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Public Spaces


America's Main Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, is anything but


Pennsylvania Avenue. All photos by the author.

"It's a disgracefix it."

Those are the words President John F. Kennedy allegedly uttered as his inauguration motorcade inched along Pennsylvania Avenue in 1961. At the time, "America's Main Street" between the US Capitol and the White House was a cluttered and dilapidated street replete with X-rated theater houses, pawn shops and liquor stores.

Thanks largely to the work of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, today's Pennsylvania Avenue, with its grand buildings, parks and memorials bears little resemblance to its 1961 iteration. And yet, it largely fails in its role as a major urban thoroughfare in DC's increasingly dense and bustling downtown. Why is that?

The vistas along this stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue are grand, and many of the buildings along it are iconicbut grand vistas and iconic buildings do not by themselves create a lively and engaging street.

Broadway is the heart of New York's theater district; Michigan Avenue in Chicago boasts world-class shopping; Paris's Champs Elysees combines premier dining and shopping while connecting two of the world's iconic structures. In contrast, Pennsylvania Avenue boasts an abundance of government buildings, monolithic office towers, and large, often-empty public plazas, making it largely devoid of the kind of kind of attractions that bring in people and create the streetlife associated with other popular downtown streets.

Among the problems is an overall lack of street-level retail. Short of the occasional restaurant and attractions such as the Newseum, there is very little that brings people to the street. Many office buildings have banks and other retail that create dead zones. Government buildings such as the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and IRS headquarters have no street-facing retail at all, creating entire blocks devoid of activity. Other buildings fronting Pennsylvaniamost notably the FBI Buildingare openly hostile to pedestrians.


The sidewalk outside the FBI building.

Incremental steps are being taken to change this. There is the makeover of the Old Post Office building into a luxury Trump-brand hotel which will soon get underway, and the FBI is actively seeking to relocate to new quarters off of Pennsylvania, potentially opening up a prime spot for redevelopment. But overall, change on this front has been very slow in coming.

Another hindrance to turning Pennsylvania Avenue into a hub of activity is the plazas and parks that dot its landscape, many of which are not inviting, have not been well-maintained, or simply were not well-designed. Towards the White House end of this stretch of Pennsylvania, Freedom Plaza is convenient for protests and World Cup match watching, but otherwise its concrete and asphalt is not a welcoming place for lingering.

Freedom plaza.

The plaza that fronts the Reagan Building is simply an open space surrounded by lifeless government offices that feels cut off from its surroundings. Towards the Capitol end, spaces such as John Marshall Park and the park in front of the National Gallery are more visually attractive, yet lack the features or notable characteristics that draw people in.

The one exception is the Navy Memorial on the north side of Pennsylvania between 7th and 9th streets, whose distinguishing water features, preponderance of seating and surrounding restaurants and cafes make for both an attractive and inviting space.

The Navy Memorial.

Yet it largely stands alone as a magnet for activity along the city's "grand boulevard," which otherwise features too many public spaces that are designed to simply be passed through.

Finally, there is the matter of the street itself. At eight lanes wide, with two bike lanes running along its center, Pennsylvania Avenue is the widest thoroughfare in the District that is not a freeway. As such, it can be an intimidating environment for anyone traversing it, whether on foot, on a bike or in a car.

Lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Tourists pausing to snap a photo of the Capitol Building while crossing Pennsylvania must quickly scurry across those multitude of lanes in order to make it to the other side before the light turns. Cyclists are put at risk by drivers making illegal U-turns and otherwise behaving erratically. Drivers must contend with a road designed more like an urban highway that, particularly at peak commuting hours, sees an enormous amount of vehicular traffic.

At nighttime, stretches of Pennsylvania can have an almost eerie, deserted feeling which, when coupled with the intimidating size of the Avenue itself, does not make for a particularly welcoming environment.

Empty sidewalk at 10th and Pennsylvania.

In response to this situation, the National Capital Planning Commission is embarking upon a "Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative." Working in concert with federal and District agencies, the initiative seeks to, among other goals, "develop a vision for how [Pennsylvania] Avenue can meet local and national needs in a 21st century capital city."

