Posts about Rock Creek
Tom from Ghosts of DC found an 1886 Post article about a plan to put Rock Creek in a tunnel from about M Street to just north of R Street, fill in the ravine, and create city blocks between Georgetown and Dupont.
Proponents estimated it would create 50 "squares" (generally city blocks) of space, for a cost of about $600,000 to $650,000, or about $15-16 million in today's dollars.
By keeping Rock Creek, DC has not only a surface waterway but a number of park spaces on the banks, such as Rose Park. Unfortunately, a different plan ultimately greatly marred the creek: Rock Creek Parkway, which dominates this section of the creek valley.
At any spot, someone trying to enjoy the edge parks or trail has to contend with a large freeway creating most of the noise and taking up much of the ravine floor. National Park Service management practice in this part of Rock Creek prioritizes motor vehicle traffic over any other user. Features in the park, like signs that tell trail users to yield to cars when crossing the on- and off-ramps, further make clear that nature and recreation come last here.
Here is the map from the article:
Tom also has an excerpt from the story:
"From what I have seen in the papers," said Capt. Symonds, when asked by a POST reporter for his opinion regarding the cost and practicability of the proposed Rock Creek tunnel, "I should consider it a perfectly practicable and feasible scheme, and I should think that the benefits resulting would fully justify the outlay necessary."
"How long would be the tunnel?"
"From the location as described it would require a tunnel about 2,000 feet long with some open cut work at the ends."
"What would be the cost?"
"Its cost would depend largely on the nature of the rock encountered. It would probably be necessary to arch it over throughout its length and if the excavated rock were suitable in quality it could be used for this purpose. In this case I should estimate the cost of the tunnel, with a sufficient water-way for all floods, to be about $250 per lineal foot. This would make the 2,000 feet of tunnel cost $500,000. Another $100,000 would cover all the open work at the ends, and all engineering expenses, etc. If it was found necessary to use brick for arching the cost would be about $50,000 more. This would make the cost from $600,000 to $650,000, which I believe would cover all expenses for the work proper without including any question of right of way. The excavated material would be used for arching in the form of rubble masonry, not in the form of concrete. The bed of the creek could not be used for a dumping ground. It could not be filled up directly with the excavated material, for it would have to be kept open for the passage of water until the tunnel was completed.
"It is not at all improbably," continued Capt. Symonds, "that a sufficient amount of good material would be excavated to arch the creek over from the lower terminus of the tunnel to the outlet of the canal. In this way the improvement could be made more far-reaching and beneficial. The creek would be blotted out of sight from Lyons' Mill to the mouth of the canal. I should think that the best use for the excavated material, beyond that used for curbing the tunnel, would be in building embankments across the valley of the creek connecting the streets of Washington and Georgetown, thus doing away with bridges and uniting the two cities. The spaces between the embankments could gradually be filled in. If properly managed it would be a splendid improvement.
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.
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.
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.
The badly deteriorated Broad Branch Road in northwest Washington could become a more complete street that will accommodate pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers, as part of a much-needed restoration.
Winding west from Rock Creek to Chevy Chase, the 2-mile-long route does double duty for recreation and commuting. It's necessary link between upper northwest's neighborhoods, Rock Creek Park, and downtown.
Originally a market road for local farmers, most of its current infrastructure dates to the early 20th century. Patchwork fixes have only staved off a century of deterioration. Flooding has undermined the road's substructure, most dramatically in 2011, when the bridge over Soapstone Creek collapsed. Since it needs to replace the roadbed anyway, DDOT has taken the opportunity to update the design for modern uses.
Three constituencies use the road regularly: motorists, cyclists, and joggers. The first has no real difficulty using the road, but the road and its bridges were built for smaller cars going slower. The road, after all, was originally a market path for local farmers.
Cyclists can use the road, but they have to keep to a quick pace. It's not suitable for children, deterring families from using their neighborhood parkland. Finally, there are no real facilities for joggers, let alone walkers, but they have to skirt the roadway to access Soapstone Valley, which feeds Broad Branch.
That means that currently, the Broad Branch only optimally serves motorists, mostly during rush hour. Early community outreach has produced 4 options for an Environmental Assessment. Beyond the no-action alternative, one proposal is to simply rebuild the road, altering it to improve safety and reduce the footprint.
A third alternative would add a sidewalk, while the most substantial would include a full-length bike lane in the uphill direction as well as the sidewalk. All rebuilding options would all include stormwater retention gardens and contextually-appropriate safety walls.
