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Public Spaces

Can Eastern Market park become a gathering place?

Barracks Row Main Street is studying ways to redesign the public space around the Eastern Market Metro station. While many neighbors see the potential to make a great gathering place, others don't want anything to change at all.

Councilmember Wells leads a meeting about the park. Photo from Tommy Wells on Flickr.

Architect Amy Weinstein of Esocoff & Associates is leading the Congressionally-funded Eastern Market Metro Park study, which will explore ways "to renew and upgrade" the two trapezoid-shaped public plazas, medians and two smaller triangular plazas on Pennsylvania Avenue SE between 7th and 9th streets. Despite their location between busy Barracks Row and Eastern Market, the spaces are underused and poorly maintained.

Weinstein led another study in 2010 that explored ways to reroute Pennsylvania Avenue around the public space, making it a complete square. But that effort ran into stiff opposition from neighbors and those concerned about the plan's traffic impacts.

The new study will look at function, aesthetics, and the best way to accommodate all modes of transportation, including better pedestrian pathways, the location of the Capitol Bikeshare station and the Metrobus stops in the south plaza, and managing pedestrian/vehicular conflicts. It will also produce detailed designs for a children's play area in the north plaza, and look at an innovative storm water retention system as part of the effort to reduce combined sewer overflows into the Anacostia River.

Planners say that "nothing is off the table," except for consolidating the square by rerouting streets around it.

Will more activity mean more noise, or a better public space?

In July, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells hosted a pair of public meetings to hear about the types of changes residents would like to see around the Metro station. After a brief presentation, we broke into small groups where we discussed our thoughts on the current square and what we would and would not like to see in it in the future.

Aerial photo of the parks today from Google Maps.

My group seemed opposed to any changes at all. They questioned why money was being spent on this, whether it was legal and who this was to help. Some people seemed mainly concerned about stoplight timing, which did not seem to allow for the speedy movement of cars and pedestrians through the area.

They scoffed at the idea that the project had the word "park" in it. "Who said they wanted a park here?" one person asked.

One major concern they voiced focused on the lack of maintenance within the existing plaza. Trees went unwatered, rats were allowed to nest and several items like benches and lights had fallen into disrepair. "Why not fix what we have first?" some asked. For the same reason, group members also opposed any kind of water feature, along with music, food trucks or eating areas, which would produce noise and trash.

Group members seemed resigned to the idea of a children's play area as long as it wouldn't kill any trees, but their primary point was that it should be "a park, not an amusement park." But we did find universal support of better storm water management, lots of trees, more benches and non-polluting lights.

How to embrace space's potential

While many residents place an emphasis on creating a quiet place that is easy to traverse, what the neighborhood really needs is to activate the Eastern Market Metro Park with an emphasis on creating a place for people to play, work, shop, eat, and rest. By making it into a great place, the kind that people wanted to stay in instead of pass through, it would have a greater constituency that could push for better maintenance.

The space today. Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

It seems my group was the outlier, because when other groups reported what they had discussed, they strongly supported the idea of an interactive water feature like those at Yards Park or Canal Park. Several suggested adding a stage for live performances and various gatherings. Others mentioned food trucks and more dining tables. One group focused on tying the public space in with the library at 7th and Pennsylvania.

The meeting's organizers are collecting additional comments about what should happen here. In my comments, I suggested that an interactive water feature and playground area in the north plaza was a natural way to attract kids and families. It's also a perfect area for a statue of a local person. In the eastern median, I recommended installing a dog run.

The south plaza should become a space where people will linger. Furniture, like movable chairs, benches, and permanent fixtures like tables with chess boards on top, will help draw people. A low stage for music and events could support programming while doubling as a seating area the rest of the time. The city should allow food trucks to use the parking spaces along D Street.

We should also use the western median to connect Barracks Row and Eastern Market with a brick walkway down the middle and to add spaces for vendor booths on the weekends, creating a stronger connection between the two commercial areas. The smaller triangles could become larger by removing the sections of D Street that separate them and then improved by adding benches, more permeable surface, and rain gardens.

Finally, a mid-block crosswalk across Pennsylvania Avenue with an advanced stop line and even a traffic light will help people cross. People want to walk here, and we should let them do it safely.

Future meetings, design work planned

The meeting's organizers will put a recap of the meeting on their website, but it's not up as of yet. There are also several ways to offer comments, including an interactive map and a suggestion box at Eastern Market, though the deadline is today.

