Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Ward 5


"Dave Thomas Circle" could get fixes or disappear entirely

A new study of pedestrian and bicycle safety along Florida Avenue NE is suggesting changes to the "virtual" traffic circle at New York and Florida Avenues. In the long run, that "circle" and the nearby Wendy's could become a simpler intersection and green space.

The current "circle" and short-term fixes. Images from DDOT. Click to enlarge.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) created the "virtual circle" arrangement as an "interim solution" in 2010 to deal with this difficult intersection. It was very difficult to navigate on foot or bike, and which had seen some very serious crashes.

The circle pattern routes traffic heading eastbound on Florida counter-clockwise along First and O Streets. It got the nickname "Dave Thomas Circle" because that triangle circumnavigates a Wendy's, and to play off the name for Thomas Circle. Wendy's also has many driveways connecting to the surrounding roads, and Eckington Place NE joins the tangle of roads here as well.

Since DDOT set up the "circle," the severity and number of crashes has gone down, said Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT's planning head who is overseeing the study. However, many people find it confusing and it takes up a lot of space.

Once, some suggested an interchange

At the time this pattern was conceived, DDOT studies recommended building a new overpass or tunnel so New York Avenue traffic could bypass the intersection. Some plans suggested extending the I-395 tunnel from its current terminus near 4th Street NW past Florida Avenue.

Image from the 2006 DDOT study.

But a 2006 NCPC study raised concerns about new tunnels or bridges. NCPC worried about how new large-scale auto infrastructure would create an even larger pedestrian barrier in the nascent NoMa neighborhood and between other adjacent areas. Since then, DDOT has largely dropped the idea of tunneling as a solution.

What could replace the circle?

The Florida study proposes some options to simplify the intersection. They would eliminate some turns, delete the block of O Street that's now part of the "circle," and either eliminate the block of First Street or reroute it to connect to Eckington Place NE.

2 options to replace the "circle."

Florida and New York Avenues would get a bit wider to make room for turning lanes instead of the "jughandles" of the old design. Adding this right-of-way would almost certainly mean the city would have to take the Wendy's by eminent domain. But that could make the intersection significantly better for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike.

It would also open up some land for green space or other uses. The National Capital Planning Commission has long envisioned this intersection as a potential future memorial site. In 2001 they named it as one of their top 20 "Prime Sites" in the region in the Memorials and Museums Master Plan.

In addition to the longer-term proposals, later this year DDOT will make minor modifications to tweak how this intersection works. That includes changing which lanes get used for which types of turns, striping bike lanes, and adding new signs.

One change will widen the turn radius at some key spots so that the 90s buses can traverse the circle. When DDOT set up the circle arrangement, Metro discovered its buses couldn't fit, and had to reroute them onto North Capitol Street, adding minutes of extra time for every rider.


Florida Avenue NE and nearby streets could get wider sidewalks and bike lanes

Florida Avenue, NE and other roads in the area could become safer and more comfortable to walk and bike along in the future. The public will get to see several options this week that would widen sidewalks and add bike lanes to key roads.

Photo by Yancey Burns reproduced with permission.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT), along with consultants Kittelson & Associates and Rhodeside & Harwell, has been working with the community for the past 6 months to identify safety issues in this area. Florida Avenue suffers from extremely narrow sidewalks, with less than 2 feet of space directly in front of many homes and across from Gallaudet University. That width doesn't meet ADA guidelines.

Officials have said there is room for wider sidewalks and bike lanes, since the current traffic volume on Florida does not warrant more than 2 motor vehicle lanes in each direction.

Currently, the number of lanes on Florida varies from 2 to 6 within the span of a few blocks. Some of the lanes on Florida are also quite wide, up to 17 feet. DDOT will present projections for traffic up to 2040 and considering upcoming land use changes, to demonstrate that more lanes aren't necessary in the future either.

DDOT will propose four alternatives. All widen sidewalks to varying extents. Plus,

  • Alternatives 1a and 1b widen the sidewalk while keeping 6 lanes for motor vehicles.
  • Alternative 2 adds narrower painted bike lanes along the curb on each side, and creates a center turn lane along with 4 travel lanes.
  • Alternative 3 skips the center turn lane and adds a buffer alongside the bike lanes, to give cyclists some extra distance from fast-moving cars.

Cross-sections for Florida Avenue: Current 1a 1b 2 3
Images from DDOT.

