Dear PoPville – Lane change needed for Northbound 12th Street, NW @ Mass Ave


“Dear PoPville,

I travel northbound on 12th ST NW daily to get home, and have noticed an issue on this route that can be easily resolved.

Northbound 12th ST NW, at the intersection of Mass Ave NW has 3 lanes.
The left lane is a left-turn only
The middle lane is left-turn or straight
The right lane is right turn only

The majority of traffic turns left at this intersection, and the rest of the traffic goes straight. Essentially no traffic turns right (reason discussed below). Because of this, the center lane is highly congested, and through-traffic often times cheats into the right lane to continue straight on 12TH ST through the intersection.

My suggestion is to change the intersection to the following:
The left lane is left-turn only (no change)
The middle lane is left-turn only
The right lane is right turn or straight

The right lane in its current state (right turn only) is a wasted lane. As shown in the attached diagram, traffic has no use for a right turn here. Any northbound traffic will make a right at L ST NW 150 ft earlier to access Mass Ave, without the need to backtrack (the case if traffic were to make the right at Mass Ave). Additionally, no businesses are accessed by a right turn at this intersection, as Burke Park lines the right-hand side of Mass Ave.

In conclusion modifying the traffic flow through this intersection by re-servicing the lanes will improve throughput and relieve congestion, without any negative impact to any businesses, commuters, or street users. There is no downside to this change.”

42 Comment

  • clevelanddave

    Speaking of changes in that area… why did they get rid of the left turn lane on 11th at H, where the Hyatt and City Center is? It is a widely used left turn- even more so with the new development on that corner. Argh!

    • I’m guessing they removed the left turn lane due to the addition of the bike lanes on 11th. I miss the left turn lane too.

  • I travel this road every day too and have been thinking the same thing. It’s so frustrating! Traffic on Mass Ave blocking the intersection doesn’t help either of course. What’s the best way to get something done about it? Contact DDOT?

    • +1 the box-blocking on Mass Ave is outrageous.

      • Used to take this route when commuting by car, and still drive through it randomly from time to time. It’s a total cluster and in need of a traffic cop/traffic director during rush hour. The lane change idea is a great one – hope that somebody who can do something about it is reading.

    • Sad to say, I don’t think contacting DDOT directly as an individual citizen has much effect. I submitted a similar suggestion to them via Jim Graham, and even then it took YEARS and multiple follow-ups for anything to happen.
      I think the OP’s strategy of submitting this idea to PoPville is great — I suspect that DDOT is a lot more likely to pay attention to something that has media coverage and commenter weigh-in than if the OP had just e-mailed them directly.

  • The proposed change would also be a great service to bikes. I bike through that intersection daily, and it is always a dilemma where to wait for the light to change. The standard rule of thumb would be to wait on the left-hand side of the right-turn-only lane, so as not to get in the way of people turning right. However, because, as the poster notes, most of the folks in the right-turn-only lane actually cheat and go straight, this turns out to be a terrible place for a bike. Usually, I just take the whole right-turn-only lane, for pure safety, but this means I am (a) breaking the law, because I do not in fact turn right from this lane, and (b) obstructing the odd person who actually does want to use this lane to turn right on red. Also, note that there are actually two right-turn-only lanes at this intersection during rush hour, which makes the right-turn-only lane at issue a particularly egregious waste.

    • I totally concur, but from a pedestrian point of view. I often cross 12th St, NW at L St and the backup caused by this intersection means I often am darting among cars in the crosswalk just to get over and cut through the park. Anything that will get the traffic moving faster would be great. I also think the light at 12th NW and Mass Ave should last longer than the light at 12th and L, to allow traffic to clear.

    • +1 on the biking issue. The better solution may be to eliminate right turns here all together making that the straight and bike lane. Force all right turns to be made onto L (which, as the OP pointed out, is basically what happens anyway).

    • gotryit

      +1 on your bike positioning through there

    • i’ve biked this too and found it fairly dangerous at rush hour.

      • Agreed. And it’s a pretty bike-heavy intersection because it’s at the east end of the L street bike lane and the south end of the 12th Street bike lane with no real connection. I’d build it some kind of biker solution, too.

  • Mass Ave can accomodate two lanes feeding in to it from 12th Northbound. I wonder, if you restrict only the leftmost lane to left turns, wouldn’t you have the same issue… only now “cheating” using the center lane to turn left, rather the right lane to go straight?

    Also, if both the left and center lane are presently congested with left turn traffic, what would be the impact of artificially restricting left turns at that intersection to only the leftmost lane?

    An aggressive ticketing campaign might yield better, if temporary, results.

  • But looking at a map, it looks like there is only one travel lane on 12th Street north of Mass Ave. Rule of thumb is that you can’t have two lanes that allow going straight if it only feeds into one lane.

    • Right, the proposal is for first two lanes to be left only, 3rd lane is straight or right, 4th lane is right only.

      • Jay, you’ve accidentally created a 4th lane! The proposal is for 2 left-only lanes and one straight/right lane. So only one lane will feed into 12th St north of Mass.

        • Except during rush hour when the right-side curb lane is also a right turn only lane and there is a parking restriction, so hence 4 lanes. The proposed change is sound and is the way most folks I see continuing North on 12th use the lanes in practice currently.

