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Roads


A traffic engineer and a planner both study a closed freeway segment. Their conclusions are wildly different.

Let's say you have a closed piece of freeway along your waterfront. What should you do with it? Ask many traditional traffic engineers, and they'll likely answer with some variant of "build a lot of car lanes, maybe with some path for walkers and cyclists if there's room." Ask an urban planner, meanwhile, and the answer could be a more nuanced mix of buildings, parks, roads, or other pieces of a city.

Just look at what traffic engineers versus planners came up with for the piece of DC's Southeast Freeway between the 11th Street Bridge and Barney Circle:


Four-lane road with parking and overpasses. Image from DDOT.


Concept extending DC's street grid into the freeway. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

Advocates of "urbanism" or "livable streets" or "smart growth" often deride the "traffic engineer mindset." This is the attitude of some (but not all) engineers who primarily build and maintain roads. These folks tend to hold an ingrained assumption that more roadway lanes are basically the answer to any mobility problem.

Meanwhile, graduates of most planning schools today will bring a wide variety of tools to the table. They'll often look not just at how to move vehicles or even people, but whether more motion is really the best way to use some land. If people are encountering more traffic to get to jobs, one solution is to build a big transportation facility, but another approach is to create more opportunities for the people to live near the jobs, or to put the jobs near the people.

For one of the starkest illustrations of this "lane engineer" versus planner mindset dichotomy, look at the Southeast Boulevard studies in DC. There used to be a freeway running along the edge of eastern Capitol Hill to Barney Circle. Long ago, plans called for it to connect to a new bridge over the Anacostiathe Barney Circle Freeway, and part of an "inner loop" of freeways around downtown. That would have been a very damaging plan for both DC's environment and its congestion.

DDOT's study thinks very narrowly

In 2005, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) came up with a somewhat better scheme, to essentially widen the 11th Street Bridge by building a new parallel local bridge and convert the freeway segment from a four-lane freeway to a four-lane urban boulevard.

DDOT then conducted a 2014 study of options to replace the freeway segment. The study devised xis options, but all of them basically looked like near-freeways. While pedestrians and cyclists could cross to access the waterfront, and cars could turn on and off to nearby streets in some options, all of the options turned a huge expanse of pavement and empty grass into other huge expanses of pavement and empty grass, sometimes also with tour bus parking.

DDOT's options still primarily focused around moving cars fast, and would all have created big empty spaces that would not create any actual sense of place and would be, at best, unpleasant to cross on foot.


Map of Concept 2. Images from DDOT.


Concept 2.


Concept 4A.

Planners think more creatively

Residents, led by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Flahaven, were not happy with the narrowness of DDOT's analysis. Instead, at Councilmember Tommy Wells' urging, the Office of Planning stepped in to do a more open-minded study of how to use the space.

OP's options still look at four-lane boulevards and even four-lane parkways, but with much more appealing designs like a big park next to and partly on top of the road:


Concept C2. Images from the DC Office of Planning.

Or just extend the street grid right through the site with new townhouses like the old ones:


Concept A2.

Or a new avenue fronted by larger buildings:


Concept A1.

Or a hybrid:


Concept B1.

Why 4 lanes?

But even OP's study assumed that there need to be 4 lanes of traffic, as that's what DDOT insists on. OP's presentation points out that 4 lanes of traffic can be a part of residential boulevards, like New Hampshire Avenue in Petworth or East Capitol Street near Lincoln Park. However, these roads still feel much wider than others. Drivers tend to move faster here, often too fast to safely mix with other neighborhood users. New Hampshire Avenue north of Dupont, in contrast, is just one lane each way.

So why do there need to be 4 lanes of traffic? DC just effectively widened the 11th Street Bridge, adding car capacity there. Can't there be a reduction on an adjacent street? More than that, there haven't been any lanes for years now. It seems that a traffic pattern with zero lanes works fine.

If there's new development, it would need a road and some lanes to get to it, but to say we need 4 because we already had 4 is circular reasoning without logic, unless you assume that more lanes are always better, and any lane once built must always remain to eternity. That's the ingrained belief of many traditional traffic engineers, and it's the answer I got from Ravindra Ganvir, DDOT's deputy chief engineer, when I asked in February of 2013:

The constrained long range plan (CLRP) traffic model is assigning traffic volumes that would exceed the capacity of a two-lane facility and is showing Southeast Boulevard as a four-lane arterial facility.
Traffic models "show" traffic on a link that varies depending on what kind of link you have built, so to say that the model shows a four-lane boulevard worth of traffic when you have a freeway or boulevard in the plan is again circular. Or, as one contributor wryly paraphrased, "We are building a big road because we need a big road because there was a big road there before."

