Greater Greater Washington

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Public Spaces


Captain America obliterates Rosslyn and Roosevelt Island

If you're like me, then you're probably pretty excited for the next Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, coming out in April. Set in a reimagined DC, the film has a very different vision of Arlington's waterfront:


Helicarriers in the Potomac. Screencap by Rob Bricken on i09.

One of the things that piqued my interest was that S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Helicarriers, or flying aircraft carriers, are supposedly manufactured and stored underneath the Potomac right where the Orange and Blue Line tunnels are. That would certainly explain some of the delays on my daily commute!

Science fiction blog io9 screencapped an entire trailer of the film, giving us a better look at what that facility looks like. Above is an overhead shot of the Helicarrier facility.

In the film, the Georgetown side of the Potomac looks much the same, but the Arlington side looks very different. It looks like the Helicarrier facility has replaced part or all of Roosevelt Island, whose worth as a park and nature preserve is apparently less valuable than our need to have flying ships that can be blown up by demi-gods, possessed archers, and Hulks.

The Rosslyn skyline is missing, as well as I-66 and the George Washington Parkway which have been replaced with shorter office buildings. But maybe those were just moved underground. It's clear that at least one high-rise remains in Arlington, as we see Robert Redford's character looking out of his office window towards the National Mall.


Looking out across the Potomac. Screencap by Rob Bricken.

At least fans of DC's height limit can look forward to this film, unlike the disappointment they probably felt at the end of Terminator 2.

Public Spaces


Besides Metro and a gondola, plan lays out many ways to burnish Georgetown

Georgetown used to be DC's premier shopping district, but development downtown and in other neighborhoods, coupled with the lack of a Metro station, have made it lose some of its luster. A new "Georgetown 2028" plan lays out strategies to spruce up the neighborhood's commercial areas.


All images from Georgetown 2028 plan unless otherwise noted.

The Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID) worked with community groups, residents, the university, and the city to reach consensus on proposals. That gives the plan a lot more chance of becoming reality, but it does also mean that in several key areas it just calls for more studies where there wasn't consensus.

The neighborhood stands solidly behind getting a Metro station, if it can. The plan also suggests studies for an aerial gondola to Rosslyn, an idea that initially seems kind of far-fetched, but is also intriguing. Supporters like BID Executive Director Joe Sternlieb are confident it is a more cost-effective way to move a lot of people; it'll be interesting to see a more detailed analysis when one is ready.

There's also a suggestion to build a pedestrian and bicycle bridge from the waterfront to Roosevelt Island, and then on to Virginia.

Most of the proposals in the plan are smaller aesthetic improvements that can polish up what's already there. If and when a streetcar comes to K Street, that street will need a lot of facelift elements to make it feel more like a gateway to the neighborhood as opposed to a back alley.

To better connect K to the main strip on M, the plan suggests studying a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the C&O Canal west of 33rd Street, and redesigning the one at 33rd, as well as improving other connections. The idea is to integrate K and M and the blocks in between as an integrated district, says Topher Mathews, a Greater Greater Washington contributor and board member of the Citizens' Association of Georgetown who participated in developing the plan.

More buildings south of M could have ground-floor retail, especially once there will be much more foot traffic along those streets between M and the streetcar on K. Where retail isn't possible, maybe there can be public art and seating:

Improve connections west, east, and south

The plan talks about ways to better connect Georgetown University to the neighborhood. One is a simpler pedestrian connection to M Street, perhaps passing through buildings like the Car Barn or new buildings like one that could replace the gas station at the foot of the Key Bridge.

In the longer term, it calls for a study about how to connect the streetcar to the university. But if the streetcar is down on K/Water Street, that probably means some kind of tunnel under the mountain. If there's a way to get the money for it, that could then bring the streetcar even across the university and up to neighborhoods to the north, but tunnels are not cheap.

On the eastern side of the neighborhood, Rock Creek Parkway and the ramps to and from the Whitehurst create a formidable barrier for anyone not in a car (and sometimes even in one) between Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.

Suggestions in the plan include a clear and comfortable pedestrian route to and from the Foggy Bottom Metro station, and a better bicycle connection between the Capital Crescent Trail and Rock Creek Parkway trail. For drivers, there's a suggestion to let the off-ramp from southbound Rock Creek become a reversible ramp for northbound traffic in the afternoon peak, when Rock Creek Parkway is one-way.

