Pedestrian Hazard: “Cars Making Left Turns onto 17th & Swann from New Hampshire”

“Dear PoPville,

I’ve lived at 16th/V for 8 years — commuting by foot to and from work every day down New Hampshire to Dupont — and I’ve noticed a disturbing increase in the number of cars that, while they have a green light to continue straight down New Hampshire towards Dupont Circle, take the liberty of making a left-hand turn down 17th, which has a red light and a walk signal for pedestrians. Pretty much every other day I have to be on high-alert when using that crosswalk to make sure no drivers are barreling through that red light and into the crosswalk during the walk signal.

I wonder if other people have experienced this? Any ideas on what to do about this?”

42 Comment

  • Left turns on green are not prohibited at southwest-bound New Hampshire Avenue and southbound 17th Street, so what do you expect?

    I agree that drivers frequently take risks at the cost of pedestrians and bicyclists.

    Walkers beware!

    • Yep. But what makes this turn particularly dangerous is that it is such a shallow left, cars often take it at very high speed.

  • Sort of unclear what the OP is saying here. I hope he/she realizes that since there is no “no left turn” sign or a red left turn arrow, NH southbound drivers have every right to turn left onto 17th Street (the red light that 17th street has is directly irrelevant to them). Of course, the driver has to yield to any pedestrians (giving them a lane buffer as required by DC law. I suppose you could try to work with DDOT to put a sign emphasizing to yield to pedestrians (or highly unlikely) get them to put a protected red light arrow that would prevent turns.

    • Correct and agreed!

    • Correct. The red light is not for those cars that turn off New Hampshire onto 17th. The cars that make the turn off New Hampshire onto 17th are not required to stop until they reach the stop signs at 17th and S Street.

  • Very similar situation for cars southbound on New Hampshire turning left on 18th. It’s such a shallow left turn that they keep full speed on and then get surprised/annoyed when there’s a pedestrian in an active crosswalk.
    As to 17th and Swann, I think it would be very reasonable to make that a no left turn for S/B NH traffic. Instead, they can turn left at the stop sign at NH & S St, then right onto 17th after stopping again.

    • i’m sorry, but that is a horrible solution.

      • Why is that? You’re going to come to a stop sign within a block anyway, whether you continue south on NH or turn left onto 17th. As it stands, if you make the left turn onto 17th at speed, you’re immediately on the brakes anyway as you approach S St. It adds almost no delay to motorists, and protects pedestrians in the long crosswalk the OP complains about.

        • “It adds almost no delay to motorists, and protects pedestrians in the long crosswalk”
          Sort of. Motorists have to go through two extra stops under your plan. Assuming other cars are also present at these intersections, the extra time isn’t minutes, but it’s not nothing either. I suspect pedestrians in the long crosswalk will still have to deal with illegal left-turners, while pedestrians at those other two intersections have to deal with additional cars, who may or may not patiently allow for pedestrian traffic.
          Maybe your idea is better, but it’s not totally obvious to me.

        • Instead of a simple turn, you essentially make motorists circle the block. Not true that it adds almost no delay – not trying to be snippy, but my guess is you don’t drive in the city. With all the additional morning traffic having to filter through that four way stop (nh and s) then one by one through a three way stop (s and 17) – groan. Plus, it adds congestion to New Hampshire, probably means motorists turn on 18 instead, and just amplifies issue there. (Motorists are turning to avoid DuPont Circle).
          I know pedestrians hate cars, cars hate bikers, everyone hates everyone., blah, blah. But intersections/traffic flow needs to be designed in a way that balances needs of cars / pedestrians / bikers / etc. Your solution makes sense if you prioritize pedestrians only, and have the mindset of -well, no one should be driving in city anyway, those drivers are just jerks and they should just walk/bike instead if they don’t like it. But, that just doesn’t work. (By the way, I walk some mornings, bike some mornings, drive some mornings – depending on what I need to do for my job on any given day. Wish I could walk every day, but just not possible.)