The initiative aims to address problems with Pennsylvania Avenue that include wear and tear to its public spaces, aging infrastructure, and the jurisdictional challenges that are inherent in a thoroughfare that serves as both a busy downtown street and a staging ground for presidential parades.

The NCPC is hosting a public workshop on July 23 where members of the public can learn about the initiative, ask questions and share their thoughts on what changes and improvements are needed.

Pennsylvania Avenue is in a much better state than when President Kennedy meandered along it some 50 years ago. With the efforts of NCPC and others with a vested stake in its future, Pennsylvania Avenue may finally become the Main Street it was always meant to be.

Public Spaces


Confusing Park Police rules scuttle Fort Reno concerts, Mall food trucks

The National Park Service's difficult and sometimes inscrutable regulations for events in parks may have claimed another victim: Long-running summer concerts in Fort Reno. The same day, Park Police also cracked down on food trucks along the Mall.


Photo by Dale Sundstrom on Flickr.

The organizer of the Fort Reno concerts, Amanda MacKaye, announced yesterday that the concerts are canceled for this year. She says that's because the National Park Service and the US Park Police changed their requirements at the last minute in a way that would double the cost to host the free concerts.

The park, located in Tenleytown in upper northwest, had hosted the concerts since 1968 and was always a showcase of regional talent for a wide variety of bands. The shows were put on by volunteers and are generally low-key affairs even if the bands themselves are loud.

But in a note on the series' website, McKaye said instead of receiving the expected permit like in years before she was told that organizers had to pay for an extra US Park Police Officer to be at every concert. She says,

Park Police cited differing reasons as to why this had come up after all these years. The reasons felt vague and when asked for specifics, none were given.

I requested a sit down meeting with NPS and USPP with the hope that our long standing (very good) relationship with NPS coupled with people seeing that we are just folks having a small community related event would bring about a better understanding and resolution.

Two messages to schedule went unanswered and when I did reach someone, a meeting was scheduled for the next morning (yesterday). The meeting happened but none of the invitees attended except myself and one extremely kind NPS employee who works in the office where meetings are held but despite being familiar with the park and the concert series as being an annual event, knew nothing about why the permit was being stalled.

She went on to say that she was not aware of any announcement of a policy change over the past year that would have alerted her to this.

There are valid reasons for requiring measures like extra police presence at events. Large crowds can potentially be dangerous, and many different venues require them all the time. But organizers deserve to know about these requirements up front, and hear well in advance if something has changed from one year to another.

In a statement, NPS spokesperson Jennifer Mummart said,

Today, the National Park Service (NPS) was notified by the permit applicant for the Fort Reno concert series that she intended to postpone the concerts. The United States Park Police (USPP) reached out to the applicant today. The NPS and USPP are reviewing the details of previous permits and previous law enforcement needs related to the concert series. Our primary goal is public safety. Both the NPS and USPP recognize the importance of the concerts to the community and look forward to further discussions with the permit applicant.
If McKaye's account is accurate, this wouldn't be the first time NPS' bureaucracy has created confusing policy or frustrated volunteers trying to use parks for community gathering spaces. The Dupont Festival is a group of people who volunteer their time to organize many kinds of events in the Circle. Just yesterday, they packed the circle to watch the US men's World Cup team play Germany (they lost, but the US did well enough to advance out of its group anyway).


Photo by John Jack Photography on Flickr.

The Dupont Festival folks have gotten a handle on navigating NPS' arcane and complex permitting processes as well as built relationships with permit officials, but when they were getting started they ran into many obstacles that sound a lot like the Fort Reno ones. Besides requirements for police, NPS also imposed last-minute requirements like insurance, didn't get the details of their permit until the last minute, and yelled at an organizer for showing up early.

The Park Service has been making many big and positive strides to be more responsive to residents and more open to making DC's parks, from the Mall to ones in neighborhoods, actually serve the functions of urban parks, such as including playground or welcoming people for special events.

