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11th Street bridges, part 3: The New York Avenue trade

In part 1, we looked at the details of the approximately $500 million project to rebuild the 11th Street bridges across the Anacostia River. Part 2 discussed the conclusions of Smart Mobility's report, which said the project would substantially increase traffic through DC while lowering traffic on 295 and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen.

The Capitol Hill Restoration Society believes we should build the project with ten lanes (two each way on the local bridge and three on the freeway bridge) instead of the proposed twelve (two each way local, four each way freeway). The current bridges have eight lanes, meaning that CHRS's preferred alternative would add one lane in each direction instead of two. DDOT's only explanation is that AASHTO guidelines recommend this configuration. CHRS filed a lawsuit yesterday to try to force DDOT to consider a narrower alternative.

DDOT is intent on completing this project as quickly as possible, and plans to use stimulus money to do it. At the recent oversight hearing, Councilmember Jim Graham compared it to "a freight train." And it has many positive effects, including taking some traffic off local streets in Anacostia, adding a local connection between neighborhoods on either side of the river, and enabling a future streetcar connection.

However, the fact remains that this half billion dollars of DC's money will, whatever its positive effects, also draw some drivers onto the Southwest/Southeast Freeway who would otherwise have traveled over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. If we're increasing capacity into and through DC on one route, we should balance it by steering drivers away from another route.

As it happens, there's a perfect route: the Center Leg Freeway between New York Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue. The Transportation Planning Board found that most of the traffic on New York Avenue is passing through the District. According to DDOT, New York Avenue also accounts for 21.5% of through trips passing through DC without stopping.

The 11th Street Bridges will give drivers an easier, all-freeway route from the BW Parkway and US-50 to the Southwest Federal Center area and Capitol complex. Those drivers can use up the new capacity on the 11th Street Bridge, removing the incentive for Wilson Bridge traffic to divert through DC. People entering DC from the east would no longer see what is perhaps DC's ugliest side. And then, we could do something with New York Avenue.

We could increase pedestrian crossing times and remove the freeway-style signs, as the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood wants. We could add an attractive median and plant trees. We could accommodate bicycles. In short, we could make this major radial avenue a real boulevard, like our other state streets, that balance all modes instead of acting as a freeway with some pesky traffic lights and the occasional pedestrian to dodge.

New York Avenue won't stop being a significant route for cars. But we can devote it to those cars that are actually traveling to NoMa and downtown DC instead of L'Enfant Plaza and Arlington. And to satisfy those who argue that we need freeways as emergency evacuation routes, we can even keep the closed segment around for emergency vehicles and a possible evacuation.

More traffic will affect the communities along the new, larger route, by bringing in more pollution from cars. A narrower bridge, as CHRS recommends, would be better. But it seems we're moving full speed ahead with that project, and it'll bring some positive benefits as well. If the 11th Street bridges are going to happen at their full width, let's at least seize the opportunity to enhance the quality of life for other neighborhoods already choked with traffic.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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What DDOT ought to be doing is to re-build the 11th street bridges as local bridges only, to connect them on the East side of the river with a signalized intersection, to remove the designation DC-295 from Kenilworth Avenue, and to rebuild Kenilworth Avenue all the way from Good Hope Road to Eastern Avenue as a grand urban boulevard, entirely at-grade, with signalized intersections, crosswalks, and a planted median. At the same time, it needs to build out the entire 43 mile premium transit network as streetcars.

by thm on Feb 26, 2009 1:58 pm • linkreport

"The Transportation Planning Board found that most of the traffic on New York Avenue is passing through the District. ... New York Avenue also accounts for 21.5% of through trips passing through DC without stopping."

