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St. Elizabeths plan threatens South Capitol Trail

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Department of Homeland Security at St. Elizabeths is available for comment. It includes several improvements that should appeal to cyclists, but at least one alternative threatens the important, planned South Capitol Street trail.

The S. Capitol Street trail is the dotted orange line.

To accommodate the increase in jobs, the EIS primarily adds vehicular capacity by widening South Capitol Street, adding interchanges to I-295, and more. One area of such widening is at the interchange between 295 and Malcolm X Avenue. Alternative 1 rebuilds the I-295 S/South Capitol Street interchange to allow southbound traffic to use South Capitol and Malcolm X to reach the West Campus Access Road.

But to handle the added traffic, it would push South Capitol to the west using the same right-of-way that DDOT plans to use to build the South Capitol Street Trail (circled in black below). The EIS does make it clear that planners are aware of the trail, but it seems they are either unaware or unconcerned that these plans threaten it.

Alternative 1 of I-295/Malcolm X Avenue interchange expansion. Image from the EIS.

GSA should either pursue Alternative 2 or work to modify Alternative 1 to allow for the South Capitol Street Trail. If you contact GSA or go to the public hearing on Thursday night make sure they know how important this critical link is and that any alternative must not preclude construction of the South Capitol Street Trail.

But all is not gloom and doom. There are other more positive developments. As mentioned before, both alternatives for the West Campus Access Road include a 10-foot wide multi-use trail along the road from South Capitol Street (south end), across Malcolm X Avenue, and continuing to Firth Sterling Avenue/Defense Boulevard. This adds another north/south connection to the District's trail system. Even the No Build Alternative includes bike lanes and a sidewalk on the Access Road (but not all the way to Malcolm X Avenue).

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, Alternative 2 widens the street by 8 feet more than Alternative 1, from 78 to 86 feet wide, to make room for bicycle lanes. This will, unfortunately, involve removing 27 trees - as opposed to 21 for alternative 1. Still, this is the better alternative of the two, as new trees will be planted to mitigate the impact.

There are also plans to extend 13th Street on the east campus, and that extended street may include bike lanes.
Finally, the Great Streets initiative for MLK Avenue includes plans to add bike racks.

According to GSA, only about 1% of employees are expected to bike to work at the new facility. But the multi-use trail is expected to become a main route for the 8% of employees expected to walk from the Metro station. GSA notes that other steps can be taken to get more people to bike. For example, the EIS notes that by building a smaller parking lot to serve the FEMA building, employees would be encouraged to use public transit, bike or walk to work.

The EIS also recognizes that planned bicycle lanes on Howard Road and along the new MLK Avenue Bridge over Suitland Parkway, as well as unplanned improvements from the Wilson Bridge would do more to improve bike/ped access. This, along with the South Capitol Street Trail—if they don't inadvertently kill it—should help the bicycle mode share to climb higher.

GSA will be holding a public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for the amendment to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Headquarters Consolidation Master Plan at St. Elizabeths on January 13, 2011, from 6-8:30 pm at the Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, John H. Kearney, Sr. Fellowship Hall, located at 2616 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE, Washington, DC. You can also submit comments online.

Cross-posted on The WashCycle.

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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This is going viral...not just on your own blog but also here and at WABA.

It's an understandable concern, but I think you're overblowing it a bit. As I noted already on Washcycle, look closely at the Alternative 1 graphic (page 33/48) and you'll see two things. First, an orange line along the west side of South Capitol that represents the proposed bike trail. Second, note the source of those maps: DDOT themselves.

by Froggie on Jan 11, 2011 9:46 am • linkreport

I should add that there's absolutely nothing wrong with making sure this is the case and making comments on the bike trail at Thursday's public meeting. But the basic read of the Alternative 1 concern here feels to me like a scare tactic.

by Froggie on Jan 11, 2011 9:48 am • linkreport

Froggie, If you mean Figure 3-9 on page 3-31 (the figure reproduced here) I'm not sure you're correct. First of all, the orange line is nowhere labelled as the South Capitol Street Trail. Second, it clearly disappears under the redesigned ramp. Third, it would not be unusual for one part of DDOT to work on something without approaching the another part. Especially if the second part is the trails group. That this is a DDOT image does not prove that the trail is not threatened by this.

This is not scare tactics and I resent the accusation. This is a legitimate concern.

by David C on Jan 11, 2011 11:45 am • linkreport

If that wasn't your intention, I apologize. But that's how it felt at the time.

You're suggesting that DDOT's left hand can't talk to its right. I don't think that's a fair assessment, especially since the South Capitol St Trail documents clearly mention the potential impacts of the DHS project at St. Elizabeths on the trail corridor. If there's any valid argument to make in this, similar to the principle that Jim Titus mentioned on your blog earlier this morning, it's that the St. Elizabeths EIS did not do the same.

by Froggie on Jan 11, 2011 12:06 pm • linkreport

My experience is that DDOT's left hand often doesn't talk to the right. I've heard people in the bike/trails team talk about how they didn't find out about a project or change until well after it was possible to get bike facilities added in. Dozens of miles of bike lane have been missed because the road was repaved and restriped without referencing the bike plan.

The South Capitol Street plan wasn't finished until this fall, and as you'll recall involved reducing the width of roads to make room for a trail. This plan now involves widening the road to make room for the traffic. Obviously both can not be done. Considering the timing of both projects, it is not surprising that neither was aware of the others plans.

by David C on Jan 11, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

That's not quite the case here. Whomever did the trail report clearly noted in the concept plan that DHS-related construction would have potential impacts on the trail alignment and width (under "General Considerations", page 12, Chapter 2). My 12:06pm point was that the St. Elizabeth's EIS did not mention the trail at all, even though it shows up on the DDOT maps. *THAT'S* where we have leverege on this one.

by Froggie on Jan 11, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

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