Arkansas Ave Traffic Mess


“Dear PoPville,

A few weeks ago the city finally responded to public concerns about the unclear lane markings and unsafe pedestrian crossings along Arkansas between 16th St. and Georgia Ave. by painting tons of parking boxes along every empty curb. This has helped organize traffic and slow the pace of Maryland drivers racing up Arkansas through a residential neighborhood, past a busy dog park, to get to Georgia Ave, but the way it was done seems very sloppy and in some places it seems to have created more problems.

First, on either side of 14th St., while going north on Arkansas, there are parking boxes VERY close to the intersections, yet cars that are not turning left are expected to get to the right to continue straight. This leads many drivers to drive in the parking box, and is just asking for a side-swipe or other collision.

Second, this new congestion has led to a serious backup down Piney Branch that didn’t exist before these parking boxes were added. At this point I don’t know if this is the responsibility of DDOT, the Park Service, MPD, Mayor Bowser, or someone else. It seems to have created more problems than it solved and adds time to everyone’s commute. Councilwoman Bonds’ needling of DDOT seemed to get some action on this issue a few months ago. Any chance the Ward 4 candidates would bother to pay attention to something like this?

Any ideas on how to get smart traffic engineering instead of just tons of random parking boxes?

I think they need to take out the parking spots closest to the intersection with 14th St. The one lane of traffic coming up Arkansas gets stopped up by cars turning left to go up 14th, and cars that want to continue north on Arkansas end up stuck because the area to get around the turning cars is very small, in part because of the parking box close to the intersection. It just seems like someone told DDOT to go out and put in parking lanes to calm traffic (as people have been calling for) but they didn’t think it through. “

44 Comment

  • jim_ed

    What they did at the intersection with 14th St heading N on Arkansas is a complete debacle. As mentioned above, you have to move into the right lane to proceed across 14th on Arkansas, and then immediately swerve back into the left lane to avoid the parking boxes. It makes zero sense, and confuses the hell out of drivers to boot.

    • I agree that it is ridiculous and I often see people just ignoring those lane directions, because they are so poorly designed. People just do what they used to do in those lanes and just move to the right further into the intersection to get around a turning vehicle. Not sure why they needed to add those lanes. That isn’t where the problem is on AR and it seemed to work fine. In reality, there probably needs to be a left turn light from both directions of AR on to 14th. The most dangerous part of the intersection is people turning left off of AR to go south on 14th and watching for traffic still going north on AR.

      • jim_ed

        I absolutely ignore them when there is light traffic in the intersection. Its far safer to do so rather then swerve back and forth in a short time frame to stay within the arrows.

  • I live in 16th Street Heights and commute through this corridor every day, and i have to say — what were you expecting? Eliminating a lane of traffic (which is essentially what DDOT was asked to do) doubles traffic in the remaining lane. This does seem much safer for residents — because everyone is moving more slowly, which was the point.

    • And I meant to add — the way they handled the intersection is in fact nonsensical, they should fix that. But I’m under no illusion that it will totally solve the backup issue when there are so many turning left on 14th.

    • The issue isn’t that they took out a second lane, it’s that the solution effectively blocks the only remaining lane from continuing through 14th St. when there are more than 3 or 4 cars that are in line to turn north onto 14th. Take out that last chunk of parking right before the intersection and cars that are continuing north on Arkansas will still be able to get through on the right, which would allow traffic to flow and prevent a backup all the way down Piney Branch.

  • I am on Arkansas every day. The first issue I have is turning left on to southbound 13th in the morning; cars turning north frequently idle too far into the intersection to make a safe turn. In the evenings, the issue I have is with the parking boxes when I turn onto Upshur Street. There is no way the parking boxes give 25 feet of space as required around stop signs. People absolutely do park as close to the end of those boxes as possible, and it creates a nightmare. I’m not sure if there is restricted parking during rush hours, but there should be.

  • Frankly, if I lived there, I’d be happy about slower-moving traffic. A few extra minutes’ commute time seems far preferable to me than dead pedestrians.

