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Public Spaces

A greener Eastern Market plaza may be on the way

Where today the parks around the Eastern Market Metro are mostly tired expanses of grass with a few trees, the parks soon could contain an expanded library, formal playground, cafe-style tree bosque and several stormwater management features. The roads and sidewalks around the square could also get a better layout.

The Metro entrance, library entry pavilion, and water feature on the southwest parcel. All images from Esocoff & Associates unless otherwise noted.

The $45 million redesign has gone through years of planning and outreach. The project originally started as a Congressional earmark to Barracks Row Main Street, which funded the Capitol Hill Town Square study in 2008 that considered ways to redesign the intersection, including possibly rerouting Pennsylvania Avenue around a square similar to Stanton or Lincoln parks.

Any changes to Pennsylvania Avenue ran into fierce opposition from immediate neighbors. But the project team continued studying ways to redesign the parks and started a new round of public engagement in 2013, this time assuming Pennsylvania stayed where it is.

The plaza now. Image from Bing Maps.

Architect Amy Weinstein of Esocoff & Associates recently revealed a final design coming out of numerous community meetings and feedback on two concepts from January.

The most dramatic change would be on the southwest parcel with the Metro entrance. A new pavilion would lead to a massive below-ground expansion of the Southeast Library, across the street from the square. A long courtyard and a water feature would connect this pavilion with the Metro.

Staircase for the new pavilion.

The parcel would also get a shaded tree bosque (an urban grove of shade trees similar to the one at New York's Lincoln Center) with a crushed gravel surface, movable furniture, and an open space along the "desire line" path where people most often walk between the Metro station and Barracks Row.

Artist's rendering of the bosque.

A straight pedestrian path along the South Carolina Avenue axis would divide the northeast section, the largest parcel. A fenced-in children's play area and an open lawn would flank it on the each side. The play areas include a landscape with "Anacostia Hills," a "Floodplain," a "Valley," and a "Ridge," and on that landscape, children will find a tree house, water pump, a pair of jungle gyms and a swing set.

The playground and promenade.

The wide median of Pennsylvania Avenue would become a pair of bioswales surrounded by wrought iron fencing. The bioswales will absorb up to 70% of the stormwater runoff from the inside portion of Pennsylvania Avenue during most storms. Meanwhile, the fences prevent pedestrians from crossing in the middle of the block.

The smaller triangular parcels on the southeast and northwest sides would become green space with stormwater management gardens and trees surrounded by an outward facing bench. The southeast parcel would be further expanded by closing D Street in front of the Dunkin' Donuts and adding the land to the park.

Site plan for the smaller triangular parcels.

Around the square, the plan would make changes to street directions and sidewalks to provide better flow and greater pedestrian safety. The segments of D Street along the northeast and southwest edges would reverse to carry traffic away from 8th Street instead of toward it. 8th Street would get a new left turn lane for those turning west onto D Street south of Pennsylvania.

To aid pedestrians, many intersections would get curb bump outs and pedestrian islands. The northbound bus stop on 8th would move south of Pennsylvania, while southbound buses would stop just across the street from that spot, closer to the Metro station.

Building the parks and plazas will cost an estimated $13,500,000, while the expanded and renovated library would cost $22,800,000. With DC management fees, a maintenance endowment and other costs, the project team estimates the whole project would need a budget of a little over $45,000,000.

The team is still accepting comments and will issue a final report in September. Barracks Row Main Street has some money to help pay for development, but from the (somewhat vague) statements from the project team, it appears they would be looking for city funding to help make the project a reality.

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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No median fences! Ugh, I hate that design philosophy. If you make crossing the street easier for pedestrians, they won't need to try and cross mid block. Even better, if shade is going to be added from the trees, would be to enlarge the median and put a pedestrian path down the middle of it.

But either way I'd rather see Pennsylvania interrupted by a park taking up the whole two blocks, rather than these opposing triangles. That would certainly obviate the need to cross streets.

by Low Headways on Jul 30, 2014 10:36 am • linkreport

I am so mad at all of my fellow neighbors who ruined the chance to reroute Pennsylvania Ave and create a new park square. This proposal has some nice elements, but it could have been so much better if they had more room to work with.

by Tom Veil on Jul 30, 2014 10:42 am • linkreport

@Tom Veil
What were the objections to the "park square"?
That looked like a great idea

by Brett Young on Jul 30, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

How likely is the expanded library/pavilion in terms of actually happening? Is this something DC has said it would like to do and/or has made commitments for resources in? Considering this is the main element for the SW section of the park it would be good to know that everyone is on board with it and its not just an architect's pie in the sky plan.

