Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Pennsylvania Avenue

Public Spaces

How big of a "moat" would the FBI need if it stayed downtown?

The FBI and the General Services Administration (GSA) are searching for a site to house a new consolidated FBI headquarters. Though no sites in DC remain in consideration, there are a few who wonder why they don't just reuse the existing Hoover Building site on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Photo by the author.

One of the strong preferences in the GSA's site location criteria is for a 350 foot "security buffer zone" surrounding the new headquarters building. Though this is apparently not an outright requirement, the GSA and FBI have said that they strongly prefer sites that can offer such a buffer.

The image above shows what such a 350 foot buffer zone would look like around the existing Hoover Building footprint.

As you can see, this would seriously impact buildings on almost every block adjacent to the Hoover Building. It would affect the IRS headquarters, the Justice Department, and especially the historic Ford's Theater. It would also have a minor impact on the Navy Memorial.

From a transportation perspective, it would block E Street, 9th Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue, all major streets in the DC core.

A version of this post originally appeared in Just Up the Hill.


Events roundup: Silver Line opens, Rapid Transit happy hour, central public spaces, and more

Years of anticipation have led up to this weekend: The Silver Line will officially open to passenger service. Don't miss a ride on the first train! On Wednesday, drink to rapid transit in Montgomery County or discuss Pennsylvania Avenue or Arlington's Courthouse Square.

Photo by Ben Schumin on Flickr.

And at long last... it's here!: The first Silver Line train taking passengers on the new tracks will leave at noon on Saturday, July 26. Let's ride together! We'll be congregating at the new Wiehle-Reston East station leading up to the noon train.

We had been organizing carpools, but it's not necessary to drive there any more: Fairfax Connector is running shuttle buses all morning from West Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue, so Metro on out to WFC and hop on a bus (or bike, or drive yourself) to get to the opening.

We'll meet at the north entrance to the station. From the Fairfax Connector bus bays, go up the escalators to the glass enclosed area of the plaza. There's a large space here, and we'll have signs to help you find us. See you Saturday!

The future of America's Main Street: Pennsylvania Avenue is a major symbol of our nation's capitol, but poor urban design and aging infrastructure inhibit activity there. The National Capital Planning Commission and other federal agencies are hosting a workshop to kick off a new study for the street. It's Wednesday, July 23 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at 401 9th Street NW, Suite 500 North.

Rapid transit happy hour: Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Communities for Transit, and Friends of White Flint also on Wednesday, July 23rd at 5:30 pm at Paladar Latin Kitchen (11333 Woodglen Drive, Rockville, 20852) to hear the latest news about the MD 355 corridor and our booth at this year's Agricultural Fair. Did we also mention that Paladar has $5 Mojitos and Margaritas at happy hour? RSVP here.

A new Courthouse Square: Come and get a first look at the future of Courthouse Square. Planners will unveil three draft plans based on input from the public and a working group. See them on (once again) Wednesday, July 23rd at the 1310 N. Courthouse Road Office Building, third floor, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm (Metro: Court House).

Remember Southeast Southwest: Come out of the heat and watch the latest in the Summer in the City Film Series Thursday, July 24th, from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at the Southwest Library (900 Wesley Place, SW). This week's film, Southwest Remembered, follows the effects of urban renewal in Washington during the 1940s. Southwest was one of the first neighborhoods to undergo this effort, which displaced more than 23,000 residents in the process.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at

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.


Maybe this can stop U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue

Past efforts to stop dangerous and illegal U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes have not had much success, but DC officials are ready to try a new approach with a product, known as a "Park-It," that usually serves as a wheel stop in parking spaces. Will this do the trick?

Rendering of Park-Its on Pennsylvania Avenue. Image from DDOT.

Last fall, crews from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) installed a product called a Zebra, from the Spanish company Zicla, along one block of Pennsylvania Avenue as a test. They studied the number of illegal U-turns before and after the Zebras went in.

While this study was not particularly scientific, there were fewer U-turns within the test block. However, U-turns in the surrounding blocks increased. This suggests drivers just waited to make their illegal turns after passing the barriers, but it did prove that these types of barriers are relatively effective in cutting down on U-turns.