On 6th Street north of Florida Avenue, which separates Gallaudet University from the Florida Avenue Market, the lanes are 22 feet wide, or more than double typical widths. For this segment, there are three options:

  • Wider sidewalks and and painted bike lanes, plus "curb extensions" (also known as "bulb-outs") to shorten the distance pedestrians have to cross (Alternative 1)
  • Wider sidewalks and a cycle track in each direction, plus curb extensions (Alternative 2)
  • A "curbless flex space" along the market side of the road and a two-way cycle track on the Gallaudet side (Alternative 3)

Cross-sections for 6th Street: Current 1a 2 3
Images from DDOT.

The agency also plans to reconstruct 6th Street between K Street and Florida Avenue, NE; West Virginia Avenue NE; and "Dave Thomas Circle," at the intersection of Florida and New York Avenue (which currently has a Wendy's in the center, hence the nickname). DDOT's report will also likely include some safety improvements within the Florida Avenue Market.

Officials will present the proposals at a public meeting Wednesday, April 2, at the Two Rivers PCS Middle School building on 1234 4th Street, NE, at 7 pm. Feedback from this week's meeting will shape the final report, expected later this spring.

The agency has not announced construction dates for any of the projects. Before it can build anything, changes will also have to go into the regional Constrained Long-Range Plan, which according to DDOT planning head Sam Zimbabwe is the reason the agency can't make any temporary changes to try out new configurations and make the road safer in the meantime.


For DC Council in Ward 5: Kenyan McDuffie

When councilmember Kenyan McDuffie was elected two years ago, DC's Ward 5 swung from having one of the city's most corrupt councilmembers to having a widely-respected one. We encourage voters to renominate McDuffie in the April 1 Democratic primary, or in early voting starting March 17.

Image from the candidate website.

McDuffie won the 2012 special election to replace former Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. Thomas resigned and pled guilty to multiple felonies, including diverting public funding for youth baseball to personal expenses such as vacations and an SUV. McDuffie is now seeking his first full 4-year term.

Here's what our contributors wrote about McDuffie:

"Kenyan is easily one of the most progressive-thinking members of the council, in a ward that can often be quite conservative. He has to toe the line between pulling the ward with him and meeting the voters where they currently are sometimes, but he generally threads this needle with aplomb."
"He is a nice guy who has humble beginnings. He can related to young black teens as well as he can developers. He seems to be one of the few councilmembers that wants to do his best to improve DC. He is able to balance the needs of his diverse constituents."

"Kenyan has delivered on his promise in the last electionhe's been a CM with integrity, thoughtfulness, and even in the sort time he's had in office so far, has made a lot of positive moves, both for the ward and for the city."

"Kenyan has done a fine job. He's a champion of ethics and election reform, he has been successful without taking corporate funding, and he's been supportive of redevelopment in Ward 5 that is walkable and transit-accessible and includes affordable housing, including the McMillan Site development."

"I have the utmost respect for McDuffie."

Some contributors expressed concern with some of his stances, like opposing the streetcar maintenance facility at Spingarn High School, as seeming to react to strong sentiment in the ward rather than formulating the best conclusion based on his own analysis and beliefs. On the other hand, on McMillan development, McDuffie has not gone along with the angry hordes.

McDuffie's two challengers have not been consensus-builders in their own communities, and have often been hostile to new residents participating in community dialogue about the future. Steptoe was one of the leading opponents of any development around Brookland Metro, for instance.

We hope voters in Ward 5 (whose neighborhoods include Truxton Circle, Bloomingdale, Stronghold, Edgewood, Eckington, Brentwood, Ivy City, Trinidad, Carver-Langston, Arboretum, Langdon, Gateway, Fort Lincoln, Woodridge, Brookland, Michigan Park, North Michigan Park, and Fort Totten) will renominate Kenyan McDuffie in the Democratic primary on April 1, or in early voting beginning March 17.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement based on the responses in the survey and whether there is a clear consensus.


Florida Avenue shouldn't have to wait for real sidewalks

Florida Avenue, NE is one of the most dangerous roads in DC for all modes of transportation, and a 71-year-old pedestrian was just recently killed trying to cross. Past studies have recommended widening the sidewalks here, but residents likely have to wait even longer for fixes as DDOT embarks on yet another study.

Photograph by John Nelson reproduced with permission.

Gallaudet University, a Metro station, an elementary school, homes and businesses line the 6-lane road. It has very narrow sidewalks which don't meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and no parked cars or street trees to serve as buffers.