DDOT needs to re-examine its reflexive assumption that 4 lanes is the only possibility. Regardless, this area now stands a good chance of becoming an excellent urban place now that people who think about spaces broadly and creatively got involved.

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.

Pedestrians


Maryland Avenue will get safer, but must someone always get hurt before temporary fixes can happen?

After a driver hit a DC librarian on a dangerous stretch of Maryland Avenue NE, DC will install temporary barriers to expand sidewalks at the corners:

"Bulb-outs," which narrow streets at the corners so that pedestrians don't have to cross as far, are a proven way to reduce pedestrian crashes and generally slow down traffic. Drivers then can't take the turns at as high a speed, so they have more time to see people waiting to cross.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will temporarily create these bulb-outs at the corner of Maryland Avenue and D and 7th streets, NE with plastic bollards, which are quick and cheap to use. According to a post on DDOT Dish, in the fall the plastic at Maryland Avenue will give way to large planters and brick-colored pavement.

The agency put in temporary plastic curbs at the corner where 15th, W, Florida and New Hampshire NW come together. As in this case, that change happened right after a crasha fatal one in May, 2009. There is a permanent design for that intersection, but permanent projects can take many years.

In the meantime, temporary changes can keep an intersection safe. Plus, they give everyone a chance to see how a potential change works. Right now, DDOT only sets up temporary measures after someone gets killed or almost killed. DC could make streets safer now by using temporary curbs more often and earlier in the design process.

Parking


DC's most useless park is a parking lot in disguise

Capping an underground parking garage with a public park is such a nice idea. It's a shame DC's most prominent example is such a terrible park.


Spirit of Justice Park. Image from Google.

The South Capitol parking crater is undeniably one of DC's most inappropriately underused plots of land. It's 6 complete blocks of parking lots, all in a cluster mere steps from the US Capitol.

By all rights these blocks should be active and vital parts of downtown DC. Instead, they're under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol, and thus off-limits to the normal rules of city building. In the vacuum of capitol complex land management, vast parking lots for Congresspeople and their staffs are a higher priority than housing, amenities, or attractive streetscapes.

So it's nice that federal planners at least tried to spruce up this neighborhood-sized sea of asphalt with Spirit of Justice Park, a cap atop a two-block section of parking that's covered with green space.

Unfortunately, it's a lousy park.

The biggest problem is that rather than sink the parking below grade, the park is raised a level above the sidewalk. As a result, many people only see an imposing wall, and have no idea the park behind it even exists.


The sidewalk in front of the park. Image from Google.

People who actually want to enter and use the park must find one of only four entrances over the entire two-block area. Of the four entrances, two face the congressional office buildings and one faces the street between the two park blocks (though you can't walk between them directly), leaving only a single entrance on the south side facing away from the capitol complex towards the public city.

Meanwhile, there are no visible entrances facing east nor west.


Entrances to Spirit of Justice Park. Image originally from Google.

That's not the only problem. With a parking garage directly beneath the grass, the park's soil is too shallow to support trees large enough to provide shade or protection against wind. The park is uncomfortably hot in the summer, and cold in winter.

Finally, management apparently only cares about capitol complex workers, because the fountains at the center of each block are switched off over the weekend.


Small trees and a dry fountain hidden behind a wall. No people.

The overall message is that the public is barely tolerated in this park, not really welcome, and certainly not a priority. As a result, the public mostly stays away.

A park that's not used is a useless park. We can do better.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Roads


Topic of the week: Trapped inside a marathon?

