The intersection of North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue NE is normally dense with traffic, but on the evening of April 4, it was choked off completely. Drivers who tried to use P Street as a shortcut found themselves trapped. They honked their horns and screamed obscenities. Several, accepting defeat, turned off their engines and got out to see what was causing the holdup.
What they found was a “Free Gas Friday” event being held at the Exxon gas station at 1 Florida Ave. NE. The gratis fuel was given away from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. by local radio station WKYS-FM 93.9, to “show its appreciation to the community.”
Motorists who weren’t looking for gasoline struggled to escape. Even drivers who were waiting for a fill-up marveled at the line’s length. “I know that is not the line to get in!” said one young woman in a silver Honda. Another woman in a District government vehicle got out to survey the traffic jam, yelling, “We’ve waited through five lightsthis is ridiculous!” When the line moved and she failed to start her car in time, those behind her were forced to wait through a sixth.
Melody Graves, promotions director at WKYS, says that, despite the backup, things could have been worse. “We could’ve done New York Avenue, but we did it last year and things were tied up in both directions. We wanted to take it off the beaten path, but still put it in a place where people coming in and out of the city could get to it,” she says. “We don’t want to be jerks about itwe wanted a place that was centrally located without tying up traffic too much.”
Still, the location is a high-traffic area. “It is congested,” says Department of Transportation spokesperson Bill Rice. “There is development taking place…and we’re looking at it to see if it can continue to handle the traffic it receives.”
Despite the snarled traffic, Graves says that because the event was held on the gas station’s private property, the radio station was not required to get a permit. The station is planning three more Friday-evening gas giveaways, to take place in either D.C., Maryland, or Virginiathe location is kept secret until the day of the event.
P Street resident Brandon Cannon, who walked around the corner to participate in the festivities, says he enjoyed the gridlock. “It was really niceeveryone was out, and I got to see some people I hadn’t seen in a long time,” he says. Cannon adds that he doesn’t see how his neighbors could have been upset by the overflow, either. “They were all in line, too,” he says. CP