“Can you please just put more leading green arrows on the streets?”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Sandra Sitar

“Dear PoPville,

I just moved back to the area and am lucky enough to have my car. I live right in between DuPont, Logan, and U street. I’m very grateful to have my own method of transportation to get around, however: my frustration with the traffic and street layouts in this city are insurmountable. I get frustrated even just thinking about it, my nerves are totally shot every time I get in the car. Instead of this just being an unhelpful rant, I’ve thought a lot about this post and instead want to write about not only the problems, but possible solutions.

Lack of leading green arrows at traffic lights

The most prominent example of this in my life is when I drive from my boyfriends house over on H street NE back to my apartment. I take Florida Ave NE to Florida Ave NW to U Street, and then make a left down New Hampshire. Let me tell you, trying to make a left in this city is virtually impossible, and usually results in a chorus of honking, pissed off cars. I’ve noticed that the city put up the “no left turn” signs between certain times of day, but less than half of them are lit up for us drivers to see, and nobody listens to them anyways. If someone needs to make a left turn, they’re going to do it, because everyone’s got somewhere to be. But in the process of waiting for the opposite lane to clear, the light turns yellow, resulting in a line of cars behind the turning one who were just trying to drive straight. Does this make sense? Pair this with a saturday night on U street and the busses making constant stops (don’t even get me started on lack of bus lanes, it’s atrocious), and we’ve got a traffic jam backed up for blocks. Does this all make sense, can you visualize it?

So now I am speaking to the DC city government directly: can you please just put more leading green arrows on the streets? This would allow for the cars who want to make a left hand turn do so successfully and safely, without crossing oncoming traffic and without holding up traffic behind it. I know there are a few green arrows dotted here and there, but not nearly enough. Between H street NE and my apartment in DuPont, there is only one leading green arrow on U street, at 16th and U and New Hampshire — and the green arrow only lasts long enough for one car to make a left turn — I’ve counted and watched it turn yellow as I’m turning. If you have to chose just one new place to put an arrow, can I suggest U street and 14th? The metro stop is right there and the 14th street corridor is bustling, so there are always people on it, so there are always cars who need to make a left hand turn onto it. Please — please please please please PLEASE — consider what I’ve said here. Not only will it ease up traffic and my nerves, it will be much safer for everyone!”

123 Comment

  • What I would really like is if pedestrians and cars would get separate cycles. Banning all right turns on red, and no longer coinciding left turns with pedestrian walk signals would prevent a lot of accidents. This is how they do it in Europe as well.

  • Popville rants won’t really make it onto DDOTs radar. To be proactive send this to DDOT. Or go to the VisionZero map and place a pin on the intersections you feel would benefit from a green arrow.

    And until then take the bus. It’s easier then driving and trying to park on H St.

  • Real lack of understanding here wrt basic traffic engineering

    • This. I understand your frustration, but you’re basically asking the city to re-engineer the traffic grid to make it more convenient for you to get home from your boyfriend’s at the cost of increased frustration for the majority of others. Traffic engineering is a zero sum game – the best you can do is maximize efficiency/throughput for most.

      • Agree with the spirit of your comment, but traffic engineering is definitely not a zero sum game.

        • Oooooo! Let’s argue! 🙂
          I debated using that phrase (and probably shouldn’t have since I’m now explaining myself). What I meant is that it’s effectively impossible to meet every person’s preferences – someone’s gotta “lose” as consequence.

  • I think rather than trying to make a left on a busy street such as U Street, it is wiser to make three RIGHT turns. Left turns are dangerous and, no matter how many left arrows you have, there will always be people waiting to turn left into oncoming traffic–it’s the nature of city traffic.

    One thing I wish the city would do more often is NO turns and dedicated WALK signals, especially at busy intersections like 14th and U and others, similar to the setup at 7th and H in Chinatown where for a good 30 seconds the intersection is all pedestrian traffic. Having the dedicated walk time allows more pedestrian flow and blocking turning makes the intersection move quicker.

