Dysfunction Junction Vol. 11: Mount Vernon Square


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.

Since I clearly botched the last edition by stepping out of my normal milieu, this time I’m going to stick to a far more familiar intersection in the hopes that the lesser deities of blogdom will be appeased [fat chance, I know].  I’ll start off by saying that Mount Vernon Square is actually really nice.  I love the Carnegie Library building, and on a warm summer’s day the surrounding green space can be a nice place to hang out.  Every time I walk by, I wish that the DC Public Library would stop trying to save that crumbling Van Der Rohe box and instead reclaim its rightful place in this stately marble temple.


Traffic-wise, one could make the point that Mount Vernon Square is just a wanna-be traffic circle, particularly for those who are trying to get through on Massachusetts Avenue.  Heading southeast on Massachusetts during rush hour usually means a long line of cars stretching back to Thomas Circle – a function of congestion and a narrow window for right turns onto 9th Street. I’m very pro-streetcar, but I worry that the Georgetown extension’s probable route through the square will add an unwelcome x-factor to vehicle traffic if it isn’t done right.


There’s a notable hole in DC’s bike infrastructure here.  Coming northeast on New York Avenue, the bike lane is gritty/sandy (thanks to City Center detritus) before ending in a bone-jarring series of deep ruts on the south side of the square.  Heading downtown, the 7th Street bike lane abruptly ends at M Street.  That’s just when drivers start to swerve between lanes, positioning themselves to navigate the square.  Trucks also like to idle here, adding another layer of complexity.  Seeking protection, I often feel compelled to use the sidewalk, although that can involve dodging the swarms of conventioneers who mill around the area.  (The official DC bike map shows that the 7th Street bike lane/sharrows re-emerge on the south side of the square, but I sure can’t find markings for either one on the street.)

Then there’s all the construction.  That massive Marriott Marquis has gobbled up the surrounding sidewalks forever, and it still isn’t scheduled to open until May 2014.  The old NPR building is no more; the American Association of Medical Colleges building is starting to rise.  Douglas Development is set to redevelop the site of the DC Eagle and the Fringe Festival.  Further afield, those parking lots across from Safeway will probably be the next domino to fall.  If/when all of these grand plans come together, this square is going to be pretty amazing.  It will probably also be a whole lot more crowded.  I’m going to try and enjoy the relative peace of the square while it lasts.

9 Comment

  • As somebody who biked crosstown for many years, I HATE this area. coming westbound on K street there is no way for a bicyclist to do anything remotely safe. Everybody ignores the ‘no left turn’ sign and there’s multiple lanes of traffic to negotiate. It’s no better when you actually make it through and onto Mass Ave, because there’s so much flipping construction kneeing out into the street. Eastbound isn’t much better, with the asphalt being in some of the worst condition anywhere in town and buses double parking all the time. It drives me nuts that there is no easy, continuous bike path straight across the city.

  • Yes, north of that “Bus & Bike Only” lane used by suburbanite drivers, encounters the delightful aspect of cars westbound on K Street trying to make their illegal left turns onto 7th Street. They just pull into traffic, causing gridlock in every direction.

  • I biked this intersection four times a day before I moved. It’s actually not THAT bad starting on Mass and continuing on Mass, provided you stay on the north side of the square. and instead of making left turns doing the continue straight then stop in front of cross traffic and wait for their light to turn green. Dealing with NY Ave or K Street is just a disaster however. Have fun.

    Also, the fact that the North and East portions have two way traffic and the South and West are one-way has always confused me. Why not make it like Lincoln/Stanton Park and just make it one way all the way around. Southbound 7th street traffic can deal with it or move over to 9th street.

  • To have some sympathy with drivers, the time-dependent no-left turn signs are awful. I have no idea when to expect them to be on or off. And I say this as someone who used to bike commute up 7th st. daily.

    With the one way 8th St., I still have no idea how you’re supposed to drive to the Renaissance on 8th when coming from the Capitol in the morning. Best I can offer is to take I street and walk a bit …

  • It’s unecessary to drive down there really. There are 4 metro stations and lots of bus lines within a few walks.

    • If that’s your destination, I agree. But it’s the best route for people trying to get from SE to NW or vice versa. It’s definitely the easiest way for me to get from Capitol Hill to Dupont or further out.

  • Even If Chinatown is your destination sometimes it makes sense to drive especially if your starting point is not particularly metro accessible. If you and your three buddies are headed to a game or you, your spouse +3 kids are headed to the circus, play, convention center event etc. it is cheaper to drop $20 bucks for event parking and drive vs. paying for Metro roundtrips x 4 or x5. Two sleepy kids after circus, nice to have your car.

  • Apologies for being the pedant, but the architect’s last name is not “Van Der Rohe”, but Mies van der Rohe.


  • They need to turn off the “no right turn” from Mass onto 9th. I rarely pay attention to it cause it’s stupid.

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