          • well i drive in the city, and i walk – both at that intersection.. it adds almost no delay. you’re in a freaking car, fer crissake. stop acting like it’s some giant obstacle course to make two turns. this is the problem – throwing safety to the wind to avoid even the most minor of conveniences, and exaggerating them to the point of comedy. nothing is that big of a deal – you’re in a CAR! drivers will do insane things to save themselves a mere 5 seconds instead of being SAFE.

  • Have you tried standing on the corner and shaking your fists at them?

  • I’m not sure that “liberty” is the right word here, since (as someone pointed out) the turn is allowed. However, I do agree that drivers often take that turn too fast and don’t pay attention to pedestrians and cyclists crossing 17th at the north end of the dog park.
    That whole intersection is a mess for a number of reasons. First, you have the issue that you’re talking about. Then you have drivers going southbound on 17th who treat the right turn onto southwest-bound New Hampshire as a simple fork in the road so they barrel through without regard to pedestrians who have the walk light to cross NH on the west side of 17th. You also have cyclists traveling southwest on NH in the morning who blow through the red light, also without regard to pedestrians. A few cyclists have come so close to me while I’m legally in the crosswalk that on some days I wished I had something like a hockey stick with me….

  • You are wrong. The drivers that turn onto 17th from New Hampshire do not have to stop where you are talking about —unless there are pedestrians present. But that stop light is not for them, its for people on the other side of New Hampshire that are waiting to cross 17th Street.

  • I have also seen many, many pedestrians jaywalk across Swann Street when the “do not walk” signal was clearly present.

    • is there a light at swann?

    • Sure. Probably more than actually cross with the light if my observations are any indication. But that doesn’t excuse the other dangerous behavior, right?

      • True, but the original OP made it appear that drivers were doing something illegal by not stopping on 17th and Swann one they had turned off NH—which they do not have to. However, pedestrians that walk across Swann at 17th when the “do not walk” signal is present ARE doing something illegal.

  • While it may not be the case here, I do see a ton of drivers (especially out of state drivers) that barrel through red left turn arrows. Those on 15th street (Northbound, obviously) are some of the worst.

    • This is a huge problem in and of itself. I think some drivers simply do not know that red left turn arrow == no turns allowed.

      • Yep-would be ideal places for slapping someone a ticket for running a red light. THere are signs in DC that says “Turn left on green light only”

  • the best idea about what to do about it: pay attention when you’re walking. yes, you have right of way, but that doesn’t help when you get run over.

    fwiw, I walk through this intersection myself every day on the way to work, and I’ve never noticed an issue. I usually walk on the other side of the street, though, so that when i’m walking over 17th street, i’m in the cross walk right in front of the light. if you’re worried about your own safety, one solution would be to walk down new Hampshire on the other side of the street to DuPont.

    while we are on the subject of death trap intersections, can we please talk about 19th and M? my office window overlooks that intersection, and at least once a week, there is some sort of calamity involving the two lanes of traffic turning from M street onto 19th street. usually a car in the inner lane, who ends up getting smooshed by a large vehicle in the outer lane that doesn’t realize it can’t make the turn. but there have also been some very serious pedestrian accidents there. and I don’t know how you can fix it without a seriously rerouting of traffic (e.g., changing the direction of one way streets that make this intersection a bottleneck of sorts for major commuter traffic)

    • Police simply have to start enforcing- I work just past this corner and it is terrible every morning and I never see enforcement there. A lot of the cars turn through that red light who know better and wouldn’t if they had any fear of being ticketed.

      • DC cops don’t ticket. You would need some sort of electronic device to do it for them.

      • Once again…..the red light that the OP mentions is not for those drivers that are turning onto 17th Street from New Hampshire. The light is for the drivers across New Hampshire who are already on 17th Street and are just south of T Street.

        • Exactly-this is not special to this particular intersection, this is basic traffic-turning law (perhaps Sarah and the OP don’t have a drivers license?). For example at most intersections with a traffic light, when one side is green the cross street is usually red. The turning person does not follow the light that is applicable to the cross street-it is 100% irrelevant to them..