Though food remains a problem. Yesterday, Park Police also drove away food trucks which park along streets like 7th Street as they cross the National Mall. While DC gives permits to the food trucks, NPS officials claim that trucks parking along streets with federal property on both sides is subject to federal rules rather than local ones.

This is a different issue than concerts in local parks, and it's no sudden revelationNPS has been saying this for years, though it's not clear why there was a sudden crackdown yesterday. Hopefully NPS can find ways to accommodate food trucks, perhaps in select zones as DC has done downtown. They are a tremendous asset for hungry tourists.

Recently-retired NPS National Capital Region director Steve Whitesell said that the agency used to make "no" the default answer, and is evolving to work with people to find a way to "yes." Music fans will have to hope that the organizers and NPS can resolve their issues by next summer, while tourists on the Mall can wish for some solution to offer better food.

Events


Events roundup: What do you want to tell the Park Service?

Do you have feedback for the National Park Service? For Arlington about transit or cycletracks? For Alexandria about a street in Del Rey Ray? Weigh in this week, plus a history lesson about the waterfront and walking tours all over the region.


Photo by Park Ranger on Flickr.

Town hall with NPS: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is convening a town hall meeting with leaders of the National Park Service in our region to talk about how they are managing many of DC's parks, large and small.

David Alpert will participate on the panel, along with NPS National Capital Region Director Steve Whitesell, Richard Bradley from the Downtown BID, and Greg Odell of Events DC. The discussion is Wednesday, May 21, 6:30-8:30 in Room 412 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

What topics should David bring up? Post your qualms, frustrations, plaudits, and questions in the comments.

Arlington Transit forum: Give Arlington's government your input on transit service at a public meeting from 7-9 pm tonight, Monday, May 19 at the Arlington Mill Community Center, 909 South Dinwiddie Street. If you can't make it, you can take an online survey to give your feedback.

Monroe Avenue, a complete street: Alexandria wants to redesign Monroe Avenue in Del Ray to calm traffic and better accommodate bicyclists. Officials will present options and hear from residents on Tuesday, May 20 (tomorrow), 6-8 pm at Commonwealth Academy on Leslie Avenue.

South Eads Street cycletrack: What should bike lanes, cycletracks, or other infrastructure look like on South Eads Street in Arlington? The county will be building a pilot cycletrack on a part of South Eads, and wants your feedback on the long-term plans for the road. Speak up on Wednesday, May 21 from 7-8:30 at the Aurora Hills Community Center, 735 18th Street South, or take the online survey.

History of the DC waterfront: Ever wonder about the early days of the DC Waterfront? The DC Library is hosting a book talk with author John R. Wennersten on his new book, The Historic Waterfront of Washington, DC. He will discuss the history of the area and the current issues facing the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. The talk is Wednesday, May 21 at 6:30 pm in the Black Studies Center at the MLK Memorial Library (901 G Street NW).

Search for the W&OD in Alexandria: Join the VeloCity Bike Co-op for a community bike ride in search of the remnants of the Washington and Old Dominion railroad in Alexandria. Hear about some area history and envision future uses for the space. The ride will begin at the VeloCity Co-op (2111 Mount Vernon Ave in Alexandria) at 10 am on Saturday, May 24.

MoCo candidates on transportation: Maryland is having a primary election on June 24, and in many races the primary will be the deciding contest. A group of smart growth, transit, bicycling, and other organizations are sponsoring a forum for candidates for Montgomery County Council.

WAMU's Martin Di Caro will moderate the forum, and you can submit questions online ahead of time. The candidates will face off on Thursday, May 29 from 7-9 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place in downtown Silver Spring.

CSG walking tours: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is leading two more Saturday walking tours in the coming weeks. Come hear about the past and future of Pentagon City, on May 31, and H Street NE, on June 7, while enjoying some spring sunshine.

  • Saturday, May 31: come hear about how recent development projects are transforming Pentagon City into a community that is more than a mall.
  • Saturday, June 7: explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the latest addition to the community: the DC Streetcar.
All of the CSG walking tours run from 10-noon. These events fill up quickly, so RSVP to secure a spot!

