It was standing room only last night at the first Rock Creek East Livability Study meeting at the Shepherd Park library. Over seventy residents and Department of Transportation (DDOT) staffers packed into the second floor meeting room to learn about the study process. Councilmember Brandon Todd welcomed the audience and remarked on how eagerly the community has anticipated this review. He introduced DDOT project manager Cynthia Lin, who gave a brief presentation that highlighted the purpose of the study.
What is a Livability Study?
As defined by DDOT, a livability study is much more than a traffic study. It encompasses all manner of improvements in public space that can increase safety and access for all users of modes of transportation. This includes driving, walking, biking, and public transportation. Creating neighborhood connections and improving the quality of life for residents is the ultimate goal.
This meeting was the first of three for this process. The goal of the study is to identify opportunities for safer travel within the upper Ward 4 area. This map shows the boundary areas of this particular study:
A companion study for the southern part of the Ward was recently completed. Recommendations gathered there are currently under review.
The bulk of the meeting time was devoted to gathering ideas and suggestions from the attendees. Opportunities to provide input included a paper survey and various interactive displays. There were two comment maps that gave residents the chance to sticky note areas of concern. Another display showed a map of the upcoming Walter Reed development and solicited suggestions for bus routing to and through the campus. Finally, staffers were available at different stations to ask and answer questions.
I had a conversation with one gentleman about the current disconnected bike routes in the area. The 14th Street bike lane effectively ends at Aspen Street NW. If you live in Shepherd Park or Colonial Village, there isn’t really a safe route to get to 14th Street unless you ride on the sidewalk or have the courage to ride in traffic on 16th Street for a few blocks. If and when the Walter Reed campus opens to the public, that might alleviate this bottleneck. However, he told me that the northern section of 14th Street NW is too narrow to add a bike lane without removing street parking. Easy solutions are elusive.
Ultimately, this meeting was a good first step in the process. Upcoming meetings in June and September aim to refine the feedback gathered here and produce final recommendations. Ms. Lin stated that final recommendations with a 1 to 2 year timeline may be able to be completed with current Department funds. Projects with a longer timeline will require capital investments by the city.
DC city government specializes in hosting “engagement” sessions that feel perfunctory. I am hopeful that DDOT will take this input and use it to prioritize upcoming projects. With the Walter Reed campus slowly coming back to life, change is coming to our transportation network whether we like it or not. This is our opportunity to align our network with our near-future needs.