Park-Its will make more of a barrier than the Zebras

Park-Its are 6 feet long and slightly lower than the Zebras. According to a letter from DDOT to the US Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), one Park-It will go in each of the spaces between stripes along the buffer area on both sides of the bike lanes, with a maximum of 8 feet in between. On the sections where there is no crosshatched, painted buffer, such as between 13th and 14th Streets, the Park-Its will go even closer together.

The Park-It will use the same black and white color palette which CFA asked for with the Zebras. These Park-Its are already also in place along the edge of the new 1st Street NE cycletrack.

The First Street cycletrack. Photo from WABA.

This will be a drastic improvement from the Zebras, which were spaced much farther apart than the manufacturer recommends. This happened partly because the contractor striped the buffers differently from what was in the original plans, and the bike planners were unknowingly using inaccurate plans to design the Zebra test.

Zebras installed on one side of Pennsylvania Avenue. Photo by the author.

Unlike with the Zebras, this is not a pilot program. Park-Its will go along the entire length of Pennsylvania Avenue from 15th Street to Constitution Avenue. They will not go on the last half block to 3rd Street, because there is parking in the center lane.

Why DDOT is dropping the Zebras

DDOT officials chose not to expand the Zebras for a couple of reasons. First, people reported that drivers found it easy to drive over the Zebras. Second, the test raised concerns about the long-term maintenance and durability of the Zebras. The winter was not kind to the Zebras, with multiple scarred and broken Zebras scattered across the block from impacts with vehicles and snowplows.

A Park-It costs only about half as much as a Zebra, so replacement and maintenance will be more cost-effective. There are also multiple suppliers. The recycled rubber used in Park-Its has some "give" and should resist impacts better than the hard plastic material of the Zebra. Lastly, in order for the Zebras to be effective, there would need to be many more of them.

DDOT crews will install the Park-Its this summer. Afterward, the bike planners will monitor the area to count illegal U-turns and keep an eye on the Park-Its' durability.

Photo by League of American Bicyclists on Flickr.

New traffic signals will come one day

The DDOT letter to the CFA also says they will install bicycle signals on the current traffic lights. Right now, signs point to green arrows on the signals, and tell cyclists to go when those arrows are green. Bicycle-specific signal heads would make it possible to independently let bicycles and vehicles go through an intersection.

DDOT may allow drivers to turn left at more intersections where they currently can't, and/or let cyclists ride through the intersection at a time when drivers cannot. This could reduce drivers' desire to make illegal U-turns in the middle of the block.

DDOT officials have given no timeframe for the signal changes. However, they wanted to give CFA a complete overview of all planned changes at one time.

CFA's agenda for this Thursday lists this project on the "consent calendar," meaning that CFA staff don't think it even needs to be discussed at the hearing and the board can potentially approve it along with other consent items without any debate.

Will this increase safety along Pennsylvania Avenue corridor? Hopefully. If this doesn't work, perhaps nothing will. Since Pennsylvania Avenue hosts an inaugural parade every four years, it's not possible to build anything more permanent in the street. But this barrier is the strongest step DDOT has taken thus far to curb U-turns, and cyclists are sure to welcome it.


New murals sprout across DC

DC is awash in murals. Four new murals recently went up as part of an arts festival sponsored by Heineken. Ward 7 residents banded together to give a beloved restaurant a mural. And a filmmaker's making a documentary about what murals mean to DC's culture.

Design for a mural at Thai Orchid in Ward 7. Image from MuralsDC.

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue SE just east of the Anacostia River, Thai Orchid is the sole sit-down restaurant on a block with a beauty supply store, liquor store, and empty storefronts. Opened in 2010, the locally-owned spot quickly became a local gathering spot. On her blog Life in the Village, Veronica Davis raved about the food, while commenters expressed excitement that they could eat out without crossing the river.

To say "thank you," neighbors want to beautify Thai Orchid and its block with a mural.

It's a testament to a business that took a chance on Ward 7 and represents a continuing commitment to local businesses. Supporters applied for funding from MuralsDC, a partnership between the DC Department of Public Works, the DC Commission on the Arts and the Humanities, and nonprofit group Words Beats & Life that uses street art to enliven neighborhoods and combat graffiti.

They had commissioned an artist to create the mural, but a small group of residents put a halt to the project, arguing that District funds should be used for more worthy causes. Now, the community is raising money to move forward with the mural without public help.