Of the alternatives, only the fourth takes advantage of the route's potential. A quiet, wooded route with a low grade is ideal for use by cyclists and pedestrians. For commuters, Alternative 4 is ideal. It includes a 4' bike lane in the uphill direction of traffic, but not one downhill.
Given the narrow right-of-way, this option is the best use of space, because cyclists on Broad Branch can often move with traffic going downhill, but only the most athletic can sustain 25mph uphill for two miles.
Making Broad Branch more convenient for cyclists will open up large swaths of upper northwest to sustainable forms of commuting. Residents won't have to huff and puff up the hills and ridges that make Upper Northwest so exhaustingly "upper." Cycling neighbors could practically coast all the way in via the bike path along Rock Creek and comfortably ride home.
The bike lane and sidewalk will also benefit locals looking for recreation in their own neighborhood. Most of Rock Creek is surrounded by steep escarpments that make access to it difficult and dangerous for residents on either end of the age spectrum. A paved sidewalk on the easy slope of Broad Branch will increase accessibility dramatically for a wide range of abilities. The valley itself would also be more usable to residents, making it more of an amenity than it currently is.
A criticism of alternative 4 is that it encroaches on the streambed and increases the amount of paving along the road. These issues should be addressed with design elements that reduce runoff. Signage at the rain gardens, as well as other sites of interest would provide an opportunity for interpretation of the park, history, and the impact of urbanization. More importantly, by making alternative modes of commuting more convenient, a complete Broad Branch road would reduce automobile pollution.
To make the most impact this project needs to be part of a larger network. The sidewalk bill is one part of this. Any plans should take into consideration the opportunity to calm traffic and improve safety by adding bike lanes on the unnecessarily wide Nevada Avenue, which is the extension of Broad Branch up a former stream valley. The potential of a Broad Branch that serves all uses should not be passed over.
Because the road needs to be so radically rebuilt, the opportunity to make these changes will not come again for many years. It is important that the road meet the ecologically sensitive needs of the population 50 years from now. Rebuilding it as a car-only route would be a serious mistake.
DDOT is interested in hearing from the public. To make that easy, any comments you post here will automatically also go to the project email address.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is organizing a town hall to talk about National Park Service-controlled parkland in the District of Columbia on October 25. I'll be participating on a panel. What issues or requests should I bring up?
Norton convened a town hall last year after a coalition of parks advocates and other activists, including myself, called attention to inflexible policies at the National Park Service interfering with Capital Bikeshare, the Circulator, farmers' markets, missing playgrounds downtown, and more.
The Park Service had recently gotten a new head of the National Capital region and new superintendents for several of the local park "units." These managers started working better with residents than their predecessors. They made considerable progress on Bikeshare, concession rules, and the Circulator.
That doesn't mean there isn't a lot more to do, and Norton is having another town hall hall on October 25. I'll be speaking on a panel, along with NPS Regional Director Steve Whitesell, Rich Bradley of the Downtown BID, Danielle Pierce of Downtown DC Kids (the group pushing for that playground), and Catherine Nagel of the City Parks Alliance, a national group that supports urban parks.
What should I talk about? Since there is no other person specifically devoted to pedestrian and bicycle issues, I'd like to raise the many ways that despite being parkland, rules make walkers and bikers feel less welcome than drivers.
On the Rock Creek and George Washington parkways, signs at off-ramps tell runners and bike riders they have to yield to cars. This is bizarre, since turning cars yield to pedestrians even on major city and suburban arterial roads; the only place with this kind of rule is a freeway, and that shouldn't be the standard for our roadways in parks, even ones that carry a lot of traffic.
The approaches to the 14th Street Bridge give bike riders really no safe or comfortable route to and from downtown, for instance. There is also no good way to cross the GW Parkway on foot or on a bike around the Memorial Bridge. (This area is actually inside the District's borders, even though it is across the Potomac.)
I hope Rich Bradley will talk about the ways public-private partnerships can better activate our downtown parks. Franklin Square should be a more inviting place to eat lunch, and Farragut host evening concerts. Strict concession contracts limit things like sponsorship of an event, and the food trucks can only operate next to the park because they are on the public street which NPS doesn't control. Yet these types of activities are good for urban parks, not bad.
How about retail on Pennsylvania Avenue? Vendors? Bike parking? Capital Bikeshare stations? The grand avenue of our capital city doesn't have to be barren and boring. Food options on the Mall don't need to be awful, either.
Then there are the memorials. DC's many small triangles and other shapes are reserved for future memorials, and it's appropriate to have sites of national or world importance in the American capital, but that doesn't mean the memorials can't also be successful public spaces, as the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue is.