Two days and one big snowstorm ago, DC hosted the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. It was one of many events that have shut down city streets. But are DC residents bearing more of a burden than necessary for these events? NBC's Tom Sherwood passed along a letter to Councilmember Tommy Wells from a resident who has had enough of these events:


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
I would appreciate if you or one of your staff members could provide me with information on how I can access I-295 Southbound, or Pennsylvania Avenue West, around 7:30am this Saturday morning? I live at [the 1800 block of C Street SE], and the last time one of these Saturday Running Events occurred, I went to do laundry (which took about 90 minutes), and it took me almost two hours to get back home after doing my laundryeven though the laundry matt is only about 10 minutes from my house!!!! ...
Another point not mentioned in the attached information is that our DC Government should not try and compare itself to City's like New York, or Chicago, because those City's have massive public transportation systems that are far greater than what exists in DC, especially their subway systems. Accordingly, marathons in places like New York or Chicago can be accommodated in a manner that does not place a substantial number of City residents on "Lock-Down" when these events occur.
Tom Sherwood wrote, "I am all for healthy public events held in the city, but the writer [of the letter] raises an issue I occasionally have discussedhow can the city inconvenience thousands of citizens for half-days and more over such a wide area?"

Our contributors respond:

David Cranor: To answer Tom's original question, "How can the city inconvenience thousands of citizens for half-days and more over such a wide area?" That's easy, by closing a lot of streets.

But seriously, I take Tom's question to be why would the city do this. And there are several benefits that offset the costs.

  1. Tourism. A lot of these runners come from outside of DC and they come in for the day and stay for brunch or lunch. Or they even get a hotel, etc. It brings something to the economy.
  2. Amenities. One thing a city does is try to give its citizenry opportunities to take part in interesting/fun/exciting events. The marathon qualifies. Having a marathon in town is much more convenient than having to travel somewhere else. You don't even have to run in it to enjoy it. Lots of people pull lawn chairs out and sit in their yard to watch the runners go by. Or, with the Rock N' Roll marathon they can go and listen to the bands along the route (we did this a couple of years ago).
  3. Overtime pay for police officers/other employment. Police officers have to staff these events and that's paid for by the event organizers, as are other employees they need to hire. Not only does this put extra money into the local economy, but it's not a bad idea for an employer (the city) to look out for its employees and help them to make extra money when opportunities present themselvesfor morale. It's a pay raise that the city doesn't have to pay for.
  4. Fees. I know there are some. I don't know how much they cost.
  5. Charity. Some races raise money for good causes
  6. Health. There are likely some positive externalities from hosting a race that encourages more people to exercise and boosts public health (if only a little bit).
So I'm not sure what those benefits are worth, or what the total cost in inconvenience is, but the answer to Tom's question is that the city thinks the former exceeds the latter.

Matt Johnson: The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon website ... has a map of the racecourse and road closures. [The original letter writer] lives at 18th and C Southeast. He wants to know how he can get on I-295 southbound or Pennsylvania Avenue west.

That's easy. For getting on I-295, he doesn't even have to cross the racecourse. South on 18th. Potomac Ave to Eye Street. Left on 11th. Get on 11th Street Bridge. Get on I-295 south.

For Pennsylvania Avenue West (how far west?), he can take Pennsylvania Avenue all the way to the Capitol without crossing the racecourse. For the section between the Capitol and the White House, he should get on I-395 and use the tunnel under the Mall. The same goes for getting to the section of Pennsylvania Avenue all the way to Georgetown.

Topher Mathews: This is an issue that has come up repeatedly in Georgetown. One point the ANC now makes is that if the event is not substantially charitable in nature, they will object to it. They also work very closely with the race organizers to minimize the impact, etc.

I think a balance is important, but I also don't agree when people equate "I can't get my car out" with "being forcibly stuck in my house."

Canaan Merchant: I'm interested in several things.

  • I usually see announcements via the web (DDOT, GGW, DCist etc.). That could be an issue for someone not as connected as I am. There may be a dissemination issue to go over.
  • There seems to be real money to be made from all these races. I see different ones advertised all. The. Time. They've even started making obstacle courses and "zombie runs" a thing. Nominally, proceeds go to charity but the cynic in me says that races wouldn't be nearly as prevalent if there wasn't serious money to be made.
  • The "Rock 'n' Roll" marathon is happening in at least a dozen cities; this is a real franchise.
  • This Post story highlights that this route goes through a lot more neighborhoods than other races which stick to the Mall area and down on the parkways between Crystal City and Rosslyn. That's the issue the original writer is concerned about.

    So there is definitely room to ask about the outreach to neighborhoods on these events and whether communication could be improved. But one positive is that this may be the first time a lot of people ever really explore Capitol Hill and other urban neighborhoods. That may be a positive overall. Sure, people trying to really race may have their mind on other things but a race like this works better in DC than in Fairfax where it's not practical to close an arterial.

