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"Dave Thomas Circle" could get fixes or disappear entirely

A new study of pedestrian and bicycle safety along Florida Avenue NE is suggesting changes to the "virtual" traffic circle at New York and Florida Avenues. In the long run, that "circle" and the nearby Wendy's could become a simpler intersection and green space.

The current "circle" and short-term fixes. Images from DDOT. Click to enlarge.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) created the "virtual circle" arrangement as an "interim solution" in 2010 to deal with this difficult intersection. It was very difficult to navigate on foot or bike, and which had seen some very serious crashes.

The circle pattern routes traffic heading eastbound on Florida counter-clockwise along First and O Streets. It got the nickname "Dave Thomas Circle" because that triangle circumnavigates a Wendy's, and to play off the name for Thomas Circle. Wendy's also has many driveways connecting to the surrounding roads, and Eckington Place NE joins the tangle of roads here as well.

Since DDOT set up the "circle," the severity and number of crashes has gone down, said Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT's planning head who is overseeing the study. However, many people find it confusing and it takes up a lot of space.

Once, some suggested an interchange

At the time this pattern was conceived, DDOT studies recommended building a new overpass or tunnel so New York Avenue traffic could bypass the intersection. Some plans suggested extending the I-395 tunnel from its current terminus near 4th Street NW past Florida Avenue.

Image from the 2006 DDOT study.

But a 2006 NCPC study raised concerns about new tunnels or bridges. NCPC worried about how new large-scale auto infrastructure would create an even larger pedestrian barrier in the nascent NoMa neighborhood and between other adjacent areas. Since then, DDOT has largely dropped the idea of tunneling as a solution.

What could replace the circle?

The Florida study proposes some options to simplify the intersection. They would eliminate some turns, delete the block of O Street that's now part of the "circle," and either eliminate the block of First Street or reroute it to connect to Eckington Place NE.

2 options to replace the "circle."

Florida and New York Avenues would get a bit wider to make room for turning lanes instead of the "jughandles" of the old design. Adding this right-of-way would almost certainly mean the city would have to take the Wendy's by eminent domain. But that could make the intersection significantly better for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike.

It would also open up some land for green space or other uses. The National Capital Planning Commission has long envisioned this intersection as a potential future memorial site. In 2001 they named it as one of their top 20 "Prime Sites" in the region in the Memorials and Museums Master Plan.

In addition to the longer-term proposals, later this year DDOT will make minor modifications to tweak how this intersection works. That includes changing which lanes get used for which types of turns, striping bike lanes, and adding new signs.

One change will widen the turn radius at some key spots so that the 90s buses can traverse the circle. When DDOT set up the circle arrangement, Metro discovered its buses couldn't fit, and had to reroute them onto North Capitol Street, adding minutes of extra time for every rider.

Tony Goodman is an ANC Commissioner for 6C06 in Near Northeast/NoMA and member of the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he is a Construction Project Manager with a Masters degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan and has lived in Washington, DC since 2002. 


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Oh man, a 395 tunnel mention….paging Doug Willinger for the inevitable appearance.ds

by Steve D on Apr 7, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

Concept A would be amazing if all of that green space turned into actual green space. Walking around that intersection is very dangerous now and that concept would elimate many street crossings.

by Sally on Apr 7, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

That Wendy's just needs to go. This intersection is a total nightmare. It would be nice if they incorporated a left turn onto Florida Avenue from the northbound direction of New York Ave. If you don't know your way around the area, the lack of left turn possibilities on New York Ave can quickly put you out in Maryland...

by Ben on Apr 7, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

I've always wondered what the owner of that Wendys had on the city planners to make them reroute one of the largest interactions in the quadrant into tangled mess that's almost impossible to navigate most days.


by Michael Cunningham on Apr 7, 2014 1:05 pm • linkreport

It wasn't the Wendy' was the businesses off of Eckington Place like Sirius XM and FedEx that could get out of their own street.

by Some Ideas on Apr 7, 2014 1:10 pm • linkreport

This is the worst designed intersection in the city. We don't need a highway extension, just build a simple overpass for Florida and run NY Ave traffic underneath it like any number of traffic 'circles' in DC. Then you could make Florida a true circle to accommodate other stub streets, or just make it a normally signalled intersection and force other roads to converge from a different direction, like on Florida and Rhode Island. These roads are heavily trafficked enough that there is no reason to keep a multi-phase signal there, and every reason to grade separate the avenues. If you get the Wendys out, then there is plenty of space to so anything you want. And anything would be better than the abomination that is there now.

by Chris T on Apr 7, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

NCPC's listing as a memorial site is great. This triangle is the entrance to Washington for most people driving from the Northeast US and Wendy's is not a good impression. Having something beautiful there would do a lot for DC's reputation.