However, there are more public meetings planned for later this summer. Planners hope to complete two alternate master plan concepts for the Eastern Market Metro Park within 6 months.

David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he's lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Council for DC.  


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A square would still be best. But other than that, no-brainer things like playgrounds and active water fountains are pretty simple solutions. I'd also look at the impact of closing that little section of D street and allowing commercial uses on the space, whether cafe seating or a food truck corral or whatever.

Amazing that people get bent out of shape about playgrounds. Who are these people who were apparently never children?

by drumz on Aug 6, 2013 12:38 pm • linkreport

FWIW, 9 years ago, I was part of a PPS training for Scenic America, which trained SA directors from around the country in PPS' "How to turn a place around" visioning method. We focused on Eastern Market Metro Plaza.

Recognize we had a couple hours of training, spent a couple hours out there, and spent a couple hours process and presenting our recommendations. It would have been better with more time.

As a process, it was what finally convinced me that as good as my ideas might (or might not) be, they will always be improved with quality input from others.

Our recommendations were far better than the earlier recommendations by Oehme Van Sweden.

As far as the redesign process for EMMP is concerned, I have always been troubled by the fact that there has never been a public RFP process for dealing with it. It's just been via a federal earmark to Barracks Row Main Street, and for some reason, they believe that they don't have to do a public tender to spend the money.

Amy Weinstein does good work, but probably some top notch landscape architecture firms could do a better job.

by Richard Layman on Aug 6, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

I think it's currently too small and too up against traffic to be pleasant. If you want to make them useable then you have to find a way to remove some of intersecting street segments and make it possible for both the spaces to turn their back of Penn. Ave.

by Alan B. on Aug 6, 2013 12:48 pm • linkreport

Will more activity mean more noise, or a better public space?

Was "both" not an option?

by Scoot on Aug 6, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

I actually don't think a full square would work well. Rather I'd say cut off the pieces of South Carolina and D that just awkwardly hang out there between 7th and 9th. Then use a strong natural vegetation barrier against Pennsylvannia Ave with a mix of quick growing small/medium shrubs and taller trees for long term impact. The metro escalator is a little awkwardly sited but you could work around that. The smallest triangles could reunite with the parcels there. The bigger chunks would be come a quieter residential park and an more commercial oriented plaz respectively.

by Alan B. on Aug 6, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

Save Pennsylvania Avenue SE between 7th and 9th Park! This Park was once an area of old growth forest where woodland creatures frolicked. Later it was used by historic area residents as a gathering place on warm Summer nights, or to stand while crossing historic Pennsylvania Avenue, which is where historic presidents lived hundreds of years ago!

Please don't let the developers turn the Park into just another under-planned development so that they can make money. The Park belongs to us, let's take it back!

- Friends of Pennsylvania Avenue SE between 7th and 9th Park

by Stronghold Resident on Aug 6, 2013 1:12 pm • linkreport

I think you're getting confused. This isn't about McMillan

by Alan B. on Aug 6, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

Alan B

The land should be maintained as is, so if our glorious Redskins want to move back to DeeCee, it will be available to build a stadium on.

by PG Resident on Aug 6, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

I believe @Stronghold Resident is giving us a demonstration of Poe's Law.

by Distantantennas on Aug 6, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Stronghold Resident on Aug 6, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

I'm just a citizen who would like to see new urban development in the city. And since I've had no financial offers, I have to provide my opinions free of charge.

by Alan B. on Aug 6, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

Ah well played in that case, distant.

by Alan B. on Aug 6, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

Sorry Alan, I actually agree with you. In a shortsighted attempt to portray the absurdity of some of the arguments that we hear re: McMillan, I sought to use the topic at hand to advance my own beliefs. In the process I just ended up coming off as a smart aleck.

I used to live down there and took the EM metro every day, glad they're working on making the area around the station nicer. Keep up the good work!

by Stronghold Resident on Aug 6, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

No worries! I recongized the username from the McMillan discussion and made the overstep of assuming it was actually one of the anti-development groupies.

by Alan B. on Aug 6, 2013 1:52 pm • linkreport

I think I fall into the "fix what you have first" camp. Some new landscaping and walkways would do wonders, as well as simple repairs like streetlamps and benches.

Also, I think it's unrealistic to think that weekend-level activity will ever be the norm around EM metro. While the market brings lots of folks to the area Saturday/Sunday, during the week this location can be a bit seedy, particularly around 9th and Penn. Not sure we need a water feature 7 days a week here.

