Award honors effective community engagement to improve safety, livability in DC communities

January 14, 2013

Ward 7 neighborhoods in Washington, DC are seizing the opportunity to improve community safety and livability through the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) Livability Program in response to their current transportation challenges.

Aggressive driving, speeding, and a lack of safe facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists were just a few of the problems plaguing the Far Northeast neighborhoods as they started planning early steps toward major transformation. Residents have helped shape City plans for a revitalized downtown Ward 7, a new state-of-the-art community and recreation center, new mixed-use development at the Minnesota Avenue Metro Station, and a vision for two streetcar lines. According to estimates, private developers had invested $1.5 billion in more than 2 million square feet of office, residential, hotel, and retail space within the community by the end of 2012.

With the neighborhood’s challenges and opportunities in mind, DDOT initiated the Far Northeast Livability Study to assess automobile, bicycle, and pedestrian systems. The focus of this assessment was determining how these systems operate for residents of all ages and how traffic in the area might be better managed to reduce impacts on neighborhood streets.

Yolanda Takesian, AICP, PTP, an associate planner in KAI’s Baltimore office, led the study, in which KAI staff helped residents identify their most pressing safety priorities and understand the options available to remedy their problems. KAI also provided expertise on ways to calm neighborhood traffic on collector streets, reduce cut-through traffic on local streets, enhance pedestrian crossing safety at intersections through design and operations, and identify route improvements for a more complete bicycle network.

Working with area advocate Samuel Jordan, the team established the Community Outreach Advisors group as an extension of the technical team to assist with developing and conducting outreach strategies, advise on educational activities and materials generated for the project, and assist with community meeting engagement. This community engagement played a key role in KAI’s work on the study, leading to the creation of a Solutions Toolbox to help residents learn and identify the interventions possible and preferable for their priority concerns.

Yolanda, Samuel, the Community Outreach Advisors, and DDOT Project Manager Gabe Onveador recently were honored by the American Planning Association’s National Capital Area Chapter (NCAC) for their collaborative work on the project. During a November 10, 2012 ceremony at the Catholic University of America’s School of Architecture and Planning, the chapter presented the team with its Harold Foster Award for Distinguished Community Outreach and Engagement.

The award’s namesake was a longtime chapter board member who unexpectedly passed away in 2012. He and Yolanda often collaborated on many projects and shared a professional focus on community-serving transit and transit-oriented development, making it all the more fitting that her work was the first to be recognized by the award bearing his name.

“NCAC’s award recognizes the region’s tradition of valuing and empowering neighborhood voices in transportation decision-making. Like many cities, the district’s livability has more recently become recognized as one of its most distinctive economic, social, and cultural attributes,” Yolanda says. “Our goal as we established the Community Outreach Advisors was for the Far Northeast Livability study to enhance ‘an appreciating community asset’—a group of dedicated volunteers with a range of neighborhood interests, experiences, ages and perspectives—to work together for the good of the whole. Their work brought in residents, the Far Northeast true livability experts, to substantively inform and advise our process. Our work together helped to define a set of investment choices that DDOT is using to help advance community quality of life.”

Yolanda was unable to attend the awards ceremony, and Brandon Nevers, PE, PTOE, a principal engineer in KAI’s Reston office, accepted the award on her behalf. “It was a very positive and energetic atmosphere at the ceremony,” he says.

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