Dysfunction Junction Vol. 5: 14th and Park/Kenyon NW

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Dysfunction Junction chronicles the most forlorn, baffling, and wonderful crossroads of our fair city. Ben Ball is a transportation nerd in his spare time. He lives in LeDroit Park. Ben previously wrote about Dave Thomas Circle.

If this intersection is the beating heart of Columbia Heights, I’d say we’re heading for some sort of cardiac arrest.  The lovely plaza, complete with splash fountain for the kiddies, is a marvelous public space.  Surrounding it, however, is one of the most congested places for people and vehicles I can think of.

It is not easy to get through this area in a car.  The herringbone street pattern of northern Columbia Heights (a legacy of poor planning in the early part of the previous century) is a big part of the problem.  But in 2010, DDOT made it worse by redoing the traffic pattern at this intersection, where one of the few westward passages in the area crosses a major north-south corridor.

In the interests of “traffic calming”, DDOT altered the lane which allowed drivers heading southbound on 14th St to easily make a right turn onto Park Road.  Now traffic is so calm that it’s fallen asleep.  Just two years after DDOT worked its magic, a Metro study of the 50 buses found that traffic near 14th and Park averages less than ten miles per hour at all times of day. The study didn’t mention that the bus stop is part of the problem – buses frequently hang across both lanes, taking out both lanes of traffic in the process.

Continues after the jump.

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Another issue is that the traffic signals are terribly mis-timed, particularly for pedestrians.  More from that Metrobus study:  “Jaywalking [across 14th St] is a problem frequently observed at this intersection.”  I admit to being part of the problem here, mostly because the signals leave long stretches of inactivity where no cars are moving through the intersection and pedestrians are waiting to cross.

Why are the signals so off?  My theory is that left turns are the problem.  Giving drivers the option to turn left from Kenyon onto 14th or from 14th onto Park is what makes this intersection too complicated to manage – there are simply too many options.  If drivers were only allowed to pass straight through the intersection, the signal times would be a more straight-forward proposition.

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One more thing:  this whole area has more pedestrians than cars.  Even the wide sidewalks in front of DC USA are often impossible to navigate due to the crush of people.  (The sidewalk vendors who set up shop here don’t help – I’m looking at you, purveyors of “essential” oils, flowers, and schlocky art.)  It’s time to recognize that maintaining the flow of pedestrians through this area is just as important (if not more so) than maintaining the flow of vehicles.  Maybe we need a follow up ballad on this from some neighborhood troubadors?

67 Comment

  • Walking from U Street to Park Road, I frequently walk right alongside a single metrobus. A BUS can’t go any faster than a middle aged gal on foot up that hill and into CH. It’s a problem.

    For your next installment, I recommend one block north, where left turning traffic from Monroe eastbound onto 14th northbound tangles with left turning traffic west/ southbound. That tiny jog in Monroe turns people into idiots.

    • jim_ed

      Yep. the 50 buses were the most convenient way for me to and from work, but due to the CH bottleneck(s), I found it was quicker to walk out of my way to Georgia Avenue and take the 70/79 instead.

  • The left turn from Kenyon to 14th does not cause traffic problems. There is a left turn lane there that segregates all that traffic from the traffic heading west. Getting rid of the turn would only make things worse by forcing more cars onto Park road, just so they could make a left on 16th. I also don’t see how the southbound right turn lane onto Park makes traffic worse. It just gets those cars out of the way so everyone else can proceed southward.

    The real problem is that Park between 14th & 16th is only one lane (not counting the turn lane into DC USA). It’s a major east west arterial, and during rush hour, Kenyon is two lanes that then get squished down to one lane on Park, and this is compounded by southbound traffic turning from 14th to Park. Add a rush hour lane on Park, and things would move much more smoothly.

