Welcome to another edition of DC Mythbusting! Last week we discussed how, contrary to popular belief, the height limit wasn’t based on the Capitol or the Washington Monument. This week I’m here to debunk the myth of the traffic circles in DC. I have heard from a couple different sources that supposedly Pierre L’Enfant designed the traffic circles in Washington DC as artillery bases to defend the city. It is said that cannons were placed in the center of the circles to defend against cavalry. This myth has some traction out there– it can be found in transportation magazines, Washingtonian magazine, and even a book.
The fact is that the circles weren’t even originally envisioned as circles. According to Grand Avenues: The Story of the French Visionary Who Designed Washington, DC, L’Enfant had planned for squares where the avenues intersected the grid. In fact, L’Enfant’s plan for the squares was more of an economic development tool: he thought that each square should be settled by residents and Congressmen of a particular state, creating informal state ‘embassies’, and that states would then encourage the development of that particular area of the city. In this way, the squares would encourage both business and residents to locate near their home state square and foster community development. His plan for the development of the city was to start developing at each of these nodes and connect the nodes with grand avenues. Continue reading