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Washington Circle getting many more crosswalks

Today, the roads and traffic patterns around Washington Circle make it difficult and dangerous to get into or through it on foot. A plan from the National Park Service and DDOT will fix that by adding more crosswalks, paths, and traffic signals.


Photo by HooverStreetStudios on Flickr.

Right now, there are only 4 crosswalks in and out of the circle, each crossing at least 3 lanes of traffic. Two of them, at New Hampshire Avenue, dump pedestrians in a very tiny triangle where they then have to then cross one direction of New Hampshire to continue in any direction.

The other two, which line up with Pennsylvania Avenue on each side, also lead to triangular islands. They don't have signals, forcing pedestrians to wait for a gap in speeding traffic. From the triangles, the only crosswalk leads to yet another island, between Pennsylvania and K, forcing multiple extra crossings to reach an actual block with actual buildings.

People walking along 23rd clearly don't want to, and shouldn't have to, cross up to 6 roads just to traverse the circle. Instead, they cross where there is no light and then walk on the grass. Well-worn "desire lines," especially on the north and south sides to get to 23rd Street make this very clear.


Left: Pedestrian refuge at New Hampshire Avenue. Right: Path to 23rd Street.
Images from NCPC.

The National Park Service and DDOT want to fix this. Fortunately, instead of using the strategy of just fencing off parks to stop pedestrians, as they wanted to do for the triangle park at Q Street and the Dupont Circle Metro, the Park Service is doing the right thing: they will add walkways and move some.


Left: Washington Circle today. Image from Google Maps.
Right: Planned park pathway layout. Image from NCPC.

DDOT will add crosswalks and new signals that line up with the new walkways. After this project, every pedestrian crossing in and out of Washington Circle will have a traffic signal. DDOT also plans more signals and crosswalks on the roads between the circle and Pennsylvania Avenue or K Street, letting pedestrians cross directly in sensible directions.


DDOT plans for Washington Circle. Image from NCPC. Click to enlarge.

The plan also calls for a fence around the remainder of the circle. This will stop people from walking in and out at other places.

I'm not very enthusiastic about this recent NPS push for adding more fences. Down the street from Washington Circle, they're proposing another fence, also to "eliminate the creation of social paths," for the triangle between 21st, I, and Pennsylvania NW.

Instead of holding the existing layout sacrosanct, at Washington Circle, they are working to accommodate pedestrians. By placing crosswalks at the main places people want to cross, this traffic circle is about to get a lot safer.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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This is really good news. I volunteer at GWU hospital and pass through this area often and it is a real mess for pedestrians right now.

by Sam on Mar 29, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

I frequently cross Washington Circle and don't have a problem using the desire paths (unmarked/unsignalized crosswalks). Adding traffic signals has the potential to further delay buses in the area, the 31, 32, 36; L1, N3 and a Circulator route. Try riding the G2 bus around Logan Circle. The bus has to sit at three sets of traffic signals when there are few other vehicles (and pedestrians) in the circle. I suspect the signals at Logan are timed to slow traffic and then favor Rhode Island Ave thru traffic.

To help keep buses moving, DDOT should try programming flashing red lights instead of solid red lights at some of the crossings to help keep traffic, including the buses, moving. The requirement to stop would prevent speeding. I see vehicles and some bus drivers speed through lights knowing they have to be quick to "make the greens."

Something like this may not work at Dupont Circle due to the level of pedestrians and traffic, but flashing red lights along the bus routes could worth a try at Logan and Washington circles.

by Transport. on Mar 29, 2012 12:11 pm • linkreport

I'd just run the circulator under the circle.

Great to hear about fences.

Can you stop District Commons valet parking on the circle as well. That really clogs up traffic.

by charlie on Mar 29, 2012 12:14 pm • linkreport

This is great news! Now hopefully pedestrians are given more then 16 seconds to cross as is the case now during rush hour. More often then not a car goes through the light making it more like 11 seconds to cross. Then it is well over 1.5 minutes to the next signal giving you the right to cross.

by RG14 on Mar 29, 2012 12:22 pm • linkreport

Perhaps DDOT should also offer training for local residents who do not know how to drive through traffic circles. Attention drivers coming into Washington Circle! You have to YIELD to drivers who are already in the circle. Honking your horn at the drivers who are already in the circle does not solve any problems.

by Foggy Bottom Resident on Mar 29, 2012 12:44 pm • linkreport

How about an island or longer light on Pennsylvania ave at the entrance to the circle. When taking the circulator to Drs appointments at GWMFA I find myself running or trying to run across as this 73 year old moves too slowly to get across and then has to contend with drivers turning onto Pennsylvania ave from 22nd St

by danmac on Mar 29, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

This is great news. That circle is pretty pathetic and car-centric, especially when compared to nearby Dupont.

by Nick on Mar 29, 2012 1:35 pm • linkreport

I think Washington Circle needs a more comprehensive rethink.

