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Posts about Capitol Hill


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.


Thirteen DCPS preschools have waiting lists of over 200

Results from the first round of the common lottery reveal huge demand for some DCPS preschool programs, while others in the District drew few applications.

Photo of sad child from Shutterstock.

Six DCPS preschool programs, mostly in affluent neighborhoods in Northwest or on Capitol Hill, have over 300 names on their waiting lists, and 7 more have over 200 names. But 7 other programs, all but one in Wards 7 or 8, still have 70% or more of their seats available. Results for all schools can be viewed on the DCPS website.

The preschool programs, some of which start at age 3 and others at age 4, are mostly in DCPS neighborhood schools. But residents are not guaranteed a slot, as they are at kindergarten and above. Many applied for slots through this year's common lottery, My School DC.

In addition to DCPS preschool seats, the lottery is allocating seats for those seeking admission to DCPS's application-only schools and most of the District's charter schools. Students who want to attend DCPS schools as out-of-boundary students also entered the lottery.

Results from the first round of the lottery were released on March 31, and families had until May 1 to accept a space at the schools their children were matched with. A second round is open to those who missed the first round or who weren't matched with any of their choices. The deadline for entering the second round is May 15.

Some charter schools have waiting lists of hundreds of names, with Two Rivers topping the list at over 1700. While none of the DCPS preschool programs have lists that size, they're long enough to be discouraging to many who applied.

Schools with the longest lists

The longest of the lists is at Capitol Hill Montessori@Logan, which received 756 applications for 60 PK3 slots and has a waiting list of 348. Under the lottery, only applicants who ranked a school higher than the schools they were matched with are put on its waiting list.

The school with the second-longest waiting list was School-Within-School, which has a program based on the child-centered Reggio Emilia approach. The school, located at 920 F Street NE, received 564 applications for 30 slots and has 325 names on its waiting list.

Most schools give a preschool preference to neighborhood residents, but both Capitol Hill Montessori and School-Within-School are city-wide programs, giving preferences only to siblings of enrolled or matched students.

At most neighborhood schools, students who are in-boundary and have a sibling already enrolled at the school get top preference. Next comes those who are in-boundary and have a sibling matched at the same time, followed by those who are merely in-boundary.

Out-of boundary students with siblings already enrolled or matched get a weaker preference, as do students who live near the school but aren't within its catchment area.

In-boundary families wait-listed

All the neighborhood schools with long waiting lists wait-listed at least some in-boundary applicants, meaning that no out-of-boundary applicants were accepted.

Of the schools with over 300 names on their lists, Janney Elementary, where the preschool program begins at age 4, has the most in-boundary applicants waiting to get in: 29. Janney, which is in Tenleytown, received 600 applications for its 78 slots and has a total of 316 names on its list.

Other schools with over 300 wait-listed applicants are Brent (321, 14 in-boundary) and Peabody (313, 19 in-boundary), both on Capitol Hill.

Oyster-Adams, a bilingual school in Woodley Park, had two separate lotteries for its PK4 program, one for English-language-dominant children and the other for Spanish-dominant. For English-dominant applicants, the waiting list has 335 names, while for Spanish-dominant there are 48.

The school has 9 slots for English-dominant children and 23 for Spanish-dominant. It received 494 applications for its English-dominant program and 95 for its Spanish-dominant one.

The 7 schools with waiting lists over 200 are Eaton in Cleveland Park (279), Key in Palisades (208), Lafayette in Chevy Chase DC (218), Mann in AU Park (219), Maury in Capitol Hill (212), Ross in Dupont Circle (276), and Stoddert in Glover Park (209). Of those, the school with the most in-boundary wait-listed applicants is Stoddert, with 31.