    Three rights make a left.

  • Why on earth would you voluntarily be driving from the U st area to other central parts of downtown, particularly on Saturday night when parking is nigh impossible? For the love of god, if you’re just going to H st., take a cab or the 90 bus. Or just walk! It’s only 45 minutes. You’ll save yourself an enormous amount of stress.

  • Structural engineers. Traffic engineers. Zoning experts. I always forget well trained commenters and letter writers are.

  • I would agree with some of this (tone aside… get a grip girl) except that drivers (esp. during rush hour) are so aggressive that even with turn arrows they will run the light at the end of the cycle to make their turn if they didn’t make it during the arrow.

    Would LOVE to see some enforcement of this at 16th/U/NH. This is a heavy, heavy ped & bike intersection and it is so unsafe. That bike light is awesome but by the time it’s safe to actually go through the intersection after waiting for the vehicles running the red to get through, the signal is already going to red. I am sure other frequent riders can name similar problem intersections. Until drivers know there are consequences for running a red, they’ll continue to say ‘f this I “have somewhere to be”‘ as the OP said in her justification for turning despite no left turn signs.

  • I think if you contact the right people they may be able to build you an elevated highway between you and your boyfriend’s house. I just got one put in from Shaw to the Target in Columbia Heights. It’s amazing!

  • You know what would be a real boon to the letter writer’s transportation options? a 6th street cycle track between K and R (westbound)/T(eastbound)

  • The poor boyfriend. How is it that I am still single?

  • Unless this person literally lives on that one-way block of NH between U and T, I’m pretty sure there’s probably a better way to get where they’re going than the route described here.

  • So you basically can’t stand getting honked at when you yield on green. Maybe try a different route that lets you take a right instead?

  • Hey haters — what’s with the negative comments? Kindly find something more productive to do with your time!

  • SouthwestDC

    Honestly, I think the driving situation in DC is pretty good. The city’s easy to navigate, and there’s not a lot of traffic in most places at most times. DC’s suburbs, on the hand hand, are a whole different story.

    • +1. This city is so easy to drive in. Relatively easy (and dirt cheap) to park. Traffic is light. It’s so easy to recover if you miss a turn or get lost. Streets are signed relatively well. If anything it’s too easy and cheap to drive in the city and the societal, environmental, and health costs aren’t passed on to drivers.

    • I hadn’t really thought of this, but you are dead on. Driving around the city itself is easier compared to many other cities, but the suburbs here are way more congested and hard to drive in than my experience in suburbs of other cities.

  • This rant is a little absurd… “If someone needs to make a left turn, they’re going to do it, because everyone’s got somewhere to be.” It doesn’t matter where you have to be, you still have to follow traffic signs, signals, and laws. If it is a no left turn intersection, you need to proceed to one that allows left turns. I agree with many of the other commenters, that the city should not rearrange traffic patterns so you can get home more quickly from your boyfriends house. How about finding a different route?

  • There are probably some intersections that, due to increased traffic over the past few years, should be considered for controlled left turn arrows, but obviously that leads to longer light cycles and problems for those NOT turning. MY big left-turn pet peeve in this city is the number of drivers who don’t get into the intersection while waiting to turn, frequently meaning that only one left turn will get through each light cycle. What is up with that?

  • Well she isn’t wrong about people in this town who ignore No Left Turn or No Turn signs on a regular basis. It’s selfishness – I’m going to make my turn regardless of who else in inconvenienced.

    That being said, you can’t have arrows at every possible turn.

  • maxwell smart

    Or you know, you could make a couple of extra right turns to make a left.

  • I could go either way on the leading arrow thing, mostly because I’ve seen way too many cars cut it close and almost hit people when trying to make the turn. My biggest frustration is with people who don’t know how to drive….block the box, don’t move ahead while trying to make a turn, leaving cars that aren’t turning lined up behind them, and the THREE cars I saw trying to make a left turn on Independence and 1st SE yesterday morning where there is a big NO LEFT TURN sign lit up. Oh, and yeah, left turns are only allowed during certain times of day because of traffic patterns. Duh.