And lots more

The C&O Canal is a real jewel, but limited NPS resources and restrictive rules mean people don't have many chances to enjoy it. One section of the plan talks about enlivening the canal, but at this point there aren't many details. Rather, it calls for a "multi-stakeholder" process to figure out how to better use the canal.

And how about real-time information? The Georgetown BID is working with TransitScreen, the company Matt Caywood founded to commercialize the open source screens Eric Fidler built on a fellowship for Arlington's Mobility Lab. (Disclosure: I was involved in managing the Mobility Lab project as well.)

The plan suggests piloting and then expanding screens in shop windows, as well as real-time signs or screens to give information about parking availability. (That's assuming, of course, the BID can work out something acceptable to the historic review boards.)


Concept for Georgetown transit screen from TransitScreen.

What's not in the plan: better parking management and wider sidewalks

However, also notable is the absence of some of the more significant ways to improve Georgetown, but which are also controversial. As is often the case, it mostly comes down in some way to parking.

The sidewalks on M Street are far too narrow for the volume of pedestrians along there. Yet a lane on each side serves as parking, even though only a very small number of cars can park along M and bring only a very tiny minority of shoppers.


Photo by Christopher Chan on Flickr.

Working groups for the plan explored widening sidewalks, but there wasn't enough consensus among people in the neighborhood to reallocate the tight space among pedestrians, rush hour driving, parking, and more. Some argued that the narrow sidewalks were even a historic feature of the neighborhood that had to be preserved as is.

The plan alludes to this dissent, with statements like, "Proposals for permanent sidewalk widening on principal corridors have raised concerns over the potential impact on Georgetown's already heavy traffic congestion. Any sidewalk widening efforts should focus on creating space where, and when, it is most needed."

Instead of recommending any widenings, the plan more vaguely suggests trying some pilot projects on weekends to temporarily widen sidewalks when traffic is low, and to put "parklets" on some side streets. Perhaps if those succeed and residents see the sky doesn't fall, they can become permanent on weekends, or even permanent at all times.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

One reason some fear losing the parking on M is that shoppers headed for M often circle nearby streets to look for free 2-hour (or, on Sundays, all-day) parking. The private lots are fairly expensive, while the streets are free. However, a few spaces on M won't really change this dynamic: the simple fact is that all of those meter spaces are almost always full, and free parking is really appealing compared to pay garages.

I personally have spent 15 minutes or more driving around the blocks near M to find a free space when none of the meters was available and my wife and I needed to do some quick shopping. The problem is that most of the garages, like many around the city, are something like $9 for the first hour and $15 for 2 hours or all day; it's one thing if you're going to stay a long time, but for a 1½ hour shopping trip it seems exorbitant.

Plus, there's always the chance of getting a free space just around the corner. When you first arrive, you might as well drive around to see if there's a space. Once you've been at it a while, it psychologically seems even more silly to give up on spending all that time and go pay the same amount you'd have paid from the start in a garage. Any minute you might find something (and, eventually, you do!)

A simple solution to this is to require drivers who aren't Georgetown residents to pay for curbside parking on residential blocks using the pay-by-phone system. The rate can be lower than the garages for short term parking but high enough to push longer-term parkers to the garages. At the very least it would generate money that could help pay for some of the elements of this plan.

DDOT parking manager Angelo Rao convened some meetings last year to talk about this possibility, which had support from advocates and some ANC commissioners, but they encountered significant opposition from a number of residents. Rao is now no longer at the agency, and many neighborhood leaders have now abandoned efforts to allow paying for parking on residential streets, according to contributor Ken Archer, who participated in the working groups. Mathews notes, however, that other parking ideas might still gain consensus.

A Metro station would be great, but it's a long way off and may never happen. In the meantime, there are ways Georgetown can better use its street space that balance the needs of all road users, but that will mean making some changes that aren't popular with everybody.

Public Spaces


Green jobs should be part of Clean Rivers

DC residents and business owners are footing the bill to fix the city's outdated stormwater infrastructure. Let's get green jobs in the bargain.

Stormwater runoff is a byproduct of our developing city. We've turned much of our land into paved streets, parking lots, sidewalks and rooftops; when it rains, millions of gallons of water rush into our antiquated storm-sewer system, which causes flooding and sends untreated sewage and other pollutants into area rivers.

The city entered into a legal agreement with the EPA in 2005 to end sewer overflows into the Potomac, Anacostia, and Rock Creek waterways by 2025. To meet this goal DC Water developed the $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project, which will fix and replace the DC's outdated storm sewer system.

The project is being financed almost exclusively by DC residents, which means that by 2019 the average resident's monthly DC water bill will exceed $100. However, few DC residents are getting jobs as a result of this massive spending.

