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New, greener, safer, better design coming for 15th and W

15th and W Streets and New Hampshire and Florida Avenues, NW all come together in a large, barren expanse of asphalt that Stephen Miller nicknamed the Death Star after a driver killed a pedestrian there in 2009. But DDOT is on the side of the rebels and is striking back with a redesign.

15th, W, Florida and New Hampshire today. Images from DDOT.

None of the roads at this intersection are very wide or carry much traffic. However, traffic engineers in years past made the block between V and W function like a set of freeway offramps. The lanes merge to a narrower 15th Street and a gradual slip lane onto Florida that encouraged drivers to make the turn at high speed. Chevrons mark off a large tract of pavement between the two.

After the 2009 fatality, DDOT quickly moved to install temporary curbs and posts to slow traffic at the corners. On Wednesday, they presented preliminary options for a permanent solution to a committee of the local ANC.

Both options would limit traffic in the block of 15th from V to W only 2 lanes, moving back the 3-lane to 2-lane merge point to the block between U and V. At W Street, one lane would continue up the hill on 15th, while the other would let drivers turn right onto either Florida Avenue or W, in more of a traditional intersection.

The 2 options only differ in the location of the newly-created green space. One option puts it mostly on the east side of the street, while the other divides new green space between the east and west sides.

Click on an image to enlarge.

These options have safety trade-offs. Keeping the roadway on the left (left-hand image) makes the lane shift on 15th more gradual and makes speeding easier, but it also allows for a larger triangular pedestrian island in the middle of the intersection. Shifting the roadway to the right (right-hand image) forces drivers on 15th to slow down more as they approach the hill, but leaves a smaller pedestrian island.

Both proposals add numerous bulb-outs at the crosswalks just as the agency has included on H Street NE and other places around town. In these places, the curb juts out toward the travel lane and reduces the distance pedestrians must spend vulnerable in the roadway while crossing the street.

The design also extends the 15th Street cycle track into this area. Right now, the 2-way track ends at V Street. Riders heading northbound have to cut across traffic to a bike lane on the east side of the street (or just share the lane), while riders southbound can't legally use 15th in this area (though many do anyway).

The part of 15th going up Meridian Hill now has two bike lanes, both northbound, one on each side of the street. DDOT's original hopes for the 2-way 15th Street cycle track included having it stretch to Euclid, the northern edge of the park. DDOT bicycle program head Jim Sebastian says that when DDOT rebuilds the "Death Star" intersection, they will also complete a continuous 2-way bicycle facility from U to Euclid.

DDOT could just build the cycle track in this intersection along the edge of the roadway, separated with poles, as with the rest of the cycle track today. Other options, though, elevate it up to sidewalk level like many European cities do. The tree boxes would still separate the track from the sidewalk, but then one of a few different curb treatments would divide it from the roadway.

At the meeting, DDOT planner Gabriela Vega said the agency was still weighing the pros and cons of the last three designs' barriers between the cycle track and the parking lane. The barriers in the last three designs all include permeable pavers that allow the ground to absorb more stormwater.

Renderings show treeboxes between the sidewalks and streets including rain gardens to trap stormwater and "flow-through planters," where water that lands in one treebox can gradually flow to the next as it runs downhill, feeding more than one tree.

If those treatments make the trees extremely verdant, the intersection could ultimately look something like this:

Even while the trees are growing, it'd be a huge improvement over today:

Image from Google Street View.

Many years ago, DDOT had considered an unsignalized roundabout for the intersection. In 2008 we published a proposal of what that might look like. Back then, the agency responded that they had dropped the idea of a roundabout.

When asked at Wednesday's meeting why a roundabout was not under consideration, Vega said DDOT's traffic models showed that a roundabout could not accommodate the traffic volumes of both 15th Street and W Street.

The designs DDOT presented are preliminary concepts. The agency will update the ANC again in a few months with refinements. DDOT is still seeking input, especially on the cycle track separation options and the roadway alignment options mentioned above.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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 now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 
Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 


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Looks like a really good plan. Personally I am in favor of the option with the larger pedestrian spaces.

DDOT is still seeking input, especially on the cycle track separation options and the roadway alignment options mentioned above.