I know this isn't the point, but I'm shocked that anyone uses NY Avenue to get through DC from VA. When driving from North Arlington to Baltimore, I either go 395-295 (BW Parkway) or 66-Penn Ave-295, or GWMP to 495 to 95. Even from South Arlington I can see no reason to go via NY Ave.

by JB on Feb 26, 2009 3:31 pm • linkreport

@JB - I work in Rossyln and have 4 coworkers who live near Annapolis. They all cut through the district via N.Y. Ave to I-395.

by Paul S on Feb 26, 2009 4:00 pm • linkreport

This seems like a good compromise. Some drivers will inevitably cut through the District one way or another (from here in Arlington, it makes no sense to go out to the Beltway and around). With new direct ramps to 295 N at the 11th Street bridge, drivers get a direct, all-freeway route. Meanwhile, getting rid of the 395 Central Freeway would avoid freeway-like traffic on DC's boulevards, benefiting pedestrians and residents along NY Ave. And, there's so much excellent development potential within blocks of the Capitol South, Judiciary Square, and Mt. Vernon Square Metros that removing 395 would open up.

by RichardatCourthouse on Feb 26, 2009 4:34 pm • linkreport

Who is handling the CHRS law suit?

Why no questioning of the construction of a new elevated berm approach for crossing a RR that is envisioned to be removed (and which could itself be lowered to accommodate a below grade highway approach if the rr is for lite rail which can take a 5% grade change?

by Douglas Willinger on Feb 26, 2009 6:11 pm • linkreport

It'd be possible to make the new freeway bridge only 3 lanes each way. But it would require eliminating the ramps between the bridge and M St to eliminate what would be an even worse weaving segment without the 4th lane.

by Froggie on Feb 26, 2009 10:53 pm • linkreport

BTW- the higher elevation required to cross this railroad along Virginia Avenue means that vehicles must accelerate more to maintain speeds, increasing noise and pollution.

Strange how this is so uniformally neglected (much like the "e" groups that would not even inform their membership of the issue of the South Capitol Mall.

by Douglas Willinger on Feb 27, 2009 1:20 am • linkreport

I have to say, I don't feel that the bridge complex is adding FREEWAY capacity. It's the same amount of freeway capacity with new LOCAL capacity. I view them as two different things here. The local capacity is good. We're not going to have people driving from Maryland to Virginia or vice versa using the bridge connecting MLK and 12th. That having been said, three lanes would have been heartily sufficient.

But since it will be four, fix up the NY Av corridor! bring some clean industry jobs to Ivy City, connect the street grid, chop up the super blocks and put a nice tree-lined median on NY Av!

by Dave Murphy on Feb 27, 2009 2:08 am • linkreport

Dave: that's been my argument all along. We have 8 freeway lanes across the Anacostia right now. We'll have 8 freeway lanes across the Anacostia when the project is over. I'll agree that 6 lanes would be adequate, *IF* the ramps to/from the bridge at M St are removed.

by Froggie on Feb 27, 2009 7:46 am • linkreport

@ Froggie; removing the ramps will still causes problems for transit you would have to reroute about 10 metrobus routes to get over the bridge, do that would cause drastic route changes and that would almost certain require all the buses that travel on M street to be changed and I doubt anyone that lives or works over there and catches those buses would like that.

Perhaps we could have the entrance to the bridge at below grade level, similar to NY ave and North Capitol or Rhode Island & N. Cap so that you could reconnect the grid and have the bridges end at a roundabout that leads into several different streets

by kk on Feb 27, 2009 10:45 am • linkreport

The CHRS should be spending their money on buying up endangered properties, like old Friendship House, and other places that are abandoned in the area, instead of lining the already deep pockets of their lawyer pals who are on the take. CHRS opposses new streetcars, density, and other sane and reasonable changes that would only ehance life in the area. Instead- they piddle it away on lawsuits. There needs to be generational change in CHRS and they need to focus on preservation and less on peripheral issues that other organizations should be taking care of.

by anon on Feb 27, 2009 2:00 pm • linkreport

I agree that CHRS seems to have odd priorities at times.

I attended the February ANC6C meeting in which the redevelopment of the H Street Connection strip mall was discussed. CHRS was there to object to the density of the project. CHRS seems to believe that density is only acceptable when buildings are setback and surrounded by large swaths of green space. They pointed to the setbacks & green space at Capitol Hill Towers (which share this Square on the G Street side) as the preferred outcome.

