The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts from March 2012


Weekend links: Limbo

Photo by GoatChild on Flickr.
Austerity brings uncertainty: The Department of Homeland Security headquarters at St. Elizabeth's is beset by Congress­ional politics, causing delays, rising costs, and uncertainty for the neighborhoods banking on its success. (Post)

Red top critics have their say: Critics of the red top meter program say they need more thought before moving forward. Not all the spaces are ADA compliant, and the meters are sometimes poorly placed for the disabled. However, most support the overall system of charging for parking. (Post)

A growing industry: Marijuana will be grown on 6 sites, 5 of which will be clustered in Ward 5. The low number could mean problems for dispensaries, which had counted on 10 growing sites. (Post, DCist)

Montgomery has changed: Montgomery County has changed a lot in 50 years. A generation of activists who moved there for the classic suburban life and want to keep it that way don't reflect the current demographics and needs of the county. (JUTP)

Where do new DC residents come from?: New residents of DC most likely last lived in Montgomery or Prince George's, followed by Europe, Arlington, Asia, New York, Fairfax, Chicago, Central America and LA. DCentric has the data for several area jurisdictions.

Get on the bus: There is very little sexy about the bus, at least to American eyes, but the key to transit access outside of the most urban areas lies with changing that perception and getting people on board the bus. (NPR)

The pedestrian death double standard: San Francisco's cycling population is booming, and with it has come some high-profile cyclist-on-pedestrian crashes. Yet while the media hypes every bike crash, the far more common drivers hitting pedestrians remain traffic report footnotes. (Streetsblog)

Drivers outraged about driving speed limit: A news crew drove around Staten Island at the speed limit and encountered substantial road rage from impatient drivers. That led to an editorial opposing a "culture of aggression" on the streets. (SILive)

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Cranes over the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.

City Center DC. Photo by mosley.brian.

Tidal Basin. Photo by Natalia Esina.

Metro Center. Photo by mosley.brian.

15th Street cycle track. Photo by Payton Chung.

R Street & Florida Ave. Photo by randomduck.

Forest Glen. Photo by Caitlin H. Faw.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of Washington? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

Public Spaces

A closed street can be a living street

On sunny days, Lafayette Square is filled with people. Tourists snap pictures of the White House behind them. Bicyclists and pedestrians enjoy a space where they, not cars, have the right of way.

Photo by JoshBerglund19 on Flickr.

Although two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue was closed for security reasons, it has become similar to what the Dutch call a woonerf (plural woonerven, which translates roughly to "living street."

A woonerf is a low-speed street where pedestrians and cyclists have legal priority over drivers. In practice, cars, bikes, and people on foot mix freely. Unlike a standard woonerf, Pennsylvania Avenue doesn't regular drivers, but it has taken on many of the elements of the woonerf. Security needs can also close them at a moment's notice. Therefore, I like to call this a "security woonerf."

Since the mid-1990s, cordoned-off areas have popped up throughout the city. Yet, few of them could be called security woonerven. Could this change?

The two most prominent security woonerven in DC are on the east side of the US Capitol and on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. In these areas, activity takes place mainly on foot or on a bike.

Although security vehicles operate in those areas, they're parked most of the time, so pedestrians and cyclists essentially have the run these spaces. These two locations are obviously popular with residents and visitors alike. Both are now important hubs in DC's expanding bicycle network and as important activity centers for all manner of activity: tourism, lunch breaks, leisurely strolls, running, you name it.

Following the tragedy at Oklahoma City in 1995, federal planners redesigned facilities to minimize risks to important buildings from motor vehicles. All across the city, barriers went up, starting with jersey barriers, giant planters, and police roadblocks.

Over time, these evolved into permanent hardened perimeters with bollards, sally ports, guard gates, and delta barriers. As much as possible, these elements were planned with an eye toward improving aesthetics, or at least in comparison to original concrete jersey barriers.

While the two security woonerven at the White House and the Capitol are great assets to the city, other cordoned-off areas are not.

The security professionals who planned these facilities gave little consideration to bicycle and pedestrian access. The spaces are attractive for walkers and bikers by default, because of their lack of traffic. However, it often isn't easy to travel into or through the perimeter of these areas.

