply to Connecticut Avenue at this point.

When I was there, traffic moved along pretty quickly, and I appreciated the advantage the new concrete island gave me as a pedestrian. It not only shortened the distance I had to walk in the roadway, but also gave me a place to wait in the middle until it was safe to cross the other lane of traffic.

But judging by the letters I've received, many people are confused about the traffic planners intentions or downright angry to find the traffic slowed down. What do you think of such measures?

By Robert Thomson  |  July 16, 2007; 10:11 AM ET
Categories:  Driving  
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It seems to be a unique feature of this region. Local and state governments, with long lists of roads and transit lines that need to be built and/or widened, instead spending their money on reducing the capacity of roadways.
Arcola is already one lane in each direction. What are they going to do, make it a one-way street???

Posted by: Joe in SS | July 16, 2007 11:49 AM | Report abuse

What a waste of time and money!

Considering the many unbuilt roads in this region, the last thing local governemts should be doing is reducing road capacity.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 16, 2007 12:11 PM | Report abuse

How ironic.

Montgomery County spends a few million on "traffic calming measures" while it indulges ICC opponents.

Posted by: CEEAF | July 16, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I think these measures to reduce speed are a good thing, assuming it doesn't cause too much back up. It appears that the treatment for Connecticut Avenue isn't really causing back ups, but rather adding a small amount of congestion to force drivers to drive at the speed limit.

The county's work seems to focus on residential streets that are used as cut-throughs. Streets that are already three or more lanes in each direction are not going to be reduced.

Arcola Avenue between Georgia and Kemp Mill Road has one lane of traffic in each direction and parking on both sides of the street. This section of the road will not be "calmed." Arcola Avenue between Kemp Mill Road and University Boulevard is four lanes wide, two lanes in each direction. Parking is prohibited on one side of the street all-day and on the other side parking is prohibited in the afternoons (but few cars park there). By calming this section of Arcola, the County can maintain the same level of service that the western section of Arcola has and provide a pedestrian refuge for those who need to cross the street.

Posted by: MRS-MAN | July 16, 2007 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Bob, in a slightly similar vein, you might want to look into Falls Church's plan to reduce Rte. 7 (Broad St.) to one lane each way in the daytime, over the next few months. They will be doing utility work (ironically, to benfit a new condo building that is failing before it even opens) that supposedly requires these lane closures. Originally, the city was going to have them working from 7 am to 7 pm, snarling both rush hours, but now they've decided to stop work before the evening rush.

Posted by: Tom T. | July 16, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Why didn't MoCo just do like VA and put a stoplight every block if they're more interested in adding to instead of aiding traffic congestion?

Posted by: Stick | July 16, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I guess if the road's design is changed to make people obey the speed limit, then technically, no one is being slowed down!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2007 1:25 PM | Report abuse

It would be nice just to have more consistent enforcement in the area. We have speed bumps, traffic cameras, and a stop sign and still have speeding, aggressive/reckless driving, blowing through stop signs, etc, at all hours of the day. Southbound Georgia Ave right before Connecticut is a nightmare at rush hour. Enforcement has not kept pace with the growth in traffic.

Posted by: Bel Pre Resident | July 16, 2007 1:47 PM | Report abuse

These complaints reflect an attitude you see too much in the DC area - my convenience is all that matters, I don't have to accomodate anyone else.

I am familiar with this stretch of Connecticut Avenue, and it is an area of very heavy bus usage. People have to cross the street to get to the bus; drivers need to share the road with pedestrians. There is an even more severe problem on Georgia Avenue between Bel Pre and Connecticut, but Georgia is a major through route in that area and it will be much harder there to find a solution that is reasonable for both drivers and pedestrians.

The Washington "me, me, me" attitude, by the way, is not limited to drivers. You see the same thing among Metro riders who lean against the windscreen and block the doorway, rather than step out of a crowded train, let others out, and step back in - as subway passengers normally did when I lived in New York and Boston.

We live in a big city - we need to accept that others are here too and public spaces must be shared.

Posted by: transit rider | July 16, 2007 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I am continually astonished at the attitude that some drivers have that pedestrian safety is an inconvenience and an unworthy goal. Please value these people's lives as you would those of your own family.

Posted by: Olney | July 16, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

They put similar islands in my neighborhood in Bethesda on Grosvenor Lane. Since their installation they have done nothing to slow down traffic. There have been a number of rear end collisions near them and at least 1 pedestrian fatality that I know of.

Posted by: Max Vol | July 16, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Glad I don't live in MD

Posted by: Virginian | July 16, 2007 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I share Olney's sentiment, but it would be nice to know if the lane narrowing will actually make things safer.

One might be tempted to trust that our planners know what they are doing, but after the Americal Legion Bridge painting fiasco, in which I'm still stuck every day, I'm not much inclined to trust. I'm imagining (just imagining, mind you) that the conversation might have gone something like: hey, this is cheap, and commuters will "adjust."

Posted by: Lee | July 16, 2007 6:57 PM | Report abuse

I don't have a problem with them installing speed control features, but they need to be applied more consistently and in harmony with the traffic plans of Montgomery County. Streets designed to be major arterial roads like Connecticut Ave should keep their maximum number of lanes for flexibility and should have other measures to control speed. On residential roads, lane narrowing measures seem more appropriate.

As a local driver on the above discussed section of Conn Ave, it was the lack of advance signage explaining the work that bothered me the most. One day when I crossed Georgia Ave I was surprised to be suddenly dodging milling, curb construction, and multiple lane shifts.

Posted by: Miggy1992 | July 16, 2007 7:38 PM | Report abuse

As someone who lives in one of those apartment complexes near this debacle, I am outraged. Dr. Gridlock is right; there are a lot of people living in this triangle. But if that is so, why reduce lanes?! I am certainly a supporter of people driving the speed limit, but can't we drive 55 mph in one lane just as easily as 55 mph using two lanes? I am amazed that the County had so many options to consider in effort to reduce speed, and this, the worst of them all, is the one they chose.

Posted by: Aspen Hill | July 17, 2007 8:17 AM | Report abuse

It strikes me as a better compromise than what some areas in Virginia have done. I've driven through neighborhoods (Mantua being the chief offender) where speed humps and stop signs have sprouted up all over the place, with the goal being not just to control "speeding" but also to discourage people from using those roads at all. I find this rather offensive. If you want people to find another road, go lobby Fairfax County to time the traffic lights correctly on the main roads. Moreover, the MUTCD explicitly states that stop signs are not to be used as speed control devices.

Maryland's plan sounds interesting, but as it's not a road I use it's hard for me to compare the way it was to the way it is. I suppose they could have tried the chicanes that are popular in the UK (an island blocks one side of the road; traffic going in that direction must yield to traffic going the other way and then proceed when it's clear). Then we'd REALLY see outraged drivers :-)

(Chicane diagram from the Highway Code online:

Posted by: Rich | July 17, 2007 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I just want to echo the comments from above that there are so many places in this region that need additional capacity the reducing capacity is inherently counter-intuitive.

And I'm sorry but even in the greater Washington DC area people drive 90% of the time and at most at least 66% of the time in specific areas.

With these stats in mind, of course the drivers should be put ahead of everyone else

Posted by: Frustrated | July 17, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

D'oh, the link I posted above got messed up....there should not be a closing parenthesis in the URL. Copy the URL to your browser and delete the link for this to work. Sorry about the screw-up.

Posted by: Rich | July 17, 2007 3:12 PM | Report abuse

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