DC leaders discuss reimagining post-pandemic transportation

A lot of things have changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how D.C. residents use their streets. Now, city leaders are considering what changes to keep in place in the coming post-pandemic world.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen post-pandemic. But as one witness said, we ought not to wait … but instead, right now, reshape how we want the District to be,” Council Member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), the chair of the Transportation Committee, said during a hearing Tuesday.

After hearing from public witnesses on pandemic-forced changes they’d like to keep or improve, Cheh remarked she was pleased to hear that DDOT Interim Director Everett Lott is open to keeping some car-free lanes in place.

“You have the opportunity to be a visionary leader post-pandemic,” she said to Lott.

DDOT will end the controversial Slow Streets program in May, Lott said, but added the department is changing what it will look like in the future, though he did not go into detail about ideas being considered. Protected bike lanes and priority bus lanes will remain.

“Enhancing bus infrastructure is imperative to meeting our transportation goals for the future,” Lott said.

He pointed out that bus ridership during the pandemic didn’t drop off nearly as much as rail ridership.

“This tells us that the District’s essential workforce who cannot afford to stay home rely heavily on buses for essential travel.” He said the department would continue deep-cleaning the Circulator fleet, “expand our network of car-free lanes and look for [ways] to optimize their performance.”

More bike lanes have been constructed, Lott said, as the demand continues to increase for safe lanes for alternative transportation.

Beach Drive

Of the 300 restaurants participating in the streeteries program, Lott said, 89% want the program to continue. DDOT is committed to supporting streeteries over the next three years, he said.

Lott also called the closure of Beach Drive to vehicular traffic “a successful strategy of repurposing public spaces for the benefit of people.”

Maintenance and roadwork that closed Beach Drive between 2016 and 2019 informed DDOT what routes drivers used instead, and that could help the department prepare for the impacts of a closure if the U.S. Park Service made that decision.

“If Beach Drive were to continue to be closed to vehicular traffic,” Lott added, “DDOT is prepared to provide the necessary support and expertise to facilitate this decision.”

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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