Another security woonerf is in the works for E Street, south of the White House. As many commenters noted during the design competition, though, cyclists appeared to be an afterthought in most of the submitted proposals.

Often, small tweaks could really improve access into these potentially great spaces. Even Lafayette Square has access issues on the north side at the Madison Place sally-port.

The State Department closed C Street NW and segments of other roads next to their Foggy Bottom headquarters, but they have not replaced the jersey barriers and planters with bollards and other elements more hospitable to bicycle and pedestrian traffic. The House and Senate office buildings have several cordoned streets around them that only admit authorized cars, but the access points are difficult to get through by bike.

Although Union Station has closed off driving access through Columbus Circle for security, the space was subsequently devoted to passenger pick-up and drop-off, making this potential security woonerf very difficult for pedestrians and cyclists. Thankfully, work already underway on the Circle will improve upon current conditions.

Beyond these spaces, there are a number of closed campuses in DC which would greatly benefit from adopting some of the more successful security woonerven designs. Specifically, I'd love to see security woonerven at the Old Soldier's Home, the future Walter Reed development (both the DC and State Department portions), and the Washington Hospital Center.

Areas around the Pentagon, and Joint Base Bolling also have potential if security priorities are better balanced with pedestrian and bike permeability. Universities like Catholic, Georgetown, and Howard you can get through, but it's not obvious or direct. Even at the Arboretum and the Navy Yard, where trails and woonerven already exist, extended hours would vastly improve these spaces.

Regardless of why and how we established these areas, federal and local planners need to recognize their success, and understand their best elements. Then they can adopt those elements into sites that have potential, but aren't quite security woonerven yet.

Are there other places we could have a great security woonerf? Also, can you think of a better term? Whatever you you call them, if streets have to close for security, we would all benefit from making more of them living streets.


Arlington trail signs improve wayfinding, mostly

Arlington has started installing the first of the 250 "wayfinding" signs it has planned along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. They are part of a comprehensive plan that will include hundreds of signs across the county.

All images by the author.

The first signs are a big improvement over the non-existent or outdated signs currently along the trails. They can still be better, and hopefully the county will learn from the first ones and from comments regular trail users.

My past reviews of trail signs have mostly been negative because they either did not exist or did not function well. The new signs are better, but they still have a few issues.

This map shows the locations of the 3 signs reviewed here.

The sign at the top right is mounted on the sound wall at the entrance of the trail. The signs now list the name of the trail, a vast improvement over ones in the past which pointed towards destinations but failed to tell you which trail you were on.

Now someone who gets directions online or from a friend that say to "turn right on the Custis Trail" will have confidence they are at the right place when they reach the trail entrance.

This spot has always been confusing because both directions look like the trail. This sign helps, but it should also indicate that the Custis Trail continues to the left.

The East Falls Church distance indicator in the sign at the top was accidentally swapped with the one on this sign. The soundwall sign is actually closer to East Falls Church than this sign, but says it is 0.1 miles farther away.

This sign presents two specific problems but also offers an example of how future signs can improve further.

First, the word "THRU" is unclear. Is there a difference between the word "THRU" and a straight arrow? If so, it's difficult to tell what that is.

If not, a straight arrow would be clearer, and it would be more consistent with the directional arrows used elsewhere. The County may have already recognized the possible confusion since, as of yesterday morning, the word "THRU" had been blacked over on at this particular sign.

Second, Washington-Lee High School is not a useful destination to a vast majority of trail users. I would guess that only a small portion of cyclists and pedestrians passing this point are going to Washington-Lee High School.

Maybe it was necessary to have a directional sign for Washington-Lee High School to meet Safe Routes to School objectives. But if that's the case, then it should be at the connector to 15th St North near North Taylor and at the Quincy St connector, the exit points from the trail to the school.

At this location, the sign should have a more general location like "Clarendon" or, better yet, Washington, DC. Probably more than a quarter of trail users at this point are headed to the District. Yet, Arlington staff have told me that Washington, DC will appear on very few of the signs even though it is one of the most common destinations, especially for weekday commuters.

