Now city transportation officials say they have a redesign for the area that will increase safety for all road users and reduce driver confusion. Construction, scheduled to begin next year, includes a major reconfiguration of the intersection, the addition of turn lanes on New York and Florida avenues, high-visibility crosswalks and three new park spaces.
Although the redesign isn’t expected to begin until summer, road users will begin to see changes in coming weeks, including adjustments to traffic-light timings, the addition of a speed camera, and a reduction in the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph on about a mile of New York Avenue between 4th Street NW and Florida Avenue NE.
The changes are expected to affect traffic flow in a route that carries an average of 65,000 vehicles daily and serves as a major gateway into downtown.
“We think it will have real positive benefits,” Amanda Stout, deputy chief of staff at the District Department of Transportation, said at a community meeting Monday night. She said crews in coming months will begin to install flashing speed limit warning signs, pavement markings and signs for the 25 mph speed limit.
Demolition of the former Wendy’s at the center of the intersection is expected next summer. The city used eminent domain to acquire the property, which had been at the location since the mid-1980s. The restaurant closed in September, and DDOT has since fenced the property and boarded up the windows of the building.
Under the plan, part of the Wendy’s site will be turned into an open green space with benches, flowers and some shaded areas. There will be two other parks: one to the west, next to the Peoples Building, will include landscaped areas, benches and movable furniture; and the other, north of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, will include a play area, movable furniture and green space.
City officials say they expect the intersection and its three new parks will become a gathering spot for residents and those who traverse it.
The intersection is in a fast-changing area of the NoMa district, adjacent to the NoMa-Gallaudet University Metro station. Several private developments are planned nearby in the next few years, with some going through the zoning and permitting process now, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is planning to relocate its 4,500-employee headquarters, currently near Union Station, to parcels at New York Avenue and North Capitol Street.
The roundabout is ranked among D.C.’s 10 most hazardous intersections, according to DDOT. About 80 percent of crashes involve sideswipes or rear-end collisions, officials said, suggesting driver confusion. It is also one of the most infamous traffic choke points in the city, as commuters, mostly from Maryland, head into and out of downtown.
“Ultimately this intersection project will improve pedestrian safety and productivity for those who live and work in this area today and those who will be living and working in this area in the years to come,” Stout said.
As part of the reconfiguration of the intersection, the city will restore a section of two-way traffic on Florida Avenue to improve east-west connectivity; close the O Street connection north of the ATF building; and add through lanes on New York and Florida avenues, officials said.
The project will also realign and convert First Street NE to a two-way street, which should improve north-south connectivity between the NoMa and Eckington neighborhoods.
To improve safety for cyclists, the project enhances infrastructure along Florida Avenue by ensuring a continuous protected bike lane through the intersection. A two-way protected bike lane will be included on First Street from M street to Florida Avenue, providing a connection between NoMa and Eckington. A missing link in bike lanes along First Street between M and N streets NE will be filled, resulting in continuous protected bike lanes from Union Station to the intersection.
Existing painted bike lanes will be converted to protected bike lanes on Eckington Place from Florida Avenue NE to R Street NE. The bike route will have a three-foot buffer zone and will be built adjacent to the curb.
Some residents have questioned the city’s decision to not reduce the number of traffic lanes in the area, saying that drivers are likely to ignore the reduced speed limit and pedestrians will continue to be at risk getting across nine lanes of traffic on New York Avenue. On Monday, some residents asked why the city did not consider raised crosswalks on the route and more automated enforcement.
Officials said more cameras can be added in the future to target speeders but added that because New York and Florida avenues are major thoroughfares, the number of travel lanes was maintained to keep sufficient capacity, and raised crosswalks were not appropriate for commuter routes.
“By doing this project, we’re making the traffic operation better, less confusing, and we are also providing any safety improvements in the intersection,” said Jay Smith, a DDOT consultant. “There’s many aspects of this project that are improving safety for all modes of transportation.”
The city will be bidding out the project in coming months. The work is expected to take about two years to complete.