11 Jun 2012

The Light of Discord: the 10th and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, Traffic Signal

Snowmelt (Day fifty-one)

The trees prefer it if you don't cut through the median, Jon. Photo by María Helena Carey.

Anne Trenolone, an alert reader and involved community member, sent along some communications she’s been having with DDOT regarding the plans to install a traffic light at 10th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE,  and many of us at The Hill is Home started to think about the ramifications of getting a light installed there.

According to the emails the reader sent along, the funding for this light was approved back in August of 2011, after a traffic signal warrant analysis for the intersection was performed by DDOT in 2009. The intersection in question — for those folks who don’t have an accurate map in their head — is the one that faces the southeastern side of the Hill Center. It stands alone as the only cross street not to have a traffic light on Pennsylvania Avenue, and it’s sandwiched between 9th and 11th streets: the street that has the busy Distad’s on the corner, and the enormous intersection anchored by Frager’s, where you can grow old waiting to make a left turn at certain times of day.

The Department of Transportation seems to think our alert reader stands as a sole exception in not wanting the traffic light there; however many of our writers seem to agree with her. For some, the lack of traffic light at 10th street allows quicker maneuvering around town, to places such as Barracks Row, 395, and Results, just to name a few. Also, for some of us, the lack of traffic light provides an easier, if a little risky, way to make a quick left turn instead of having to wait for two traffic lights to change, as it is at every other intersection.

And let us not forget that Pennsylvania Avenue gets very congested in the afternoons and evenings moving eastward. Since the median is beautifully landscaped with crabapple trees and grass, there is no room for a turning lane: 10th street handles a lot of u-turns and last-ditch left turns for local traffic, which would not be possible once the light goes up.

However, as with the aforementioned risky turns, some of us would actually want to see the light go up at 10th street because it is a very aggressive intersection. People pick up a lot of speed coming from the lights at both 9th and 11th (but especially moving northwesterly toward the Capitol), and if you are not an aggressive driver yourself, you can risk getting t-boned while trying to get to the other side. As a pedestrian, the crossing there is a gamble. When my son was attending Tyler Elementary, I foolishly tried to cross Pennsylvania at 10th to get to school a couple of times: no cars stopped and when they did, they didn’t do so for long. To a California-trained pedestrian, where you can go Moses through the wasteland of cars anytime you please, this was more than a cultural shock: this was a clear indication that one should NEVER try to cross Pennsylvania at 10th on foot.

Kyra will follow this post up with a poll, and we would love to hear your comments and input on this decision: SHOULD there be a traffic light at 10th and Pennsylvania, or should we let the sleeping dogs lie?

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16 responses to “The Light of Discord: the 10th and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, Traffic Signal”

  1. comesthesun says:

    I’m actually interested in your California comment. I was just in San Francisco for a week, and drivers refused to recognize pedestrian rights-of-way in every instance. I’m surprised you had the exact opposite experience.

    For the traffic signal, as a pedestrian, I like the idea of not having to wait for a light to cross Penn., but like you said, I have never had a driver stop for me without honking, and more often than not, they just keep speeding on by. So I tend to cross where there’s a signal.

    As a passenger in a car going down Penn., I see drivers on 10th dart right out in front of my car to cross or turn left on Penn. It seems dangerous.

    • I lived in California for a long time, and while it is true that in the larger cities it’s not as strict, in most places the pedestrian is king. It got so bad for a while that municipalities started issuing very steep jaywalking tickets. Maybe the pendulum is swinging now toward the side of the car, which is too bad when you’re walking (but AWESOME when you drive).

    • Guy Nito says:

      The sensible California traffic innovation would be smart lights, where a light recognizes a waiting car at off hours and changes in reasonable time (usually briefly enough for a few waiting cars to pass). A light could work here if it didn’t require multiple waits for a simple left turn onto 10th (like the other N/S intersections). The smart light could activate either for cars crossing Penn or turning from Penn across the median.

      At peak travel times the N/S cars would just have to wait like they do at the other N/S arterials, which they should be using anyway instead of looking for shortcuts through neighborhood streets like 10th. Many of these cars enter 10th St. by making an illegal turn against 1-way street from the SE freeway exit on the 900 blk of I St SE to 10th and I St. . . or better yet — post a traffic camera on I and watch that problem solve itself.

  2. eric says:

    No light please. I agree with most of the above comments and the fact is that there are plenty of places for slower drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to cross Penn Ave (every other intersection) if they don’t like the absence of a light. But as a local driver/cyclists it’s nice to have a quick way to get across Penn Ave. Let’s face it, it’s not that you have to wait two cycles of lights – it’s usually more than that because of the backup of cars. I wonder if DDOT considered the back up that will be created by adding the light? I would much rather have a speed camera on Penn to bring safety back into the equation. Going 0-60 on Penn Ave between 9th and 11th is the real issue.

    • Completely agreed. Pennsylvania Avenue is a crazy speedway and that needs to stop.

    • Guy Nito says:

      the backup is brief, at peak times and depends on volume on the SE Freeway. I’d prefer reconfiguring the traffic pattern of Penn to planting more lights. It’s too wide after 8th St SE, which contributes to the increase in speed. The trees added to the median help provide a visual cue to slow down, but the open space at most times encourages speed. It makes no sense for Penn to constrict east of 8th. The excess lane E and W bound would be better used as a dedicated bike lane. In the event of an emergency a bike lane could be easily reclaimed for auto use as well.

