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As you approach the South Capitol Street exit on the Southwest Freeway, there's a small blue sign overhead, dwarfed by its siblings and probably all but invisible to everyday users of the highway.
It's a Gas - Food - Lodging sign, ubiquitous across this great land of ours and often a very (VERY) welcome sight, when the gas gauge has fallen below the Empty line and panic has begun setting in.
And while regulations generally say that an establishment can be located within three miles of the exit in order to allow for such a sign to be posted, in urban settings stressed low-fuel drivers have some level of expectation that when they get to the end of the ramp they will be greeted with at least one gas station within view, or a sign pointing where to go to find it and how far it will be.
Up until about nine years ago, that's exactly what would happen when taking the South Capitol exit. There were Exxons on the east side of the street (at I) and the west side (at K). There was a BP Amoco station at N, plus a Sunoco at Half and M and another Exxon at 11th and M if one wanted to stray a little or a lot.
But then they started to close, and were all gone by 2008, though I will note that not a single one of those sites has been developed as of now.
So, if you are a desperate driver looking for gas, and you see that sign, and you start to head south on South Capitol Street, where is the first gas station you'd come across? You'd have to be smartphone-equipped to find your way 3.4 miles to the King Gas Station on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, just north of the intersection with Malcolm X Avenue.
But more likely you'd stay on the Suitland Parkway, and perhaps your Spidey Sense might then lead you north on Alabama Avenue to the BP at the intersection with Alabama, Naylor, and Good Hope Roads, 4.6 miles away from your exit.
Chances are though that you'd follow the Suitland Parkway until you are alerted otherwise. There's no signs as far as Google Street View shows for stations at Naylor Road (4.8 miles) and Silver Hill Road (6.3 miles), though the stations at the latter can probably be seen once you passed the exits, launching just the sort of in-car recriminations that end up being the highlight of so many car trips.
Eventually you end up at a T-intersection with Rt. 4/Pennsylvania Avenue, where if you are lucky--and clearly you aren't--you will guess that you should turn left, and be rewarded with a BP about a mile later, a total of 14.1 miles and God knows how many minutes since you exited the Southwest Freeway.
If instead you decide to keep heading forward in your same general direction, you could be all the way to the Sunoco in Lothian before you at last find your station, though of course you would totally have run out of gas somewhere during the 19.7-mile divorce-inducing trek.
The reality is that Pennsylvania Avenue SE is a frantic driver's best bet from the South Capitol Street exit, either by getting back on 695, heading across the 11th Street Bridge, and then going north on DC-295 to the Sunoco at the Pennsylvania Avenue interchange (2.7 miles), or by getting yourself north of the freeway and then taking a pick of the stations at 9th, 12th, or 13th (we're just going to ignore the Platinum-Coated Exxon at 4th and Pennsylvania), all of which are 1.5 miles-ish from the exit.
Residents figure these things out, so there's not the same scenario of needing gas, seeing a sign, and expecting a relatively simple path to a fill-up. And it's not exactly a news flash that gas stations are becoming increasingly scarce in the downtown core.
But maybe this poor blue sign could be moved to the spiffy newish 11th Street/Southeast Blvd. exit.
Ditto on all of this for the similar blue signs pointing drivers coming south out of the 3rd Street Tunnel to the South Capitol Street exit.
(And to think that this was originally just going to be nothing more than a snarky tweet of the photo of the blue sign!)
Comments (9)
   
 
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Alan says: (1/11/15 8:42 PM)
While out walking the dog, I get stopped multiple times each month by people asking where the gas station is.


SWer says: (1/12/15 3:31 AM)
I moved to SW (from Nova) just as I began to see all of the gas stations disappear? I reached out to the SW Preisident Kael Anderson to see when any would return. His reply was that they would not. That DC was moving towards a more green, walkable/bikeable community. That's perfect for any other city....especially one that is not inviting visitors in via the baseball stadium & future stadiums. Further, what is proposed in the meantime? I moved here with a car & am not able to walk or bike to my clients in VA, MD, NJ & NY. This green plan by the SWNA would have been appreciated before I decided on moving to SW. However, I doubt seriously that SWNA really had any "play" in the matter. Ya think?


E. Masquinongy says: (1/12/15 10:41 AM)
Loss of gas station is not limited to urban areas, but is a nationwide issue: the total number of US gas stations has been in decline for years. link shows a decline from north of 200,000 in 1994 to 168,000 in 2004. The current number is 121,000.

What causes the loss of gas stations is the loss of profitability; high land cost and low margin for fuel sales. (Joe Mano says his company is mainly real estate investment.) It has little to do with "DC is moving towards a more green, walkable/bikeable community".


JES says: (1/12/15 11:36 AM)
Regardless of DC's green initiatives, DC isn't obligated to provide gas stations right off its highways for the convenience of through traffic. There are plenty of gas stations just off the highways in MD and VA and if you're on a road trip that's longer than 10 or 15 miles, you're guaranteed to pass at least one of them. As far as local residents buying gas, there are still plenty of places on Capitol Hill to get gas. You just have to drive over to PA Ave SE.


MJM says: (1/12/15 11:54 AM)
Oh you can get gas on Cap Hill but you might as well............(NSFW). Have you noticed the the little price gouger at PA and 4th SE is almost $2 more per gallon than places in Arlington?


JD says: (1/12/15 11:56 AM)
Why do you think I called it the Platinum Coated Exxon? :-)


Realist says: (1/12/15 11:57 AM)
Long time reader, first time commenter...LOL for "19.7-mile divorce-inducing trek"! Poor/missing/misleading signage is one of my pet peeves, and we certainly have plenty of those in the DC metro area. Desperately needing gas and following a gas sign to non-existent gas stations is infuriating. I had a flat on a rental car on I-95 recently and followed a blue gas station sign, only to drive over 5 miles with my heart in my mouth before I found a gas station. Perhaps the appropriate DC or US highway agency can make your suggested sign changes promptly and without the need for extensive studies and stakeholder meetings.


Tom says: (1/12/15 8:33 PM)
SW'er, try the Exxon and Sunoco up on Pa. Ave. near 12th/13 st., SE. Not that far.


Tom says: (1/12/15 8:33 PM)
SW'er, try the Exxon and Sunoco up on Pa. Ave. near 12th/13 st., SE. Not that far.

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