Posts about L'Enfant Plan
Longfellow Triangle is one of many lightly used, leftover spaces on the L'Enfant grid. With some creative thinking, the city could turn it into a more useful and enjoyable public space.
The triangle is bounded by Connecticut Avenue, Rhode Island Avenue, 18th Street, and M Street. While it would make sense to have a circle there, one never developed, likely because Rhode Island Avenue ends at the intersections rather than continuing through. The triangle's mirror image on the grid, where Massachusetts Avenue meets Vermont Avenue, is Thomas Circle.
Currently, Longfellow Triangle is too small to be a useful park, and too isolated by traffic to be a good plaza. Putting a circle there now is impossible, but with a little bit of street reconfiguration it would be possible to make it a bigger and better triangle park.
This is a map of the existing conditions at Longfellow Triangle:
Look at how wide the streets are that surround the triangle. Connecticut Avenue is 6 lanes, not counting its generous median. 18th Street is 4 lanes. M Street is 5. All of them have on-street parking, although the parking lanes are used as through lanes at peak periods.
If the city repurposed the parking lanes on each surrounding block and used that width to add to the triangle, the park space could be dramatically enlarged with little reduction in street capacity. On Connecticut Avenue the median could be repurposed as well, or it could substitute for one of the parking lanes.
These images show how that might work. In the left image, parking lanes and the Connecticut Avenue median are identified in red and orange. In the right image, the orange spaces are shifted towards the triangle, and the travel lanes are correspondingly shifted outward.
The end result would be a considerably larger triangle, one with enough space to begin to take on some of the functions of a true city park. Instead of containing just a row of benches and some shrubs, the space would be large enough for tables, flower beds, and possibly a small lawn. Today's underused leftover could become tomorrow's Dupont Circle or Farragut Square.
The down side is that around 30 on-street parking spaces would be lost, and peak period street capacity would drop slightly. This seems a very reasonable price to pay for a greatly enhanced public space.
Other potential complications include the final placement of DDOT's proposed M Street cycle track and the National Park Service, which is notoriously hard to work with. Neither of these hurdles appears to be a deal breaker, however. The cycle track will only take up a few feet, and if NPS reconfigured Thomas Circle in 2005 they might be willing to reconfigure Longfellow Triangle now.
Obviously this idea would require a considerable amount of additional study before it could be deemed practical. But if it is practical, the upside for urban livability might be tremendous.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
The small triangle park across Q Street from the Dupont Circle Metro north entrance will soon get a long-needed renovation, but will also get a fence that will make it harder to use the park, walk along Connecticut Avenue, or wait for the bus.
In 2007, a Planned Unit Development was approved for 1000 Connecticut Avenue. PUDs must provide community benefits in exchange for the zoning relief they get, and in this case, gave funds to the Dupont Circle Citizens' Association (DCCA), which transferred them to Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets (HDCMS) to pay for the park renovation.
NPS moved very slowly during the intervening years to prepare for the renovation, and told neighborhood leaders that they wouldn't consider any changes that didn't conform to the original landscape plan, devised in 1929.
On Friday, HDCMS announced that the project is finally about to start this fall. To the surprise of many, the announcement also revealed plans to add a 30-inch iron fence. The fence will stop people from walking directly between the park and the Metro station, or from standing off the sidewalk to wait for the 42 bus:
The purpose of the project is to repair and replace existing features in kind, and to install a new fence on the south side of the park, in order to enhance both aesthetics and visitor use. HDCMS and its contractors have coordinated with NPS staff regarding preservation of the character-defining features of the park and consistency with its 1929 landscape plan. ...In short, people are crossing from the park to the Metro station, because they want to sit on the benches before or after using the Metro. But instead of creating a pathway to the Metro, NPS's response is to fence it off and block people.