Schools with many available seats

At the other end of the spectrum are the schools that have filled 30% or less of their available seats. Malcolm X@Green filled only 4 of its 30 available seats, or 13%. Malcolm X, in Ward 8, was on a list of schools that Chancellor Kaya Henderson proposed to close in 2012. Instead, DCPS entered into a partnership with Achievement Prep Public Charter School, which has agreed to run the school for DCPS beginning next year.

Other schools with at least 70% of their preschool seats still available are Browne in Ward 5; Aiton and Smothers in Ward 7; and Hendley, Ketcham, and King in Ward 8.

It's often said that District residents now have universal access to preschool, but the imbalance in the lottery results suggests that there's a geographic mismatch between supply and demand.

Of course, the lottery results for DCPS schools don't take account of the students in charter preschool programs, which draw many children in Wards 7 and 8 and may account for the apparent lack of demand there. But it seems unlikely that many of the parents on long waiting lists in Northwest or Capitol Hill will decide to enroll their children in DCPS preschools in Wards 7 or 8.

Are you on a DCPS preschool waiting list? What are your options, and how do you feel about the situation? Let us know in the comments.

An earlier version of the headline for this story incorrectly said that 14 preschools had waiting lists of over 200.


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 laundry—even 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 discussed—how 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 themselves—for 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 to—not 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 now—if 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.


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 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 disaster—I 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.


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.


Enough broken promises from DDOT

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) promised to complete a number of important projects by now or by the end of this year. Quick quiz: Can you identify which of these have met or will meet the promised deadline?

Photo by Len Matthews on Flickr.

  • Start streetcar service on H Street NE-Benning Road by the end of the year.
  • Devise a better system for handling visitor parking passes and residential permit parking.
  • Start building a separated bike lane (or "cycletrack") on M Street NW.
  • Expand Capital Bikeshare to twice its original size.
  • Make pedestrian safety improvements to Maryland Avenue NE.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of a new median on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Glover Park.

The answer: None of the above. DDOT has delayed or given up on all of these promises.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.


Public Spaces

Can Eastern Market park become a gathering place?

Barracks Row Main Street is studying ways to redesign the public space around the Eastern Market Metro station. While many neighbors see the potential to make a great gathering place, others don't want anything to change at all.

Councilmember Wells leads a meeting about the park. Photo from Tommy Wells on Flickr.

Architect Amy Weinstein of Esocoff & Associates is leading the Congressionally-funded Eastern Market Metro Park study, which will explore ways "to renew and upgrade" the two trapezoid-shaped public plazas, medians and two smaller triangular plazas on Pennsylvania Avenue SE between 7th and 9th streets. Despite their location between busy Barracks Row and Eastern Market, the spaces are underused and poorly maintained.

Weinstein led another study in 2010 that explored ways to reroute Pennsylvania Avenue around the public space, making it a complete square. But that effort ran into stiff opposition from neighbors and those concerned about the plan's traffic impacts.

The new study will look at function, aesthetics, and the best way to accommodate all modes of transportation, including better pedestrian pathways, the location of the Capitol Bikeshare station and the Metrobus stops in the south plaza, and managing pedestrian/vehicular conflicts. It will also produce detailed designs for a children's play area in the north plaza, and look at an innovative storm water retention system as part of the effort to reduce combined sewer overflows into the Anacostia River.

Planners say that "nothing is off the table," except for consolidating the square by rerouting streets around it.

Will more activity mean more noise, or a better public space?

In July, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells hosted a pair of public meetings to hear about the types of changes residents would like to see around the Metro station. After a brief presentation, we broke into small groups where we discussed our thoughts on the current square and what we would and would not like to see in it in the future.

Aerial photo of the parks today from Google Maps.

My group seemed opposed to any changes at all. They questioned why money was being spent on this, whether it was legal and who this was to help. Some people seemed mainly concerned about stoplight timing, which did not seem to allow for the speedy movement of cars and pedestrians through the area.

They scoffed at the idea that the project had the word "park" in it. "Who said they wanted a park here?" one person asked.

