Posts by Ryan Hall
|Ryan Hall is a passionate smart growth advocate and an aspiring urban planner. He volunteers for the Coalition for Smarter Growth and is a student mentor in the National Building Museum's CityVision program. Ryan is currently pursuing his Masters in Community Planning and Historic Preservation at the University of Maryland, College Park.|
The area along 10th Street in Southwest is now little more than a desolate heat island of bland federal buildings where few dare to tread after 5 pm. The Southwest Ecodistrict project seeks to change this by radically remaking this neighborhood into a vibrant place and a national showcase for sustainable development.
Forrestal Building blocking the view of the Smithsonian Castle along 10th Street. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.
The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and DC Office of Planning are leading the project. In 2 public meetings thus far, the agencies have thus far been tight-lipped about just how they'd go about retooling many of the drab brutalist buildings along 10th Street SW into beacons of sustainability.
Last night, they introduced three proposals on how to shape sustainable development in the coming years. The three proposals, dubbed Rehabilitation, Redevelopment, and Repurpose, take different approaches to creating a more sustainable corridor.
Regardless of the final path that future development will take in the neighborhood, all three proposals would deck the CSX rail line to extend Maryland Avenue SW, include some degree of infill development, and vastly improve the connection between Benjamin Banneker Park and the Southwest Waterfront.
Under the Rehabilitation proposal, future development of the Ecodistrict would focus on retooling the vastly inefficient 60's and 70's era federal buildings that currently dominate the site. This would primarily involve a vast upgrade of the heating and cooling systems present in many of these buildings, enhancing stormwater management, and increasing on-site electricity production and conservation.
Some of the buildings may also start to incorporate residential and commercial uses in order to enhance the diversity of the neighborhood. While no buildings would be removed under this option, it would cut away the Department of Energy's overhang that currently cuts off views along 10th Street of the Smithsonian Castle to the north.
Furthermore, it would enhance the current network of streets by adding a number of new intersections and enhancing the neighborhood's connectivity.
The Redevelopment proposal includes many of the elements of Rehabilitation, such as the energy-efficiency and stormwater elements, but it goes a farther in some key respects. Instead of just cutting out the 10th Street overhang, this plan would completly demolish the Department of Energy's James Forrestal building, replacing it with a number of new structures.
The great appeal of this plan is that it will open up brand new views of the Washington Monument from Virginia Avenue SW. The plan also seeks to deck over a portion of I-395 between 10th Street and 9th Street, increasing the number of potential buildings along the corridor and partially removing the unsightly highway from view.
This Redevelopment proposal also goes the farthest to enhance the connectivity of the street grid by breaking up the Department of Energy superblock and adding the greatest number of new intersections to the neighborhood.
NCPC's final proposal is the simplest. It focuses on repurposing several federal buildings to new uses. The buildings with the most potential include the nearby US Postal Services Library, the General Services Administration Building, and the FAA's Orrville Wright Building.
NCPC believes that simply repurposing these buildings and renovating others to more efficiently use their space could yield up to another million square feet of space in which to add neighborhood amenities.
No plan has been set in stone, and any future development will likely include bits and pieces from any or all of these proposals. All seek to enhance the neighborhood by adding new amenities, including restaurants, retail, and cultural destinations that will not only draw new residents to the area but also pull some of the millions of tourists away from the National Mall and towards the cultural amenities of our fair city.
DDOT has narrowed the 10 options for the Anacostia streetcar to 4 possible alignments, three of which partially run along MLK Avenue, Anacostia's main street, and connect to the 11th Street bridge. The fourth option involves running the streetcar along the CSX railroad tracks, but negotiations with CSX are not final.
DDOT presented the latest round of possible streetcar routes at its third public hearing in the Environmental Assessment process last night. The agency eliminated 6 options after gathering community input, working with DDOT planners and technical staff, and consulting with other stakeholders.
The first alignment cut ran from the 11th Street bridge to the Anacostia Metro station, entirely along MLK Avenue. DDOT ultimately eliminated this route because of community concerns about congestion on the north end of MLK.
Options 3 and 6, where one direction runs several blocks farther east or west than the other direction, were cut because they're too confusing for riders. In option, 3 which used 14th Street for the northbound direction, Some residents were also concerned about negative affects to historic buildings along 14th, particularly viewsheds of the Frederick Douglass House.
Alignments 7, 8, and 10, which would have served the Poplar Point site, were deemed too far removed from the existing community to be effective. While some residents wanted the streetcar away from downtown Anacostia entirely, others didn't want the project to ignore the heart of the community.
Any development in Poplar Point a future streetcar might serve is years away, hasn't even been designed yet, and requires federal reviews. DDOT would have to avoid adverse affects to Anacostia Park, and can't connect to the land using their current right-of-way.
Three of the four remaining alignments serve the main business district along MLK, while also moving one set of tracks off of MLK at its narrowest section. One alignment serves 13th Street and the residential neighborhood to the east of the main district.
The other two options serve Shannon Place and Railroad Avenue, respectively, the two streets between MLK and the CSX railroad tracks. Both streets have significant potential development along their lengths.
The alignment serving 13th Street could provide better transit service to the residents there and also bring more activity to the churches along that street. However, the potential for new development is low because the street is primarily low-density homes. It's unlikely that higher density apartments or condos would replace those.
DDOT's goal for the streetcar is also to connect activity centers, not serve interior neighborhood streets, like buses do. Running the streetcar along 13th Street could better connect those residents to MLK, but the purpose of the streetcar is not simply to improve local circulation.