Is there an e-mail address or website where we can submit input?

by MLD on Sep 28, 2012 10:32 am • linkreport

Worthy project. Used to live near that intersection. The bike lane is very much needed as 15th is a great street to move N/S.

by Boris on Sep 28, 2012 10:33 am • linkreport

"Chevrons mark off a large tract of pavement between the two."

Do you think a Shell and an Exxon would have been a better choice? Chevron is a good word, but maybe not when talking about roads. :-)

by Mike on Sep 28, 2012 10:44 am • linkreport

I bike home from work that way almost every day, and there isn't much pedestrian traffic. There are, however, cars driving way too fast. The option that slows cars down would be my strong preference.

Also, having the bike lane continue on the left would be great - I generally move to the right lane before U Street and take the lane until the bike lane resumes north of V.

by Jon on Sep 28, 2012 10:50 am • linkreport

I walk through this intersection all the time and it's so confusing. Looks like either design would help that a bit. And hurray for extending the two-way bike track to Euclid!

by Gavin on Sep 28, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

I've lived near there for the last 10 years and I bike through the Death Star intersection all the time. Since there isn't much car traffic and there's plenty of room, I've never had a problem. I don't go north of Florida/W though. (Who wants to tackle that gruesome hill?)

What I have a major problem with is not that intersection, but just south of it, at New Hampshire and V St. where the westbound V St. traffic has a stop sign and the southwest-bound New Hampshire Avenue traffic that has to turn onto V does not. I promise you, someone will die there unless another stop sign is added.

by Ward 1 Guy on Sep 28, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

I do not understand why a roundabout would not be able to handle the traffic there. That makes no sense. The beauty of roundabouts is that traffic is always moving.

Does anybody know anything in general about flow through intersections vs roundabouts?

by Jasper on Sep 28, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport

It looks like W St. west of the intersection has been slimmed down to one general traffic lane plus a bike lane from the current two general traffic lanes (with sharrows). Was this discussed during the meeting?

I find there are enough cars and the light cycles are short enough to warrant two lanes general traffic lanes. Any thoughts?

by xmal on Sep 28, 2012 11:36 am • linkreport

I've nearly been hit a few times when trying to wiggle from the cycletrack over to the bike lanes north of W Street.

I've also seen numerous people making illegal right turns from W onto New Hampshire. That's especially scary when you're on a bike.

These two plans are good, with some caveats:
The first plan seems to leave a lot of "blank" pavement in the intersection. I think it might be better to narrow the SB lane on NH, and extend those islands into the intersection.

The second plan seems aesthetically better, but creates a very confusing traffic pattern for cars/bikes traveling north on 15th.

Also: What about making it possible to turn from Southbound New Hampshire to Northbound 15th?

by andrew on Sep 28, 2012 11:40 am • linkreport

I've noticed when I'm walking up 15th St to Columbia Heights, this intersection creates a weird crossing if you're going straight north on 15th.

by Steve S. on Sep 28, 2012 11:41 am • linkreport

@Ward 1 Guy

Agreed that 15th northbound is the worst for biking. I just use the east sidewalk on 16th - plenty wide for peds and bikes to coexist.

by MLD on Sep 28, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

Whatever slows auto traffic the most and protects pedestrians and bikes the most. That is a dangerous area for both.

by Tom Coumaris on Sep 28, 2012 12:15 pm • linkreport


The second lane you see on W today is actually a turning lane that briefly interrupts the W Street bike lane. Aside from that short turning lane, W Street provides only one travel lane today.


Turning from W to New Hampshire and from Florida to 15th is illegal right now. However, people do it anyway either because they're confused, don't see the signs, or don't care. DDOT said the new designs will make it much harder, though not impossible, to make these illegal turns since the curb corners will be much sharper than they are today.

by Eric Fidler on Sep 28, 2012 12:30 pm • linkreport

1. I think option 1 (road to the left) is better, because it creates the shortest walking distances. Whether you're moving between New Hampshire and 15th on the west or 15th and W on the east that option has the more direct routes. It would also probably allow for more cooling of nearby buildings since it adds green space on the west of building instead of the north. I wonder how much traffic would slow down in option 2. It also creates space for another memorial to some event none of us have ever heard of - so that's a plus.