However, if this would inflame the NIMBYs enough to shut them up over Hine, I'm all for this project! Ha.

by MJ on Aug 6, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

@Stronghold Resident, @Alan B. - I grew up near Eastern Market and the plaza design stretches back at least thirty years. It also hasn't been maintained particularly well, so you wind up with a shabby plaza that even at its best wouldn't serve the area particularly well.

It's disappointing that the same, usual group of vocal busybodies shot restoring the square. That works great for Stanton Park and Lincoln Park, what's so different about this place (which I believe has a formal name, but I can't find.) Reunifying the square would create a more coherent space and help calm traffic at the same time. It seems that ship has sailed, though - I understand why, from a purely tactical standpoint.

by Distantantennas on Aug 6, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

They should make it a square.

by DLG on Aug 6, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport

It's good to see Tommy Wells taking an active participation in this process. he is really a hands-on council member...

by Albert on Aug 6, 2013 2:44 pm • linkreport

Between the land the metro station is located on, the PA Ave median, and the northeast parcel (bounded by 8th Street and South Carolina) it looks like there is a lot of land to do something that will improve the metro station park.

I've never thought the park next to the Eastern Market metro station is unpleasant-- there is just nothing there to cause people to spend time. It is more of a place to pass through to get to Barrack's Row or the market.

The aerial photo above also shows that despite the 1/4 or 1/2 mile favored distance from the metro stations, there is actually little that surrounds the immediate area of many of DC's metro stations.

by 202_cyclist on Aug 6, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

wrt the previous square concept by Amy Weinstein, it's theoretically very cool, e.g., she was inspired by Logan Circle, how it had been cut up for roads and then restored. (Not unlike Thomas Circle.)

But it's impractical in this specific instance because 8th St. and PA Ave. are major bus line routes. Creating a square would put the roadway right up against the buildings on D Street between 7th and 9th (D is offset, north of PA between 8th and 9th and south of PA between 7th and 8th).

This would drop about 600 buses right on that roadway, next to rowhouse type buildings.

If there was an underpass for at least one of the roads (think Dupont Circle), maybe it could have worked.

by Richard Layman on Aug 6, 2013 3:43 pm • linkreport

What you say:

The south plaza should become a space where people will linger. Furniture, like movable chairs, benches, and permanent fixtures like tables with chess boards on top, will help draw people. A low stage for music and events could support programming while doubling as a seating area the rest of the time

What they hear:

Blah blah homeless people gathering blah blah noise blah fewer parking spaces.

It's the eternal struggle between people who actually moved to the city so they could enjoy a walkable, urban lifestyle, versus those who were attracted to that particular neighborhood because it was a sleepy, car-dependent, mostly-residential area with little or no amenities.

by oboe on Aug 6, 2013 4:14 pm • linkreport

oboe: + 1 million

(I remember a restaurant owner on 8th St. SE arguing that people should be able to park on the plaza...)

by Richard Layman on Aug 6, 2013 4:26 pm • linkreport

If they could underground PA between 7th and 9th (a la 16th @ scott circle) that would be great, but the cost and connectivity/mobility disadvantage might be too much.

by Alan B. on Aug 6, 2013 4:26 pm • linkreport

@Alan B. - I doubt there's sufficient clearance there, given that Eastern Market Metro is right underneath Pennsylvania.

by Distantantennas on Aug 6, 2013 4:28 pm • linkreport

oboe -- also I wrote a proposal very similar to what you said as part of a submission to the people organizing the "Information Hub", who've been cut out of this planning process too, even as they were about to sign an MOU with DDOT.

Movable chairs, a reading room like at Bryant Park, to leverage the presence of the library, better bike parking, bike pump and repair stand, bike map kiosk, wi-fi, and a bunch of other stuff. Even outlined the potential for a water feature, architectural lighting of the Metro canopy, and a playground at the north of PA Ave. site.

I guess I should submit that document to Amy W.

by Richard Layman on Aug 6, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

Good point, distant.

Haha, oboe... Cap Hill has always seemed decidely suburban in its outlook to me despite being arguable very downtown in location.

by Alan B. on Aug 6, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

If including a small musical venue lets relocate the Sousa statue off the milatary installation to the South at the seated area to educate commuters and tie Easten Market to Barracks Row.

by Dave B on Aug 6, 2013 8:27 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Not everyone that opposes something you like is small minded, dumb, or parochial. [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Especially when you can't clearly articulate their argument.