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Contact events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page on the web which has more information.

Bicycling


DC has too few dedicated east-west bike pathways

While DC's bicycling network has grown, there still aren't a lot of crosstown connections. In fact, there are no protected east-west bicycle routes in the whole third of the District north of Florida Avenue. Cyclists need more of these, as well as north-south routes to form a grid of dedicated paths.


Bike lanes around a northern section of DC. Image from Google Maps.

Much of DC's bicycle infrastructure, like trails, dedicated bikeways, and bike lanes concentrates in the downtown core, primarily south of Florida Avenue. DDOT's official bicycle map, last updated in 2011, shows that outside of downtown, most bicycle facilities run north-south.

Unless they are willing to ride on six-lane, shoulder-free roads with fast-moving traffic, cyclists have no way to traverse the northern part of Rock Creek Park, where only a freeway-like portion of Military Road crosses the park.

The same goes for Irving Street and Michigan Avenue, the only direct paths from Columbia Heights to Brookland across the vast acreage of McMillan Reservoir and Sand Filtration Site, the Washington Hospital Center, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

"East-west mobility for bicyclists in the northern neighborhoods of DC can be a significant challenge," said Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Advocacy Coordinator Greg Billing. "Large campuses, parks, hospitals and cemeteries limit the available east-west connections. The MoveDC plan calls for high quality bicycle facilities from neighborhoods to downtown and better connections between the neighborhoods."

That plan recommends some form of dedicated bikeway along Irving Street, as well as for a cycletrack on Military Road.

A route between Columbia Heights and Brookland would connect two vibrant neighborhoods and serve an area that will gain population as the McMillan site and part of the Armed Forces Retirement Home property redevelop.


Google Maps' bicycle directions from the Columbia Heights Metro to the Brookland-CUA Metro. Image from Google Maps. Click for interactive version.

Currently, both the DDOT map and Google Maps advise cyclists to use Irving Street between Brookland and Columbia Heights. However, between Park Place NW and the Catholic University campus, Irving Street is a busy six-lane near-freeway with no shoulder. Cyclists have to navigate among drivers merging on and off at the massive cloverleaf intersection with North Capitol Street.

However, the right-of-way through this section seems wide enough for DDOT to add a protected cycle track or trail. One possibility is a cycle track in a protected median down the middle of Irving Street, which would avoid dangerous crossings of the off-ramps at the Irving and North Capitol cloverleaf. Another is to have a trail parallel the existing sidewalk on the south side of Irving Street.


Google Maps street view of Irving Street between First and North Capitol Streets NW.

Worsening traffic congestion is a major concern at the McMillan site. The area has infrequent bus service and is far from a Metro station, but improving bicycle access could provide an important alternative to driving, reducing the traffic impact of new development.

Military Road NW across Rock Creek Park is a similar case. Tilden Street and Park Road to the south, and Wise Road, Beach Drive, and Kalmia Road to the north, are more bike-friendly ways to cross the park. But they're far out of the way for neighborhoods on either side.

According to DDOT Bicycle Program Coordinator Mike Goodno, DDOT controls the road itself and a handful of feet on either side. The National Park Service would have to okay any further widening. DDOT has not yet studied whether there is room to add a cycletrack on Military within the right-of-way it controls.


Google Maps Street View of Military Road NW through Rock Creek Park.

The only other connection through Rock Creek Park that is further along in the planning process is the Klingle Trail, which will connect the Rock Creek trail to Woodley Road NW. DDOT completed an Environmental Assessment in 2011.

As activity centers outside the downtown area grow and travel patterns become less centralized, we must enable cyclists and transit users to get across town as easily as drivers. A grid-like, interconnected network of bike routes would make that possible.

Bicycling


The Park Service wants to fix a dangerous spot near Roosevelt Island

The National Park Service is trying to make the Mount Vernon Trail safer as it passes by the parking lot for Roosevelt Island. The agency devised four alternatives, but has already dismissed two, one of which which would have done more to fix the problem than the more conservative remaining ones.