Finally, these problems raise a larger question: why weren't any of these issues resolved prior to posting the signs? Arlington hired a supposedly top notch contractor to do this. They spent a lot of time and money developing a comprehensive plan. I'm very active in the cycling community, yet I never heard anything about them soliciting user input on this sign system.

Before the next signs are finalized, Arlington and their contractor should make better effort to gather input and feedback from the trail users and the general public. In the future they should:

  • Get on the DC online bike forums to ask the community about challenging intersections and common destinations
  • Present at the Bicycle Advisory Committee meetings to seeking local knowledge; and
  • Have a presence out on the trails, to talk with the actual trail users and get their input.
These are simple tactics to gather information. It's hard to say definitively, but I'm not aware that they engaged local users other than the Arlington County staff. Aren't these the kinds of things for which a Bicycle Advisory Committee exists?

To be sure, the new signs is are a fantastic improvement over the previous state. But hopefully Arlington can learn from first ones and apply those lessons as the program expands.


Can federal offices change neighborhoods for the better?

Do federal office buildings make their surrounding communities better or worse? Last night, 3 local planning directors discussed how federal buildings can make local areas more lively places to work and live, but how some have had the opposite effect.

Patent and Trademark Office and plaza in Alexandria. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

The Washington region is unique in the number of federal jobs concentrated in large agencies. These large offices have the power to bring new life into neighborhoods and generate new urban growth around existing transit options. But security concerns can derail their positive effects on neighborhoods.

The key to success for these projects is adaptability. "There's no formula. Each project is unique," said Faroll Hamer, Director of Planning and Zoning for the City of Alexandria, at the panel, sponsored by the National Capital Planning Commission.

"The first iteration is almost always horrible," said Harriet Tregoning, DC's planning director. Tregoning argued that communities need to be constantly vigilant and to push back through review and input.

An example of a federal building with negative impact is the FBI Building in downtown Washington. When asked if they thought it was "the worst building in DC," a significant portion of the audience raised their hands. Foreboding and removed from the street, this building serves as an example of what not to do.

On the other hand, the sheer number of workers a new federal office brings into an area can activate the neighborhood. This activity can spur more growth and create new urban fabric where there previously was none. They can give birth to entirely new neighborhoods, or revive ones long since written off.

Qualities of many federal facilities pose problems

Federal office buildings are inherently single-use. Office workers do little for neighborhoods after business hours. This can be especially damaging when agencies cluster, creating large single-use neighborhoods. By spreading offices throughout the region, federal projects can invigorate many different neighborhoods instead of negatively affecting just a handful.

Federal buildings farther from transit often use shuttle buses. These could also provide a desirable transit option for neighborhood residents, but security rules often bar them from riding. This has been part of the conversation around the Department of Homeland Security's new offices at the former St. Elizabeth's hospital site between Anacostia and Congress Heights.

Individual buildings can do a lot to help or hurt their neighborhood. The parking garage for the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) in Alexandria is lined with townhouses on two sides, but other sides are just screened and set back from the street with landscaping, creating a dead streetscape. Many projects fall into this same pattern, with a mix of successful and unsuccessful components.

The GSA plans street-level retail in its building thanks to an innovative approach to security. Image from NCPC.

Security drives many design decisions and harms communities

The General Services Administration (GSA) is working to reverse damage to the streetscape from its massive headquarters in Foggy Bottom. The building is currently entirely disconnected from the street, but GSA plans to bring retail back to the building's street frontage.

To do this, they had to get creative with a factor that hampers the design of many federal projects, security. Security drives a lot of design decisions for federal projects.

USDOT. Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.
For example, the US Department of Transportation's building in the District's Navy Yard neighborhood takes up two entire city blocks, but has only one retail space along its entire façade, a Starbucks. It brings many workers to the area, but does little for the street.

In urban conditions, security hurts the streetscape by restricting building access from the street and for­bidding retail from lining the outside of buildings. In more suburban conditions it creates large campuses, cut off from what little grid there is and keeping workers from being able to activate the area around them. These large campuses also restrict the ability for planners to attempt to reconnect neighborhoods.

By adapting, many agencies are tackling these issues. The GSA's headquarters was formerly a Level 5 security building. In its renovation, they created a graduated security system, where not all areas of the buildings require the maximum security. As a result, almost all the security bollards around the building could be removed, a marked improvement to pedestrian conditions.

