Stop Sign Quest Part 4: New Stop Sign at 12th and Newton!

Stop Sign Quest Part 4: New Stop Sign at 12th and Newton!

Admittedly, I am pretty behind with this update, but it is fairly exciting to be writing about the new stop sign after writing about Brookland desperately needing traffic calming, the decade long quest for a stop sign by Brookland residents, and when traffic studies studies, and resident requests fail, accosting the mayor at a coffee shop.

The new pedestrian preservation device at 12th and Newton NE.

I’m told that it was fairly ineffective upon initial installation. Drivers unaccustomed to a stop sign sped through the intersection, pedestrians sprinted, dodging cars.

Both drivers and pedestrians took some time to get to this simple sign which powerfully and simply indicates that the street belongs to everyone, regardless of size, speed, economic status, physical impairment. Each person gets their turn to proceed in order of arrival, safely.

I would like to thank persistent neighbors and friends in Brookland, Mayor Fenty for being responsive to resident concerns and for introducing me to his staff to assist in getting the petitions and the stop sign, and especially Sybongile Cook, the Mayor’s Outreach Coordinator for Ward 1. Even though she doesn’t represent Brookland which is Ward 5, Ms. Cook was incredibly helpful in getting me the materials and contacts necessary to proceed with the stop sign request.

I was back in D.C. for the holidays and got to see the stop sign for the first time. I actually forgot that it was there and was baffled to see drivers waiting patiently in their cars at the crosswalk. I stepped into the crosswalk, sure that one of the drivers would decide I’d taken too long and accelerate, but that didn’t happen. I noticed the short line of cars waiting, remembered the stop sign, and yelped with excitement. I really did, I yelped.

I was so thrilled I crossed the street again. And drivers waited. And other pedestrians crossed too, now walking without fear.

Then I crossed for the third time, satisfied with the resolution to a year-long quest for a safer street in Brookland, and moved to Pittsburgh.

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Stop Sign Quest Part 3: Maybe If I Ask the Mayor Personally?

Stop Sign Quest Part 3: Maybe If I Ask the Mayor Personally?

After the applause fest for the new Columbia Heights plaza the other day, I was writing about it outside Sticky Fingers, DC’s scrumptious vegan bakery and saw that Mayor Adrian Fenty was sauntering in my direction! Perfect!

Adrian Fenty was elected in large part because of his accessibility. He knocked on doors in neighborhoods all over the city talking to residents about bringing a new era of accountability and action.  Accessibility, accountability, action: who doesn’t want that in an elected official?

So I jumped up and did my own saunter to him and thrust out my hand so he had to shake it. Introducing myself, I said “I’m a resident of Ward 5 and I’ve been trying to get a stop sign in my neighborhood for a year. Can you help me?”

He seemed disturbed by this and told me that he had just had a nice little press conference with Gabe Klein from Transportation. I said I’d attended and he said he needed to introduce me to Mr. Klein so the Department of Transportation could start working on the stop sign.

He introduced me to a couple of his assistants and everyone was surprisingly earnest and helpful. By the time I was introduced to Gabe Klein, there were seven people standing around me listening intently to the description of the Stop Sign Quest. I received cards from the Director of Communications, of Transportation, and Ward 1’s Outreach Coordinator (with cell phone number!).

When describing the location, almost no one could mentally access the corner of 12th and Newton, the main street of Brookland, and I remembered how Northwest-centric this city is. The landmark that made some eyes light up was the former movie theater which is now a horrendous chain pharmacy with a marquee. “Ah… that place.”

Photo Courtesy of Mr T in DC

They told me that a traffic study and petition were required to move forward and I countered that a traffic study had already been conducted, and that a stop sign was supposed to have been installed as part of the streetscape redesign that was completed earlier this year. So they fell back on the petition.

I asked why no one had mentioned, in any of the previous correspondence in the last year, that a petition was necessary. Blank faces. I have no problems getting people to sign a petition and will do it gladly and quickly, and would have done it last year if anyone had said that one was necessary.

The Outreach Coordinator for Ward 1, Sybongile Cook, thought she might have a copy of the necessary petition in her car but didn’t so she said she would email it to me. I still haven’t received it.