    • +1000 This is spot on. It’s frustrating that if you travel westbound on Park Road from 13th, once you hit 14th, you can’t continue on Park really. In order to do that, you should have started out on Kenyon at 13th. The other way to cross through Columbia Heights westbound is on Columbia Road to the south, which is a total nightmare once you cross 14th thanks to its difficult and backed up intersection at 16th. To me it’s a very simple fix, to reduce traffic congestion and backups on Park, have parking restrictions, just like on every other important commuter route in the city, that don’t allow cars to park on the north side of Park Road during rush hour. That would greatly reduce any congestion that backs up from 16th all the way down to 14th on Park Road. In fact, similar restrictions should be put on Columbia Road between 14th and 15th for rush hour as well.

      • Completely agree on both accounts. Allow westbound traffic on Park to cross 14th and not be forced to make a right onto 14th northbound. Then remove parking from one side of park (between 14th and 16th) during rush hour and the problem will greatly improve if not disappear. It also doesn’t help that 14th northbound is two lanes each way until you get to this intersection.

        • I absolutely hate coming to park road on 14th (northbound) where the turn only lane is… No one obeys the turn only lane and it always creates a major blockade. There is also a bus stop on the right where buses never pull in fully enabling disobedient drivers to flow through the turn only lane creating a blockade every time the light changes for park road traffic. Totally bass-ackwards. Someone should be fired, or I wish there were cops there to hand out tickets, they would easily make their monthly quota in 15 minutes.

    • Or, you know, eliminate parking on 14th entirely and replace with bus lanes. Win-win.

  • It takes at least 10+ minutes every morning to go from spring road to CH metro (1/2 a mile) on the 50 buses. Much of the time it is faster to just walk to the stop by the metro. That intersection is completely ill-conceived and I cannot comprehend how the design of it was ever a viable ‘plan’. ugh.

  • Anyone who experienced what the crossing signals and traffic light timing were like more than 2 years ago can definitely appreciate that today’s system is an enormous improvement. It isn’t perfect, but the larger issue (that even traffic signals can’t change) is that 14th street and Irving/Columbia are now major arterials through the city that were not nearly as popular/busy 5+ years ago when DCUSA was under construction and first open. You can see the growth locally with AM rush hour traffic on 13th and Sherman, and how bad it is.

    The entire area would really be best served as being primarily mass-transit and pedestrian occupied. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other major arterials for taxis and car traffic to utilize to get to growing areas surrounding CH.

    The greatest morning was when I discovered they had changed the traffic signal across 14th and Kenyon to allow for pedestrians to cross while right-turn traffic had the right-of-way off of Park turning onto 14th. So simple, yet it took so long to happen.

    • I agree with you on the 14th & Kenyon walk signal, but the flip side is that it has made traffic worse. This is because the walk signal across 14th now lasts longer than the turn arrow from Kenyon to 14th, which means that there is often no gap in pedestrian traffic for cars to complete the turn.

      I disagree that DC USA is the problem. Most people walk or take mass transit there. The increase in traffic is caused by more people living in the area as a result of new large condo and apartment buildings and the many condo conversions. I think the increased density is great, but traffic problems have come along with it.

      • I was referring to the time period of DCUSA being under construction, not that this is the cause of the congestion. I agree that it is local growth in surrounding areas causing traffic (see comment RE: traffic on 13th and Sherman).

    • Yeah, everybody wants to get rid of the highways, then they end up regretting it when their neighborhoods end up in gridlock every morning and evening, as a result.

      More roads aren’t the answer, either. Smarter utilization of what we already have is the answer, with synchronized stop lights, more one-way thoroughfares, etc.

  • What about the fact that you HAVE to turn right at 14th from Park if you are heading west.

    On another note, I know the city is trying to be pedestrian and bike friendly but people are still going to drive! Especially from the MD burbs. They are making it a nightmare by taking so many N/S streets from 2 lanes down to 1 with a bike lane.

    • The mandatory right turn from Park to 14th, while undoubtedly an inconvenience to those who live on Park between 13th & 14th, doesn’t contribute to the traffic mess at that intersection. Allowing that traffic to cross 14th, as it used to, would only make things worse. I imagine that is why it was changed.

    • The major N/S communting routes for MD drivers are supposed to be 16th and Georgia. I don’t really have a problem with making local streets easier for local residents to use.

      • 16th and Georgia are not the only N/S routes, 13th, 11th and Sherman are backed up almost every morning.