The lower level of security makes street level retail a possibility, and the GSA is looking into opening the building's cafeteria to the public, allowing the agency to share this amenity with their neighborhood.

Sustainability goes beyond LEED

Federal buildings built today have more environmentally-friendly design features. This demonstrates leadership and forward thinking from GSA and the agencies, but Rollin Stanley, Director of Planning for Montgomery County, was careful to remind the audience that the greenest building is the one that already exists, and urged federal designers not get too caught up in LEED.

A LEED Platinum building with no transit options but hundreds of free parking spaces will do more harm to the environment that a building built to lower environmental standards. There are many different factors to take into account to judge a building's true impact on the environment.

Many federal buildings, like many private buildings, are building more parking spots than they need to. Federal agencies are often surprised by how many workers will choose to commute in ways besides driving. At the Mark Center in Alexandria, offices for the Department of Defense were expected to produce massive gridlock. Instead, 50% of workers utilize transit to get to the site.

Little touches can do a lot

PTO. Photo by Janellie on Flickr.
With creative designs, federal buildings can often make the most out of restrictions out of their control. The PTO's work in Alexandria requires constant delivery of packages between offices, so the hallways were placed facing the street. This allowed workers to make deliveries by daylight and activate the streetscape. The building could not have retail, but the PTO activated the street in a unique way.

Small-scale gestures have very positive effects on the areas around government offices. The PTO provides Wi-Fi in a small park adjacent to the offices and installed glass columns that light at night. Despite larger urban design failings, small gestures like these can make a big difference in neighborhoods.

Federal projects have their own strengths and weaknesses, but each gains from the collective knowledge of the projects that have come before. Agencies are generally moving towards better designed buildings, closer to transit, that give workers more flexibility. We will surely witness missteps along the way, but the trajectory for these buildings and the positive change they can bring to the areas is promising.


Breakfast links: Punt it

Photo by The Malones on Flickr.
Extended play: Congress approved a 90 day extension of transportation funding, ensuring the gas tax and road construction funds will not end this weekend. The House never took up the Senate transportation bill. (The Hill)

Congressional meddling to get behind: A Redskins training facility on Reservation 13 could violate federal law deeding the land to the District, as the law specifies any use must comply with the Reservation 13 Master Plan. (Flahaven, oboe)

Streetcar comes up short: DC's streetcar will have a 42% operating shortfall, and the District doesn't know yet where it will get the money. Fares are only expected to cover 19% of operating expenses. (Examiner)

Schools face cuts: Costs at DC Public Schools rose 5%, but Mayor Gray's budget only adds 2%. Special education coordinators and librarians are likely to see cuts. (Post)

Bar owners back their best interest: Mayor Gray's proposal to keep bars open an hour longer won praise from bar owners who said it would improve their business and the city's economy, safety, and nightlife. Councilmember Graham, though, is concerned the later hours would bring more crime and noise late at night. (Post, DCist)

DoD choice worsens traffic: The Department of Defense is setting up a sprawling campus near the Beltway and Route 50 in Fairfax. Since it's not new construction, it doesn't have the same rules for reducing single-passenger vehicle use. (WTOP)

Bike sharing a ripoff? Expand it!: A London mayoral candidate calls its bike sharing system "an under-used, elitist rip-off." So what does he want to do? Expand the program to more and poorer neighborhoods. All 4 candidates are competing to see who can have the most aggressively pro-bicycle policy. (The Times)

Formalize the informal street: New York City has an informal, 6-block "avenue" connecting lobbies and plazas that gets heavy use. Now the city will add crosswalks and stop signs to make "6½ Avenue" legal to walk from end to end. (NYT, Ben Ross)

And...: The H Street area gets its first bike shop. (Post, Falls Church) ... DDOT wants to close a block of 10th Street NW to cars in front of Ford's Theater. (City Paper, Bossi) ... DC's largest private solar array is under construction in Tenleytown. (DCmud) ... Mayor Gray will propose tax breaks for high-tech businesses and their investors. (Post)

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Support marriage equality for all in Maryland

Last month, Maryland gave nearly 17,000 same-sex couples the right to marry. We applaud the legislature's action and the support of Governor O'Malley in passing this law. But the hard work is not done.

