The Traffic Culture of #WashingtonDC

One of the thing that never makes it in books that are set in Washington, DC, is the traffic.  Anyone who lives here knows it’s not only a way of life — there’s a culture associated with it.  Residents know that it’s best to avoid downtown during Cherry Blossoms, White House Easter Egg Hunts, and floods.  Traffic goes from bad to very, very, very bad.  Summer is also bad because the tourists get stupid and walk out in the middle of the street without looking.  Then there’s the messenger bikes — these guys do not stop for stoplights or cars.  They just weave in and out of the moving traffic.

Part of the problem is that we have a transitory population.  There’s a large military community, so they’re only here 1-2 years; ambassadors and foreign diplomats; politicians.  Then there’s the guy who immigrated from another country where it’s okay there to cut across three lanes of traffic to make a right turn.  There are also drivers who will speed up to avoid letting another driver in and ones who will cut in line because they have an inflated sense of self-importance.  All of this creates chaos because no one is following the same rules.

So I have to shake my head when an author has a high speed chase down 17th Street.  Or anywhere else in DC.  L.A., yeah, I could believe that.  The streets are long and wide, but DC — the streets just aren’t exactly chase friendly. Maybe Pennsylvania Avenue and Independence, but it’d be pretty hard to do without hitting a tourist.

What are some unique aspects about the place where you live?

Also check out my post on Planning Washington, DC.

2 thoughts on “The Traffic Culture of #WashingtonDC

  1. danzierlea

    There’s winter driving and summer driving here (Wisconsin). Winter driving leaves about the length of a semi between vehicles, so if someone hits an ice patch, nobody hits them. Summer driving is still cautious about vehicle space–but the speed changes. In winter, people go the speed limit. In summer, they go 10-15mph over.


    1. I have relatives in Wisconsin. They say that everyone has to relearn how to drive in winter, so it’s a little rough at first. In Washington, DC, everyone continues to drive like normal. After a blizzard, we had our roads plowed, but there was still a lot of flattened snow on them, so they were slippery. I was having to take the freeway into work, so I was going about 30 because the roads weren’t safe. A guy in a SUV roars by me at 55, evidently thinking “I have a SUV, so I can drive anywhere.” A mile or two and I find him embedded in the embankment.

      They don’t change their driving for the weather.


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