  • First off the commenters to this are cracking me up. Thank you. And not to pile on, but I also do not think left turn green arrows are needed. Most of the left turn arrows I’ve seen in this city are a nightmare where there’s heavy pedestrian traffic. Pedestrians seem to get thrown off by the timing of them (or maybe just get impatient and ignore them) I”ve seen numerous near accidents with pedestrians almost getting hit by left turning cars.

    • I don’t think the problem is usually pedestrians getting “thrown off” by the timing. When the walk sign coincides with the left turn arrow, the drivers still need to yield to pedestrians who have the walk sign.

  • Adam

    You offer no solutions, only more problems. Left turn arrows create even worse traffic because there’s a finite (and often very narrow) amount of space from curb to curb all over the city. 3 rights always equal a left and is often the much safer option as opposed to darting across oncoming traffic. I drove 18,000 miles inside the Beltway last year and will be close to 20k this year yet rarely have a frustrating day in the car and still enjoy driving all over DC, MoCo, Arl, Alex, and Ffx. Practice makes perfect and driving DC is an art.

    You’ve got 3 options:
    1) Sell your car. You live in the heart of DC, this is a reasonable option.
    2) Never drive in the daytime. Traffic gridlocks constantly during the day M-F, but clears out and is quite manageable when the commuters finally leave out after 7pm and over the entire weekend.
    3)Put in the time to learn how to really drive the city. Since the recent light synchronization push by DDOT, traveling across town has become a breeze. And it’s only going to get better as the project lasts thru 2016. It’s rarely ever going to be a straight line, but it’s still your job to figure it out which streets are best synchro’d. Once again, practice makes perfect, and 4am on a Sunday or Monday morning is a great time to learn. But I will give you one great tip: Outside of 7am-7pm M-F, you can drive from 12th&Constitution downtown to 15th&Euclid in CH without ever touching the brake via 12th>Mass Ave>15th.

    Also, your left on NH Ave from U St is made much easier made by hopping up to V somewhere along the way (practically anywhere between 10th-15th), taking the easy left onto 16th (since V is a one-way), and then taking the easy right onto NH at U with just a simple green light.

    • This is what I was talking about – if you’re going from east of 7th/GA to west of 16th, why oh why would you use U as your crosstown route?

    • Seriously, U street in the evening or over the weekend is a mess with all the cars, double parking and pedestrians. V street is nice and quite. I usually jump off Florida (on a cross-town trek) at 9th because I’m going to CH.

      My other favorite way to get to the east side of town is taking Harvard to Michigan to Franklin and passing through Brookland before dropping down into Capitol Hill. It is a slightly longer trip (miles-wise) but has far less traffic and fewer stop lights.

  • “Does this all make sense, can you visualize it?” – Yes, I do believe you’re describing what’s commonly called “traffic” in American English.

  • It look me the entire post saying to myself “what the hell is a leading green arrow???” to understand that the OP is referring to a protected turn/arrow. Am I the only one?

    Also, I just moved to DC from TX (where I had to drive 45+ MILES to get to the nearest Macy’s), with the sole intent of never having to drive my car. And I don’t. You know why, OP??? Because DC is not engineered nor intended to be a driving city. And I will never expect it to be. Vehicles are simply a nuisance in compact cities and the OP is only adding fuel to the fire (that, frankly, he/she is quite (unnecessarily) worked up about). The second I decide I want to start driving everywhere again, I’ll move to suburbia.

    Nothing to see here but shattered, unrealistic hopes and dreams. Moving along now.

  • This can’t be serious.

    But if it is, in all seriousness, you should think about making the move back to the suburbs – maybe PG county if your boyfriend is on H street. Driving in any city is difficult, and that’s not going to change. If it’s causing you this much stress, you’ll be a lot happier. Difficulty driving and navigating is not an uncommon reason to move.

