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Drivers Feeling Shunned by D.C.

Moneme said the city will continue -- and increase -- the use of market pricing when it comes to allocating such scarce resources as on-street parking.

"Putting the real price of driving out there allows people to make better decisions," Moneme said, not a subsidized rate of $1 an hour.

Part of the city's new pedestrian plan would eliminate the reversible middle lane on 16th Street NW through Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, pedestrian-heavy sections of the city. The city wants to turn the lane into a landscaped island that would serve as a refuge for pedestrians trying to cross the street. The city has other reversible lanes -- designed to help commuters get in and out of the city quickly -- on Connecticut Avenue NW, Independence Avenue SE, Pennsylvania Avenue SE and Canal Road NW and Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway.

The city has asked federal officials to consider closing the northern end of the I-395 tunnel to eliminate access to New York Avenue and Third Street NW. The tunnel runs under the Mall and is popular with Maryland commuters taking New York Avenue to Route 50 or the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The tunnel is popular with Virginia commuters because I-395 links up with the 14th Street bridge across the Potomac River and to Route 1, I-95 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia.

Moneme said city officials suspect that a significant number of commuters are using the tunnel as an alternative to the Capital Beltway and clogging New York Avenue in the process. He said the study is just to look at the "what-ifs" of closing the exit.

The new parking meters, which are being installed across the city, are designed to encourage parking space turnover by charging closer to the market rate for parking downtown and near some of the city's amenities. Around the new Nationals Park, for example, meters are programmed to charge up to $40 for four hours. The new meters take Visa and MasterCard.

The move away from accommodating auto commuters has been going on for years, accelerating under Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and his transportation director, Dan Tangherlini. Tangherlini is city administrator under Fenty (D). And the direction of city policy has near unanimous support among D.C. Council members.

One of the first things council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) did after he took office was to get the city to eliminate the rule that turned part of Constitution Avenue NE into a one-way commuter route in the mornings. The one-way rule benefited Marylanders coming from Kenilworth Avenue and I-295, but it turned the street into a mini-highway every morning.

"Having one-ways creates the expectations among drivers that they are being expedited through the city," Wells said. And that means higher speeds and less-safe streets, he said.

"Trying to improve the quality of life in the city means decreasing the things that diminish quality of life, such as a high level of traffic," Wells said. Next on his agenda are one-way streets in Capitol Hill favored by commuters, including 17th and 19th streets NE.

Ronald F. Kirby, transportation director for COG, sees the moves in the context of the city's becoming more confident, more vibrant.

"It's explicit policy: They want more people living downtown," Kirby said. "And frankly, that's what we're trying to do regionally."


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