        • 11th & 13th definitely should not be used by MD commuters, which is what I was talking about. Sherman is a little dicier as NH & GA Ave both dump off into Sherman, and those avenues run all the way into MD.

    • Why should local residents give a flip if its easy for people to get in from the suburbs? This isn’t a shopping mall, it’s a neighborhood.

      • I don’t care if it’s easy for Marylanders to get into the city, but since they DO come in, there is going to be more traffic which does make it worse for people who live & drive in DC.

      • Why wouldn’t they? Maybe because they’re selfish and inconsiderate, by nature?

        • Think through the irony of what you just said..

          DC residents are selfish because they want to align their roads (that they pay for!) such that they are more usable for residents, as opposed to commuters.

          The other side of that argument…

          Maryland commuters want DC roads (that they do not pay for) to be aligned such that it is easiest for them to commute downtown.

          Which one sounds selfish to you?

          • There’s no irony in it whatsoever. The most sensible solution is one that works for everybody, with a realization that commuters are a necessary evil. Besides, it’s not all Maryland commuters. There are plenty of DC residents commuting through here, as well.

          • Guess you’ve never read any of the construction signs that break down how much the Federal Gov’t pays and how much DC pays. So yes, those horrible people from MD & VA pay too.

      • Agree. Traffic for people coming from Maryland is part of the costs they chose when they decided to move to the suburbs. Sorry, they have nice lawns, and tree cover, and traffic when they drive into DC. I have an 18 x 40 foot plot, but I can walk to the metro. Trade-offs.

  • Note also that since the rejiggered the intersection you can no longer continue west on Park Rd. across 14th; now your only choice is to turn right (north) onto 14th, which just adds to the mess.

  • Yes, the Park Rd traffic is slowed around 14th, and the drivers speed between 14th and 16th to (seemingly/mentally) compensate.

    Until recently, I lived at Park and Hiatt (between 14th and 16th), and was continuously furious at the drivers who drove 40-50mph down that small stretch of road and ignored the crosswalks. The intersection needs a STOP sign.

    • That certainly sounds frustrating, but when does traffic travel at 40-50 on that stretch? Every time I’m on that road it’s more like 10 mph, but then I avoid it whenever possible.

  • sunsquashed

    I agree, this is one of the worst traffic clusterfucks in the city. I am so, so happy to have moved away from this area (we used to live a few block North, and would pass by this area at least twice a day). In the interest of accuracy, the Monroe x 14th intersection is far worse than Park x 14th, but whatever, the entire area is horrible.
    While I agree with the post that this entire area was poorly designed, I think you forgot to mention the role that the lack of traffic/parking enforcement plays. As a cyclist this area is perhaps the worst in the city. The bike lanes are ALWAYS blocked by double parked cars, taxis and delivery trucks (and quite frequently double parked cop cars). The delivery trucks serving the area, have nowhere to park and are forced to double park (I like D’Vines, but I’d have no problem boycotting them due to the beer delivery trucks that always block the bike lane). This is a horrible setup for a business, and the property owners should have provided alleyway access for deliveries.
    In my opinion, the on street parking along this stretch needs to be eliminated. The extra space could then be used for deliveries and taxi pick-up/drop off. While this option could work in an ideal world, it will never work here because their is little/no enforcement of traffic/parking violations in this area. I’ve made numerous complaints to the police and parking enforcement divisions about this area, but nobody gives a fuck. I would say that things will only change when a horrible accident occurs here, but that’s already happened several times, so I’m not going to get my hopes up.

    • +1 I agree wholeheartedly. They could at least eliminate parking or no idling during rush hour!

    • +1 on eliminating street parking on this stretch of 14th.

    • Definitely eliminate that on-street parking. What with all the reports of DCUSA parking being woefully underutilized, there’s no excuse for continuing to allow even MORE parking in prime real estate for bus lanes or wider sidewalks.

  • Another problem is that the lights on Park Road at Pine (by Sacred Heart) & 16th are not properly timed and so it takes forever to move through that last bit of Park. The light at Park should really be replaced by a stop sign on Pine (not Park) because very few cars travel from Pine to Park.