    • That’s a false trade-off. A single lane that flows is still safer than two unregulated, unmarked lanes. The issue is making sure that single lane DOES flow, and it should be an easy fix. The alternative to a single lane isn’t just dead pedestrians. C’mon now.

      • No, it’s not. Traffic that moves faster is more dangerous for pedestrians, 100% of the time. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking two lanes or four.

        • Of course traffic that moves faster is more dangerous for pedestrians. But efficiently flowing traffic isn’t the same as faster traffic. If all cars move at a consistent pace, there is less room for speeding traffic. Imagine the car that manages to finally get around the bottleneck: it suddenly takes off to 40 mph because there are no cars in the road ahead of them. That is more dangerous than all cars moving at a consistent 20 or 30 mph pace.

          • What we have in this particular situation is an in-between amount of traffic–too much for two lanes, not enough for four. In this situation, two lanes is clearly preferable, as the problems caused by too-slow traffic are obviously less damaging than the problems caused by too-fast traffic.

  • gotryit

    Maybe if they took out the wacky parking boxes from one side, there could be legit bike lanes in both directions that would be less confusing.
    I was hoping for that, but DDOT basically said they weren’t going to go through the traffic / environmental / whatever review required to move that forward. 🙁 Oh yeah, that would be removing church parking – never mind, what was I thinking.

  • I take Piney Branch and turn right on Taylor everyday so I was wondering about the new heavy traffic on Piney Branch. I was hoping they were doing repairs or something temporally so I’m disappointed to hear it’s permanent. I really hope they fix this because it has made traffic terrible. Are cars allowed to park on Arkansas during rush hour? If they are, do you think not allowing parking on Arkansas during rush hour will solve the problem?

  • As someone who lives on Arkansas, I must say that the traffic calming measures have had a huge positive impact on the neighborhood. This residential street is significantly safer for all residents. Drivers are driving more slowly, not weaving around the road as they once did, and give ample room to people exiting parked cars. Good job DDOT.

    • As someone who lives on Varnum between 14th and 16th, and works in VA, what a nightmare! What had been a pleasant homestretch up Piney Branch is now 10 minutes of bumper to bumper frustration. Yet another hurdle put in the way of working people trying to make it home in time to eat with their kids.

  • Called it! And got yelled at for not thinking of the children. Let’s remember that the main reason behind this was drivers hitting parked cars. I’ve been biking the road for years and never saw real problems.

    As others have noted, the engineering on this is a debacle. No syncing of lights, no turn lanes, poor painting. I guess that’s what happens when politicans respond to NIMBYs instead of actual engineering.

    In case you can’t tell, I really hate this. Why? Because I bike here. It used to be OK; the wide lanes made it easy for drivers to pass (and vice-versa). Now it’s much more dangerous, and the climb up Piney Branch is just awful, both painful and stressful.

    @gotryit — I agree … don’t even get me started on the Church of the Bad Driver!

    • gotryit

      Hah, I always thought of them as the Church of the Illegal Parker. Not that one precludes the other…

      But on your serious points, I was around for the process, and they didn’t just respond to us NIMBYs. If they had, we’d have bike lanes there! Instead, DDOT took it all under consideration and came up with the options on their own. Seems like there are some minor improvements that could be done to take away some parking and have more left turn lanes. Not just these short segments that cause stupidity.

  • Eliminating rush hour parking restrictions on Arkansas was a huge safety win for everyone in the neighborhood, and was the result of a long term study by DDOT. The changes were implemented only after neighbors pulled together to advocate as a result of literally dozens of dangerous accidents, and we are only a few months into the implementation. Suggesting scrapping these improvements, as some commenters have, is short-sighted, insensitive, and an overreaction. Arkansas is a residential street that also includes recreation facilities for children and families, so safety has to be the top priority – not whether or not it is convenient for commuters who cut through our neighborhood twice a day. Period.