  • If they're going to have "Rock 'n' Roll Marathon" and NOT play rock bands that are famous to DC (Dag Nasty, Fugazi, Dismemberment plan, or call it the Go-Go marathon!) then that's kind of annoying to me. They really had to go to Seattle to find a suitable band to play at the end of the race? (apologies to any fans of the Head and the Heart).
It may be worth it to talk about if there is a need to have a special road race transportation/neighborhood plan. Marathons and other races are super popular and they aren't going away, much like sports stadiums they can be a positive for the city's image but a drain on actual resources. Maybe a more a broader and more holistic approach to them is necessary.

Edward Russell: I disagree with a lot of the points the author of the original email makes. First, has he ever been stuck between the NY marathon on 1st Ave and 5th Ave, and need to get the west side? Sure, you COULD take the subway down to 42nd go to Times Square and then back up, but would you? Probably not.

Road races are a necessary public event in any city, regardless of size.

And I'm sorry, your laundry does not take precedent over an event thousands of people have trained for and are looking forward tonot to mention that has been planned and disclosed for months ahead of time.

DDOT has had digital message board advertising the race on 395 and other major highways coming into DC for more than a week nowif you're a driver in DC, it'd be hard to not know there will be road closures and you can plan around them. The city has definitely done its job letting people know of the closures on Saturday.

Steven Yates: Given where I live, events that close down roads often inconvenience me. In fact, this one will go right outside of my apartment. But it's really not more than an inconvenience for me. It might disrupt my bus route, which means I might have to leave a little earlier or walk to the Metro. I've sort of come to accept this as part of city living. Though I imagine if I had a car I'd find these a bit more of a disruption.

To answer your outreach question, Canaan, I think last year for this particular race I received a flyer on my door outlining the route (since, again, I live near the route) several weeks before the event. This year, I think I first saw it via email (or somehow knew it was happening). Signs announcing the road closings just went up a few days before the event. But often for events that close streets farther away from me (but still affect me) I don't find out until I get an email, usually either from WMATA or DDOT.

Veronica O. Davis: To bring a different perspective, the portion through Ward 7 is the last leg of the race. Basically, it means that the roads are closed on this side of town until 1:00 pm. The community has asked the marathon several times if the race could be run in the opposite direction every other year, so that this side of town could get some relief earlier in the day. The race organizers stated they have to re-open downtown first.

The Twining neighborhood is effectively trapped. They are the small neighborhood between 295 and Minnesota Ave. Over the years MPD has tried to be helpful in letting residents out of the neighborhood, by "slowing the race."

The other major issue is that Ward 7 is a bus-dependent community. Shut down the buses and it basically shuts down accessibility and mobility. We've tried to work with WMATA on bus routing. However, Minnesota Ave is one of the two major north to south bus routes. With the race on Minnesota Ave, a sizable population loses access to everything.

Sure it's only a half a day of inconvenience. However, some people to get to work, doctor's appointments, etc.

Payton Chung: These event closures, and recent complaints about diplomatic road closures, offer yet another example of why street connectivity matters. A dense network of streets offers more routes through, even when some of the streets have been closed.

Granted, Ward 7 has topography that makes it difficult for streets to run through. In other instances, like in my (and Tom Sherwood's) neighborhood in Southwest, the lack of connectivity is entirely self-imposed. We live literally on a cul-de-sac, within a neighborhood that is effectively a cul-de-sac, and even though many of the through streets still exist in practice there's great resistance to letting others trespass across what's now private property.

Hopefully, the opening of a continuous trail network along the Anacostia will open up new routes for future road races. I know that some informally organized (ahem) cyclists take advantage of the road closures and ride the route. Maybe this is a starting point for a proper Open Streets event.

Roads


Send us your sneckdown pictures

Now that we've had a big snow in DC, send us pictures of sneckdowns you spot in the wild. You can tweet them with hashtag #dcsneckdown, or email them to us at sneckdown@beyonddc.com. On Monday, Greater Greater Washington and BeyondDC will publish the best ones.


Sneckdown today in Southeast DC. Photo by Ralph Garboushian.

Sneckdowns are where snow formations show the street spaces cars don't use.