The project includes: repairs to damaged flagstone, curbs, and concrete flat work; replacement of existing, tulip-style trash receptacles with Victor Stanley models; turf restoration of the compacted soil areas; restoration of the existing benches; replacement of a cherry tree and installation of a Chinese fringe tree; and a new wrought iron fence to remedy the existing social paths (compacted soil areas) caused by pedestrian traffic to and from the Dupont Metro Station. [emphasis added]
The new fence will provide protection for restored plantings and rehabilitated turf in the park. The NPS is considering two standard fence styles in use in US reservations. The work is expected to take place during 2011/2012. Please see http://parkplanning.nps.gov/DupontTrianglePark for more information about this proposal.
One of 3 alternatives for the park. All include a fence along 3 sides (to the left of the seating area). The other two slightly round off one or both corners. Image from NPS.
Why must NPS slavishly follow a 1929 landscape plan, specifically? What's so special about 1929?
Rob Halligan, former president of the Dupont Circle Citizens' Association, wrote:
When we came to the Park Service with the money to renovate the park, we weren't too happy to hear that they were inflexible on any modification or improvement that didn't adhere to that 1929 plan. We did point out that the present use and environment (Metro station, the grand houses are around it are now businesses, cars everywhere rather than mostly horses), but they wouldn't take that into account when trying to add or change any element.In 1929, there was no vehicular underpass or subterranean streetcar station, both of which were built in 1948-1950. There was no Metro station, and nothing generating over 23,000 trips to and from the southeast corner of 20th and Q every day.
Parks change. The Wikipedia article and its cited sources say Dupont Circle wasn't even a traffic circle until 1871. The park got a statue in 1884, which was then replaced by a fountain in 1921. It had playground sandboxes for a while in the 1930s, right after the Park Service took it over; at the time, at least, they apparently didn't feel that all parks need to stay exactly as they were in the 1920s.
Is the "right" Dupont Circle one with a statue? Or a fountain? Or sandboxes?
Someone created a plan for this park in 1929. It's a fine layout, though not especially remarkable. Now, the neighborhood has changed, and specifically having one path to 20th Street and one to Connecticut Avenue but none to Q might not be most appropriate.
If the Metro station had existed in 1929, the landscape designer may well have put in paths there as well. The grass is worn away between the benches and Q Street, proving people want to cross there.
This fence won't "enhance visitor use." And saying the fence will "remedy the existing social paths" is quite the Orwellian doublespeak; the right remedy for social paths is to design a good path, not to block it off.
For that matter, NPS isn't even pushing for the same plan as in 1929. That plan had a fountain and shrubs, said resident Ingrid Suisman, who has been pushing for the renovation for six years. But NPS refused to allow those elements, saying they are too hard to maintain. The need to follow 1929 plans apparently doesn't extend to removing elements, only changing them... and adding fences.
Worn areas show "desire lines" for crossing from the Metro to the park and the bus stop. Photo by the author.
The grass is also badly worn away along the southeast corner. ANC Commissioner Mike Silverstein said that a lot of people stand there to wait for the 42 bus, which stops along the side of the park. The sidewalk here is extremely narrow, made worse by large light poles and trash cans that take up some of the space.
With a new fence along the curb, everyone waiting for the bus will have to stand in the narrow sidewalk or in the street, and anyone trying to walk along Connecticut will have to as well. Silverstein fears the fence will now force people to walk or wait for the bus in the street, which could be very dangerous.
Connecticut Avenue was once narrower, with wider sidewalks; it was widened in the 1920s, around the time of this landscape plan.
The sidewalk is too narrow for 2 pedestrians to walk side by side even when nobody is waiting for the bus. Photo by the author.
When DC renovated the triangle parks at S and T Streets, they changed their use and layout. They fenced off most of the S Street park for a dog park. Before, there was a pathway cutting off the corner from S to New Hampshire Avenue; that got moved closer to the corner, and benches moved.
Meanwhile, on the adjacent triangle at T Street, there was a very old tree which arborists determined needed protection to survive. A small area for people to congregate was built, while the rest was closed off for the tree.
Some space gained more protection for plants, while other space became more designed for people and animals. The triangles remained parks, but different parks that serve the needs and desires of the neighborhood today. The same can happen with the Q Street triangle without violating the L'Enfant Plan (which didn't even specify whether these triangles, circles and squares would be grassy, paved, or just dirt).
