Posts about NoMa
As the FBI searches for a new headquarters location, most of the options have focused on the suburbs or Poplar Point, but Washingtonian reports on another proposal: Keep it downtown, at H Street and North Capitol Street, NW. But that location has serious downsides.
The proposal would repurpose the existing Government Printing Office buildings on North Capitol Street and add a new extension to the west. The new building would be over 2 million square feet, and would cover multiple blocks from New Jersey Avenue to North Capitol.
Ideally an employer as large as the FBI should have its offices downtown, but the FBI isn't just any employer. Its building is likely to be a security fortress, which means it won't be very good for pedestrians, or have ground floor retail. H Street is an important pedestrian and retail spine. Giving up a long stretch of it to the FBI would be just as bad there as it is on E Street, where the FBI is a sidewalk dead zone.
Actually, a dead zone on H Street might be even worse. Walmart is building an urban format store directly across the street from this site. And love Walmart or hate it, it's going to be one of downtown's biggest retail draws. That means this exact block of H Street is about to become one of the busiest retail main streets in the city. It should have retail on both sides.
One advantage of this FBI proposal is that the federal government already owns the land. That does mean it's already less likely to get retail on it, but putting the FBI building on it would cement that, literally.
There are other questions. DDOT's proposed crosstown streetcar would run along H Street. The FBI has never weighed in on streetcars, but would they throw up security-related roadblocks? It's unknown.
According to Washingtonian, the FBI would close G Street entirely to traffic, as well as obliterating a block of 1st Street. That further cripples the L'Enfant grid at a time when other projects are trying to restore the grid nearby. And would the FBI forbid pedestrians and cyclists on G Street as well as motor vehicles?
Finally, the existing GPO buildings are among Washington's most prominent historic red brick buildings, and were designed by a prominent architect at the time. The FBI concept renderings show a courtyard in the middle of the GPO building, but aerials show no such courtyard currently exists. That suggests the buildings will have to be completely gutted to fit the FBI. Is that a worthy tradeoff?
Any proposal that keeps the FBI downtown merits serious consideration, but given the FBI's security requirements, and given the potential for this location to be redeveloped with something even better, it may be preferable to let the FBI go. Putting the FBI on this block might be better than having it remain a parking lot, but almost any other building would be more ideal.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Florida Avenue, NE is one of the most dangerous roads in DC for all modes of transportation, and a 71-year-old pedestrian was just recently killed trying to cross. Past studies have recommended widening the sidewalks here, but residents likely have to wait even longer for fixes as DDOT embarks on yet another study.
Gallaudet University, a Metro station, an elementary school, homes and businesses line the 6-lane road. It has very narrow sidewalks which don't meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and no parked cars or street trees to serve as buffers.
This road has seen many deaths over the past few years. Most recently, 71-year-old Ruby Whitfield was killed while walking across Florida Avenue NE in a marked crosswalk. The driver, a 32-year-old Annapolis man, was reportedly drunk and speeding, and fled the scene. MPD quickly apprehended him.
While the section of Florida Avenue from 2nd Street NE to West Virginia Avenue NE is 6 lanes wide, the block where Ms. Whitfield was killed has fewer driving lanes, with relatively wider sidewalks and street trees. The driver had just crossed West Virginia Avenue into this adjacent block.
At a vigil on Florida Avenue a few days after Ms. Whitfield died, Mayor Gray committed to quickly installing a new traffic signal at the intersection with 11th Street NE, and allowing parking at all times on this block to reduce the road to one lane per direction. This might have saved Ms. Whitfield's life, and is a positive first step, but it is not nearly enough.
The road is not adequate for growing pedestrian usage
Pedestrian traffic has increased significantly in this area as the NoMa area grows and new attractions such as Union Market open. Florida Avenue is also home to Two Rivers Public Charter School and Gallaudet University. The NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station, which opened in 2004 one block from Florida Avenue, has the fastest growth rate of any in the system.
The sidewalks in many areas, especially on the south side of the street, are often only 2 feet wide. Numerous obstructions such as light poles and sign posts reduce the effective width even further. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) repainted some of the crosswalks in 2011, but this is not as helpful as creating actual ADA-compliant sidewalks with proper widths and ramps.
Photos by Yancey Burns.
