Worst Cities for Drivers: Washington, DC

Washington, DC: Our nation’s capital (of bad drivers). How does your city compare?

The worst cities for drivers: Washington DC

Some cities are infamous for bad driving: Los Angeles is too congested, San Francisco is too hilly and foggy. And these cities are (deservedly) notorious for their drivers. But there’s a sleeper in this race to the bottom. It’s the place where thousands of people from all over the world bring their bad driving habits: Washington, DC.

Steeped in history (and good microbreweries), our nation’s capital is understandably a tourist mecca. And I’m here to offer you visitors (and heck, even you locals) a friendly piece of advice: don’t add another car to those already congested roads! There’s excellent public transportation, bike shares, and (sigh) even Segways.

Want to know how serious I am about this? Check out why DC ranks #1 on my list of worst cities for drivers.

The culprits

Tourists

No DC rant would be complete without tourists. Starting with the National Cherry Blossom Festival in March, the sightseeing hordes descend. Clad in T-shirts distinguishing them as members of the FBI or Witness Protection Program, they trudge along the National Mall from museum to museum, asking locals, “Is that the White House?” They clog Starbucks, they wait in line (for hours!) just to eat a Georgetown Cupcake. They pilot Segways clumsily around the Mall, offering comedic relief to all.

Fortunately, most tourists don’t actually drive in DC. But those who do have to park … and that means parking spots on the Mall can be scarce during Capitol staffers’ softball and kickball leagues (aka drinking clubs), raising the ire of many a bro.

Part-timers

Commuters flood the District on weekdays, nearly doubling its population for 8 hours and eliminating any chance of parking anywhere. Everyone knows Virginians drive too slowly! Marylanders too erratically! And blood pressure levels only skyrocket during those long drives home after a day spent running the country (or, depending on your viewpoint, ruining it).

But the worst drivers in Washington aren’t tourists or suburbanites. They’re not congressmen or lobbyists. They’re not even Capitol Hill interns. No — they’re diplomats. The tell-tale “DIPLOMAT” license plate — a symbol of consequence-free (and often careless) driving — strikes fear and rage into the heart of Washingtonians. Granted, I have absolutely no stats on this. But ask locals whom to avoid on the road, and often they’ll reply, “diplomats” (and usually offer some colorful language to boot).

The big guy

Then there’s the president. As if dodging diplomats, reckless cabbies, and clueless tourists isn’t bad enough, you even have to watch out for the leader of the free world. He is always in such a hurry, and the drivers of his 20+ blackout-tinted SUVs and limos aren’t big on yielding to pedestrians. Which one is carrying the nuclear football? I don’t want to find out.

The city

DC is so 19th century

The city is built around broad, diagonal avenues that provide great sight lines of icons like the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and the White House. It’s gorgeous. But as brilliant as city designer Pierre L’Enfant was, he apparently wasn’t smart enough to anticipate the car. Cram a hundred of these space-hoggers into a DC traffic circle and you get one giant (and round) parking lot. (Speaking of round parking lots, have you ever driven on the Beltway?)

But the most calamitous of all DC circles — an entire neighborhood that should be completely avoided during rush hour — is Dupont Circle. Even Hollywood knows that. In The American President, the big-screen precursor to the small screen’s The West Wing (which is required viewing for all Washingtonians), Sydney asks the president to declare Dupont a federal disaster area. Drive through it at 5:30 p.m. and you’ll see that it doesn’t need a formal declaration to be considered a disaster.

Park it and leave it

Despite all this, I stayed accident-free during my 4 years in DC. I attribute that partly to my superior driving skills, but mostly to driving only when absolutely necessary (to get to Costco, of course).

Thankfully, more Washingtonians are choosing to ride public transportation, walk, or, increasingly, to bike — either on their own 2-wheeler or via the biggest bike-sharing program in the country, Capital Bikeshare.

And who can blame them?

(Okay, I admit, after living in DC, I might be a little biased. So if you think your city is worse, let me know by leaving a comment below.)

Related links

Worst Cities for Drivers: San Francisco
Worst Cities for Drivers: Los Angeles

One Response to “Worst Cities for Drivers: Washington, DC”

  1. Tony Siniscalco
    February 11, 2013 #

    A part of the problem in DC is that literally there are drivers from every part of the country here and they all learned to drive differently. Spend a day driving in and out of DC or around the beltway and you will readily see cars from California, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Alaska and even Hawaii. DC is made up of staffs and families from every congressional district. What do you tell a driver from Connecticut who learned to yield when entering a traffic circle, when he meets a driver from New York who learned to yield when on the traffic circle? Or what about a driver form NJ who learned that the higher caliber road has the right of way, or even a diver from Iowa who may never have seen a circle? Nobody knows what the other driver may or may not do next. Also no body obeys the basic driving principles, "Keep right except to pass" and Use the acceleration lanes to get up to highway speed and then merge over."

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