Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category roads

Pedestrians


Could traffic changes produce a new village square?

Where Kennedy Street meets Missouri Avenue in Northwest DC, there's a dangerous tangle of turn lanes, cross traffic, and leftover plots of useless land. DDOT plans to remake the intersection to be safer for car traffic, but with a few simple tweaks the plan could produce something even better: A village square.


Kennedy Street at Missouri Avenue, where DDOT is considering closing a turn lane.
Image from Bing.

Kennedy Street NW is one of DC's forgotten main streets. It's the biggest east-west commercial street between Columbia Heights and Silver Spring, though its sparse collection of shops is a far cry from the hustle of Georgia Avenue.

One of the problems on Kennedy Street is its intersection with Missouri Avenue, where the existing road design prioritizes cars over pedestrians, and divides what otherwise might be the walkable heart of Kennedy Street's business district.

Except the intersection isn't safe for cars either. Dozens of collisions in recent years have resulted from drivers travelling southeast on Missouri Avenue cutting across oncoming traffic to turn left onto eastbound Kennedy Street.

DDOT's long-delayed plan to fix this problem would close the eastbound lane of Kennedy Street between Missouri Avenue and 2nd Street. Drivers hoping to go east on Kennedy would instead turn left off Missouri onto 2nd Street, then immediately right onto Kennedy.

This change may reduce car collisions by preventing drivers from turning across traffic. But it does nothing to help pedestrians, on a street where they desperately need help.

Close one more lane to get a village square

DDOT's plan to improve safety at the intersection leaves the westbound lane of Kennedy Street as-is. But what if that lane were closed as well?

There aren't as many traffic safety problems on the westbound lane. Closing it would eliminate direct car access to the struggling businesses in row houses along that block. It would also eliminate a bit of on-street parking.

But removing both lanes would create a sizable triangle of public land, which then could become the central public square Kennedy Street currently lacks. The square could become the heart of the Kennedy Street community, hosting gatherings, markets, and events.

If that happened, might the increase in pedestrian traffic make up for the decrease in car traffic?

Community activists push for change

The Kennedy Street Business and Development Association launched in January in part to push the city to fully fund and implement the 2008 revitalization plan for Kennedy Street.

In that plan, the Office of Planning recommended improving this intersection and the rest of Kennedy's streetscape, to help revive its pedestrian and commercial life.

DDOT's plan to improve car safety is a good start, but to make Kennedy a fully healthy and vital main street it's going to take more than tweaks to the traffic flow. We need a more pedestrian-friendly street, and hopefully a village square.

Bicycling


The biggest bikeshare station in each US city

Throughout 2014, DC and New York have jockeyed back and forth over which city's bikeshare system has the most stations in the United States. But who has the biggest stations?


New York’s 67-dock station. Photo from Google.

DC currently leads in the number of stations race, 335 to 324. But the number of stations only tells part of the story. New York's stations are vastly bigger than DC's, and by far the largest in the US.

New York's biggest station, which is outside of Penn Station, has a whopping 67 docks. It's almost 50% larger than the next city's largest station.

Here's the number of docks at the biggest station in America's main big-city bikeshare systems:

RankCityLargest stationDocks at largest station
1New YorkPenn Station67
2BostonSouth Station46
3WashingtonDupont Circle45
4ChicagoMichigan/Washington43
5MinneapolisCoffman Union and Lake/Knox32
6Miami Beach46th/Collins31
7tDenverREI27
7tSan FranciscoMarket/10th and 2nd/Townsend27

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


No bike racks? Just park it in the car lane

It's a frequent sight around the city. Drivers who are ignorant or who just don't care park in the bike lane when they can't find a parking space. It's rude and inconsiderate, of course, but it's also dangerous for the cyclists who have to dart into traffic to pass. How would drivers react if cyclists started parking in their lane?

The poster above was produced by Canadian design and cities-focused magazine Spacing. The image is designed to be a little provocative and to make drivers think about how they'd like it. I suspect most of them wouldn't like it one bit.

I've always wondered why people think it's acceptable to park in the bike lane. Recently I was riding on the M Street cycletrack and as I approached one of the mixing zones, a UPS driver was backing his truck into the buffered part of the bike lane. At this point, it was already after the evening rush hour, and there were 4 lanes for cars, but only one for bikes. If the UPS delivery guy had parked in one of the car lanes, he'd be blocking 1 of 4 lanes. But by blocking the bike lane, he was blocking the only bike lane.

Why is it that drivers who would never for a moment consider blocking a car lane "just for a minute," while they run inside will, without even the briefest of thoughts, park in the bike lane?

Well maybe this image can be successful in making drivers give it a little thought.

Architecture


This federal building is missing a corner. Here's why

The Department of Agriculture South Building an archetypal federal building: big, beige, and boxy. But it's missing a corner. Why? The L'Enfant Plan and a street that no longer exists.


The South Building, with the Jamie L. Whitten Building to the north. Image from Google Maps.

The South Building's façade stands about 30 feet back from Independence Avenue. The south entrance to the Smithsonian metro stop fits so cozily into the corner, it almost looks as if the notch was built just for it. Of course, that doesn't square with the history.

This building was an exercise in making efficient use of the land. Unlike Federal Triangle, or Southwest's modernist buildings, its walls run right up to the property line. With long, thin wings connected at the perimeter, the South Building was as efficient as an office building could be before air conditioning.