Photo by ang.england on Flickr.

This month, the opponents to Maryland's same-sex marriage law are collecting signatures to force the issue to a referendum in November in the hopes of repealing the law. We ask you to oppose the petition, but if the petition is successful, we hope that you will vote in favor of equal marriage in November.

We support the right of all couples to marry. Building stronger families helps us build a stronger region, and moreover, supporting equality is the right thing to do.

Mildred Loving, plaintiff in the landmark 1967 Loving v. Virginia case which struck down Virginia's law against interracial marriage, said it best:

Not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the 'wrong kind of person' for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights.
There are many reasons to support civil marriage for all. There's the simple issue of fairness: the state should not give a privilege to one group of people and deny it to another.

Equal marriage is also the best way to give all Maryland families the financial and legal protections they need to build a life. Committed couples who are unable to marry must to make financial sacrifices that opposite-sex couples do not have to make.

A 2009 study by the New York Times revealed that a same-sex couple will spend $467,000 more than a comparable heterosexual couple throughout their lives, in extra taxes, health insurance when an employer doesn't cover same-sex partners, and being ineligible for Social Security or pension benefits.

Without the ability to marry, committed gay and lesbian couples must set up a legal framework to reproduce the protections straight couples take for granted. These extra legal efforts are expensive and are only available to a small segment of the population.

Maryland State Delegate Mary Washington, the only openly gay black delegate in Maryland, makes it clear that there is a socioeconomic argument for gay marriage. "This is also about protecting our families, our poor and working-class people," she told the Washington Post in February.

Beyond economic arguments, studies show that children do better with married parents than with unmarried parents. And we've seen how communities that create an intolerant atmosphere towards gays or any minority group can destroy the well-being of its youth, gay or straight.

Civil unions, even when they're written to be "all-but-marriage," do not grant the same rights and protections. A separate word is not an equal word in practice. In New Jersey, where civil unions were explicitly written to provide the same rights as marriage, a state commission has found that civil unions have not fulfilled their goal. The "second-class status" of relationship created in New Jersey is hard to understand and often requires much more legal work in order to grant couples similar protection to their opposite-sex counterparts.

A referendum is not the appropriate forum to decide the rights of any minority group. As founding father James Madison discussed, in a system of direct democracy there is "nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party ... [and such systems] have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property". In contrast, representative democracy allows for more measured, cool considerations of issues affecting the rights of minorities.

While Greater Greater Washington traditionally writes most about the physical shape of our neighborhoods, such as transportation infrastructure and buildings, we care about all policies that affect our communities. Encouraging healthier families of all types and all gender mixes is a fundamental part of building healthy communities. On the flip side, discrimination affects all of our lives for a long time, and our cities, too.

Equal marriage is a necessary step to extend important protections under the law to all people. While Maryland's legislature has taken a great step forward, it will likely come down to the citizens of the Free State to determine whether same-sex couples will retain the right to marry.

If you're a Marylander, we encourage you to support equal marriage by not signing the petition to bring it to a referendum. And if a vote does occur, we ask you to vote to uphold the legislature's equal marriage bill this November.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active contributors and editors voted on endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong majority or greater in favor of endorsing (or, in this case, endorsing against) the initiative.

Public Spaces

Washington Circle getting many more crosswalks

Today, the roads and traffic patterns around Washington Circle make it difficult and dangerous to get into or through it on foot. A plan from the National Park Service and DDOT will fix that by adding more crosswalks, paths, and traffic signals.

Photo by HooverStreetStudios on Flickr.

Right now, there are only 4 crosswalks in and out of the circle, each crossing at least 3 lanes of traffic. Two of them, at New Hampshire Avenue, dump pedestrians in a very tiny triangle where they then have to then cross one direction of New Hampshire to continue in any direction.

The other two, which line up with Pennsylvania Avenue on each side, also lead to triangular islands. They don't have signals, forcing pedestrians to wait for a gap in speeding traffic. From the triangles, the only crosswalk leads to yet another island, between Pennsylvania and K, forcing multiple extra crossings to reach an actual block with actual buildings.

