For years, residents of the Logan Circle area have complained about heavy traffic along 13th Street NW between the District and Maryland.
As the neighborhood has become increasingly revitalized by young and politically astute newcomers, the city has turned a sharper eye to the problem.
Last January, with the opening of Metro's Red Line to Silver Spring, the D.C. Department of Transportation made an effort to reduce the number of vehicles using the 13th Street route.
DOT changed 13th Street -- which was one way coming into the city during the morning rush hour and one way going out in the evening -- to two-way traffic at all times.
While the effectiveness of that move is still being debated, the push to get commuters off 13th Street and onto public transportation continues.
Last week, DOT announced plans to seal off two inner roadways of 13th Street that allow traffic to pass through Logan Circle, and to divert all traffic, northbound and southbound, into three outer lanes on either side of the circle.
Acting Transportation Director James E. Clark III estimates that in two to three years the circle will be well on its way to becoming a community gathering place, much as Dupont Circle is today.
Clark said the change is in keeping with the original plan of Pierre L'Enfant, who designed the city's layout in the late 1700s. "Do you know his definiation of a circle? He called it the focal point of a community -- a 'point of great prospect.'
"In Logan Circle, we have a large area of open space which is not accessible to the community, which has no prospects, because a road is going through its center. But that is going to change."
Clark says the plan has been in the works for "at least the past four years" and insists it was not motivated by pressure from civic groups in the area.
"We have not had an increased amount of citizen comment with regard to the traffic pattern on 13th Street," Clark said. "For a long, long time, that corridor has been identified as one where we had to establish a more acceptable pattern."
The District government, he added, is interested in the quality of life in all the city's neighborhoods. When the traffic flow at Logan Circle is changed, Clark said, the quality of life in that area will improve. This, and not the cry of angry voters, is reason enough for the change, he said.
But in addition to any inspiration which L'Enfant's ideals may have contributed to the changes, residents of the Logan Circle -- 13th Street community say they gave the city an added push.
Central Northwest Civic Association President Marian E. Howard, a 13th Street resident for 15 years, says she is "definitely in favor" of the proposed change. Asked if her group found it necessary to apply pressure to the city government to bring about the revamping of 13th Street, her reply was a swift and firm: "Oh, yes."
"We always had it (the closing of the circle) in mind after 13th Street was restored to two-way status. We wrote letters, made calls and worked very hard to get the council involved. John Wilson, David Clarke and Hilda Mason were very helpful, partially because they knew how interested the community was, I'm sure.
"And of course, we yelled and screamed and told Schneider (former DOT director Doug Schneider) exactly what we wanted."
Howard says "it's heaven" since two-way traffic has been restored to the street -- "heaven compared to the way it was before," she quickly adds.
Although 13th Street now is easier to cross and there are longer parking periods, Howard complains that Maryland commuters still use it "as their private raceway." This problem, she added, will be solved by closing the circle and thus slowing the traffic.
Thomas Lodge, former commissioner of the Area Neighborhood Commission and a long-time resident of the Logan Circle area, says the changes took place because "we just kept talking to Doug Schneider.
"Every time I'd see him, in any context, I'd mention the problem," Lodge recalls. He adds Schneider "probably felt like telling me to go away, but he, Clark, and really, everybody over at DOT, was very cooperative."
Lodge says the current efforts to restructure traffic patterns on 13th Street took about three years "and pressure from people all up and down the street."
In his four years as an ANC commissioner, Lodge says he heard constantly from a diverse group of people, including senior citizens, church groups and parents of small children, all of whom were concerned about the potential hazards of 13th Street traffic.
The key factor in lobbying for the restored circle "was getting DOT to realize that it (the circle) should never have been changed in the first place," Lodge says. While he wouldn't give citizen pressure all the credit for bringing about the changes, Lodge readily agrees that politics played a major role.
"Home rule, and getting a group of elected representatives who know that they have a responsibility to the residents, certainly didn't hurt matters," he says. "And it probably doesn't hurt to have a group of politically aware, articulate and well-organized people involved."
The inner lanes of 13th Street near the circle are scheduled to close Nov. 1. Temporary barriers will be erected at first, with stationary ones to be installed a week after that, Clark said. DOT is asking for public comment on the change from now through Oct. 5.
"We'll be out there watching them (commuters) on the first day," Lodge said. "It should be interesting to see how they cope with having to go around the circle . . . We're not vindictive in this community, but it'll feel good to have the shoe on the other foot for a change."