Dear PoPville – The Intersection of 4th and Massachusetts Ave, NW is a Mess


“Dear PoPville,

Did you know that DDOT made some traffic calming changes at the 4th and Mass intersection in response to the recent accidents/pedestrian death that occurred there? The changes have hosed up Mass Ave in both directions causing traffic to back up. Basically, westbound when the light changes green at H St the Light at 4th turns red and only 6-8 cars can advance. Of course people then block the box for H Street Traffic. A similar situation occurs east bound.

Now when I get on the circulator at NJ and Mass it is now common for the bus to sit thru 3-4 light cycles to get past 4th street. Not sure if you want to do a blog on this but just thought I’d let you know. I’m all for pedestrian safety as I walk a lot but this does not seem to be the answer.”

Earlier in the week DDOTDC tweeted:

“UPDATE: We are assessing the intersections of Mass Ave, H and 4th Sts for options to improve the synchronizing of the signals there.”

27 Comment

  • It should also be noted that this intersection is extremely dangerous for pedestrians. I live off 4th and Mass and hate having to cross that street every day for work.

  • There was an accident yesterday at the intersection which closed it down at 4:30pm right during evening rush. Whole intersection is a disaster.

  • This intersection has been a disaster for 2+ years now. Westbound H St to get onto 395S continues to be a CF, letting in 4-5 cars through a light cycle. And the box blocking that occurs is insane – sometimes I think people do it on purpose. Surely you can’t be that dense to think that when the light turns red, the answer is to remain in the exact middle of the box? Whatta mess!

  • Traveling west bound on H street approaching the intersection with Mass Ave. is also a disaster because cars traveling west bound on Mass Ave block the box at almost every signal change. Very few cars on H street can cross over Mass Ave to the exit for 395 tunnel. The light at Mass and H St. needs to turn red for those traveling west bound on Mass Ave. before the light on 4th St. turns red, not after. This would reduce the box blocking and create a better flow of traffic on H.

    • I agree. In the mornings that light is timed terribly. Traffic backs up nearly to 5 St. NE (the on-going construction does not help). They should extend the WB H St. to 395S light another 15-20 seconds for sure.

  • The accident there yesterday was terrible. I walked by right after it happened and there was a woman on the ground in the middle of the intersection very badly injured. It appears that she was hit by a car near that intersection. I was hoping that someone might know if she was okay. It was a terrible thing to see.

  • My friend’s father, a city planner in NYC, was visiting DC and commented how poorly timed the street lights are here and how it creates a “stop and go” traffic pattern instead of creating flow.

    • I’ve been told that this is partly the result of our street plan (diagonals that function as major commuter arteries). However, I have noticed that in the past several years DDOT appears hell bent on “punishing” people who drive cars by making the experience as miserable as possible. It would not surprise me in the least if the organization that controls traffic light timing decided at some point to specifically counter-time the lights so that people have to suffer in their cars. NB: I do not drive in DC, but my bus commute has also been negatively impacted by this stop-and-go pattern. CT Ave, for example, is horrendous. And don’t even try getting cross-town in rush hour – H and I Streets are the worst!

    • Anastasia Beaverhausen

      Annonny is right. The woman who is in charge of “punishing” people driving cars is Harriet Tregoning. The lights here are intentionally timed to create a stop and go effect. During rush hour, the timing changes to help traffic move a little better, but then once rush hour is over the timing gets even worse. The lights on some streets used to be timed to allow you to go from one side of the city to the other at 25 mph without stopping (e.g. Q and R Streets, I and L Streets. Now you have to stop at every light. I would like to lead some kind of effort to force the city to set the lights such that people can travel as quickly and efficiently as possible (within the speed limit). There’s absolutely no reason that can’t be done. You would think with the high rate of asthma here, the city would want to do everything it could to keep traffic moving and thereby reduce pollution from stop and go traffic.

    • There was a massive synchronization program back in the Williams era. Things are noticably worse now. It becomes difficult to maintain synch when individual lights go out (as they do). You’d think this would be easy, but it’s difficult everywhere.

