Dear PoPville – Who is Responsible for Designing the Drop Off/Pick Up Area at Union Station? Can it be Fixed?

by Prince Of Petworth December 24, 2013 at 1:30 pm 28 Comments

Cars at Union Station- Packed

“Dear PoPville,

Reminder: give yourself extra time to drop people off or pick them up at Union Station. Unfortunately, the new design of the circle is in many respects a failure, and the police, in terms of directing traffic are sticking in their cars while it is raining, from what I can tell.

Questions: Who is responsible for the design of the circle? Can I blame the DC Office of Planning and its Director, Harriet Tregoning or are others responsible for creating a drop off/pick up with three lanes for busses (that, particularly in winter, are staunchly defended by the bus lines yet are almost empty of busses), two lanes for taxis, and, essentially, one lane for all other cars?

It really is crazy that it took me as long to go from Northern Virginia to the circle as it took me to go around the circle. Of course it is not this bad throughout the year, but on almost any given day the car lane is backed up- and there is no reason for it, for with a simple re-design and law enforcement actively directing traffic, there shouldn’t be.

Three Bus Lanes Blocked

Perhaps more importantly, what should be done about it?

I’m thinking that switching the bus/trolley lane and the car lane is one idea. Another is to have a dedicated car drop off lane on one or the other side of the station is another possible solution. Of course they could actually expand the number of car lanes, but that would go against the anti-car ethos of the DC planning department (even if it is dropping off commuters/travelers at a train station).”

Union Station at Night

  • Anonymous

    What an unnecessarily incendiary letter seeking to hang Tregoning for nothing she or her office had anything to do with. It’s an issue that probably should be addressed but it’s impossible to do that couched in hate rhetoric and ignorance.

    Also, pick up and drop people off on 1st st NE or in the back on H St NE. That’s the interim solution you’re looking for.

    • anon

      “Should address”? Are you serious? It HAS to be addressed. That was not an “unnecessarily incendiary letter”. The person was asking WHO to blame, clearly you are or work for Tregoning.

      Have you driven that circle before? The new design is AWFUL and was a clear waste of money, time, and energy. It’s not bad only this time of the year… It’s always bad. And to whoever claims walking a block or two away for pick up has clearly not walked around Union Station at night.

      • Anonymous

        But it’s bicycle friendly!

    • Anon2

      What an unnecessary over-the-top response.

  • anon

    Wholeheartedly agree with the poster. This was a train wreck of a design. It rivals the New York / Florida Ave Wendy’s roundabout for redesigns that made things worse.

    The middle lanes — the ones reserved for those tour buses and trolleys — do not deserve the space they were given. Almost always empty.

    • MiCoBa


  • Anonymous

    Stop being a baby and just drop people off to the right of Union Station on 2nd Street then quickly exit on F Street past the SEC.

    • Anonymous

      I guess it’s all F St. Not 2nd. But you get the point.

    • wylie coyote

      That would still mean you have to turn left off of Columbus Circle and wait in the tail end of the queue line in front of Union Station before you can bear right towards F. It also puts you in the clusterf–k of bikers riding the wrong way up F, the endless stream of pedestrians heading away from Union Station walking east, and the constant stream of cars coming from the SEC garage and the garage across the street. Finally, your route drops a car in the middle of a residential neighborhood with a stop sign on every block (literally) and because 3rd Street is closed at H, anyone hoping to get back to the 3rd Street Tunnel in NW would have to go all the way to 5th St & F St NE, then double back (mind you, with a stop sign on almost every block on your way), i.e. a pain in the neck for anyone not dropping a passenger off in the adjacent Capitol Hill neighborhood.

      Your suggestion also doesn’t change the fact that the re-structured circle should wok better than the old one. If the new circle in front of Union Station *worked*, a driver would easily be able to pick up a passenger in *front* of Union Station and then easily take them into the southern part of downtown via E Street, the northern part of downtown, the 395 entry ramp on 3rd (via illegal left turn?), or many NW neighborhoods via Mass Ave, or numerous neighborhoods and Silver Spring MD via North Capitol. Key word: easily. You can do all those things now, but the new circle just made them *harder* to do.

      • Positive Pamela

        Holy wall of text

  • From DDOT: the traffic circle redesign was developed by a “partnership that involves Amtrak, the Architect of the Capitol, DDOT, the National Park Service, the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC) and the Washington Metro Transit Authority (WMATA).”

    To OP: Thank you, come again!

