WASHINGTON – A clogged D.C. intersection plagued with illegal turns has caught the attention of a former POTUS candidate.
On Monday, Ralph Nader, who has run for president as a Democrat, Independent and Green Party candidate, wrote a letter to D.C. Mayor Vince Gray and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier to highlight a problem with illegal left turns from Florida Avenue onto Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle.
Nader writes that he noticed 32 vehicles making the illegal turns on two days in June and July as he observed the intersection during morning and afternoon rush hours.
“Many of the drivers making the illegal turns were, it seemed, not aware that it was prohibited to do so. They were new either to the city or to the intersection. Many cars slowed in the middle of the intersection with their turn signals on, often times with cars behind them,” writes Nader in a letter obtained by WTOP.
“When there was heavy traffic and cars got backed up on Florida Avenue, many drivers decided at the last moment that it was easier to make a sharp left turn onto Connecticut Avenue.”
Nader says the confusion can largely be attributed to “No Left Turn” signs being poorly positioned.
Gray forwarded the letter to the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT), which has already made fixes to the intersection.
Masketa Araya works at a restaurant near the intersection and agrees with Nader’s analysis.
“I’ve worked here almost five years and everyday I see like five or six cars make left turns here. I think they don’t see the signs because the sign is small,” he says.
Dupont Circle resident Dan O’Reilly says he also sees the illegal turns frequently. He walks his dog every day near the intersection.
“It doesn’t seem to be a problem for the pedestrians. I think it messes up traffic every once in awhile. It just causes backups for the people behind them, lots of frustration and honking horns. But I haven’t seen any accidents involving pedestrians,” O’Reilly says.
James Bernie, Program Manager for DDOT’s Field Operations Division, went to the intersection on Wednesday and also noticed the problem.
“I personally observed several vehicles going east and westbound, disobeying the existing ‘no left turn signs’ and making a quick left at the intersection,” said Bernie.
“I decided we needed to make several changes to improve safety at the intersection and we’ve worked quickly to get it done.”
Among the improvements are those suggested in Nader’s letter, including adding new “No Left Turn” signs on the left side of the intersection and next to the traffic light itself. DDOT is also adding more warning signs approaching the intersection and has painted a lane marking on the pavement to indicate straight only. Most of the improvements were added on Thursday, although the final work will be completed Friday morning.
“All three of these items should enhance the safety of that intersection tremendously, and we will take away excuses of not seeing the signs,” said Bernie.
“It will not be 100 percent effective because if a driver is going to break the law, they’re going to break the law.”
DDOT also plans to replace the existing green light bulb with a green straight arrow to let drivers know that left turns are not permitted at the intersection. However, the new traffic light signal could take a few months to be installed.
Nader insists that enforcement is the other part of the equation.
“The Metropolitan Police Department should install surveillance cameras for the purpose of analyzing accidents after they happen, while also regularly catching drivers who continue to either turn illegally or speed through the intersection,” Nader writes.
Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Gwen Crump issued a short statement on the issue to WTOP.
“We are evaluating the concerns addressed in this letter. We will continue enforcement in the area,” she writes.
Araya tells WTOP he already sees police cruisers parked near Connecticut Avenue and S Street NW pulling over drivers for the illegal turns.
“I see them once or twice a week sitting there for about 15 to 30 minutes just watching people and giving out tickets to drivers,” he says.
O’Reilly also says he regularly sees police pulling over drivers near the intersection, but he understands the drivers’ plight.
“If you can’t make the left there, then it forces you to go around on some side streets that get backed up because they’re really narrow. It just seems really convenient to make that left, but I understand why you shouldn’t because it messes up the whole intersection.”