    Additionally, the OP left out one very important detail about the intersection at Arkansas and 14th. The left hand lane there was ALWAYS a turn-only lane. This is not new, and was not a part of the traffic calming measures DDOT implemented. It’s fine to be frustrated by that, but do not blame it on the end of rush hour parking restrictions. Maybe DDOT needs to change this lane restriction now, but don’t confuse it with the changes they’ve already made. For what it’s worth, the parking boxes DDOT painted give more room around the intersection than the previous parking signs allowed outside of rush hour. You just never noticed because it was so hard to park there that people rarely did. You’re only noticing it now because people are finally able to utilize the parking, as they should outside of a city park. Finally, even if DDOT adjusted the lane restrictions on northbound Arkansas at the 14th street intersection, some drivers will still be struck behind cars that are turning left onto 14th. That is the reality of city driving. Having to stop and wait for people to turn is a better alternative than unsafely speeding along a residential street.

    Some background information for those who haven’t been following this issue long term: before the rush hour parking restrictions were lifted, cars were able to speed (and I mean speed – 40mph +) down the street in the right lane during rush hour, leading drivers to assume that lane was a permanent traffic lane, instead of the reality (which was 10 hours per week). So, many drivers who were familiar were the route would speed through the lane 24/7, slamming into parked cars they eventually found in their paths.

    It’s fine to suggest DDOT has more work to do, but please do not conflate that with the idea that the changes that have already been made are somehow wrong or harming the neighborhood. It’s exactly the opposite.

    • If the issue was speeding and safety, they could have put speed bumps and/or speed cameras. Removing the rush hour parking restriction was a terrible idea. You have to weight in how that affects traffic. It might be more convenient for the people who live in Arkansas to be able to park in front of their houses, but that’s just selfish. This sounds like NIMBYs using children and safety as excuses to be able to park during rush hour and screw everyone else because they don’t live on my block.

      • It is NIMBY for someone who was crushed between two cars in front of her house and almost paralyzed to advocate for safer conditions on her street? We weren’t opposing development or shops or anything else. We were advocating for better safety to allow neighborhood amenities to flourish. It’s basically the opposite of NIMBY.

        DDOT considered all those options, they tried increased traffic enforcement, it didn’t work, and crashes continued at a horrifying pace. In the end, they opted for changes that would actually impact drivers’ behavior. Maybe they need to adjust designated turn lanes now too, but in the end, Arkansas is a residential street, not a commuter corridor. If it takes drivers a while to adjust and find different routes, so be it, it’s better in the long run. Instead of turning right from Piney Branch, drivers exiting the park can always turn left and take 16th.

        • Have any data to share on the “horrifying pace” of crashes? How long did they try increased enforcement? How many tickets were given? DDOT doesn’t control enforcement.

          Also, asserting that Arkansas is not a commuter corridor is a bit disingenuous given that, until recently, it had specific rules and lanes to accommodate commuting. You made it no longer a commuter corridor — that’s why people are upset. I’m upset because in the process you made it much more dangerous for cyclists, and there is no alternative. The 14th street bike lane is for construction below the hill and parking on top of it.

          I think the best solution would be to just eliminate parking entirely on one side, have a bike lane on the other, and put in proper turn lanes. If it takes residents a while to figure out where to park, so be it. It’s better in the long run.

          • Well, that would be better for you, in the long run. Not for the residents or users of the park.

          • DDOT did a study. You can read it here. The section for speeding says:
            “Historical speed data indicated that vehicles are traveling 4 to 3 miles over the posted speed limit constantly along Arkansas Ave. Field evaluation during the past Winter‘s months – spot speeds studies and pace speed reviews indicate that vehicles were driving 11 to 8 miles over the posted speed limit along certain stretches of Arkansas Ave. especially during off-peak hours.
            Speed data indicates that South westbound Traffic has a 85th Percentile speed of 40 MPH and a Median Speed of 28 MPH. North eastbound Traffic has a 85th Percentile speed of 30 MPH and a Median Speed 24 MPH. This is consistent with the historical data.”
            The number of crashes are in there, too.