But murals are still going up elsewhere in DC. Working with MuralsDC, Dutch brewing company Heineken sponsored four murals in Shaw and NoMa and installed them last month. It's part of a larger series of murals Heineken commissioned in Atlanta and Miami. The DC installation coincided with the G40 Art Summit, a street art festival sponsored by the Art Whino gallery in National Harbor.

One of the Heineken murals. Photo by Lewis Francis used with permission.

It makes sense that Heineken chose DC as a location, with its long history of murals celebrating its African American and Latino communities. Filmmaker Caitlin Carroll was so inspired by the city's mural culture that she started working on a documentary about it called Painted City.

The film features art historian Perry Frank, who documents murals both past and present, and includes stories about murals that have been lost, highlighting the art's fleeting nature. Community pride and beautification is a recurring theme in the documentary, and Carroll also highlights the work of local artists who work with residents and kids to beautify their neighborhoods.

Murals, along with public art in general, can let communities show neighborhood pride, inspire others, and provide hope. In an area struggling with unemployment, poverty, and crime, residents see art as a way to uplift and inspire.

As Carroll notes, "Every mural has a story." The stories often have an end as murals disappear due to new development or get damaged in building repairs. But even in their temporary nature, they still serve as a form of community expression.


I will continue to ride, bent frame and all

I started biking in DC to become a moving, breathing part of the city. But Monday morning, while in the center bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 9th streets, a driver made an illegal U-turn straight into my bike.

A driver makes an illegal U-turn on Penn. Photo by jwetz on Twitter.

I feel compelled to say I was obeying all laws and going the speed limit when I was hit. I catapulted into the side of her car, was jostled off my bike and caught myself with one foot on the ground, which she then ran over with her back tire.

She pulled over to the shoulder and leaned out her window, "Oh my God! I did not SEE you!" At this point, I yelled across all three lanes of traffic, "I WAS IN A BIKE LANE!" I walked my bike up to the crosswalk and onto the sidewalk to meet her on the shoulder of the road. She burst out of the car, apologizing profusely. A police officer who had witnessed the scene from nearby came over.

First, he asked if I was okay. I told him that I thought so, but wasn't quite sure. He said he could call an EMT if I thought I needed one. I said I wasn't sure, so he didn't.

He asked us what happened at which point the woman frantically and apologetically explained she was looking for an address and did not see me when she tried to cross to the other side of the street between intersections. I reminded her again that I was, in fact, in a bike lane. The officer gently informed her that making a U-turn in the middle of the street was illegal.

Why I started bicycling

I picked up a bike to heal heartbreak. I was living in Minneapolis in May of last year when I dusted off my old hybrid bike from middle school, pumped up the tires, bought a helmet, and started to move around the newly thawed city.

My heart mended on a bike and in turn, I fell madly in love with the city around me. Minneapolis is a great city to bike in. There are bike lanes and lakefront trails and drivers who, characteristic of "Minnesota Nice," use archaic lights called turn signals when moving about the streets.

I moved to DC this September and left my bike behind. The first week I took the Metro. Before long, my commute began to wear on my soul and empty my pockets. I realized buying a bike would both allow me to be a moving, breathing part of the city and save me money. I scoured Craigslist until I found the perfect, girly, single speed with turquoise wheels, a bright pink chain and little yellow stars on the spokes.

I now commute ten miles to work each morning and the same distance home. I ride Georgia Ave from Silver Spring where passing drivers tell me to get off the road. I turn off at Aspen Street then follow the sleepy hills of 14th Street south to the bustling obstacle course of Columbia Heights.

Here, I pop over to 11th and ride south in a sea of bikers to Pennsylvania Avenue, the home stretch. I love Penn. The buildings part and the morning sun shines as I head straight towards the Capitol.

The officer shrugged

I could feel and identify the adrenaline pulsing through me. My chest felt light and my hands were shaking. I had a hard time concentrating on what was happening around me. I had never been in an accident with a car and was unsure of the procedure.

I kept looking at the police officer, waiting for him to take action or at least give me options. He nervously stood there, afraid to make eye contact and unsure of what to do next. I didn't know if I should take down her car insurance and license plate information. I didn't know if I should file an accident report or what that meant. I didn't know why he wasn't ticketing her for hazardous driving.

