Sherwood's Notebook: Stuck… in Downtown DC

Baseball great Yogi Berra knew just how to say things.

Mentioning a popular restaurant in St. Louis back in 1959, Berra remarked, "Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded."

Welcome to Yogi Berra's downtown D.C. Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.

This past weekend, your Notebook biked through downtown.

The good news: It was crowded everywhere on Saturday.

The bad news: It was crowded everywhere on Saturday.

Roadways and side streets were clogged all day long with slow-moving, or nonmoving, traffic. And there was little to no traffic control. If there were D.C. Department of Transportation traffic control officers on duty, we didn’t see much of them.

There was traffic control for both the Cherry Blossom Parade and D.C. Emancipation Day Parade and concert on Saturday. But there was little or no traffic control to help motorists get around roadblocks.

As we biked from block to block — sometimes walking our bike on the sidewalks — we witnessed frustrated motorists running lights, making illegal turns and generally ignoring rules of the road. It was unsafe and scary at times.

If the nation's capital is going to invite people downtown, it seems like we could be more reasonable about allowing them to get around.

The Notebook understands and has written that this growing city can't accommodate everyone driving private vehicles. But we don't understand why traffic control is such a low priority in a growing city. We reached out to Richard Bradley, who helped start and run the Downtown Business Improvement District for many years. He still keeps an eye on what’s happening.

"We're growing up," Bradley told us. "We're a bigger city, and that requires a lot more attention and resources, or we begin to lose the people coming here."

He said, "What you're dealing with requires traffic management solutions, using technology to monitor the speed of cars that are moving and not moving... but we’ve not gotten there."

Bradley wasn’t being specifically critical of anyone. He was just responding to our questions.

Your Notebook, however, is blunter.

In this growing city, why is traffic so bad virtually every day, special event or not?

Why is traffic control so ineffective?

Go to It explains any number of traffic-calming programs. There are traffic cameras and speed cameras. There are timed walk signals, rush-hour no-parking signs, commercial-parking-only spaces, and bike lanes and crosswalks. There is even a guide for private construction companies to know what they can and can’t do to block traffic temporarily. And there are traffic control officers assigned to school areas.

Taken together, it doesn't explain the lack of traffic management.

We did a story for NBC4 about how the city is trying to improve the parking situation because one-quarter of the downtown traffic is people circling looking for parking. That's a good goal. But never mind special-events coverage downtown — daily traffic is bad, and rush hour is worse.

Trucks routinely park in rush-hour zones. (This is an all-too-common practice on 12th Street NW northbound from Pennsylvania Avenue, for instance.)

There apparently aren't enough traffic control officers to smooth traffic at more than a handful of critical intersections. Whatever we're doing is not enough.

Let's just hope "nobody goes there" doesn't become all too real.

■ The shadow knows. We wrote last week about the "shadow campaign" that ensnarled former Mayor Vince Gray’s doomed effort at re-election. We asked the question again: Why wasn't Gray charged in that nearly five-year-long investigation of his 2010 campaign?

The next day, we got part of the answer. The Washington Post broke the story that many reporters (including this one) had been competing to get for months.

One of the reasons Gray wasn't charged is because of the private sexual history involving Jeffrey Thompson, the man who financed the shadow campaign. The Washington Post was first to report Thompson had a murky past of possibly paying men with gifts and cash. Whether any of it was illegal is unclear. But it turns out Thompson's credibility on the witness stand against Gray would have been severely compromised.

Attorneys for Thompson declined to comment to either The Post or NBC4, which also reported part of the story.

Gray is now running for the Ward 7 D.C. Council seat. He has insisted all along that he didn’t know about the shadow campaign and did nothing wrong. Nearly a thousand pages of court documents released last week didn't add much more to the story.

Political consultant Chuck Thies, who ran Gray's 2014 race for re-election, is now his treasurer and chief consultant for the council campaign against incumbent Yvette Alexander. Thies objects to the developing narrative that Gray wasn't charged because Thompson was a flawed character who couldn't be believed on the witness stand. Rather, Thies said the cache of documents released last week failed to show even tangential wrongdoing by Gray.

Many Gray supporters contend that prosecutors were so intent on prosecuting Gray that they overlooked the wrongdoing of Thompson, who illegally spent millions of dollars influencing local and national races. Thompson is due back in court on June 10 for sentencing.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

Contact Us