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Dangerous Crossing in Downtown DC

Pedestrians watch for oncoming traffic by 17th Street construction zone. (Thomson)

Travelers told me they were concerned about a crossing on 17th Street NW between the Old Executive Office Building and the Office of Thrift Supervision, where a sidewalk is torn up for utility work.

The fenced in construction area, they told me during Monday's online discussion, hides a traffic signal at a mid-block crosswalk between F and G streets, where vehicles are supposed to stop on red. But one commenter pointed out that the crossing is officially closed, since it ends at the construction fence, which juts out into the southbound side of 17th Street.

sign.jpg Warning sign on fence. (Thomson)

I saw these things during a noontime tour:
-- While it's not a good idea to block off a traffic signal, vehicles stopped consistently at the crosswalk on the red signal visible across the street in front of the Old Executive Office Building. That signal is angled so that it's visible to the southbound drivers.
-- Signs say the crossing and the sidewalk are closed. They direct people to walk down to the end of the block to cross 17th or to use a courtyard to get around the closed sidewalk.
-- People aren't doing those things. The construction fence extends south just past the crosswalk. So from either side of 17th, people peer out into the street and either wait for the light to turn red or for a gap in the traffic. My concern for those folks is that they'll be so focused on the traffic nearest them that they'll miss an approaching vehicle on the other side.
-- Others are walking around the construction fence, on the 17th Street side, so that they are completely exposed to oncoming traffic.

crossing.jpg This is where people cross. (Thomson)

John Lisle, a spokesman for the District Department of Transportation, said the department sent inspectors and engineers to check on this situation. They basically confirmed what I was saying above: The fence makes the signal on the southbound side difficult to see, but the crosswalk is closed, with posted signs.

The fence is likely to be removed within the next two weeks, as the utility pipe-laying project winds up. Until then, Lisle said, the developer will provide additional arrow symbols to guide pedestrians to the courtyard detour.

traffic signal.jpg Traffic signal fenced in. (Thomson)

How does all this sound to you drivers and pedestrians who are familiar with that area, not far from the White House. That's a popular commuter route, linking Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues. Seems to me that opinions might vary along these lines:
* The setup works fine now.
* The setup puts people at risk. More should be done to protect pedestrians.
* Pedestrians are putting themselves at risk.
* Everybody needs to be extra careful in work zones, because they all present risks.

Here's a map of the area. If you look at a street view or a satellite view, you'll see it before the construction began, but the lights and crossings are in place.

View Larger Map

By Robert Thomson  |  May 7, 2009; 9:18 AM ET
Categories:  Safety  
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The pedestrians who are walking around the fence are idiotic and suicidal. I drive down that stretch daily, and I've also walked through it several times since the construction started, and there is simply no excuse for walking around the fence.

Posted by: NDIrish | May 7, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I agree that the pedestrians are putting themselves in danger by walking in the street, but as a pedestrian it is infuriating when a sidewalk is blocked due to construction. For a driver, it's the equivalant of coming to a block that is blocked off, having to turn right and go one block, wait at the light to turn left, going one block and waiting at another light to turn left, and then finally coming back to the original street. I'm guessing if there was a situation like this that happened for multiple weeks, we would be hearing complaints on this blog.

Dr. G, aren't there laws requiring construction companies to build a covered sidewalk? Why are these companies allowed to simply block of large "public" areas for the staging of their equipment?

Luckily I don't have to walk in this area of D.C. but the constant construction in Bethesda makes this a reality for me very often.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | May 7, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

The law says they have to build a temporary sidewalk. Therefore I expect to see a temporary sidewalk and not be told to "walk around the block" when car drivers would never be told to do that. So why can't the cone off a lane of the street to allow pedestrians to walk in safely?

Posted by: thetan | May 7, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I agree with UMDTerpsGirl. I am a pedestrian in this city who regularly obeys all traffic signs (yes, I'm the one standing on the corner waiting until I get the ok to cross, even if there's no one coming). It is very frustrating that this city doesn't do more to promote pedestrian safety. They shouldn't be allowed to fence off walkways. Instead, work crews should be required to provide a temporary walkway of some kind for pedestrians. This is the norm in most other major cities. Should be here too.

Posted by: Ellvee | May 7, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

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