According to DC Water's most recent employment report, 85 employees on DC Water projects live in North Carolina, more than the 63 employees who live in Wards 7 and 8. It's time to seriously consider how we get the most bang for our collective buck: clean rivers and green jobs.

Reducing and ultimately eliminating sewage overflows into our rivers is the primary focus of the Clean Rivers Project, but it doesn't have to be the only return we see on this massive investment of ratepayer money. With political will and imagination, we could use these billions of dollars to create thousands of living wage green jobs and spur green neighborhood revitalization across the city as well.

Late last year, DC Water entered into a preliminary partnership agreement with the EPA to explore green infrastructure as an alternative to the current big-tunnel approach. Solutions could include rain gardens, green roofs, and pervious pavers, which unlike traditional pavement allows water to filter through to the ground below.

This could create thousands of living wage, career-track jobs digging rain gardens, planting trees and maintaining green roofs. Our initial research suggests that investing $40 million a year in green infrastructure could create more than 300 living wage jobs.

DC Water could divert hundreds of millions of dollars into green infrastructure over the next 12 years. These green jobs would go a long way to dealing with stubborn unemployment numbers in wards 5, 7, and 8 and create new tax revenue for the city.

However, these green jobs won't reach unemployed DC residents unless the leaders at DC Water make it a priority. We need an organized base of ratepayers, job-seekers, businesses and environmentalists holding city leaders accountable for training and preparing unemployed DC workers for these green jobs and holding contractors and DC Water and its contractors accountable for hiring them.

Focusing on green job creation in the Clean Rivers Project will also broaden public support for green infrastructurepublic support that can make sure green infrastructure projects get done. DC Water will inevitably face hurdles navigating DC's maze of local, federal and private land to install hundreds of acres of green infrastructure. They will need long-term city-wide resident buy-in to hold local and federal government and agencies accountable for working together to fund, build, and maintain these projects.

With political will, green infrastructure can be a viable solution to our stormwater problems. Our organization, the Washington Interfaith Network, a local citizen power organization made up of faith, labor and community based organizations, is building a citywide coalition supporting green infrastructure in the Clean Rivers Project. We would like it to include a clear comprehensive plan for green job creation and neighborhood revitalization along with river restoration.

On Earth Day 2013, we will gather 800 neighborhood leaders at Temple Sinai, next to Rock Creek Park, with officials from DC Water and City Council to make public commitments for creating such a plan in the next six months. With $2.6 billion in debt to pay back, we can't afford to do otherwise.

Architecture


Kennedy Center addition tries to connect with the audience

The Kennedy Center yesterday unveiled an expansion plan to build 3 new pavilions, including one in the Potomac River, along with pedestrian bridges across Rock Creek Parkway and to the east. The project would partly alleviate some of the Kennedy Center's 1960s urban design errors.


Rendering from Roosevelt Island

It connects the 1.5 million-square-foot arts center to the river, as its designers originally imagined, and as many have proposed since. The addition will principally house the center's extensive music education classes, although it includes rehearsal space and some smaller performing spaces.

Designed by the office of New York architect Steven Holl, the $100 million plan consists of 3 pavilions. Two rest on top of a 3-story plinth, and the other one sits on a floating platform in the Potomac. Bridges will span Rock Creek Parkway to connect the landside and riverside sections, finally connecting the massive balcony of the Kennedy Center to the ground.


Overhead view showing the three pavilions on a low plinth. Image from Steven Holl Architects.

The plinth is the key to the project, allowing the architects to connect the addition to the new building without degrading Edward Durell Stone's marble box. Holl used a similar scheme to add a large addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. Blending this plinth into the onramps of the Roosevelt Bridge creates the appearance that it is part of the landscape, with small objects on top of it. The plinth is stepped down on the land side, to let light in to the rehearsal spaces and create privacy amid the highway mess.

Down the ramps, the riverside pavilion will house a stage for small performances. Located right on the Rock Creek multi-use trail, it would break up a loud, boring stretch of the trail. Passers-by might find a show to linger at. Parents could bring kids to music classes by bike, then enjoy time to themselves without getting back into cars. Importantly, it connects the project to the Georgetown waterfront, meaning that a night at the opera might be more pedestrian.

It does not, by any means, eliminate the Kennedy Center's isolation, which comes from the I-66 spur that cuts a deadening trench into Foggy Bottom. However, lightly noted in one of Holl's watercolors is a pedestrian bridge to an unspecified destination. This might be the missing piece that would make the expense worth it.

