Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Pennsylvania Avenue

Development


After the FBI moves, Pennsylvania Ave could be reborn

The FBI is decamping from its headquarters in the J. Edgar Hoover building, leaving the deteriorating 1974 brutalist building and its site on Pennsylvania Avenue up for reinvention. You can weigh in on what comes next for the site.


What should replace the Hoover Building's moat? Photo by Eric Fidler on Flickr.

The FBI has decided that the poor state of the existing building, claustrophobic offices, and extensive security requirements make this urban site a bad location for the police agency. The FBI has asked the General Services Administration, the landlord to federal agencies, to replace it. To keep costs down, the GSA is trying to negotiate a land swap in either Landover, Greenbelt, or Springfield.

Whether the FBI building becomes apartments, offices, or an institution depends heavily on special rules for the properties lining Pennsylvania Avenue. Called "square guidelines," the ones for the Hoover building's site are specific to the FBI, so the National Capital Planning Commission is is revising them for whoever occupies the building in the future. Meetings on Tuesday and Thursday are the only time the public will be able to give input before NCPC drafts the new guidelines.


The guidelines have to go through a lot of review. Schedule graphic from NCPC.

To execute the deal, the GSA has to make a clear offer for what can go at the downtown site. They're doing that through these square guidelines, created in the 1970s by a congressional organization, the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation.

The work of the PADC, like Pershing Park and Market Square, was a dramatic shift away from the grandiose official spaces that planners pushed in the first 70 years of the 20th century, into mixed uses and intimate spaces. To balance private development and public space, they created the guidelines. (A "square" is just a real estate term for a block; every lot in DC is part of a "square.")


The FBI Hoover Building site and the area controlled by PADC rules. Image from the NCPC.

The Hoover building will be a hot site for developers no matter what. But when it comes to how the building is use, the stakes are even higher for the public.

What kind of activities could happen there?

Under the new zoning code, the site will fall under the D-7 downtown zone district. That means a hotel or office space would be allowed to take up 10 times the amount of ground space the building covers, but that residential units could take up even more.

Because of that D-7 classification, residential development on the site wouldn't be subject to affordable housing requirements or bonuses. Maybe this should be an exception. Similarly, the swanky location could lend itself to development as investment properties, but those wouldn't lend themselves to street life. Are there ways to avoid that?

Perhaps there are other uses, like theaters, social organizations, or cultural programs that could be encouraged.

What will the actual building look like?

The square guidelines dictate a lot about urban form. One big decision is whether to divide the site. Technically, it's already two blocks: the much bigger Square 378 north of D Street, and the triangular Square 379 along Pennsylvania Avenue. The site will probably end up being multiple buildings, but what about rebuilding D Street to Pennsylvania Ave?

On one hand, that's an opportunity to add connectivity and increase the amount of retail. It might also limit the opportunity to build the northern square to the unusual 160' height permitted along Pennsylvania Avenue.

What percentage of the space should be open space? A public market used to stand nearby; perhaps Is a semi-private court like CityCenter the answer? Should the Pennsylvania Avenue side be more formal, and set back, while the E Street side might be more informal an commercial? Does the site need a commemorative space, like the nearby Navy Memorial?

How sustainable should it be?

Sustainability wasn't covered by the 1974 rules, but they could now. Given Climate change and the region's water quality issues, it's definitely one now. Whether it's requiring a low carbon impact, cleaning the air with plants, or managing runoff effectively, there are a lot of issues.

An opportunity to go beyond the easily gamed LEED system, and to ask for a measurable sign of sustainability, like some portion of the Living Building Challenge, or a concrete goal like net-zero energy use

On the other hand, there's a risk of adding tokens of sustainability that cost more than they're worth. The density and high energy efficiency the District requires may be enough of an environmental benefit.

Another possibility is preserving portions of the existing building, to save on expending new energy and carbon emissions? That will only make a difference if the energy to heat, cool, and light the building is dramatically lower than it is today. What parts of the building can be saved?