I'm also concerned about a trend toward more fences in triangle parks, like at 21st and I, to "remedy social paths," or in other words, stop people from walking through the park the way they want to. Better to rearrange the walkways to be in the right places.
The Park Service is doing just that on Washington Circle, showing that they are now open to making parks work better for residents and visitors, people on foot and bicycles as well as in cars. We should hope that Steve Whitesell and his superintendents stick around for a while instead of moving to other parks elsewhere in the nation, so that we can all continue to make progress.
The town hall is Thursday, October 25, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Room 412.
What would you like me to talk about at the panel?
The Republic of the Congo has begun removing its unauthorized paving at the insistence of DDOT and the State Department, and DDOT restored a pedestrian walkway on Irving Street after residents complained. Let's thank our public officials for getting these small but important neighborhood issues fixed.
Over at 16th and Corcoran, the Congo had a deadline of December 17, Saturday, to de-pave the front yard of the Toutorsky Mansion they made their embassy earlier this year. On that day, Dupont Conservancy member Rich Busch took the below right photo of crews removing the concrete.
DDOT sent the Congo and the State Department a letter a month ago, finding that the paving violated DC regulations. That was the basis for the State Department's follow-up letter telling the Congo to take the paving out.
Another successful fix comes from Mount Pleasant, where ANC commissioner Jack McKay alerted us recently to a change that had destroyed the pedestrian walkway along Irving Street. This section, where Irving climbs from Adams Mill Road along the edge of Rock Creek up into the neighborhood, has high-speed traffic and no sidewalk.
...that bit of road is also a vital pedestrian link between a bus stop and the Harvard Towers, a 193-unit DCHA structure housing mostly the aged and the disabled. Being aged and/or disabled, the residents mostly take the bus, and for years walked in the street, into oncoming traffic, to reach this bus stop.Recently, the jersey barrier was moved over, creating a less crash-prone arrangement for the speeding cars but blocking the path for pedestrians.
But in 2006 the Mount Pleasant ANC persuaded DDOT to build a temporary barrier of jersey wall, creating a safe pedestrian passageway to that bus stop. (The ANC also purchased a bench for that bus stop, which DDOT installed so that those folks would no longer have to sit on an uncomfortable guard rail while awaiting the bus.)
Initially there was a series of posts in the street to guide drivers away from that jersey barrier and into the traffic lane. The posts gradually vanished, amputated by careless drivers. That left the jersey wall barrier exposed in the street, with only the post mounting hump remaining to direct cars away from it.
Was this a misguided DDOT crew thinking they were making the road "safer"? We don't know, but after being alerted to the situation, DDOT restored the jersey barriers to their correct spots and added one of the sand-filled crash barrels.
This stretch of road still feels like a highway, and crash barrels are more usually seen on high-speed highways than local streets, but making the roadways in and around Rock Creek Park more hospitable to all modes is a longer-term issue that will involve additional significant changes from both DDOT and the National Park Service. Meanwhile, it's great that residents can at least walk safely to their bus stop.
How does DDOT's Complete Streets policy affect projects? A recent bridge replacement has raised the question of whether DDOT is actually living up to its own policy. In response to criticism, they are removing a sign which prohibited bicycles and pedestrians from the temporary bridge.
In mid-April, the Broad Branch Road bridge over Soapstone Creek collapsed. This received attention from council members Muriel Bowser and Mary Cheh, whose constituents were affected by the closure. In June, it was replaced with a temporary bridge. The permanent bridge is scheduled to be rebuilt and completed in mid-September 2011.
Signage installed at the temporary bridge prohibits cyclists and pedestrians from using the bridge at all. Fortunately, DDOT has agreed to remove the problematic sign. However, the agency's real Complete Streets problem lies not with this project but in the business-as-usual designs of the agency's larger street reconstruction projects.
For many advocates, the prohibition on nonmotorized users at Broad Branch Road was a bad indicator. Bridges are traditionally choke points where bicycle and pedestrian access is critical. Why would DDOT install a facility it considers insufficient to handle bicycles and pedestrians, and then restrict their use entirely?
Because the temporary bridge is a structure DDOT already had available, it came with some restrictions if a temporary facility were to be installed quickly. Most notably, the bridge has a single 13-foot wide lane and no sidewalks. As a result, vehicles traveling on this bidirectional roadway must alternate in order to cross the bridge. Because of these movements and the narrow bridge width, DDOT explained in press releases that it "discourages" cyclists and pedestrians from using the bridge.
The signage installed did more than discourage, however. It entirely prohibited cyclists and pedestrians. In a phone call with us, DDOT representatives explained that the sign was too restrictive and would be removed.