This park could be designed to better serve the needs of people today without reducing the amount of plantings. The paths to the center seating area could traverse the triangle north-south instead of the current east-west. Or, maybe the seating area should move closer to Connecticut Avenue to double as a bus waiting area at the busiest times.
It's probably too late for any real changes, and some could cost more money than is available. This project is already happening several years later than neighborhood leaders had hoped. Silverstein said, "The money has been sitting for a couple of years while NPS has been deliberating and processing. Letting the money and the project languish while we process it to death is something else that should be avoided."
Unfortunately, NPS wasn't using that long period of time to get public comment on plans or anything like that. Wiliams wrote in his email, "Work is expected to begin shortly after the [30-day public] comment period closes September 12th!" In other words, they clearly see this comment period as a formality, as all the design work has already been completed and it's just a last step before actually putting shovels in the ground.
Sadly, without the ability to make more substantial changes, just renovating the park as is will surely lead to grass again being trampled. But that's still better than fencing it off and creating an impassable barrier at exactly a spot where thousands travel every day.
Suisman feels a fence is better than none, and the park can serve more as an oasis with the fence. But today, the park is being well used by people waiting to meet others by the Metro, or waiting for buses. It contributes positively to the area as it is. We shouldn't take away that value and transform the park into a mostly empty zone, which won't be any quieter but will be less utilized, just because a 1929 designer chose that role when the neighborhood looked very different.
It's not 1929 anymore (though looking at the economy, sometimes you wonder). DC can have great parks that fit the L'Enfant Plan without having to freeze them permanently exactly like they were in 1929. Unfortunately, the Park Service continues to look backward instead of forward, and interpret its mission as one of preventing any change rather than finding ways to maximize green space and recreation in the current day.
HDCMS executive director Paul Williams declined to comment for this article, and NPS spokesperson Bill Line has not yet replied to emails.
ANC Commissioner Mike Feldstein plans to organize a community meeting to discuss the park. Meanwhile, you can submit comments to NPS using this online form. Ask them to delete the fence and to allow new paths at the places residents want and need to walk.
NCPC will debate whether "closing" portions of three nonexistent "paper streets" along the Anacostia waterfront adequately respects the L'Enfant Plan. The way to best fulfill the spirit of the L'Enfant Plan, however, would be to focus on connecting the Barney Circle neighborhood to the waterfront.
The railroad first separated the two when it was built in 1872, and the freeway created an even bigger barrier in 1974. The Barney Circle Freeway was planned to extend this segment across the river to the Anacostia Freeway, but was canceled in 1996.
The current 11th Street Bridges project aims to provide the all-freeway link from the Anacostia Freeway to the Southeast Freeway. As a result, this segment is no longer needed, and DDOT plans to remove it at the end of the bridge project.
Freeing up a large strip of land provides an opportunity to add some development and also reconnect across the bridge. Today, L Street, SE runs for three blocks, from 13th to 15th Street, with a fence on one side separating it from the freeway below. There's then a much larger drop to the surface CSX tracks; this portion is east of the tunnel. M Street runs adjacent to the tracks to the south.
The freeway here is actually four separate roadways, two in each direction. The middle two lead to ramps to the 11th Street Bridges, which are being removed; the outer two connect to the Southeast Freeway. On the eastern end, the ramps connect to Pennsylvania Avenue at Barney Circle and also pass underneath as a roadway that runs along the waterfront to RFK Stadium.
Without the freeway, DDOT could reconstruct this roadway as a new local road between L and M. Let's call it Lamp Street. It no longer needs to cary Pennsylvania Avenue traffic to the freeway, as those cars should take 295 to the 11th Street Bridge. Therefore, it only would carry cars going to and from the stadium and local traffic.
1-2 lanes each way, plus parallel parking, sidewalks, and a two-way cycle track along the railroad side would suffice. With the remaining land, DC could allow some new development fronting onto Lamp Street and onto L. I don't know what neighbors would like to see, but if I lived there, I'd like to see some townhouses facing L, connected in the back to taller buildings along Lamp.