The "sculptures" installed on the overpass north of it are weird in that the streetlights on the overpass obscure their view coming in but seem to celebrate leaving.

The triangle where the LeDriot Park Post Office is at Florida and S should be another candidate for inclusion on NCPC's list.

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 7, 2014 1:31 pm • linkreport

This is such a bellweather of overall DC government competency. Normal cities don't tolerate this type of madness- competent city planners just step in and fix the problem. If this ever gets fixed, my whole outlook on what this city is capable of will shift.

by 11luke on Apr 7, 2014 1:38 pm • linkreport

@Chris T

DDOT is no longer actively considering grade separation for Florida & New York. A major reason is because there isn't room to provide ramps between the streets due to adjacent buildings and the railroad tracks immediately to the East (which go over Florida & under New York).

by Tony Goodman on Apr 7, 2014 1:52 pm • linkreport

Oh, so now this clusterf%&k was supposed to be an "interim" solution. Yeah, ok...that was a good use of 3 million bucks.

If there was EVER any use for condemnation, this is it. Give Wendy's FMV for the land, compensate them for some losses and tear the Wendy's down. How anyone accesses it is beyond me anyway, its on an island in the middle of two streets that intersect, one that sees just under 60,000 vehicles per day and the other 25,000.

If we can make the argument to condemn properties in SW to build a toy stadium for a for profit billionare, then we can certainly spend 5-7 million (wendy's tax assessed value is 5)

I avoid the area at all cost when I can because under normal circumstances it takes 4 or 5 cycles of the light to get through it (non-rush). Take the Wendy's down and either make it a grade seperated intersection, or an honest to god roundabout and be done with it, because what is there now is a disaster for pedestrians and vehicles alike.

by Van Ness on Apr 7, 2014 2:10 pm • linkreport

Heres a question did the Wendys owner ever speak about closing or moving if not why even bring it up ? If the owner is not thinking about moving and unless DC has plans to use eminent domain it should not even be mentioned.

@ Van Ness

I access that Wendys often and it is not hard to get to; unless someone is retarded it is not at all hard to figure out how to get there. Follow the damn cross walks

I will say that the pedestrian access was better before the road changes.

@ Tony Goodman

Actually there is room to build grade separation if DC thought out of the box I have seen grade separation done with smaller spaces all over Asia. The problem is the way we design and build stuff.

by kk on Apr 7, 2014 2:58 pm • linkreport

What's the deal with O St NE? Currently serves only to allow access to a Douglas Development parking lot, and even if they reopened it to through traffic would only go from North Cap to the Dave Thomas Circle and thus be redundant. Both options seem focused on keeping access from that parking lot to the "Circle", would seem to make sense to eliminate that and have the Douglass Building and lot accessed from less complicated frontages.

Also, don't forget the cool GGW post about the old Route 82 streetcar that went right through the current Wendy's site and up Eckington Place:

by Paul H on Apr 7, 2014 3:19 pm • linkreport

I don't like urban interchanges but I would suggest and underpass rather than an overpass if it comes down to it. That way you would continue the pedestrian/ bike connectivity above ground without too many barriers and no need to walk under sketchy overpasses at night. If you coupled that with improvements to the Metropolitan Branch trail it would mitigate a lot of the added inconvenience for bikes and peds. Then reconfigure the New York ave/O St/First St NE intersection to make it workable.

by BTA on Apr 7, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

@ Paul H

Your mention of O Street made me think of another problem North Capitol & New York Ave; which is actually kinda worst since it actually is and has been a residential area for the past 80 years or more. Whereas New York & Florida never really had foot traffic except for people going to/from FedEX, Wendy's, McDonalds & Burger King until about 10 years ago (New York Ave station opened) McKinley Tech and 5-8 years 8 years ago for all the other new developments.

When looking at pedestrian traffic North Capitol & New York Ave has to be much higher than New York & Florida overall I have seen people get hit there and there are always accidents.