Location of the parking lot. All images from NPS.

In this area, the trail passes the entrance to the parking lot which drivers use to access Roosevelt Island. There is a lot going on in this area. Pedestrians and cyclists crowd the trail. Cars enter and exit the parking lot. Hikers cross to get to the Potomac Heritage Trail and Roosevelt Island.

To make matters worse, the trail crosses the parking lot with two sharp 90° turns. ADA ramps and at least one tree extend into the trail space, and the trail through the area doesn't even meet NPS' 9-foot trail width standard. As a result, there have been numerous crashes in the area, some involving cars, others between cyclists and pedestrians.


Current layout of the parking lot and trail.

Besides improving safety, NPS wants to install a water fountain, more and better bike racks (since bicycles are not allowed on Roosevelt Island), and better signage.

Alternative 1 keeps the trail separated from the parking lot by a curb and widens it to 9 feet, with a 2-foot grass shoulder on one side and a 2-foot paved shoulder on the other. It also shifts the parking lot crossing to a gentler angle.


Alternative 1.

This makes it easier to navigate, but harder for cyclists to see oncoming traffic. It also elevates the trail crossing on a speed table (a wide speed bump) which forces cars to slow as they cross the trail. It would also remove an existing curb cut from the west end of the trail that cyclists currently use to go from the trail into the parking lot.

Alternative 2 lowers the trail to parking lot level, separating it from the parking lot by only a stripe of paint, similar to a bike lane. It also widens the trail to 9' and provides a separate 3'-wide pedestrian trail. Like Alternative 1, it changes the angle of the crossing but the crossing would be at parking lot level, rather than on a speed table.


Alternative 2.

Alternatives 1 and 2 are the options NPS officials are still considering. They also developed a 3rd and 4th, but discarded them.

Alternative 3 was the most aggressive proposal. It separated cars from cyclists and pedestrians entirely by eliminating the parking lot and trail crossing. It shifted the parking lot closer to the parkway and rerouted the trail to be entirely on one side of the lot. NPS dismissed this option because it would have eliminated 11 parking spaces.


Alternative 3.

Alternative 4 proposed moving the trail to cross the parking lot entrance and then run between the parking lot and the parkway. This would have been less safe due to the speed of traffic entering the parking lot from the parkway, and the bad sight lines at that spot.

What is best?

The reason many cyclists use the parking lot is to avoid congestion between bikes and pedestrians. Alternative 1 largely takes that option away, while providing only 1 foot of additional width to address the problem. The possibility in alternative 2 to separate bikes and pedestrians onto different trails is a nice step.

However, moving the trail to parking lot level could increase conflict between bikes and cars, as cars could back out of parking spaces directly onto the trail. The speed table from Alternative 1 seems to be a better approach.

It's too bad NPS didn't consider widening the trail beyond the agency's 9-foot minimum trail standard, despite the huge amount of bicycle and pedestrian congestion here. Nationwide, a 10' minimum is more common, and Arlington prefers 12 feet.

Also, Alternative 3 was the the only alternative that would fully separate cyclists and pedestrians from car traffic, but it has already been discarded.

To review the full details of the project, or to submit comments, see the project website. You can submit comments through April 22nd.

Architecture


NCPC sends Eisenhower Memorial design back for changes

After a five-hour hearing yesterday, the National Capital Planning Commission decided not to approve the current design for the Eisenhower Memorial. Although the commissioners praised various elements of the design, they found that the size and location of the 80-foot metal tapestries unacceptably disrupted key viewsheds and divided the site too starkly.


Sightlines through the model. All images from Gehry Partners/AECOM.

The "disapproval" does not mean a restart. Congressman Darrell Issa, who holds a seat on the commission as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, made a rare personal appearance. (NCPC formally includes multiple Congressional chairmen and Cabinet secretaries, but most of the time, staff from those committees and agencies actually go to the meeting.)

Issa pushed for NCPC to have the design team back every other month until they get the memorial approved, a motion which passed 7 to 3. Issa explicitly emphasized that the decision today was not a rejection.