  • I say this only with kindness–if getting in the car causes your nerves to be totally shot it might be worth talking to someone about anxiety. I say this as someone who for several years had PTSD triggered by being in a car. It is not normal to have your nerves shot by DC traffic. Frustrating yes, but it should not be causing that level of anxiety.

    • Driving in DC doesn’t trigger my anxiety (usually) but I used to live in NoVA and developed health problems from driving-related stress, and the only times I’ve ever had panic attacks were when I was driving out there. It’s definitely something you shouldn’t ignore! The best approach is to avoid driving when it’s not necessary, and work on mitigating the anxiety when you have to.

  • I hope this person did not move back to the area to take a job with DDOT…

  • If it’s that frustrating to you get rid of the car. A lot of people feel “lucky” to have a car when they first move to DC and then realize it’s not worth it, myself included.

  • “If someone needs to make a left turn, they’re going to do it, because everyone’s got somewhere to be. ” Um, no. That’s breaking the law.

    • to be fair, she’s complaining about this, not endorsing it. people DO do this constantly with no regard for traffic laws.

  • Unlike pretty much everyone else who has commented so far, I can seriously empathize with the OP. Driving in DC can really suck if you don’t know the streets, just like most big cities. Going somewhere that you haven’t been to before can be really stressful and even dangerous. However, I don’t think you have much hope of getting a new left turn light put in. Instead, you just need to look at some maps, try a few different routes, and figure out the best way for you. I have an afternoon commute routine that involves about 8 turns in less than 2 miles and it gets me where I need to go without any difficult turns or really bad intersections. Good luck!

  • How about make even more roads one way and eliminate left turns on two way roads, except where it’s absolutely necessary? M St and L st work wonderfully downtown… Except for when there is construction and when fedex and ups decide to block the right lane during rush hour it can grind things to a stop.

    • I will add that we also need to figure out a way that pedestrians have a designated part of the cycle where they’re not allowed into the intersection to permit turners to clear out for the next cycle. Things would move much more smoothly if 3-4 cars could turn left and right per cycle than just 1-2 because of the constant stream of pedestrians.

  • I’m having trouble sympathizing with someone who owns a car and lives in Dupont (unless they need it for work) and complains that it takes too long to get to her shnookums using her preferred route.

    • SouthwestDC

      I’m guessing the OP works in the suburbs and goes directly to her boyfriend’s after work. I often end up stuck with the car in situations where it’s a burden, simply because I came from someplace that required a car and I didn’t feel like ditching it at home first.

  • This is amazing

    You or your boyfriend should just move closer to each other

  • Also isn’t there a leading green arrow at 14th and U??? I could swear I have sat through one on many occasions on my bicycle. Perhaps it’s only implemented during rush hour?

    • Yes, but the only part of the cycle that has a leading arrow is northbound 14th street traffic to turn left onto U Street.

      I noticed recently (as in this year) they changed it ever so slightly that the green arrow will light up before the “straight” green lights to give cars a chance to get into the intersection because the pedestrians there give zero f**ks about cars having the right away on that arrow. (I’m also frequently biking through this intersection so have come to know it’s cycle very well.)

      • I bike here daily and wait for this arrow. A lot of pedestrians and bikes don’t. Which causes the cars turning left on their green arrow to get stuck in the intersection. Then more cars try to turn after the arrow is gone (probably because they feel like the pedestrians deprived them of their arrow), but by then the pedestrians that have waited are crossing, leaving the left turners in the intersection locking the grid.
        So that’s a problem with the leading left arrow in D.C. Some people don’t give a f**k, but some start because they assume it’s their turn when they see the light on U turn. I wonder if a sign telling pedestrians about the left arrow would help.

        • “I wonder if a sign telling pedestrians about the left arrow would help.” Shouldn’t the “Don’t Walk” signal be sufficient??

  • GURL. WAZE IS YOUR FRIEND. Download it and let it teach you a more efficient route to your boyfriend’s place. You might also want to consider some breathing exercises. Just saying.

