At one time, the corridor consisting of 34th Street, Reno Road and 41st Street was part of a quiet tree-lined residential area with an environment suitable for family life. In fact, when most of the homes were built between Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues, which paralleled this route, Reno Road did not connect with 34th Street as it now does. This area retained a good deal of its residential character until 1968, when the D.C. Department of Transportation -- without public hearings -- designated the route as a secondary artery and installed a reversing middle traffic lane. In the mornings, this system sent two lanes of traffic speeding southward past schools and through residential neighborhoods to Observatory Circle on Massachusetts Avenue. In the evenings, one lane reversed to provide two lanes northbound to accommodate the race back to the suburbs.
This pattern invite4d commuers to switch over from the parallel major arteries of Wisconsin and Connecticut to speed up and down the Reno Road corridor where there are few traffic lights, no stop signs and virtually no buses. The results were the creation of a Northwest Freeway carrying 70 percent Maryland commuter traffic and more traffic per lane than either Wisconsin or Connecticut Avenue.
DOT statistics show the Reno Road corridor to be the most dangerous residential secondary artery in the city. According to both the District DOT and the police department, the combination of the reversible lanes and the winding hilly streets makes the route extremely dangerous for motorists, pedestrians and residents and makes control of speeding virtually impossible. In fact, police concluded that, under these circumstances, ticketing speeders during rush hours was too dangerous. In a 21-month period, when statistics were collected, beginning in January 1978, over 335 major traffic accidents occurred in the corridor, including 15 hit-and-runs and two fatalities.
At one time, the philosophy seemed to be to keep the traffic moving, even if that included a speeding car running a red light and hitting two young girls from John Eaton School. Now, however, there seems to be a shift to an emphasis on mass transportation, improvement of main arteries and a laudable inclination to keep the commuters from the suburbs out of residential neighborhoods.
The residents of the corridor between the avenues have not asked for more than equity, are not opposed to Maryland commuter traffic on major arteries and do not wish to rob Peter to pay Paul. Only Paul -- that is, the Reno Road corridor -- lhas been robbed of its residential character. The commercially zoned Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues are designated a major arterials and, now that Metro construction is largely completed, can handle Maryland commuter traffic as they were designed to do.
Under Mayor Barry, the District DOT has become more responsive to citizen concerns. Following residents' complaints that began with the DOT actions of 1968, in February 1979, a DOT spokesman finally said, "The Reno Road route became a popular alernative because pas traffic management policies permitted its use. Current transportation system management practices in both the District and the federal Departments of Transportation emphasize the advantages of directing arterial traffic to arterial streets and local traffic to local streets. The adverse impacts that traffic can have on neighborhoods are reduced, and the city street system is used more efficiently."
The welcome six-month experiemnt by the DOT -- involving the elimination of the reversing middle lane to one lane southbound and two lanes northbound dluring rush hours -- is only a partial solution to the problem, but it is a major step in the right direction. Full restoration of the residential character of the area would require cancellation of the route's designation as a secondary arterial. Add to that the institution of single-lane traffic north and south at all times and the restoration of around-the-clock neighborhood parking, and this road that winds past schools and homes up toward Bethesda might again become the residential street it was designed to be and that the city promised in its zoning.