How the site connects to the rest of the city

The project also has implications for the Department of Labor's Frances Perkins Building, which the GSA is also looking to exchange. Integrated into the I-395 highway running beneath it, it also faces its surrounding streets with high walls and gloomy overhangs. Worse, even though it covers the highway, it blocks both C St. and Indiana Avenue.


The Francis Perkins buildings sits on a high plinth. Photo by Tim Evanson on Flickr.

With the massive Capitol Crossing development over the highway two blocks north, the replacement of the Perkins building presents similar potentials for adding downtown residential density, enlivening the generous public space near Judiciary Square, and reconnecting downtown to the Union Station area.

While the square guidelines are just one part of a very long approvals process, the earlier the approvals agencies hear support for an walkable, inviting urban design, the better the outcome.

You can attend the meetings 6-8PM on Tuesday and Thursday, or watch it live and submit comments.

Transit


Five bus lines everyone in DC should know, love, and use

Metrorail's six lines are so easy to remember that most Washingtonians have memorized them. Here are five convenient bus lines that everyone in town should know just as well.


Simple map of five main DC bus lines. Map by the author. Original base map from Google.

These five lines are among Metro's most convenient and popular. Buses on them come every few minutes, and follow easy-to-remember routes along major streets.

For the sort of Washingtonian who's comfortable with Metrorail but hasn't taken the leap to the bus, these five lines are a great place to start. Unlike some minor buses that only come once every half hour, you can treat these five lines the way you'd treat a rail line, or a DC Circulator: They're always there, and it's never a long wait before the next bus.

If you can memorize Metrorail's Red and Orange Lines, you can memorize these streets:

Wisconsin / Pennsylvania (30 series): If you want a bus on Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, just remember to catch anything with a number in the 30s. Nine bus routes cover this line, each of them with slightly different details, but a similar overall path: The 30N, 30S, 31, 33, 32, 34, 36, and the express 37 and 39. Collectively they're called the "30 series."

The other four lines are similar. Each has multiple routes with slightly different details combining to form a family, or series. Within each series some individual routes may come at different times of day, or continue farther beyond the lines this map shows. But the key is to remember the series name.

16th Street (S series): Four routes, each beginning with the letter S: The S1, S2, S4, and the express S9.

14th Street (50 series): Three routes, each in the 50s: The 52, 53, and 54.

Georgia Avenue (70 series): Two routes, in the 70s: The local 70 and the express 79.

H Street (X series): Two routes, starting with X: The local X2 and the express X9. When it eventually opens (knock on wood), the DC Streetcar will beef up this same corridor.

For the Metrobus veterans among you, this is old news. About 80,000 people per day ride these five lines, so they're hardly secrets. But if you're not a frequent bus rider, give these a try.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


Which DC Councilmembers support fully protecting the Pennsylvania Avenue bikeway?

To stop drivers from making dangerous U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bikeway, DC has installed physical barriers—except on two blocks right where DC councilmembers park. Are councilmembers the obstacle? We asked them if they support completing the barriers.


A U-turning driver strikes a cyclist. Image from David Garber on Twitter.

From the moment the bikeway opened on Pennsylvania Avenue, there were problems with drivers parking in the lanes and making U-turns mid-block. U-turns are very dangerous, as drivers often do not see cyclists riding in the lanes.

It took three years and a mayoral order to even confirm that these U-turns were actually illegal. During this time, many cyclists were struck by drivers, and 12 of Capital Bikeshare's first 14 crashes happened on Pennsylvania Avenue.


Wheel stops on Pennsylvania Avenue. Photo by the author.

After almost two years of experiments with tools like "zebras," the District Department of Transportation started lining the lanes with rubber curb stops. At Bike to Work Day in May, officials announced plans to install them all the way from 3rd Street NW to 13th Street NW.

But curiously, that announcement omitted the two westernmost blocks, from 13th Street NW to 15th Street NW. DDOT spokesperson Keith St. Clair said in an earlier statement to Greater Greater Washington, "In the immediate future, DDOT will not be installing the park-its between 13th and 15th streets, NW, on Pennsylvania Avenue. The agency still needs to analyze those blocks along with several mitigating factors that it must take into consideration."