The main problem with Eastern Market park development, and the reason the benches are in disrepair is the homeless treatment center next to the dunkin donuts. The homeless have already ruined the libraries. No one who actually has to live next to any sort of treatment or housing facility wants to encourage their loitering. It's dangerous, it leads to petty crime, and causes people unnecessary headaches.

The other thing residents don't want is more 20 year olds and the developers who try to attract them. They are a net negative as they attract more crime, more noise, more condos (and less parking no matter how much you self congratulate yourselves on your car-free lifestyle) and lead to less exterior property maintenance (mainly because you encourage absentee landlord speculation).

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by name on Aug 7, 2013 10:26 am • linkreport

I would suggest that the attitude above about homeless people (what exactly is a homeless treatment center) combined with the attitude about 20somethings (which I take it is what you meant, not just 20 year olds) does come off as small minded.

You want the homeless, and crime and other urban problems gone - the things that kept prices down and made it possible for you to buy there. But you don't want more development or density. You want gentrification completed, yet to still have the parking and quiet that were made possible by pregentrification conditions. So that your home prices escalate even more than they have.

by EmptyNester on Aug 7, 2013 10:37 am • linkreport

Keeping a place mediocre, such that residents can't fully enjoy it, so as to keep "those people" out seems like cutting off one's nose to spite their face.

by David C on Aug 7, 2013 10:40 am • linkreport

The existing plaza has a rat problem. Call me crazy, but I don't see how creating a space for food trucks and eating areas solves the problem.

Perhaps the Capitol Hill residents would be more open to your ideas if the proponents didn't seem so smug and elitist. See the posts beginning at 4:14 pm.

by Andy on Aug 7, 2013 10:42 am • linkreport

Bad news, pretty sure Oboe is a capitol hill resident.

by drumz on Aug 7, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport

I guess he/she gains a peculiar sense of enjoyment by looking down on his/her neighbors.

by Andy on Aug 7, 2013 11:12 am • linkreport

"The other thing residents don't want is more 20 year olds and the developers who try to attract them. They are a net negative as they attract more crime, more noise, more condos..."

You're joking, right? The 50,000 20-30 year olds who moved to the District over the past decade is a primary reason we have a $400M budget surplus (that, along with all of the property taxes from all of the new condos). It is also this segment of DC residents that is least likely to own cars and add to the demand for on-street parking.

by 202_cyclist on Aug 7, 2013 3:37 pm • linkreport

Both of the open spaces together seem too small and too big at the same time. Or maybe it is that each parcel on their own is too small and without doing the off-the-table reconfiguration, there isn't much that can be done. I will add that the residences that are on the north side and face the triangle might be better served with a better blocking of the view toward Penn and break against the homeless that use the benches in that triangle (and why more benches is not necssarily a good idea). Maybe what is good in one parcel is not the answer for the other.

I will say that the whole area is quite arid and definitely badly maintained (or at least used so hard that maintenance is difficult). Unfortunately that intersection is a big bus plaza/transfer area as well as a CABI/Metro station so unless any of those change/go away I don't know what else could be done at least on a big scale. The Hine development whatever that looks like and whenever it is completed is likely to change it even further.

Throw in the traffic issue as well as the differences between what is wanted/needed during the week v. weekend Eastern Market activity and there are no easy answers.

I'm not in love with the current situation and would love to see the area feel less bleak/arid. But I only see little fixes around the edges unless cerain things were either back on the table (turning into a square again) or massively changed (i.e transportation issues).

by ET on Aug 7, 2013 4:56 pm • linkreport

The northeast portion of the park does not feel particularly safe at night; there are a lot of concealed places where it would be easy for a potential attacker to hide.

An easy first step to make the park more inviting would be to open up the sightlines; the city should tear out the odd circle of poorly maintained rosebushes and prune off all of the tree branches below seven or eight feet.

by Evan on Aug 7, 2013 4:59 pm • linkreport

How about, instead of the banned "square" idea, we curve Pennsylvania Avenue, so that all the traffic flows along the non-residential southern and western sides of the park?

by Tom Veil on Aug 7, 2013 5:28 pm • linkreport

how about put in a flea market? I hear the neighborhood loves flea markets.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Aug 7, 2013 5:35 pm • linkreport

This may sound ridiculous, but couldn't Pennsylvania Ave SE be built over (without changing the elevation/grade of the roadway)? An example of this is in Portsmouth, England ( Clearly the architectural design in that example is inappropriate for Eastern Market, but I think the idea still has merit. If the air rights are bid to private developers, it might not cost the city anything...

by hilleastresident on Aug 7, 2013 11:06 pm • linkreport

Andy, there is a shockingly large number of comments about rats on the interactive map and at the meeting people discussed it a lot and now you. You would think the place was the Fire Swamp from Princess Bride or Toronto in Dark Eyes.