The townhouses could be 2½-3½ stories above ground. The larger portions could be set back enough to keep L feeling low-rise while also providing more opportunities for adding housing and some nice views of the water on the Lamp Street side.
Best of all, bridges could then connect over the railroad tracks. If the existing grade of the freeway (and what will become Lamp Street) is high enough above the tracks to allow the CSX double-height trains to pass completely below, then 13th, 14th, and 15th could continue to new intersections with Lamp (with a downward slope), and pedestrian bridges could then cross the tracks.
If that's not high enough, the grade could be raised to make Lamp the same height as L, or else the extensions of 13th, 14th, and 15th could simply be pedestrian plazas atop the ground floor of the Lamp apartment buildings connecting to bridges over both Lamp and the tracks. That would avoid direct connections from Lamp to the other streets, which some residents might like to avoid drivers using those streets, but would also diminish connectivity.
The next question becomes how the bridges can let pedestrians and cyclists down from the high altitude over the tracks. Extending the bridges down to the waterfront should be part of the Cohen project. Pedestrians and cyclists shouldn't have to travel long distances to the east or west to get down; they should be able to descend directly toward the waterfront.
These could be standalone bridges extending along the streets' right-of-way, and they could also connect directly to parts of the new buildings. Cohen should plan to build these bridges and ensure any overpasses between the buildings aren't in the way. DC could also require CSX to go along with these bridges as one of the conditions of their Virginia Avenue tunnel project.
The bridge at 14th, in particular, would make this new waterfront plaza and the riverfront boathouses easily accessible from the Potomac Avenue Metro. The L'Enfant Plan was about connections: avenues and roadways connected major circles and squares to each other and to the edges of the city. Ensuring an easy connection from the major intersection at Potomac Avenue to the waterfront, and reconnecting the grid across the tracks even for non-vehicular traffic, best fulfills the true spirit of the plan.
Rather than worrying about the width of the right-of-way for paper streets that don't actually go anywhere, NCPC should focus on guaranteeing these connections and upholding the intent of the L'Enfant Plan.
most recent designs for the 11th Street Bridges include a ramp from the current northernmost freeway road up to 8th Street.
If Lamp (or whatever it's ultimately called) ends up using the south side of the freeway right-of-way, DDOT should make sure Skanska lines up the new ramp with the final road.
Instead of directly flowing into the freeway on the western end, DDOT could reconnect 9th Street between I and Virginia Avenue, where current ramps lead to the defunct freeway. The reclaimed land on each side, between the 11th Street Bridge ramps, could provide space for the Marine Barracks expansion instead of taking the nearby community garden.
Thrusday's National Capital Planning Commission meeting will consider a project along the Anacostia waterfront between the 11th Street bridges and the CSX railroad. Staff have objected to closing parts of "paper street" segments of Virginia Avenue, M Street, and 14th Street, SE.
The project, at 1333 M Street, SE, would build a large hotel and office building with ground-floor retail in the triangular area east of the 11th Street bridges and south of the CSX tracks along the Anacostia River. There would be a plaza on the river side of the building, with stairs down to another, lower plaza near the water's edge.
Virginia Avenue and 14th Street, SE pass through the site as "paper streets," not actually constructed or used as streets, but still part of the L'Enfant Plan. Part of Virginia Avenue would become a driveway to the project, and the portion farther east would be part of the plaza, not used as a street but kept as open space. Likewise, 14th Street, which was interrupted by the Southeast Freeway and CSX tracks, would stay as open space, but with a pedestrian bridge connecting the buildings on each side.
According to the NCPC report, DC worked out this deal with Cohen Companies (which owns the project) as part of a settlement over another lawsuit concerning the Southwest Waterfront. If the project doesn't win necessary approvals, that settlement becomes void and Cohen can continue to pursue damages in the Southwest case.
The DC Historic Preservation Review Board approved the project and the formal closing of Virginia Avenue, 14th Street, and a small strip of M Street, provided that development doesn't encroach on protected viewsheds. The question is how wide to keep the streets' viewsheds: the original L'Enfant width or something narrower?
