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A new puzzler at N.Y. and Fla. avenues

Work crews painting new traffic-line markings where several streets meet are creating congestion issues of their own, some drivers say.
Work crews painting new traffic-line markings where several streets meet are creating congestion issues of their own, some drivers say. (Michael S. Williamson)

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By Ashley Halsey III
Sunday, October 17, 2010

There are the boneheads, the brazen, the frustrated and the confused. What they all have in common is the ability to violate traffic laws at perhaps the region's most complex intersection.

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It might not be accurate even to call the area where New York and Florida avenues come together an "intersection," since by strict definition an intersection is where "A and B" meet.

At the much-cursed place in Northeast Washington where (a) New York and (b) Florida avenues come together, there also is (c) First Street and (d) O Street, plus the strong influences of (e) P Street and (f) Eckington Place.

If you count them all up, it's about 21 lanes of traffic tangling, and not one of the streets is at a 90-degree angle to another. Were New York and Florida not two of the capital's major arteries, the cacophony of weird angles might be just another quaint reminder of that French rascal Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who began designing the city before the dawn of the 19th century.

Traffic was light then, but it generally moved faster than it does during 21st-century rush hour.

When the District announced that it was going to create an innovative new traffic pattern at the confluence of the various streets, many a frustrated commuter prayed that meant the daily backups would be alleviated.

Nice thought, but not the main reason for the overhaul.

"Safety was the primary reason for it," said John Lisle of the D.C. Department of Transportation. "It's a complicated intersection. It was an issue of safety for the drivers and pedestrians."

Lisle said traffic engineers are still tweaking traffic-light timing to improve flow and resolve a problem or two.

"Overall, we feel the intersection is working well," he said.

It's too early to tell how much safer it may be, but commuters haven't noticed much improvement, and the changes have created a new set of problems.

Whether safety or congestion relief is its genesis, the new traffic pattern is both unique and revolutionary. It turns a bunch of angled streets into a sort of traffic circle, though there isn't a curve to be found anywhere.


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