DDOT was under pressure to install a temporary bridge at this location. In order to do so cost-effectively, it had to use a bridge already in its possession. The agency could not responsibly encourage all cyclists and pedestrians on a substandard bridge but did not want to prohibit expert users who needed to use the facility and could do so safely. Hence, the "discourage" policy.
While this policy is not anyone's ideal, it is understandable. This policy seems to abide by the Complete Streets philosophy by allowing access but not encouraging use of a substandard temporary facility. This is only acceptable because the bridge's temporary nature, and political pressure from the adjacent council members will help ensure its final replacement by mid-September.
The Broad Branch Road bridge doesn't violate the Complete Streets policy, but is DDOT following it with its other, more permanent projects? Next, we'll take a look at street reconstruction projects, including some constructed before the policy was issued, and one identified as a "complete street" by DDOT Director Terry Bellamy in his confirmation testimony.
Many DDOT projects do take all road users into account, but not always to the extent they should. In order to be meaningful, DDOT's complete streets policy should have an impact on the agency's projects. It's not yet clear that it has.
The year was 1979. The Iranian Revolution led to oil shortages and long lines at the pump. Maryland Governor Harry Hughes proposed rationing gas. Levittown drivers rioted when gas prices rose to a whopping $1 a gallon. And large numbers of people tried bicycling to work.
Peter Harnik wrote an op-ed in the June 23, 1979 Washington Post about the sudden rise in bicycling:
On Wednesday night, there was another unearthly sound, the noise of thousands of people rummaging through their basements, oiling chains, dusting gearshifts, inflating tires, tightening spokes, looking for locks.
And, like the emergence of some giant strain of locusts, the bikes appeared on Thursday
— Fujis replacing Datsuns, Gitanes replacing Citroens, Raleighs replacing Triumphs, and Sears and Schwinns replacing Fords and Chevys. ...
June 14th was the day Washington had its first glimpse of the future
— and everyone not stuck in a car seemed to be smiling.
Harnik suggested five specific projects that would make cycling safer and more enjoyable in Washington:
- A bike lane, the width of one full car lane, on 15th Street, NW from Florida Avenue to I Street.
- Closing the service lanes on K Street except to bicycles and delivery trucks, like European bike boulevards.
- A bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue from Georgetown to the Sousa Bridge.
- Close Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park and the Arboretum to motor vehicles on Sundays.
- Close the George Washington Parkway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway for two days a year.
How are we doing with those? The 15th Street bike lane is a hugely successful reality, and now goes farther than Harnik proposed, all the way down to Pennsylvania Avenue where it connects to the Pennsylvania Avenue lane.
The Pennsylvania Avenue lane only goes from the White House to the Capitol, plus the part always closed to traffic and usually open to bikes past the White House itself.
K Street remains a heavily car-centric road. The K Street Transitway plan would improve that, but not really for cyclists. Instead, DDOT is proposing cycle tracks on L and M Streets, but those projects haven't moved forward since Gabe Klein took his cycle track enthusiasm to Chicago.
Beach Drive does close to motor vehicles on Sundays. The Arboretum does not. The GW Parkway does become a bike-only road once a year, for Bike DC; the BW Parkway does not.
In summary, DC went above and beyond on one and partway on three. Harnik wrote when he sent along the article, "Not bad, until you realize it's been 32 years!"
Hundreds of volunteers of all ages got wet and dirty on Saturday, April 9, for the annual Rock Creek Extreme Cleanup. The amount and variety of litter that still makes its way into our region's streams is eye-opening, especially in this age of increased environmental awareness.
Each cleanup crew, stationed at one of 57 sites along Rock Creek from Georgetown to upper Montgomery County, collected many bags full of litter that was then collected by either National Park Service or Montgomery County Parks crews. Along with the usual plastic bags, bottles and wrappers, items found included golf balls, a toilet seat, a knife, and several rubber tires.
The event was sponsored by Friends of Rock Creek's Environment (FORCE), a 6-year-old nonprofit that works to protect water quality in the Rock Creek watershed (area in which all rain that falls flows into Rock Creek and its tributaries), which covers much of the District and Montgomery County and is part of the greater Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Along with coordinating hands-on cleaning and maintenance of the creek and its surroundings, including the removal of invasive plant species, FORCE works in the political arena for policies to curb the less visible forms of water pollution caused by a variety of human activities, and encourage "river smart" home and landscape designs that minimize stormwater runoff.
FORCE is one of several water quality protection organizations serving greater Washington. Others are the Anacostia Watershed Society, Potomac Riverkeeper, Friends of Sligo Creek, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. All are deserving of your support, as polluted local waters come back to bite us in many ways.
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