front page - search - community 

Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation's capital

by the editor of The Common Denominator

HOW THINGS WORK: Many residents have complained for years that more affluent parts of town receive better city services. Of course, city officials say that's not true. But a recent meeting of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C Traffic Committee in Ward 3's Cleveland Park lends support to the long-standing complaints - at least as they relate to the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT).

DDOT, as many neighborhood activists know, is the department responsible for - among other things - conducting traffic studies, installing traffic lights and stop signs, and repairing bumpy roads. Residents all over town complain continually that their calls and letters to the city's traffic czar, Wil DerMinassian, go unanswered.

But DerMinassian has worked closely with a small group of residents in Cleveland Park - which boasts one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country - and at ANC 3C's Traffic Committee meeting on Feb. 3 he updated them on one of his pet projects along Porter Street NW.

(When attendees noted the lack of response they received from DDOT before DerMinassian took a personal interest in their neighborhood, he said he "doesn't respond to phone calls." So much for the mayor's 1998 campaign pledge to make D.C. government employees responsive to citizens' calls.)

Porter Street NW, a major east-west thoroughfare, is the site of a federally funded pilot project to create a mid-block traffic light that turns red only when drivers are speeding. Complaints and petitions about speeders from people who live on Porter, between Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues, resulted in DDOT's decision to create the "traffic calming" device.

But there's a big problem: DDOT hasn't been able to make the traffic light work on the hilly, curved stretch where it was installed with existing computer software designed to catch speeders. Timing delays for the traffic signal would allow many speeders to miss the red light, while law-abiding drivers behind them would get caught.

And there's a worse problem, according to one DDOT traffic engineer who addressed the meeting by telephone: "If drivers learn they can beat the light by speeding, it will create a situation worse than where we started."

One ANC commissioner said he intentionally exceeded the speed limit on Porter Street one day to try to trip the traffic signal, but the light wasn't working. Several Porter Street residents agreed that they "never" see Metropolitan Police running radar on their street. Speed-camera technology - used to issue tickets to speeders - is not incorporated into the Porter Street project.

DerMinassian acknowledged his frustration to the ANC 3C neighbors and estimated that trying to modify the software "could cost $50,000." A DDOT spokesman said initial installation of the traffic light cost about $100,000 as part of Fort Myer Construction Corp.'s project to reconstruct Porter Street, which was completed last year.

Despite the added cost, and uncertainty of the outcome, DerMinassian said he is determined to push forward with the project. "I have to get it to work for a selfish reason: I dreamed about this and it has to work," he told the Cleveland Park committee.

Residents of other D.C. neighborhoods won't be surprised to learn that DerMinassian lives in the 4400 block of Connecticut Avenue NW, a short distance north of Porter Street in Ward 3.

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator