Photo by Rob Mac on Flickr.
Here’s a simple way to make drivers’ lives easier that doesn’t hurt any cyclists, pedestrians, transit, or anyone else: Put signs on the approaches to DC about major road closures.
Especially on weekends, special events often close large swaths of streets downtown, in part because it’s necessary, and in part because the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA), unlike its counterparts in other cities, won’t let cross traffic pass through a special event, even at traffic lights.
I’ve had many experiences driving home from Alexandria or National Airport, getting off at 12th Street, and encountering crippling backups in the 12th Street tunnel as every car has to turn right or left on Constitution.
It then takes a long time to crawl on Constitution past the Ellipse, because lots of other people are coming off the 14th Street bridge on 14th Street and also turning. White House-related security closures can extend westward to 18th or even beyond.
In most of these cases, there’s plenty of capacity downtown. It’s just that drivers don’t know to take the routes that are clear. Often there are notices from DDOT and in the press about closures, but clearly many people don’t know or remember to check. I often don’t look through neighborhood listservs before driving to Virginia.
When 12th Street is closed at Constitution, it would help enormously if DC could just put a sign on the 14th Street bridge saying this. Drivers could know to take 14th or use the I-395 tunnel instead, depending on their destination. Or, better yet, put signs on 395 and the GW Parkway so drivers can route around to the Memorial, TR, and Key Bridges if they’re going somewhere north or west of downtown.
This isn’t a brand-new idea. A suggestion for real-time signs is part of the 14th Street Bridge corridor EIS, which has been in the works since 2006. There’s no need to wait years to make this happen, though.
An open data feed of closures, frequently updated with closures for the day, might also be useful. People could build apps that help drivers know what roads to avoid.
Some traffic is inevitable — we’re not realistically going to make downtown DC a speedy place to zip around by car at rush hour. But there’s no good reason for people to spend 10 minutes in traffic at one intersection when the roads all around are empty, simply because people don’t know ahead of time to take a different route.
And rather than arguing about a “war on cars,” let’s prioritize in opportunities to help drivers that don’t involve pushing other road users aside. There are plenty that we just aren’t tackling yet.