People walking along 23rd clearly don't want to, and shouldn't have to, cross up to 6 roads just to traverse the circle. Instead, they cross where there is no light and then walk on the grass. Well-worn "desire lines," especially on the north and south sides to get to 23rd Street make this very clear.

Left: Pedestrian refuge at New Hampshire Avenue. Right: Path to 23rd Street.
Images from NCPC.

The National Park Service and DDOT want to fix this. Fortunately, instead of using the strategy of just fencing off parks to stop pedestrians, as they wanted to do for the triangle park at Q Street and the Dupont Circle Metro, the Park Service is doing the right thing: they will add walkways and move some.

Left: Washington Circle today. Image from Google Maps.
Right: Planned park pathway layout. Image from NCPC.

DDOT will add crosswalks and new signals that line up with the new walkways. After this project, every pedestrian crossing in and out of Washington Circle will have a traffic signal. DDOT also plans more signals and crosswalks on the roads between the circle and Pennsylvania Avenue or K Street, letting pedestrians cross directly in sensible directions.

DDOT plans for Washington Circle. Image from NCPC. Click to enlarge.

The plan also calls for a fence around the remainder of the circle. This will stop people from walking in and out at other places.

I'm not very enthusiastic about this recent NPS push for adding more fences. Down the street from Washington Circle, they're proposing another fence, also to "eliminate the creation of social paths," for the triangle between 21st, I, and Pennsylvania NW.

Instead of holding the existing layout sacrosanct, at Washington Circle, they are working to accommodate pedestrians. By placing crosswalks at the main places people want to cross, this traffic circle is about to get a lot safer.

Public Spaces

Streetcar could make "recreation bridge" an active place

Would turning one of the old 11th Street bridges into a recreation destination work wonders for DC residents' health or just create an empty spaces nobody uses? The difference might turn on the streetcar.

Image from the Office of Planning.

The Office of Planning and other DC agencies are pondering ways to reuse one of the two spans of the old 11th Street bridge. A $350 million project to build a new set of bridges between the old is almost complete, and DDOT will then demolish the old bridges. But could these become an iconic public space for DC—DC's "High Line"?

At a community forum last night on this "recreation bridge" concept, planning director Harriet Tregoning listed a number of ideas for ways to reuse the bridge. It could have spaces for arts, including performing arts and sculpture. One community member suggested putting on a light show at a specified time on certain nights or every night.

"Active recreation," like a climbing wall, zip line, and many activities for kids could improve health in a part of the city where many kids are not as healthy as they should be. Autumn Saxton-Ross from the Department of Health said that having spaces for play creates "whole children who develop into whole adults."

The bridge could contain community gardens that grow food, a place for food trucks to hold festivals like Truckeroo, or even trees; an avid community gardener who lives in the area emphasized that last one, as it gets quite hot in the summer and a bridge is exposed to the elements.

Then there is the streetcar. Problems between DDOT and the US Department of Transportation scuttled tracks on the new local bridge now under construction, at least for now, but perhaps that would open up a new opportunity to put the tracks on this "recreation bridge."

Making this bridge succeed might not be easy. A bridge is a very big space; this one is over 1000 feet long. It's in the middle of the river, and connects 2 neighborhoods of only moderate density. Even from them, there's a substantial walk to reach to the bridge itself.

Therefore, any use will have to attract people who are deliberately going to the bridge as a destination, rather than people just wandering by or popping over between work and dinner. It will need to have enough different activities to keep the bridge busy most of the day, every day, lest it turn into a dead space or a haven for crime.

Or maybe there is a way to mix active uses with people who are just passing through? If the streetcar traverses this bridge, and stops a few times along the way, it could make the bridge be more of a continuous connector between Capitol Hill and Anacostia. The bridge could get a cafe or two. It would create "eyes on the street" (or bridge), draw the bridge much closer to surrounding neighborhoods, and bring potential users of the bridge's activities passing right by every day.

The bridge would also get closer to surrounding areas if the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail could remain open more of the time. The Navy Yard now allows people to walk and bike past the base during the day every day, which is more than they initially promised. But can it be open all of the time?

