Logan Circle residents reclaimed six lanes of pavement from rush-hour commuters yesterday morning after the D.C. Department of Transportation closed off the 24-year-old shortcut through the inner-city park.
Built as a concession to Maryland suburbanites and other commuters in 1956, the roadways sliced through the circle, dividing it into three pieces.Plans call for reuniting the circle and replacing the roadway pavement with grass, flowers and park benches.
John A. Payne, a 19-year veteran traffic engineer for the transportation department, watched in disbelief as early morning motorists routinely barreling down 13th Street NW suddenly spotted the bright, new orange-and-white barriers at the circle, then swung in an orderly fashion onto the outer roadway of the circle and continued downtown. The barriers were put in place Saturday, but their first real test came with yesterday morning's rush hour.
"We were prepared to replace barriers this morning," Payne said as he surveyed the traffic from the safe refuge of the closed street. "We expected . . . someone might run them down today. We expected a colossal mess. [But] this is going quite well."
Equally delighted was Logan Circle resident Edward Mascotti, who dodged traffic as he crossed the roadway with his two dogs, Yamo and Tasca, to reach the grassy park in the circle dominated by the bronze statue of Civil War General John A. Logan astride a horse. "On a normal morning, I'd have to be here by 7:30 in order to get across the street. nTraffic used to be so bad that I taught my dogs to race across the street on the command, 'Let's go,'" he said. "Now it's going to be easier with only one road to cross. Maybe I can even come later."
The closing of the 13th Street connection through Logan Circle follows a decision earlier this year to reverse a three-decade old policy of converting the street to one-way traffic southbound in the mornings and northbound in the evenings. A combination of pressure from residents of the circle, now an expensive, renovated Victorian neighborhood, and the availability of subway service for suburban commuters led the city to make the changes.
The reuniting of the circle created one new traffic problem.
"There was no way we could synchronize the traffic lights on the circle with traffic feeding in and out of" the single block of Vermont Avenue between the circle and Q Street, said Payne. The solution was to make the block one-way northbound.
Payne's boss, chief of traffic operations Gary Wendt, said the Vermont Avenue change came only after many community meetings. "They didn't want their street one-way because they have to go four blocks to get back around to the block," he said. "Finally, we said if Vermont Avenue can't be done, then the circle can't be done. That decided it."
The change in the traffic pattern on the circle is officially a test for the next two weeks, but it is almost certain to become permament, according to Wendt.
"This is a genuine test. We'll be out there monitoring it," he said. "We're committed to the change, however. Only a disaster would change it now -- like the circle people changing their minds about it. The commuters don't count [in this decision]."
Ralph Cherry, who lives just north of the circle, cast his vote yesterday. "It feels much better like this," he said, as he surveyed the traffic from the circle. "People have a much better chance of getting across the street now. It was a disaster around here before.