Are politicians one "mitigating factor"? Along that stretch is the John A. Wilson Building, which houses the executive and legislative offices of the District of Columbia government. Councilmembers park in front of the Wilson Building, and many make U-turns to either get to the parking space or leave.

I reached out to all 13 members of the DC Council for comment. Here's the scorecard.


Top from left to right: Vincent Orange, Elissa Silverman, David Grosso, LaRuby May, Brianne Nadeau, Brandon Todd, Anita Bonds, Charles Allen. Bottom from left to right: Yvette Alexander, Jack Evans, Chairman Phil Mendelson, Kenyan McDuffie, Mary Cheh.
Green circles denote members who stated they support barriers, question marks show members who did not reply, and X's show those who made negative statements. Image by Greater Greater Washington from base image by the DC Council.

I got supportive comments from at-large councilmembers Anita Bonds, David Grosso, and Elissa Silverman, and ward members Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Jack Evans (Ward 2), Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Brandon Todd (Ward 4), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Charles Allen (Ward 6), and LaRuby May (Ward 8).

I got no response from Chairman Phil Mendelson or at-large member Vincent Orange.

Ward 7 representative Yvette Alexander's office did not reply to my request for comment, but I had the opportunity to speak with her during a recent rally in support of adding barriers to the rest of the bikeway.

At first she equated cycling with lawbreaking, complaining that bicycles need to get off sidewalks and follow the same laws that apply to drivers. I explained that better bike lanes means more people will use them and follow the laws, a statement which she found funny for some reason. She then complained that the demonstrators were blocking the U-turn she wanted to make that day.

Update: Yvette Alexander says on Twitter that yes, she does in fact support barriers for the Pennsylvania Avenue bikeway. She has not yet responded to GGW's request for clarification that she supports barriers specifically between 13th and 15th Streets.
Below are the full comments from each councilmember's office who responded.

Anita Bonds (At Large): "Councilmember Bonds supports the completion throughout PA Avenue. Additionally, she prefers the usage of 'sticks' as she calls them to create a visible barrier on as many bike lanes possible throughout the city."

David Grosso (At Large): "As you know, Councilmember Grosso joined the protest a few weeks ago on the 1300 block of Pennsylvania regarding protected bike lanes on that block and the 1400 block. The Councilmember is very supportive of increasing DC's bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, including moving forward as quickly as possible on planning that has already been done. Grosso [has met] with DDOT director Dormsjo to discuss these issues more in-depth. And he has been biking to work on a regular basis, which gives him a firsthand look at the issues facing bicyclists in DC."

Elissa Silverman (At Large): "I support extending the existing wheel stops through 15th Street. They are in place to protect both cyclists and car drivers. I biked to work on Pennsylvania Avenue this morning, and I was behind a mom commuting with her toddler in a seat on the front handlebars. As we encourage people to get out of their cars and use alternate transportation—walking, biking, subway, bus, even Segway—we need to keep everyone safe. Installing the wheels stops between 13th and 15th will do that. And, by the way, I also drive that route—and when I park in front of the Wilson Building I make a left turn at the light and drive around it to get back on Pennsylvania. It does take an extra minute or two—and I've been late to a meeting to do it!—but it is worth the time."

Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1): "Councilmember Nadeau is a strong supporter of building more protected bike lanes throughout the District, including along this section of Pennsylvania Ave where it's especially important to prevent illegal U turns. She is currently working with WABA on a letter to DDOT requesting the prioritization of several protected bike lane projects in Ward 1, and also secured a commitment from the Director of the DMV to provide drivers with information about bike lanes. Recently, she also joined Bike Ambassadors in Columbia Heights and participated in Bike to Work Day."

Jack Evans (Ward 2): "Councilmember Evans supports protecting the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack between 13th and 14th."

