I love the way DC has an avenue named after every state. Leaving aside the relative merits of the states themselves, which is the definitive DC avenue? And what about traffic circles? Which reigns supreme?
In an ideal world, the answer would be easy: District of Columbia Avenue! Alas, our stateless city has no namesake thoroughfare. As with so many other aspects of DC’s legal limbo, there’s one upside: We get to fantasize about how awesome and perfect everything would be if only we were a state. So in the Washingtonologist’s daydreams, District of Columbia Avenue is a magical, tree-lined boulevard with vibrant commerce, charming architecture, a diverse population, affordable real estate, ample transit, and no litter on its wide sidewalks.
Back in the real world, the quest is more complicated. The Washingtonologist’s first instinct is to pick one of the long avenues that bisect the city in all its diversity (and serve as a convenient commute). Of these, Massachusetts—stretching from DC’s southeastern border to its northwestern one, encompassing poor and rich neighborhoods, downtown canyons and Embassy Row—is the best. Its closest competitor, Pennsylvania, is disqualified by virtue of being shut down in front of the White House (a tidy symbol of the District’s second-class status, come to think of it).
Of course, in a city like ours, there’s a good argument for picking based on aesthetics instead. The Washingtonologist is a sucker for the Victoriana of small Capitol Hill avenues like South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee—not to mention the brief vistas that appear when, say, Connecticut Avenue shoots across Rock Creek or when a nighttime glimpse of the city’s skyline reveals itself near Alabama Avenue in Congress Heights.
In the end, though, we’re swayed by a different logic. Cartography is a great way to separate locals from interlopers. And so our answer to the question of what represents the definitive DC avenue is . . . Ohio. But wait, you say—there is no Ohio Avenue! For reasons lost to history, the Buckeye State gets only a measly drive. To which we answer: Exactly. The minute that thought passed through your mind, you established yourself as a true Washingtonian. What could be more definitive than that?
As for circles, sadly, it’s much easier. While roundabouts are a key feature of our map, DC takes shamefully poor advantage of them. Some—Logan, Grant—are pleasant green spaces. Others—like Ward Circle, near American University, or Juarez Circle, by the Watergate—appear actively hostile to pedestrian and vehicle alike. That leaves Dupont, the one great circle that’s ringed by commerce and also treated like a park, rendering it lively and diverse and still navigationally useful. If the Washingtonologist were remaking L’Enfant’s plan, District of Columbia Avenue would surely intersect it.
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This article appears in the December 2021 issue of Washingtonian.