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View Full Version : Question about Washington, D.C. Driving


Missy2U
02-14-2014, 11:26 AM
So last night, while reading a book set in Washington, D.C., I came uppon a paragraph where a driver of a limo was complaining that commuter traffic was all screwed up because tourists in rental cars didn't understand that some streets turned one-way at 4 PM every day. Is this true? I had never heard of something like that - DO some of the streets in Washington go from two way streets to one way streets at a certain time each day or was Mary Higgins Clark messing wtih my mind?

Ian D. Bergkamp
02-14-2014, 11:49 AM
Some DC streets do, at least according to this 2003 report (http://wtop.com/index.php?nid=30&sid=97140) from local news station WTOP. Adding to the confusion, some of the streets either didn't have signs indicating the change or had erroneous signs.

Ravenman
02-14-2014, 11:52 AM
There are a couple commuting streets where traffic changes during rush hour, but there's very few that become totally one way. Rock Creek Parkway is one way south between 6:45 and 9:30am, and one way north between 3:45 and 6:30pm.

Other streets adjust travel lanes. For example, Connecticut Avenue has reversible lanes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reversible_lane) where (IIRC) it's four lanes going south in the morning, and either one or two going north; and that switches in the afternoon. Between those times it's basically two lanes in each direction. (Yes, I know the numbers don't add up -- parking is prohibited on many streets during rush hour, opening up an additional travel lane).

But no, tourists do not cause huge problems because of this one-way or reversible lane thing. It's a minor annoyance only. Tourists cause bigger traffic problems because they park in spaces that are supposed to be vacated in the morning and afternoon in order to create the additional travel lane. Ms. Clark is clearly off in her criticism.

engineer_comp_geek
02-14-2014, 11:56 AM
There are streets that change direction like that, but in all honesty I can't picture a tourist getting screwed up because of it. A tourist is just going to follow the flow of traffic. Even if they do go the wrong way, it's just going to be one tourist and it won't muck up commuter traffic for more than maybe a dozen people for a very short time.

What gets the tourists all confused is the massive traffic, extremely aggressive and unforgiving drivers, confusing signs, the maze of one way streets (not ones that change direction), and the difficulty in finding a decent parking spot that doesn't force you to sell a kidney for an hour's parking fee.

What gets the traffic screwed up is bad weather, bright sunlight in the morning (makes people slow down when they start driving into it, and any type of slowness causes the entire beltway to back up in a real hurry), and accidents. The worst traffic I ever ran into in DC was when I took some relatives down there to see the cherry blossoms and it started to rain. Everyone instantly jumped into their cars and tried to leave all at once, turning the entire downtown into a parking lot.

bob++
02-14-2014, 12:25 PM
What gets the tourists all confused is the massive traffic, extremely aggressive and unforgiving drivers, confusing signs, the maze of one way streets (not ones that change direction), and the difficulty in finding a decent parking spot that doesn't force you to sell a kidney for an hour's parking fee

Sounds just like London:)

SmartAlecCat
02-14-2014, 01:30 PM
No one drives in DC -- there's too much traffic!

engineer_comp_geek
02-14-2014, 02:33 PM
Sounds just like London:)

London has the additional joys of things not being laid out in a grid, so if you take 4 left turns and think you are back where you started, you aren't. Then you end up going down the wrong road and getting lost.

(or maybe that was just me...)

Plus, the streets all seem like they are about 3 feet wide with cars zipping down them at about 90 mph. And everyone is driving on the wrong side of the road. I think I just identified myself as a tourist with that last bit.

I do have to say that I am much more impressed with the London Underground than the DC Metro. You can get darn near anywhere in London without driving yourself.

friedo
02-14-2014, 02:39 PM
London has the additional joys of things not being laid out in a grid, so if you take 4 left turns and think you are back where you started, you aren't. Then you end up going down the wrong road and getting lost.


True story: My company has an office in London. I had to go there, and stayed at the company-recommended hotel which is 1/4 mile away. It took me, with the aid of my cellphone GPS, half an hour to walk from the hotel to the office since I kept getting turned around.

I eventually found a shortcut which involved cutting across a little park.

even sven
02-14-2014, 02:49 PM
I live on a street where some of the lanes change direction during rush hour. It mostly works out, but now and then I'll see someone who is in the wrong place and confused.

Missy2U
02-14-2014, 04:53 PM
Thanks everyone - very interesting! :)

kenobi 65
02-14-2014, 05:06 PM
No one drives in DC -- there's too much traffic!

Thank you, Mr. Berra. ;)

gigi
02-14-2014, 05:45 PM
I do have to say that I am much more impressed with the London Underground than the DC Metro. You can get darn near anywhere in London without driving yourself.

