Too many turns at dance
The main criticism I've heard from travelers about the District's experiment with a Barnes Dance style pedestrian scramble in Chinatown is that drivers are making too many turns. So I spent an hour today loitering on the corner of Seventh and H streets NW counting turners.
This is a modified Barnes Dance. In the full version, there would be one light cycle for pedestrians to cross any way they want to and then cycles for motorized vehicles to proceed. In the D.C. version, pedestrians get a short cycle in which they can cross any way they want to, but they also get the standard phases in which they can cross either Seventh or H streets directly.
The District Department of Transportation picked this intersection for an experiment because at some times of day it has more people crossing on foot than crossing in vehicles. The intersection is right by the Chinatown arch and is very busy at midday and when there are events at the nearby Verizon Center.
For this crossing to work best, vehicles can't turn -- either right or left. That would gum up the flow of pedestrians and traffic. (One of the key issues with Barnes Dance-style intersections is that they can back up traffic in a congested area, such as downtown Washington.)
Pedestrians seem to have adapted well to the different style of crossing, but drivers ... not so much.
I staked it out from 11:10 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. Tuesday. By my count, 18 cars made turns. Most were right turns. Many were done without signaling.
You say we need enforcement? There were D.C. police officers on three of the four corners, and they were doing a fine job. Each stood a few feet out from the curb and redirected misguided drivers before they could turn. I saw them block turners a dozen times. Again, they were mostly right turns.
And by block, I mean, "No, no, no!" or "Hey, hey!" with an outstretched arm pointing the driver straight ahead. Or the wordier, "Gotta go straight! Straight!" Whatever version the officers used, it eventually got the driver's attention, though it wasn't always easy.
That's the thing: Any driver going through a congested downtown intersection has a lot to think about, and they're not always the right things. Many drivers have the instinct to look for a No Left sign, but it's rare to ban right turns on green. I think that's why I saw more of that action. Drivers didn't expect a ban on rights.
I liked this style of enforcement. The officers didn't catch every turner, as my count shows, but they made their point and they didn't jam up traffic by pulling cars over to write tickets. In fact, the traffic flowed very well during the hour I was there, and the pedestrians were well-behaved. (So were the cyclists.)
But how often do we want three city police officers working one downtown intersection? Won't we eventually have to rely on the drivers' experience and on the signage?
Aside from spotting an officer waving his arms, a driver has four chances to identify the intersection's rules. On green, the traffic signal shows a straight ahead arrow. There are signs with black turn arrows and a red slash through them, one for right and one for left. And there's a black and white NO TURNS sign.
Can you think of anything else that would get drivers' attention? And given the sensory overload at that busy, gaudy intersection, how many more signs could we have?
Watch a northbound car on 7th Street turn left onto H Street.
| July 13, 2010; 2:25 PM ET
Categories: District, Driving, Traffic Safety | Tags: Barnes Dance, DDOT, Dr. Gridlock
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