June 28, 1983

Traffic Engineering & Operations Bureau

Department of Transportation

District of Columbia

613 G Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20001


I am writing you to strongly protest the traffic light situation at 15th Street and Pennsylvania and at 15th Street and G.

The lack of traffic control at the former intersection this morning unnecessarily created an incredibly hazardous condition. There were only blinking red lights for north-south traffic and only blinking yellow lights for east-west traffic. The net result, at one of the busiest intersections in Washington, was absolute chaos. Within the space of several minutes, I saw repeated near accidents, attributable solely to the light system described. It is hard to overstate the dangerous situation which has been created, and it is impossible to imagine what the benefit is to offset the risk that has been generated.

I crossed 15th Street at G, crossing from East to West, shortly before 8 a.m. The traffic light at that intersection had been turned off. The north-south auto traffic was continuous. Few, if any, cars are willing to stop or pause at G Street to let pedestrians cross. I saw families on their way to sightsee riveted to the curb, unable to spot a break in the traffic which would permit a safe crossing.

For the safety of all, I ask that you discontinue immediately the traffic control procedures described above and that you provide the traffic light systems at the two intersections which are usually employed.

Very truly yours,

John J. O'Connor III

July 22, 1983

Mr. John J. O'Connor III

Metropolitan Square

655 Fifteenth Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20005

Dear Mr. O'Connor:

This is in response to your recent letter regarding the operation of the traffic signal at the intersection of 15th Street, G Street, New York Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

The traffic signal controller at this intersection was recently found to be malfunctioning. The failure of a mechanical component in the controller made it impossible to display the standard sequence of operation of this traffic signal and, as a result, the signal automatically reverted to flash operation until the needed repairs could be made. The signal controller was repaired shortly after your letter was written and the signal is again operating as intended.

To minimize the likelihood of this situation occurring in the future, we have authorized the Potomac Electric Power Company to completely upgrade the signal at this intersection. The scope of work to be performed includes the placement of new signal poles and lager diameter signal lenses to improve signal visibility, the replacement of all pedestrian signal heads to improve pedestrian safety, and the installation of new traffic signal cable and a new controller to improve the reliability of this signal. This improvement will also permit us to rephase the traffic signal to permit left turns from westbound G Street NW to southbound 15th Street. PEPCO has been granted a permit to perform this work, and the modifications should begin shortly. This project carries a high priority and is expected to be completed this summer.

Please feel free to contact one of our traffic signal engineers at 727-5722 if you observe a discrepancy in the operation of this or any other traffic signal in the city. Thank you for your interest in pedestrian and traffic safety.

Sincerely yours,

George W. Schoene

Assistant Director,

Department of Transportation

October 26, 1983

Dear Mr. Schoene,

I am writing you because of your responsie reply of July 22 to my letter to you of June 28. . . .

I would like to pass on some other suggestions I have in an effort to be constructive.

First, when a crisis develops such as you described in your letter of July 22, and it is simply impossible to properly repair the mechanical or electrical signals involved, there should be a policeman posted at the intersection especially when, as was true in the case I described, the intersection involved was one of Washington's busiest.

Second. Two weekends ago, a similar situation developed at the intersection of Florida and Connecticut. People were dodging each other, were uncertain as to who had what rights when there were two blinking lights -- one red and the other yellow -- and were cursing at each other. It was a zoo, a very dangerous zoo.

Third. This morning I came down 16th Street. At 16th and P, red and yellow lights were blinking. Again, people seemed unsure of themselves.

Fourth. A new and different danger has developed at 15th and G. Until perhaps a week ago, there was a left-turn signal at G for eastbound traffic. That is no longer the case. It is desperately needed. The northbound traffic is incessant, and people attempting to turn east get so frustrated that they are driving directly in front of northbound traffic. This is an extremely serious situation.

