The new Interstate 495 high-occupancy-toll lanes took four years and more than $1 billion to complete. Here are three additional but modest proposals to continue easing metropolitan Washington’s crippling traffic congestion. And unlike almost everything else around here, these improvements can be implemented immediately and at no cost.
●Ban souvenir and food trucks from parking practically all day on major D.C. arteries, such as Constitution Avenue and 15th Street NW along the Ellipse — including during rush hour. The geniuses who approved this curb-lane loitering obviously never tried to use those streets as an alternative to Interstate 395’s gridlock.
●Forbid blocking portions of key thoroughfares for special events. Last month someone — the District? The federal government? The 7th Cavalry Regiment? — approved a week-long closure of F Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets NW. The purpose? Providing space for temporary stables during the 54th Washington International Horse Show at the adjacent Verizon Center.
In the same commuter-be-damned spirit, a couple blocks of 17th Street near Dupont Circle were barricaded Nov. 1 for the running of the annual “D.C. Drag Queen Race.” During evening rush hour. For out-of-towners who don’t know, this competition has nothing to do with Miss Deuce Coupe, let alone minimally competent traffic management.
But these were minor self-inflicted blockages compared with those created recently by the commandeering of streets and highways for otherwise worthy events, including the Marine Corps Marathon, processions marking National Police Week and other gatherings that draw tens of thousands of people.
●Eliminate the utterly unworkable, obviously dangerous bicycle lanes on District streets. I own and ride a bike — on weekends, on trails or suburban streets if it’s early enough that traffic is light. If the streets are busy but pedestrians scarce — often the case in the suburbs — I’ll use sidewalks. But downtown during rush hour? Don’t be ridiculous.
On Nov. 10, a photograph on the front page of The Post showed a cyclist hemmed in by cars and trucks as he tried to use the new bike lane on L Street NW. The caption noted that “so far drivers seem somewhat confused by the extra-wide lane, which also has a complicated setup for left turns.” When they figure it out, as motorists have the bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue near the National Gallery of Art, they’ll realize that from the perspective of safe, prompt traffic flow, any width would be too wide.
Remember the hours-long exodus from the District on Sept. 11, 2001? It prompted years’ worth of local, state and federal government planning to develop a traffic emergency plan. Remember the much longer evacuation during the Feb. 4, 2010, blizzard? But it hardly requires a catastrophe to virtually immobilize D.C. traffic. One accident at a chokepoint, a construction zone, a light rainfall or another non-essential motorcade will suffice.
We’re already at the saturation point during rush hours, near it too often during off-peak times. The least we can do is use the lanes we already have for moving cars and trucks. All of them, all the time.