11 Dec 2012

All I Want for Christmas: Better Intersections (Near My House)

Duddington in the Fall

uploaded by mbelki

Capitol Hill is a great place for pedestrians. Most of the time. Those of us who are car-less, or in one-car families, and dependent on our feet, our bikes or our weighed-down strollers cross a lot of intersections to make it home safely. And a few of them in my neck of the woods are worrisome, if not frustrating.

Each time I traverse the intersection between Potomac Avenue, 14th Street and the speedway known as Pennsylvania Avenue, connecting Potomac Avenue Metro, I feel as if I were walking through the embers in a Tony Robins firewall.

The problems go far beyond the traffic lights, the busy Harris Teeter building and drivers who want to make a u-turn to head across the Sousa Bridge. There’s a merge, a right turn on red, and drivers from two different intersecting streets merging to get through the light. Once you drive through the two lights there are two immediate crosswalks, kids coming out of school with their parents double-parked, cars parallel parking, and shoppers and condo residents pulling out of the parking deck. Trust me, I love crosswalks, but these are bit tricky, because there’s another lane coming from Eye Street headed east towards the bridge too. Thank heavens there are traffic guards at those crosswalks when school is dismissed.

Charles Allen, the chief of staff for Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells filled me on how this and other concerns can be addressed.

Allen: “About 2 years ago, they (DDOT) had engineers and planners start exploring different scenarios of what could change to make that intersection work better. I’m not aware that they came up with one consensus recommendation, but I’ve heard recently that DDOT is re-engaging on the intersection and will be reaching out to the community to restart those conversations. It’s something that needs to be done and we’re glad they’re bringing back some urgency to this intersection.”

That’s good news since I’m stunned I haven’t heard of a major accident at the intersection. Let’s make sure the neighborhood keeps DDOT accountable for integrating the community in this process.

If Santa is feeling generous, I’d also like two (not just one) yield signs where E Street, SE merges into Pennsylvania at 11th Street. I nearly got plowed down there the other day. Do you think Santa’s elves can work magic here?

Charles has good news on how residents can make DDOT requests directly through petitions: “This is primarily for things like stop signs and speed humps, but can also be used to make specific requests about a change. Of course, any time there’s a safety issue, we don’t need to wait for a petition to be collected. We’ll always try to bump a problem intersection up on the priority list through our office. The intersection you describe sounds like one we need to get DDOT to look at. I’ll go ahead and ask them to do that now.”


One last thing: a few more minutes for pedestrians to cross Pennsylvania at 13th Street would be an absolute God-send. Otherwise, we all should get track shoes, the elderly included, because we have all of 20 seconds to get through 6 lanes with a generous median strip in the middle.

Charles: That’s a point we hear about crossings on major arteries all the time. What we push for is that the timing of the pedestrian crossings be set for the individual that will be the slowest to move across – perhaps a parent with a small child, a senior with a walker, or an individual in a wheelchair. When we ask, DDOT will typically go out and check the timing to make sure its adequate. But one thing to keep in mind, DDOT’s evaluation of adequate means that the timing allows a pedestrian to get to safe harbor, such as the large median on Pennsylvania Avenue, not necessarily across the entire intersection for streets like major divided arterial roads. A priority for us is that while these streets are major commuter corridors, they are also our neighborhood streets. Therefore, we want DDOT to always err on the side of giving the pedestrian a little more time for a crossing.

Alright, Charles, time for you and Tommy to work your magic with Councilwoman Mary Cheh, the chair of DC’s Committee of Environment, Public Works and Transportation. I might just start getting my wish list to your office all year ’round. Along with sugar cookies and milk, of course.

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  • Ralph Garboushian

    I nominate the intersection of 18th Street, E Street & Potomac Avenue SE in front of Congressional Cemetery. Cars illegally exiting the freeway and streaming up Potomac Avenue speed up as they approach 18th Street and Potomac transitions into a one-way speedway. (Some cars do not wait for the transition to one-way and start driving on the wrong side of Potomac well ahead of the transition to one-way. This move gets them to the stop sign at 19th street 10 seconds more quickly.) The drivers of cars at stop signs on 18th Street and on E Street have limited visibility as they turn. Meanwhile, hapless dog walkers and pedestrians going and coming from Congressional Cemetery are forced to scurry across Potomac Avenue as quickly as possible because none of the suburban commuters on Potomac ever slows down or stops for them. Pedestrians trying to cross 18th Street face the prospect of being mowed down by cars making a high-speed left turn from Potomac onto 18th. I have seen two accidents at this intersection, including one that took out an old police call box, a trash can and left a telephone pole leaning precariously (it has been two years and it is still leaning). Think about how fast that car was going! I have lost count of the close calls. If ever an intersection cried out for traffic calming and a road diet, this is it! Indeed, while I think DDOT is generally a progressive and forwarding thinking transportation agency, especially when compared to most state DOTs, this intersection loudly screams: DDOT cares more about speeding up the commute of suburban drivers than it does about the health, safety and quality of life of neighborhood residents.

  • How about 8th Street and Independence Ave SE? Indy gets 60-70 seconds to cross 8th Street, but 8th then gets 14 seconds to cross Indy. Then you get road-ragey drivers on 8th Street honking and running red lights so they don’t have to get stuck by the loooong red light again. Not to mention the fire trucks and EMS going up and down 8th Street have to contend with huge lines of cars stuck at that light all day.

    I also wish 9th Street was southbound only and 10th Street was northbound only. Those streets are waaaay too narrow for cars to traverse in both directions. (Yes, I know this is about pedestrian safety, but pedestrians will be safer if the cars can drive safer.)

  • wmichaeljones

    Never a dull moment around Potomac Avenue! It’s hard to pay attention to crazy drivers and weird intersections when you’re also looking over your shoulder to make sure you don’t get jumped… Love my neighborhood, but just sayin’.

  • Thanks gentlemen! Great ideas all around. After I wrote this I started noticing the timing on lots of corners and it really is mind boggling. Sure, I’m much slower than I used to be now that there’s always a stroller in tow, but making it only to the median strip is infuriating. We’re not at Bailey’s Crossroads!
    Charles Allen — if you’re out there, a question for you. Which of these concerns/requests need formal petitions, or can you recommend other steps we can take? Sure, they may be ‘pie in the sky’ but they’re worth consideration.

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