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In D.C., a One-Week Pilot Tests a Traffic Circle Redesign

The vision for a safer Grant Circle. For now, DDOT is doing a one-week trial version. Image: DDOT

A traffic circle free-for-all that's been a constant source of danger for bike riders and pedestrians in Washington, DC, is about to get a one-week makeover.

Canaan Merchant at Greater Greater Washington has the details:

Grant Circle is located in the heart of Petworth, at the intersection of New Hampshire and Illinois Avenues and 5th and Varnum Streets. There are no traffic lights, and the circle has two wide travel lanes that drivers often speed through. Between 2013 and 2015, there were 14 crashes at Grant Circle, four of them involving cyclists...

[The District Department of Transportation] recently painted new crosswalks to help make it easier for pedestrians to get to the park space in the middle. Longer term, the city's Rock Creek East II Livability Study recommends renovating the circle so there is only one travel lane for cars, a bike lane, wider sidewalks, and parking. This would cut down on speeding and collisions without having to introduce traffic signals.

For now, DDOT will be studying a one-lane configuration for a week starting May 22. The agency's traffic models indicate a one-lane circle will lead to backups on the approaching streets, but a spokesperson told Merchant the agency is willing to give it a try because "the travel model does have some limitations when used on a circle configuration."

It's troubling that the city may allow automobile delay to be the limiting factor on what looks like a great improvement, but DC deserves credit for testing out a safer design, even if only for a week.

DDOT told Merchant that one week is a "good balance" between having enough time to study the change and "concerns we heard from neighbors." Still, Merchant wonders whether a single week, which could be influenced by weather or a number of other factors, is really enough time to gather sufficient data.

There's another traffic circle undergoing a similar change that DC could look to for inspiration. Paris, the city that inspired the vaunted L'Enfant plan and gave DC its circles, is using barricades this spring to trim the number of lanes and entrances to the circle at Place de la Nation. While DC is testing its changes for a week, the Paris project, which involves far more traffic and a more complex junction, is a year-long pilot in advance of a complete reconstruction scheduled for 2018.

More recommended reading today: Strong Towns look at the lengths to which officials in Shreveport, Louisiana, will go to build a highway through a neighborhood that doesn't want it. Streets.mn spots new icons on light rail platforms in the Twin Cities that show where to board the train with a bike. And a nascent bike advocacy group in Phoenix got a profile in the Downtown Phoenix Journal.

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