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Dysfunction Junction Vol. 7 – 18th and Florida/U St, NW

by Prince Of Petworth May 29, 2013 at 11:00 am 28 Comments

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Dysfunction Junction chronicles the most forlorn, baffling, and wonderful crossroads of our fair city. The column is written by Ben Ball, a transportation nerd in his spare time. He lives in LeDroit Park. Ben previously wrote about Wisconsin and M Street, NW.

18th and Florida/U St, NW

This intersection has been problematic for a while.  As early as 2003, DDOT was thinking about possible solutions.  Enter the Adams Morgan Streetscape Project, which altered the traffic pattern, gave us pedestrian-friendly “bump out” sidewalks, removed the underlying streetcar tracks, and added bike infrastructure along 18th St, all for the low, low cost of $6.8 million.  The whole thing took fifteen months to complete, but it seemed like an eternity.

This is not an easy intersection to fix.  The U Street/Florida Avenue route is by default the main cross-town arterial in this area, given the lack of east-west options in Adams Morgan and the preponderance of one way roads in northern Dupont.  Complications quickly mount when you add all the strange angles and rights-of-way involved.  Oh, and it’s the gateway to Adams Morgan, so naturally there are a ton of pedestrians trying to cross every which way, regardless of what the lights say.

So did we get a Good Deal or Not™?  Given the level of difficulty here, I’m willing to cut DDOT some slack.  They probably did the best they could, given the circumstances.  But that doesn’t mean that everything’s coming up roses here.  The stoplights in particular are still a problem.

Continues after the jump.

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If you’re going eastbound on Florida Avenue, expect to wait for several light cycles.  You only have nineteen seconds to cross – a narrow margin that often pushes the backup of cars far beyond T Street.  Going westbound on Florida isn’t that much better, although that’s more a function of people trolling for parking spots in the surrounding warren of one way streets.

If you’re going down 18th, traffic waiting to turn left onto Florida/U Street often blocks movement as far north as California Street.  When the stars align and you do try and turn, it involves a rather awkward 270 degree-plus angle that quite a few cars take at high speed.  (If I was the owner of that [Sudanese?  Jumbo slice?] place, I’d certainly be worried.)

Ed. Note: Pre-construction in Sept. 2010 a drunk driver killed SAIS student Julia Bachleitner and injured her friend subsequently plowing into the Keren restaurant.

Buses have a particular issue with that turn, since the light half a block away that splits Florida from U Street isn’t timed quite right for through traffic.  The inevitable result is that buses block the box waiting for cars to complete the turn onto U Street.  (The 1912 DC map that hangs in my living room shows that the streetcars used to make this same hairpin turn.  I wonder how they managed it back then.)

DDOT made this intersection marginally better for pedestrians, who at least have a place to stand now.  Unfortunately, the new “bump outs”, odd light timing, and lack of a crosswalk on the north side of the intersection have also created a huge temptation to jaywalk.  As a result, there are still quite a few near-misses here – one of the reasons this intersection made the list of DC’s deadliest intersections even after it was “improved”.

 

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