Also, if they are going to keep Pennsylvania Ave as is, I wonder if a diagonal crossing for pedestrians (like the one in Chinatown) would be feasible. It would make moving between the two main park areas easier and help them feel a bit more connected.

by Mr. Johnson on Jul 30, 2014 11:21 am • linkreport

Thank you for posting this. The first steps should be to address the loitering in front of the 7/11 and Starbucks on Barracks Row, where unfortunately, there was a fatal stabbing earlier this year.

Next, the redevelopment of the Hine School into new mixed-use housing needs to proceed. In the interim, however, it would be nice to have another community vegetable garden on the open space in front of the Hine School until it is redeveloped.

by 202_Cyclist on Jul 30, 2014 11:24 am • linkreport

Hopefully the Southwest library could be redeveloped as a mixed-use public/private parthernship and some of the revenue from selling the land at the current site could be used for the Eastern Market library.

by 202_Cyclist on Jul 30, 2014 11:32 am • linkreport

The neighbor's opposition to rerouting PA Ave was primarily focused on traffic noise. I never really understood their issues though, because I can't help compare the current Eastern Market mess with Lincoln Park. Clearly Lincoln Park provides a much better resident experience.

However, there were also issues with rerouting PA Ave in terms of emergency vehicles and bus access. The fire station just south on 8th St obviously uses the intersection frequently and the 90's buses use 8th St through the intersection.

by SE on Jul 30, 2014 11:42 am • linkreport

That looks like it is going to be pretty.

by asffa on Jul 30, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

Also - There's that kind of water feature in Silver Spring, and the kids really love it. very nice.

by asffa on Jul 30, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport

Aww, but the park of lost toys will disappear!

by Pete on Jul 30, 2014 12:12 pm • linkreport

Pete - go see it before it's gone?

by asffa on Jul 30, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport


fatal stabbing was tragic, but it occurred at 12:30 am. It speaks to a different security concern than anything addressed in this plan. The greater loitering issue is the Community Connection site on south block of 800 D St SE and the NE parcel here (between 800 block of Penn (n) and 800 D st SE (n). The plan provides places to sit congregate, but the newer benches will prohibit sleeping

by anon_1 on Jul 30, 2014 12:31 pm • linkreport

How likely is the expanded library/pavilion in terms of actually happening?

Who can say? DC has been investing in new library buildings lately and a cynical take would be that Mayor Bowser would like to curry favor in Ward 6, so maybe. But it will likely need vocal community support, strong leadership and a little luck.

Is this something DC has said it would like to do and/or has made commitments for resources in?

I have heard nothing official or off-the-record from DC government and certainly no commitment of resources.

by David C on Jul 30, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

After learning of the earlier, failed attempt to advance the idea of re-routing Penn Ave to create a square, I tried to drum up new support. In addition to the noise / traffic concern raised by residents close to the plaza, I was surprised to get negative feedback from others.

In summary, an opportunity may have been missed because a fair number of people believed that the high volume of traffic on Penn Ave would act as a barrier to the new square thereby creating something of a "Thomas Circle" versus a Lincoln Park.

by Harrison Flakker on Jul 30, 2014 1:36 pm • linkreport

The real solution is to create policy that reduces the incentive to drive and increases the incentive to take other modes, while improving safety and convenience for moving around the city. It may be hard to do this all at once, but slowly reducing automobile capacity and convenience while increasing capacity and convenience for walking, bicycling, and transit is certainly the right long-term approach, as those modes have all sorts of positive externalities for a city, while driving has all sorts of negative externalities. Not every attempt to do so is going to succeed, so if we can't get a square park, maybe we can reclaim a lane from Pennsylvania in each direction and use it to expand the park, or maybe we could reduce the speed limit and increase the signal time for pedestrians crossing between the two park sections. These would improve access for pedestrians and reduce the likelihood and severity of injuries, at a smaller inconvenience to drivers.

Basically, if people aren't willing to reroute the street, perhaps they'll be willing to try other actions to make the park and surrounding streets function better for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users.

by TransitSnob on Jul 30, 2014 1:49 pm • linkreport

The folks who have lead this design process have ignored the concerns of neighbors from the beginning. The rerouting of traffic makes no sense, unless all you care about are the business on Eighth Street. Changing the flow of D Street will make it harder for residents in the surrounding community to get off their blocks and around the neighborhood. As for the design, it looks nice, but experience tells me that it will soon fall into disrepair, as has every other attempt at fixing those parks.

by Eastern Market resident on Jul 30, 2014 1:54 pm • linkreport

Eastern Market resident - Well then, let's do nothing... that should definitely result in those parks improving on their own.

by Dave on Jul 30, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

13 million dollars turns an ugly strip of land crisscrossed by roads into an ugly strip of land crisscrossed by roads.