For the thousands of students, staff, and visitors to Gallaudet University, the narrow sidewalks are particularly hazardous because it's not possible to communicate in sign language while walking single-file down a narrow sidewalk.
Hansel Bauman, the University's Director of Campus Planning & Design (and a resident of the Trinidad neighborhood) has led an initiative called "DeafSpace" to create architectural design guidelines that quantify ways to enhance communication and livability. It is ironic and sad that the main street to campus does not provide for the needs of their community.
The volume of cars traveling on Florida Avenue NE does not justify the current road configuration, particularly because this street is already narrower for most of its length. DDOT & the Office of Planning have written numerous studies and reports over the past few years that recommend reducing the number of travel lanes and installing wider sidewalks on Florida Avenue.
Most recently, the NoMa Neighborhood Access Study & Transportation Management Plan included this project on its "Immediate Action List" for completion within 24 months. That study was published in early 2010, and to date DDOT has not put forth any preliminary plans or come close to starting construction.
Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT Associate Director for Policy, Planning, and Sustainability, said in an email that DDOT is "starting a planning study from New York to West Virginia with the goal of improving safety and operations, and that will explore the ability to reduce the number of travel lanes."
The planning study won't wrap up until the middle of 2014. Then, if funding is available, DDOT could potentially begin design and construction. However, all of this would take several years. Ms. Whitfield's neighbors and friends, and everyone else who uses this street, should not continue to wait.
Bike lanes, parks in NoMA and around the city, streetcars, libraries 7 days a week, new trash cans for free, school modernizations, and many more programs get funding under the operating and capital budgets Mayor Gray is unveiling this morning.
Streetcars: In the 6-year capital plan, streetcars get $400 million, which should fund completing the first line from Minnesota Avenue to Georgetown, engineering the Anacostia line, and studies for north-south lines such as Georgia Avenue.
The operating budget contains $6.2 million to start running the streetcar, which Gray continues to promise will roll by the end of the calendar year.
Bike infrastructure: There is a pot of $10.7 million for bike lanes and trails, which appears to be entirely new; formerly, there was no dedicated local bike money. The budget staff have promised to follow up to confirm this. Another $5.1 million will go to "bike-friendly streetscapes," which will be interesting to see in more detail.
Capital Bikeshare: The mayor is funding 10 more Capital Bikeshare stations beyond the ones that area already supposed to be going in. In December, DDOT announced 78 locations, of which it had funding for 54 and was going to install those by March. Unfortunately, it's late in installing most of those. That list also identified 24 future locations, so this budget funds 10.
Buses: The budget office's presentation did not discuss the Circulator or other bus projects. I will follow up to find out whether any Circulator expansion in that master plan have funding. Streetcars are important, but they are one of several modes we need, and for many neighborhoods, better bus service is the better way to help people get around.
Bridges: The South Capitol "racetrack" project and new Frederick Douglass Bridge gets $622.5 million, which would fully fund the project.
Taxes: The budget imposes no new taxes or fees, maintains DC's fund balance, and keeps the debt cap at 12%. The administration also wants to get rid of the tax on out-of-state bonds, which they say primarily impacts seniors and is far and away the biggest complaint they get about taxes. Gray chief of staff Chris Murphy said they "always felt it was ill-conceived."
Affordable housing: As promised, the administration is putting a one-time $100 million into affordable housing. $86.9 million goes into the Housing Production Trust Fund, ($20M in FY 2014 and the rest in FY 2013). The rest, $13.1 million, goes to other smaller initiatives that the recent Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force recommended. He is also promising to keep the 15% of the Deed Recordation and Transfer Tax, which is supposed to go to the HPTF, in there; previous budgets raided that to fund other programs.
Parks: The capital budget provides $50 million for parks (likely a few different small parks) in NoMA: $25 million to acquire land, and $25 million for development. DC made a mistake when it upzoned NoMA without any plan for parks, which is why this is going to be expensive. However, NoMA is generating a lot of tax revenue.
Other parks capital spending includes $20 million fro the Fort Dupont ice arena, $26.4 million for Barry Farm, $2M to renovate and improve athletic fields and parks, $18M for the Southeast tennis & learning center, and funding to modernize 32 play spaces in 8 wards including Fort Greble, Palisades, Macomb, and Takoma which will start in April as well as already-underway work at Noyes, Raymond, and Rosedale.
