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New D.C. signal timing snares New York Ave. traffic

Inbound traffic is backed up on New York Avenue NE after the timing of traffic lights was adjusted at Bladensburg Road.
Inbound traffic is backed up on New York Avenue NE after the timing of traffic lights was adjusted at Bladensburg Road. (Gerald Martineau/the Washington Post)
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By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009

At an intersection with 14 lanes of traffic, three gas stations, two restaurants and three hotels, more than a few folks are bound to be unhappy trying to get where they're going at rush hour.

But a traffic signal problem at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE this week left virtually everyone fuming.

"We apologize to people who got stuck in traffic," said John Lisle, a spokesman for the District Department of Transportation.

Traffic is usually a mess on New York Avenue, a major artery from the eastern suburbs into the heart of the city. But it was made worse Wednesday when the District switched to a timing pattern intended to enable pedestrians to safely cross at the intersection.

"If you're going to give pedestrians more time, the time has to come from somewhere," Lisle said. "So they shortened the [green] cycle for New York Avenue."

Crossing New York Avenue's eight lanes and two islands might not be a challenge for the fleet of foot -- before he got hurt, Clinton Portis could sprint such a distance in little more than four seconds -- but most mortals take longer to cover almost 40 yards.

An average walking pace is about 3.3 miles per hour (3 mph for women, 3.5 mph for men). At that speed, it would take 29.7 seconds to get across New York Avenue.

In setting the timer for the new pedestrian crosswalk signal, District traffic engineers allowed for that. Then, traffic trying to escape town during Wednesday's evening rush backed up from the intersection to Florida Avenue, 1.8 miles. Incoming drivers fumed through a repeat Thursday morning.

"It created longer backups than we anticipated," Lisle said. "We quickly made adjustments and gave the drivers a longer green. "

After the adjustments were made Thursday morning, the department sent out traffic control workers to help speed drivers through the intersection.

"We're going to have to look to see if there's some other solution," said Karyn LeBlanc, a DDOT spokeswoman. "That's a very long light, and we can't strand [pedestrians] on the medians."


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