Greater Greater Washington

Public Spaces


Plans envision multimodal "crossroads" at Mt. Vernon Square

DC's least successful bicycle and transit infrastructure is on 7th and 9th Streets, NW, where drivers constantly occupy the dedicated bus-bike lanes.


Photo by Kim Smith.

That's one of the problems the DC Office of Planning and DDOT hope to address with a new study of the Mount Vernon Square area and 7th and 9th Streets. Planners also looked at ways to improve the area's parks, including the square itself and also the four "bow-tie" parks where Massachusetts and New York Avenues intersect 5th and 11th Streets at L and I.

OP established four goals for the project, based on input at their first public meeting held in October. First, the project should achieve multimodal transportation access, with a strong emphasis on cyclist and pedestrian safety. Second, the Mount Vernon Square area should achieve a compelling mix of uses to draw residents and visitors to it rather than simply funneling people through it.

Third, the considerable open space in this quarter should be preserved, yet transformed by creating a flowing series of parks and public spaces. Fourth, OP believes an active partnership between multiple private and public stakeholders will be necessary to achieve a "vibrant economic crossroads" centered on Mt. Vernon Square.

Planners talked about parks like Bryant Park in NYC. They acknowledged that the current spaces are often underutilized, difficult to get to and from due to the surrounding roads, and, because of placement of monuments and sidewalks, it's tough to pull together enough space for use for activities instead of just passive space. They want to turn these parks into a network of green spaces to tie together the surrounding neighborhoods (Logan, Shaw, Chinatown, Downtown, Mt. Vernon) instead of keeping the neighborhoods apart.

The maps showing possible changes to the road network around the square drew the most attention. Planners created 4 alternatives, along with a list of other options that could be included à la carte with any alternative.

The Office of Planning will be taking comments until January 11, including choosing which alternative they like the best or mixing and matching parts of them. At the next meeting, they hope to present 2 "hybrid" plans that will the most popular choices, and make a final decision among those. Traffic analyses of each alternative will happen between now and then.

  • Alternative 1 moves the bus-only lane on 7th street to the curb (eliminating the parking lane), and adds a two-way cycle-track to 9th street. (Diagram)
  • Alternative 2 widens the square on all sides (pushing the sidewalks out 12-24 feet) and encourages westbound traffic on New York Ave. to take L Street to avoid the square. It turns 9th Street two-way, adds curbside bus only lanes (north and southbound) to 7th Street, and adds a two-way cycle track to 9th Street. (Diagram)
  • Alternative 3 makes traffic one-way around the square (similar to Stanton Park or Lincoln Park on the Hill), widens the square, and adds mid-block crosswalks to the square on the 8th Street and K Street axes. 7th Street becomes one-way northbound, paired with 9th Street as one-way southbound. Traffic is discouraged from cutting through from NY to Mass by using L Street. Both 7th and 9th get two-way cycle tracks and curbside bus lanes. (Diagram)
  • Alternative 4 has 7th and 9th Street both two-way, with a curbside bus lane and a bike lane between the bus and traffic, and parking lane between the bike lane and two-way traffic. The north and south sides of the square become one-way (eastbound to the south, westbound to the north). This widens the square, only adds mid-block crosswalks to the 8th Street axis, and discourages cut-through traffic on L Street. (Diagram)
I [Geoff] would personally like to see a combination of elements from 3 and 4: one-way traffic around the square, two-way traffic on 7th and 9th with buses on 7th, and a cycle track on 9th.

In addition, 10th Street will become two-way between New York and Mass Avenues, in anticipation of the road being reopened through the old convention center site and the road becoming two-way through the neighborhood to the north. The sidewalk on the west side of 9th north of the square would be widened to allow for better access to businesses there (current and future business).


À la carte options (left) and possible widening (right). Click on an image to enlarge.

