Sometimes it seems that planners and painters of white lines on roadways save their caprice or perverse humor for intersections, perhaps to draw attention to their obscure and thankless occupations.
There is a peculiar and aggravating intersection at Eastern and Georgia avenues, where Washington and Maryland meet. As if the road construction crews had been supervised by W.C. Fields, Georgia Avenue staggers into Maryland, jogging one lane to the left.
Several years ago the white lines were repainted on the D.C. side. The old lines had been rather creatively fashioned, bending gradually to the left so that northbound drivers could find the corresponding lane on the other side of Eastern Avenue. The new lines showed no such care. Maryland be damned--they ran doggedly parallel to the roadsides, so that motorists crossing Eastern Avenue in the right lane were confronted with a curb in their path as well as a formidable succession of telephone poles and street signs.
The consequences were predictable. Right-lane drivers would try to finesse their way to the left, only to be honked back into line by incensed center-laners. Left-laners had the luxury of two lanes to choose from on the Maryland side and could remain comfortably oblivious to the jockeying on their right. Some drivers remembered how the intersection was supposed to work, but others either had forgotten or were unfamiliar with the terrain. The veteran right-laner was discernible by the way he stopped at the red light: half a car length beyond everyone else and slightly angled into the other lane, thereby making clear his claim to the right lane opposite. Body language has its vehicular counterpart.
Such a lapse in cooperative lane delineation is understandable where distinct political jurisdictions meet. Commendably, the situation was eventually rectified and the intersection now functions as it used to. Not so with another notorious intersection in the District.
Proceeding south on 16th Street one encounters a sign at Florida Avenue that directs drivers to use 17th Street to continue downtown. Pursuing this line of supposed least resistence, the driver finds himself on a three-lane, one-way street, and one of the city's richest pothole preserves.
Two blocks farther, crossing New Hampshire Avenue, 17th Street becomes four lanes. On the three-lane section immediately before New Hampshire Avenue the right lane is reserved for parking at all times, leaving the two left lanes for traffic. Across the avenue, parking is permitted in the far left lane from 6:30 p.m. until 7 a.m., Monday through Friday. The right lane has parking at all times. That leaves only the two center lanes for traffic.
The professional white liners have been hard at work here. Lines have been applied across New Hamshire Avenue to properly distribute drivers from the three-lane section into four. As the accompanying map shows, the far left lane (often called the passing lane) is fed into the left parking lane. The unsuspecting or over-confident driver, sailing toward the wider four-lane horizon ahead, may find his engine in his lap (front engine models only).
The center-lane driver finds himself comfortably ensconced in the second lane from the left, unmindful that his neighbor has had to choose between two forms of self-destruction: hitting the parked car(s) or merging into an occupied lane. With his windows up and air-conditioning and radio on, he may not even hear the crash. This leaves the two right lanes untouched by the southbound traffic.
This might seem a silly arrangement, but, if one supposes that the car at the head of the parking lane in the three-lane section is reserved for the traffic commissioner or some other influential person, one can see that he may get in his car and proceed smoothly into traffic without turning his head.
Whoever parks in that spot may not own the road, but he owns at least one lane.