Such a bridge would make the Kennedy Center accessible by foot from both sides. But it would have to be executed as well as the river-side connectors. If the bridge is not kept busy with activity somehow, like the floating pavilion does, it will not be well-used.


Rafael Viñoly's plan to create a public square was cancelled in 2005. Courtesy Rafael Viñoly Architects.

The plan is considerably more modest than the previous expansion plan by Rafael Viñoly, which would have cost $650 million but patched together the urban fabric on E Street. Although this plan does not preclude that more ambitious project in the future, it fulfills some of aims of that design.

Therefore, this plan also opens the site up to more audacious rethinking of the Center's location in the city. For example, replacing the highway to nowhere with a high-capacity boulevard and filling in blocks recovered from the project would reduce the need for a multi-million dollar deck and expensive structural systems.

This new building looks to positively alter the riverbank, aesthetically and functionally. It is a positive step forward that avoids the pitfalls of a grandiose scheme. However Holl's design evolves, by the intended completion in 2018, could be the first phase of rethinking Foggy Bottom as a more human-scale environment and reconnecting DC's arts center to the rest of the city.

Sustainability


See the Chesapeake's rivers as a transit map

Cartographer Daniel Huffman has an amazing series of transit map-style diagrams. Instead of showing ground transportation, though, these show our systems of rivers. The one for the Chesapeake is fascinating.


Southern half (Maryland and below) of Chesapeake diagram. Images by Daniel Huffman.

Geoff Hatchard pointed these out, which mostly date from 2011 and before. There are tons more for all over North and Central America, showing the Hudson, Mississippi, Colorado, systems off the Great Lakes, and many more.

Looking at this, it's striking how little many of us likely know about our rivers. Sure, if you drive or take a train to Philly or NYC you can't help but notice the Susquehanna, and the Potomac forms a major border between states, but other than going over a short bridge and it forming a county boundary, how much do we really notice the Patuxent? For how many is the Rappahannock little more than half the name of a commuter bus agency? Yet these are major features of our geography and our lives depend on our planet's hydrology.

(There are a number of rivers not on the map, notably including the Anacostia, Occoquan, and everything on the east side of the bay.)

Bicycling


14th Street bridge area needs a good bicycle connection

Bicycling to and from the 14th Street bridge on the DC side is not a pleasant experience. Cyclists must choose between harrowing high-speed roadways, too-narrow sidewalks, or long detours. The 14th Street Bridge EIS doesn't address this connection, but it needs to, immediately.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

The Mount Vernon Trail, along the Potomac River in Virginia, has a few faults but it provides a safe and well-used bicycle route. It connects to a bike and pedestrian path on the George Mason bridge (the northernmost of the 3 road bridges) which is 8 feet wide, narrower than what AASHTO recommends. Still, many use this path even though it's adjacent to highway traffic.

In DC, there are some excellent bicycle facilities like the 15th Street bike lane, but it doesn't go any farther south than Pennsylvania Avenue. The Mall is also fairly bicycle-friendly for east-west travel.

The problem is getting from 15th and Pennsylvania, or the Mall, to the Mason Bridge.

Someone riding south on the 15th Street lane has to merge into busy traffic and then cross the Mall either by riding on the sidewalk, which is often quite crowded with tourists and joggers, or in the road, where cars expect to drive fast and not encounter cyclists. The last time David rode there, a DC taxi pulled up right behind and started honking, even though there was another, mostly empty lane it could switch into. It eventually did, honking even more.

It gets worse around Maine Avenue and Ohio Drive, near the Tidal Basin. Not only is the pavement in this area in horrible condition, but those roads are configured like highways with cars speeding along the winding curves. The sidewalks are extremely narrow and packed with pedestrians, especially during warm, sunny weather and in Cherry Blossom season.

The pedestrians deserve to use that space, but what do cyclists do? Riding in the road is only an option for southbound bicyclists, and it's a harrowing experience with the curved yet high-speed roads and drivers traveling very fast.


Bicycle issues near the bridge. Image from Google Maps.

In the other direction, there isn't really a choice. From the path over the Mason Bridge, a cyclist has to ride on the sidewalks around the Tidal Basin, go the long way around west of the Tidal Basin toward the Lincoln Memorial, or take a long detour through East Potomac Park to get to the eastern side Ohio Drive and then head back up through the Maine Avenue area.

