Dysfunction Junction Vol. 7 – 18th and Florida/U St, NW


Dysfunction Junction chronicles the most forlorn, baffling, and wonderful crossroads of our fair city. The column is written by Ben Ball, a transportation nerd in his spare time. He lives in LeDroit Park. Ben previously wrote about Wisconsin and M Street, NW.

18th and Florida/U St, NW

This intersection has been problematic for a while.  As early as 2003, DDOT was thinking about possible solutions.  Enter the Adams Morgan Streetscape Project, which altered the traffic pattern, gave us pedestrian-friendly “bump out” sidewalks, removed the underlying streetcar tracks, and added bike infrastructure along 18th St, all for the low, low cost of $6.8 million.  The whole thing took fifteen months to complete, but it seemed like an eternity.

This is not an easy intersection to fix.  The U Street/Florida Avenue route is by default the main cross-town arterial in this area, given the lack of east-west options in Adams Morgan and the preponderance of one way roads in northern Dupont.  Complications quickly mount when you add all the strange angles and rights-of-way involved.  Oh, and it’s the gateway to Adams Morgan, so naturally there are a ton of pedestrians trying to cross every which way, regardless of what the lights say.

So did we get a Good Deal or Not™?  Given the level of difficulty here, I’m willing to cut DDOT some slack.  They probably did the best they could, given the circumstances.  But that doesn’t mean that everything’s coming up roses here.  The stoplights in particular are still a problem.

Continues after the jump.


If you’re going eastbound on Florida Avenue, expect to wait for several light cycles.  You only have nineteen seconds to cross – a narrow margin that often pushes the backup of cars far beyond T Street.  Going westbound on Florida isn’t that much better, although that’s more a function of people trolling for parking spots in the surrounding warren of one way streets.

If you’re going down 18th, traffic waiting to turn left onto Florida/U Street often blocks movement as far north as California Street.  When the stars align and you do try and turn, it involves a rather awkward 270 degree-plus angle that quite a few cars take at high speed.  (If I was the owner of that [Sudanese?  Jumbo slice?] place, I’d certainly be worried.)

Ed. Note: Pre-construction in Sept. 2010 a drunk driver killed SAIS student Julia Bachleitner and injured her friend subsequently plowing into the Keren restaurant.

Buses have a particular issue with that turn, since the light half a block away that splits Florida from U Street isn’t timed quite right for through traffic.  The inevitable result is that buses block the box waiting for cars to complete the turn onto U Street.  (The 1912 DC map that hangs in my living room shows that the streetcars used to make this same hairpin turn.  I wonder how they managed it back then.)

DDOT made this intersection marginally better for pedestrians, who at least have a place to stand now.  Unfortunately, the new “bump outs”, odd light timing, and lack of a crosswalk on the north side of the intersection have also created a huge temptation to jaywalk.  As a result, there are still quite a few near-misses here – one of the reasons this intersection made the list of DC’s deadliest intersections even after it was “improved”.


28 Comment

  • That intersection is a mess, without a doubt. But I think they’ve done the best they could with the situation, unlike some of the other brilliant moves DDOT has made recently.

  • I think they as best as they could given the numerous difficulties described by the OP. Not sure what they can do about those backing up 18th wanting to turn left on U/Florida short of banning left turns all-together.

  • It is a huge improvement over what it was. I don’t have any better ideas.

  • The biggest issue now is that when pedestrians have the right of way to cross U Street, northbound 18th Street traffic has a green light to turn right onto U Street. Since the pedestrian crosswalk is right by the green arrow, vehicles are going pretty fast and have to screech to a halt or blow past pedestrians, if not through them. It’s not a safe intersection for pedestrians at all.

    • Correction. it should have read: Since the pedestrian crosswalk is NOT right by the green arrow, etc.

      My bad!

    • I didn’t think there was a green arrow for north bound traffic.

    • There is no right turn arrow for people going north on 18th and turning right on Florida (NOT U). You have a regular green light and have to wait for pedestrians crossing Florida. If you have to “screech to a halt” in order to not blow through the red turn arrow at Florida and U (and risk hitting a pedestrian in the process) then you’re an idiot who floored it when turning right from 18th.

  • Best thing to do would be make Florida Ave between U Street and California a pedestrian-only zone, i.e. route all the traffic via California. This would turn the big intersection into a normal 4-way stop, as traffic can only go east-west on U Street and north-south on 18th. Keep the island, but remove all the crosswalks that go through the middle of the intersection and have pedestrians cross the streets around the intersection’s perimeter.

    In my humble opinion.

    • And put a fence on the island so pedestrians are not tempted to illegally jaywalk across the intersection via the island. Don’t give them a place to wait. This will help force them to walk around the perimeter.

    • Hate this idea as both a ped and driver in the area…

      • Me too, but if we are concerned about addressing safety and lessening confusion then I think this is the best solution. Yes, it will require more walking for pedestrians and it will take drivers longer to get where they need to go (they won’t be able to recklessly zoom on/off Florida Ave).

        But as someone who knew the girl who died in this intersection and saw the pain it caused her family & the SAIS community, I think a little extra time is worth it if it means less casualties. Besides, I think a pedestrian-only area right there on Florida would be a great community gathering spot!

        • Totally understand the emotions here, but you do realize that this would endanger more pedestrians on V and Seaton Streets, right? Those are little, residential, one-way streets that would bear the burden of increased traffic at increased speeds.

