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“I consider myself to be a relatively aware pedestrian and I was pretty blind-sided by this issue”

by Prince Of Petworth January 19, 2016 at 12:05 pm 19 Comments


“Dear PoPville,

I just wanted to write about a kind of scary moment I had earlier as a pedestrian in DC. I was walking along Wisconsin Ave this afternoon and came to a side street that I wanted to cross. I looked ahead and saw a don’t cross sign, I looked to my left and saw a long line of cars that were stopped, and then looked back at the sign and it said walk, so I walked. In the middle of crossing I looked to the traffic light on my right and saw that it was green- basically I’d just stepped off the curb in front of a line of cars that had a green light.

When I looked at the signals more closely I realized that the box for Wisconsin Ave had been turned/blown by the wind almost completely 90 degrees, so there were two signals for the side street and I had been looking at the wrong one when I crossed. I have seen these boxes swiveled off their center on more than a few occasions, but never with this result, and out of mostly laziness I have never done anything about it.

This time I immediately called 311 and reported it- the whole call took about 30 seconds, and someone from the traffic department said she’d send a contractor out. I consider myself to be a relatively aware pedestrian and I was pretty blind-sided by this issue. I will call and report these issues every time I see them now, and I urge others to do the same. Be careful at intersection of Wisconsin and Van Ness NW right now particularly!”

  • ANC

    I always wonder if these boxes don’t get turned by kids. (It’s always the youths, right?)

    • west_egg

      Too high up, I think–the wind or truck mirrors seem more likely.

      • jwetz

        Not truck mirrors, but the body of the truck.

        • Ben

          Or buses. Tour buses seem to always mess the ones up near the mall.

  • MCNW

    This happens pretty regularly at my intersection in Columbia Heights (13th and Park), and takes a frustratingly long time to get fixed. I hope they take care of this one soon, I’ve had enough close calls on our smaller street, can’t imagine how dangerous this is on a street like Wisconsin Ave!

    • FridayGirl

      +1. The street crossings along Wisconsin, in my experience, aren’t great as it is even with perfectly functioning lights.

  • Mojotron

    Biking in this AM on K street, cars were doubling up/blocking the bike lane near the 4th & K light. After navigating around them I clear the intersection just as a pedestrian steps off the curb to cross in front of me. I said something along the lines of “incoming!”, she said “I’m in the crosswalk!”- and she was right. the light had changed while I was going around the cars and didn’t see it. i yelled out “sorry!” but it probably sounded really sarcastic, so lady pedestrian at 4th and K I really am sorry about that.

    • accendo

      At least you were using the bike lane instead of the sidewalk like half the people biking on K Street.

      • Anon Spock

        They’re allowed to bike on the sidewalk there. Unfortunately some don’t respect ped right of way.

  • K

    I’ve been in nearly the same situation. Looked up to see a walk signal to only realize that I’d walked out into traffic due to a wrong walk signal.

    Also, I think this happens due to metro buses and large trucks. I watched a metro bus take a corner to tight and side swipe the walk signal. It turned it completely around so it was aimed at the bushes.

  • AnonJohn

    I’ve seen this at the GA Ave / Kansas crossing. It looks to me, there, like the signals are improperly installed. There’s a fixed mount that’s part of the pole, but it’s unused. Instead it was installed with band clamps that just loop around and pull tight. Not as good as the dedicated fixture. Could shoddiness be part of this problem?

    • jwetz

      My guess is that this is a feature, they are designed to rotate instead of break when hit by trucks.

  • Patrick Division

    The exact same thing has happened with the walk/don’t walk lights at the NW corner of 7&H NW. Good thing no pedestrians or cars use this area!!

  • T

    Same thing happened to me at 16th and M (?) NW a few months ago. So unnerving!

  • JB

    I’ve reported this same problem at this intersection a couple times over the past 2 years. Usually its from the signal box getting hit by a truck or bus. 311 has had it fixed within a few days each time.

  • Fritzadelphia

    This happened on R & North Cap a few months ago. I called 311, and they actually fixed it pretty fast. I’m glad no one was injured. Pedestrians got what they thought was a walk sign to cross North Cap while cars on North Cap were barreling down the street at high speed. I tried to cover it with trash bags while it was misdirected, but it was too high.

  • dcgator

    Ack! I see this often. I’m glad now I know what the usual reason is…but, good call (ptp) on calling 311. Will do so in the future.

  • Cam

    I’ve seen this a lot in my neck of the woods downtown (I think high wind is often to blame?), and since I get around mainly by my own two feet (I don’t own a car), I report such things via the 311 website. And then I keep reporting for weeks until the problem has been fixed. I’ve never seen anything fixed in days that I’ve reported. Weeks.

  • fuzzyP

    I used to report these, on a daily basis using the 311 app with pictures, but my requests were always ignored or closed without being fixed so I stopped reporting them.


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