Posts about GSA
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.
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 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.
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.
Security measures are often antithetical to good urban design and vibrant city streets. But instead of hoping for them to go away, we can at least push for them to serve other uses as well, like doubling as bike racks.
Foggy Bottom, where I live, has high security neighbors like the State Department, Federal Reserve, several high profile embassies, the IMF and the World Bank. There's hardly a street corner you can stand on where there aren't security bollards visible in one direction or another.
For all the surplus of posts, planters and barriers of all kinds, there is a commensurate dearth of something else: bike racks. While many of these institutions provide bike parking in the building for their workers, there is little in the way to accommodate visitors to the area who come on bikes.
Scenes like this are far too common, where bikes are locked to the occasional sign pole amid rows of barriers:
The only outdoor bike racks in the Federal Triangle I could find were not even on federal land but outside the Wilson Building, DC's state house/city hall. Those racks are behind an area that looks somewhat like a security checkpoint, and are absolutely packed while the sidewalks outside other buildings are barren:
Throughout the city there are entire neighborhoods completely devoid of bike racks yet filled with bollards, planters, jersey barriers and other security perimeter devices. These include Foggy Bottom, Federal Triangle, Judiciary Square, Union Station/SEC/Judiciary Building, Navy Yard/DOT, just to name a few.
Reliance Foundry, a manufacturer of bike parking infrastructure, sells a line of "bike bollards." We've all seen similar posts, but usually they appear in places where maybe there is not enough space to fit a larger rack, or they were chosen for aesthetic reasons.
But the term bike bollard implies a mixed use that I have yet to see: security bollards that double as bike parking. Some of the bollards are as thick or thicker than those around federal buildings.
It may not be practical for every bollard around a building perimeter to have loops for securing a bike, lest they inhibit effective flow of foot traffic during major events. But around a building that covers an entire city block, why not incorporate bike parking into bollards on sections of the sidewalk that have already been rendered otherwise useless by the bollards?
The World Bank has already experimented some with multifunctional security measures by incorporating benches and trashcans around some buildings. Other buildings around the city have managed similar strategies using large planters or long, oversized flower pots as security barriers that at least to help beautify the streetscape.
Benches are nice, but at most high security buildings, they are rarely used by more than the occasional office smoker because there are no other streetscape amenities like shops or cafes that would give anyone a reason to sit around. In a city with an acknowledged dearth of bike parking, this compromise seems more ideal.
Another way to make security measures useful is creating a building perimeter with usable floor space. Say what you will about the compound as a whole, this has been accomplished with relative grace and success at the ATF Headquarters across the street from New York Avenue Metro.
This solution reduces the wasted space and dead streetscapes from huge building setbacks and security restrictions on ground floor uses.
What other practical applications are there for security infrastructure? As the General Services Administration and the National Capital Planning Commission work on "activating federal places," hopefully some of these ideas can make it into the design of future security barriers or renovated federal buildings.
Yesterday, President Obama and Mayor-Elect Gray met for lunch. According to Gray, Obama said he "wants to do more for the city."
How can he do more? Obviously there are a number of federal programs that give out funding, whether discretionary or formula, and Obama could push for DC in many areas of the federal budget. But the President is very concerned about the deficit, and Congress makes the final budget decisions. What could Obama do for DC that doesn't involve large spending programs?
President Obama already controls a lot of what goes on in DC. He heads the largest employer in the District. Agencies control a great number of buildings downtown. The National Park Service (NPS) controls most of the parkland in the District, from the Mall to individual neighborhood pocket parks.
The President controls, either directly or indirectly, half of the 12 seats on the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC): 3 direct Presidential appointees and 3 ex officio seats for the Department of Defense, the Department of the Interior (handled by the Park Service), and General Services Administration (GSA). The Park Service also holds one of the seats on the Zoning Commission.
If these federal agencies, especially Interior and GSA, had strong guidance from the White House and coordinated closely to improve the vitality of DC on and around federal property, they could create some big change. All it really takes is the will to overcome bureucratic inertia.
Here are some specific steps Obama could take right now:
Appoint a high-level DC point person. The simplest item could be a very significant one. There is no one person in the White House in charge of working with the DC government. Obama should appoint such a person at a high enough level to give him or her the power to really coordinate the DC-related work of the cabinet departments and push them to make changes when necessary and when they fit with the President's vision.