  • I was pulling up to the stoplight on 14th and Kenyon when a lady decided to cross the street, but instead of walking on pedestrian cross walk she decided to walk right in front of my car as I ‘m still pulling up to the line in front of the light. I see her, but she thinks I don’t and proceeds to call me a white bitch. I’m a huge walker so I respect walkers right of way, but walk where you’re supposed to walk! Not in the street! And what does the fact that i’m white have anything to do with anything?

  • It’s not SUPPOSED to be easy to get through there by car. The area is full of peds. It’s not terribly hard to get around on food in my experience though it could be easier. I certainly don’t want people to drive around there faster though.

    • EXACTLY. While many here are complaining that “no thought went into the design,” have any of you considered that perhaps this design was done purposely to get you out of the cars and onto the street?

      DC is taking a page directly out of NYC’s handbook – make driving in the city as difficult/expensive as possible. This is especially true if Congress is not going to allow DC to levy commuter taxes or congestion charging. The alternative is to take away lanes and parking spaces, so you’re forced to travel by foot or use public transportation. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more parking eliminated in this area and “Bus-Only” lanes to speed people along this corridor. As others mentioned, parking enforcement needs to step up their game. They could easily have an enforcement officers on a Segway in this area 24/7 handing out citations and bring in a ton of money.

      • And that would be fine and dandy, if walking were an option for everybody who needed to pass through here.

        • I think part of the idea also is to get those who are just passing through to take a different route. I never drive through Columbia Heights anymore because it takes forever. Fortunately there are lots of other streets in the city so there are plenty of alternate routes.

        • Walking, biking, or using public transportation is a legitimate option for 95% of the people who pass through this area. The only ones I feel sympathy for are the disabled or elderly/infirm, who would need to use private vehicles to move around. And even then, they still have other options, such as private group van services.

          People coming from MD can take public transportation into the city. But they choose not to, because they don’t want to get out of their cars. Local residents don’t need to take their car to the DCUSA shopping center. They could take more frequent trips (daily?) for smaller purchases, just as people do in Europe or NYC.

          Most people driving in this area have a multitude of other transportation options to get in and around DC. They just make the choice to not utilize them.

          • No offense, but you don’t seem to know much about people with disabilities and older adults, their transportation needs/proclivities, and the transportation options available to them.

            And if you’ve got a couple kids in tow, and you’re trying to do a Target run, you most certainly do need to take your car to DCUSA. Have you ever schlepped a kid, a dozen rolls of toilet paper, bottles of shampoo, and groceries on a bus? Who wouldn’t drive if given the option?

          • Which is why I said that I feel sympathy for people with disabilities and the elderly.

            However, plenty of people all over the world “shlep” their kids on public transportation while shopping. I don’t have many sympathies there. Do you really need to buy a crapload of toilet paper and jumbo bottles of shampoo? You’re in an urban environment, not a suburban one.

            And that’s the problem with Columbia Heights (and many other rapidly developing areas in DC) – the neighborhood has changed and people haven’t realigned their expectations. It’s now a pedestrian neighborhood, not an automobile-based one, and that requires you to change how you live your life.

          • i like your idealism.

          • i think what is being requested is not sympathy, but realism.

          • I think you need to start by convincing Target to stop selling anything larger than what will fit in a backpack.

          • Wow, some people are really out of touch with reality. I guess idealism will do that to you.l

    • This is an excellent point, and one that many either don’t get or just don’t agree with. People need to stop viewing irving, park, and 14th as main thoroughfares rather than vigorously claim that the roads need to be reconfigured for that purpose.

      However, I will also say that however unfriendly Columbia Heights is to drivers, I think they’ve managed to make it just as bad for pedestrians. For example, if you want to walk from Pete’s at 14th & Irving up to the Giant on Park AND you obey all the ped crossing signals on your way, it takes a really long time. It’s a pain to walk through that neighborhood too.

