My Top 10 Things About DC Roads that Have Never Made Sense (and Never Will)

Recently, commuting home from Virginia to Washington, DC, I took the George Washington Memorial Parkway to the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge, merging on to Rock Creek Parkway and over Columbia and Harvard Roads to home. I thought about my journey, particularly how terrible it was. “If only these roads were in better condition and connected better, this wouldn’t be so bad,” I thought. So, I thought further about it and determined 10 things/road that have never made any sense:
1) George Washington Memorial ParkwayI have blogged about this before, but I’ll give a quick reminder. This is not a “scenic” road that people take for a Sunday trip with the family; it’s a major artery in and out of the city and supports hundreds of thousands of commuters a day. How is it still part of the National Park Service and Department of Interior? How is this still a thing? The road needs shoulders, lighting, improved signs, highway markers, and most importantly needs to be repaved.
2) The I-66/Rock Creek Parkway connection – Why is this not smoother? Why is there not a direct connection? When driving into Washington, DC on I-66 East, you cross the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge and are directed to the left onto a road that is four lanes wide. The right two lanes go to Whitehurst Freeway and Pennsylvania Avenue, while the left two have a sign that says “Rock Creek Parkway.” Except it’s not. The two lanes curve sharply to the left and intersect with 27th Street–the road that connects drivers to the opposite direction on I-66. Only a few cars can get by before the cars on 27th Street have the right of way. Once you make it through the intersection, you have to quickly merge into the right lane before intersecting with Virginia Avenue, where you have to yield again to oncoming traffic. Only once that traffic clears can you proceed onto Virginia Avenue and onto Rock Creek Parkway. This is what it looks like:
3) Beach Drive – Speaking of Rock Creek Parkway, when it “ends,” it turns into Beach Drive, a two-lane road which runs along Rock Creek from the heart of Washington, DC to Maryland. How is this still two lanes? It’s another major artery in and out of the city and entirely too restricting. Yet another important roadway controlled by the National Park Service/Department of Interior… (At least they’re improving the road so it’s not a bunch of crappy potholes)
4) Chain Bridge Road between McLean and Chain Bridge – How is this still a thing? Chain Bridge is one of only six bridges that cross the Potomac River between Virginia and Washington, DC, and its access road in Virginia is two-lane Chain Bridge Road. How is this still two lanes? In rush hour, the road is backed up all the way to its connection with GW Parkway with people trying to get into the city.
5) Canal Road – The same is true for the road on the other side of Chain Bridge: Canal Road. This two-lane piece of garbage runs parallel to the C&O canal and delivers cars right onto M Street in Georgetown. Because it’s only two lanes, the road becomes one-way into the city in the morning and one-way out of the city in the afternoon.
6) No Thoroughfare through Columbia Heights – Once you get off Rock Creek Parkway and want to head to Columbia Heights/parts east, I hope you planned for a long commute. Recent housing projects have steadily increased the population in the Adams Morgan/Columbia Heights/U Street/Shaw neighborhoods, but with no answer in either personal or public transportation. Think of the major east-west roadways in the city and where they are:
  • I-395/695 – runs along the south side of the city in Southwest and Southeast
  • Constitution/Independence Avenues – run along the north and south sides of the National Mall, respectively
  • K Street – six-lane road that runs through downtown
  • U Street – four-lane road (with parallel parking) through the U Street neighborhood
  • Military Road – four-lane parkway that runs along the north side of the city

The one not on this list is Columbia/Harvard Roads because the road does not match in capacity of the others on the list. Columbia Road, from where it intersects with Connecticut Avenue to where it splits and mirrors Harvard Road, is a pot-holed two-lane road. Driving eastbound, Columbia Road turns into one-way Harvard Road. During rush hour, this three-lane road allows for one lane of parallel-parked cars and two lanes of traffic. However, the lanes aren’t painted, so most people assume it’s one wide lane. (I’ve lived in the area for three years and despite a recent repaving the road still doesn’t have lines on it). The same applies for Columbia Road heading west. Most of the time, an illegally parked car will block the second lane, which is supposed to be open, causing all of the traffic to merge to one lane. Let’s also remember that Columbia Road between 14th and 15th Streets is more dangerous for your car than driving on Route Irish in Baghdad.

7) 15th Street just ends? – Speaking of 15th Street, can someone explain why it just ends? Shortly after 15th Street crosses Columbia Road, it veers to the left, crosses Irving Street and then merges into 16th Street. What? Why? The crazy part is that there are two other places north in the city where 15th Street “continues,” one a mile up the road where it continues for about seven blocks before it ends again. Even stranger, another mile or so north is another 15th Street, but this one is about 400 feet long. ???

8) I-395 just ends? – Speaking of things that just end, how does I-395 just end at New York Avenue? Taking I-395 North into the city puts you in a 1.5-mile tunnel with three exits to the Capitol, Union Station, and New York Avenue. But that’s where it ends. The highway simply stops. Why did no one build this through to somewhere more reasonable, like another highway? Yes, I understand tunnels are expensive, but so is my and other peoples’ time sitting at the end of the highway waiting to merge onto a city street.

9) Bike Lane in Grant Circle – This is a lesser grievance of mine, but it still applies to a larger problem. In the Petworth neighbor, Grant Circle brings together New Hampshire Avenue, Varnum Street, 5th Street, and Illinois Avenue. It has a cordoned-off bike lane that reduces the circle to one lane. I love bike lanes, but I don’t like when the city puts bike lanes in places that are unnecessary and simply because it was the “easy” thing to do. Grant Circle sees far less traffic, both in cars and cyclists, than Dupont, Logan, Scott, Thomas, or Washington Circles, yet none of those four have cordoned-off bike lanes. The city spent money to put it a fancy bike lane where it wasn’t needed and doesn’t put them in where they should because it’s too hard to do.

10) What is with Florida Avenue? Start on the east side of the city and head north on 22nd Street. Suddenly, you’re on Florida Avenue. Cut north of DuPont Circle and south of Adams Morgan and you’ll find that Florida Avenue turns into W Street after crossing 16th Street. What happened to Florida Avenue? Don’t worry, drive one more block east on W Street to 15th Street and you can veer left to Florida Avenue. Continue on the south side of the Cardozo Education Campus until Florida Avenue suddenly becomes 9th Street, but only for two blocks before you can make a left to get back on Florida Avenue. As you continue driving on Florida Avenue, you cross North Capitol Street. Wait. What? Florida Avenue becomes one way? You’re directed to the right where you are now on 1st Street. Make a left, cross New York Avenue, veer to the left onto O Street, and make a slight right to get back on Florida Avenue. Keep driving on Florida Avenue until you get to the intersection of Maryland Avenue, H Street, Bladensburg Road, and Benning Road. What happens to Florida Avenue? It just ends…


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