View Larger Map

Interesting to me that their shining example has an ugly chain link fence surround the so called "green space amenity". Revitalizing the H Street NE corridor with new residents and retail seemed to take a back seat to whether a few rowhomes might receive less sunlight.

by Paul S on Feb 27, 2009 2:19 pm • linkreport

kk: those Metrobus routes wouldn't be crossing the new freeway bridge. They would be crossing the new local bridge which will connect MLK directly with 11th St.

So while you have a valid concern, it's really a moot point here, as the ramps between the freeway bridge and M St really have no bearing on those Metrobus routes.

by Froggie on Feb 27, 2009 2:39 pm • linkreport

They are also the big bullies on the block. There are abandoned buildings that CHRS has basically madated to stay abandoned because they do not want parking impacted. Parking is a big issue- if not their primary issue . Go to one of their meetings- it is all people 60 years old and above- not that older folks are bad people- but there is a definite fear of their authority and clout and many, many people are deathly afraid of them and their power to retaliate- which they seem to do on a quite regular basis. Mind you- they retaliate against ordinary middle class homeowners and never go after the big hogs like the Architect of the Capitol- which is extremely guilt of wholesale demolition of many historic structures over the years. Their behavior towards Results Gym and the minefield of red tape they put into place to halt their new swimming pool- mostly it is because they do not want parking spots sacrificed - is truly anti- urban and very selfish and backwards. CHRS is addicted to litigation and is against positive change for the city. They want more parking for Eastern Market- and seem not to care that a Metro station is one block away. Really old historic buildings south of the freeway have been demolished in the last 10 years and few in CHRS seemed to care- it was "down there" in the ghetto. Very sad. They are not really in the business of preservation- if they were- they would not allow Friendship House to languish - and would line up some of their wealthy East Capitol street pals to buy it and convert it into a usable asset for the neighborhood. This mafia called the CHRS has outlived their usefulness in too many ways and has become against what they started out as- a force to save the city from bad demolition and bad freeways. Why are they so against a trolley system? It is incredible. A real historic 11th street bridge would have more trolley tracks than car tracks. Want a real historic city? Put the original trolley system back where it was in the first place. Paul S you are very brave to dare to speak out.

by anon on Feb 27, 2009 2:41 pm • linkreport

Is CHRS connected with the "Committee of 100"?

I have many misgivings about that latter group...

Also see the articles within that same month's archives.

Such organizations tend to make decisions upon reasons they would likely rather not elaborate, such as there undefensible non-reporting of the Vatican's selfishness in aborting what would have been our South Capitol Mall.

by Douglas Willinger on Feb 27, 2009 3:37 pm • linkreport

Few will come forward to challenge these power mad elderly NIMBY CHRS types- because- to put it simply- they intimidate and scare potential parties out of effecting any actions. Many attribute the destruction of Eastern Market to the relentless lawsuits and stonewalling on the part of CHRS and allied interests that would not allow even the most basic safety upgrades. Many of the CHRS members are tied into the lawyer community and they will attack any and all dissent and stifle any abberant voices by turning in complaintants for petty "violations" of their codes. This goes on and on and it is time that people- especially younger people who have to live with the horrors CHRS invokes- speak up or let their feelings be known. Just do not use your real name and you will be safe- or let us hope so.

by anon on Feb 27, 2009 3:51 pm • linkreport

Correct me if I am wrong- but isn't the 11th street bridge outside of the Capitol Hill Historic District? Why is such a group allowed the impunity to make recommendations for projects on H street NE which clearly IS outside the Historic District? Does this mean that I can get a Metro station built in Georgetown at Wisconsin & M even though I do not live in the area?

by anon on Feb 27, 2009 4:47 pm • linkreport

NY Ave won't exactly be "city beautiful" w/o the freeway sign. The confusing cross with Mass Ave would be a more useful thing to fix. There's really nothing wrong with New York Ave a s a thoroughfare. I find it rather handy and I'm a city dweller who no longer owns a car. The city needs throughfares, too, not every area is destined to become Logan Circle (where I happen to live).

by Rich on Feb 27, 2009 9:34 pm • linkreport

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