Early one morning last week, the nuns in the house on the corner of 13th and Quincy streets NE heard the screech and held their breath, waiting for the accustomed sound of crashing metal. None came. They dashed outside.

With a quiet thud, a white Lincoln Continental, speeding uphill on 13th, had struck an 8-year-old boy. He had dashed into the street, rushing to catch up with his mother, who had gone to church. Barbara Joyner heard the screech, too, and bounded out of the tiny chapel to find her son lying in the street.

Luckily, Edward "Buck" Joyner Jr. didn't die, nor did the drivers involved in a serious collision at the same corner two days later. But residents say a man was killed there in a traffic accident a few years ago.

Traffic accidents are not unusual, but residents in this neighborhood are convinced they're having more than their share. They are worried about the safety of the many children and elderly people who live in the area. Since 1977, they have been trying to get someone to do something to slow the speeders on 13th Street between Monroe Street and Michigan Avenue NE. This eight-block section of 13th is a steep, major thoroughfare without traffic lights or stop signs.

"The police say it's a transportation department problem, and transportation says it's a police matter," says exasperated Michael J. Burch, a training coordinator at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who lives in the 3900 block of 13th Street NE. Burch has encountered a classic case of buck-passing in his two years of correspondence with city officials. He's even tried the major's office, to no avail.

Everyone agrees there are speeders on 13th Street, yet one letter from former transportation department director Douglas N. Schneider said, "Traffic signals are not installed as a speed-control measure." Another letter said four-way stop signs were not needed.

The police occasionally have set up radar monitoring, issued tickets and posted additional speed-limit signs.

But these are not permanent solutions, Burch and other residents say. Since Joyner's accident, about 60 residents have signed a petition calling for something to be done once and for all. The petition will be sent to the mayor, City Council and officials in the transportation and police departments.

Capt. Eddy B. Sims of the 5th District police station says the street is "not any worse than anywhere else." But he adds that Quincy Street is "not a very safe place to set up radar" because of the speed of the cars barreling down 13th Street.

"Maybe a couple of stop signs on 13th Street may do the trick," he concedes, but adds that the decision is up to the transportation department. Bernard O'Donnell, deputy director of the transportation department, said he is aware of Joyner's accident and residents' requests for action. "We're looking into it," he says, but adds that he is not sure when action might be taken.

O'Donnell notes that 13th has long been a main roadway, according to federal traffic guidelines. "Just because the citizens think a four-way stop will help, doesn't mean we think it will."