North Capitol study plans "gateway", disappoints neighbors
The "North Capitol Street Urban Design & Transportation Study," sponsored by the Office of Planning, DDOT and NCPC, aims to to transform the freeway-like North Capitol street into an attractive gateway to DC from the north. At a public meeting last night, though, neighbors mostly heaped criticism OP for the narrow scope of the study and for their other frustrations with DC's land use and transportation decisionmaking.
The study focuses on the stretch of North Capitol Street between Hawaii Ave and Michigan Ave, where it passes by the Washington Hospital Center, the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and Catholic University. This stretch is currently a limited access freeway, with a prominent cloverleaf at the interchange between North Capitol and Irving Street. It's designed to funnel people downtown, but severely limits east-west connectivity. There are also no pedestrian, bicycle or transit facilities going north-south through this stretch. The freeway configuration is inhospitable to pedestrians and encourages unsafe driving. Traffic ought to move at city speeds rather than freeway speeds.
Further, the nearby institutions (AFRH, WHA and CUA) generally focus inwards. Even the condominium and apartment communities off Michigan Ave have a very suburban design removed from the street grid.
A wasteful use of land in the middle of DC. View larger map.
The study team from EEK Architects acknowledged these issues hopes to turn North Capitol into a symbolic entryway into the downtown core from the north. They talked about creating civic spaces, establishing a unique identity, exploring alternatives to the cloverleaf, and creating a more urban, pedestrian-oriented and transit-supportive North Capitol Street. They are looking to East Capitol Street and Rock Creek Parkway for examples. Both move a lot of traffic but also create character for the area. This is only the beginning a 12-week study, so the presentation was sparse on specific details.
After the presentation, the discussion quickly devolved into complaints, and outright anger in some cases. Many neighbors had high hopes, based on the meeting announcement, that the study was going to look at the area as a whole, including the Brookland/CUA and Georgia Ave/Petworth Metro stations, potential for cross-town light rail service, bicycle lanes, and more. After badgering the officials, attendees realized that the study focuses very narrowly on the cloverleaf and won't address many of these larger issues.
Area residents also expressed clear frustration at the lack of communication between the OP and elected ANCs. Brooklanders, in particular, complained about communication. Much of this stems from their ongoing struggle with government agencies to bury the power lines along 12th Street. There are also 6 million square feet of proposed development in the area, currently in various stages of the planning process. This includes including CUA South Campus, the Armed Forces Retirement Home, the McMillan Plant, and Washington Hospital Center, among others.
With traffic already heavy around North Capitol, residents wanted to see a more comprehensive approach to these current problems. Otherwise, they're sure to get worse as these developments break ground.
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