Based on his actions, it didn't seem he knew the answer to these questions either.

Finally, I asked for her information. I took down her name, address, and phone number, then looked at the officer and asked if there was any other information I needed. He shrugged.

Eventually the woman drove off and he waited until I calmed down. I got back on my bike and slowly and cautiously rode down Penn the rest of the way to work.

Biking shouldn't be a risk

When I arrived, I was still shaken. I am a member of WABA's Women & Bicycles community and follow the group on Facebook. I posted about the incident under another post about the poor installation of the Zebras intended to stop illegal U-turns through the bike lane.

The comment thread exploded with outraged lady cyclists who showed me where law enforcement failed to follow through on enforcing laws put in place to protect me. By failing to cite the driver and not follow procedure to report cycling accidents, the officer stripped me of any recourse in case my bike or body ended up more injured than I originally thought.

While I am okay, my bike frame is bent and my front wheel wobbles. As a result of the officer's inaction, the burden of these necessary bicycle repairs now falls on my shoulders.

Biking through the city alongside this cycling community is the best part of living in DC. This accident is bigger than this one incident. It is about all of us, and the risk we take each day. It is about the fear of knowing it could have been so much worse.

I will continue to ride my pretty little single speed through this city, with her bent frame and all.

I demand to do so without the fear that I am risking my life.


Will cycletrack barriers on Pennsylvania Avenue work?

In response to drivers making U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, DDOT has completed the first stage of installing a special kind of barrier called a Zebra. Now that the Zebras are out in the wild, will they work?

An SUV makes a U-turn on Penn in between the new Zebras. Photo by jwetz on Twitter.

Last summer, Mayor Vincent Gray announced that the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) would work with stakeholders to address an increasingly dangerous problem with illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue. DDOT's solution was to install Zebras, a bicycle lane separator from the Spanish company Zicla.

The low-profile barriers can separate bike lanes from vehicle traffic without being visually obtrusive. DDOT chose the Zebras because their low profile does not interrupt the viewshed to the US Capitol, a serious issue for the Commission on Fine Arts (CFA). They're also bolted to the pavement, meaning they can be removed for the presidential inauguration parade every 4 years.

In September, the CFA approved a pilot project to install the Zebras on two blocks of Penn. Yesterday, DDOT installed Zebras on the south side of Pennsylvania between 12th and 13th streets NW. According to Mike Goodno, DDOT Bicycle Program Specialist, DDOT installed the Zebras on only one block for the time being in order to assess their effectiveness.

How effective will they be?

DDOT's construction plans call for spacing the Zebras at 10-foot intervals on each edge of the bike lane. However, the manufacturer's specifications recommended placing them no more than 2.5 meters, or 8.2 feet apart. Subsequent measurements on installed Zebras show the actual separation to be approximately 15 feet center-to-center in violation of DDOT's construction plans for this project.

This may or may not be narrow enough to prevent drivers from entering the bike lane. However, Zebras also have no sharp edges, which are not only safer for cyclists, but allow emergency vehicles to drive over them when necessary.

How Zebras are supposed to be installed. Photo from Zicla.

Why did DDOT exceed the minimum recommended separation? One possible answer is that the Zebras will be located on each side of the bike lanes in a staggered arrangement. This creates a combined separation of approximately 5 feet. However, the rows of Zebras on either side of the bike lanes are 15 feet apart, meaning drivers can still cut across them.

In order to determine the Zebras' effectiveness, DDOT took counts of illegal U-turns prior to installation and will take additional counts now, in addition to doing a review of crash data. The agency will also look at public feedback about the Zebras to gauge the pilot program's success. The test results will determine if DDOT will install Zebras along the entire length of the cycle track.

First stage of Zebra installation on Pennsylvania Avenue, other side to follow soon. Photo from the author.

The Zebras' spacing may lower their effectiveness, reducing the chance of a successful test and making cyclists less safe. Hopefully, DDOT's test will encourage transportation officials to install them not only throughout the corridor, but in the manner that the Zebras' manufacturer recommends.


CFA doesn't have a say over Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes

Pennsylvania Avenue is a nationally and historically significant street, and the Commission on Fine Arts works to preserve it. But their input has become an obstacle to bicyclists who want to use the street safely. Does CFA legally have as much authority as they say they do?

Photo by philliefan99 on Flickr.

