one of the devil’s great engines of human misery
December 26, 2017 9:05 AM   Subscribe

"Today the glowing, fry-colored marquee is the de facto greeting for anyone coming into the capital from the east. It does not say “Welcome to Washington,” or “Behold, the Majestic Seat of the Republic.” It says: W ARM UPWITH A BACO ATOR" The story of Washington’s weirdest traffic circle.
posted by everybody had matching towels (45 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
2018 will mark my seventh year living and working in the metro DC area, with exactly zero occasions to drive on Dave Thomas Circle. And thank God for that.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:08 AM on December 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


To walk its perimeter is to be bombarded by bad vibes and aesthetic disappointments.

“This is a major entrance to the city.”

Bundled against the cold, architect Stephen Wright stands across from the Wendy’s, at the southwestern corner of Dave Thomas Circle. He works just south of it, in NoMa, and tries to avoid it at any cost.

“It’s confusing,” Wright says. “Once you figure it out, it’s still confusing for everyone else.”


Later to be revealed as an interactive and immersive public art installation simply called "America (Untitled 2017)".

Snark aside, this was pretty fascinating.

Also, the Yelp reviews of that Wendy's are quite special.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:26 AM on December 26, 2017 [4 favorites]


oh that is totally nuts.

see also ghost streets, which are often the vestigial spoor of a city's old trolley system.

this kind of weird grid-alignment thing is also common, but the degree to which this one has, ah, metastasized, is really impressive.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:27 AM on December 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


Ha! I always wondered how Dave Thomas Circle came to be. Here it is on google maps, for the curious.
posted by Emily's Fist at 9:28 AM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


As bad as it is in car, on a bike it's even worse. Look at this fucking sign!
posted by exogenous at 10:08 AM on December 26, 2017 [10 favorites]


Also, the Yelp reviews of that Wendy's are quite special.
Lordy! Whatever tiny impulse I had to enter a Wendy's has been extinguished.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:19 AM on December 26, 2017


Wendy's are often in really weird awkward places like this. I would really like to meet their real estate people just to see how crazy they are because they certainly are not baseline.
posted by srboisvert at 10:22 AM on December 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


It's no SURRENDER DOROTHY.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:22 AM on December 26, 2017 [13 favorites]


Seems to me, things could be helped somewhat by closing that little strip of First St. NE that runs between Florida and New York.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:24 AM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah, in Indialantic FL there is a no-kidding beachfront Wendy's, like you can see the ocean in your rear-view mirror at the drive-thru window.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:37 AM on December 26, 2017


And here I thought all the conspiracy theories about satanic symbols in the DC street plan were nonsense.

I mean, they're still nonsense, but Dave Thomas Circle does support the theory that driving in DC is literally Hell.
posted by Panjandrum at 11:01 AM on December 26, 2017


The Greater Greater Washington blog has photos of the five DDOT preliminary design ideas to fix the circle.
posted by peeedro at 11:06 AM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


As bad as it is in car, on a bike it's even worse. Look at this fucking sign!

"To proceed by velocipede, turn thrice widdershins and make obeisance to the Morning Star. Cast the blood of a freshly slaughtered rooster before thee and draw the Sign of the Beast upon thy brow. Then thou mightst proceed by means of the crosswalk, for thine soul hast been delivered to powers greater than ye, leaving the flesh to roam the streets. Yea, verily."
posted by Panjandrum at 11:06 AM on December 26, 2017 [25 favorites]


I highly approve of the article's use of the word "frogger" as a verb. It really gets the point across, a lot of meaning packed into one word, and I'd like to see it used more often.
posted by theatro at 11:13 AM on December 26, 2017 [11 favorites]


Also, I approve of the phrase "the homely butt of the vaguely named Department of Human Services".
posted by theatro at 11:16 AM on December 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yeah, this was a really well written article. Like theatro, I was going to shine a light on the use of the verb "frogger." (Also of note is the word "tetris," a transitive verb for fitting multiple irregularly shaped objects into a limited space: "Please tetris the groceries into the fridge." Are there any other video games that have given us such apt verbs?)
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:24 AM on December 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yup, this is my contender for worst intersection, if not in the world, than at least in the U.S. You can spend a half hour or more at this fucking place and not because you're at a stand-still, either (though you likely will be.)

And here I thought all the conspiracy theories about satanic symbols in the DC street plan were nonsense.

Satanic symbols? Probably nonsense. Masonic symbols? Almost certainly there on purpose. There's a reason no other city looks and feels (and is quite so frustrating to get around in) like D.C. - other cities aren't designed based on what the map will look like. And Dave Thomas Circle is perhaps the utmost victim of that insanity.

As a friend said to me during a particularly harrowing trip through it: "Many ley-lines run through that Wendy's, oh ho yes."
posted by Navelgazer at 11:44 AM on December 26, 2017 [14 favorites]


Bustle writes of "Jon Kasich Pac-Manning his way through Bronx deli menus." Although that usage seems to miss the aspect of being pursued while eating...
posted by Stig at 11:48 AM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ugh. This is why you don’t let Freemasons get cutesy with city planning.