À la carte options include restricting 7th Street from F to I to pedestrians and bikes on weekends or during big events at the Verizon Center. 6th Street could be narrowed to slow traffic from Pennsylvania Avenue north to Rhode Island Ave. 7th could become bus and bike only from Indiana to Mass, meaning northbound auto traffic would be routed to Indiana Ave and 6th Street.

In addition to cycle tracks on 7th or 9th, they are also under consideration for Massachusetts Avenue on both sides of the square and New York Avenue to the east.

Discussion about the parks included talk of programming the square similar to how the old convention center space is now, with someone in charge of bringing larger-scale but appropriate operations to the square.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC's Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff's writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer. 
David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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It seems to me that the cheapest and quickest way to make the bus lanes much more effective would be simply to paint the entire lane a different, distinctive color. As it is now, many drivers don't even realize they're in a bus lane because the signage is sparse and the lane markings aren't terribly clear. Go to London and it's easy to notice the difference -- the bus lane asphalt is a bright red color and signage indicating the existence and enforcement of bus lanes is ample. This seems like such an obvious fix that it actually makes me wonder if there's some kind of ridiculous, arcane statute that prevents the painting of entire lanes for safety reasons or something...

by iammrben on Dec 10, 2009 11:02 am • linkreport

That area is a mess. And it's made way worse when a convention is in town and people are trying to cross Mt Vernon Place. The jaywalking, bad drivers, and taxis picking up/dropping off customers make it a nightmare.

The square itself is sadly underutilized - partly b/c it's isolated, partly b/c the Carnegie Library is underused, and partly b/c of the homeless population that hangs out at the square.

by Fritz on Dec 10, 2009 11:03 am • linkreport

I think another alternative should be examined. Return 6th Street to one-way northbound, eliminate bus/bike lane on 9th street and keep one way traffic southbound. Put both north and southbound bus & bike lanes on 7th street and close 7th between New York Ave & Pennsylvania Ave to auto traffic during peak periods and when events are held at Verizon Center (but remain open to bus/bikes).

Re-route 79 and Circulator bus currently on 9th to new southbound bus lane on 7th. This configuration creates reasonable flow of autos through the downtown core while providing for faster, more reliable buses and a safer bike route.

by kreeggo on Dec 10, 2009 11:30 am • linkreport

Put food vendors on Mt. Vernon Square. Watch the utilization rates soar and convention attendees step outside for a bit of fresh air, coffee, lunch, and a stretch. Add a few benches too.

by resident on Dec 10, 2009 11:38 am • linkreport

iammrben:we were informed at the meeting that MPD can't/won't enforce the prohibition on automobiles in the bike/bus lanes on 7th and 9th. apparently, all it would take is a driver stating, "i was trying to park" or "i was turning right" when challenging a ticket, and the ticket would be thrown out.

with that in mind, MPD doesn't believe it's worthwhile trying to enforce lane usage. for that reason, DDOT feels that the bus lanes need to be moved to the curb and potentially barrier-separated.

by IMGoph on Dec 10, 2009 11:41 am • linkreport

resident: i should have shared that information when writing this up, but i did end up focusing more on future street utilization. one of the ideas discussed was including kiosks, especially on the north side of the square, since there are less mature trees there (the city wants to avoid damaging any of the large trees on the square through increased activity).

by IMGoph on Dec 10, 2009 11:43 am • linkreport

Bryant Square is a good example, but in many ways Madison Square Park might be a better example because of it's criss-crossed nature and location near major traffic intersections -- it's grazed by Broadway on the West. The area has a Shake Shack of course, but also a dog park, and a children's play lot. And amazingly mature trees! (Perhaps trees in NY are just tougher?) It also makes use of the surrounding sidewalks for seasonal markets with stalls. It's a great gathering point for Flatiron neighborhood workers, nearby residents, art students and tourists. So it gets a better mix in a smaller area than the more expansive and tourist focused Bryant Park.

