The current layout of the "virtual circle" at the intersection of Florida Avenue and New York Avenue NE. Image by Tom Bridge licensed under Creative Commons.

The intersection of Florida Avenue and New York Avenues NE has long been the scourge of neighborhood residents and drivers alike. The District Department of Transportation is considering five options for redesigning it. 

Five roads meet at the intersection: Eckington Place, First Street, Florida Avenue, New York Avenue and O Street. Residents jokingly call it "Dave Thomas Circle" because there's a Wendy's in the middle, and DDOT refers to it as a "virtual circle."

Since 2010, eastbound traffic on Florida Avenue has detoured onto First Street in order to continue east or turn left onto New York Avenue. 

The current flow of traffic around the virtual circle. Image by DDOT.

But the 2010 redesign created its own issues. Pedestrians and cyclists must cross multiple short stretches of street with lights that often feel unsynchronized, and traffic often backs-up from First Street onto both eastbound and westbound Florida Avenue. Even buses had to detour around it for five years.

DDOT has five preliminary design ideas

All five of DDOT's preliminary alternatives for the virtual circle include wider sidewalks and more green space. They also call for ending the detour of eastbound Florida Avenue traffic onto First Street as well as closing the little street that connects northbound New York Avenue to Florida Avenue in front of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 

"In general, we would like to reduce the number of intersections," said Jeff Abravesh, a project manager at Jacobs working on a study of the circle study for DDOT, at a public meeting on April 4. "We also want to simplify the path for pedestrians and bicyclists, and create more open space."

Abravesh said the goal, if possible, is to cut the number of vehicular intersections to three from five.

Below, you can see alternatives one, two, and three. Each keeps the Wendy's at the center of the circle and makes some kind of modification to the DDOT-owned land that surrounds it. Click each to enlarge a key that explains the details of the idea.

Image by DDOT.

Image by DDOT.

Image by DDOT.

The fourth and fifth alternatives would involve razing the Wendy's property, a move that meeting attendees were in favor of.

Image by DDOT.

Image by DDOT.

Alternatives three, four and five also include protected bikeways that will connect to the planned protected bikeway on Florida Avenue NE east of 3rd Street via a shared path with pedestrians under the railroad bridge.

Residents are concerned about pedestrian space and car speed

Residents at the meeting raised concerns on a number of issues ranging from pedestrian and bike space to slowing automobile traffic on New York Avenue.

Abravesh and other DDOT officials emphasized the wider sidewalks, protected bikeways and a planned dedicated signal phase for pedestrians and cyclists among the improvements that are proposed for the virtual circle. They asked residents for comments, adding that they are still in the preliminary design phase and elements can be added.

Residents indicated that they would like a pedestrian crosswalk on all four sides of the First Street and New York Avenue section of the circle, something none of the designs currently includes.

DDOT officials did not comment directly on this but an additional crossing would likely increase the length of the light cycle at the intersection, thus slowing traffic.

"I'm not seeing a lot of street design to slow people down," said one attendee at the meeting. "I think speed is really important."

For example, none of the designs include changes to the right turn onto Florida Avenue from westbound New York Avenue that, due to the wide turning radius, cars can take at higher speeds and endanger pedestrians in the crosswalk. Drivers often do not anticipate pedestrians there when they make their turns, residents said.

The DDOT officials agreed that the corner encourages faster turns but simply asked residents to submit comments on it, rather than outline ways that traffic could be slowed.

Changes to the intersection will take a while

The alternatives presented are still a long way from reality. Once an alternative is selected, then DDOT must conduct preliminary engineering, engineering and final design phases before construction can begin, said Abravesh.

In addition, despite positive resident response to demolishing the Wendy's at the circle's center, DDOT officials said its only an alternative being considered and that they have not begun discussions with the restaurant's owner over land acquisition or eminent domain.

Abravesh also declined to comment on a potential price tag for the redesigned virtual circle.

DDOT is asking resident's for comments on their preferred design and other thoughts on the virtual circle options through April 14, though Abravesh said the date can be extended.