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Another good project and annoying press

DCist covers DDOT's proposal to convert 15th Street to two-way operation which I covered when it was first announced in January. DDOT presented it to the Council yesterday.

The 15th Street "urban freeway". Image via DDOT.

There are many reasons one two-way streets are better, and according to WTOP, Councilmembers Jack Evans (who we already know is good on traffic issues) and Muriel Bowser (who believes Rock Creek park's primary purpose is to speed Ward 4 drivers' commutes) both expressed support for additional one-way to two-way conversions.

WTOP's story, though, would have been a lot more impartial without an inflammatory headline like "Controversial traffic plan could slow your commute." Sigh.

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. 


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Do you mean there are many reasons that two way streets are better?

by NikolasM on May 29, 2008 1:35 pm • linkreport

Oops, fixed. Thanks.

by David Alpert on May 29, 2008 1:38 pm • linkreport

God forbid suburban commuters have to slow down so that Dupont and Logan Circle residents can prance across 15th Street with their Whole Foods shopping bags and poodles in tow!!!

by Steve P on May 29, 2008 2:21 pm • linkreport

Change it to two way and you will see: bad idea. I live and work on 15th street and absolutely love it the way it is now. It is extremely predictable. I know where the dangers might be. There is an oasis of time to cross the street because of the way the traffic runs (perfectly). This is messing with something that is not broken. Wait and see the mess that will be created if it is changed.

by wx897 on May 30, 2008 8:16 am • linkreport

I love 15th street the way it is. I think it would be a mistake to change it to two way. None of the arguments made here are convincing to me. In fact, each time you post on this subject, you note that there are "many reasons" to prefer two way to one way. However, I haven't seen a lot of reasons. Just the pedestrian issue, which your own citations demonstrate a lack of clear evidence. I mean, are drug dealing and drive by shootings a big concern for the stretch of 15th that runs from Mass to Euclid? The answer, of course, is no.

I also note that the crash analysis and pedestrian safety plan noted at Goodspeed's website doesn't identify 15th street as a particularly dangerous road.

In fact, it appears both 14th and 16th are more dangerous to pedestrians than 15th. Why make 15th as bad as those streets?

I think it makes a lot of sense to have smooth operating, reasonably quick streets running north and south. I'm a public transit user who doesn't own a car, but I still like that when I take a cab home or use zip car, the one way is better. 14th street and 16th streets are disasters of clogged traffic, but 15th runs smoothly. Why would we want to change that? To get more people on the bus? It just doesn't seem to be worth it.

by Eric on May 30, 2008 10:53 am • linkreport

I live on 15th Street right in the middle of this area. I'm really pleased that DDOT is looking at fixing the situation but I'm honestly torn on the two-way proposition.

First, the problem: 15th street is simply way too wide. It has parking on both sides and four full lanes of traffic in between. Stop for a minute and try to think of another residential street that is that wide. Throw in syncronized lights and the fact that everyone has to either turn by U street or beat each other to get into one lane by W and you have a real drag strip character to the street. People constantly run the red lights at Q and R veer dangerously into one way streets and alleys. Coupled with the increasing numbers of kids in the neighborhood, it's simply a recipe for disaster.

That said, I'm just not sure about 2-way. It'll still be a fairly wide street. Won't making it 2-way just make it a more attractive alternative to 16th in the morning as well as the evening? The only thing that would seem to materially alter the visual perception to drivers that this is a major thoroughfare is the addition of bikelanes on both sides, but the bike lanes will not be physically separated (except in the proposal to reduce it to 3 lanes 1-way and, even in that case, the separation will only be 1 foot so car doors will still intrude) so I expect drivers to just drive in them like they do on R street.

In my conversations with DDOT about the proposal, I think it's pretty clear they want to turn this street from an "urban freeway" back into a residential street but it really feels like their thinking is pretty limited.

