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.
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
, 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!)