Libraries: Gray is expanding funding for DC Public Libraries so that every library can be open 7 days a week. Most will be open until 9 pm Monday to Thursday as well as afternoons on Saturday and Sunday. They also get $2 million for books and e-books.
Further, the budget provides $103 million to renovate and, as part of a public-private partnership, expand the MLK Library. There is $15.2 million to renovate the Cleveland Park library, $21.7 for the Palisades library, and $4.8 million for Woodridge's library.
Trash: Residents who want to replace their trash cans are in luck: the administration wants to replace everyone's trash cans over 5 years, for free. If there is money available, they also hope to let people replace stolen or damaged cans without the fee residents have to pay today.
Flooding: Bloomingdale residents hopefully will see some relief from their flooding problems with $1.5 million in the budget to pay for recommendations from the task force studying those problems.
Police and fire: The public safety budget pays for 4,000 sworn officers, replacing police and fire vehicles, cadet training programs and maintaining domestic violence programs that are seeing federal cuts. In general, the budget officials say, they are replacing all federal from sequestration across the board, even assuming sequestration will continue throughout the year.
Raises: DC employees will get their first pay raise in 4-7 years, spanning both union and non-union employees, and DC will fully fund its pension obligations.
We'll have more analysis and further details in upcoming posts.
The illegal signs on the west side of the Uline Arena are finally down. Dogged determination from the local ANC, rather than any city agency, managed to get a powerful owner to comply with the law.
The arena is at 3rd and M Streets NE in NoMA, just east of the railroad tracks. We first discussed the illegal signs in June 2011. A little over a month later, DCRA fined Douglas Development, the owner of the building, for illegal billboards. More than a year has passed, during which time Douglas appealed the ruling and fines.
While Douglas appeared to be successfully running out the clock by keeping the appeal active, another deadline became more pressing. The company needed an extension from the Board of Zoning Adjustment (case number 17809B) that required ANC 6C's approval. The ANC presented Douglas with a list of items the commission wanted completed before giving its consent.
The items on the list included:
- Painting/removing graffiti on the roof
- Fixing any openings providing access to the roof
- Fixing the leak in the side of the wall along the west side of the building
- Rebuilding the sidewalk at the corner of 3rd and M Streets (at the 3rd Street side)
- Getting Clear Channel to paint the billboard post (in the plaza area)
- Complying with any DCRA orders concerning the (potentially) illegal billboards at the west wall
- Installing additional fencing (approximately 4 feet high) to prevent cars from parking in public space at the M Street side of the "ice house" property, along with associated gates, benches and other site furnishings.
Number 6, you'll note, addresses the signs on the side of the building. Douglas Development could have responded that they believed the signs were legal and that their appeal would bear this out. Apparently, this wasn't an action they wished to pursue. Instead, the signs have come down, and other improvements for the historic, yet vacant, shell are underway.
Kudos to the ANC for holding the developer's feet to the fire and getting a substantial set of actions in exchange for support. There's no reason a building can't be minimally (and legally) maintained while it's being warehoused for development, and ANC 6C has proven that's the case.
Bicyclists, pedestrians, and the environment will all benefit when DDOT reconstructs the stretch of First Street, NE that forms NoMa's main street over the next 2 years. The stretch from Columbus Circle to New York Avenue will get new crosswalks, stormwater retention, and a cycletrack to help connect the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Union Station and the Mall.
DDOT and associated contractors presented plans for the reconstruction of the road at a meeting last night. The biggest news for regional cyclists is the plan to add a a 2-way cycletrack along 1st Street from Columbus Circle to M Street NE.
The cycletrack will be 8 feet wide and separated from automobile traffic. Plastic bollards will handle that duty from the circle to K Street. From K to M, a 2-foot-wide precast concrete barrier will keep automobile and bicycle traffic separate. This barrier will be the same height as a standard curb.
Bicyclists will need to share travel lanes with automobiles on one block of M Street to get from the ramp that marks the southern end of the Metropolitan Branch Trail to the northern end of the cycletrack. Bicycle traffic will now have a much safer route to get from the National Mall to the MBT.
The project will include new crosswalks at almost every intersection. The one exception is Pierce Street, between L and M, which DDOT promises to revisit when development at that corner brings more pedestrian activity. Sidewalks will get better lighting, including Washington Globe lights along the road and teardrop lighting at the intersections. Wider sidewalks will ensure ADA compliance.
