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11th street "recreation bridge" would be tough to make work

When DC's new 11th Street Bridge opens, its old spans will become unnecessary transportation infrastructure. The DC Office of Planning is considering converting one of the old spans into a park, filled with recreation amenities such as rock climbing walls, zip lines, and skate parks.

Image from DC Office of Planning.

It's an interesting idea, and definitely worth exploring, but it's also going to be difficult to pull off successfully. If the city simply plops a couple of rock climbing walls on the old asphalt, the new park will be a failure.

The problem is that there is no built-in user base. The bridge is difficult to access from nearby neighborhoods, so it won't likely get many casual walk-through users. Most of the nearby neighborhoods also aren't very dense.

Instead, the park would rely on people who specifically go there as a destination. That means it will have to offer specific reasons for people to visit. If there aren't enough reasons, the park will remain mostly empty. The bridge is also long, meaning there's a lot of space to fill.

So the park will need an anchor, or several anchors. And it will need transportation facilities to accommodate users, since there won't be enough walkers to populate it fully.

If the District wants to fill the long span of 11th Street Bridge with enough people to give it a lively and safe feeling, it will need to do more:

Program it heavily. The more stuff there is in the park, the more reason people will have to visit. So fill the thing up with activities. Attach a boat house, put in a mini golf course, whatever. Give people a reason to travel across the city and come to this place.

Make it mixed use. Putting large office or residential buildings on the bridge is probably not realistic, but there is no reason why it shouldn't include some small shops and food stands. And for goodness sake, keep them open. That perpetually closed pavilion at Pershing Park isn't doing anyone any favors.

Be inclusive. Provide space for food trucks, sidewalk vendors, street artists, performers, anybody. Let them in, and let them sell. This is actually one advantage this park has over nearby space in Anacostia Park: The National Park Service controls that, and prohibits any vending, but a city bridge-turned-park wouldn't suffer under the same restrictions.

Don't cheap out on landscaping. Nobody wants to visit a concrete expanse. Obviously the range of plantings available on a hard surface with no soil is somewhat limited, but go to the expense and trouble of doing as much as you can.

Provide transportation. People will need a means of getting to this park. There must be parking for cars and bikes (on-street is fine), bike sharing, and the streetcar should actually stop in the center of the bridge.

With enough planning and strong management, this idea could be a winner. Without, it will fail, and will ultimately be abandoned.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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So, you're saying it's a good idea if it's executed well? As opposed to the good ideas that remain good if implemented poorly?

I don't disagree with any of your points; it's an excellent blueprint for making this into a real amenity for the city.

For all the useless blather about "One City", this could be a real and tangible way to draw together the two sides of the Anacostia. Far better than talkfests at the Convention Center.

by Tim Krepp on Mar 14, 2012 1:24 pm • linkreport

What I gathered from Dan's writeup is that it will take immense investment to make this bridge be a destination. And if it's not a major destination it doesn't have enough locational advantages to thrive.

Personally I'd favor that investment being redirected at something also along the waterfront but less gimicky. I say this as someone who really enjoys NYC's highline. But this is a completely different situation...

by Paul on Mar 14, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

turn it into a wegmans.....

by charlie on Mar 14, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

first walk along the riverwalk from the ballpark to the Navy Yard on a day like today. Theres already a gelling urbanism happening. Thats with the Yards project only with its initial phase open. Now its a way over to 11th street, and I haven't walked all the way over there yet, but I don't know that this is THAT isolated (I've never been on the hi line in NYC).

by AnacostiaRiverwalkFan on Mar 14, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

I think that's a good point, Paul. But I think that the investment might be worth it if it does activate this section of the river, and draws people closer together. Yes, it will have to be a draw in it's own right, not something that captures people already walking by.

Maybe we can leave it to rot for several decades, like the high line!

by Tim Krepp on Mar 14, 2012 2:23 pm • linkreport

I can kind of see it analogous to Navy Pier. I don't know the mixture of public vs. private their but it would be worth looking into.

Also it'd be nice if they could relax an open container law along there. Or allow for spaces to do so.

by Canaan on Mar 14, 2012 2:24 pm • linkreport

+1, Paul.

The new "local" bridges will already do more to re-link Anacostia back into Capitol Hill than anything else that's been done since, well, the construction of the current 11th St Bridges.

My "pet" project in this area would be to get a footbridge built alongside the CSX railroad bridge (along Mass Ave's axis).

Sadly, the way that we designed the new bridges will effectively prevent the area around their abutments from ever becoming a lively area.

Instead of spending a fortune on this project, I think we could achieve far more benefit by embarking on many smaller projects to enliven the riverfront.

Build that pedestrian bridge (or even open extend Mass Ave), clean up the ridiculously polluted Washington Gas site, get the M St sewer finished to attract development in the area, make sure Yards Park is a success, make the Navy Yard more hospitable for members of the public, finish maintain and improve the Riverwalk Trail, etc.....

by andrew on Mar 14, 2012 3:13 pm • linkreport

@Tim - put the money into Poplar Point. That has immense potential to meet your stated goals and less of the pink elephant risk of this idea.

by Paul on Mar 14, 2012 3:16 pm • linkreport

what timeframe is OP looking at? seems like this at least makes the case for maintaining the structure, while the rest of the nearby resources (poplar point and the riverwalk and canal park) are developed, and while development proceeds.

I note OP is looking at this as serving an area west to the Yards, north to Hill East, and south to St Es. They dont seem to think of the market for this as just the areas immediately adjacent.

by AnacostiaRiverWalkFan on Mar 14, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

Remember back when someone proposed to build an amusement park on Kingman Island? Maybe this bridge would be a better location, like other small waterfront amusement parks, like Pacific Park (Santa Monica Pier), or Chicago's Navy Pier

But yeah, no matter what, you will need development at both ends to draw more traffic.

by Mystery, Inc on Mar 14, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

This thing is going to be costly and the only real way to evaluate the idea is to consider the opportunity cost. Could park money be better spent on other projects in the city?

