3/28/11

UPDATE: My Letter to DDOT

UPDATE: My email has been forwarded to the traffic services and traffic engineering team to review and respond.

I once griped about an unsafe intersection near my workplace and I got an email from a reader saying that I should actually do something about it (that is, aside from blogging to audience of four- hi mom!). So today, I finally did. We'll see if anything comes of it, but I want to thank M. for encouraging me to take this small step towards civic betterment. I've included the text of my letter, along with a movie and picture below:

Dear Interim Director Bellamy,

My name is Brian McEntee and I am an employee of American University. I am writing to you to call to your attention the confusing and dangerous traffic configuration at the intersection of Nebraska Avenue, NW and New Mexico Avenue, NW. As currently configured, the light sequencing, signage and road markings create a hazardous situation for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians and I hope that DDOT can redress it expeditiously. I am not a traffic engineer, nor do I proclaim any particular expertise, but these are my observations based on daily use of the intersection and I hope that calling them to your attention might prompt further, more thorough, analysis and eventual correction of the issue.
Prior to the opening of the new School of International Service (SIS) building on the AU campus, the intersection of New Mexico Avenue and Nebraska Avenue was a T-intersection. With the opening of the SIS garage, the new intersection resembles a four-way intersection. However, the traffic signal pattern, both for motorists and pedestrians, does not adequately accommodate this change.
With regard to the car traffic, there is now a traffic light for motorists exiting the SIS garage. However, there is also a stop sign (which was installed prior to the traffic light) in front of the garage exit. There is additionally a sign indicating that motorists cannot make left turns onto Nebraska Avenue or go straight down New Mexico Avenue. I believe that the stop sign is unnecessary given the presence of the traffic light and should be removed. Moreover, motorists consistently disregard the sign indicating the illegality of anything but a right turn from the garage exit onto Nebraska Avenue. This is likely because they have their own dedicated green light during which no other traffic (car or pedestrian) is supposed to be moving.
The crosswalk light sequence for pedestrians attempting to cross Nebraska Avenue (on either side of New Mexico Avenue) has not been adjusted to take into account the new traffic light regulating the SIS garage. While the traffic light is green for motorists exiting the garage (which should only be for right turns onto Nebraska), the pedestrians are not given a walk indication. Nonetheless, pedestrians use this time to cross Nebraska Avenue against the light. It is only when the green light is given to motorists driving up New Mexico Avenue that pedestrians crossing Nebraska Avenue are given the walk indication. Because motorists on New Mexico Avenue see pedestrians crossing during the SIS garage green light, they incorrectly assume that there is no pedestrian cross sequence during their green light. This creates a potential conflict for pedestrians crossing Nebraska Avenue and motorists turning right from New Mexico Avenue onto Nebraska Avenue.
I’ve attached a video (.MOV) of the problems described above. It was recorded on the afternoon of March 28, 2011 from the sidewalk on parallel to Nebraska Avenue, opposite New Mexico Avenue. The green light on the left side of the frame is for cars exiting the SIS garage. The pedestrians are crossing Nebraska Avenue against the light. The motorist that comes into frame from the right made an illegal left turn onto Nebraska Avenue from the SIS garage. I’ve also included a picture of the superfluous stop sign. 

I understand that there are neighborhood sensitivities about the volume of cars and the flow of traffic related to American University. However, the situation as it currently exists is not tenable and is extraordinarily hazardous to pedestrians. This is in spite of the fact that the American University architect lists the traffic reconfiguration as a completed project (http://observer.american.edu/finance/oua/Projects.cfm). The light sequence, while regular, is not intuitive. In my opinion, the crosswalk light sequence should either be adjusted so pedestrians cross at the same time the SIS garage light is green or the sequence should be expanded so that pedestrians are given a walk indication during both the SIS garage green light and the New Mexico Avenue green light. This intersection is very heavily used by pedestrians and I believe that it is simply not safe. I heartily encourage DDOT to further investigate this intersection and make adjustments in the spirit of the District’s “Complete Streets” policy- one that encourages the safety and convenience of all users.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns. I am readily available via phone and email listed below. I thank you for your time and consideration.

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