2. I worry about the two way cycletrack on 15th north of W. People coming down the hill can be going VERY fast - in a narrow space. I worry about head on collisions with cyclists heading up the hill (bit not looking because people tend to look down when they're climbing).

by David C on Sep 28, 2012 12:45 pm • linkreport

Why does one option have colored bike boxes and the other does not?

by David C on Sep 28, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

The proposal on the right suggests that Florida will have bike lanes. Is this true?

by Matthew on Sep 28, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

I wish the city would clean up the cluster-F where Florida, RI and NJ come together. It's not dangerous, but it's U-G-L-Y. Ironically, the surrounding neighborhoods are pretty nice, but you'd never think that when driving through.

by RIguy on Sep 28, 2012 2:09 pm • linkreport

This is a huge improvement, especially the cycle track continuity up 15th. My comments for DDOT:

- The cycle track treatment should be whatever will is easier to maintain and keep smooth in the long term. Folks coming down that hill won't want dangerous asphalt bumps (a la 13th Street) or cracked cement track.

- The disappearing bike lanes on Florida are tricky. The existing turn there (outside of design) is tight for two passing vehicles. Might require special signage/ pavement markings if bike lanes merge with vehicle lanes where street parking picks up.

- The public space configuration in Option 1b (right) might work better with the 'green space' split up, if these are to be just grass. With the park next door and no commercial uses, the acute triangular green space in Option 1a (left) could be ugly dead space in the long run. If the 'green spaces' can be used for LID, like they are around Georgia/Upshur, then that is OK.

- Option 1b might give drivers turning right onto Florida/W better visibility of the intersection. This option looks like it also provides an additional on-street parking space, which is a good thing.

by eozberk on Sep 28, 2012 2:21 pm • linkreport

I like Option B (at right). It slows down the cars on 15th and crunches the intersection, which (in my mind) would make cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians more visible to one another. Also, it makes it much more difficult to make an illegal right turn from W onto NH than Option A.

@David C: they both have bike boxes but for some reason they're not colored in Option B. Hopefully that was an inadvertent error and not for one to look more appealing than the other at first glance. Same goes for the absence of a bike lane south/westbound on Florida.

Anyone care to guess/tell why the NW corner of NH (where it meets 15) has a bulb out in Option A but not Option B?

by 7r3y3r on Sep 28, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

I see bicycles going 25+ mph downhill passing within inches of uphill bicycles wobbling left and right as they churn uphill. Recipe for disaster/fatal accident.

by crin on Sep 28, 2012 3:19 pm • linkreport

Listening to the comments, I am leaning toward A because it makes the right turn from 15th to FL/W sharper. Drivers speeding on 15th could be a problem, but pedestrian crashes are more likely to happen when someone is turning right across a crosswalk. B seems to make it easier to take the turn at higher speed, while A makes it a bigger turn. I wonder if drivers would have to slow down more to turn under A.

by David Alpert on Sep 28, 2012 3:43 pm • linkreport

Not shown but a few yards up 15th from this 15th swerves drastically to the left at the same time the incline is the greatest. This is also a very dangerous pattern that should be addressed at the same time.

by Tom Coumaris on Sep 28, 2012 4:56 pm • linkreport

While this is a fine start it leaves the problem ofFlorida Avenue at that intersection unsolved. This addresses 15th more than Florida. The pedestrian killed was killed on the corner of W where traffic splits off 15th onto Florida. It is the block of Florida with the curve that causes frequent accidents because no one is used to driving on anything but straight streets in DC. Furthermore, this block of Florida is busy with bikers day and night (a good percentage of them avoiding the incline of 15th street). Addressing this intersection without planning for slower travel and safer bike travel on Florida between 14th and 15th only solves part of the problem and potentially leads to the unintended consequence of steering more people on to Florida Avenue, an already overly-congested block.

by Floirda aver on Sep 28, 2012 4:58 pm • linkreport

Ugh. Yet another intersection that's just fine as it is, getting all f*ed up to slow everyone down.