        • From the photo above, you can see that exiting the park and turning left on 16th is not going to get you out of this situation any faster. You’ve got a loooong line of cars before you get the opportunity to turn left.

        • The issue is that things are so ridiculously bad that it’s tough to even get out of the park to turn left or anything. From a safety perspective, I don’t think rush hour was ever the issue–it’s reckless speeding when the road is clear during other times. I’d be all for reinstating the extra lane but adding another light or stop sign at Iowa Ave. Likewise, Arkansas and Farragut needs one because people barrel through there.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Relying on enforcement is basically an admission that you designed the road incorrectly. Yes, people are “able” to speed basically anywhere, but I think anybody who drives would concede that this stretch of Arkansas virtually *implored* drivers to speed. (I live off of Piney Branch near the Maryland border – same issue there. It’s marked as one lane but wide enough for nearly three. All the enforcement in the world won’t solve that.) It sucks that they made it worse for cycling. Hopefully they can improve it. But letting cars continue flying until they figure out how to make it exactly what you want isn’t a good solution either.

        • What you wrote is fair enough, but I still didn’t see a speeding problem in my hundreds of trips over this section. I’d love to see data. Where’s the proof? It’s reasonable to ask for proof of a problem before creating new ones in an attempt to fix the old. There was certainly a problem with unclear lanes and people randomly changing / passing on the right, but I didn’t see speeding. It’s at most .3 miles between lights.

    • I disagree. This is not a huge safety win for everyone in the neighborhood. I live two blocks off Arkansas, and my bike commute to work is now much more hazardous, since (1) There’s a new risk of being doored (2) Cars pass much more closely and (3) Me climbing the hill on Piney Branch with cars makes drivers unhappy, and they lash out. So I submit that scraping these changes is a good idea.

      You claim “dozens of dangerous accidents”. Many if not all of these were with parked cars, and at least two of which were on a weekend — when the commuting changes are irrelevant. Let’s not forget the drunk tow truck driver — late at night and also on a weekend.

      Your claim “able to speed” … people are “able to speed” on almost any road. I never had a problem with speeders — while biking — on this road during commuting hours. Have any data on speed camera infractions since they set that up?

      Please don’t conflate “the neighborhood” with “my street”. I feel strongly that this is an improper reaction to people hitting parked cars. If the problem is speeding, the answer is simple: enforcement.

      • It’s funny how people sometimes advocate “enforcement,” as though there were a limitless supply of traffic cops willing and able to enforce traffic laws.
        There isn’t.
        I personally have no dog in this fight — I commute by Metro, don’t live in the immediate neighborhood, and haven’t been in this area since the traffic lanes (?) were changed. But if “enforcement” were such an easy solution, you wouldn’t see speed bumps on any D.C. streets, there wouldn’t be other “traffic calming” measures around, etc., etc.

        • Sure, it’s not easy. But it’s not that hard either. Go where there are accidents, residents complain, or there’s a lot of speeding (as measured by ticket revenue!). Keep enforcing in that area until behaviors change (fewer tickets). Use some of that money to hire traffic cops until you reach equilibrium. Interaction with a person has a much higher chance of changing behavior, which is what’s needed. Speed bumps, for instance, just help one tiny area of the city while bad actors will still speed elsewhere.

          It’s also the only way to get at the biggest problem (in my opinion): people texting while driving. Happens all the time, all over, and that law was only enforced the month after passage. I wonder if any of the people who drove into parked cars on Arkansas were on their cell phones?