The L'Enfant Plan set aside very wide spaces for streets. Those "streets" are much wider than the actual roadways we have today; for many neighborhoods, they span the distance from the buildings on one side to the other, including the front yards, sidewalks, and tree box areas.
The "streets" are narrower in certain spots, however. Two triangular federal "reservations" make up the western and eastern ends of the planned buildings, and another one is part of the plaza. These reservations are areas set aside from the L'Enfant plan and have variously become triangular parks or buildings. Just like Farragut and McPherson Squares cut into the K Street right-of-way, making the street narrower in those areas, these reservations partly occupy the right-of-way for M and Virginia.
As a result, the remaining Virginia Avenue and M Street right-of-way are narrower next to the reservations than elsewhere. Cohen appears to have the right to develop on the reservations, meaning that at most, any viewshed would only be the width of the narrower part of the "streets."
However, the NCPC staff report argues that there should be no development on any of the right-of-way for the streets, even where the right-of-way is wider than adjacent to the reservations. This would prohibit building even along the stretches which don't actually maintain any viewsheds due to the developed reservations.
Complicating this is a legal dispute between DC and the federal government about an existing law that says DC may sell off these reservations. The law says,
Where title to the street or alley, of which all or part is to be closed, can reasonably be determined to be held by the United States or the District, the Council may dispose of the property to the best advantage of the District and may assess the fair market value of the land and the value of the District's improvements on the land to the person(s) to whom the title to the land is to vest. Any money received for land where the title was held by the United States shall be deposited in the Treasury of the United States to the credit of the United States.In a 1986 case, Techworld v. D.C. Preservation League over the closing of 8th Street, NW where it now passes between the Techworld buildings south of Mount Vernon Square, a court ruled for DC but the case was then settled. NCPC staff still feel that DC does not have the right to sell these portions of streets. The staff report also objects to the bridge over 14th Street.
If DC's right to sell the reservations is valid, as it appears so far to be, then banning development on adjacent parts of the Virginia Avenue and M Street right-of-way doesn't actually protect any viewsheds. More importantly, there isn't much of a view to protect here. Virginia Avenue just turns into railroad tracks and a freeway, and 14th runs into the huge retaining walls between the tracks and the freeway.
The L'Enfant Plan's vistas are important where those vistas actually exist. They don't here, and even if the infrastructure one day went away somehow, they still wouldn't. Nevertheless, this plan still preserves the vistas by maintaining a clear right-of-way for all of the original L'Enfant streets. The only question is how wide that right-of-way needs to be.
Last week, I wrote about the system of street naming in Washington. From A Street to Verbena Street and from Half to Sixty-Third, our lettered and numbered streets make it difficult to get lost with their logical progressions.
But our transverse diagonal avenues confound everyone from tourists to suburban motorists. Not only do they break all the grid rules, they even manage to break up the grid itself in many places, like H Street, NW at New York Avenue. And to make matters worse, they often skip across parks, rivers, even entire neighborhoods, before starting up again, sometimes even on a different heading.
Locals have mostly figured out where the avenues are, at least the major ones. Maryland residents use many of these broad streets as their connections to downtown, but a short street like North Dakota Avenue goes unnoticed by almost everyone outside the immediate neighborhood.
As I noted before, the plan of the city was meant to reflect the structure of the government. For that reason, the city's quadrants are centered on the Capitol Rotunda. The state-named avenues are no exception. Being the major streets of the city, L'Enfant's plan placed many of them so that they emanated from certain points. In this regard, they provided long unobstructed views toward the icons of our nascent government.
From the Capitol, North Capitol Street stretches northward, followed in a clockwise direction by Delaware Avenue, Maryland Avenue, East Capitol Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, New Jersey Avenue, South Capitol Street, Delaware Avenue, the Mall, Pennsylvania Avenue, and New Jersey Avenue.