When completed in 1936, it was the largest office building in the world. Only the Pentagon would unseat it. On Independence Avenue, its facade runs for 900 feet of beige brick and green-painted steel.

The architect, Louis Simon, wouldn't have built the setback if he didn't have to. Looking at a satellite photo provides no clues. But, if you look at an older satellite photo, the reason becomes obvious.


The South Building in and its context in 2012. The missing corner is on the left side of the image.


The South Building in and its context in 1941.

Pierre L'Enfant's Virginia Avenue slightly clips the block. You can't see it now, because urban renewal replaced that section of Virginia Avenue with bas-relief urbanism and highway ramps. Ironically, the sightline the architects so carefully avoided was erased thirty years later.

And this brings up the last reason it's so mysterious: the architects went out of their way to hide the difference between the corners. Rather than clipping it diagonally along the property line, Simon's team designed an orthogonal setback that seemed like it was the natural place for the wall.

With two pedestrian bridges and a long walk in between each corner, it's really hard to notice the difference. I wouldn't have noticed it had it not come up in the dispute over the Eisenhower Memorial's setbacks.

For now, it's another one of DC's carefully hidden quirks, like the off-axis position of the Washington Monument, or the Jefferson Memorial sitting slightly to the south where Maryland Avenue would be. As Southwest is rebuilt, and Virginia Avenue returns, the purpose of the notch will become more clear.

Bicycling


Why build protected bike lanes, in one happy quote

A father and son comfortably bike down a slow Arlington street. They approach the new Hayes Street cycletrack. The father asks "Want to take the special bike lane?" The son responds with an excited "Yeah!"


The father and son. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

I overheard that interaction this past weekend, and had to stop and smile.

That one brief conversation sums up why protected bike lanes are so great: They make city streets safe, comfortable, and fun for even children to bicycle on. Not to mention older people, less-able people, and novice cyclists.

If Americans ever hope to make cycling for transportation a mainstream activity, cycling must feel comfortable for everyone. Getting bikes out of the path of speeding cars is a big part of that.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

History


How Ward 8's thoroughfares have changed since 1870

In 1870, the areas between the old city and the District line were still fairly rural. But many of the thoroughfares that shape the city today were already around then. Let's look at the roads that connected communities in what is now Ward 8.


1870 map of DC roads. From the DC Public Library.

Until 1871, the District was made up of the cities of Washington and Georgetown while the rest was in unincorporated Washington County. Present-day District neighborhoods like Brightwood, Columbia Heights, Tenleytown, and all land east of the Anacostia river laid outside the city in Washington County, DC. An 1870 map held in the Washingtoniana Room at the DC Public Library shows the roads that ran through the city's early suburbs, including those that crisscrossed Ward 8.

Nichols Avenue
What's now Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, the thoroughfare that runs from the junction with Good Hope Road all the way to just short of the Maryland line is an old Native American path. Long ago it was colloquially known as Piscataway Road, after the dominant regional tribe in the 1700s.

When the US Insane Asylum (today Saint Elizabeths Hospital) opened in the 1850s, Piscataway Road changed to Asylum Road or Asylum Avenue.

By the late 1860s, people were calling the road Nichols Avenue, after Dr. Charles H. Nichols, the long-time superintendent of Saint Elizabeths.

The road carried this name for over a century before taking its present designation.

Good Hope Road
Another major thoroughfare still traveled today is Good Hope Road. The origins of the name Good Hope Road have been debated for years. Some have speculated the road's name is derivative of the Good Hope Tavern that once stood at the modern-day intersection with Naylor Road, while others have told of Native American origins.

In 1924, John Harry Shannon wrote of Good Hope Road in the Evening Star:

"It was one of those gray, level, shadeless roads, bordered by signs, gas stations and ice cream, and sausage refectories which nearly all of us have come to call a good road. It was without the virtues and the charm of a bad road."
Hamilton Road
Further east, the 1870s map shows "Hamilton Road" running north-south. Churches, schools, and cemeteries that once lined Hamilton Road now line Alabama Avenue.

An early generation of Allen AME Church is depicted in the 1870 map near the junction of Good Hope Road and Naylor Road as an "African Church." Today the church stands at 2498 Alabama Avenue, and is notable for a 2010 visit by President Obama.

In June 1908 the District Commissioners formally changed Hamilton Road to Alabama Avenue.

Naylor Road
One road name in use in 1870 that remains on the map today is Naylor Road, named after Colonel Henry Naylor. His early forefather came to America as an indentured servant before the Revolutionary War. As reported by the Evening Star in his January 1871 obituary, Naylor, was an "old and highly respected citizen of Washington county, died at his residence, Mount Henry, near Good Hope, yesterday afternoon in the 73d year of his age."

Naylor was "born, raised and lived continuously on his farm, but was well and favorably known throughout the District." For years Naylor was responsible for the care of the land records of Washington County, duties later performed by the Recorder of Deeds. Naylor was an officer of the militia, holding a commission as colonel, and several times he was a member of the Levy Court. He is buried in Congressional Cemetery.

The communities that were outside the city in 1870 have changed dramatically in the nearly 150 years since. But the basic framework of thoroughfares has remained fairly constant, especially in Ward 8.

While many things have changed, it's sometimes amazing to find things that have stayed the same.

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