NCPC voted to accept the staff's recommendations, meaning their interpretations of the design principles are no longer up for debate. The memorial cannot visually disrupt the 160-foot Maryland Avenue right of way. Any structures must be 50 feet or more from Independence Avenue. And the design can't divide the space into multiple precincts.

On the other hand, NCPC rejected calls from the Committee of 100 to retain the vehicular roadway on Maryland Avenue as a twin of Pennsylvania Avenue. The memorial will cut off one block of Maryland Avenue. It's not clear if the staff's strict interpretation of the L'Enfant Plan viewshed applies to other projects, such as the DC streetcar.


Partial view of the memorial core. "Presidency" tablet at left, Young Eisenhower at right.

Public and commissioners had many objections

Just over half of the public comments disapproved of some aspect of the design, for different reasons. Robert Miller, a mayoral appointee One of the commissioners said he didn't care about the intrusion to Independence Avenue, but cared a great deal about how the memorial intruded into the Maryland Avenue viewshed.

John Hart, the presidential appointee from Maryland, said he admired the tapestries, but found the size of the columns unacceptable. Issa felt that without representations of Eisenhower's life, the tapestries lost their original appeal. He and Department of Defense representative Bradley Provancha asked for more content about Eisenhower's domestic achievements.

The commissioners that have already worked on the project, the National Park Service's Peter May and Mina Wright from the General Services Administration, were its principal defenders. They challenged the process, the interpretation of the design principles, and political involvement. NPS is set to own the memorial, while GSA will manage the construction.

May and Wright both spoke out about the many erroneous claims made during testimony, for and against. Wright specifically asked the EMC staff architect to correct some facts. Peter May said that if the accusations of flimsiness about the tapestries were true, the Park Service would not have approved the memorial.

In the strangest moment of the day, Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock eloquently condemned a version of the memorial that has been obsolete since at least May 2013.

What happens next?

There is no doubt that the tapestries, as we've seen them so far, will not reappear. They may shrink, or they may disappear, leaving the memorial core as the most prominent element. I think that the core tableau has become the strongest element of the design, and can survive the loss of the tapestries.

There is also a strong possibility that architect Frank Gehry will walk off the project. That does not necessarily mean that the current scheme will leave with him. Under the contract, the Memorial Commission owns the design, which is 95% complete. Given the political climate at the NCPC meeting, if the architect left, it's likely they would continue to alter the design without Gehry Partners.

Taking control of the design away from the designer has a long history in Washington. The most notable example is right across the street. The National Museum of the American Indian fired architect Douglas Cardinal in a financial dispute, but the final design is clearly his.

The final possibility is that the memorial commission will scrap the design. Longtime critics of the memorial have proposed selecting a new designer in a competition. Given the repeated insistence that the design process end soon, it seems unlikely enough people would be willing to risk another extended design process.

Long processes are not uncommon to the history of memorial designs. The FDR memorial went through four years of design review, just to wait 17 years for funding. The challenge will be trying to find conceptual clarity and design integrity amid the increasingly complex pressure.

Correction: Robert Miller has posted a comment saying he was not the one who worried about the Maryland Avenue viewshed; his main objection is with the columns. We have removed Miller's name from that comment in the article.

Events


Events roundup: Streetcars and parks and buses and zoning

This week, help plan a streetcar line along DC's north-south axis and a park in the heart of downtown. Next week, learn about rapid transit in Silver Spring and weigh in at the last zoning update meeting.


Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.

Planning a new streetcar route: The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is holding a series of meetings about the north-south streetcar line. Where should "premium transit" go? Should it be a streetcar or bus? How many stops? Dedicated lanes? There are 4 public meetings:

  • Tuesday, February 18 from 3:30-8:00 pm (presentations at 4:00 and 7:00 pm), Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 1100 4th Street SW.
  • Wednesday, February 19 from 10 am-12 pm, MLK Library, 901 G Street NW.
  • Wednesday, February 19 from 3:30-8:00 pm (presentations at 4:00 and 7:00 pm), Banneker Recreation Center, 2500 Georgia Avenue NW.
  • Thursday, February 20 from 3:30-8:00 pm (presentations at 4:00 and 7:00 pm), Emery Recreation Center, 5701 Georgia Avenue NW.