  3. JOEY says:

    How about installing left turn lanes/signals and otherwise designing measures to actually improve traffic flow and safety? It could be done without significantly reducing traffic volume or encroaching on the median.

  4. Kelly says:

    I used to live near 12th & D Sts. SE, and would have cried if this light went in when I still did, 10th was always the best place to cross Pennsylvania Ave. anywhere nearby. But now, living a bit further away, I don’t care so much.

    One thing I have often thought about the traffic signal pattern on Pennsylvania Ave. though is that the left turns are handled about the worst possible way. It seems like one direction should have a leading green and the other a trailing green, with the corresponding cross movements allowed from the center medians only to permit left turns more efficiently at the (many!) intersections without turn lanes.

    It makes things more complicated (and makes it even more neccessary to pay attention to the correct signal!), but it seems like it would still be a net win in terms of moving more cars through the intersections, less gridlock, and safety.

  5. IMGoph says:

    Safety first, and uber alles. Light, please.

  6. DCZZ says:

    No light, the only place you can cross that is easy along PA Ave. Do agree with Kelly more staggering of the lights would be good. The light on North Carolina and PA does this.

    In New Orleans, the walk signals go before the lights turn green on Canal to help ease the left turn. Might be worth considering on the busier parts of the Ave.

  7. Alyssa Przystawik says:

    Yes, there are plenty of other intersections for pedestrians to cross at. Turning left at 11th or 12th (for a Watkins visit) is a complete disaster, especially during evening rush hour! This is our only saving grace–no light at 10th Street.

    However, if we’re going to complain about traffic lights at Pennsylvania Avenue, is there any possible way to extend the time of the light for both 6th Street and 11th Street crossing over Pennsylvania Avenues??? The city acts as if those streets aren’t major thoroughfares across the Hill, but they are and they deserve to have more than 30 seconds to get through them! If your more than 4 cars back on either street, you’ll be sitting through at least 2 lights if not more between pedestrians who don’t respect the lights, and cars turning.
    HELP for 6th and 11th Streets PLEASE!

  8. Guy Nito says:

    Sorry, but pedestrians are the ones who get hosed on 11th St, much more than cars. The light times are staggered by time of day, and the short window can be even shorter on the second leg after the median. Pedestrians who cross against the light do so because it’s next to impossible for many of them to make it in a single pass.

    Many cars either legally turn right on red or left from 11th to Penn (N & S), but without yielding to pedestrians. During the occasional bad rush hour congestion, they block the intersection outright.

  9. Guy Nito says:

    I’m not thrilled with the light at 10th because it’s an inelegant solution, but I’d welcome a stop sign at the median (by law it’s drivers must stop, but many do not), as well as better visual cues for the safety of pedestrians crossing 10th St, especially on the north side of Penn. No one stops for pedestrians crossing Penn at 10th, but they turn suddenly onto 10th and it can be jarring to have cars trying to zip across worrying about getting t-boned by a car so much that they ignore doing the same to someone one foot crossing 1oth.

  10. labormama says:

    Quick maneuvering around the neighborhood and to the freeway? Seriously? There is a school full of children at 10th and G SE and a number of families with children who live on and around 10th Street south of Pennsylvania Ave. And, I’m so so so glad that the DDOT will FINALLY slow you people down as you drag race down 10th street, frequently ignoring the stop signs at E and G Streets, on your way elsewhere. I’m thrilled that the light’s being installed.

    And, I think it’s revealing that the rest of the neighborhood only recently realized this is happening. They’ve been digging and building stuff at that corner for at least a month – I could tell it was not normal sidewalk replacement weeks ago.

    For drivers looking for a speedway out of town, try leaving home a little earlier.

    Sign me, a long-time resident of 10th & G SE and parent to kids and a dog- all of whom I’d like to keep out of harm’s way.

  11. Eric Miller says:

    As an alternative to a full time light for both N/S and E/W traffic why not a light only on the E/W flow (driving on PA Ave) that only goes red if a pedestrian pushes a button to cross PA Ave. This means it would be green most of the time for cars going down PA Ave and wouldn’t impact cars ability to make left turns off PA Ave quickly and easily.

  12. I doubt anyone who is against this light actually tries to use this intersection except by driving. Crossing Pa there is a challenge, but the real risk is for crossing 10th.

    Architecture and landscape make it impossible for drivers on 10th to see traffic on Pa Ave except by blocking the crosswalk. The split configuration of Pa Ave leads drivers to give full attention to the left and no attention to the right. Crossing 10th from a driver’s right (on either side of Pa Ave) is very risky, and I’ve had quite a few close calls when traveling to and from Watkins Elementary with my kid over the past three years.

    Worse, the pull of avoiding a traffic light is so strong that it makes 10th & D SE a busy intersection as well, with a mix of impatient turning and straight traffic. It even seems to magically pull a lot of vehicles that are not registered in DC – so this isn’t just a neighborhood problem.

    This light is inconvenient, but necessary for our safety, the safety of our children, and the safety of our out-of-town guests.

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