As it is, there are too many stoplights, merge zones, poorly marked yields, and taxis who fly around the thing at 50mph.

It's one of the only roads in the District where I feel consistently unsafe, regardless of whether I'm in a car, on foot, or on a bike.

by andrew on Mar 29, 2012 1:59 pm • linkreport

It's one of the only roads in the District where I feel consistently unsafe, regardless of whether I'm in a car, on foot, or on a bike.

+1 -- I go through using all three modes as well. I think there's a good chance that the new crosswalks and lights will mean a slower, safer, smarter circle for cars and bikes as well as peds.

by Arl Fan on Mar 29, 2012 2:06 pm • linkreport

Or does everyone feel unsafe, leading to more care and safety . . . ? What are the stats for crashes in the circle compared to comparable intersections in the District?

by xmal on Mar 29, 2012 3:19 pm • linkreport

Great news !

by Pelham1861 on Mar 29, 2012 4:04 pm • linkreport

Instead of discouraging 'social paths' NPS and DDOT should view them as an opportunity to make parks and walkways more friendly for pedestrians. Rather than perpetually sodding and fencing off these paths, they could install curved paths with permeable pavers. The park's aesthetics wouldn't suffer because the paths could resemble a soft landscaping element, and pedestrians could enjoy shorter routes that utilize more of the green space for public enjoyment. Plus there will be less mud patches and reduced sod use (everybody wins).

by David Fabian on Mar 29, 2012 4:08 pm • linkreport

Three cheers for DDOT! I work near Washington Circle and walk to the Foggy Bottom metro from my office about once a week, and I'll usually take a less-direct route just so I can avoid the circle.

by Liz on Mar 29, 2012 4:32 pm • linkreport

That is not a good picture of the "pedestrian refuge" on New Hampshire. IN reality, pedestrian have a lot of room on that side because NH is one way. I think you'd want a picture on the south side of the circle where that is a problem.

I also hope they can time the signals. During rush hour (or peak times) having some lights (in particular the west side of K and the Circle) really needs a light -- during most of the rest of the day, no.

by charlie on Mar 29, 2012 5:27 pm • linkreport

That diagram looks like something the Mayans use to calculate the end of the world.

by Kolohe on Mar 29, 2012 9:02 pm • linkreport

As others have said, this is "good news." As with other civic and private projects, it's not perfect in everyone's eyes and minds, but clearly better, and I feel far better, than what now exists.

One further note, the diagrams do not show the *existing* crosswalks at 22nd and K Streets/Pennsylvania Avenue NW which pedestrians would utilize to start (or conclude) their walking path from (to) their across Washington Circle. I would hope all crosswalks at or approaching this Circle would have the same zebra stripes,

As to signals, there may well be merit in making vehicular movement more fluid instead of forcing (red light) stops, provided signage prioritizes and driver behavior defers (yields) to pedestrians in crosswalks.

Congrats to DC-DoT and NPS, and NCPC in its reviews of the NPS portions of this!

by Lindsley Williams on Mar 30, 2012 6:20 am • linkreport

The territory one has to traverse in order to transfer from the Foggy Bottom metro station to the westbound buses is ridiculous and treacherous. Can't that be fixed somehow?

by LouDC on Mar 30, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

I was the pedestrian cause of an auto accident at Washington Circle a few weeks ago. I was at the crosswalk on the east side, near K St, a guy slowed down to let me pass, and a lady hit him from behind. I don't think she'd even tried to brake. Good thing I hadn't gotten into the crosswalk, b/c the impact was so forceful it pushed the guy's car all the way through it. I would have been toast. So, yep, I totally agree it should be revamped. Thank you!

by Ginger B on Mar 30, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

Wait, they want 7 light signals? That is terrible.

by beatbox on Mar 30, 2012 3:48 pm • linkreport

Count me as another that is happy to see this. You should take a picture of the New Hampshire island median on other side of Washington Circle by the hospital. People end up actually standing in the street because there are too many people trying to cross the circle and only a little slice of concrete. And a very short crosswalk time.

They tried to block off the pedestrian-worn path to 23rd street with some hedges. But peds just pushed the hedges away.

by lou on Mar 30, 2012 6:39 pm • linkreport

I hope this project includes two things: ramps for the crosswalks at 23rd and K, and red light cameras. I go through this circle multiple times a week and every effing time some idiot drives right through the red right arrow without even slowing down. Maybe a steady stream of $200 tickets will finally break this practice.

by TM on Apr 2, 2012 9:20 am • linkreport

This is great news. You can finally walk directly across the circle beginning and ending on 23rd Street, which is the most common usage. I also like the new vehicle flow, with more right-turn only lanes and only 1 lane for exiting instead of 2.

by David Goodhand on Apr 2, 2012 1:13 pm • linkreport

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