These are some problems I have with this process:

1. If a petition is necessary to obtain a stop sign, why was that simple fact not mentioned after a dozen emails?

2. Why is a petition necessary if the previous traffic study determined that a stop sign was needed at the corner and was supposed to have been installed?

3. Why was the stop sign, that people have been clamoring for for years and that was declared part of the streetscape, simply not put in place?

It seems that it would be easier for the city to install a relatively cheap sign rather than facing the potential lawsuits and the backlash of the community when someone is inevitably run down.

I will continue to follow up with all of my new contacts in the DC Government regarding this issue until it is resolved.

Stop Sign Quest Part 2: Oh Please, Please Can We Have a Stop Sign?

Stop Sign Quest Part 2: Oh Please, Please Can We Have a Stop Sign?

Let this show that email “activism” is not the most efficient way of getting something done, especially if you do it infrequently, politely, and don’t send it to enough of the right people.

It’s been nearly a year since I first contacted the District Department of Transportation requesting a stop sign at the intersection of 12th and Newton NE, one of the main pedestrian intersections in Brookland, my quiet neighborhood in Northeast DC. I thought it would be kind of easy.

this is a stop sign one block away at an intersection with much less traffic
this is a stop sign one block away at an intersection with much less traffic

On October 6, 2008, I sent the following email to a woman I’ve worked with before at DDOT:

“I am pretty sure you are not the person to ask about this, but I’m not sure where to direct this inquiry. There doesn’t seem to be an option for requesting a stop sign on the DC Government service request forms. I want to find out how to get a stop sign or stop light at 12th and Newton Sts NE. It is a really busy intersection with hundreds of people crossing the street to get to and from the Brookland metro stop and cars rarely obey the yield to pedestrians sign. It is really dangerous for children and elderly and though there is a stop light at 12th and Monroe, people drive south at probably 35-40 miles an hour to make it through the light. This morning I was almost hit while walking in the crosswalk by a woman who slammed on her brakes a few inches in front of me and then screamed at me from her window, right after she almost hit another much older woman.

Your disgruntled pedestrian friend,

Laura”

Fifteen minutes later she forwarded it to Chris Delfs: “The email below is about an unsafe intersection in Ward 5. While we are currently without a Ward 5 planner – is there someone that this can get referred to?”

I didn’t hear anything back and let it move comfortably to the back of my mind where it stayed for many months, thinking somehow that I’d done my part. Without a planner for our ward, it likely moved even farther off the DDOT radar. It seems that happens a lot, according to many of my neighbors who have tried numerous times to have a stop sign installed.

On April 7, 2009 Gabe Klein was confirmed as the Director of Transportation and I sent him the previous email I’d sent to DDOT repeating my request:

“Congratulations on your confirmation!

I’m forwarding you this email because I haven’t heard anything about this stop sign request. Apparently my lovely ward 5 was without a planner back in October, and maybe still is, but we could really use a stop sign at 12th and Newton NE. It’s where people from east Brookland cross to get to the metro and cars never obey the poorly placed yield to pedestrian sign. There are stop signs all over Brookland where they are not as vital as this intersection.

Also, there are new speedbumps all over 10th st NE. Any chance we could get some bike cut-outs mandated in future installations? They are really high and a bit difficult to ride over. (Especially with that fork on my bike that’s bent, as you pointed out at the safety ride a couple of weeks ago).

Thanks,

Laura”

I was impressed to hear back from him the next day, two days into his job.

“Hi Laura,

Thanks!

We will look into this and get right back to you. Jeff Marootian will bird-dog the requests.

gabe”

Bird-dogging, eh? Didn’t know what that was but I decided it was promising.

It wasn’t.

Three months later, in July I sent an email to the very active Brookland listserv with the reasons I thought a stop sign was necessary. I received another “thank you” from our ANC Commissioner Carolyn Steptoe, but I also received many messages from residents nodding in email agreement about the need for a stop sign. There were a lot of stories of close calls and a lot of indignation.