      • I bike daily and walk all over Columbia Heights, but the reality is that I need to drive too, and I’m not alone. This city has lots of north south arterials due to the L’Enfant plan’s focus on getting people to the Capitol and White House, but the city very few east west thoroughfares, especially north of Florida. The ones that do exist need to work. To say that people should to stop viewing Park as a thoroughfare is not reasonable.

        Regarding the statement about taking a page from NY’s playbook, I really doubt that DC planners are trying to make driving difficult. It’s just bad planning. I also suspect that the lack of a rush hour lane on Park is due to opposition from the many apartment dwellers who park on that block, but this is pure speculation.

        • Well it’s hardly reasonable to say that people should continue to see Park as a thoroughfare since it’s a terrible one (and I thought it was before the reconfigured 14th/Park.) I think the lights between 14th and 16th could be timed better but really I don’t see why Park should be viewed any differently than many other small streets on the grid.

          • Why should anyone view Park as a thoroughfare? Because the city has made it one by placing traffic lights, as opposed to stop signs, all long Kenyon-Park corridor and putting rush hour lanes along Kenyon. It is a thoroughfare. Yes, it’s terrible, but that’s due to bad planning that can be fixed.

          • Well, we’re probably not going to convince each other. You do seem committed to the “thoroughfare” idea, in which everything the city does to make it more like one is supporting evidence and everything the city does to make it less like one is just a colossal mistake. I’m committed to the reality in which driving through CH is not worth the hassle unless it is actually my start or end point. Not mutually exclusive perspectives really, though I don’t think pumping more vehicles through CH is the way to go.

          • To be clear, I live in Columbia Heights and so when I do drive, it is either my start point or my end point. I would just like to be able to get in and out in a reasonable time.

          • OK, that’s what I was assuming. I would think the fewer people passing through (without stopping there), the better for you. In any case, fwiw I won’t be jamming up your neighborhood with my car!

          • You are my new hero.

    • I avoid driving on this stretch of 14th Street… but the same design flaws (or “features”) that slow down regular car traffic also slow down bus traffic.

      I feel sorry for anyone who has to take a bus through that stretch of 14th Street. I like Sunsquashed’s idea of getting rid of street parking on those blocks (especially since the DCUSA parking garage is totally underutilized) and using that space as a delivery-vehicle area and as a taxi stand instead.

      Another possibility: Limit traffic on those blocks to buses and taxis only?

      • They desperately need a “bus-only” lane down 14th Street, even if its only during rush hours. They could run a lot more buses and the increased frequency, combined with even slower movement for cars, will incentivize individuals to ditch the car for their commute.

  • 100% – Plus I would extend this particular CF south to Harvard and include these issues:

    1. The left turn only lane between Harvard and Columbia needs to be better marked starting at Harvard St. About 80% of cars currently ignore this left turn only then squeeze into the single northbound lane at Columbia Rd.

    2. Columbia Rd. used to be 2 lanes westbound, but due to recent new, and possibly incorrect parking signs allowing parking on both sides all day, it is only one lane. Especially bad since it is an emergency route for ambulances.

    3. The Trinity Towers entrance on 14th St. needs a much larger “no parking entrance” zone. Currently it is not even big enough even for one car to parallel park. Because this building has lots of elderly/impaired residents, there is almost always a car stopped in front blocking the single northbound lane.

    4. Irving street needs a dedicated right turn signal for buses turning southbound onto 14th. I’ve seen Circulator buses stuck here for 10 min. There are simply too many pedestrians. Maybe we should try a – what’s it called – Barns dance? – Like in China town?

    5. The restaurants along Irving St. need to stop having their delivery trucks park on Irving to make deliveries. They must have been built with delivery areas in the rear from alley access.

  • 14th and Irving is terrible as well. Two lanes and one is a bus stop. I agree with Victoria’s point #4. Poorly designed.

    • I think 14th & Irving is actually worse. It’s always a parking lot. Avoid at all costs at all times.

  • I think we should make the whole block in front of target a pedestrian only zone.

    Problem solved, your welcome.

  • Regarding the traffic signals, who comes up with the timing for these? Are actual traffic engineers involved, is there any community input, or does DDOT just select a random value? I’ve yet to see any sign of any intellegence behind this, and the newer the traffic light, the worse the timing.