Mary Cheh (Ward 3): "The Councilmember feels that as long as safety equipment isn't affected, the curbs should be added now."

Brandon Todd (Ward 4): "Councilmember Todd fully supports improving bicycle safety along Pennsylvania Avenue, including adding curbs wherever necessary along the bike path. He would like to see those safety improvements implemented as quickly as possible, especially in those areas where bicyclists are particularly vulnerable and currently unprotected."

Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5): "Councilmember McDuffie is in support of installing curbs between 15th and 13th streets on Pennsylvania Ave."

Charles Allen (Ward 6): "The Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack is an important east-west connective link in the District's bicycle infrastructure. Protecting these bike lanes with parking curbs, while not a perfect solution to dangerous illegal U-turns, is an important means of improving safety for cyclists. Leaving two blocks unprotected is, frankly, baffling and unacceptable. A physical barrier to deter illegal U-turns is needed the full length of the corridor."

LaRuby May (Ward 8): "Councilmember May absolutely supports protecting the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack between 13th and 14th and is a strong supporter of more protected bike lanes in Ward 8 and across the District."

We will update this post if other councilmembers respond with comments.

Update: Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), LaRuby May (Ward 8), and Yvette Alexander (Ward 7) followed up soon after this article was published to state their support for protecting the Pennsylvania Avenue lanes. The graphic and post have been updated to reflect their positions.

Public Spaces


The secret park by the White House could be great, if people knew about it

Pershing Park is one of DC's most unique and potentially pleasant public spaces. Unfortunately, few people have ever enjoyed it because the park's best elements are hidden behind an uninviting raised embankment.


Pershing Park as seen from Pennsylvania Avenue. Photo by Google.

It's nice on the inside

I like Pershing Park, at Pennsylvania and 15th Street NW. I wish it worked better.

The inside of the park is a terraced wetland garden that, when it's in good condition, is absolutely lovely.


The pleasant interior. Photo by pcouture on Flickr.

There are ample shady seats, a duck pond to dip your feet in, and climbable concrete terraces that make the park feel like an adult-size jungle gym.

It's fun, and pretty, and unlike anything else in DC.

Or at least, it was fun and pretty a few years ago. The park has fallen into disrepair lately. The pond is dry. Orange cones litter the open plaza. It's abandoned and depressing.

Part of Pershing Park's problems are simply neglect. Better maintenance could fix the pond and the concrete.

But there's one big problem, and it may well be unfixable.

People can't see it

Most people don't know the park is there. You can't see it from the street. From three sides, the only thing visible is a grassy embankment straight out of a suburban McDonalds parking lot. The fourth side is literally a parking lot.


Pershing Park from above. Image from Google.

Good urban parks draw pedestrians in from the surrounding sidewalk. When you're standing outside Dupont Circle, you can see and hear interesting things happening inside the park there. The activity and people inside Dupont make you want to enter it yourself.

Pershing Park is the absolute opposite. It's plain and boring from the sidewalk. There are interesting things there, but you can't see them so they don't draw you in.

Most people just ignore it; the park blends into the background and they don't give it a second thought.

Those who do look closely see a bunker, a hostile sloping hill with few entry points. From busy Pennsylvania Avenue, Pershing Park more closely resembles an 18th Century military stockade than an inviting civic space.

Until that problem is solved, Pershing will never be a good park, no matter how pleasant it is on the inside. Until that's solved, Pershing will always be an afterthought.

Let's fix it

What to do with Pershing Park is increasingly becoming a hot-button issue. One group wants to redevelop it as a national World War I memorial. Kriston Capps at CityLab takes a preservationist bent and says we should restore it.

Either way, the park is falling apart and needs work.

Would it be possible to save the pleasant interior and radically change the bunker exterior? Maybe, maybe not. The park occupies sloping terrain that any design will have to work around. Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid a retaining wall somewhere. At least not if we want to keep the terraces.

But retaining walls don't have to be so plain or uninviting. There are better examples elsewhere in the city.

