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DC’s Triangles of Doom

By Matthew Yglesias on July 16, 2009 at 12:56 pm

"DC’s Triangles of Doom"

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Last night I met Noah Kazis who’s writing a blog at dc.thecityfix.com (“sustainable mobility in the nation’s capital”) that those of you who don’t find my posts about urban planning annoying will love. Here a Bostonian talks about learning to love the straight lines of DC’s L’Enfant Plan.

I think there’s definitely something charming about metro Boston’s tangled web of streets. And there’s clearly also something good and practical about a regular grid. But I really don’t think there’s any case at all for what we’ve done in DC in terms of super-imposing diagonal boulevards on a basically rectilinear grid. It leads to lots of very weird intersections. This is right by my office:

angles

And this is near my house:

nearhome

These multi-focal intersections tend to have the unusual property of being both very slow for car traffic (since the light sequencing necessarily rotates pretty slowly) and also dangerous for pedestrians and especially cyclists since giant cars are flying around from many directions. But worst of all they create these horrible dead spaces when the wedges between the various streets are too small to put a city block on. Every once in a while this process results in a “triangle park” that’s actually nice and used for something (the part at 1st, R, and Florida has nice synergy with Big Bear Cafe and the Bloomingdale Farmer’s Market) but the typical triangle park isn’t really used for anything and many of them scarcely deserve to be called parks.

Green space and public space are good things, but they’re really only good if the spaces are usable and used in practice by the people who live and work in the area. That requires them to be located and sized for real reasons (“this would be a good place for a park”) and not just used to fill up awkward gaps in a street grid.

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