      Traffic calming=satisfying whiny NIMBYs and often strangling traffic. the effort to make thoroughfares somehow “safe” neglects that they are thoroughfares.

      • You mean, “traffic sewers” for car-bound folks who made bad decisions. Acres of cheap parking, subsidized highways and trillion dollar wars for cheap oil will not placate them.

        • It has taken generations to get to the point where we are now with suburban planning, subsidized oil production and road construction, etc. Thinking that somehow all will change simply by flipping the switch to make traffic lights inefficient is naive, insulting, and paternalistic. It would be a nice change to see the DC government work to improve the efficiency of the city and/or offer better mass transit options rather than pander to some sort of liberal hatred of the oil industry through its misguided feel-good policies.

  • Except for 12th and 15th St, which flow very well. Wish there were comparable south-bound streets.

  • That whole H Street NW corridor is screwed up. Cars also block the box back at New Jersey and H outside the GPO. They re-did the whole area (sidewalks, curbs, etc.) last year while doing tunnel and bridge work, but didn’t fix the lights. The light leading to the 3rd street tunnel needs to be timed to clear the cars backed up.

  • Technology is not going to solve these problems. I have long thought that these problem intersections on Mass Ave. need traffic cops during rush hour. Unless you have officers out there directing this mess, it will never go away.

    • unfortunately, the folks DDOT sends out to patrol intersections are often terrible. I live near nats park and I often see them standing in the middle of lanes so cars have to swerve around them, waving pedestrians or cars on when the lights don’t indicate it (which confuses everyone and creates dangerous situations, etc.). If all they did was enforce what the signals say and pull over folks who disobeyed (pedestrians, cyclists, buses, cars, taxis, etc.) so the cops could ticket them it could really help. Sadly, in my experience they often make things worse.

      • I was told by someone at DDOT that they are planning to install speed monitors that can turn lights to red if folks are speeding. As if the horrible light timing isn’t bad enough. I want to invent a button one can hit (slam) on their dashboard to send a message to fix bad light timing!

  • I just now got home from almost an hour of sitting in the traffic today (not really traffic, but just stopped, blocked-off traffic). No one told me that two cops would be sitting there NOT ALLOWING ANYONE

  • I just now got home from almost an hour of sitting in the traffic today (not really traffic, but just stopped, blocked-off traffic, non-communicative traffic). No one told us that two cops would be sitting there NOT ALLOWING ANYONE to get through. So, we all turned around to head north to K — ALSO BLOCKED. Then north to NY Ave. Blocked. It’s a Disaster. Complete clusterf**k of a disaster out there. Don’t drive.

  • I believe that this intersection ranks in the top three most dangeous and insane intersections in the District. Trinidaddy, I wish that it were only 2 years of chaos, but it has been in excess of ten. Hope that this is made workable sooner than left a persistant danger.

  • Praise the Lord for this Post. Last 2 times I went through that intersection it took me nearly 6 light cycles due to constant blocking of the box. A total mess indeed. Cops could write a ticket a minute for sure.

  • Part of the issue with pedestrians is the traffic on 4th St heading south. I have often mentioned how if they would enforce the No Left Turns during rush hour and send all the south bound traffic to the D St NW I-395 entrance, that would free up some of the volume at this intersections, but alas, it is another DC law that is not enforced. Hell, I saw a cop turn left the other day, with the illuminated sign on. Not turning left here would help pedestrians crossing Mass Ave since they wont have to dodge a double left turn and a blind spot for drivers.

  • The good news about that area would be the unlimited free parking on the south side of I Street NW between 3rd and 4th Streets NW, and down 3rd until Mass Ave.

    I’ve asked DDOT over and over to put up the needed signs there (the whole rest of the neighborhood is metered or pay-by-phone), with no results. Go for it, people!

    Yes, I’m trying to start parking wars among the suburbanites who take advantage of the oversight.

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