I bike & drive this intersection multiple times a day, ususally going east on FL or north up 15 then west on FL. I love that as a driver I can move through here quickly. As a cyclist I love that I can leave the confines of the cycle track and move back into travel lanes.

I wish DDOT would leave well enough alone. They are cutting off all the fast routes through the city. Soon no one (car, bike, or bus) will be able to faster than a slow walk.

by Please stop on Sep 29, 2012 5:14 am • linkreport

The bike lane along northeast bound Florida is a bad idea. It's a pretty narrow stretch with a tight turn. Those cyclists would be getting hooked all day. Better off putting in a sharrow or leaving it as it is.

Why do these designers hate sharrows?

The bike box at the south bound Florida is useless. Cars can't turn right there. Nobody is getting hooked. It's a pretty short light cycle. All that bike box would do is funnel bikes to the front and cause an unnecessary reduction in traffic flow. Better off having the cyclists queue in line with the traffic.

Where did the southbound bike lane for New Hampshire go? Is that being removed?

How are they connecting this to the bike lane on the right side of 15th north of Euclid?

If they're going to put in bike boxes, they should paint them because the few that are currently in this city aren't and are generally occupied by motor vehicles.

by UrbanEngineer on Sep 29, 2012 9:09 am • linkreport

@Florida aver What's troublesome about traveling between 14th and 15th on Florida?

@Ward 1 guy Is the problem the lack of a stop sign on New Hampshire, or that the west bound traffic on V doesn't know that the southbound New Hampshire traffic doesn't have a stop? I'd put in additional signage for the west bound traffic indicating that New Hampshire traffic does not have to stop before adding another stop sign there.

by UrbanEngineer on Sep 29, 2012 9:16 am • linkreport

+1 for RIguy's comment. The FL/15th/W intersection is bad, but the Florida/RI/NJ intersection carries a lot more traffic and breaks up a whole neighborhood. Hopefully they'll tackle that next.

My suggestion: Remove the part of S St that loops into 4th and develop it, removing as much of the mini post office parking lot as possible. That would get rid of a lot of unnecessary asphalt and start the process of knitting things back together again.

by Ben on Oct 1, 2012 10:00 am • linkreport

The one thing that neither of these designs address is the difficulty of walking up the East side of 15th St. There is no easy path through that intersection so most people will probably continue to jaywalk through that middle island (me being one of them). At least it'll be bigger...

by Chris on Oct 1, 2012 12:06 pm • linkreport

Ugh. Yet another intersection that's just fine as it is, getting all [messed] up to slow everyone down.
I forgot to mention that since the speed limit will remain 25 mph and since the new designs will accomodate existing traffic volumes, no one will be delayed anymore than they are today. Perhaps people driving unlawfully beyond the speed limit will be delayed, but that's not a legitimate point of consideration.

by Eric Fidler on Oct 1, 2012 1:18 pm • linkreport

I live on W between 15 and 14 and walk through this intersection at least twice a day. I like these plans a lot but I hope DDOT will improve the blind pedestrian crosswalk on the east-side of this intersection when crossing W street from north and south 15th/Florida. I'm almost hit at least once a month when cars heading north on 15th turn right onto W without slowing down to ensure no one is in the crosswalk. It's especially stressful when I am heading north - I have to walk almost backwards to ensure I don't get hit by a car when they speed through the intersection to turn onto W.

by Kris on Oct 1, 2012 2:23 pm • linkreport

This helps but doesn't provide a pedestrian crossing on the east side of 15th street going north. The solution that would really work best here is to simply close off the through traffic of New Hampshire and Florida. Essentially it would work like this:
-Make 15th and W into a four-armed intersection.
-Bring Florida Ave into a 90 degree angle T-style intersection with W
-New Hampshire would also be a T coming into 15th.

New Hampshire is a diagonal that really isn't doing anything anyway other than provide parking which you can continue to provide.

The main problem with this intersection, aside from speed, is the lack of a safe pedestrian crossing for northbound foot traffic on the east side of 15th. This will continue to be the problem here, as people will not walk out of their way.

by neb on Oct 3, 2012 2:52 pm • linkreport

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