    • 6th St exits off SE/SW freeway, take a left at the light, go under the bridge and continue going north ends up smushing two NB lanes into one lane. I wish they’d fix this! So annoying.

  • I hate this intersection so much, I stopped driving this route. The cheating from the right lane was incredibly infuriating, but even worse, it was dangerous.

  • This is a good suggestion. However, it would still not solve the problem of drivers on Massachusetts blocking the intersection. Assuming drivers continue to block the intersection as they do now, it would be virtually impossible to go straight from the right lane. Now, cars have to move left to stay straight to get past stopped vehicles in the intersection. When traffic cops are out enforcing the prohibition on blocking the box traffic moves much better. Unless there is some other way to change driver behavior on Massachusetts, the traffic cops need to be out there every day, not just occasionally, directing traffic.

  • I believe both right lanes used to go straight until about 3 years ago, I distinctly remember when they changed it – at rush hour I think about 10% of people obey it. Not sure why the change was made.

    • Yes, that’s the way it used to be. And that’s the way I still do it- because the change didn’t make sense at all. Nobody drives up 12th to make a right at Mass. So that lane stays empty while the straight lane is clogged by left-turners who are stuck in traffic.

  • As a bike-commuter whose evening route takes me from the end of the L Street cycletrack up to 12th Street, I’ve observed the same phenomenon of left-turn car traffic backing up during rush hour and cheaters using the right-turn lane to travel straight up 12th. However, what the post fails to mention is that the right-turn lane actually ISN’T the rightmost lane. You can see this on the satellite photo above.

    That rightmost lane is mostly used for parking, but is often partially unused. What I’d suggest is the following: (1) Convert the two leftmost lanes into left-turn only lanes, (2) convert the current right-turn lane into a straight-only lane with a sharrow, and (3) remove the parking space closest to the intersection and convert this tiny section of new rightmost lane into a right-turn lane. This would make car movements more predictable and increase safety for bicycle traffic traveling north on 12th by reducing the risk of getting right-hooked by right-turning car traffic.

  • Yes absolutely! +1 Most people just ignore the markings on the street and go left from both left and center lanes, and go straight in the right lane (despite the right turn only sign).

    There is also a cop posted here in evening rush hour who appears to completely agree (or is just utterly ineffectual at enforcing the traffic signs). He never complains when cars go straight from the right-turn-only lane.

  • This is a fantastic idea. The other KEY component of this intersection is that in the evening rush hour, the Mass Ave traffic in both directions usually blocks the box for the first half of the 12th Street light cycle.
    MPD, PLEASE start ticketing here every day!! You’re leaving literally tens of thousands of dollars per day in fines on the table. I bet DC could use the money!
    DDOT, PLEASE make this a priority location for the new “block the box camera enforcement” the first day it’s available! Mass Ave traffic blocking the box a block down at 11th and Mass is always just as bad. Put a camera at both intersections in both directions on Mass. That thing will PRINT MONEY!

  • And while we’re talking about 12th Street NW, how about DDOT actually repaint some lines through the intersection with Constitution a dozen blocks south of this problem when you come out of the tunnel? You can just barely see the old lines they used to have, and since the lanes do not line up on both sides of the intersection, it’s a free for all there. Some people try to go into the lane that lines up with where they were on the south side of the intersection, others try to follow the barely visible lines. It’s a miracle that there isn’t a wreck there every day. Same problem a few blocks north at Pennsylvania Avenue – the lines are almost 100% faded away and again the lanes don’t line up. Those two spots plus this clusterfrick of an intersection are what makes me just avoid 12th altogether in the evenings.

  • The lanes exiting onto Rhode Island Ave from the Home Depot have a similar, dangerous issue.

  • I never turn left here. But I think this would be a great change. I hate going straight and then having to figure out how to “merge” with cars illegally going straight from the right lane.

  • I think about this every time I drive through that intersection. Absolutely needs to be done.

  • I drive this everyday and have thought the same thing! The DC taxi’s always do whatever is illegal which means they cause a traffic jam going straight instead of turning.
    Let’s get this done!

  • I have been thinking the same thing for a while now. glad that this was posted.

  • Completely agree!

  • This intersection is where hopes and dreams go to die. As a cyclist, I’ve now changed my route to avoid it until they fix it. Also, traffic cops here have done zero good whenever they’ve been posted here.

  • I am a biker/walker/driver who uses this intersection and it is a bona fide cluster show. Thanks for bringing it up.

  • I also drive this route almost every day during rush hour, and I agree. I find it also frustrating when left-turners don’t stay in “their” lane when turning. I think making both lanes designated left turns would ameliorate some of this issue. I also think at 12th and K, where the left lane is a designated left-only lane, DC should paint that on the ground. It says so, but only on a sign. As a result, drivers go straight through, which is dangerous for people changing lanes between K and L who do not expect someone to be approaching in the farthest left lane. I do think for the most part between 5-6, DC does a good job regulating the box-blocking. There’s someone there nearly every day at this time, but I am usually there a little bit after the MAIN rush hours.

Comments are closed.