The sketches don't impress me.

by Richard on Jul 30, 2014 2:21 pm • linkreport

Spend the money on an underpass instead.

by The Truth™ on Jul 30, 2014 2:30 pm • linkreport

The people who live along the northern and eastern edges of the current 'square' didn't want Pennsylvania Ave rerouted to run closer to our homes. There's a big difference between traffic volume on Mass Ave at Lincoln Park and Pennsylvania Ave at Eastern Market. This design looks great, for the most part; I hope it happens, or something like it. The current (parks) are becoming the seediest part of the neighborhood.

by Eastern Market resident on Jul 30, 2014 2:51 pm • linkreport

Heavy traffic around squares doesn't seem to stop New York City from having such successful parks, and there are already several in NW DC. Such parks also help with traffic calming. So I say reroute Pennsylvania Ave. around Eastern Market Plaza just like Lincoln Park, Stanton Park, Mt. Vernon Square, et. al.

by Dave G on Jul 30, 2014 3:23 pm • linkreport

I believe the design team received very strong guidance from DDOT not to adjust the Pennsylvania Avenue roadbed. Doing so would have required a significant amount of intra-agency coordination, dealing with the National Park Service (who owns the median), and opened up a NEPA process. This, combined with neighborhood feedback from the previous design limited what the design team was able to do.

This is a shame, because this is one of the few roads in DC with available capacity (traffic volumes are in the 20-25k range, which is more in line with a congested two-lane road, compared to the six lanes on Penn Ave), plus the wide median opens up a lot of options for transit, bikes, etc....

That said, for $13 million you get a beautiful public space with nodes and pockets for a variety of users. This compares to the $10 million to be spent for a small park near Dupont Circle which involves capping part of Connecticut Avenue.

by George P. Burdell on Jul 30, 2014 3:59 pm • linkreport

To everyone suggesting an underpass - pretty sure the Metro station is in the way.

by MLD on Jul 30, 2014 4:17 pm • linkreport


Good point.

by The Truth™ on Jul 30, 2014 4:20 pm • linkreport

Personally I wonder that given the nature of this intersection if rerouting was ever really an option.

This is a big Metro/bus transfer point. Buses going north/south on 8th buses going east/west on Pen, and those that turn on/off Penn. Throw in the Metro station and the fact that this is a major artery for traffic moving east and you end up with pretty much what is there now. There are definitely things that can be done to improve it around the edges - more trees maybe a better/different bus stop configurations, benches, etc. but that all seems somewhat cosmetic. A major street reconfiguration may only work if there was less traffic on it - Massachusetts Avenue at Lincoln Park doesn't handle the same amount of traffic and the cross streets aren't as big in terms of traffic as 8th street is. I will say that the bus stop situation at that intersection is horrible and really does need to be dealt with but that is easier said than done.

As for all the loitering, much of what goes on in front of the Starbucks is related to the bus stop that is there though there are a fair number of homeless there, in front of the Dunkin' and across the street in the park on the north side of Penn because of that community service place in the Haines building and that wasn't really discussed as part of the plan except tangentially when bench/seating is addressed.

by ET on Jul 30, 2014 5:51 pm • linkreport

They have told us a thousand times that the MLK building is way too big to be a satisfactory library nowadays. What would they do with a huge, windowless branch in Southeast?

by Turnip on Jul 30, 2014 6:12 pm • linkreport

Improving the park is a good idea and certainly needed. But it seems to me that this group needs a stronger plan for maintenance once the changes are made. The current plaza is in the shape it's in because no one seems to be responsible for it.

I don't understand the library proposal. It seems like a great expense that might be better used to increase the number of computers, tablets and e-books offered by the library. The world is going digital, which would seem to imply that the library might need less space in the future, and its services might be more online that in brick and mortar.

by Barracks Row Neighbor on Jul 30, 2014 6:14 pm • linkreport

I wonder who will be the people filling up this wonderful park, since they won't let any housing be built on Capitol Hill.

by Asaf on Jul 30, 2014 10:23 pm • linkreport

@Barracks Row Neighbor

Yes the world is going digital but there is still no solution to having books (paper or digital) do you have a solution for publishers that want royalties for when ebooks books are rented vs buying paper books now and only getting a new copy when it crumbles ?

