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Why can’t DC set all the traffic signals in Dupont Circle to flashing red more often?

June 9, 2009, 2:39 PM

Let me tell you… Dupont Circle was definitely different this morning coming out of the Metro. DDOT had milled the pavement overnight in preparation for resurfacing, and all of the traffic signals were set to flashing red in all directions. This traffic light configuration lasted through rush hour, which is when I saw it.

And let me tell you… I haven’t felt this safe crossing the street at Dupont Circle in a long time. Nine times out of ten, when I’m navigating Dupont Circle, I’m doing so as a pedestrian, and am pretty much at the mercy of the cars. I’ve heard people describe the signals in Dupont Circle as “suggestions”, and people really do drive like maniacs through Dupont Circle, going too fast through the intersections, honking at pedestrians, and cutting pedestrians off. I’ve told people numerous times that the most dangerous part of my commute is right near work – specifically, crossing Massachusetts Avenue NW in the southeastern part of Dupont Circle.

At that location, you have several movements going on. You have people turning from Dupont Circle onto Massachusetts Avenue. You have Massachusetts Avenue through traffic in Dupont Circle (separated from local traffic) going back onto Massachusetts Avenue. Then you have traffic from Massachusetts Avenue going into either the through lanes in Dupont Circle or the local lanes. Now the traffic entering the circle from Massachusetts Avenue is okay. That tends to go in pulses, and there are long breaks where the roadway is clear. But the traffic going past that intersection that’s already in Dupont Circle is no-holds-barred. People go too fast. People cut other people off while making illegal turns. And the pedestrians are like little targets, or at least that’s what it feels like sometimes.

However you want to slice it, you see, I figure that if I’m going to get injured on my commute, that’s where it’s going to happen. It’s that whole where-angels-fear-to-tread thing.

So today, with all the lights on flashing red in all directions, it was very tranquil. People were actually driving courteously. People were driving far more slowly. People were not honking at each other. I was amazed. I was able to cross the street quickly and safely, and didn’t feel like I was taking my life in my hands when crossing the street.

Of course, the reason that people drove slowly and courteously is because this was something new, and people were likely on edge because things were different. Once people figured out the new lay of the land, everyone would start driving like maniacs again, and the benefit would be lost. And I figure that Dupont Circle will be back to its normal traffic pattern for the evening commute. I wouldn’t be so lucky as to have Dupont Circle on all red lights in the evening, too, you see.

Still, for one shining but fleeting moment, the most dangerous part of my commute got a lot safer…

Web site: Dr. Gridlock of The Washington Post discusses the most dangerous intersections. And it seems I'm not the only one complaining about Dupont Circle...

Song: Another sound of Dupont Circle... sirens, and the ambulance drivers shouting, "MOVE TO THE RIGHT!" on their loudspeakers to get cars to clear the way.

Quote: And for the record, I do love the Dupont Circle neighborhood. I just hate the rush hour traffic.

Categories: Roads, Washington DC