Call it New York Avenue Spring, the silent rebellion against roadwork tyranny.
After a month of flashing signs warning that bridge reconstruction would choke congested traffic to a virtual standstill, after The Washington Post and other media outlets spread the word that gridlock was in the offing, drivers have rebelled against dictatorship by the orange cone and Jersey barrier.
They have taken to the streets — the District’s other streets — and many commuters say driving New York Avenue is better than it has ever been despite work that narrows six lanes of traffic to four.
“This morning’s commute was fantastic once again,” Jeff Lancaster, who commutes daily from Annapolis, said Tuesday. “The last week and a half have been the best commutes in over 11 years. Obviously, everyone is taking another route, and I hate to let out this big secret.”
That a rebellion was underway probably first surfaced in tweets from the highway, but anyone sitting at home could watch real-time traffic cameras, which showed gaping holes in traffic that usually was bumper to bumper.
Before the construction began at 5 p.m. on a Monday, the average speed in the seven-tenths of a mile stretch that includes the bridge was 21 mph, according to data from INRIX, a company that provides real-time traffic information used by navigation applications. On Monday of this week, the average at that hour was 33 mph.
If that were shown on a live traffic map, 21 mph would be colored yellow, but 33 mph would show as green.
The bailout route of choice — Rhode Island Avenue — has taken on a very different color, too. It’s rarely clear sailing in the best of times because blocking the box seems de rigueur at the tortured intersection where Rhode Island meets Florida Avenue and a bunch of other streets that crunch together badly. That can cause backups that grow to several blocks. Now, it’s worse.
“It appeared immediately to us on our map that it looks like most drivers are taking Rhode Island Avenue to route around that section of New York Avenue,” said Jim Bak of INRIX. At 5 p.m. Monday, traffic that typically would have been rolling at 21 mph was crawling at 16 mph.
Bak said it will all shake out.
“We often see DDOT advanced warnings heeded by drivers en masse,” he said, referring to the D.C. Department of Transportation. “Then, after several days, drivers realize that the street they were told to avoid isn’t as bad as was predicted. Then, some drivers return while others continue to stay away until construction is completed.”
It this case, that will be two years.