"It's not possible to please everybody," an unhappy Thomas Downs, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation, told a public hearing on Reno Road traffic regulations last week.
The three-hour hearing was dominated by speakers for local organizations, who were given first-speaking rights. For the past four years, the roadway has been the subject of almost continuous discussion and study by residents and city transportation officials.
Representatives of roughly half the citizens organizations said they were displeased with the city's effort to restrict commuter traffic on Reno Road, criticized a city study of the experimental regulations and complained that retarding traffic on Reno Road has merely forced it onto side streets.
The other organizations, including spokesmen for the 11 schools in the area, praised the traffic restrictions and asked that they be made permanent and expanded both on Reno Road and to nearby side streets.
A second public hearing on the Reno Road changes will be held May 19 because none of the more than 100 residents who attended the hearing got a chance to speak after organization representatives used all allotted time.
Since August, morning rush-hour traffic on Reno Road has been limited to one lane traveling south. Two lanes are open for northbound traffic during the evening rush hours.
Downs is expected to decide on Reno Road traffic restrictions in June. His staff has recommended that the transportation department continue to experiment, with possible "modifications," and work with the Advisory Neighborhood Commisssions to impose traffic restrictions on nearby side streets in an effort to slow down and reduce the number of cars now using them.
At last week's hearing, some proponents of the Reno Road restrictions concentrated on the question of traffic accidents.
"Reno Road is the most dangerous purely residential street in the District of Columbia, with 335 accidents, including 15 hit-and-run, and two fatalities in the past 21 months," John Kuhnle, a trustee of the Beauvoir School, the elementary school of National Cathedral School, told the hearing.
Kuhnle said all of the area schools, with more than 6,000 students, "are solidly behind" the Reno Road restrictions. "We'd like DOT to take the next step and extend (the restrictions) to northbound traffic" on Reno Road and to take steps to stop or slow traffic on nearby side streets.
Kuhnle suggested that on Reno that would mean permitting only one lane of traffic in each direction, with the road's third lane permanently reserved for parking. Until last August, when southbound traffic was limited to one lane at all times, the road had a reversible middle lane in rush hours, which was criticized as dangerous on the winding, hilly road.
Peter Espenschied, speaking for an opposing group, D.C. Citizens for a Safe and Adequate Transportation Policy, criticized the city for compiling accident statistics for Reno Road and failing to include "the great increase in accidents which are occurring on side streets."
He said that while traffic on Reno Road has declined during the morning rush hour from 3,180 cars to 2,374, there has been "a 49 percent increase in density" because that traffic is now in one lane instead of two. Espenschied said this "has made it difficult for residents to emerge from driveways and (for) pedestrians to cross the street during rush hours."
Jane Gilbert, of the Porter for People Committee, another group urging that the experiment be dropped, said "clearly undue burdens have been placed on streets crossing and paralleling Reno Road. And it is not clear that these burdens can or will be lifted." Gilbert said she believes that east-west traffic has increased on Porter primarily because commuters are taking shortcuts to avoid delays on Reno.
Her committee has requested installation of several stop signs and other measures to slow traffic on Porter. City officials recently installed a stop sign at 35th and Porter streets, but have declined to make other changes on Porter. Downs' office says it is willing to consider additional measures but wants to do it on a neighborhood basis, working with the ANCs.
David Grinnell, ANC-3C commissioner, said his ANC has not taken a final position but said he is concerned that "along east-west side streets both the volume and speed of traffic increased" since last August when the experiment began.
Grinnell said his ANC supports the transportation department's attempts "to make our residential neighborhoods safer and more pleasant," but wants to be sure that changes do not simply "shift problems within neighborhoods."
Harry Feehan, an ANC-3G commissioner, said his ANC favors continuing the experiment. But he said he opposes it personally because he said it has produced only a minimal reduction in volume, from one car every three seconds to one car every four seconds during daylight hours.
His ANC wants the corridor made less attractive as a commuter route for both north-south and east-west traffic, he said.
Herbert Reff, whose Reno Road Traffic Coalition was largely responsible for getting the city to impose the restrictions, presented a petition with more than 850 signatures, 70 percent of which were of persons who live on nearby side streets, urging the north-south restrictions be made permanent and expanded to northbound lanes and side streets.
Peter Craig, a trustee of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, the 60-year-old city planning group, called Reno Road "one of the horrendous mistakes made in this city in the 1940s" when a number of residential streets were converted into commuter thoroughfares. "This is a planning atrocity. Three lanes with a reversible middle lane, over hills, to go back to that is totally unacceptable."
Individuals will have an opportunity to speak at the May 19 hearing, to be held at 7:30 p.m. at Woodrow Wilson High School, Nebraska Avenue and Chesapeake Street. Written comments on the experiment and other recommendations should be sent to Lorraine Sorrel, Room 519, 415 12th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20004.