Best Way to Tell Locals from Out-of-Towners

Capability to navigate Ward Circle
Even tourists can tell you that traffic circles represent one of Washington’s unique geographic features. Though for the most part, no one really finds such elements of traffic planning especially frightening: You mosey on up to some unassuming roundabout like Grant Circle or Logan Circle, glide around it, and keep going. But then there’s Ward Circle, at the intersection of Massachusetts and Nebraska avenues NW, right by the American University campus. On the face of it, the statue of revolutionary war general Artemus Ward doesn’t betray a scary, complicated traffic-mitigating device, like the tunnel-enhanced Thomas Circle.

But just try to approach it along Nebraska Avenue. What are those internal lanes for? Wait—you have to go right in order to take a left? This stuff is confusing! Students at the university say they can tell who’s a local and who’s only here for a degree by seeing who drives through the circle and who knows an alternate route around it.

“Some of the most frequent crashes that happen on that circle are by people who get into the inside route, which is the continuation of Nebraska Avenue, and suddenly realize that it’s taking them onto Nebraska Avenue, but they really were hoping to get out to Massachusetts Avenue, so they’ll hang a sharp left as they reach the end of the circle,” says Karina Ricks, a former DDOT employee now working with traffic engineering firm Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates. And then? “You would immediately run into the oncoming Nebraska Avenue traffic.” Whew! Maybe American can offer a degree in navigation.