Plus you don't get Swing Low, Sweet Chariot stuck in your head.

dasmoocher
02-14-2014, 07:55 PM
Potentially adding to the confusion in DC is you also have to know what quadrant you're in.

For example, the Marine Barracks is at 8th St and I St SE, but there also is an 8th and I NE, and 8th and I NW is near Mt Vernon Square.

CookingWithGas
02-15-2014, 08:47 AM
I have lived in the metro DC area since 1983. I do not know of any streets in the downtown area that change direction based on time. However, parts of the Clara Barton Parkway (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Barton_Parkway)becomes one way during rush hour. Part of Canal Road does the same thing. But there are very few of these, and tourists getting confused does not seem to be a source of trouble.

What I think is a bigger problem is that most major arteries, like Constitution and South/North Capitol, prohibit parking in the curb lane during rush hour but this is frequently ignored and really messes things up when people shooting down that lane have to merge back to the right to get around a parked car.

madmonk28
02-15-2014, 10:05 AM
Yeah some streets become one way during rush hour in the mornings and then again in the other direction in the evening. I've made the mistake and gone the wrong way before when I first started driving in DC.

madmonk28
02-15-2014, 10:20 AM
Missed the edit window, but here's some info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reversible_lane

In Washington, D.C., parts of 15th Street NW and 17th Street NW are one-way during certain hours. There are no overhead markings on either road.[3]

02-17-2014, 03:14 AM
Potentially adding to the confusion in DC is you also have to know what quadrant you're in.

For example, the Marine Barracks is at 8th St and I St SE, but there also is an 8th and I NE, and 8th and I NW is near Mt Vernon Square.Isn't that true in lots of cities?
I live on 30th Ave South, but there's also a 30th Ave North in my city, and houses with the same numbers as on my block.

Edward The Head
02-17-2014, 10:28 PM
I have lived in the metro DC area since 1983. I do not know of any streets in the downtown area that change direction based on time. However, parts of the Clara Barton Parkway (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Barton_Parkway)becomes one way during rush hour. Part of Canal Road does the same thing. But there are very few of these, and tourists getting confused does not seem to be a source of trouble.


I've lived in the DC area all my life and I hate driving to DC. I screwed up just a couple of months ago by following my damn GPS on Clara Barton around 5:30 going the wrong way. I knew what I had done the second I got on the road, but there's no way to turn around really. I can see a tourist following their GPS and getting turned around.

There are a lot of lanes in the Silver Spring area, just north of DC, that goes from 3-4 lanes both ways to 2 one way and 4+ the other way in the morning and afternoon.

Lukeinva
02-17-2014, 11:01 PM
There are a lot of high occupancy lanes, too. HOV... single drivers aren't allowed on 66 or 395 during rush hours. And you can bet the cops nab a fair share of schnooks, too. Visitors and travelers who take these road s unknowingly.

dasmoocher
02-18-2014, 12:03 AM
Isn't that true in lots of cities?
I live on 30th Ave South, but there's also a 30th Ave North in my city, and houses with the same numbers as on my block.

It could be. But is 30th Ave North and 30th Ave South the same road, just labeled differently once it crosses an east-west street?

In DC, there are two separate Letter Sts. (running E-W, so NE-NW and SE-SW) and two separate Number Sts. running (N-S, so NW-SW and NE-SE), so there can be potentially four intersections of "X" St. and "#" St., one in each quadrant. Glancing at Google Maps, it looks like 3rd Sts and D Sts qualify.

I don't think the other major East Coast cities are like this with two separate sets of streets with the same name (Baltimore, Philly, NYC, and Boston, for example). In NYC, if I tell a cabbie to take me to 86th and 3rd Ave. He knows it's east of the park and therefore East 86th St. In DC, you'd need to specify which quadrant.

I was hopefully trying to highlight that, if you're a tourist in DC and want to go to 3rd and D, there are four of them.

madmonk28
02-18-2014, 08:27 AM
I've never really noticed a lot of tourists on the road in DC, certainly not during morning rush hour. Mostly, I run into them on the Metro.

even sven
02-18-2014, 09:44 AM
I've never really noticed a lot of tourists on the road in DC, certainly not during morning rush hour. Mostly, I run into them on the Metro.


Yeah, I don't think a lot of tourists are rolling down upper Connecticut Avenue in the AM. I think most the people I see trying to go the wrong way are locals who don't usually go down that route, or people from the burbs going in to the city for whatever reason. I have a buddy from Rockville who refuses to drive to our house precisely because he's spooked by the lane changes.

buddha_david
02-18-2014, 10:13 AM
The problem with D.C. traffic has little to do with the people who drive in the traffic. Well, it's part of the problem (like any major city) but the systemic problem is the street design itself.