Appoint a DC resident to NCPC. Of the 3 Presidential appointees, the law requires one to be from Maryland and one from Virginia. The third appointee is currently Herbert Ames, a real estate agent from South Carolina appointed by President Bush. His term ends next year. The President should pick someone who lives in DC and who truly cares about making the District a better place.
Restrain excessive fortress design at federal facilities. Many federal agencies seem to want their building to be a fortress, partly because everyone is particularly sensitive to security, and partly because it makes agencies feel like they are more important.
Fortunately, NCPC and GSA have been pushing for more federal buildings to engage the street, like the upcoming GSA headquarters modernization which will include ground-floor retail. Require all new or renovated federal facilities in urban areas to contain publicly-accessible retail or food spaces, and avoid a bunker mentality unless it really, truly is necessary.
Direct federal agencies to encourage multimodalism. The President already issued an executive order instructing agencies to try to reduce their carbon footprint. He could specifically push agencies to accommodate bike parking inside their buildings and to put Capital Bikeshare stations outside, for example.
Encouraging transit use is not as simple as encouraging bicycle use. The best thing would be for Congress to extend the increased ceiling for pretax transit benefits, keeping it on an equal footing with the parking benefit. That also means federal workers get a higher transit benefit, helping workers better afford to take transit. Unfortunately, this isn't something Obama can do on his own.
Make St. Elizabeth's a good neighbor. The biggest immediate opportunity for making federal design fit with a community will come at St. Elizabeth's, where DHS is consolidating operations. That will have a lot of security, but there are many ways DHS can also encourage employees to interact with the surrounding community, foster nearby restaurants that are also open to the public, and take transit, streetcar, bike or walk to the complex.
Direct NPS to allow the Circulator and Capital Bikeshare. NPS has exclusive concession contracts for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, including ones for the Tourmobile and for bike rentals. They have been interpreting these contracts to prohibit allowing transit services, including bike transit (Capital Bikeshare), on the Mall.
However, $1 transit service doesn't compete with a $23 tour bus, and a bike meant for under 30 minutes of use to get from one place to another doesn't compete with an all-day bike rental. The White House should instruct NPS to find a way to allow these services immediately.
Direct NPS to treat urban parks differently from rural parks. NPS manages its parks in dense urban areas with the same philosophies as a natural wilderness like Yosemite. People from Colorado primarily wrote the National Mall Plan. But keeping spaces wild is not as paramount of a concern for urban parkland, which needs to contribute to the health of residents.
For example, NPS recently denied permission for DDOT to build a wooden walkway across a part of Fort Totten Park to help people walk to the Metro station. NPS needs a separate division with separate management policies for urban parks, staffed by people with expertise running parks in cities and a passion for making parks good public spaces.
Give DC control over local neighborhood parks. NPS plays a valuable role in our nation (some of my fondest childhood memories are from Minute Man National Historical Park), but it makes no sense that they decide all policy, handle all law enforcement, and have to plow the sidewalks (which they don't do) around most small neighborhood square, circle, and triangle parks throughout the District.
The President could instruct the Park Service to work out a way to turn day to day maintenance and policy of the small parks over to DC while maintaining ownership of the land and NCPC review for permanent changes to the parks. For example, NPS could essentially work out a contract with DC where it outsources park management to DC for these parks.
NPS could pay DC what it spends on those parks, including policing, snow and more. DPR could take over those duties, and handle things like permits for events or retail concessions, but DC wouldn't be able to decide to develop the park into housing, for example.
Local BIDs may also want to contribute to park beautification or "adopt" parks, as they do in many other cities. NPS is currently fairly hostile to public-private partnerships. Turning over the parks' immediate control would make such arrangements possible.
Unify management of lands around the Mall. The National Coalition to Save Our Mall keeps pointing out that nobody can really plan for the contiguous park space people generally call the Mall because control is fragmented between the Park Service, the Smithsonian, the Architect of the Capitol, the Secret Service, the National Gallery, the Commission on Fine Arts, NCPC, DDOT, DC DPR, the various memorial commissions, and more.
Create a board composed of federal, DC and citizen representatives to coordinate policy for the and work with NCPC, which could perhaps staff the commission.
And of course:
Publicly support voting rights. This was one of the primary asks from Gray at the lunch. Obama may have said he supports voting rights, but he has done little to make that a part of the national conversation, and most Americans still don't know that DC residents have no vote in Congress.
Obama should take public steps, whether symbolic like restoring the "Taxation without representation" plates to his limousine or meaningful like asking Congress for legislation, that will generate news cycles around DC voting rights. The Post also editorialized for the President to promise to veto Congressional measures that step on DC home rule.