Bio-retention areas, similar to what exists on the east side of the 1200 block of First Street, will be installed where possible along the road. This will help ensure that less water pours directly into the sewer system during rains, helping to curb the volume of water that leads to combined sewer overflow episodes.
Crews will relocate a water main and do other utility work between September 2012 and Spring of 2013. The full-depth reconstruction of the road will then occur from K Street to New York Avenue, one side of the road at a time. The road will allow one-way southbound traffic at all times. From G Street to K Street, the road will simply be resurfaced.
Construction is scheduled to last 18 to 24 months, though the team expects all work to be finished closer to the 18 month end of the timeframe. That would mean they will complete the project sometime in the spring of 2014. A page with project details will be available on DDOT's website once construction gets underway.
Metro riders who bike to the NoMa station have long encountered too few and poorly placed racks along with rampant bike theft. Metro has now installed 27 new bike racks at the NoMa-Gallaudet U station, and plans to move other racks to better locations.
Bicycle parking has been scarce for a long time. Plus, the racks were originally installed too close to the wall, forcing cyclists to lock their bikes up in strange ways.
Better bike parking will encourage people to bike to the Metro from nearby neighborhoods like Trinidad and Eckington, who might live too far to walk.
Bike theft and vandalism, once a major issue, has mostly ebbed since a young man was caught in the act of stealing wheels from bicycles at the station. New racks and nearby commercial space under construction should bring more cyclists and activity and deter theft. Station managers will be able to more easily see many of the new racks as well.
WMATA has also started replacing signs at the station, formerly known as New York Avenue-Florida Avenue-Gallaudet University with its new name: NoMa-Gallaudet U. This is one of several station name changes the WMATA board recently approved.
Metro recently posted a sign on the existing racks, saying that it will be moving them farther from the wall on May 10, and installed 27 new racks. There used to be 8 racks at the N Street entrance to the station, and 5 racks at the M Street entrance. Now, there are 30 at the N Street entrance, and 10 at the M Street entrance.
While these improvements are excellent, Metro should still consider installing racks inside the station for even more safety. Theft has declined, but I've noticed a recent uptick in missing front wheels.
It's fantastic to see Metro responding to the demand for more and better bicycle parking. There are probably more racks now than absolutely necessary to accommodate the people who bike there on an average day, but now that nearby residents have this bike parking, hopefully more will start cycling to the NoMa-Gallaudet U Station.
Preliminary work has started on the Washington Gateway project, the three-
The highlight of the project is the Metropolitan Branch Trail Atrium (circled in red above).
This three story space will create a bike-friendly entrance to the project unlike anything in the DC area. It will include a paved and signed entrance to the atrium which includes LED lighting and automatic doors that will allow cyclist to ride into the atrium. There will be an automatic bike pump for maintenance; a water fountain; a refreshment area with vending machines, tables and chairs; indoor bike parking and a natural ventilation system to supplement the HVAC system in appropriate seasons.
WABA has been invited to provide programming for the space and will be allowed to use the site for staging rides. It will not be open 24 hours a day, but it will be open at most times of the day.
In addition, the project will improve the trail along the building line. The developers will replace the trail surface, landscape the area along it, and replace the solar trail lighting with lights on the side of the building. A portion of the trail will be enhanced for pedestrian use with different paving patterns and treatment to encourage trail use for commuters walking from the Metro station and to separate users.
The atrium will be at the elevation of the trail, so users will have to go down stairs or an elevator to access the plaza in the center of the site and from there access the surrounding streets. The stairs will have a bike trough as will stairs from the plaza to the sidewalk along the New York Avenue Bridge.
The first building to go up will likely be the western building, which will be residential. The developers will build a temporary 6- to 8-foot-wide paved connection from the trail to this building while they wait to build the two office buildings on the east that will include the atrium. The residential building will have indoor bike storage as well as outdoor visitor bike parking. One of the office buildings will have a fitness facility that will give commuters access to a shower.
DDOT worked with the developers on the PUD to make sure that the project would be permeable for cyclists and pedestrians, and from all appearances this has the potential to be a flagship example of how development should work with adjacent trails. I predict future Bicycle Summit tours of DC to include this as a must-see stop.
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- Public land deals have both benefits and pitfalls
- PG planners propose bold new smart growth future