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Public Spaces

Plans envision "green street" for C Street, NE

Capitol Hill residents recently reviewed traffic-calming options for C Street, NE including separated bike paths ("cycle tracks"), reducing lanes, bulb-outs, "chicanes" where the road curves from side to side, reconfigured intersections, medians, stormwater bioretention araes, and more.

From Toole Design.

C Street, NE through northeastern Capitol Hill serves two roles. It's a neighborhood street with houses and a school, but it's also a major westbound route from the East Capitol Street bridge toward the Capitol and downtown.

In the morning peak, it carries high volumes of traffic. At other times, it has many fewer cars, but the wide configuration encourages them to speed.

At the request of residents, DDOT engaged Toole Design, one of the best local transportation firms, to study alternatives. They found that the wide roadway could become much more, even preserving the ability of the street to move many cars.

Current (top) and three alternatives for C Street, NE between 17th and 19th.

All options maintain the existing treebox areas, then place protected bike lanes inside the current curbs, but elevated to sidewalk level. Additional pedestrian and/or planted spaces (in red on the diagrams) then protect the lanes from traffic and parking.

North Carolina Avenue would get an eastbound cycle track and retain its westbound bike lane, while the westbound cycle track would continue on the one-way portion of C Street west of 16th Street and transition to a standard bike lane as the road narrows past 15th.

The largest difference between options is in the numbers of vehicular lanes. All reduce the eastbound lanes to one, as there is little eastbound traffic. Instead, drivers generally use Independence Avenue. For westbound cars, option A preserves the current three lanes and parking. B would preserve the three lanes in the peak but use the space for off-peak parking only, and C reduces the travel lanes to two with full-time parking.

In the center, a planted median would separate the two directions of traffic and provide left turn pockets. Each alternative includes a chicane, gently curving the road back and forth, either at a gentle 3000-foot radius or a narrower and more traffic-slowing 600-foot radius. The medians also prevent cars from crossing over C on smaller cross streets such as 17th Place, 18th Street, and 20th Street.

Raised crosswalks would slow traffic on cross streets to assist pedestrians. To the west, there is an option to reconfigure the intersection of Constitution and North Carolina to create one large island instead of several small ones.

Options for the intersection of Constitution and North Carolina Avenues.

Finally, the proposals contain significant "green streets" elements. The cycle tracks and new pedestrian paces in red would use permeable paving to minimize stormwater runoff. In addition, where there are large bulb-outs (also in red), Toole proposes bioretention areas, planted areas that are left more wild than manicured and can hold water like miniature wetlands during and after storms, letting it slowly drain into the ground rather than overloading storm sewers.

This project could create DC's first real "green street" and show how good design can do so much more with public spaces. I'm just disappointed we aren't getting the same for projects like 17th Street, NW, now under construction. Fortunately, the new DDOT is using Toole for several other ongoing projects, boding well for more designs like this to come.

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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the cycletracks should be made double their shown width -- to at least the size of a typical car lane. bikes deserve at least as much room as cars and trucks. ditto pedestrian/sidewalk space. we need to be able to ride together, to pass slower riders, to take our time if we want to, to ride with our kids, etc.

green elements are overrated -- wide bike paths are more important.

and any greening should provide a physical barrier between moving cars/trucks and walkers/bikers, not between bikers and walkers.

if we need more room, get rid of the car parking -- there's no room for car storage on major travel corridors.

by Peter Smith on Mar 9, 2010 3:13 pm • linkreport

I don't know, but "bioretention areas" seems like another term for "mosquito- and midge-breeding grounds".

by Craig on Mar 9, 2010 3:25 pm • linkreport


bioretention areas aren't meant to have standing water - they are meant to retain water after a rain event and slowly let it filter into the storm drain, rather than flush it in all at once. This has the feature of both filtering the runoff before it enters the storm drain as well as slowing the peak flow into the system, helping to prevent CSO events.

by Alex B. on Mar 9, 2010 3:31 pm • linkreport

Where is the option for have no connection from East Capitol; the whole grid over there is f'kd because of the Stadium, the Amory & the schools

They should have connected East Capitol to Constitution Ave so that C Street could have been just a residential street and not a major thoroughfare

by kk on Mar 9, 2010 3:49 pm • linkreport

@ Peter S. This is a residential street, it is only a commuter corridor because DDOT, over the last 40-50 years, let it become a cut-through commuter corridor for mostly Marylanders.

Even today their are some in DDOT still willing to give full rights of our neighborhood streets to the suburban motorist at the expense of residents' health and quality of life.

@ Craig – bioretention planters, similar to those shown above, have been successful in not breading more water-born insects in places like Portland Oregon which gets a lot more rain then we do.