Okay. So. Five streets intersecting. New York, Florida, O, 1st, and Eckington.

There’s a pretty easy solution, if you don’t mind bulldozing some shit. Disregarding the larger O St. triangle, draw a circle — a circle — of road around the NY-FL-1st triangle, then eliminate all roads within the circle other than NY. The FedEx warehouse, Human Services, Sirius XM, and the ATF would need to be relocated (possibly just the space-wasting concrete bullshit outside the actual ATF building, actually, with the dumbass concavity of said building now seeming to have a purpose). Then you’ve got seven spokes intersecting with a circle wide enough for those intersections to be at a comfortable angle and spaced far enough apart not to be too crazy. In the center of the circle, perhaps straddling NY Ave, you could put an Arc de Triomphe emblazoned with the motto,

𝐖 𝐀𝐑𝐌 𝐔𝐏𝐖𝐈𝐓𝐇 𝐀 𝐁𝐀𝐂𝐎 𝐀𝐓𝐎𝐑
posted by Sys Rq at 11:51 AM on December 26, 2017 [17 favorites]


I say we baconate the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by doctornecessiter at 12:08 PM on December 26, 2017 [21 favorites]


Needs more cool disco dan
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:29 PM on December 26, 2017 [5 favorites]


Ugh. This fucking place. My least favorite driving perhaps anywhere. When I see that little "detail here" inset on the GPS I just drive in another direction until it reroutes me.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:37 PM on December 26, 2017 [6 favorites]


Having lived in San Francisco ("Frisco" we locals call it) and DC I have done some wacky urban driving, but y'all got nothing on Seattle's intersections.

Many of these don't have traffic signals and I can name at least a half dozen that are worse that didn't even make the list.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:42 PM on December 26, 2017 [4 favorites]


In the center of the circle, perhaps straddling NY Ave, you could put

...a Collossus Dave Thomas?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:43 PM on December 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


Not quite as bad, but Logan Square in Chicago is pretty terrible intersection design.
But one thing that many Logan Square residents agree on is that the layout of the traffic circle, along with the rest of the intersection, is a pain in the neck. Sitting in the six-way junction of Milwaukee, Kedzie, and Logan/Wrightwood, just southeast of the Blue Line’s Logan Square station, the circle requires people on foot to cross three or four traffic lanes to access the column.

Because walking from one side of the intersection to the other requires pedestrians to cross the street up to four times, the circle also discourages travel to and from the northern portion of the neighborhood. For better or for worse, this has slowed, but not stopped, the proliferation of new upscale retail and residential developments, common southeast of the monument.

The number of traffic lanes vary on different sides of the circle, and they don’t always line up, so it’s also a confusing, dangerous intersection for cyclists and motorists. There were 280 collisions within a 500-foot radius of the pillar between 2009 and 2014, including 62 injury crashes and one fatality, according to state crash data compiled by the Chicago Crash Browser.
I used to think the not-lining-up lanes of traffic was just due to worn stripes, but they restriped this summer and sure enough, some lanes just disappear/reappear/shift. It's like the stripers start out painting lanes and anywhere it was unclear what the lanes were supposed to do, they just stopped striping entirely. Plus, it kind of functions as a traffic circle, except that it doesn't really. If you're going west on Logan, after you cross Milwaukee, you're supposed to yield to traffic entering the circle which is backwards to how a real traffic circle would work. It's actively hostile to pedestrians (and cyclists) trying to get from one corner to the other. It's the only place in my 6.5 mile bike commute where I do a box turn instead of taking the left lane to turn left from Milwaukee onto Logan heading westbound; but even the box turn is weird because if i were to go all the way to the NE corner to wait to go west, I'd be in some right turn only lanes and get plowed down by those cars.

Sorry, apparently I have some intersection feelings.
posted by misskaz at 12:52 PM on December 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


…got nothing on Seattle's intersections.

Ah yes, the infamous intersection of NE 40th, NE 40th, NE 40th, NE 40th, and 7th Ave. How well I know thee. I rode through it for 7 years, and it was never not a clusterfuck, but at least the traffic was slow, not the madness of that DC circle.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 1:41 PM on December 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


I moved to DC from the flatlands of South Florida, where everything* is laid out on an ordinary more-or-less numeric grid, with almost all roads going either north/south or east/west. Trying to make sense of the ordinary, curving, organically developed roads of Maryland was a challenge, even before factoring in the weird concept of varying elevations. ("What do you mean I can't see five traffic lights in front of me?") On top of this I suffer from severe navigational deficiencies; without a GPS in my phone I doubt that I could have found my way home from the grocery (three blocks).