From the White House, Sixteenth Street forms the major axis. In fact, Thomas Jefferson intended it to become the Prime Meridian, which is where Meridian Hill Park gets its name. Moving clockwise, one encounters Vermont Avenue, New York Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, New York Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Connecticut Avenue.
Today, the importance of some avenues is greater than the importance of others. This is due, in large part, to their suburban connections, not any particular naming convention.
The grand avenue, home to everything from Inaugural Parades to festivals of all sorts, is Pennsylvania Avenue. Connecting the Legislative and Executive branches, it was always meant to be the heart of Washington. In the southeast, it continues as a major roadway toward central Prince George's County, Maryland.
Similarly, Connecticut, Georgia, and New York all are major thoroughfares to outlying parts of the region. Another important street is Wisconsin Avenue, running from M Street in Georgetown to the Beltway north of Bethesda; it was an important road long before the name was applied. As late as 1903, it was still called the Georgetown and Rockville Pike. This historic name is the basis for two streets in suburban Montgomery County: Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike, the straightened version.
But street-naming doesn't have anything to do with importance to the Revolution or the prestige of any one state, at least not directly. State names were assigned to avenues based on their geographic location within the United States.
For that reason, one found Georgia Avenue in the southernmost portion of the city. Running from what is now Fort McNair across the southern side of Capitol Hill, we know it today as Potomac Avenue. Near the northern edge of the city, the avenue named after the then-northernmost state, New Hampshire, passed through Washington and Dupont Circles, just as it does today.
Vermont joined the union in 1791 as the fourteenth state, while Kentucky joined in 1792. It was during these years that Washington was being laid out. For that reason, they both received places within the system. Tennessee gained statehood in 1796, and its avenue became the first glaring error. After all, Tennessee forms the southern boundary of Kentucky, yet Kentucky Avenue lies entirely south of Tennessee Avenue.
By the time Congress first met here in 1800, there were three diagonal avenues left to be named. Ohio and Indiana fit into the system well enough, but Louisiana was sorely out of place.
With the first nineteen states represented in the city, Washington ran out of avenues. Maps from the 1800s available on the Library of Congress' website show that Maine and Missouri had short avenues within the bounds of the Mall, but it is unclear exactly how all the new states were represented as they came on board.
In 1890, Boundary Street was renamed after the twenty-seventh state, Florida. Despite being farther south than any other state (it would remain so until 1959), it got the street forming the northern boundary of the city.
Yet by the time the twentieth century got going, Washington was expanding into the hills and dales above the Fall Line. As the street grid expanded, new avenues were added, and old ones obliterated. Around 1914, the citizens of Brightwood managed to get Brightwood Avenue renamed after Georgia. They had hoped to curry favor with senator Augustus Bacon, but he promptly died, and never had a chance to affect the fortunes of these suburban pioneers. The construction of the Federal Triangle complex in the 1930s eliminated Ohio's avenue and shortened what had been Louisiana Avenue. Louisiana's name itself had moved a few blocks east to a new street constructed as part of the changes brought by Union Station and Columbus Circle in 1907.
Today, one can still see some geographic order to the state-named avenues. However, much of that is due to the age of certain regions. After all, New England hasn't had a new state since number twenty-three, Maine, joined in 1820. For the most part, states on the East Coast can be found downtown. Alaska Avenue is the northernmost avenue (in its entirety). Mississippi, which is at least in the south, is the southernmost state-named avenue. But the similarities largely end there.
Crossposted at Track Twenty-Nine.
Visitors and residents of Washington, DC know, to one degree or another, about the city's street naming conventions. Most tourists know that we have lettered and numbered streets. And to some degree, they know there is a system, but it doesn't stop them asking us directions. But most out-of-towners and even many residents don't understand the full ingenuity of the District's naming system.
Washington is partially a planned city. The area north of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers and south of Florida Avenue (originally Boundary Street) is known as the L'Enfant City. This area of Washington was the original city of Washington, laid out by Pierre L'Enfant and Andrew Ellicott. It is comprised of a rectilinear grid with a set of transverse diagonal avenues superimposed. Avenues frequently intersect in circles or squares, and the diagonals create many triangular or bow tie-shaped parks.