It would be a shame to lose such a unique space. If designers can find a way to restore Pershing Park's terraces and pond while altering the park's exterior to be more inviting, that would be an ideal solution.

But if not, tear the sucker out. A downtown park that nobody uses isn't a useful downtown park.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


Bollards shape bicycle tracks in the snow

Snow is not just fun or a chore to shovel, but also a planning tool in the way it visually reveals the paths people take as they walk, bike, or drive. Jeff Miller captured this fascinating photograph of how bicyclists' many paths converge on a few points as they pass through the bollards on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House.


Photo by Jeff Miller on Twitter.

Bicycling


"Park-Its" now protect the Pennsylvania Avenue bikeway

As of last week, rubber parking stops called "Park-Its" now protect a half block segment of the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, between 9th and 10th Streets NW.


Photo by the author.

The Park-Its are supposed to protect cyclists from drivers making illegal U-turns across Pennsylvania Avenue's bike lanes, which are in the middle of the road.

DDOT crews installed the first Park-Its last week. Workers will add more in the coming days, until Park-Its line the bikeway for the two block stretch from 9th to 11th.

Full installation of Park-Its all along Pennsylvania Avenue could eventually happen, but for now DDOT hopes to determine if this initial installation works. According to DDOT's Darren Buck, the Park-Its on 1st Street NE sometimes pull up out of the pavement.

Park-Its succeed the zebras that DDOT installed in 2013, but which proved only partially effective. For now, the zebras between 12th and 13th Streets will remain in place.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Pedestrians


Around Potomac Avenue Metro, an oval, a square, or a triangle

The intersection around Potomac Avenue Metrorail station needs to accommodate pedestrians, almost a dozen bus routes, heavy traffic, cyclists, and more. DDOT is proposing three options for redesigning this intersection and creating a usable park in the center.


The Ellipse Park design. Rendering from DDOT.

Since 2006, several proposals have emerged for modernizing the Pennsylvania and Potomac intersection, an increasingly important transit hub for Wards 6, 7 and 8. It's a particularly tricky spot because while there's a high demand for walking through the intersection, the current design does not prioritize pedestrians. In addition, the intersection is home to a Metrorail station and multiple bus stops, which necessitates designing for bus turning radii and transfers between buses and Metro.

Three designs for the intersection, and what they have in common

The three design options DDOT is considering are a Triangle Park, Rectangle Park, and Ellipse Park. Each shares the goals of prioritizing pedestrian safety and creating a usable park space in the median of Pennsylvania.

While pedestrians are supposed to cross at the intersection, the "desire line" through the median makes it clear that pedestrians are crossing mid-block, which is unsafe. Recognizing pedestrians' preferred path, all three proposals include adding a signalized intersection to allow pedestrians to cross through the median.


The existing intersection Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenues. Photo from Google Maps.

Of the three designs, the Ellipse Park is the best fit for Pennsylvania and Potomac's array of needs.


The Triangle Park design. Rendering from DDOT.

The Ellipse Park is the best of the three designs

For starters, if a park is going to be inviting it needs to have enough large space to feel distinct from the road median. The Ellipse Park would create more green space than the other two options—34,300 square feet, to be exact. The Triangle Park would only create 25,000 square feet of space, and by wedging grassy areas between traffic lanes, it wouldn't be much better than what's there now. And the Rectangle Park, while more unified, would create only 500 more square feet than the Triangle Park.

The Ellipse Park is the only proposal that would reduce the number of bus stops from five to four, which would cut down on pedestrians dashing from the Metro or a different bus stop to catch a bus. The Triangle design creates a situation where people transferring from 30s buses to the Metro would need to cross more roads than in the other designs, and while the Rectangle Park wouldn't have this problem, it doesn't have the Ellipse's pedestrian refuge for people walking south across Pennsylvania.

Finally, both the Ellipse and Rectangle parks would reduce the number of lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue, currently at four in each direction, down to three. The Ellipse Park, however, has curb extensions, which gives the appearance of less roadway than Rectangle Park.


The Rectangle Park design. Rendering from DDOT.