by Christopher on Dec 10, 2009 11:56 am • linkreport

With regard to bus/bike lane enforcement. Even with curbside lanes, they need to be better designed with clear paint markings as to when it is permissable for right turn vehicles to enter the lane. Likewise clearly marked prohibitions against autos are needed in the portions where right turning vehicles are prohibited. The District also may need to revise its code to make inappropriate travel in such lanes an enforceable offense. Cameras mounted on bus shelters or poles could provide passive enforcement similar to speed and red light cameras.

by kreeggo on Dec 10, 2009 12:00 pm • linkreport

Enforcement is easy since the fine can be adjusted to pay for the cost of the enforcement mechanism. If an officer sees a car in the distance in the lane for at least one block, the "I'm going into a parking space" argument is clearly indefensible. The amount of the fines can pay for the extra enforcement officer.

As for the square, was there any discussion as to how the proposed streetcar lines will pass around the park?

by Eric F. on Dec 10, 2009 12:46 pm • linkreport

eric: since this is all still early in the proposal process, there was no hard-and-fast information about streetcar lines, but the options would either have the lines pass through the square itself, outside the square counterclockwise, or both ways on K street to the south of the square. if i were a betting man, i'd say they go around the square counterclockwise.

by IMGoph on Dec 10, 2009 12:52 pm • linkreport

I'm sure the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the square, would strongly oppose any train encroaching on the current square, so the trains would have to run either to the south or counterclockwise around it, which is my preference anyway.

I wonder if the NPS would strenuously object to left-side stops on the square itself. It would be a way to bring people into the square.

by Eric F. on Dec 10, 2009 1:00 pm • linkreport

I don't buy MPD's argument for a New York minute. I routinely see them stopping and harassing cyclists in that area doing things to avoid the chaotic flow of traffic. I guess "I was trying to avoid getting run over by cars travelling illegally in the wrong lane" is something a judge will readily dismiss as bollocks, but "I needed to park as closely as possible to the cupcake place" is more than enough justification to fire a police officer.

Also, @DDOT: WTF is wrong with you allowing restaruants to set up valet stands in the bus/bike lane?

Anything that separates the bus/bike lane is an acceptable alternative to this clusterf*ck

by JTS on Dec 10, 2009 1:05 pm • linkreport

As a point of clarification, NPS doesn't have control of Mt. Vernon Square. The Park Service turned control over to the city within the last decade, I believe.

by AMB on Dec 10, 2009 1:17 pm • linkreport

Streetcar tracks across the square would likely cause a controversy regardless. The building is one of the historic Carnegie libraries and I'm pretty sure the square itself was part of the original L'Enfant design.

by kreeggo on Dec 10, 2009 1:29 pm • linkreport

The original L'Enfant design just had empty spaces, not parks. The Eastern Market plaza (now bisected by 8th and Pennsylvania) was no different in the L'Enfant plan than a square like Mount Vernon.

We should definitely preserve that building, though, and putting streetcar tracks through would reduce much-needed park space.

by David Alpert on Dec 10, 2009 1:37 pm • linkreport

This exercise is pointless without plans for how to route the K St Streetcar, which supposedly is a Phase One streetcar line, through the Square. The city should not spend money and time tearing up these streets just to redo it again in a year or two.

by tom veil on Dec 10, 2009 1:53 pm • linkreport

Any configuration that includes a Shake Shack would be OK with me.

by michael on Dec 10, 2009 2:02 pm • linkreport

Also posted this on Washcycle, which had an article up earlier this morning.

- This study needs to take into account and figure out how to route the planned K Street streetcar line through the Mt. Vernon Square area. Thus far, from what I can tell, it does not.

- Making 9th St two-way on the west side of the square makes sense. Not sure yet about making it two-way south of NY Ave.

- Cycletracks would be possible on NY Ave, but only as far as the 3rd St Tunnel. The doubling of traffic east of there makes it effectively impossible. A much easier location to implement them would be on NY Ave to the southwest, down to 15th St.

