Mistakes in City Infrastructure
Disorder and Disrepair in Washington, DC

Spooky road work sign Photo (detail): © Mike Maguire

Those who love Washington, DC have many reasons to think it’s a wonderful place to live, but the city’s overburdened infrastructure is not among them. 

Mike Maguire

According to the US Census, DC has a population of about 700,000 people, but it grows to over a million during weekdays as government employees and other workers commute in from surrounding states. All those people pouring in and out of the city creates an endless struggle for DC’s aging metro system and overworked roadways. The result is a transportation infrastructure that’s in a constant state of disorder and disrepair. Street signs of varying accuracy are always going up and coming down. Metro riders are frequently hit with surprise train delays and drivers usually have even worse luck with the city’s notorious rush hours. The following photos document a few of the mistakes and happy accidents that have been produced by the chaos that is Washington, DC’s transportation infrastructure.
  • Adding roads and bike paths to a growing a city can create stressful intersections. Sometimes, though, the result is a work of art – an abstract asphalt sculpture laid over the landscape. This one in Rock Creek Park is seen from DC’s Taft Bridge. © Mike Maguire
    Adding roads and bike paths to a growing a city can create stressful intersections. Sometimes, though, the result is a work of art – an abstract asphalt sculpture laid over the landscape. This one in Rock Creek Park is seen from DC’s Taft Bridge.
  • It’s not just roads that can grow like weeds. Power and telephone lines can also grow out of control like this bit of craziness in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood. © Mike Maguire
    It’s not just roads that can grow like weeds. Power and telephone lines can also grow out of control like this bit of craziness in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood.
  • DC’s commuters are used to the metro’s escalators breaking down and are aware that sparks might have to fly to get them going again. There’s no need to be afraid of a little fire, especially when there’s someone to call in case of emergency… © Mike Maguire
    DC’s commuters are used to the metro’s escalators breaking down and are aware that sparks might have to fly to get them going again. There’s no need to be afraid of a little fire, especially when there’s someone to call in case of emergency…
  • You usually have to pay to get into DC’s metro. The temptation of a broken gate is one of the greatest ethical quandaries a commuter can face. © Mike Maguire
    You usually have to pay to get into DC’s metro. The temptation of a broken gate is one of the greatest ethical quandaries a commuter can face.
  • Sometimes the signs in DC’s metro will tell you when your train is coming. Sometimes they aren’t in the mood. © Mike Maguire
    Sometimes the signs in DC’s metro will tell you when your train is coming. Sometimes they aren’t in the mood.
  • On the one hand, this looks like a mistake. On the other hand, if you saw a sign that said there might be a headless pedestrian walking around, wouldn’t you drive a little extra carefully? © Mike Maguire
    On the one hand, this looks like a mistake. On the other hand, if you saw a sign that said there might be a headless pedestrian walking around, wouldn’t you drive a little extra carefully?
  • It’s admirable how much more life they got out of this old sign with a bit of spray paint, but did they have to make it look so spooky? © Mike Maguire
    It’s admirable how much more life they got out of this old sign with a bit of spray paint, but did they have to make it look so spooky?
  • There must’ve been a good reason for labeling the sidewalk repair like this, but did it really need to be big enough to be seen from outer space? © Mike Maguire
    There must’ve been a good reason for labeling the sidewalk repair like this, but did it really need to be big enough to be seen from outer space?
  • DC’s long 3rd Street Tunnel is in a constant state of disrepair. Drivers stuck in traffic were given a profound one-word poem to ponder when workers marked this concrete lane divider for saving. © Mike Maguire
    DC’s long 3rd Street Tunnel is in a constant state of disrepair. Drivers stuck in traffic were given a profound one-word poem to ponder when workers marked this concrete lane divider for saving.
  • Brick sidewalks are popular in DC even though bricks don’t hold up quite as well underfoot as they do in walls. There are always loose bricks waiting to be pilfered by the city’s many brick thieves. © Mike Maguire
    Brick sidewalks are popular in DC even though bricks don’t hold up quite as well underfoot as they do in walls. There are always loose bricks waiting to be pilfered by the city’s many brick thieves.
  • Brick sidewalks are popular in DC even though bricks don’t hold up quite as well underfoot as they do in walls. There are always loose bricks waiting to be pilfered by the city’s many brick thieves. © Mike Maguire
    Brick sidewalks are popular in DC even though bricks don’t hold up quite as well underfoot as they do in walls. There are always loose bricks waiting to be pilfered by the city’s many brick thieves.
  • Of course, regular sidewalks can also come apart. Let’s hope this one doesn’t lead to any broken hearts. © Mike Maguire
    Of course, regular sidewalks can also come apart. Let’s hope this one doesn’t lead to any broken hearts.
  • The nice thing about signs that point straight ahead is that they’re still accurate when upside down. © Mike Maguire
    The nice thing about signs that point straight ahead is that they’re still accurate when upside down.
  • Spelling a name wrong is always embarrassing but replacing a big metal sign is pricy. The solution in DC’s Rock Creek Park was to cover up a mistake with a sticker that isn’t quite as well camouflaged as it could be. © Mike Maguire
    Spelling a name wrong is always embarrassing but replacing a big metal sign is pricy. The solution in DC’s Rock Creek Park was to cover up a mistake with a sticker that isn’t quite as well camouflaged as it could be.
  • Small placards fit the colonial-era aesthetic of DC’s Georgetown neighborhood, but a challenge arises when the city wants to indicate something on both sides of the street. Placing arrows on different sides of the signs prevents complete redundancy. © Mike Maguire
    Small placards fit the colonial-era aesthetic of DC’s Georgetown neighborhood, but a challenge arises when the city wants to indicate something on both sides of the street. Placing arrows on different sides of the signs prevents complete redundancy.
  • It’s not clear why someone thought this sign was necessary in Great Falls, Virginia, just outside of DC. Perhaps it’s an homage to the popular children's book “Where the Sidewalk Ends”? © Mike Maguire
    It’s not clear why someone thought this sign was necessary in Great Falls, Virginia, just outside of DC. Perhaps it’s an homage to the popular children's book “Where the Sidewalk Ends”?

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