Why Not: Turn Wisconsin and M into a Rotary?

Wisconsin and M St. is the heart of Georgetown, yet it’s an incredibly unpleasant place to be. Whether on foot, bike or in a car, it’s an intersection that you just want to get through as quickly as possible. There are possible schemes that could address one type of user or the other, but most diminish the intersection’s utility to the other types of users. But is there a way to improve the intersection for all users? If there is, a rotary is probably it.

If you’re immediately skeptical, view the film above. It shows how an unusual traffic solution took an intersection at the heart of an English town-an intersection that had all the unpleasant characteristics of Wisconsin and M-and turned it into a shared space, where car speeds reduced, pedestrian access increased, and overall traffic flow was not worsened. It sounds impossible, but really just watch the film.

Now, even if you accept that the odd configuration worked for Poynton, England, you may retain doubts that M and Wisconsin is comparable. But let’s start with volume. The intersection at Poynton handles 26,000 cars a day, or roughly 1,083 cars an hour. The peak rush hour traffic for M and Wisconsin is at 9:00 AM, but even then it is only about 1,085 cars an hour. The rest of the day the volumes are much lower (data from the Georgetown Transportation Study). Weekends actually have higher traffic volume peaks, but again the daily average doesn’t approach Poynton’s.

The next concern is probably one of logistics or space. The area taken up by the Poynton roundabout (even after the sidewalk widening) appears somewhat bigger than that space at Wisconsin and M. But rotaries can come in even tiny sizes. There are some in Arlington, for example, that are for intersections of two tiny back streets:


The question isn’t really whether a rotary could fit at Wisconsin and M, it’s whether the rotary would be able to have the same success as the Poyton one at that reduced size. GM has no idea if it could.

There are plenty reasons to be skeptical of a plan like this. But given the miraculous transformation of Poynton, it’s irrational not to at least consider what an idea like that could do for us.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Why Not: Turn Wisconsin and M into a Rotary?

  1. Perhaps chamfered corners would help as well.

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  3. Pingback: District Line Daily: The D.C. Etiquette Issue - City Desk

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