          • Hey y’all, Sarah and U Streeter are talking about 19th and M. Not the same intersection as the OP is talking about.

    • I also walk through the 17th/ NH intersection; I’ve had a few near-misses with cars. I’ve also been flipped off by cyclists who don’t think they need to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk with the green. I believe the solution is a red arrow for cars.
      For 19th and M, the solution is enforcement of PEDESTRIAN behavior. Every time I cross there, pedestrians are watching the wrong light. That is start to cross as soon as the 19th Street SB traffic light turns red, I guess not realizing that the M Street WB traffic has a green arrow. So they’re in the way of the left turning traffic with the green arrow. Need to get a cop to stand there for a few days to prevent people from starting to cross while the vehicular traffic has a green arrow. This is squarely on the pedestrians.

      • Agree re pedestrian behavior at 19 and M. But I think there are serious design flaws: congested area bc one way streets and lack of options create bottleneck; light too short and drivers get frustrated; two lanes turn onto three lanes, and drivers confused/distracted trying to avoid other cars (most accidents I see there are two turning cars); prior light had pedestrians going first, which created innocent confusion after change, etc.
        Best fix I can think of: one turning lane, and much longer turning signal. I also think some of the one way streets need to be adjusted, but that will never happen.

  • I ride through this intersection every day on my bike and overall it’s poorly designed for pedestrian & bike safety. But, cars do not have to stop after starting to turn left onto 17th… as others have pointed out, that red light is for cars on 17th. Yes, they should be aware and yield to peds. Maybe talk to your ANC about additional signage/lighting up the crosswalk somehow.

    I’ll also observe that this time of year is the most dangerous for the commute home; it’s real dark, and though I have good lights on my bike, drivers drive like it’s rush hour – aggressive, little signaling, not looking. So that may be part of what you’re noticing, too.

  • Similar situation: Heading west on U St, the left turn signal onto 16th St comes on first before the walk sign does. Yet, several pedestrians ignore it and start walking anyway. Everyone breaks the law in DC – drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. No one cares, because enforcement is lax.

    • Exactly and they all complain about each other.

    • You are right – that was a new pattern about two or three years ago, and I still see pedestrians ignoring it just about every time I walk through that intersection. The thing is, if you follow the “Walk” sign correctly, things work just fine; all it takes is waiting a few seconds.

  • In addition to drivers being permitted to turn left on green, this might be a good time to mention that drivers don’t have to yield to pedestrians approaching a crosswalk or near a crosswalk. The law is yield to pedestrians IN crosswalks.

    • Yep-I believe cops have ticketed (maybe not in DC, but NPS has in VA) folks who stop for pedestrians who aren’t yet in crosswalk for obstructing traffic/improper stopping

    • There are so many comments I want to second in this thread…bottom line, the OP is incorrect with their rules of this interest ion.

      Pedestrians are terrible in this city and carry an odd sense of thinking that they do not have rules on the road just as cyclists and drivers have. Crossing a street with a Red Hand is wrong. Jaywalking is wrong. Starting to walk in the crosswalk while a car is already turing in to the cross walk is wrong–cars are to yield if you are in the walkway, not when they think you may arrive there. I could go on….

  • this is a similar situation to the intersection of Maryland & D NE in Capitol Hill. DDOT reconfigured the intersection after a pedestrian death using temporary pylons (pending permanent concrete bump outs) to reduce speeds from drivers making the shallow left from D (one way eastbound) onto Maryland or going straight across on D, or the shallow right from Maryland (Eastbound) onto D (eastbound)

    The real question is “Should 17th St be two lanes southbound here?” It is only one lane on the other side of NH. There should be a pedestrian bump out on the SE corner taking up the entire east lane to make turning cars slow down and make the pedestrian crossing shorter. Then it could continue two lanes from Swann on South.

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