- Restricting 7th St near the Verizon Center runs counter to an efficient street grid. It should be a non-starter.

by Froggie on Dec 10, 2009 2:07 pm • linkreport

a note to everyone who is concerned about the routing of streetcar tracks for the K street right-of-way: that was brought up at the meeting last night, and (i forget who, but i believe it was harriet tregoning) said that is being considered as part of the assessment for the K street project that DDOT is applying to construct with TIGER funds. she said this project will defer to whatever that project determines makes sense for K street west of the square (since that's the limit of that project).

by IMGoph on Dec 10, 2009 2:20 pm • linkreport

7th street should stay the same but get rid of parking, changing the flow of traffic around the library will do nothing but make travel on 70, 71 buses worst.

Most of the if you actually look at the 70 and 79 buses and compare the loads on each the 79 gets lower at about Shaw while the 70 stays the same probably because anyone that is going south wants to go to 7th street and not 9th street all of the buses should use 7th street.

As for closing 7th street for events at the Verizon Center hell no, make the damn people going and leaving follow the damn law like everybody else it no one should be getting special treatment, people should not be inconvenienced because of some event going on.

They should have thought about a drop off area for buses for events during the building of the convention center; the northern part of the area is mostly residential and the southern is business any changes will drastically effect the residential parts

What about moving the library actually taking the building apart and putting it somewhere else.

by KK on Dec 10, 2009 4:31 pm • linkreport

what iammrben said about drivers not knowing its a restricted lane. The first couple of times (seperated by several months) I drove down there (southbound both times) I got in the bus/bike lane and didn't realize it was restricted (or had forgotten) until I was already in there for at least a block. Then it was really difficult to get back out. i felt bad but I was stuck. I know now but I drive there so seldomly I'll probably forget next time too. The visual cues are too subtle for drivers in heavy traffic.

by Bianchi on Dec 10, 2009 5:24 pm • linkreport

This is one of the worst intersections in DC. And what this post doesn't take into account is that it is major bottleneck for east-west traffic along Mass Ave. This is not a commuter issue, but a basic connectivity issue for DC. Going East-West in DC at any time is a major hassle. Going from Union Station to Dupont always bottlenecks here because of the left turn signal off seventh on to Mt. Vernon place.

by hill on Dec 10, 2009 5:49 pm • linkreport

How about making 7th st bus only north of MV square and speeding the 70's through this whole corridor up to Georgia Ave?

Mixing buses and bikes is a bad idea as a biker I would rather deal with cars than play leapfrog with a big, smelly bus with huge blindspots.

"6th Street could be narrowed to slow traffic from Pennsylvania Avenue north to Rhode Island Ave." Yes please the current configuration on 6th with 2 narrow lanes is terrible. 6th up to Florida one lane each direction with properly timed lights, designated left turn areas and a bike lane. Alternatively you could have just a southbound bike lane because you have a new northbound lane on 5th ( but that ends at Rhode Island)

by Chris R on Dec 10, 2009 7:47 pm • linkreport

I think NPS has less control over Mt. Vernon Sq. I think it might actually be city-owned, because of the old library.

I'm in favor of the plan that improves pedestrian and bike facilities (and bus) the most. So it seems to me that Alternative 2 or 3 may be that, but I'd like to see GGW, WABA and others thoughts before giving an opinion to DDOT.

I also love the ad-on of creating a cycle track on mass ave.

On the square itself - there is much to do for programming. Think of this time of year. A skating rink, a tree, perhaps a restaurant in the library building would help a lot. There's just really nothing going on there. But part of the problem is calming the traffic around the square so that its a little more pleasant to be inside it. I'm glad to see things going that way.

by hansel on Dec 11, 2009 11:54 am • linkreport

A dog park on the square would be a significant addition to the neighborhood and make it a gathering place at least for dog owners from the surrounding neighborhoods. The square already has a fountain at the southwest corner of the square so drainage and water could be readily available. This was suggested by several people as part of the survey and should be considered.

by danmac on Dec 12, 2009 12:42 pm • linkreport

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