DC officials repeatedly say that they don't have jurisdiction to do what they want on Pennsylvania Avenue because of the CFA. When the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes were first proposed in 2010, the Commission on Fine Arts weighed in on every detail, from striping to paint colors and flexposts, all in the name of preserving the street's aesthetic integrity.

This assertion has been repeated so much that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a result, the District Department of Transportation's proposal to install small bike lane separation devices called Zebras along the corridor is already in danger, even before it goes to the CFA September 19th. But CFA's legal mandate shows what their jurisdiction and scope really is, and it doesn't include bike lanes.

The creation of the CFA

An act of Congress established the CFA in 1910. It operates under the legal justification of the Shipstead-Luce Act of 1930, which designates certain areas of the District where they have jurisdiction, including Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House, the Capitol and White House grounds, Rock Creek Park, the National Zoo, the National Mall, the Southwest Waterfront, and Fort McNair.

Two pieces of regulation, 45 CFR 2101.1 and 2101.2, define the CFA's relationship with other levels of government and what they have authority to review. The CFA's role is to advise and comment on a wide variety of projects, including proposed public, semi-public and private buildings, signage, monuments, statues, parks, medals, insignia, coins, commemorative works, and questions of art that concern the federal government.

The president appoints each CFA member for a 4-year term without compensation. Members typically come from a design-related background, like architecture, landscape architecture, and the fine arts.

It has no regulatory authority, enforcement mechanism or penalty for not implementing their recommendations. Their influence derives from the political process and their collective expertise in their respective fields. Recently, the CFA has gained attention for their review of a controversial memorial for President Eisenhower, designed by architect Frank Gehry.

Does the CFA really have authority over Pennsylvania Avenue?

DDOT first went to the CFA with a design for the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes in 2010, but before the paint was even dry, DDOT removed the bike lanes and redesigned them in response to driver complaints. CFA never reviewed the new design. And DDOT did not submit a proposal to the CFA for the portion of the 15th Street cycletrack south of the White House, which is also within the CFA's jurisdiction.

The agency also maintains miles of streets within the CFA's jurisdiction, but transportation planners don't go to the CFA to review intersection improvements, street lighting, or pedestrian crossings. Why should DDOT hold bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue to a higher level of scrutiny? After all, this is a transportation and public safety issue, not an architectural issue.

In June, Mayor Gray's office announced that DDOT would work with the CFA to solve the illegal U-turn problem on Pennsylvania Avenue, after a video of a cab making an illegal U-turn and nearly hitting a cyclist appeared on YouTube.

ABC7 reporter Mike Conneen asked Pedro Ribeiro, Gray's spokesperson, if DC should just ignore the CFA and solve the problem themselves. "We don't have the jurisdiction, we can't do that," Ribeiro replied. "You can't break the law. While it may feel good to say 'sure, just put them in,' what would happen is we'd have to tear them back out again."

But according to the Shipstead-Luce Act, DC doesn't have to consult the CFA. It specifies that "a reasonable degree of control should be exercised over the architecture of private or semipublic buildings adjacent to public buildings and grounds of major importance," but only gives the CFA jurisdiction over "any building . . . which is to front or abut" Pennsylvania Avenue. This language clearly excludes the curb-to-curb section of the street itself.

And obviously, the bike lanes are not a building, park, monument, or coin of any kind. Under the CFA's legal mandate, bike lanes along Pennsylvania Avenue are not subject to any CFA review.

There are number of agencies with some authority over Pennsylvania Avenue, but they all oversee separate parts. For instance, the National Park Service has authority over the sidewalk areas. The National Capital Planning Commission has some standing as well, but during a meeting on the future of the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, officials admitted DDOT is the sole authority on the avenue itself.

So DDOT isn't submitting their proposal to install Zebras along the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes and improve public safety because it has to, but because it's done so before. Some DDOT staff members know CFA has no control over the bike lanes, but DC leaders seem to like using them as an excuse for inaction.

With strong leadership and political will, DDOT would simply follow good bike lane engineering practices and install the Zebras. After all, they are well within their legal right to do so.

Public Spaces

Can Eastern Market park become a gathering place?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aerial photo of the parks today from Google Maps.

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

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

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

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

How to embrace space's potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future meetings, design work planned

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

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

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