Photo by HooverStreetStudios on Flickr.

Today, the roads and traffic patterns around Washington Circle make it difficult and dangerous to get into or through it on foot. A plan from the National Park Service and DDOT will fix that by adding more crosswalks, paths, and traffic signals.

Right now, there are only 4 crosswalks in and out of the circle, each crossing at least 3 lanes of traffic. Two of them, at New Hampshire Avenue, dump pedestrians in a very tiny triangle where they then have to then cross one direction of New Hampshire to continue in any direction.

The other two, which line up with Pennsylvania Avenue on each side, also lead to triangular islands. They don’t have signals, forcing pedestrians to wait for a gap in speeding traffic. From the triangles, the only crosswalk leads to yet another island, between Pennsylvania and K, forcing multiple extra crossings to reach an actual block with actual buildings.

People walking along 23rd clearly don’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, cross up to 6 roads just to traverse the circle. Instead, they cross where there is no light and then walk on the grass. Well-worn “desire lines,” especially on the north and south sides to get to 23rd Street make this very clear.


Left: Pedestrian refuge at New Hampshire Avenue. Right: Path to 23rd Street.
Images from NCPC.


The National Park Service and DDOT want to fix this.  Fortunately, instead of using the strategy of just fencing off parks to stop pedestrians, as they wanted to do for the triangle park at Q Street and the Dupont Circle Metro, the Park Service is doing the right thing: they will add walkways and move some.


Left: Washington Circle today. Image from Google Maps.
Right: Planned park pathway layout. Image from NCPC.


DDOT will add crosswalks and new signals that line up with the new walkways. After this project, every pedestrian crossing in and out of Washington Circle will have a traffic signal. DDOT also plans more signals and crosswalks on the roads between the circle and Pennsylvania Avenue or K Street, letting pedestrians cross directly in sensible directions.


DDOT plans for Washington Circle. Image from NCPC. Click to enlarge.


The plan also calls for a fence around the remainder of the circle. This will stop people from walking in and out at other places.

I’m not very enthusiastic about this recent NPS push for adding more fences. Down the street from Washington Circle, they’re proposing another fence, also to “eliminate the creation of social paths,” for the triangle between 21st, I, and Pennsylvania NW.

Instead of holding the existing layout sacrosanct, at Washington Circle, they are working to accommodate pedestrians. By placing crosswalks at the main places people want to cross, this traffic circle is about to get a lot safer.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.