GGW reader Ralph Garboushian sent us this one already. He describes it:

Shoveling and plowing patterns in front of my house show how the intersection of Potomac Avenue, E Street & 18th Street SE could be made safer for both pedestrians and motorists. The current design is a disasterI have seen several [crashes] at this intersection, including one that sent a car nearly into my front yard and another that took out a historic call box and nearly knocked down a utility pole. In addition, this intersection is right in front of Congressional Cemetery and on the way to the Metro and sees heavy pedestrian traffic.

The intersection's poor design combined with motorists speeding down Potomac create a hostile and dangerous atmosphere for pedestrians. This intersection desperately needs traffic calming and these plow/shovel patterns illustrate how it could be done.

We look forward to seeing more!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Architecture


Northeast Library reopens with just the right changes

On Monday, the Northeast Neighborhood Library in Capitol Hill reopened after a $10 million modernization. Bringing it up to date required only a few major alterations, but the real challenge was finding new life in the 82-year-old building.


Children's collection, second floor showing integral shelves and benches. All photos from DCPL.

The function of a library has shifted a few times since 1932, when the branch circulated its first book. This most recent renovation positions it as more of a "third place" for the public without abandoning its core purpose as a public resource. Whether residents come to hear a story, use a computer, or attend a community meeting, some of the branch's 45,000 books are always in the background on built-in shelves.

Those shelves are emblematic of the way DCPL conducted the renovation. They're original, designed for 1930s book sizes. Unfortunately books have become bigger, particularly picture books, so a big part of the collection no longer fit.

Rather than rip out the shelves, library officials chose to expand them 1.5 inches with matching walnut woodwork. They're still not big enough for everything in the collection, but this kind of shrewd modification keeps the historic character without getting in the way of modern life.

When the city commissioned Albert Harris, the municipal architect from 1923-1934, to design the building, he did so in the Colonial Revival style. Since at least 1911, the Commission of Fine Arts had favored that style as a common look for DC's public buildings. The modest materials used by far-flung Georgian architects like brick and painted wood meant the style could be built inexpensively. It was also in fashion, since the reconstruction of Williamsburg was prompting architects to search for their roots.


Northeast Neighborhood library when it opened in 1932. Photo Courtesy DCPL.

But the revival of Georgian architecture meant drawing inspiration from building types that don't fit so well in an dense environment. Harris styled his building after mansions and courthouses that stood alone in fields.

On the site at 7th Street and Maryland Avenue NE, Harris' tight composition left an empty lawn on the most prominent corner. In the renovation, the exterior architect, Bell Architects located a patio there, so that the library has a front porch. With WiFi, of course.

A path runs from the patio around the back to a glass-enclosed staircase in the rear. The previous staircase ran clumsily through the central room, creating awkward spaces on either side. The new staircase fits into the footprint of a disused garage. The stairway's sunniness provokes the opposite sensation of the MLK Library's windowless, dreary stairwells: you want to climb it and see what you can see from it.

The staircase solves two other problems the building had. One is that the original entry couldn't be made ADA-accessible. The accessible door is in the glass tower, opposite the front door on 7th Street. Coming from either way, visitors enter into the same foyer and then into the library. What is effectively a single entrance shields the reading rooms from the noise of coming and going, so children can rush up to their spaces on the upper level and community members can visit the meeting room without disturbing patrons.


The new foyer, looking towards the glass stairway and circulation desk.

The lack of a good meeting room was the other problem before the renovation. Vines Architecture, who designed the interior, converted two underused rooms through discreet structural changes. New girders to hold up the mezzanine and basement ceilings converted what were once claustrophobic spaces into three public meeting rooms. This saved the airy rooms on the first and second floors for reading.

Other changes follow this trend of discreet interventions. The librarians wanted a more open space, so they could more easily monitor the rooms. The architects responded by placing the reference desk at the center of the building and cutting passages through the walls around it.

The cuts are low compared to the original doors, and the architects integrated them into the wood paneling, so you barely notice them. The things we take for granted nowadays, like good lighting, central air, and plenty of outlets are present, but not at the cost of the library's coziness.


Downstairs meeting room, with columns removed.

Beyond these quiet changes, the restoration had a light touch. The flaxen paint scheme and cork floor tiles are historically appropriate details that also suit contemporary expectations. The reading tables are recreations with one minor tweak: power strips. It's striking how good design can serve radically different uses with only minor alterations.