          If you’re looking for a culprit in that terrible accident, look no further than the driver herself and the bar that over-served her during an all-you-can-drink happy hour. I and many others have successfully (and soberly) navigated that intersection hundreds of times without an accident — both pre- and post-reconstruction.

    • they should have just made it a pedestrian only all the way from U to Columbia. This will delete street parking on 18th but come on, who really drives up to bars or restaurants and actually expects to park in front of them on 18th?

    • Absolutely not.

      Neither Seaton Street (one-way eastbound) and V Street (one-way westbound) are designed to handle the traffic flow that would result.

      • I guess we know where you live.

        I’m not sure how Seaton or V Streets would get any more traffic with this proposed plan. If anything, Seaton would see an even further reduction of traffic with a pedestrian plaza toward it’s western end. Not many people take Florida south to take a left onto U Street; the vast majority are headed right into the big intersection. If you had to go east on U Street, it would make more sense (and save time) to head down 17th Street past the police station. That’s much quicker than going down Florida and dealing with the mis-timed lights at that intersection.

        The only street with more traffic would be California between Florida and 18th, which has nothing on it except street parking, the entrance to Mint, and the overflow lot for Lauriol Plaza. Cars would need to come down Florida, take a right on California, and then a left onto 18th, if their intention is to head south toward the big intersection.

  • I lived on this intersection for about 4 years (through the construction) and believe the best solution for the mess is to convert the whole intersection into a circle. Yes, it would be an irregularly shaped circle, unless the building holding DeVines, Dahlak, and El Tamerindo was demolished. Even still, I think an irregular oval/circle/roundabout thing would be the best solution.

    • I agree. This same solution would benefit the Park/14th St. intersection @ Tivoli Square. These intersections speak to L’enfant’s abilities. Is there no political will in DC to construct a circle that he didn’t design?

  • I bike through this intersection every morning to work and back. It’s really not that bad (especially when pedestrians are following the law).

    The only confusion I see is that U street heading westbound onto Florida Ave has 2 lanes and people sometimes get confused as to which is which.

    The lane on your left can only turn left onto 18th street and the right lane is supposed to be the lane used to proceed west onto U street.

    I really want to see an article about the intersection at U and 14th St NW which can be a real mess.

    • I agree – I live less than a block from this intersection and walk my dog through it every day, and don’t really have a problem.

      BUT when driving, heading from U street westbound onto Florida is INCREDIBLY obnoxious (and unsafe), due to what you describe – most people in the left lane, which is turn-only, think they are in a through lane and barrel through the intersection, cutting off (or running into) those cars in the proper lane, the right lane (the through lane).

    • I’d say it’s done more on purpose than due to confusion.

    • I drive through occasionally and every time have no idea which lane to be in to head west from U on Florida. I know there will be parked cars ahead which makes me hesitant to be in the right lane. I think this turns out to be not a real problem because the one lane of traffic heading straight will be in the one lane, but it FEELS like it will be an issue like it is everywhere else that 2 lanes reduce down to 1. And the anticipatory signage isn’t great. So even though I know it’s coming and I become hyper alert about which lane to be in, I make the wrong choice about half the time. Something about the intersection just isn’t intuitive, and that makes it a problem.

  • Can you profile the awful circle where 16th, Colesville and Eastern Come together on the DC/Silver Spring Line… probably the most pointlessly harrowing experience there is in town, all because the two jurisdictions can’t agree…

    • What Joe said! I live a few blocks away from this circle and have come up with alternative routes to avoid it all together. I think the recent improvements have helped — clearly-labeled lanes, barriers to keep drivers out of the parking lanes, PROPER CROSSWALKS (!) — but, drivers still take too many chances. Even though car accidents are still a regular occurrence, thankfully, no pedestrians have been hit recently.

  • I think its better than before, but there are some issues.

    going westbound from U onto florida is confusing as the left lane is turn only but aligns with the single through lane on florida. The right lane is the through lane but aligns with parked cars.

    Vehicles turning right/ east from 18th to U often fail to heed the right turn arrow and so they run down pedestrians in the cross walk

    Going south on 18th cars fail to stop at the light for Vernon St and roll into the light for Florida/ U. This endangers both crossing peds and cars turning right out of Vernon. A better marked, stop here on red sign would help.

    • Why is the right lane the through lane? It has a straight ahead arrow and a right turn arrow. That indicates that drivers should head straight to 18th Street or turn right onto eastbound Florida Ave, not bear to their left to go westbound on Florida. The left turn only arrow in the left lane on U street implies those cars would bear left and can then choose either the left turn lane onto 18th Street or go westbound on Florida. That way each lane gets two options: the right lane gets (1) straight to 18th to turn right and (2) right turn to eastbound Florida and the left lane gets (1) left turn onto 18th and westbound Florida.

      • Checking back in on this. its seems my description of how the westbound traffic flows wasn’t accurate. I wasn’t talking about the first intersection of U and Florida, but the second intersection, which i now realize is actually Florida and 18th. Even saw two cops drive through the intersection despite being in the left turn only lane.

  • Re the west bound cars on U Street driving straight through in the left turn lane: I wonder if there are additonal lane markings that could extend into the intersection to encourage cars to complete the turn, rather than run through. It is distracting to watch for and respond to this flagrant violation, taking attention from watching out for pedestrians.

Comments are closed.