I think that the library should evolve into more or a community center that has all of the things have now that would not survive alone under one roof where they have a chance together.

I think a better idea would be to get rid of the old library and build a new one on the parks land forget a damn annex that people want there just a whole new library and perhaps get the post office as a tenant and Starbucks or basically turn it into a small Barnes and Noble.

and Have the other side into a real park.

Though I would have at first suggested bulldozing Hines and building a new Library on part of the land with a park infront of it with the street removed and whatever else for the rest of the land.

by kk on Jul 30, 2014 10:45 pm • linkreport

What happens to the bus stops and access to the station during construction ?

Are we going to end up with what happen at Columbus Circle bus stops at Union Station or Silver Spring station with the bus stops pushed somewhere down the street or discontinued with a sign saying board somewhere else and a tiny ass path to the station and elevator.

I say if they are going to change the park might as well add a new elevator to the station.

by kk on Jul 30, 2014 10:48 pm • linkreport

This looks like a much better plan than previous proposals, however I think the fences along the median need to be ditched. While it will keep people and dogs out (which is a good thing) if they had been there during the Frager's fire it would have made the chaos at 8th and Penn even worse by forcing pedestrians into a bottleneck.

by MikenotIke on Jul 31, 2014 8:06 am • linkreport

The current Southeast library is too small to effectively serve the neighborhood. The current building is one of the original Carnegie libraries and is protected with historic status. However, there is not enough room inside the building to adequately serve all users. Currently, there are a limited number of computers, maybe 20, that are highly used. The children's section is a corner. For elementary children the library holds so few books, that it's only useful if you request books on hold ahead of time. I would strongly support the library expanding all the above services. As for the adult books, I've personally gone digital, and love overdrive, so I don't feel qualified to comment.

As a driver I would be in favor of fences along the median. My understanding of the bioswale is that it would contain plants to absorb rainwater and would not be well-served by pedestrians walking through. Plus, as an occasional driver down PA Ave, the mid-block crossings make me nervous.

by SE on Jul 31, 2014 9:02 am • linkreport

We've found the library so lacking in children's books that we now ride past it to go to Rosedale library.

by David C on Jul 31, 2014 9:17 am • linkreport

I, too, am in favor of re routing Pennsylvania Avenue . The design proposed here, while a definite improvement over what we have today, seems disconnected. Is there any way to readdress the re routing of Pennsylvania?!

by J. Kaleda on Jul 31, 2014 9:19 am • linkreport

I second kk: what happens to bus stops and access to the station during construction? Silver Spring's stops are worse indefinitely and Union Station's stops are worse permanently. I wonder how much rerouting people along the 'Penn speedway' will increase jaywalking fatalities?

by yup yup on Jul 31, 2014 1:10 pm • linkreport

A traffic calming square/park could also be added where Potomac Ave. SE crosses Pennsylvania Ave. SE. Barney Circle SE could also be restored to a full circle. All this would calm traffic along Pennsylvania Ave. SE and thus help to improve the avenue.

by Dave G on Jul 31, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

I fail to see how changing the flow of the 700 Block of D Street adjacent to FedEx/Kinkos and RadioShack (whose days are numbered) will cause irreparable injury to those those living in the immediate vicinity. The intersections of D Street with 7th/South Carolina and 8th Streets are already extremely challenging for pedestrians, particularly those with small children, and cyclists. Also, attempting to traverse 8th Street via eastbound D Street in an automobile is largely an exercise in futility. Bike lanes connecting with 6th Street and extending along the east and west sides of 7th Street are also necessary, which would entail taking away a couple of parking spaces in front of the SE Library on both sides of 7th Street.

by HillComtrarian on Jul 31, 2014 2:29 pm • linkreport

Looks nice, what a great plan.
Pedestrians have always and will probably always jaywalk/cut across PA Ave.
Did they ever consider an elevated crosswalk over PA Ave?? A funky modern one would look really cool (something like the bridge at Yards Park).

by LWalker on Aug 4, 2014 4:15 pm • linkreport

The design also ignores the current pedestrian desire line from D st on the NE quadrant in favor of a fenced in kids park. Couldn't these two things be better integrated so as not to divert walking traffic?

by Keith on Aug 5, 2014 12:37 pm • linkreport

I hope that the plan for the triangle park on the northeast side of Penn doesn’t include pulling out George, the Capitol Hill Christmas tree. I don’t know that I can pick him out in the artist rendering of that part of the plan…

Don’t kill George!

by Kc on Aug 5, 2014 1:27 pm • linkreport

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