A much quicker, less expensive, and less risky proposition is to just sell the structure to a developer and let them put whatever they would like on it (within reason). Charlie's idea of a Wegmans would be great but even if it's light industrial, I don't see it as such a bad thing. Use the proceeds of the sale to fund improvements in parks citywide.

by Falls Church on Mar 14, 2012 3:46 pm • linkreport

The bridge roadway is to be removed, down to the pylons. A new "roadway" will need to be built on the old pylons. This will be a very considerable expense.

by DavidH on Mar 14, 2012 3:57 pm • linkreport

Sorry, but I just can't get behind this idea. It's not well located to be a good destination for pretty much anyone: walkers (a long way away), transit takers (ditto, except for a couple of bus routes), or drivers (where would you park?) And it's a *huge* area -- it will need a *lot* of people to avoid feeling dead and morose.

Tear the bridge down and build a better SE waterfront and new pedestrian connections to make it easy to access from Anacostia station.

by dal20402 on Mar 14, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

What did the EIS and wetlands permits say would become of this bridge? I should think that additional shading of a tidal waterway would have significant impacts.

If one proposed to build a new pier, I should think that the permit would not be forthcoming unless it was needed as a fishing pier, since uses normally have to be water dependent.

by Jim Titus on Mar 14, 2012 5:11 pm • linkreport

What about including a space for free outdoor performances/events? In Richmond they have "Brown's Island" in the middle of the James River downtown. While this IS actually an island, they have hosted everything from free concerts to beer festivals. There's not much else immediately around the island or that specific downtown area to draw people in, but on beautiful spring/summer/fall days and evenings it's a very popular event destination.

by CHeights on Mar 15, 2012 12:31 am • linkreport

I think the comment stream against this idea because it is competitive to the waterfront is somewhat misdirected. This could be seen as one of the elements of the waterfront.

But it is a sign that the Anacostia Waterfront Plan needs a serious update, especially wrt Poplar Point, focused on celebrating and reintegrating the river into the city, and emphasizing connections and strengthening on both sides of the river, not just primarily on the west of the river side.

It happens that I wrote a blog entry about this recently, although focused on what I called the eastern section, from Pennsylvania Avenue to the border with PG County.


But it really needs to be a complete effort, with a focused updating of the plan for the river generally.

Still, Dan's point, that this would need to be done very well is a good one. THis isn't really a DDOT project, it should be a parks project, and DPR isn't well situated to do this kind of stuff, although it could be a transformational event for the dept., but anyway, would likely be done as part of a public-private partnership (BID type organization).

It happens that I just testified about an element of this, that DC doesn't have a parks master plan and needs one.


Because of time constraints, I didn't load the document with a bunch of my previous writing on the topic, but it's relevant to this park idea too.

- my testimony on how DC doesn't have a parks and rec master plan,

by Richard Layman on Mar 15, 2012 7:56 am • linkreport

@RLayman; Richard, I just wanted to say thank you for dropping in on occasion and providing some adult framing. While I often don't agree with your points, locating it in the broader context is helpful.

by charlie on Mar 15, 2012 9:02 am • linkreport

Why not a large urban farm? As the article and many commenters have mentioned it's poorly linked to transit, its separated from nearby neighborhoods and would require a fair amount of infrastructure investment in order to become a "destination". But it is a large flat open piece of land that could easily re-purposed into an urban farm simply by adding dirt, maybe some hoop houses and ensuring proper drainage. There are plenty of examples of highly successful urban farms built on pavement and with a neighborhood clearly in need of fresh food at its door step it could become a highly innovative approach towards both food access and urban reclamation. With the right crop selection and an infusion of start up capitol (say a USDA Community Food Project grant matched with private foundation dollars) it could probably become self sustaining in 5 years . . . while providing the surrounding neighborhood with something their badly in need of. Good Food.

by Matthew on Mar 15, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

Why do this at all; its not worth the money to do so when there are other parks nearby and a perfectly function bridge that pedestrians can use under construction

Why keep a bridge that will require money spent on it for years to come for little benefit. No one from the population on either side will be walking across the river when there is a bus that does the same thing and especially when it will be 1.5 to 2 miles from anything.

There is nothing but housing north of Good Hope Rd south of the river and there is nothing except Maritime Plaza or the Navy Yard on the other side until I Street.

Why would this park get used when Anacostia, Ft. Stanton, Ft. Dupont and Ft. Davis Parks are empty 80% of the time and they're actually near closer to stuff ?

by kk on Mar 15, 2012 3:17 pm • linkreport

Reminds me of New York's High Line. I am glad to see DC planners are starting to be innovative in projects.

by Sivad on Mar 15, 2012 9:05 pm • linkreport

Why retain this old bridge. DC does not have enough money to remove it? If they wanted to keep it, it should have been converted to a local bridge. This would have saved money on the new local bridge.
Why does DC want to clutter up this area with all these (4) bridges. This would never be allowed in Georgetown. It is bad enough that rather than building the Barney Circle Freeway which would have had a low profile (not as ugly), Anacostia gets stuck with an obsolete bridge that DC cannot afford to remove and an ugly interchange with an ugly unpainted flyover ramp.

by ChocoCar on May 22, 2012 9:16 am • linkreport

How about using some of those funds to CLEAN UP THE ANACOSTIA RIVER? Why build all of these beautiful structures and infrastructure to gaze upon an ugly (not to mention, dirty) river?

by Pamela on May 24, 2012 7:51 am • linkreport

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