Tunlaw Road traffic-calming measure wins praise from Glover Park residents

Robert Thomson
Columnist September 11, 2013

I’ve heard nothing but praise so far for the District’s traffic-calming redesign of a notorious intersection along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor. D.C. chief traffic engineer James Cheeks was putting it mildly last month when he referred to the previous setup at Tunlaw Road and 37th Street NW as a “dilemma zone” for drivers and pedestrians.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

We have lived at the “dilemma zone” intersection in Glover Park for 24 years. During that time, we have heard thousands of horn-blowing confrontations, surely unmatched by any other intersection in the city.

There have been massive numbers of finger-pointing moments, with associated language, and numerous bumper-to-bumper stalemates in which drivers actually turned their car engines off in an effort to out-pout one another.

Now, no horns, no fingers and no pouting. Great job by the District Department of Transportation. The traffic has been calmed.


WASHINGTON, D.C., AUGUST 20, 2013: A bicyclist uses the center bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue. (Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post) (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Jim and Sue Folliard, the District

DG: The previous version of this intersection was an elongated “X” shape that invited uncertainty and confrontation. Traffic safety advocates who break down their solutions into education, enforcement and engineering would recognize the new design as an example of the third “E.” The changes completed in the summer pivot lanes so that drivers are much more likely to stop at the stop signs and recognize who has the right of way.

Of the many changes that DDOT has made along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor over the past year, this is likely to be the most widely accepted, because the safety problem was so easy to recognize. Other traffic-calming changes along the avenue that reduced through lanes and added pockets for left turns have both supporters and opponents.

On Wisconsin Avenue, unlike Tunlaw Road, it was a good thing some redesigns were done with paint rather than concrete, because they had to be undone when drivers complained that traffic wasn’t just calmed, it was congealed.

BRAZEN BICYCLING

The expanding network of bike lanes has generated its own safety concerns.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have noticed an issue in the bike lanes. The place I see this is on 15th Street NW at F Street, but I am sure it happens elsewhere. Bike riders in the lanes ignore the red lights and just go blasting through.

I am getting used to this, but I am concerned that this is an accident waiting to happen with unsuspecting tourists. Don’t bicyclists have to abide by the same signals cars do?

Alice Cave, Alexandria

DG: The District and other jurisdictions are applying the engineering “E” to create transportation alternatives in the form of bike lanes . It’s more than just a nice option. It’s a recognition of 21st-century urban realities that include traffic congestion, clean air, better land use and affordable housing.

But in this case, the engineering needs to be supported by education and enforcement.

Yes, cyclists are supposed to obey the same traffic laws as drivers and pedestrians. And, like other travelers, many will ignore those laws if they think they can get away with it.

Too many cyclists are ignoring the signals along 15th Street, or riding the wrong way along the L Street bike lane, which endangers other cyclists as well as pedestrians. Too many drivers are parking in the bike lanes or failing to check their mirrors when they pull into the lanes to make a left turn. Too many pedestrians are jaywalking through the cycle lanes, which is dangerous for them as well as for the cyclists.

NOT-BRIGHT IDEA

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I’ve been seeing something over the past few months that has grown to near-alarming levels: automobiles with one light out — usually a brake light, occasionally a driving light.

I don’t drive that much, but everywhere that I’ve driven, I’ve seen at least one car with at least one light out. We’re talking all jurisdictions.

I make a point, whenever it’s safe, to let the driver know.

Personally, I think it’s because of the economy, but I would have thought that would have started a year or more ago. I’d be curious whether other drivers are seeing the same thing.

Marc Schick, Takoma Park

DG: It’s difficult to measure whether more vehicles are operated without a complete set of lights. But this bothers me: Neither Maryland nor the District require annual safety inspections, a common way of detecting such problems.

Drivers sometimes are unaware that a light is burnt out, while others will simply delay a repair. Getting a vehicle inspected annually is a pain, but it’s obvious that traffic police aren’t going to catch up with the many drivers who allow their vehicles to deteriorate.

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