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.
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.
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