Traffic devices installed recently to reduce the number of cars using residential streets in the neighborhoods surrounding the congested business district at Wisconsin and Western avenues are drawing reactions that range from high praise to unmitigated rage.
Through a system of one-way streets, turn restrictions and "diverters" (barricades placed diagonally across an intersection causing cars to turn onto the cross street), citizens in Maryland's Chevy Chase and the District's Friendship Heights section are forcing motorists to use main arteries instead of taking short cuts through their neighborhoods.
Jean Cohen, a Village resident who lives on the corner of Cedar Parkway, a road that used to be traveled heavily by commuters, is pleased with the results of the restrictions. "Our lives have changed drastically. Before, I did not allow the children to play out front at all. Now they can even cross Cedar Parkway. It's so much safer."
But a D.C. resident who lives near both the Village and Friendship Heights, expressed anger at the restrictions. "It's plain wrong (to disrupt the traffic flow). All the damn restrictions do is cause even worse jams in other places. If you live in a city, you have to expect people to drive on your street."
Most of the devices have been installed to deter the growing number of commuters and shoppers who drive and park on neighborhood streets to avoid the congestion at Wisconsin and Western avenues, the scene of heavy commercial development in recent years. William C. Austin, town manager for Chevy Chase Village, said residents also feared that traffic would further increase as digging proceeds for the planned Metro station at the intersection.
Motorists who try to use Jenifer Street NW, as a way to get from Wisconsin Avenue to Reno Road or Connecticut Avenue now find a diverter that forces them to turn left on 43rd Street, which leads to Military Road, a main road. Similarly, a diverter has been placed at 44th and Harrison streets NW, to prevent traffic from going through residential streets from Wisconsin Avenue to River Road.
Chevy Chase Village, just north of the District line, has for years provided a cut-through for commuters between Wisconsin Avenue and Chevy Chase Circle, helping them avoid busy roads like Western Avenue and Bradley Lane. According to traffic counts taken last summer, some 10,000 cars were passing through the community daily, most of them using Cedar Parkway and Grafton Streets.
Last week, the Village began a system whereby virtually all exist out onto Wisconsin Avenue are closed. Travelers coming south on Wisconsin Avenue no longer can turn into any Village street, but northbound commuters can still turn right onto Grafton Street.
Most residents in both Friendship Heights and Chevy Chase Village seem to like the restrictions and say that traffic has been greatly reduced on their streets. But the devices are not without their critics, both from within and outside the communities. Drivers have expressed confusion or frustration at the altered routes and others are angry when forced onto main streets which they feel are already too congested, especially at rush hour.
"When I saw the diverter on Jennifer," recalled one D.C. resident, "I went up another block to get out on Wisconsin. That was so jammed I turned around and went back to Military. I waited there for 30 minutes to get out. It's terrible. It violates the rights of citizens who pay taxes to use these streets."
James Clark, assistant director of the D.C. Department of Transportation's office of policy and plans, said some drivers expressed their annoyance by knocking down or removing the temporary barricades which were installed last November. He added that permanent diverters which will be landscaped and "more attractive" are now being constructed at the two Friendship sites.
Clark also said some shopowners in the area feared business would suffer as a result of the restriction and some employes said they had trouble driving into work.
Residents on 43rd and 44th streets have complained because the diverters funnel more traffic onto their streets. Clark acknowledged this "ripple effect," saying it was difficult to come up with a plan that affects all resident equally. "If you improve one situation, it creates another bottleneck. It's a chain reaction." But, he added that on the whole, traffic on Friendship Heights' side streets had been reduced by the diverters.
Until Chevy Chase Village, which is incorporated and maintains its own roads, installed the new turn restrictions last week, it had also tried diverters on an experimental basis of the past six months.
"They did indeed cut traffic - in excess of 75 percent on Grafton and Cedar Parkway," Terence Simmons, head of the Village's traffic committee said, but they also funneled traffic onto other streets.
A woman who lives on Park Street said the diverters pushed the traffic count on her block from 23 cars a day to 1,000 a day. Another resident said the barricades were ugly and complained they made travel within the community difficult, forcing residents to go several blocks out of their ways. "They divided the Village," she commented.
Simmons said the new plan is a "compromise." Some people wanted to close off Wisconsin Avenue to all incoming as well as outgoing traffic. Others felt the restrictions should not be in effect in rush hour.
He said the new plan thus far seems to have wider acceptance than the diverters, although some residents find the lack of access to Wisconsin Avenue very inconvenient.
"I don't like it at all," said Jay Treadwell, who lives on Grove Street. To get his young children to school in Somerset on the other side of Wisconsin Avenue, "we have to go back out on Western and around the mess at the shopping center."
But Treadwell and most others in Chevy Chase and Friendship Heights concede there are no easy solutions to controlling the traffic without causing inconvenience to someone, whether it's other residents or motorists.
"We lack a comprehensive policy for controlling automobiles around these residential areas," DOT's Clark said. "For that matter, we lack one for the environment and air pollution."
Perhaps as more areas insist upon preserving the residential character of their neighborhoods and as more main streets become "overloaded," Clark said, people will learn to take the bus - or walk.