Redesigning Franklin Park: The National Park Service, DC government, and Downtown Business Improvement District have teamed up to design the future of Franklin Park. The park currently offers little usable space for area residents and workers, so the agencies devised three alternatives that add a playground, move walking paths, and add various amounts of plaza space.

The meeting is Wednesday, February 19 from 6-8 pm at the Hilton Garden Inn, 815 14th Street, NW. You can RSVP here.

Rapid transit in Silver Spring: Montgomery County is planning a Bus Rapid Transit system across the county, and Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are holding an open house about the plan in Silver Spring on February 26 from 6:30-8 pm. It's at the Silver Spring Civic Center, 1 Veterans Place. You can learn more and RSVP here.

The last zoning update meeting: If you live in DC wards 1 or 2 (Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant south to the Mall, west to Georgetown and east to Logan Circle and Penn Quarter) the DC Zoning Commission wants to hear your opinion on the zoning update. This final meeting (hopefully) was rescheduled due to the snow and is now on Wednesday, February 26 at the DC Housing Finance Authority, 815 Florida Avenue, NW.

A lot of Ward 1 residents heard a one-sided pitch against the zoning update at a forum sponsored by Councilmember Jim Graham, so it's important for residents who are well-informed to attend and speak up. Sign up here to get on the list.

As always, if you have any events for future roundups, email us at events@ggwash.org!

Public Spaces


3 choices show different visions for Franklin Park

Should Franklin Park mostly stay as is and get a facelift, or more significant changes? A study by the National Park Service, DC government, and the Downtown Business Improvement District has devised three options for us to consider.


Photo from the study documents.

All of the options add a much-needed children's play area in the northeastern portion of Franklin Park. Residents of the Chinatown area have nowhere close to take their children. They also create some measure of plaza or promenade space which can give people places to eat lunch or for events.

Right now, the park is very large but doesn't provide a lot of usable spaces. The benches are all in a line along the paths, which don't create good spaces to eat lunch in groups. The fountain in the center is, as Dan Malouff put it, "nothing but a squat ledge set in a sunken plaza." The paths also force people to walk an indirect route even to get there.

The first pair of alternatives keeps the layout mostly as is, but widen a few paths to create space for farmers' markets and other events, and add bike racks and electric charging stations. At the northern edge there would be a plaza with some moveable seating. One sub-option also adds a building there which could house a cafe, restrooms, park offices, and provide information, while the other has no building.

A second option, called "The Edge," would activate the southern I Street edge with a larger plaza that could hold two small buildings, one for a cafe and restrooms and the other for park management and information.

Dan pointed out that good parks engage the city around them by putting activity along some of the edges. This option would do that. It would also move the southern path so that it leads people more directly into the center, where a fountain with a different design would better engage people than the standoffish current fountain.

The most dramatic change would come in the third option, "The Diagonal," which creates direct diagonal paths from three corners into the middle of the park. There would be plazas on the 14th Street and I Street edges, and the fountain would be much more interactive, the kind where jets of water shoot out from the ground over a large area. The document notes that this can let people enjoy the water at times, while the jets can be turned off at other times to program the center space for events.

This option has the greatest number of movable tables, with many around the fountain and others on the 14th and I edges. Both this and the Edge option give bus riders, many of whom board along I Street, more places to sit in the park while they wait as well.

Some of the options keep more of the existing trees than others. 37% of the trees are large, mature trees, while some trees are not in good shape. "The Center" concept, which changes little, would preserve about 90% of trees; "The Edge" preserves 77% and "The Diagonal" 49%.

As is often the case with such studies, there is a tradeoff between keeping the existing design and trees and building a park that serves the most people. If one were designing Franklin Square from scratch, it might be fairly clear to use The Diagonal. Is that the right call here, or should we make more modest changes for the sake of history, tree preservation, continuity, or other reasons?

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