  • One of my greatest concerns, as a frequent pedestrian in the area, is the poor timing between the crosswalk north crosswalk across 14th st. and the connected crosswalk that connects the small pedestrian island across the right turn lane from west on Park Rd.

    Crossing 14th from the west, the crosswalk is green, while the crosswalk across park’s right turn lane is red (and the right turn lane itself has a green arrow). From my observations, most people don’t even notice that there is a separately timed crosswalk. It’s very unsettling.

  • Totally agree this is a CF. As a resident of Columbia Heights and a student at UDC, I’ve found there is no quick, efficient and reliable way to commute between the two, particularly because I take evening classes. This intersection makes it a CF to drive, the H busses are totally unreliable and metro takes you way out of the way. If someone out there has a magical trick or secret to communiting East/West from CH, I’d love to hear it!

    • I used to commute from CH to Tenleytown and I agree, there is no reliable way, especially if you have class till late. Here are all the various things I tried:
      1. H buses – yes they are unreliable but when they show up, they are door to door and in the evenings there isn’t much traffic.
      2. Metro to Woodley Park and take the circulator over to co hi – Sometimes a better option if you just miss one the H and the next one isn’t for 40 minutes.
      3. Bike – If you can tolerate that Porter is uphill both ways, which I only could sometimes. (I used to put my bike on the bus on the way to school and then bike home.)
      4. Metro to chinatown and then switch to green line … no, this is the worst option.

    • I live in Mt Pleasant – when I need to go to UDC/Tenleytown/etc I’ll bike to Woodley Park metro and go from there. It’s not direct, but I can be at the metro in less than 10 minutes. The H buses are more reliable in the evenings when there is less traffic (in my experience).

  • It was not poor planning that led to the many streets that refuse to intersect 14th at right angles. There was, in fact, no planning whatsoever. Subdividers bought open land and laid out streets and lots as they saw fit.

  • Welcome to the Georgetown (M Street) lifestyle. All the things described in the posting are the same issues in Georgetown, Adams Morgan, H Street, and other streets in DC. Sure there are some tools that DDOT can take to reduce some of the issues, but for the most part it will continue. It is the city, and there are many cars, people, bikes, strollers, etc. It comes with living in a high demand neighborhood that is now considered a destination.

  • Does anyone know if the 14th ST Bus Line recommendations for 2013-2014 are started yet?

    http://www.metrobus-studies.com/52-53-54/52-53-54.htm

    MetroExtra Bus 59, specifically?

    ————–
    6.0 Implementation Strategy
    A phasing scenario for the proposed improvements to the 14th Street Line is as follows:

    Initial Phase – 2013-2014 – Extension of existing Route 53 service to a new terminal on G Street NW.
    In addition, implement the MetroExtra 59 service, operating every 15 minutes during the peak periods
    in both directions of service. Several physical improvements would also be implemented during this
    phase, including: more effective parking restrictions and enforcement, lengthening bus stops and
    converting near-side stops into far-side stops, adjusting stop bars and eliminating the southbound G
    Street NW stop on Route 54.

    Phase Two – 2014-2015 – Implement running time recalibration on Routes 52, 53 and 54.

    Phase Three – 2015-2016 – Implement the restructuring of local service on Routes 52, 53 and 54,
    including possible service to the Waterfront neighborhood and additional service north of Colorado
    Avenue into the Takoma Metrorail station.

    Phase Four – after Phase Three – Reduce headways on MetroExtra Route 59 to every 10 minutes.

    Phase Five – after Phase Four – Implement midday service on MetroExtra Route 59.

    Phase Six – after Phase Five – Operate weekday evening service on MetroExtra Route 59.

    Phase Seven – after Phase Six – Operate weekend service on MetroExtra Route 59.

    Future Phases – Implement the proposed modified alignment through the Walter Reed site as well as
    the proposed neighborhood connector service in conjunction with development in that location. Also,
    implement any additional physical improvements on the 14th Street Line, including traffic
    improvements.

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