When Taalib-Din Uqdah was growing up in D.C. in the 1950s and 1960s, he remembers walking through a tunnel beneath bustling Benning Road Northeast to get to his favorite pool hall. The tunnel allowed him to bypass traffic and stay safe, he recalls.
Uqdah, 64, now a representative on Petworth’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission, recommended last month to bring back these pedestrian tunnels to parts of Ward 4. Uqdah’s idea, which he proposed on a neighborhood email list, was in response to a city recommendation to remove a vehicle lane in favor of a bike lane at two traffic circles that residents have complained are dangerous.
“I think the District is taking pains to remove vehicular traffic in favor of bike lanes,” Uqdah said. (Greater Greater Washington has chronicled in detail some of the issues with the traffic circles, and has reported on these proposals.)
Last month, the District’s Department of Transportation released the “Rock Creek East II Livability Study,” which proposed ideas to make the area safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The agency has conducted similar livability studies for neighborhoods throughout the city.
In the study, DDOT proposed to change how traffic flows at two big traffic circles, Grant and Sherman circles. Currently, the traffic circles have two lanes dedicated to vehicular traffic and none for bike lanes. The proposal would remove a vehicle lane, making room for a bike lane and shorter crosswalks.
The ANC, which Uqdah sits on, voted against an initial part of the Livability plan to put a bike lane along New Hampshire Avenue between Grant Circle and Georgia Avenue. According to Petworth News, the ANC had voted against DDOT’s Livability Study recommendation to put a bike lane along New Hampshire Avenue between Grant Circle and Georgia Avenue NW. Some of the commissioners believed that a bike lane would mean less room for cars, and thus exacerbate traffic in an already congested area.
“Everywhere I look we are going from two lanes to one,” Uqdah said. “I thought it was best to offer some solutions other than narrowing lanes in favor of bike lanes for the benefit of a few people.”
Could an underground pedestrian tunnel actually be feasible? The city, after all, is considering a gondola — and opened a new streetcar line — as a form of transportation, so an underground pedestrian tunnel can’t be that outlandish. And, while not a pedestrian tunnel, the reopening of the underground Dupont space has been met with much fanfare.
Greater Greater Washington lays out some of the drawbacks. First, rerouting pedestrians won’t help with dangerous driving. It could actually make drivers more reckless since fewer pedestrians would be in sight. Second, digging underground is expensive. In addition, walking underground takes more time than walking across a traffic circle, and having people walking underground in enclosed spaces could present a safety issue.
DDOT, for its part, said pedestrian tunnels are not something it is considering. And while Uqdah’s idea hasn’t gained traction, the concept of a network of usable pedestrian tunnels is interesting to envision.