But, here's how food trucks help with the rat infestation that makes the plaza into what is reportedly the New Orleans of rat Mardi Gras. They pay Barracks Row BID fees which are used to hire people to clean up trash and food scraps and to pay for other rat prevention measures. That's how.

It's amazing the problems money can solve.

by David C on Aug 7, 2013 11:24 pm • linkreport

The rat problem isn't due to food waste, it's due to some of the trees near the Metro entrace hiding rat warrens in the dirt.

Walk by there late at night and you'll see them scurrying all over the place. It's not Indiana Jones bad, but it's not good.

by Alex B. on Aug 7, 2013 11:32 pm • linkreport

I used to live nearby when I rented an apartment until I brought a home. Now I'm not sure if I want to come back to Eastern Market because most are restaurants -- nothing else to shop or enjoy your walk. I still come out a lot to do errands at CVS or Eastern Market.

However, I see a lot of potentials:
1. Build a second major entrance to Metro -- use the north plaza on north of Penn Ave (between 8 and 9). I noticed lot of people take the risk walking across Penn Ave trying to take the Metro (or hurry home).

2. When the final plan are develop for new Hines Jr. High School replacement, there should be entrances to Metro -- on on 7th Street and one on 8th Street). (see my note about Metro below).

3. The north Plaza (same area I mentioned in #1), a possibility to build underground garage parking -- I am now having hard time finding parking in the area -- having underground garage could serve us during evenings when we wish to dine in the area, day time for commuter people. And make sure there's a connection into Metro entrance (see #1 above)

4. Leave Median on Penn Ave alone for now -- maybe we could restore streetcar line -- similar to New Orleans's Charles Street (I think that's the name). We could setup bike lane too.

5. Add second elevator to existing Metro (if the elevator is down, how do people with reduced mobility (e.g. traveling with their wheelchair, scooter, cane) get down? This also will help reduce waiting for one elevator.

If we can do above the suggestions -- we could close off the D Street and other smaller street (that created dangerous for drivers and anyone surrounding).

As for Metro -- Metro should retrofit their busy existing stations and open second entrance -- we also need a better egress in case of fire or emergency. Eastern Market Metro is a very busy station. This will end choke we see at the station and problems for people getting across the busy Penn Street. Furthermore, I foresee Metro will have second line along 8th Street NE.

by Dave on Aug 8, 2013 9:52 am • linkreport

Eastern Market does not need a second entrance for the station. Sure, it could be nice to add more entrance points into the station, but those would be very expensive and the station's current traffic levels don't necessarily warrant it.

Eastern Market has ~6,300 daily boardings per weekday. Foggy Bottom (the busiest single-entrance station) has 22,000.

What the EM Metro station could really use is:

a) more faregates in the mezzanine
b) an expanded mezzanine near the elevator that adds a staircase down to the platform.

by Alex B. on Aug 8, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

Even if Eastern Market did need a second entrance, the time to do it is with the Hine rebuild, but that has been studied and dismissed (I think that study is online somewhere). Current design (which is pretty close to a done deal) does not include it. So while that ship hasn't sailed yet, they're pushing away from the dock.

by David C on Aug 8, 2013 10:45 am • linkreport

Thinking more about this, I don't know why this needs to be a grand public space. I think the following improvements would be a significant improvement for this open space:

1) Reduce the amount of impervious surface with more grass or other vegetation.
2) Some rainwater gardens such as those at Canal Park to reduce stormwater runoff.
3) More trees, especially around the perimeter of the park. More trees next to curbside parking will help keep vehicles cooler, reducing the need for air conditioning in the vehicles and thus improving fuel efficiency.
4) Some kind of water feature. The fountains at Canal Park and the pool at the Yards Park attract kids for hours.

by 202_cyclist on Aug 8, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

Restore the square.

by DaveG on Aug 9, 2013 8:51 am • linkreport

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