Just as a final point, let's be clear how silly the current situation is. The residential part of 15th we're talking about here extends from Rhode Island (or Mass) to U street. That's basically 6 city blocks (12 of the little half-blocks you get with the name streets thrown in) where drivers get to floor it in a 30mph zone. Then they have to negotiate U street, or one-lane 15th to get to a street that actually gets you out of town. The effect on commute times is negligible, it just feels fast for a few blocks. Certainly, that isn't enough to justify the unsafe condition of the street.

by DCMike on May 30, 2008 2:50 pm • linkreport

DCMike: you can also go Northeast on Florida past U street (rather than cram into the 1 lane at the park). That probably doesn't change your argument, but it the way I take when I use 15th street.

by Eric on May 30, 2008 3:25 pm • linkreport

Making 15th 2-way is an obvious choice.

It's a six-lane free way for less than a mile, and that mile is almost all low-medium density residential. Plus, having it two ways will allow for a bit of extra in-bound capacity in the mornings.

by Mark on May 31, 2008 5:39 pm • linkreport

Have been using 15th for years; it provides a welcome respite from the congestion of 16th Street and navigating traffic circles. Having a pedestrian friendly city does not mean having vehicular traffic ties up everywhere. I used to live in Atlanta which is pedestrian unfriendly, car bound and full of bottlenecks. their solution to regulating speed is to force people to endlessly stop on roads without synchronized lights. You keep treating the ecology of the city as an set of abstractions and obviously have no idea how people use their own neighborhoods.

by Rich on Jun 1, 2008 12:59 am • linkreport

Switching 15th to a more multi-functional 2 lanes north, 1 lane south + bike lanes will make this street so much better for all the users. 2-way traffic will hardly affect the longer distance commuters, except to slow them to more appropriate speeds & make them drive less aggressively. Car traffic will still flow pretty smoothly on this residential street because it's still residential not commercial, and doesnt have buses.

Many one-way city streets were an invention of the 1970s when city fathers were worried that driving commuters needed to zoom in & out of downtown, or the downtown jobs would go away. They forgot that people lived in city neighborhoods and lived along streets like 15th Street. A few years ago, we removed rush hour parking restrictions on 13th Street. It's time to also treat 15th Street in a balanced way -- a street for drivers local & regional, and other users -- pedestrians & bicyclists. the proposed 2-way configurations are more beneficial overall.

2-way traffic helps reduce aggressive driving b/c drivers naturally slow down when facing on-coming traffic and will only be jockeying in 2 lanes rather than four for which car is the fastest. A narrowed more diverse travelway will encourage drivers to be more cautious and driver more slowly. 2-way traffic reduces the amount that drivers drive because they dont have to circle the block to reach a destination.

16th is a major regional mixed use street & 14th Street is a major commercial street with heavy pedestrian, bus and bicycle traffic -- the number of crashes is always something to address but as a % of those exposed to hazards it may or may not be more dangerous than a street with less foot traffic like 15th.

15th would be far more usable as a 2-way street to bicyclists. Many bicyclists (including myself) would switch from riding on 14th downtown to riding on 15th if it were two way. This better distributes bike traffic and reduces conflicts with all the roadway users on 14th St.(esp. buses & double parked cars/trucks). From a pedestrian perspective, traffic would be less intimidating because drivers would perceive the streets as mixed use rather than a mini-highway to U Street or Florida Ave. Driving speeds are likely to be slower and safer for pedestrians. The wide travelway could be made even more comfortable by adding islands to break up the crossing distance.

I live at the top of the 15th freeway stretch at Florida where the seeming raceway chokes down from 5 lanes to one. I find 15th Street's 4-5 travel lanes in one direction excessive and inappropriate for a street that serves local and regional traffic and also should better serve pedestrians and bicyclists. I look forward to working with neighbors to reconfigure this street so we can all find it safe, comfortable and convenient, no matter what mode of travel we choose. I think we can come up with something that can better serve all of us than the current configuration today.

by Cheryl Cort on Jun 2, 2008 11:24 am • linkreport

It seems to me that one lane south would be a disaster, given the number of folks who double park in this city. You need at least two lanes to avoid a complete disaster (or very wide lanes + bike lane, such as R street).

