Question about Washington, D.C. Driving

So last night, while reading a book set in Washington, D.C., I came uppon a paragraph where a driver of a limo was complaining that commuter traffic was all screwed up because tourists in rental cars didn’t understand that some streets turned one-way at 4 PM every day. Is this true? I had never heard of something like that - DO some of the streets in Washington go from two way streets to one way streets at a certain time each day or was Mary Higgins Clark messing wtih my mind?

Some DC streets do, at least according to this 2003 report from local news station WTOP. Adding to the confusion, some of the streets either didn’t have signs indicating the change or had erroneous signs.

There are a couple commuting streets where traffic changes during rush hour, but there’s very few that become totally one way. Rock Creek Parkway is one way south between 6:45 and 9:30am, and one way north between 3:45 and 6:30pm.

Other streets adjust travel lanes. For example, Connecticut Avenue has reversible lanes where (IIRC) it’s four lanes going south in the morning, and either one or two going north; and that switches in the afternoon. Between those times it’s basically two lanes in each direction. (Yes, I know the numbers don’t add up – parking is prohibited on many streets during rush hour, opening up an additional travel lane).

But no, tourists do not cause huge problems because of this one-way or reversible lane thing. It’s a minor annoyance only. Tourists cause bigger traffic problems because they park in spaces that are supposed to be vacated in the morning and afternoon in order to create the additional travel lane. Ms. Clark is clearly off in her criticism.

There are streets that change direction like that, but in all honesty I can’t picture a tourist getting screwed up because of it. A tourist is just going to follow the flow of traffic. Even if they do go the wrong way, it’s just going to be one tourist and it won’t muck up commuter traffic for more than maybe a dozen people for a very short time.

What gets the tourists all confused is the massive traffic, extremely aggressive and unforgiving drivers, confusing signs, the maze of one way streets (not ones that change direction), and the difficulty in finding a decent parking spot that doesn’t force you to sell a kidney for an hour’s parking fee.

What gets the traffic screwed up is bad weather, bright sunlight in the morning (makes people slow down when they start driving into it, and any type of slowness causes the entire beltway to back up in a real hurry), and accidents. The worst traffic I ever ran into in DC was when I took some relatives down there to see the cherry blossoms and it started to rain. Everyone instantly jumped into their cars and tried to leave all at once, turning the entire downtown into a parking lot.

Sounds just like London:)

No one drives in DC – there’s too much traffic!

London has the additional joys of things not being laid out in a grid, so if you take 4 left turns and think you are back where you started, you aren’t. Then you end up going down the wrong road and getting lost.

(or maybe that was just me…)

Plus, the streets all seem like they are about 3 feet wide with cars zipping down them at about 90 mph. And everyone is driving on the wrong side of the road. I think I just identified myself as a tourist with that last bit.

I do have to say that I am much more impressed with the London Underground than the DC Metro. You can get darn near anywhere in London without driving yourself.

True story: My company has an office in London. I had to go there, and stayed at the company-recommended hotel which is 1/4 mile away. It took me, with the aid of my cellphone GPS, half an hour to walk from the hotel to the office since I kept getting turned around.

I eventually found a shortcut which involved cutting across a little park.

I live on a street where some of the lanes change direction during rush hour. It mostly works out, but now and then I’ll see someone who is in the wrong place and confused.

Thanks everyone - very interesting! :slight_smile:

Thank you, Mr. Berra. :wink:

Plus you don’t get Swing Low, Sweet Chariot stuck in your head.

Potentially adding to the confusion in DC is you also have to know what quadrant you’re in.

For example, the Marine Barracks is at 8th St and I St SE, but there also is an 8th and I NE, and 8th and I NW is near Mt Vernon Square.

I have lived in the metro DC area since 1983. I do not know of any streets in the downtown area that change direction based on time. However, parts of the Clara Barton Parkwaybecomes one way during rush hour. Part of Canal Road does the same thing. But there are very few of these, and tourists getting confused does not seem to be a source of trouble.

What I think is a bigger problem is that most major arteries, like Constitution and South/North Capitol, prohibit parking in the curb lane during rush hour but this is frequently ignored and really messes things up when people shooting down that lane have to merge back to the right to get around a parked car.

Yeah some streets become one way during rush hour in the mornings and then again in the other direction in the evening. I’ve made the mistake and gone the wrong way before when I first started driving in DC.

Missed the edit window, but here’s some info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reversible_lane

Isn’t that true in lots of cities?
I live on 30th Ave South, but there’s also a 30th Ave North in my city, and houses with the same numbers as on my block.

I’ve lived in the DC area all my life and I hate driving to DC. I screwed up just a couple of months ago by following my damn GPS on Clara Barton around 5:30 going the wrong way. I knew what I had done the second I got on the road, but there’s no way to turn around really. I can see a tourist following their GPS and getting turned around.

There are a lot of lanes in the Silver Spring area, just north of DC, that goes from 3-4 lanes both ways to 2 one way and 4+ the other way in the morning and afternoon.

There are a lot of high occupancy lanes, too. HOV… single drivers aren’t allowed on 66 or 395 during rush hours. And you can bet the cops nab a fair share of schnooks, too. Visitors and travelers who take these road s unknowingly.

It could be. But is 30th Ave North and 30th Ave South the same road, just labeled differently once it crosses an east-west street?

In DC, there are two separate Letter Sts. (running E-W, so NE-NW and SE-SW) and two separate Number Sts. running (N-S, so NW-SW and NE-SE), so there can be potentially four intersections of “X” St. and “#” St., one in each quadrant. Glancing at Google Maps, it looks like 3rd Sts and D Sts qualify.

I don’t think the other major East Coast cities are like this with two separate sets of streets with the same name (Baltimore, Philly, NYC, and Boston, for example). In NYC, if I tell a cabbie to take me to 86th and 3rd Ave. He knows it’s east of the park and therefore East 86th St. In DC, you’d need to specify which quadrant.

I was hopefully trying to highlight that, if you’re a tourist in DC and want to go to 3rd and D, there are four of them.