          • I’m not sure that the economics of ticket revenue are such that the traffic cops “pay for themselves” — if that were the case, wouldn’t we see more of them?
            A poster above said that DDOT had actually tried “increased traffic enforcement, [but] it didn’t work, and crashes continued at a horrifying pace.”
            HaileUnlikely makes a very good point about road design. It’s amazing how the location of lane-dividing marks, the presence or absence of “X turn only” signs, etc., etc., can make a stretch of road function either really smoothly or really poorly.
            I remember having to get on DDOT’s case over a period of YEARS about a couple of intersections in Adams Morgan where two lanes narrowed into one and it was unclear who was supposed to be yielding to whom. I was so pleased when they finally added some arrows for the lanes and dotted lines going across the intersection.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Relying on enforcement is basically an admission that you designed the road incorrectly. Yes, people are “able” to speed basically anywhere, but I think anybody who drives would concede that this stretch of Arkansas virtually *implored* drivers to speed. (I live off of Piney Branch near the Maryland border – same issue there. It’s marked as one lane but wide enough for nearly three. All the enforcement in the world won’t solve that.) It sucks that they made it worse for cycling. Hopefully they can improve it. But letting cars continue flying until they figure out how to make it exactly what you want isn’t a good solution either.

        • What you wrote is fair enough, but I still didn’t see a speeding problem in my hundreds of trips over this section. I’d love to see data. There was certainly a problem with unclear lanes and people randomly changing / passing on the right, but I didn’t see speeding. It’s at most .3 miles between lights.

    • Leilah and DAJ, this doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation.

      Everyone recognizes that the new parking lanes are a win for safety GENERALLY, but SOME of the parking areas are way too close to intersections (such as right before Varnum on Arkansas, northbound), and this leads to backups that are totally avoidable, and ultimately unsafe.

      OP didn’t say that the turn lane was new. The issue is that cars continuing northbound on Arkansas used to be able to go around the backup of cars turning left there, and now they can’t because there are parking spots ALL THE WAY up to the intersection with Varnum. Cars continuing northbound on Arkansas are expected to be in the left lane, then get over to the right lane in the small area between Varnum and 14th, and then back into the left lane by the time they cross the intersection. This is unsafe. There’s no way DDOT regulations allow for parking spots to be on the edge of an intersection, but that’s how they painted it.

      Keep the vast majority of the new parking areas, but taking out a few bottleneck-inducing spots would make traffic flow at a consistent, safe pace, get everyone to where they’re going, and be a single lane that would keep aggressive drivers from crashing into parked cars and endangering pedestrians.

    • The left turn only lane from AR to Northbound 14th Street is new. There have always been two lanes there, but only recently has it become a left turn only lane. It has to be new because cars wanting to continue on AR were always in that lane, waiting for traffic to turn left.

  • Anyone knows who should we write to complain about these changes? It seems that some NYMBYs got organized and screw everything up so I guess we’ll have to take action too. Complaining on PoP might not be enough so who should we contact to make things better?

  • Thanks for posting this!! This change has been impacting me every night now trying to get back to Petworth. I think the BIG problem is actually light timing. My sense is that the light at Upshur St isn’t timed correctly. The cars stack up from the green light on Arkansas and Piney Branch and can’t clear out, causing the horrific backup on Piney Branch.

    At least they put a no left turn sign at the bridge on Tilden at Peirce Mill, that used to cause horrible backups up Tilden.

  • On this topic, perhaps the District could get around to putting in a few traffic lights at the Costco off New York Ave. in NE, and maybe even allow Costco to have more than one exit FROM THE ENTIRE PARKING LOT. That parking lot has been a cluster every weekend for at least the past year, so much so that a uniformed police officer has to direct traffic from noon until closing time, and yet the District has done nothing to fix the problem. Shameful.

  • If this picture is of the psychos who insist on driving 40mph through the park and then honk their horns as they weave around the potholes on Piney Branch, they can literally sit and spin. Don’t change a thing.

  • It really is a mess. Bike lanes might be nice, but they won’t fix anything about the cars. The turn lane at 14th is idiotic. And sadly, outside of rush hour when it’s packed, someone is now even more likely to crash into parked cars and injure people, which is what prompted these changes.

    Arkansas needs a left-turn lane and signal at 13th, but at the same rate, southbound left-turn folks don’t realize they need to pull past the northbound left-turner and turn behind them. It lets others through and is safer for pedestrians.

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