From Southwest DC, there's a path along the Case Bridge, which carries I-395 over the Washington Channel, but to get to it you have to navigate across and around highway-style ramps in Banneker Park, then 2 narrow switchbacks which force dismounting.

On the East Potomac Park side, the path turns into a narrow sidewalk along the on-ramp from the Park Police headquarters. Riders have to travel though the NPS parking lot (or go farther out of the way), then ride along the western Ohio Drive past the George Mason Memorial to get to the path.

On the Virginia side, the Mount Vernon Trail connects to many trails, but has no direct connection from the 14th Street bridge area to Pentagon City right across the freeways. Someone riding there has to either head north through Lady Bird Johnson Park and then wind around the Pentagon parking lots, or go south to the airport and then backtrack through Crystal City.

Alternatives improve Virginia connections

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement suggests 3 alternatives. The most ambitious, Alternative 2, proposes a new bridge from western Ohio Drive across the Potomac along side the Long Bridge (the CSX and VRE tracks) and then over the GW Parkway, with access to both the Mount Vernon Trail and Long Bridge Park.

The connection in Virginia seems great, but dumping cyclists in East Potomac Park isn't that useful. It's a little closer to the Case Bridge path, but not much, and getting to downtown or the Mall is worse than today's existing bridge.

The DEIS also contains 2 other, smaller bicycle proposals. Alternative 1 slightly widens and makes some changes to the approaches to the Mason Bridge path on each side, connecting to the Mount Vernon Trail and to the Jefferson Memorial. An earlier version also proposed widening the bike/ped path on the George Mason Bridge, but this bridge widening was removed from the alternative for "technical complexity." The final EIS ought to reconsider this option.

Alternative 3 has two parts. One would create better and more consistent wayfinding signage on both sides of the river. The second part proposes new trail connections to the Pentagon and in Pentagon City.

Around the Pentagon, a new connection would extend the half-built trail under the Humpback Bridge over to Boundary Channel Drive, providing a more direct connection between the 14th Street Bridge and the Pentagon. In Pentagon City, it would create a better bike connection from the north end of Crystal City (12th and Clark) west along Army-Navy Drive, under I-395, and along the south edge of the Pentagon Reservation to Columbia Pike and the Washington Blvd trail.


Proposed trail connections in Virginia. Labels added to base image from the EIS.

DC needs better bike connections as well

The Virginia connections would significantly improve access to the bridges, but there are no comparable bike connections proposed on the DC side of the river. This is the most glaring missing piece in the DEIS. The team should study and propose a better connection to 15th Street.

Drivers have direct connections in all directions here, even having too many ramps to too many roads. Cyclists, meanwhile, have one bad connection southbound from downtown and none at all northbound, and poor and winding connections to other directions.

This isn't just a recreational amenity. Many already use the bridge for commuting. Many more likely would for both commuting and general transportation if there were a clear, direct, and safe connection.

Ideally, we could find a way to extend the 15th Street cycle track from Pennsylvania down through the Mall, then past or through the Maine Avenue/Ohio Drive/East Basin Drive area up to either the Mason Bridge path or a new bridge.

WashCycle suggests extending the new bridge along the railroad tracks across East Potomac Park to the east side, where it's a lot closer to the mainland. Another option is to convert 1 lane on East Basin Drive (the 2-lane road from Maine Avenue to I-395 South and the Jefferson Memorial) into a 2-way bicycle facility up to Maine Avenue, and eventually connect through the Mall to the 15th Street lanes.

What do you think is the best way to create a connection between the Mall and downtown across the Potomac?

History


A river of slime runs under Constitution Avenue

How is Washington, DC like this scene from Ghostbusters 2?

Like the fictionalized residents of New York City in 1989, most present-day Washingtonians are unaware that an unusual river of slime runs beneath their city. (But ours is not paranormal). Here's the story.

Constitution Avenue was once a river

Back when DC was born, water was integral to the development of commerce. Roads were unreliable, and other technologies didn't yet exist. Why else would the city's founders have placed it at the intersection of two swampy, humid, mosquito-filled waterways, the Potomac and the Eastern Branch (now called the Anacostia)?

In fact, Pierre L'Enfant's original 1792 plan for DC shows us that their city was far more watery than the one we know today. If the Washington Monument had been built then, it would have sat on the shores of the Potomac, and the Lincoln Memorial would be underwater. From the foot of Capitol Hill out to the Potomac, there ran a body of water called Tiber Creek (whose name had been changed from Goose Creek when it was decided that DC would become America's capital, because they were emulating Rome).


L'Enfant Plan. Image from Wikipedia.

