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Legislation Would Upend the Status Quo of Road Design 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As concerns about road safety in the District of Columbia reach a fever pitch, Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau, D-Ward 1, re-introduced legislation this week that would change the status quo of how roads are designed and put safety and livability for all road users above efficiently moving cars. 

The Prioritizing People in Planning Amendment Act of 2023 is a reintroduction of a bill submitted last year. Councilmembers Charles Allen, Vincent Gray, Janeese Lewis George, Zachary Parker, and Robert White are co-introducing the bill with Nadeau. 

The bill would eliminate the outdated “level of service” standard as the sole metric for assessing roadways and intersections when considering changes to road design or the impact of development projects. Instead, the Department of Transportation would be charged with developing alternative metrics that better reflect the way residents already use our streets and sidewalks, and to align with D.C.’s climate and sustainability goals.  

“The majority of D.C. residents do not drive for most trips, so why is walking, biking, and transit an afterthought when we design our roads?” Nadeau said. “What I hear from residents is a desire for more walkability and more safety overall on our roadways. When we put driving first in our planning, we lose that focus.” 

The legislation comes the same week as a marathon oversight roundtable of the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, where Chairman Charles Allen, Nadeau and a majority of councilmembers attended to discuss traffic safety enforcement and the options available for addressing it. Road design was a part of that conversation. 

The proposed legislation directs DDOT to develop a series of alternative measures such as measuring the total number of people a street can move, or the potential of a project to increase or decrease vehicle miles traveled and contribute to overall congestion and carbon emissions. This allows and encourages DDOT to look at multiple factors not just how many cars stack up when there’s a red light to determine design updates. 

“Level of service” is a standard developed in the 1950s and 1960s by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials that grades streets and intersections from A to F, based on factors such as speed, travel time, maneuverability, delay and safety. It was used to justify significant highway expansion, often at the expense of communities seen as in the way of those roadways. The District’s Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2021, identifies elimination of the level of service metric as a goal. 

Full text of the bill

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