One major concern they voiced focused on the lack of maintenance within the existing plaza. Trees went unwatered, rats were allowed to nest and several items like benches and lights had fallen into disrepair. "Why not fix what we have first?" some asked. For the same reason, group members also opposed any kind of water feature, along with music, food trucks or eating areas, which would produce noise and trash.

Group members seemed resigned to the idea of a children's play area as long as it wouldn't kill any trees, but their primary point was that it should be "a park, not an amusement park." But we did find universal support of better storm water management, lots of trees, more benches and non-polluting lights.

How to embrace space's potential

While many residents place an emphasis on creating a quiet place that is easy to traverse, what the neighborhood really needs is to activate the Eastern Market Metro Park with an emphasis on creating a place for people to play, work, shop, eat, and rest. By making it into a great place, the kind that people wanted to stay in instead of pass through, it would have a greater constituency that could push for better maintenance.

The space today. Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

It seems my group was the outlier, because when other groups reported what they had discussed, they strongly supported the idea of an interactive water feature like those at Yards Park or Canal Park. Several suggested adding a stage for live performances and various gatherings. Others mentioned food trucks and more dining tables. One group focused on tying the public space in with the library at 7th and Pennsylvania.

The meeting's organizers are collecting additional comments about what should happen here. In my comments, I suggested that an interactive water feature and playground area in the north plaza was a natural way to attract kids and families. It's also a perfect area for a statue of a local person. In the eastern median, I recommended installing a dog run.

The south plaza should become a space where people will linger. Furniture, like movable chairs, benches, and permanent fixtures like tables with chess boards on top, will help draw people. A low stage for music and events could support programming while doubling as a seating area the rest of the time. The city should allow food trucks to use the parking spaces along D Street.

We should also use the western median to connect Barracks Row and Eastern Market with a brick walkway down the middle and to add spaces for vendor booths on the weekends, creating a stronger connection between the two commercial areas. The smaller triangles could become larger by removing the sections of D Street that separate them and then improved by adding benches, more permeable surface, and rain gardens.

Finally, a mid-block crosswalk across Pennsylvania Avenue with an advanced stop line and even a traffic light will help people cross. People want to walk here, and we should let them do it safely.

Future meetings, design work planned

The meeting's organizers will put a recap of the meeting on their website, but it's not up as of yet. There are also several ways to offer comments, including an interactive map and a suggestion box at Eastern Market, though the deadline is today.

However, there are more public meetings planned for later this summer. Planners hope to complete two alternate master plan concepts for the Eastern Market Metro Park within 6 months.


New sidewalk uses porous, flexible pavement

At first glance, the tree at the northeast corner of 8th and K Streets, NE appears to be buried in asphalt. The truth is much more interesting.

To comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, DDOT rebuilt the intersection of West Virginia Avenue NE, 8th Street and K Street in the H Street neighborood. This intersection is a busy transfer point between the 90 and D Metrobus lines and has a lot of foot traffic.

Image from DDOT provided by Veronica Davis.

DDOT has installed modern curb ramps at all pedestrian crossings, and they've repaired the concrete in order to smooth out some potentially dangerous bumps. The elderly and disabled now have a smoother path to get from bus to bus as they travel across town.

(It would be nice if DDOT would restripe the crosswalks with higher-visibility zebra/piano striping, but perhaps that's a subject for another blog post.)

Within the project limits, there were two trees whose roots were lifting the sidewalk. This created dangerous tripping hazards and the narrowed sidewalks made it difficult for those in wheelchairs to use the sidewalk.

The sidewalk before. Image from Google Street View.

Instead of concrete, construction workers have used porous pavement in these areas that extend all the way around each tree. This makes the sidewalks a bit wider, eliminates the need to trim weeds around the base of the trees, and allows more water to filter through the ground to the trees' roots.

It will be interesting to see how well this pavement works, and if we'll be seeing it used more widely around town in the near future.

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