What about decking over North Capitol underpass to build a park, connect Paterson Street & Hanover Place to North Capitol north and southbound or turning lanes to/from North Capitol Street & New York Ave

by kk on Apr 7, 2014 3:53 pm • linkreport


One way to solve the pedestrian issue with underpasses or overpasses and interchanges would be to have the cars enter them from the left lanes and not right lanes paired with tunnels that lead to left lanes and thus pedestrians never encounter the traffic.

A better way to describe this would be with the drawing that is displayed . In that picture the left lanes of the ground level street would lead underground; under the road and over to the left or right to the left lanes of the overpass. The same thing could be done with just underpasses.

A pedestrian walking would never encounter turning traffic and you would not have difficult to navigate cross walks.

I have since this or stuff similar done in Japan, South Korea, Iran & Greece and a few Interstate interchanges here in the US but never with urban streets but there is no reason it could not be done except for expense.

by kk on Apr 7, 2014 4:13 pm • linkreport

So they are possibly coming to their sense and removing that awful bottle neck prone traffic circle.

by tom on Apr 7, 2014 5:06 pm • linkreport

This is a proper design for the I-395 tunnel extension as an alternative to the anti people status quo of using city streets as a substitute.

If you note, the one basic tunnel design they considered has a too tight of a turning radii. Also, the tunnel portal option in the first illustration is a horrific design.

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Apr 7, 2014 5:23 pm • linkreport

Since they've rebuilt Dunbar, that option is out.

Egon, what've you got left?

by Michael on Apr 7, 2014 5:50 pm • linkreport

The new Dunbar HS Building is not a problem- unless they want to build an extension into the field.

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Apr 7, 2014 6:07 pm • linkreport

The real difficulty with the intersection - I drive through it everyday (from Florida taking the left through the circle to New York) - is the traffic coming from eckington place and, to a lesser extent, p st. This is what backs things up. I find that when there is no incoming traffic from these streets it's just one or two cycles.

by Egk on Apr 7, 2014 8:20 pm • linkreport

Dave Thomas Circle would be fine if the city would please just put up signs so you would have a better than random chance of shifting to the correct lane before going down the wrong chute.

by Turnip on Apr 7, 2014 8:29 pm • linkreport

unless DC has plans to use eminent domain it should not even be mentioned.

DC is considering using eminent domain.

ok...that was a good use of 3 million bucks.

It was if it made it safer. The rule at FTA used to be you had to make a safety improvement if the ratio of money spent to lives saved was $10 million.

This is one of those places where one realizes what a shame it is that the street grid within the L'Enfant city wasn't expanded beyond Boundary Road and east of the River.

by David C on Apr 7, 2014 9:34 pm • linkreport

Something needs to be done here for sure - it's a dangerous, maddening eyesore for people in any mode of transport. I come through it from Eckington place fairly regularly and every single time there's nearly an accident because people ignore/don't understand the turning lanes. With growing residential neighborhoods in Eckington, Noma, Trinidad and H St., this mess will only grow more dangerous - and more economically stupid as it prevent inter-neighborhood connectivity.

by Annie on Apr 8, 2014 9:34 am • linkreport

#savewendys!!! #historiclandmark #davethimascicle foreva

by Joe on Apr 9, 2014 9:15 am • linkreport

The most logical thing to do would be to exercise "Eminent Domain" over Wendy's, allow them to move one block South on New York Avenue and tear down it's current building to open up more lanes for traffic. It's a win-win for everybody. The current traffic pattern is *horrible* to say the least!

by RJ on Oct 21, 2014 3:58 pm • linkreport

Just wanted to jump in and point out that this intersection used to be WAY WORSE.

The current solution was "interim," because it was anticipated that there was going to be a huge amount of new development in the immediately-surrounding area, and it was unknown how this would affect traffic.

The project removed a handful of choke-points, enabled a few new movements, and added one really awful choke-point.

The devlopment is ongoing, and traffic patterns haven't changed that much. (I'm really surprised that nobody seemed to care that the Elevation building got its own light for seemingly no reason).

I don't think that either of the two proposed options are particularly great.

Concept A looks like we'd just revert back to the old design, which seriously impeded traffic flow thanks to the large number of left turns that are possible. You wouldn't need to remove the Wendys in this design.

Concept B preserves connectivity between NoMA and Eckington (which is good), but similarly seems like it would require a large number of low-volume traffic-light phases, and introduces another bottleneck to NY Ave.

The O Street "ramp" was added to prevent traffic from piling up on NY Ave, and nothing about the proposed new designs really mitigates that.

Neither option talks about what to do with O St.

by andrew on Dec 18, 2015 2:48 pm • linkreport

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