The examples cited above have convinced me 1)blinking red and yellow lights at intersections do not diminsh the chances of accident, but substantially increase them and 2)left-turn signals are an absolute necessity when you have a steady opposite flow of traffic such as you have at 15th and G.

Let me make some more general observations about the lack of traffic control in Washington:

1.There is less traffic control utilizing policemen at the scene of busy intersections in Washington than I have ever seen in any country in the world.

2.Cars, particularly taxis, run red lights regularly here because they can do so with total confidence that they won't be caught because no police officers are ever there to watch them. The question which drivers ask themselves in Washington isn't: what is the color of the light? The question they ask is: can I make it across the intersection without getting hit?

Partially as a result of the running of red lights and partially because there is no traffic enforcement, people daily, at hundreds of intersections, cross the intersection late and end up blocking perpendicular traffic. This is an acute problem. If you would announce that this situation is intolerable and arrests will be made and then send out 50 police for a while and a lesser amount later, you would do wonders.

4.The few police cars you see here never seem to be interested in what is happening to the traffic. About two weeks ago, at about noon, a young man decided he wanted to go to the NS&T bank at the northeast corner of 15th and Pennsylvania. He was driving east on Pennsylvania. He turned south on 15th, drove about 20 feet, parked the car, turned on the hazard lights, blocked one of the busiest traffic lanes in Washington and ran across the street to do his banking, leaving behind a total traffic jam. A police car drove south, passed the offending car and did nothing. It was unbelievable.

These are just scattered examples of a portion of what one person has seen in a short time period. It really is bad. Indeed, it is the worst traffic control I have ever seen. I'm sure you must know a lot of this and don't want to see it or hear about it any more than I do.

I would like to hear from you what your views are to the specific and general problems I have described above and what corrective action you think is in order.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Very truly yours,

John J. O'Connor III

P.S. I think another serious traffic control problem here that doesn't directly apply to safety is the lack of synchronized traffic control signs. I have the general impression that if any of the signs are synchronized, it is with the aim of stopping the steady flow of traffic rather than aiding it. This, however, is another, albeit serious, problem.

December 9, 1983

Dear Mr. O'Connor:

Thank you for your recent letter concerning traffic operations and enforcement of motor-vehicle laws in our city. Your many thoughts and comments are noted, and we would like to inform you of the following:

The control equipment at each local signalized intersection as well as Central Supervisory Equipment is over 20 years old. The age of the equipment, coupled with the general obsolescence, have created significant reliability problems. The electro-mechanical nature of the equipment further exasperates our efforts to keep the system going.

It is recognized that the only solution to these problems is complete replacement of the hardware, which is a long-term solution. It is in this context we have developed a twofold plan of action: replacement of central equipment and local-control equipment exhibiting repeated failures. This program is currently in progress, but has limitations due to budget constraints. Secondly, plans and design work to install a new city-wide computerized signal system are now in the final stages. This is a long-term project, and we estimate a five-year period will be required for total completion of the construction work. We believe the foregoing plan of action will serve to provide more reliable signal operation and do appreciate your patience in this matter.

Concerning your specific comments on the traffic-signal phasing at 15th and G Streets NW, the left-turn signal for southbound 15th Street was removed after a careful study. Primarily, the minimal left-turn volumes coupled with the gaps in opposing through-traffic were the criteria for the signal removal. Field observations have shown that delay to left-turning motorists has been rduced without a compromise in safety. We will periodically observe this intersection and take the necessary actions as needed.

Lastly, as you are aware, the enforcement of motor-vehicle laws falls within the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police Department. Accordingly, we have taken the liberty of forwarding a copy of your letter to the police department for their information.

Your thoughs and comments are sincerely appreciated. . .

Sincerely Yours

George W. Schoene December 15, 1983 Dear mr. Schoene,

Thank you for your courteous, thoughtful response to my letter.

I wish you well. I also wish you some appropriations for replacement of your unreliable equipment.

Very truly yours,

John J. O'Connor III