Several told me that that they’d tried it before and had been brushed off, some said that it was a waste of time. I was frustrated with my neighbors who told me that it was futile to try but I began looking through old postings of the Brookland listserv and found messages dating back to 2004 from residents who were agigtating for a stop sign over five years ago. No wonder people think it’s a waste of effort.

So July 28, 2009 I sent the following email to the Director Klein, the bird-dogger Marootian, the ANC Commissioner Steptoe, the Ward 5 Outreach Specialist Alice Thompson, and the Brookland listserv:

“Hello Everyone,

I’m following up on the email discussion about installing a stop sign at 12th and Newton NE. If there has been a traffic study, let’s verify that it says what residents can see every day and install a stop sign or stop light. If it determines that this intersection is acceptable as it is, then the method of study needs to be changed to reflect the reality.

This intersection is dangerous.

What is the turnover time for completing the assessment to the installation stage? According to Lavinia Wohlfarth, the 12th St Streetscape “plan called for raised crosswalks, and pedestrian walking signs at Newton, Monroe and Otis”.

It took the death of a pedestrian at the nightmare intersection of 15th, Florida, and W NW to get any action on those streets and that should never happen again.

Please install a stop sign or a stop light at 12th and Newton at the very least, and complete the improvements which were included in the plan to make the streets accessible for all residents.

Laura Walsh

Newton St..”

It’s now two months since that last email. No stop signs have been installed, no bird-dogging has commenced, no response from the DC Government.

NOW is the time to fix this problem, before someone is killed.

Stop Sign Quest Part 1: Slowing It Down in Brookland

Stop Sign Quest Part 1: Slowing It Down in Brookland

Brookland is a quaint, cosy, suburban-ish, neighborhood in Northeast Washington, DC where I’ve lived for two years. The center has a bit of a small town feel with brightly painted storefronts; people talking constantly, calling out to each other.

There’s a Taekwondo studio that brings lots of kids to the block; a chain pharmacy that drove out and took over an old fashioned fancy movie theater; several quicky type restaurants; the best hardware store in the city; several centers that serve the large, vibrant deaf population of DC. This brings a fascinating and very unusual element to the streetscape as it’s almost impossible to walk down the street without seeing a flurry of gorgeous sign language.

I had never spent any time on this side of town before moving from Northwest where I’d lived for five years. I was afraid I would feel isolated from the rest of the city, but I’ve grown to love it. Something that would make me love it more would be to have safer, slower streets.

I want a stop sign at the corner of 12th and Newton NE.

We need one.

At the corner of 12th and Newton NE.

It’s dangerous.

Hundreds of people cross it daily, dodging speeding traffic, to get to the Brookland Metro Station a block away which is also the hub for an incredible fifteen buslines.

Cars speed through the center of Brookland, in the middle of all this activity, frequently traveling well above the posted 25 mph. But why shouldn’t they? Everyone else does and there are five blocks uninterrupted by stop lights and stop signs, just open road. Why not press the pedal a little harder, just get through this section a little faster?

The street design encourages it by failing to limit speed with speed tables, speed humps, stop signs, stop lights, or other creative measures. 12th St would be so much more pleasant and safer for everyone if the traffic was slowed with a stop sign, or some more lovely methods like plantings in curb extensions. Chicanes filled with new street trees and large plants or sunflowers would also be quite nice.

Sign placement is a major problem on 12th. Sure, there are some yield signs. I saw this one when I was looking up, standing right in front of a street tree:

 

But ten feet from the crosswalk the yield sign is completely obscured by the tree.

(Note: the solution is better signs, and better sign placement, not less trees).

 

And if I’m in the road, on a bicycle, or in a car, I can’t see the yield sign at all.

 

So while we all live in the same city, share the same air, water, roads, and other public space, why don’t we just make sure that our resources are safe for everyone to use? I don’t think pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists need to argue. There’s plenty of space for all of us and in order to prevent someone from being killed cars need to slow down and this needs to be enforced.

****

On another note:

There are several things in that last picture that I plan to address in the future: the sharrow bike symbol in the bottom left corner, and the gaping U-shape of what would be a gorgeous shade providing tree if the electrical wires were buried underground as they are in many parts of the city.