  • DC Landlord

    **the traffic circle redesign was developed by a “partnership that involves Amtrak, the Architect of the Capitol, DDOT, the National Park Service, the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC) and the Washington Metro Transit Authority (WMATA).”**

    Talk about trying to design something by cluster committee. It’s no wonder it turned out the way it did. Honestly, after all the months/years of work on that circle, I hardly see a difference in any regard and the pickup/dropoff situation is definitely worse.

    Also, if you’re picking up someone unfamiliar with Union Station, meeting them at the front entrance is pretty much the only option.

    And, if you want to bypass the car pickup/dropoff, good luck getting a taxi without an enormous wait…but that’s a different letter to the editor.

    • Anonymous

      Pay a dollar to park in the garage and meet the person as she gets off the train or bus.

      • annonny

        AGREE! The best option is to enter the parking garage from H Street, pay for 30 minutes of parking, and make sure your guest finds their train. Perhaps not the best if you’re completely pressed for time, but if the line is as bad as you say, then the garage will be quicker.

  • Reality

    Here’s a thought … and it’s just a thought … but maybe it’s designed with mass transit in mind and not individual cars dropping off and picking up? Streets are clogged enough as is, as you can tell from your problem getting around the circle. I’d much prefer to see LESS cars there, since I live nearby.

    • ClevelandDave

      I guess then you’d like to see fewer people using Union Station. I suppose if you lived near an airport you’d also like to see fewer planes, but you know, when you live near a major transit hub that is what you’ll get. Far better to make it easier for people to pick up and drop off passengers quickly than constantly having a line around the circle… especially when there are better redesigns that can be done at fairly minimal cost.

      • Anonymous

        “I guess then you’d like to see fewer people using Union Station. ”
        Doubtful. It’s still the best way to get to Philly, NYC, or Richmond. The pick up/drop off clusterf#ck still doesn’t negate the hassle of flying from DC into any of those cities.

    • wylie coyote

      Actually, the traffic re-design altered area bus routes as well, making pedestrians cross busy Mass Ave to access most bus lines, whereas they used to be able to board at a stop right on the Union Station side of Columbus Circle. So, the re-design made even taking public transportation less efficient.

  • Linc Park SE

    Since you’re local – dropping someone off on 1st or 2nd should be fairly easy. And unless the person you are picking up is illiterate, the signage inside will guide them to the parking garage, H St or 1st for pickup. For pedestrians – the most common mode of getting to/from Union Station – the new design is AWESOME! So much safer if you are walking or biking.

  • No.

    All the “just drop them off/pick them up streets away” people can bite me. My mother can’t do all of that walking and stuff.

    • Anonymous

      that’s the spirit! merry christmas?

    • anon

      +1 …. How about when money like this is spent it’s done right so the don’t have to be unnecessary concessions? Asking my parents to cross the circle or walk some where else will not work and it’s not safe.

      Oh, and to those who live near Union Station and can’t stand it…. I’d bet the station was there before you

  • AE

    I have cab drivers drop me off on 1st St right next to a metro entrance. This takes you to an escalator that goes up to the main level of Union Station. Easy.

  • Anonymous

    You can come up with workarounds but the design is a failure and the taxpayers should demand it be fixed.

  • Caleb

    I have noticed more and more recently, cabs and friends just dropping people off on Mass Ave. while waiting at a red light; causing some traffic delays when the light changes and I’m soon to guess some pedestrian accident.

    I think it’s hilarious how people are annoyed with the OP’s question and criticism of poor design–yet HALF of the posts are about workarounds to the problem all of us locals have discovered. I too skip the cluster fuck of the circle and drop-off/pick-up people in other places than the designated area.

  • rsn

    This circle is a cluster, but I think this is a more a result of the lack of effective traffic cops than it is an issue with design. Instead of picking up or dropping off passengers, most cars I see here are camped out in both the curb lane and the through lane, resulting in the terrible traffic we see. If traffic enforcement here was half as good as it is at airport pick up and drop off locations, this wouldn’t be nearly as bad of an issue as it currently is.

    The design may not be perfect, but it’s waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than it was before.

    • ClevelandDave

      Well, I don’t know about waaay better unless you’re on a bike. Why is there always such a long line for a taxi? How about having two lines? How about opening up the tour bus lanes to all traffic after say 5 pm until 9 am instead of it being blocked off. And yea, how about some law enforcement moving cars along. BTW is is a dollar to park at Union Station? My guess is an hour or two will run you what, 3-5 bucks or more?

      • Anonymous Coward

        With validation (an unstaffed ticket scanning machine) it’s a buck or two. starting from the train level go up the short escalators and cross the bridge, they are before you leave the building and go up the longer escalators.


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