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A turn lane that shouldn't be

Who's Responsible: District Department of Transportation
Number of votes to fix: 1

For much of the day, and especially during the evening rush, there's a backup on the northbound lanes of 16th Street in Columbia Heights. There's lots of traffic and lights and pedestrians, so some congestion is to be expected. But a major culprit is painted right on the roadway where 16th meets Irving Street. At that point, the right hand lane of 16th is designated for right turns only, forcing two lanes of heavy traffic into one. The result is predictable: Traffic backs for quite a ways south on 16th, often for many blocks and through numerous lights. Once drivers clear Irving, traffic generally flows at the posted speed limit.

A DDOT spokesman said the turn-only restriction is to make it easier for cars coming north on 15th Street to merge onto 16th. Fifteenth ends just north of Irving and that's where the merge takes place. But it seems that DDOT is underestimating the success of its own planning. There is room for cars to merge from 15th to 16th at all times. But it actually gets easier during the critical evening rush because of parking restrictions that give drivers an extra lane to merge. Also, just north of Irving is where there is a reversible lane on the left hand side of 16th, giving drivers during the evening rush an extra lane. The result of all this is that traffic naturally moves left, away from 15th, making the merge easier.

Another quirk of the turn-only lane is that it forces bus drivers to either break the law or dangerously force their way to the left side of 16th. That's because there is a bus stop right on 16th at the corner of Irving. So bus drivers have the choice of going straight through the light in violation of the turn-lane restriction or nosing their way into the single lane of traffic in the left-hand lane. Most buses just go straight through the light--and with little trouble, evidence that the turn-lane restriction may not be necessary.



By Washington Post Editors  |  July 6, 2010; 4:42 PM ET
Categories:  The District , Unfixed  
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