    • This advise is not for te faint of heart. Waze has little regard for rules of the road, such that you might be required to pull off treacherous moves to follow their directions. But I’ll grant that it’s really efficient. 🙂

    • Was literally just thinking this. If you don’t like making turns – you just select “shortest route.” If you don’t care and just want to get where you’re going, select “fastest route.” I’ve used it so many times and been like “Waze, where are you taking me this is the totally wrong… OH! I SEE THE LIGHT!”.

    • I keep having this fantasy that I’m being pulled over and the first thought that goes through my head is “I could get 6 points for reporting this”.

  • I’m going to jump on the bandwagon here, and urge you to learn different routes.

    As someone suggested, why not pick a quiet time (yes, they exist, very early Sunday morning, for example. Or if you’re in town on Thursday, Thanksgiving is as about as quiet as this town gets, other than a Redskin Super Bowl) and get in your car and just explore. You want to find multiple alternates because just about anything is better than U Street in the evenings, especially on weekends. (I’ll put in for turning off Florida to P St just west of NY Ave… that way you will learn to navigate Logan Circle, too – bonus!)

    Why not take your boyfriend with you as navigator – that way you either solve your problem or maybe get into such a fight you won’t have to visit him any more.

    I know I am different, in many ways, but I enjoy looking at maps. Get yourself a good one and look at it when you’re at home and then explore what looks like a reasonable route.

    And although I am going to defend everything DDOT has done, there is (usually) logic behind the traffic light sequences; please realize that the ‘leading green’ you want will probably come at the expense of the pedestrians of this city. Please, no.

    • OOOPS –
      …. although I am NOT going to defend everything DDOT has done…

    • Walking is the FAR better way to explore and learn the roads. While the advice to do it at a quiet time in a car isn’t bad, walking gives you a lot of time to look around and see where signs are (no turns, no turn on red, one way, etc.) buildings that will act as landmarks when you’re moving faster, typical traffic patterns, etc. I also suggest walking it at a busy time to SEE where making a left, even if legal, is going to be infuriating.
      It’s even supposed to be in the mid-60’s Thursday and Friday…

  • I’m missing something–isn’t there a left-turn arrow at the 16th, U, and New Hampshire intersection already (for those heading westbound on U Street)?

  • The trip is about twenty minutes on a bicycle, with zero time wasted on parking. Since cyclists pay attention, you could adjust your speed to catch a lot of green lights. In rush hour, you’ll have the satisfaction of passing hundreds of cars. A Carmax out at Dulles will probably give you enough to cover cab fare back into civilization.

    • The Carmax at Shady Grove is about 1 block from the Metro. It’s a long ride back to civilization, but very inexpensive. I have to think that placement was intentional (it took HOURS to sell my car there…there were dozens of others doing exactly the same).

  • this is the most ridiculous thing ever posted here, and that’s saying alot.

  • First off, just because you’re lucky enough to have a car doesn’t mean you lose the right to complain about traffic in this city. If you have it, you’re gonna use it. Do you lose the right to complain about WMATA if you’re discussing it with someone who lives in a city that doesn’t have a subway system?

    Will leading green lights actually help the traffic in this town? Not really.

    People don’t really pay attention to the traffic laws in the area (myself included). If I can get away with a left turn, rather than make multiple rights–I’m gonna do it, even if the sign tells me not to. I am just as much a part of the problem as the next person. Every time I do it, I’m usually pretty sure I’m gonna get pulled over because it is illegal, but I’m not gonna stop doing it until I actually get caught. This is because traffic is a nightmare. No, I’m not going to make multiple right turns to avoid a left. That is just ridiculous. No one will voluntarily add 3 additional turns and sit in the traffic to make those turns when a left turn is a practical solution, regardless of what any sign may or may not say. This absolutely makes me part of the problem–and I’m not offering any way to solve it. There isn’t really a way. Every driver thinks they are the most important one on the road. We all have places to be. The traffic patterns in this city make us all borderline crazy at certain times and we all break the occasional law in the hopes of it getting us to our destination faster. Unfortunately, it is never quick enough.