Then a local friend suggested that I meet her in DC itself; I am fairly certain that I passed the iron walls of Dis at one point. After an hour of increasing frustration, I made a solemn oath not to ever enter the city under my own navigation again; WMATA is my Virgil.

So while I have never driven through the legendary Dave Thomas Circle, it fits nicely with my experience of the city.


*Except Hialeah, but let's not talk about Hialeah.
posted by mkhall at 2:03 PM on December 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


To be fair, sometimes a baco ator is pretty ice.
posted by ardgedee at 2:17 PM on December 26, 2017 [5 favorites]


Sorry, apparently I have some intersection feelings.

Pretty sure that's all of Chicago. (Logan Square would be so much better if you cut Milwaukee off inside the oval.)
posted by PMdixon at 2:18 PM on December 26, 2017


Thank God I've always gone straight there on NY Ave. and never knew.
posted by acrasis at 2:46 PM on December 26, 2017


As bad as it is in car, on a bike it's even worse. Look at this fucking sign!

They should have just gone for "Lasciate ogne speranza", in keeping with the city's neo-classical theme.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:06 PM on December 26, 2017


Seattle's intersections

I'm pretty sure those diagrams spell out a filthy joke in Chinese.
posted by Panjandrum at 3:33 PM on December 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


Hey! We live two blocks away. After some time adjusting I've developed a small and ugly pride with my ability to maneuver through it on foot or in a car. I'll never do it on a bike though. My partner and I sometimes joke about walking over to Wendy's for a fancy dinner date.
posted by kinsey at 4:53 PM on December 26, 2017


A solution is suggested in the article: The Wendy's has been cited for rodents. Let's ask them how they got there.

I was looking forward to learning everyone in the Wendy's had been there since it opened, too terrified to leave.
posted by maxwelton at 5:38 PM on December 26, 2017 [8 favorites]


Having grown up and learned to drive in Pittsburgh, I moved to D.C.and was unimpressed. D.C.may have been designed by Freemasons far too high on their own supply, but Pittsburgh's roads were designed by cultists worshipping dread Cthulhu. Nothing meets at a right angle, all the geometry is non-Euclidian and if you're not paying attention, you might wind up in a hell dimension (or maybe just the West End Circle--really, who can tell the difference?)
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:53 PM on December 26, 2017 [6 favorites]


Pretty sure I drove this route before I moved to VA but still lived in PA and worked in DC. Can't say it was all that bad. Though I don't drive in the city since moving to VA.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:54 PM on December 26, 2017


Please, tell me again, how government makes everything better.

If the property was owned by someone looking for the highest and best use it would be repurposed as soon as the sale was completed.

Bureaucrats are tits on a boar.
posted by NeoRothbardian at 5:56 PM on December 26, 2017


Are the ribs healing OK?
posted by maxwelton at 7:41 PM on December 26, 2017 [4 favorites]


Neorothbardian:

Since your post history indicates you're actually serious, if you read the article, you'd find this:
Today the franchise is owned by NPC Quality Burgers Inc. The land, worth $5 million, has been owned since 2006 by the Bernstein Management Corp.
There's no government ownership involved here. The only thing the bureaucrats are suggesting is, as the article says, ‘Eminent-domain that sucker and move on'.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:08 PM on December 26, 2017 [11 favorites]


I live in a city (St. John's, Canada) that may not get anything near the traffic VOLUME of these places, but for sheer bonkers intersections, we have you beat.

Not only is nothing laid out in a grid, the city drove on the LEFT when it was a British territory, and changed to driving on the RIGHT when we joined Canada....
posted by Paladin1138 at 9:55 PM on December 26, 2017


Doesn't look too bad to me. Try this one on a foggy January morning...
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 1:59 AM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Today the glowing, fry-colored marquee is the de facto greeting for anyone coming into the capital from the east.

Yep, for me this has always been the place where I turn right to get to the 9:30 club.
posted by HumanComplex at 9:27 AM on December 27, 2017


Well, exactly -- during the early 80s, when I lived in Adams-Morgan and worked at GSFC I drove through this intersection twice a day, no big deal. But maybe this is for people driving through in different directions? Never thought of it as a circle, since my route through was tangential. Anyway, too bad the Amy Joy donuts across NY Ave burned down, but who'd bother eating at that Wendy's? So inconvenient.
posted by Rash at 9:43 AM on December 27, 2017


If the property was owned by someone looking for the highest and best use it would be repurposed as soon as the sale was completed. Bureaucrats are tits on a boar.

RTFA:

"Wendy’s has been the intersection’s one constant over the past 33 years. Today the franchise is owned by NPC Quality Burgers Inc. The land, worth $5 million, has been owned since 2006 by the Bernstein Management Corp."

The lot on which that Wendy's sits has been in private hands for a minimum of 140 years.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:56 AM on December 27, 2017 [7 favorites]


In any case, the Wendy's itself - while amusing - is not the issue. The issue is the crazy-ass traffic flows.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:11 PM on December 28, 2017


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