@ Alex - +1

@ kk - you are absolutely right! The "grid" got ground-up when RFK was built. East Capitol St (Whitney Memorial Bridge) should be deemphasized as a commuter corridor to cross the Anacostia; especially, once the 11th St bridge project is complete. And, why Constitutions Ave just abruptly ends (to accommodate RFK vehicle parking) is a truly amazing.

IMO, DDOT needs to be as proactive/innovative with redirecting commuter motorists from freely cutting through neighborhoods and direct them back onto existing principle arterial and freeways as they are about transit and alternative transportation systems.

by Ken on Mar 9, 2010 4:39 pm • linkreport

I would prefer the strictest road diet, Option C. I think this will encourage motorists to choose routes like Benning Rd and the 11th Street bridge that don't cut through the middle of the Capitol Hill neighborhood on a residential width street (C St NE).

Going from 5 to 3 lanes of car and truck traffic will also free up more of the public right-of-way for bicycles, pedestrians, water filtering infrastructure, and green space.

If we can't put in a toll-booth to collect congestion taxes, we can still use road design to favor transit, biking, and walking. After 50+ years of auto-centric design, it's time to tip the scales back toward the environment and humans who aren't wrapped in 2 tons of metal.

by CR on Mar 9, 2010 5:28 pm • linkreport

@CR, Right on!

by Bianchi on Mar 9, 2010 5:56 pm • linkreport

@ CR

I agree with the cutting through neighborhoods but there needs to be a main road there somewhere around there.

The neighborhoods should be built around a main road not the road cut through the middle of them.

East Capitol up to 19th street is a main road that just disappears whereas Constitution does the same thing.

The problem is that if you coming due east you have to go onto a residential street this is for commuters and for DC residents whom live on the other side of the river.

Its a design problem look at how North & South Capitol are compared to East; there bad in there own right but they function as main roads.

The area could be better if Consitution & Independence were treated as fully functional main roads that dont just start or end somewhere out of the blue or have 2 or street different amount of lane changes.

Then there is a problem which has to do with geography (the river, islands) as well as design (the layout of the streets, railroad tracks, the useless park along the stretch of the river).

All the streets east of the river are funneled to Benning Road, East Capitol ST, Penn Ave, 11 & 13th street bridges, & South Capitol ST in DC or Marland via route 50/New York Ave.

They need more streets connecting over the river such as having minor neighborhood streets in River terrace and other areas that are directly on the Anacostia to cross with instead meeting a matching grid on the other-side instead of having to go out to on one of those main roads.

They create backup with the limited options of travel to the larger portion of the city. The area east of the Anacostia may as well be another city because it is not that accessible to the other portion and one problem on a bridge will back up all options of crossing within the borders of DC

by kk on Mar 9, 2010 5:59 pm • linkreport

I prefer option C as well. The narrower roadway and parked cars will make the street feel less like a highway. A plan to break up/develop the stadium/armory parking lots would also be nice. It feels so barren out there.

Will the raised cycle track sufficiently protect riders from turning motorists? I'm intrigued by the notion of "miniature wetlands" but it seems that they would be to small to have much of an effect. I'd love to read more if someone can point me in the right direction.

by Matthias on Mar 9, 2010 6:05 pm • linkreport

I disagree with option C I can already see a broken down car, bus, truck or accident forcing all drivers to go down side streets to East Capitol and causing at-least a four block backup.

And how are pedestrians supposed to cross at those crosswalks with traffic roaring down the street from 5am - 8pm.

I say 2 lanes each way but make it so that cars are forced to slow down and no turn lanes and there is a school nearby and traffic lights along East Capitol from Benning Road to the Armory.

by kk on Mar 9, 2010 6:17 pm • linkreport

I'm with Peter Smith - the cycle tracks shown are too narrow considering that you can't get out of them to pass. Also, the bulbouts between parking lanes and intersections need to be larger so right-turning drivers can see cyclists. These tiny tiny bulbouts are a recipe for right hooks; drivers and cyclists will simply not see each other in time.

by Scott F on Mar 9, 2010 7:40 pm • linkreport

I think this is a great way to reduce the burden on DC's water infrastructure. DC has plenty of room to grow over the next few years, but the infrastructure will need to either grow or change. Rather than big centralized projects that still end up harming the environment, this little change should presage the decentralization of infrastructure. It's cheaper, more responsive, and more sustainable.

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 9, 2010 8:25 pm • linkreport

There's a serious safety risk associated with having bus stops unload passengers into dedicated bike lanes which seems to be apparent in all 3 designs. The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign had a similar design which resulted in a number of deaths from distracted disembarking passengers stepping down off of the bus into oncoming bicycles. It was referred to as being "schwinned". Major head traumas to both the bicyclist and bus passenger from the falls were the CoD.

by Jim Church on Mar 16, 2010 1:39 pm • linkreport

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