Instead, the Anacostia streetcar is part of the larger 37-mile network. The streetcar will serve the business district of the neighborhood while also better connecting Anacostia residents with the rest of the city.
The options along Shannon Place and Railroad Avenue are fairly similar because both alignments have a higher development potential and both serve the business district. There are few residences along these streets, which are primarly industrial.
Running along Shannon Place could be more effective, because those tracks are closer to MLK. Railroad Avenue is one block farther west, which expands the core service area and could make the streetcar less useful.
One of the consultants from HDR, the firm working with DDOT on the study, noted that longer distances between the tracks could be confusing. Riders would also have to walk farther to connect to either direction. Railroad Avenue doesn't connect directly to the 11th Street bridge either, so DDOT would have to construct a right of way there.
In both of these cases, one track separates from MLK to help mitigate traffic congestion and potential loss of parking spaces. Many residents have expressed concern that losing on-street parking could hurt local businesses.
The final alignment, along the CSX railroad tracks, has the least community impact and up front is almost $30 million cheaper. However, it does not serve the existing business district or any residential streets. DDOT would have to purchase the right of way from CSX, which would add to the cost. The state of those negotiations are also unclear and DDOT staff weren't able to say when they might conclude.
Historic preservation could also play a role in the CSX alignment. The streetcar would have to make a sharp right turn at the intersection of the 11st Street bridge and Good Hope Road, where a historic building, formerly the Green Derby, stands. The minimum turning radius for a modern streetcar is about 62 feet and this turn could clip part of the property. DDOT might have to acquire the property in this case, but would not for any of the other routes.
The study team has also posted their presentation from the meeting.
Last night's meeting was more productive than the March meeting because residents were able to talk with DDOT staff and examine the options more closely. In March, residents discussed the options in small groups, then presented to the whole room. It was a good opportunity for dialogue, but also gave some opponents an opportunity to grandstand against the project.
The next stage in the planning process is to develop a locally preferred alternative, which DDOT hopes to do by late fall. There is a "no-build" alternative which maintains existing transportation options. DDOT would then reallocate funds for the project to other areas.
The National Capital Planning Commission's "Southwest Ecodistrict" initiative seeks to redefine life along 10th Street and Maryland Avenue SW through new multi-modal, mixed-use development that will seamlessly connect the Mall and the Southwest Waterfront.
Last night, NCPC held its second public scoping meeting to flesh out more details of of the initiative.Though the presentation was short on specifics, this would be a positive step for the neighborhood.
Today, both the 10th Street SW and Maryland Avenue corridors suffer from a high density of government office buildings that fail to engage the street. Furthermore, the area's lack of connectivity to the surrounding neighborhoods creates a severe hindrance to pedestrians.
Hungry government employees will often walk down the steep hill from Benjamin Banneker Park and cross busy Maine Avenue SW to reach the Waterfront for lunch. Physical and psychological barriers including the nearby CSX tracks, the Southwest Freeway, and the unnerving presence of supersized federal office buildings gives the area a disjointed feel that makes walking around the area quite demoralizing.
In spite of these challenges, this part of DC has quite a bit to recommend. The area is one of the most transit-accessible locations in the Washington region. L'Enfant Plaza Metro station provides four entrances to four of the system's most heavily used lines.
The area also benefits from a direct commuter rail link to Virginia along with dozens of commuter buses, Metrobus, and the DC Circulator. The Ecodistrict's proximity to the National Mall and important job centers downtown and in emerging areas of employment around the Waterfront and Navy Yard make this area especially attractive.
The Southwest Ecodistrict task force seeks to enhance this strong foundation with a complete facelift of the neighborhood. Comprising 15 federal and local agencies including the National Capital Planning Commission and the DC Office of Planning, the task force is actively working to finalize their design for the area.
The heart of the plan works to reshape both 10th Street and Maryland Avenue. These two streets will form the new "heart" of the Southwest Ecodistrict. Current proposals seek to examine the feasibility of morphing the current ramshackle collection of federal office buildings into unique pedestrian-friendly corridors that complement the federal offices nearby with extra retail and housing options. Current plans also emphasize the importance of establishing a strong physical and visual connection between the National Mall and the Southwest Waterfront.
To achieve these goals, the task force will examine the feasibility of infill development and complete redevelopment of existing structures along the corridor. The task force is also investigating the potential to deck over a portion of the Southwest Freeway to spur new development along 10th Street SW.
They are also proposing to deck over the CSX rail line, to reestablish Maryland Avenue SW according to the original L'Enfant plan. This proposal will provide a direct connection from the Southwest Ecodistrict to the Capitol and restore the grand view sheds of the Capitol Building along a restored urban boulevard.
Last, the task force intends the redesigned neighborhood to be a showcase in sustainability and eco-friendly practices. Currently, many of the buildings in the Ecodistrict utilize inefficient power and rainwater disposal methods.
The task force has proposed making the existing buildings more energy efficient through retrofitting or simply demolishing and rebuilding if appropriate. The proposed solution to water runoff includes a number of potential solutions to trap and store water whether in green roofs or even in vast storage tanks underneath 10th Street SW.
If any one of these proposals manages to make it though the difficult planning process ahead, DC will be in store for a vastly different neighborhood just south of the Mall. The sheer potential to remake one of the most incoherent parts of the city is very exciting and a great move forward for the city.
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