It's great that President Obama wants to have a positive effect on DC. Fortunately, he is in a position to do so, easily and immediately. He can get started on the above initiatives right away.
Welcome to our live chat with NCPC planners Shane Dettman and David Zaidan, to discuss the federal government's effort to better activate the plazas and street facades of their buildings in and around Washington, DC.
Federal buildings don't have to be forbidding fortresses whose only engagement with the city is to create traffic in and out each day. Yet many of our federal buildings fail to interact with the city around them, adding nothing except sometimes-attractive architecture to the streetscape.
The National Capital Planning Commission has been pushing for federal buildings to better connect with the city where they sit, and the General Services Administration, which controls most federal buildings, has established a Good Neighbor Program to use federal property to benefit the community.
The Reagan Building has hosted many events in its plaza, and the new USDOT headquarters has a "transportation walk" showcasing transportation-related art (though security guards have sometimes hassled photographers trying to enjoy and take pictures of the art).
GSA is also now pushing agencies to incorporate more ground-floor retail into their buildings. Security considerations, whether real or imagined, have led to many recent buildings that look more like military compounds than office buildings. More recently, planners have been pushing for designs that contain a secure area "wrapped" by an outer area which could include shops open to the public. And GSA is exploring such a design for its own headquarters in Foggy Bottom.
NCPC planners Shane Dettman and David Zaidain will be joining us next Thursday at 1 pm for our next live chat to talk about this issue. You can also peruse NCPC's video and report on these initiatives.
What questions do you have for our guests?
Congress has declared the National Mall a "completed work of civic art" and declared that future museums and memorials should go on sites outside the Mall, but that hasn't stopped them from making exception after exception. Now, the planned National Museum of the American Latino wants to be on the Mall, too, and looks likely to get it.
After all, the National Museum of the American Indian is on the Mall (before the moratorium was enacted), and the National Museum of African-American Art and Culture got to be on the Mall even after the moratorium. Therefore, Latino groups ruled out all non-Mall sites originally proposed, reports the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, leaving four:
Image from NCPC.
Some of the Mall sites under consideration wouldn't require building new structures in open space, or would at least reuse parts of existing structures. One (green oval, above) would be to use the currently-vacant yet beautiful Arts and Industries Building. However, it's too small and can't facilitate exhibits, so the suggestion is to also replace part of the Forrestal Building across Independence Avenue and connect the two with a tunnel.
Another option would be to use the Whitten Building (blue oval), which currenly houses the Department of Agriculture. The museum would add two stories atop on of the building's wings and build a structure in an adjacent surface parking lot. Filling in a parking lot is appealing, but the Coalition wonders if altering one wing of this "symmetrical, beaux-arts building" would pass historic muster.
The other two options involve building in what is currently open space. One site (purple oval, above) is adjacent to the Capitol between Pennsylvania, Constitution, and 1st NW, the site directly opposite the Botanic Garden. DCmud notes that this was originally envisioned to house a museum by the McMillan Plan. However, the Architect of the Capitol controls this land, and rejected it for the African-American museum.
Finally, there's the land between 14th and 15th, SW along Independence, opposite the site for the African-American museum. A new building would be built here, and offices would go in the historic Yates Building across Independence. The Coalition sees that as the most likely but also very undesirable, because it's considered part of the Washington Monument grounds. However, NPS didn't object to this site at the NCPC meeting.
What do you think of these sites? The Coalition also notes that NCPC only held an "informational" presentation, which afforded no opportunity for public comment, and urged NCPC to engage in a public discussion about this issue.
While Mall proliferation is a real problem, now that the American Indians and African-Americans are getting a museum, it seems not unreasonable for Latinos to get one as well, as one of the US's largest minority groups. But it's important to resist further proliferation, because there is an endless list of other groups as well.
As DCmud jokingly notes, "Fear not, Lithuanians and Samoans, you too may someday have your chance." That would be disastrous. It's also perhaps somewhat unlikely, but what about non-ethnic minorities? Should there be a women's museum and a museum about elderly people and one for persons with disabilities?
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Visitors center was more troubling because it opened the door to visitors' centers for veterans of every war. I'm less disturbed by more cultural museums on the Mall than memorials or memorial visitors' centers. There are always going to be more wars and more great leaders, and unless we start retiring memorials as Philip Kennicott suggested, they threaten to clutter the Mall up without pause for every historic event or figure that has a number of dedicated adherents.
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