Since the beginning of its capital campaign in 2006, library officials have rebuilt 10 of the 26 branches. With the opening of the Northeast Library, they will have renovated five historic buildings. Three planned projects remain: Woodridge, which is under construction, West End, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. central library.

As we consider how to renovate that building, the Northeast Neighborhood Library might offer guidance. Here, carefully chosen alterations have an impact that goes beyond their immediate function. An understanding of what was good about the historic fabric revealed what needed to change. It's worth considering how much alteration is required to make a work of architecture better. A few little changes can do a lot of good.

Public Spaces


Dueling proposals for Eastern Market plaza include a miniature Capitol Hill

Barracks Row Main Street recently presented two design alternatives for a new plaza at the Eastern Market Metro station. Both concepts go a long way to uniting the plaza, which is currently broken up into six pieces, while making it greener, cleaner, easier to traverse, and more inviting.


Concept A, one of two possible plaza designs. All images from Barracks Row Main Street.

Last month, architect Amy Weinstein of Esocoff & Associates and landscape architect Lisa Delplace of Oehme van Sweden revealed the two concepts at a public meeting. Both designs bring life to the unkempt, desolate green space that's there today by adding fountains, play areas for children and adults, and public art. Barracks Row Main Street is accepting public comments on the two designs through the end of this week.

Proposals include a mini-Capitol Hill, shady forest

Each design addresses each of the plaza's six pieces, which are divided by Pennsylvania Avenue and 8th Street SE, and include the two median strips on Penn.

Parcel 1 is the northeast corner of the plaza and one of the two largest parcels. Both concepts turn it into a pair of "play" areas, one fenced in for children, and another open area for adults, which are separated by a diagonal path between Pennsylvania and South Carolina avenues.


The children's play areas in Concept A.

In Concept A, the children's area would be larger and have two themed "playscapes," including a miniature Capitol Hill with the Capitol building, and a tiny Anacostia Watershed with rubber berms for climbing and rolling and a river with playable pumps and water wheels. In Concept B, there would be a smaller children's area themed after the Navy Yard, without any miniature buildings.

On the adjacent lawn, people can sun, do yoga, read, and socialize. This area would be larger in Concept B and have hedges along the north and west sides to create more separation from the street and homes.


Concept A includes a "shade tree bosque" by the Metro station entrance.

Parcel 4 is the other large parcel in the southwest corner, where the Metro entrance is located. Both concepts include another lawn, as well as an interactive fountain, an "infohub," a busking area, and a redesigned Capital Bikeshare station and parking area. In Concept A, the space becomes a "shade tree bosque" with trees, tables, and chairs in a bed of gravel.


Section of a proposed Southeast Neighborhood Library extension in Concept B.

Meanwhile, Concept B proposes an extension of the Southeast Neighborhood Library in a pavilion in the plaza, which would connect to the rest of the library in a tunnel under 7th Street SE.


An overview of Concept B.

Parcels 2 & 5 are the medians. While community members are interested in turning them into usable park space or adding bike lanes, DDOT asked the design team not to consider these options until the agency does its own corridor-wide study of the area.

Instead, the design team proposed new landscaping with barriers to discourage jaywalking. Concept A would add fenced-in bioswales that collect and filter stormwater, while Concept B adds raised, planted medians, like those on Connecticut Avenue.

Parcels 3 & 6 are the small islands on the northwest and southeast corners of the plaza. In both concepts, they would become bioswales surrounded by a continuous bench.

Community concerns

The design team took time to discuss additional issues important to the community. They talked about preserving existing trees, which many residents wanted, as well as which other trees might be appropriate for planting there. The designers also talked about ways to solve the plaza's rat problem, such as solar-powered trash cans, trees that repel rats, and eliminating standing water.

The designers also looked at ways to increase pedestrian safety with refuge islands and curb extensions. To improve traffic flow, they considered removing D Street on the south side, east of 8th, and reversing the direction of D Street on the north and south sides of the plazas. Finally, they proposed some moving bus stops, taxi stands, and car sharing spaces.

No one will love every one of these ideas, and there are some desirable amenities that neither design includes, like a dog park. But there are some really interesting ideas in these plans, and either concept would go far in making the plaza more of a park, rather than a place you just walk through to get somewhere else.

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