I also want to be clear that this is a 4 lane one-way. One comment refers to it as a 6 lane freeway (it isn't). Another says it is a 4-5 lane freeway. It isn't. It is a 4 lane one-way street. It is no more a free way than any other road with traffic lights. It provides smooth flow, but that isn't necessarily something to be opposed to. 6th Street provides smooth northbound traffic flow as well. And thank God for these two examples.

If you want to turn a one-way into a two-way, why not start with 17th street? That makes more sense to me anyway.

by Eric on Jun 2, 2008 1:58 pm • linkreport


You're not being straight here. It has 4 lanes of traffic in addition to parking on both sides, ergo - 6 lanes. The term "urban freeway" is DDOT's description of the road not commenters. The simple fact is, this is a residential street, with 30mph speed limits, whose configuration entices excessive speed and reckless behavior inappropriate for a residential street.

by DCMike on Jun 2, 2008 5:10 pm • linkreport

I think that the concerns about the nature of the merge North of U Street are well-founded. However, I disagree that this means that the one-way character of 15th is necessarily a bad thing.

Traffic on 15th street travels at or near 30 miles per hour consistently because the lights are timed for that speed. Why not simply reduce the travel speed to 25 miles per hour like the surrounding streets, while maintaining the timed lights? Additionally, with a few tweaks to light timings, DDOT can ensure that it is never beneficial to speed to the next light (see, for example, 16th St. Southbound in the evening). Timing lights to generally collect traffic prior to the merge at 15th and Florida--at, say, U Street--would prevent cars from collecting the momentum that encourages race-like conditions at the merge. Coupled with improvements to the intersection of 15th and Florida itself, I think this would be highly effective at reducing the dangers and annoyances of 15th street without destroying the benefits that a large number of people receive from the existence of a one-way street with lights timed to efficiently exit downtown.

Additionally, as a bicycle commuter myself, I disagree that 15th is particularly appropriate for bicycle lanes. Streets with lights that are timed for through vehicular traffic are generally poorly timed for bicycles; when I've ridden 15th St. I've hit far more lights than I would have had I taken 16th or 14th. Additionally, I believe that bicycle lanes tend to increase danger rather than decrease them on wide streets because they allow commuters to be less attentive, which can cause trouble for bicyclists who wish to make left turns or who need to move out of the bicycle lane due to obstructions or for safety reasons. Crossing several lanes of quick-moving commuter traffic to make a left turn isn't pleasant under any circumstances, so it makes more sense to encourage bicycle traffic on calmer parallel routes instead.

I definitely respect the concerns of the residents of this stretch of 15th street, and I think that they should be duly weighed against the concerns of residents of adjacent streets whose traffic flows would increase, residents of other neighborhoods that benefit from the existence of a quick exit from the downtown area, and suburban commuters. The more I read this blog, the more I get concerned that BeyondDC and others are happy to cry NIMBY when it pertains to suburban jurisdictions or new developments, but never when it pertains to existing dense urban neighborhoods. Just because the residents of 15th Street bought their homes in such a nice neighborhood doesn't mean they can do no wrong.

by Lee on Jun 2, 2008 11:09 pm • linkreport

If 15th Street is made 2-way, crossing the street will be that much more difficult and even dangerous. The way it is now, you just have to wait for one direction of traffic to clear and because traffic runs so perfectly, it is never a long wait. I agree, this is messing around with something that is working fine.

by parker on Jun 3, 2008 8:18 am • linkreport

I like the center turn lane/two bike lanes option.

Anyone ever tried to park on the left side of 15th during the evening rush? Not pretty... People treat the left lane like it's the passing lane on I-95 when, really, it's the closest moving lane to the parking lane and the sidewalk.

by Mark on Jun 5, 2008 11:17 am • linkreport

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