Washington is the seat of government of a nation. Believing that the structure of the government should inform the structure of the city, L'Enfant centered the nascent city on the Capitol, home of the Legislative (and at the time, the Judicial) branch of the government, the one the framers held in highest esteem. From this great building radiate the axes of Washington. North and South Capitol Streets form the north-south axis; East Capitol Street and the National Mall form the east-west axis. These axes divide the quadrants.
The axes also provide the basis for the naming and numbering systems. Lettered streets increase alphabetically as they increase in distance both north and south of the Mall and East Capitol Street. Numbered streets increase in number as they increase in distance both east and west of North and South Capitol Streets.
Many street names intersect in multiple quadrants. G Street intersects Sixth Street in all four quadrants, and each of these intersections is separated by over a mile. Western, Eastern, and Southern Avenues form in many places the land boundaries of the District.
North of Georgetown and Boundary Street (Florida Avenue), the area formerly known as Washington County, DC began to develop. For the most part, developers extended the grid as the most efficient way expand the growing city. Some areas, notably Petworth, recreated the principles of the L'Enfant plan, with avenues and circles intersecting the grid. In other places, geography made a rectilinear grid impractical.
As the city expanded, so did the system of naming streets. In the L'Enfant city, the highest lettered street was W Street (running between Ninth and Fifteenth Streets NW). Unlike numbers, the alphabet is not infinitely expandable. In order to continue to have an alphabetical progression of streets, the alphabet starts over. Only "streets" are subject to the convention. Avenues, roads, drives, and other minor streets do not conform to the alphabetical progression. "Places," on the other hand, usually appear one block north of the correspondingly lettered street and often share the same first letter.
After the first alphabet runs out of letters, street names restart alphabetically with two-syllable names. "Adams Street" follows "W Street." Once the second alphabet is exhausted, the system repeats with words of three syllables. "Webster Street" is followed by the third alphabet's "Allison Street." However, the Fourth Alphabet does not use words of four syllables. Instead, the Fourth Alphabet, only present in the Northwest and largest quadrant, uses the names of plants in increasing alphabetical order. Thus "Aspen" follows "Whittier."
Typically, each of the other alphabets uses the same letters used by the First Alphabet (A-W, skipping J). However, there are some exceptions. The Second Alphabet has Yuma Street, there's a Jefferson Street in the Third Alphabet, and Xenia Street appears in Southeast. East-west streets in the District are often discontinuous due to obstructions. Sometimes the street continues with the same name on the other side, and sometimes it changes to a different name. Shepherd Street NW, for instance, is split by Piney Branch Park between Fourteenth and Sixteenth Streets, but keeps the same name on both sides. However, on the other side of Rock Creek Park, in Upper Northwest, the two-syllable "S" street name is Sedgwick. Still, a look at the first letter of streets in the District easily shows the strata of the alphabets.
The highest numbered street in the District is 63rd Street in the Capitol Heights section of Northeast. Southeast's nearby 58th Street is that quadrant's highest numbered street. In Northwest the ridges and valleys of the Potomac Valley cause numbered streets (and the grid) to give up the ghost at 52nd Street. And tiny Southwest sees its highest number with 23rd Street south of the Lincoln Memorial.
Of course, without its state-named avenues, Washington would have a far less complex street system. But the avenues don't only add complexity, they also close the streetscape, provide vistas to monumental buildings, and create squares, plazas, and parks throughout the city. These famous streets are important streets in the city, but they don't conform to the system, and as a result are more difficult to find.
Except for California Street and Ohio Drive, all the states have avenues named after them. The shortest of the avenues is Indiana Avenue, found near Judiciary Square and the Archives. It stretches less than half a mile, exclusively in Northwest. While no state-named avenue passes through all four quadrants, the longest, Massachusetts Avenue, passes through three. It stretches from border to border across the District, although it lacks a bridge over the Anacostia, and continues northward into Montgomery County, Maryland.
Crossposted at Track Twenty-Nine.
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