A representative from DMPED was optimistic. He said that the Navy Yard now actually finds it somewhat of a burden to open and close the trail every day, and would like to avoid that responsibility. They've also added more security along that edge of the yard, making them more comfortable just allowing public access along that side. He gave no firm details, but it sounds like residents can hope for a 24-hour trail in the future.

As for the bridge, DDOT already gave out a contract to demolish the 2 old bridges. Tregoning said that while DC could try to renegotiate and keep the existing bridge structure, it's in very bad shape. Instead, they will just keep the piers, since those are very expensive to plant in the river, and remove the entire deck.

Another benefit of removing the deck is that a new one needn't be a simple rectangle. Maybe it will take a different shape. It could be thinner, or wider, or some of each in different places. Maybe it can connect in a few places to the new local road, bike, and pedestrian bridge that's being built right next to it.

OP is hoping to start a national design competition this summer, to find the most creative designs from anyone, anywhere.

The bridge project will probably cost around $25-35 million. That's only a tenth of the cost of the highway bridge project, but it's not pocket change, and DC has many other priorities as well. For this reason, they hope to attract private money, either from local organizations or national foundations. For a project which could become an icon for DC, many may be quite interested.

Getting the streetcar onto the bridge would take some creative thinking, too. The new bridges are using some of the space that's now approach ramps to the old bridge. That means there won't necessarily be a smooth and direct approach to the "recreation bridge" on each side. We'll have to wait for a later design phase to find out if there's even a way to get a streetcar on and off the bridge.

The residents in the room were overall either very eager at least open-minded. Some seemed to primarily come to the meeting to ensure that the vehicular bridge was going to open on time and that nothing was changing with that plan. Others were bursting with ideas.

Right now, this project largely seems to be taking advantage of an opportunity. I can imagine Tregoning sitting in a meeting, hearing a status update about the bridge, and suddenly saying, "Wait a minute! We have this bridge over the Anacostia and we're just going to rip it out? When the District is so concerned with figuratively bridging east and west of the river and there are so many needs especially on the east side?"

So far, all the government proposes to do is essentially preserve a bunch of piers to make it far cheaper to build a recreational bridge. Whether something ever gets built is up to residents, leaders, and designers to figure out a way to make it a great public space worthy of the investment.


Breakfast links: State power for car-centrism

Photo by magandafille on Flickr.
VDOT's way or the highway: A new Virginia policy would let VDOT essentially rewrite local plans around its road plans. If the rule goes into effect, it could force paring down Tysons Corner redevelopment and widening I-66 in Arlington. (Examiner)

Govs pushing Outer Beltway: Governors O'Malley and McDonnell are again talking about a new Potomac crossing, part of the long-debated Outer Beltway. (Examiner)

Obama cuts Metro: President Obama's budget cuts 10% from the promised $150 million per year the feds are paying for Metro repairs. The feds promised the money in exchange for a state match and 2 federal members on the WMATA Board. (WTOP)

Parking no longer King: Alexandria will get rid of parking at King Street Metro and add landscaping, bicycle parking, and more room for buses. City leaders thought the sub­urban parking lot was out of place and want safer pedestrian access. (WAMU)

Oops, we lost your rec center: DC demolished the Kenilworth-Parkside recreation center, but didn't realize the soil was contaminated, and the Park Service won't let them rebuild. Any hope for a new rec center is now many years away. (City Paper)

Some CMs pass on raise: Mary Cheh, David Catania, Michael Brown and Kwame Brown will all forgo legally-mandated cost of living raises this year. Tommy Wells, who does not have an outside job, says the move is just game playing. (Examiner, WAMU)

Tunnel too small: The expansion of the Panama canal will bring larger ships to Baltimore, but the Howard Street Tunnel is to small for double stacked freight cars. CSX may build a transfer station to stack cars on the other side of the tunnel. (Post)

Bike to DCA: It is possible to ride your bike to National Airport. While the airport is conveniently located off the Mount Vernon Trail and has some bike parking, those facilities are not covered and require traversing stairs. (Patch)

And...: Gaithersburg may get a new town center on its current fairgrounds. (Gazette) ... 47 New Flyer buses have an electrical problem. (Post) ... ZipCar is adding vans. (TBD) ... Preparing for the Olympics, London is selling a Tube map with lines and stations replaced by Olympic sports and athletes. (Yahoo)

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