Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Between Interstate 395 and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, there is no indication of what highway you are on. Why is there no signage to indicate that you are on the Southeast Freeway, or Interstate 695? Sometimes these names are used in Mapquest and other mapping programs.
Greg White, Alexandria
DG: That half mile is part of a highway network along the Anacostia River that confuses even some veteran commuters. It all started about a half century ago with the original plans for interstate highways through the District.
Much of that plan was never built, leaving drivers to deal with some odd maneuvers and some odd highway fragments as they travel along I-295, D.C. 295, the 11th Street Bridge, I-395 and I-695. The fragment of Southeast Freeway that White refers to winds up at Barney Circle, which isn’t really a circle.
There have been recent changes in the area, and they are good, but they’ve added to the confusion for some drivers and some online mapping programs trying to keep up.
The changes generally fall under the heading of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, a cluster of projects that will benefit both long-distance commuters and people who live and work in the neighborhoods near the river.
At the end of last month, the District Department of Transportation opened a ramp from southbound D.C. 295 onto the 11th Street Bridge. For thousands of commuters, that’s a big deal, because it lets them stay on highways as they drive between the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. It also keeps them off local D.C. streets. The ramp going the other way is scheduled to open this fall.
But there’s another project in the works that will directly affect the half mile White asked about. Right now, drivers heading east on the main part of the freeway follow signs directing them off I-695 (which continues onto the 11th Street Bridge) and toward Pennsylvania Avenue SE at Barney Circle.
Most drivers on that stretch don’t really want anything to do with Pennsylvania Avenue. What they want is to make a left at a traffic light on the east side of the Sousa Bridge and get onto northbound D.C. 295.
Once that second ramp at the 11th Street Bridge opens in the fall, no one in his right mind will continue making the maneuver that winds up at that traffic light.
So what the District plans to do as part of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative is convert the old connecting stretch of freeway into something more locally friendly, to be called Southeast Boulevard. Under the new name, this four-lane, at-grade boulevard with a green median and neighboring trail will link Barney Circle and 11th Street SE.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
This is one of my pet peeves: At an intersection that has two lanes in each direction and is controlled by traffic signals, I’m in line wanting to turn left on green, with my left turn signal on, and the opposing drivers (some of whom use their right turn signals) are turning right.
The cars in front of me don’t attempt the turn until all of the opposing traffic completes their right turns. Why? Also, those cars that are turning often slide into the other lane — right turns move into the left lane, left turns move into the right lane.
I was taught that you turn into the appropriate lane: left turn to the left lane, right turn to the right lane.
Tom Langenfeld, Crofton
DG: Langenfeld was taught well. But I think he solves his own mystery about driver behavior when he lists his secondary peeves.
Those drivers ahead of him who are hesitating to make the left turns probably have witnessed the same performance that our letter writer has: First, not all drivers signal their intentions, so it’s prudent for a left-turning driver to make sure the motorist in the opposite lane is going to turn right rather than continue straight ahead, setting up the scenario for a collision.
Second, drivers do slide across lanes. That isn’t good driving, but a defensive driver is aware of the possibility that both turning cars could wind up trying to occupy the same lane. Getting through an intersection is one of the toughest things we have to do while driving, and I can’t fault motorists who hesitate long enough to verify what the other driver will do.