I mean, take a look at this mess (http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/3151/washingtons-systemic-streets/). Crazy Pierre L'Enfant took a perfectly designed grid system and bollocksed it up by adding traffic circles, squares, and crazy diagonal lines everywhere. Not to mention there's a great big wide-open space in the middle which is great for Million Man Marches and "I Have A Dream!" and similar stuff, but for commuters, it's an absolute nightmare to get from one side of the city to the other. The D.C. street plan seriously resembles a series of preschooler doodles, taking what should've been efficient and making it as labyrinthine and byzantine as possible.

OTOH...well, since D.C. is the seat of government, maybe that's fitting. :D

madmonk28
02-18-2014, 11:15 AM
The times I've driven the wrong way in DC have been when I worked at 15 & L and I usually took the Metro, but drove one day. I went up 15th the wrong way because a block or two of it is one way in the morning and I simply forgot. A couple months ago, I stayed home from work to run some errands. I was driving down Conn. Ave and surprised no one else was joining me in this big wide open lane, then I saw the cars coming at me and thought "oh, right, it's rush hour." I think it's more likely it's DC drivers who have momentary brain farts who make a mistake, rather than tourists.

Chronos
02-18-2014, 12:14 PM
Cleveland also toyed with having lanes change direction on some streets during rush hour, but it caused too much confusion (and accidents) and had to be abandoned. A pity, because it's a really logical way of easing rush hour traffic-- Why have all those counter-flow lanes that you're not using?

Cleveland is also unusual among cities in that W. Number Street is not the same as E. Number Street (W. 50 and E. 50 are parallel and about 100 blocks apart, for instance). I was very surprised the first time I saw an East Street turn into a West Street in the middle of a town. All of our east-west avenues have (distinct) names, though, so we don't have to worry about the letter streets like DC does.

lance strongarm
02-18-2014, 12:24 PM
Cleveland also toyed with having lanes change direction on some streets during rush hour, but it caused too much confusion (and accidents) and had to be abandoned. A pity, because it's a really logical way of easing rush hour traffic-- Why have all those counter-flow lanes that you're not using?

DC has a few lanes that work that way, but most of them are controlled by barriers. One interstate has a third, separate HOV lane that reverses direction with access controlled by gates. One of the bridges has a lane that switches direction when a special machine moves jersey barriers over.* There's a few local roads with lanes that switch direction that are only controlled by lights, but only in a small section.

*http://boards.academicpursuits.us/sdmb/showthread.php?t=521315

Chronos
02-18-2014, 02:25 PM
Ah, having actual barriers probably would work better. Carnegie Avenue (the Cleveland street which did this) just had signs hanging over all of the lanes every block or two showing either a red X or a green arrow to indicate what that lane was at that time.

madmonk28
02-18-2014, 03:11 PM
Connecticut Avenue in DC has lanes that change direction during rush hour without any barriers. There are signs, and IIRC there are overhanging lights with either a red x or green arrow indicating if the lane is usable. Also parts of 15th and 17th are one way during rush hour, but there are not barriers.

Elendil's Heir
02-18-2014, 03:24 PM
The problem with D.C. traffic has little to do with the people who drive in the traffic. Well, it's part of the problem (like any major city) but the systemic problem is the street design itself.

I mean, take a look at this mess (http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/3151/washingtons-systemic-streets/). Crazy Pierre L'Enfant took a perfectly designed grid system and bollocksed it up by adding traffic circles, squares, and crazy diagonal lines everywhere....
Not so crazy. In fairness, he couldn't have anticipated motorized conveyances going dozens of mph in every direction all the time. Back in the day of the horse, L'Enfant's street plan worked just fine.

lance strongarm
02-18-2014, 03:30 PM
Not so crazy. In fairness, he couldn't have anticipated motorized conveyances going dozens of mph in every direction all the time. Back in the day of the horse, L'Enfant's street plan worked just fine.

Yes, and back then, they had no traffic lights. Traffic circles are a great way to handle big intersections in the absence of controls like lights.

madmonk28
02-18-2014, 03:38 PM
I like traffic circles, and they are making a comeback in the US (offer does not apply to Dupont Circle, which is a mess).

Lukeinva
02-18-2014, 04:17 PM
I like traffic circles, and they are making a comeback in the US (offer does not apply to Dupont Circle, which is a mess).

Westmoreland Circle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westmoreland_Circle) does not have traffic lights. It connects Maryland and DC, Mass Ave and Western Ave and Dale Carlia parkway.

Many drivers don't have a lot of experience navigating traffic circles that have no lights, and this results in a lot of honking and waving of the Jesus loves you finger. :p

madmonk28
02-18-2014, 05:06 PM
Most circles in DC don't have lights. Once you learn DC streets, the layout makes a lot of sense. It's part of why I love DC, it's a city of nerds who punish those who don't have our esoteric knowledge.