DC's founders and business leaders believed that the city's economic development would be vastly enhanced if only there was a canal connecting the Anacostia River (navigable to Maryland) to the Potomac (the gateway to the west) through the city. The Washington City Canal, completed in 1815, flowed up north from the Anacostia, passed west of the Capitol Reflecting Pool, and then headed due west along the Tiber River whose path is today's Constitution Ave. In other words, Constitution Avenue was once a river.

The Tiber Creek/Washington City Canal is visible to the north. Photo by Civil-War-Photos.com.

Ever wonder what that random tiny stone house is on the Mall?

In 1828, construction began on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, another dream waterway which would connect commerce up to Pittsburgh and through all areas in between. In the original plans, the C&O system was supposed to end in Georgetown, but that idea made DC leaders nervous. They imagined that the canal would help Georgetown outshine the capital, so they ransomed their $1M investment in the project and had that changed. The C&O would now end at the Washington City Canal.

Thus completed in 1833 and known as the C&O Branch Extension, DC's canal connection into the C&O began at the Rock Creek Basin and followed 27th Street down until it connected into the Washington City Canal at 17th and Constitution Avenues.


Image from the National Park Service.
Someone was going to have to collect the tolls and keep the records, so a Lockkeeper's House was built at 17th and Constitution. Owned today by the National Park Service, the Lockkeeper's House is one of the last reminders that a canal ever flowed through DC.

A small federal style house built of fieldstone and measuring 30 feet wide and 18 feet deep, the Lockkeeper's House originally sat 40 feet west and 10 feet north of its current location, but was moved in the 1930′s to widen 17th Street.

According to some reports, the lockkeeper and his 13 children lived in the building. Otho Swain, a man born on a canal boat in 1901, whose father was a boatman and locktender and whose grandfather helped build the C&O, related this story:

My grandfather, he had boated coal down Constitution Avenue. There used to be a canal that crossed the Potomac there, and there's a little stone house still standing on the corner of 17th and Constitution Avenue. It was a lock house. My grandmother lived in that lock house, and that's where my grandfather met her.

The Lockkeeper's House was given to the National Park Service at the beginning of the 20th century during the construction of Potomac Park. For a time it was used as a "public comfort station", but today NPS uses it as storage.

Decline to slime

Although DC's founders believed that waterways would bring commerce, we know better todayrailroads were the technology of the future. As the rail was developed, the canal system fell into disuse. (Plus, the Washington City Canal had always been a bit of a mess. The water was shallow and so could only handle boats drawing less than 3 feet of water.)

The canal system was completely abandoned by the end of the 1850′s. The C&O Canal only made it as far as Cumberland, MD before it went under. What did DC's residents do with this body of water running through its middle? Throughout the Civil War and after, they turned the Washington City Canal into an open sewer.


Drawing of the sewer in 1894 from SewerHistory.org via the Affordable Housing Institute.

Luckily, when Boss Shepard came into power in the 1870′s, he added this smelly problem to his list of public improvements. A young German immigrant engineer, Adolph Cluss, was enlisted to move the body of water underground. He apparently built a tunnel from Capitol Hill down to the Potomac that is "wide enough for a bus to drive through to put Tiber Creek underground."

A river runs under it

Filling in the canal created B Street, which was subsequently renamed Constitution Avenue. Although the massive undertaking solved public health problems, the federal government apparently did not contemplate the potential engineering dilemmas that might result from building on top of an underground creek/sewer From Wikipedia:

Many of the buildings on the north side of Constitution apparently are built on top of the creek, including the Internal Revenue Service Building, part of which is built on wooden piers sunk into the wet ground along the creek course. The low-lying topography there contributed to the flooding of the National Archives Building (Archives I in Washington, DC), IRS, and Ariel Rios buildings that forced their temporary closure beginning in late June 2006.

In fact, until the mid 1990s, that part of Washington around the intersection of 14th Street and Constitution was an open parking lot because the underground water was too difficult to deal with. During construction of the Ronald Reagan Building (199098), the engineers figured out how to divert the water. But that dewatering then reduced the water level underneath the IRS building which caused the wooden piers to lose stability and part of the IRS building foundation to sink.

More information is in a Northwest Current article from 1997 about reports to the National Capital Planning Commission on the flooding issues, and this photo from BMS CAT shows flooding at the National Archives.

Maybe DC doesn't have real ghosts flowing under our feet, but that doesn't mean we aren't haunted by underground things from the city's past.

Cross-posted at The Location.

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