    Yes, we can drive at odd hours to get places nearby in a short amount of time. No we’re not going to adjust our schedules to do that. That is ridiculous. The majority of drivers operate at the same time of day as people who take the metro. No one’s voluntarily running errands at 4 AM. The bottom line is this is a city. The traffic is on par for the amount of people in this city. It’s not pleasant. Yes, having a car in this city is a luxury. In reality, this is what you have to deal with if you want to use it. It sucks. Having a car is nice. This city makes you not want to have it.

  • Since everyone else has given you great advice on looking for alternate routes and such I will focus on the real issue…knowing the stress this causes you why doesn’t your wonderful beau come to see you instead? Don’t say he doesn’t have a car because I had a friend who used to take public transportation from DC to Annapolis twice or more a week to see his gf, now that’s love!

  • My nerves get totally shot whenever someone capitalizes the “p” in Dupont.

  • Get a bike. Or a bikeshare membership. Dupont – H Street is easy on a bike.

  • A less stressful option might be to take the 90/92 buses; they run pretty frequently from 8th and H NE to various locations along U Street.

  • My suggestion: Find a masseuse within walking distance and set up a regular appointment. It’s not healthy to be so wound up over traffic.

  • So.. you love driving but it wrecks your nerves? And you want to impose left-turn filters (that really only help the first in line to turn, since not everyone in the left-most lanes are turning and we don’t have a lot of left-turn lanes) on pedestrians and drivers going the opposite way so driving is less difficult for you?
    Driving is too easy as it is. Driving doesn’t scale. Don’t drive. Don’t live in the city if you want to drive. You prob wanna move far out past all the suburbs that are urbanizing (and therefore making driving harder) because it’s the only way to make walking and other modes of transit possible.

  • take Rhode Island… or side streets. there is more than one way.

  • The funniest thing about this whole post is the statement “So now I am speaking to the DC city government directly.”

    By emailing PoPVille?

  • LPT: if your route includes going down U street on a saturday you have picked the wrong route.

    In the grid there is always a parallel street and there is always a better option than U street.

  • D.C. had 660,000 residents last year, up from 600,000 in 2010. The city is projected to grow to 800,000 to 900,000 residents in coming decades. Basically, getting a bunch of “leading green arrows” isn’t going to increase boyfriend time. The only way to do that is to get out of the car and go by bike. Please, please, please.

  • “So now I am speaking to the DC city government directly…”

    No – you are sounding off on a blog.

    But how about this for an idea – the city should develop a device to place in your car to control all lights when you are going from U to H and back to give your car priority and to ease your nerves…

    But seriously, if you want specific improvements, use the 311 app and then follow up with the case number assigned.

    I still have no idea what a green arrow is supposed to do. But more power if you can get it done..

  • Years ago when the City put in the green arrow on 14th & U going uptown I wrote to Councilmember Jim Graham and asked him why the City didn’t do the same for the other direction. I never heard back from him or anyone in his office. Sitting there at the light behind someone trying to make a left onto U Street it can feel like years. I live at 14th & Euclid and if I need to get anywhere I avoid that intersection.

    However, I wrote to him after the Harris Teeter opened and the City turned a single block of Euclid one way. I asked if the City would put an turn signal on Euclid because the traffic was backed up all the way to 14th & Euclid because drivers were trying to turn onto 16th from Euclid but the one-way on-coming traffic from the other side of Euclid was too heavy. Also shuttle buses from the old Howard University dorm were impeding traffic as well. He wrote me back that the City would do a traffic study and lo and behold – a few weeks later – new green turn signal at the intersection. City driving is by nature driving from one stop light to the next but if the City would install more turn signals it would certainly help move the traffic along quicker.

  • General Grant Circle

    “my frustration with the traffic and street layouts in this city are insurmountable.”

    Traffic I get. But the street layout? What is simpler than a grid system based on numbers and letters?

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