Whichever design wins out certainly won't be without its challenges. The National Park Services, the agency that would be responsible for maintaining them, has a mixed record when it comes to caring for these kinds of small civic spaces, which is cause for concern when it comes to both the Ellipse and Rectangle parks' proposed tree linings that would serve as buffers between park visitors and passing automobiles.

As the area around Pennsylvania and Potomac continues to grow, new and current residents alike deserve transportation design that enhances their safety and convenience. The proposed Ellipse Park is the best way to go because it will create the most park space and make bus-to-rail travel easiest in addition to reducing car lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Public Spaces


What parts of the Washington region do you think are Great Places?

The American Planning Association just named Adams Morgan and Pennsylvania Avenue to its list of "Great Places in America." If you were choosing their list, what places would you pick? They would like to know.


Photo by tedeytan on Flickr.

A variety of factors makes a place great. The best places are visually stimulating, are vibrant gathering places, and accommodate many different people doing different things. They are economic stimuli for communities and encourage personal contact. They also reflect of the culture of their communities.

Pennsylvania Avenue made this year's list of Great Streets for its "mix of civic spaces, public buildings, monuments, parks, local government, residences, hotels, theaters, and museums," and its role hosting "historic events such as presidential inaugurations, state funerals, and protests, marches, and celebrations."


Photo by Khaz on Flickr.

Adams Morgan is on the list of Great Neighborhoods for its "colorful storefronts and iconic rowhouses, ... community murals, ... international shops, restaurants, annual festivals, weekly farmers markets, and nightlife." Also, its 2012 streetscape project "improved the streets for pedestrians and added bicycle lanes, Capital Bikeshare stations, and bike racks" along with the Circulator and Metro.

APA's annual lists of ten Great Streets, ten Great Neighborhoods, and ten Great Public Spaces always generate discussion and controversy. So this year, the association is doing something a little different by asking you to suggest your own great places.

What places would you nominate? Please tell us in the comments and we will share the list with APA. You can also tweet or Instagram your nomination using the tag #MyGreatPlace.

Government


"No way." "Absolutely not." Residents react to the Secret Service's idea to restrict more area around the White House

A dangerous man managed to jump the White House fence, run across the lawn, and even get in an unlocked door before being caught on Friday. The Secret Service, with egg on its face, has suggested a few ways to beef up security, including searching anyone even walking on Pennsylvania Avenue.


Photo by JeromeG111 on Flickr.

Many bloggers and just about every Washington Post columnist weighed in on this idea. And unlike with most issues in Washington, they spoke with a unified voice: "No way."

Unfortunately, this is one area in which residents (and columnists) have virtually no say. Still, we can all hope that the sharp rebukes from the pen convince someone at the White House to think twice before further damaging the public realm in a desperate quest to fix what was clearly a failure inside the existing perimeter and inside the Secret Service itself.

Petula Dvorak points out that the Secret Service screwed up, by not following its own procedures which could have stopped this threat.

The big danger, as Dvorak explains, is that people whose sole job is to think about security naturally will gravitate toward the most restrictive security measures. It's up to other people with a broader view to say no.

The security gurus think they might want to keep people off the sidewalks around the nation's most famous residence. Or maybe screen tourists a block away from the White House. They want to Anschluss even more public space to expand The Perimeter around 1600 Pennsylvania, amping up the fear and paranoia that already pervade the heart of our nation.

Given their druthers, of course, the security mafia would close downtown Washington entirely. Tourists could watch a slick "Inside the White House" video clip (in HD) at Reagan National Airport and pose in front of a cardboard cutout of the White House. Same thing for the Capitol and the Supreme Court.

The Capitol and Supreme Court are two other buildings where public access has diminished greatly in recent years, as Phillip Kennicott notes:
The closure of the front doors of the Supreme Court greatly confuses the architectural experience of the building, especially the short axis between the entrance and the courtroom itself—a powerful enactment of our right to appeal unjust laws to the judiciary.

