Saturday, June 09, 2007

City Paper on the Morrison "half signal"

Stephanie Mencimer filed this brief on the pilot "half-light" signal at Morrison and Connecticut Avenue, in Chevy Chase, DC in a recent City Desk blog entry:

Orange flags arrived in Chevy Chase to great media fanfare in 2005. Inspired by a similar program in Salt Lake City, area residents had lobbied the city for buckets of the flags at two intersections on Connecticut Avenue NW to help pedestrians safely cross from Safeway to Child’s Play or the American City Diner.

For two years, people pranced and danced and twirled their flags in the face of oncoming cars, and the traffic mostly slowed down for them (except for one poor soul who was hit during a blizzard while carrying the flag). But when the flags disappeared this year from the intersection of Connecticut and Morrison Streets NW, no one called a press conference. Indeed, even some longtime Chevy Chase residents apparently didn’t notice that in March, the city replaced the flags with a bona fide streetlight equipped with a pedestrian call button.

George Branyan, the pedestrian program coordinator for the District Department of Transportation, says he’s seen several people just walk out into traffic, oblivious to the new signal.

On the other hand, a vocal minority of Chevy Chase folks has complained to his office that the light is causing backups and forcing cars onto side streets. But Branyan won’t be bringing back the flags. Instead, the city will work out the hiccups with the light in the coming months.

“I personally am not a big fan of the flags,” Branyan says. “I just don’t think you should have to wave a flag to cross a street.” Those who preferred the flags with their street crossings can still find them two blocks north, at Connecticut and Northampton Streets, at least for now.

While that vocal minority includes two ANC Commissioners who live on an adjacent street, there are many residents in the community who do not understand that the only reason the signal was installed was for pedestrian safety reasons (at the request of the same ANC!). Calls to end the pilot program early would cheat DC Taxpayers out of an opportunity for the DC Department of Transportation to expand its variety of solutions for pedestrian safety in the City. It would also probably cause Chevy Chase to become another Van Ness in terms of routine back-ups.

Thumbs up to DDOT for looking out for people first! Thumbs up also to former DC Office of Planning Director Ellen McCarthy for these comments:

I would like to second Samantha Nolan's summary of why the light at Morrison was done as it is currently configured --to protect those crossing Connecticut not only from north-south traffic but also from those who are turning at Morrison. Those of us who live on Morrison, who are the most likely to be crossing there said for years that we didn't need a light, that one only needed to go to Livingston or McKinley, if one didn't want to cross at Morrison. However, we were overruled by those who insisted that there be a light there, so DDOT installed one that is supposed to be synchronized with the lights north and south. Traffic is currently backing up and drivers are frustrated because DDOT hasn't gotten the algorithm correct, and because drivers do not seem to have read that part of the traffic handbook that says that blinking red lights are like a stop sign. There is no need to throw out the special signalization until we give DDOT sufficient time to synchronize with the adjacent lights...

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