P-man
02-18-2014, 07:11 PM
It could be. But is 30th Ave North and 30th Ave South the same road, just labeled differently once it crosses an east-west street?

In DC, there are two separate Letter Sts. (running E-W, so NE-NW and SE-SW) and two separate Number Sts. running (N-S, so NW-SW and NE-SE), so there can be potentially four intersections of "X" St. and "#" St., one in each quadrant. Glancing at Google Maps, it looks like 3rd Sts and D Sts qualify.

I don't think the other major East Coast cities are like this with two separate sets of streets with the same name (Baltimore, Philly, NYC, and Boston, for example). In NYC, if I tell a cabbie to take me to 86th and 3rd Ave. He knows it's east of the park and therefore East 86th St. In DC, you'd need to specify which quadrant.

I was hopefully trying to highlight that, if you're a tourist in DC and want to go to 3rd and D, there are four of them.
In NY you have to go to a different borough to get different names. There are lettered avenues in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, but no one is likely to get them mixed up. Someone who doesn't know better may tell a cabbie to to to 86th and 3rd, when Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Leo live in Bay Ridge at the bottom of Brooklyn, not the Upper East Side of Manhattan. If you need someone to take you to 101st Street in Bay Ridge, you'd best be sure to give either the cross street or neighborhood, lest you end up way out in Canarsie.

I'm used to the number/letter/state system in DC; what I don't like is the reluctance to use signal lights and the inability or unwillingness to keep traffic signals in sync.

lance strongarm
02-18-2014, 08:16 PM
I was hopefully trying to highlight that, if you're a tourist in DC and want to go to 3rd and D, there are four of them.

And don't forget to tell tourist that Mt. Rushmore is on J Street.

asterion
02-18-2014, 09:11 PM
The thread reminds me of going to visit DC for the first time in my life after we had moved away from the area when I was an infant. It was about 10 years later and Dad could still do most of it from memory, including knowing places to parallel park a minivan for a while to do touristy things nearby. That said, these days when I'm in DC I just use the Metro.

dasmoocher
02-18-2014, 09:47 PM
In NY you have to go to a different borough to get different names. There are lettered avenues in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, but no one is likely to get them mixed up. Someone who doesn't know better may tell a cabbie to to to 86th and 3rd, when Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Leo live in Bay Ridge at the bottom of Brooklyn, not the Upper East Side of Manhattan. If you need someone to take you to 101st Street in Bay Ridge, you'd best be sure to give either the cross street or neighborhood, lest you end up way out in Canarsie.

Yeah, hopefully, you know what borough you want. The four 3rd and D Sts. are all within a few blocks of the Capitol.

And don't forget to tell tourist that Mt. Rushmore is on J Street.

Shit, I still haven't found J Street...

lance strongarm
02-19-2014, 09:43 AM
Shit, I still haven't found J Street...

It's right around the block. Keep looking, you'll find it.

Caffeine.addict
02-19-2014, 11:05 AM
Most circles in DC don't have lights. Once you learn DC streets, the layout makes a lot of sense. It's part of why I love DC, it's a city of nerds who punish those who don't have our esoteric knowledge.

The city is built on a grid. If a street is obstructed, you can cut over to another street, and be on your merry way. I would much rather try driving in DC during rush hour traffic than to have to chance driving in the suburbs where you are truly stuck if you hit traffic.

I like the traffic circles, they give a bit of zest to driving here.

lance strongarm
02-19-2014, 11:09 AM
The city is built on a grid. If a street is obstructed, you can cut over to another street, and be on your merry way.

Yeah, but this is DC! The street you use to cut to the other street is also obstructed, as is the street you want to cut over to. And the Secret Service has blocked off all of Pennsylvania Ave. - and done so at the end of each street block leading to it rather than the beginning, leaving those on one-way streets with no way of escaping.

madmonk28
02-19-2014, 11:35 AM
The city is built on a grid. If a street is obstructed, you can cut over to another street, and be on your merry way. I would much rather try driving in DC during rush hour traffic than to have to chance driving in the suburbs where you are truly stuck if you hit traffic.

I like the traffic circles, they give a bit of zest to driving here.I love driving in DC. I particularly like driving around without any plan other than, "our destination is over there" and using the grid and avenues to pop out right in front of you location and parallel park in a tight spot, while your out of town relatives gape in amazement.

dasmoocher
02-19-2014, 03:12 PM
It's right around the block. Keep looking, you'll find it.

That's what those chicks at the Third Edition told me and my friends. "Walk down M and turn right at 26th..." :D

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