The closure of the West Terrace of the Capitol denies residents and visitors the most accessible and dramatic view of Pierre L'Enfant's basic plan of the city, its axial relation between the legal and executive branch, the monumental dramatization of the Civil War and reunification, and the passion for civil rights embodied in the Mall.

Dana Milbank explains that one likely cause of the Secret Service's mistakes was budget cuts which have left the agency understaffed to carry out its vital mission.

Milbank also criticizes White House spokespeople for saying they're leaving the decision about what to do entirely up to the Secret Service. Decisions about First Amendment rights, public space, and the image our country projects to the world should involve more stakeholders.

But the Secret Service, which proposed closing Pennsylvania Avenue in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing, doesn't exist to protect constitutional rights; left to its own devices, it would install an iron dome over the White House. Few would object to discreet changes to boost security. But it's another matter to impose sweeping new restrictions because of the latest in a long line of fence-jumpers. (One earlier this month wore a Pikachu hat and carried a Pokemon doll.)
The Post editorial board agrees:
Surely there is a way to secure the safety of the first family without closing more streets and fencing off more sidewalks. It is not just the convenience of DC residents and visitors that is at stake. It is the character of American government—still meant, the last time we checked, to be of, by and for the people.
[T]he Secret Service always will push for the most restrictive security measures. The District has learned the consequences of this the hard way, as Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street NW have been closed to traffic and once-public spaces have become private parking lots.
Most writers have focused, understandably, on the broader meaning of a closure for democracy. The White House is such a symbol of that democracy and of America's openness. Still, Pennsylvania Avenue and the other roads around Lafayette Park also serve other mobility purposes despite being closed to motor vehicles.

The 15th Street cycletrack runs along Jackson Place and Pennsylvania, and Penn is a great east-west path for cycling that avoids other congested east-west roads. Checkpoints would essentially shut down these uses as well.

Aaron Wiener gives the local point of view:

District residents have a different kind of concern, one that's both more pedestrian and more fundamental: It's annoying when federal government concerns make it harder for them to walk around their town.

Downtown office workers accustomed to strolling to M.E. Swing for a cup of coffee that doesn't say "Starbucks" or "Peet's" could find themselves needing to take a lengthy detour or else face lines and bag checks en route. Same with people working west of the White House who commute on the 14th Street bus.

Do these inconveniences compare with a safety threat to the president? Of course not. But they do give Washingtonians who may already feel shut out by the government a sense that their city isn't truly theirs.

Tim Krepp, a candidate for Delegate to the US House of Representatives in November's general election, talked about both the national and local issues:
I'm not blind to the security threat. I once was my ship's Force Protection Officer in the Navy and was responsible for coordinating our physical security when in port. It's a difficult and demanding job, where success is measured by the absence of failure. I'm sympathetic to those who are responsible for security on a level several orders of magnitude greater that I had to handle.

There are however practical issues for the District at stake here. Pennsylvania Avenue is a major east-west route for commuting cyclists, and a bag check would add a significant delay between downtown and Foggy Bottom ... For tour groups, there is a limited amount of motor coach drop off/pick up space, so any bag check or further delay on to what is a simple photo-op stop would add to the already not-insignificant problem of coaches circling around downtown, waiting to pick up their group.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the incumbent delegate, also said in a statement, "It is important to keep Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House and the surrounding area, including Lafayette Park, Pennsylvania Avenue, 17th Street and 15th Street, as accessible to the public as possible." She also pointed out that she opposed permanently closing Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street to traffic.

Krepp goes on to sum it up nicely:

We have to look at [these proposals] comprehensively, to take stock of what it means to be America's capital. Do we want to stand with courage and openness or do we give in to fear? If elected, I want to push to do exactly that, to bring our dozens of law enforcement agencies to the table to rethink some of the decisions we've made to "secure" the capital. But for now, on the issue of requiring bag checks or otherwise infringing on the public space of Pennsylvania Avenue, I'll just say this: no.

Absolutely not.

On this, it seems, we all agree—with the possible exception of the only people who will actually decide.

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.

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