Goodbye, Dave Thomas Circle: Actual left turns coming to New York, Florida Ave NE

florida avenue redesign
The redesign for Dave Thomas Circle in Northeast. Click to enlarge. (Courtesy DDOT)

One of D.C.’s busiest and most infamous intersections will soon be untangled, with the goal of providing relief and safety for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who navigate where New York and Florida avenues meet.

“The main purpose of this project is to reduce the complexity of this intersection, which creates driver confusion,” said Jay Smith of JMT Transportation Design, the company designing the new Northeast D.C. intersection, during a public meeting hosted by the District Department of Transportation. “It’s just not very good intersection layout and operation.”

The intersection is currently dubbed “Dave Thomas Circle,” after the Wendy’s restaurant there, and the convoluted jughandle maneuvering required for drivers traveling east on Florida Avenue.

“Right now, you would need to turn right on First Street, left on New York Avenue, then make a right on the O Street ramp there, which eventually merges into Florida,” Smith said. “It’s a very complex movement to go east on Florida.”

As plans for a redesigned intersection move toward final approval, Smith said that after the Wendy’s restaurant is relocated, the right-left-right-merge-to go straight would be history.

“We’ll be adding turn lanes — this will allow lefts from New York onto Florida, and lefts from Florida onto southbound New York,” toward downtown D.C., said Smith.

Currently, New York Avenue — which forms part of the federal U.S. Route 50, stretching from Maryland’s Eastern Shore to California — carries an average of 46,000 daily travelers, with a speed limit of 30 mph. That number is expected to near 56,000 by 2037.

Florida Avenue, with a slightly slower 25 mph limit, carries 20,000 drivers, and will carry 25,000 in 2037.

The project does not seek to raise the number of vehicles traveling through the intersection — but rather, to smooth the experience for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Smith said the redesign attempts to improve safety by slowing cars down.

“We’ll be narrowing the lanes on the roadway, which does tend to slow traffic down,” Smith said. “Drivers feel less comfortable when a lane is narrow, so they tend to slow down.”

Changes to the intersection are coming for bicyclists, too.

“We are adding protected bike lanes, both in the easterly and westerly direction, on Florida Avenue,” Smith said. “And that is going to be tied into the Florida Avenue 2nd to H Street Project” — which improves travel farther down Florida Avenue.

With the removal of the restaurant, and the redesigning of the area, three public park spaces will be added to the intersection.

“We’ll have street trees, all the streetlights are going to replaced with new streetlights. We’ll be upgrading and replacing curbs, with accessibility to curb ramps. And we’re going to have new high-visibility pavement markings and signage,” Smith said.

Once the design is finalized, DDOT said construction could begin in spring 2022, with completion by late 2023.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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