This road has seen many deaths over the past few years. Most recently, 71-year-old Ruby Whitfield was killed while walking across Florida Avenue NE in a marked crosswalk. The driver, a 32-year-old Annapolis man, was reportedly drunk and speeding, and fled the scene. MPD quickly apprehended him.

While the section of Florida Avenue from 2nd Street NE to West Virginia Avenue NE is 6 lanes wide, the block where Ms. Whitfield was killed has fewer driving lanes, with relatively wider sidewalks and street trees. The driver had just crossed West Virginia Avenue into this adjacent block.

At a vigil on Florida Avenue a few days after Ms. Whitfield died, Mayor Gray committed to quickly installing a new traffic signal at the intersection with 11th Street NE, and allowing parking at all times on this block to reduce the road to one lane per direction. This might have saved Ms. Whitfield's life, and is a positive first step, but it is not nearly enough.

Photograph by John Nelson reproduced with permission.

The road is not adequate for growing pedestrian usage

Pedestrian traffic has increased significantly in this area as the NoMa area grows and new attractions such as Union Market open. Florida Avenue is also home to Two Rivers Public Charter School and Gallaudet University. The NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station, which opened in 2004 one block from Florida Avenue, has the fastest growth rate of any in the system.

The sidewalks in many areas, especially on the south side of the street, are often only 2 feet wide. Numerous obstructions such as light poles and sign posts reduce the effective width even further. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) repainted some of the crosswalks in 2011, but this is not as helpful as creating actual ADA-compliant sidewalks with proper widths and ramps.

Photos by Yancey Burns.

For the thousands of students, staff, and visitors to Gallaudet University, the narrow sidewalks are particularly hazardous because it's not possible to communicate in sign language while walking single-file down a narrow sidewalk.

Hansel Bauman, the University's Director of Campus Planning & Design (and a resident of the Trinidad neighborhood) has led an initiative called "DeafSpace" to create architectural design guidelines that quantify ways to enhance communication and livability. It is ironic and sad that the main street to campus does not provide for the needs of their community.

The volume of cars traveling on Florida Avenue NE does not justify the current road configuration, particularly because this street is already narrower for most of its length. DDOT & the Office of Planning have written numerous studies and reports over the past few years that recommend reducing the number of travel lanes and installing wider sidewalks on Florida Avenue.

Most recently, the NoMa Neighborhood Access Study & Transportation Management Plan included this project on its "Immediate Action List" for completion within 24 months. That study was published in early 2010, and to date DDOT has not put forth any preliminary plans or come close to starting construction.

Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT Associate Director for Policy, Planning, and Sustainability, said in an email that DDOT is "starting a planning study from New York to West Virginia with the goal of improving safety and operations, and that will explore the ability to reduce the number of travel lanes."

The planning study won't wrap up until the middle of 2014. Then, if funding is available, DDOT could potentially begin design and construction. However, all of this would take several years. Ms. Whitfield's neighbors and friends, and everyone else who uses this street, should not continue to wait.


Streetcar car barn design improves in latest round

The DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) will discuss a new set of designs for the Benning Road streetcar maintenance facility this Thursday. The US Commission on Fine Arts (CFA) already got a look last week.

Aerial view. Top: "Vertical/Civic" option. Bottom: "Horizontal/Podium" option.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) showed earlier concept designs to HPRB and CFA in November. CFA recommended "a more urban and civic condition of a public building," while HPRB wanted it to be as small and unobtrosive as possible.

Therefore, DDOT has developed 2 concepts. One has more vertical architectural elements designed to give the building a "civic" look, while the other has a more horizontal feel dubbed "podium." Both are the same height, but the "horizontal/podium" design sets the 3rd floor back from the front façade, while "vertical/civic" does not.

View from Benning Road. Top: "Vertical/Civic" option. Bottom: "Horizontal/Podium" option.

These designs look much better than the previous ones. Historic Preservation Office staff, in their report, say that the architects have better related the building to Spingarn High School by using a brick veneer, preserving certain sight lines to Spingarn, and creating a border of green space around the perimeter.

It's too bad DDOT wasn't able to locate the building on the nearby RFK parking lots. Streetcar planners should have started pursuing this option with the federal government sooner, but there's no guarantee they ever could have gotten permission; the National Park Service is fairly jealous about keeping "recreational" land free of buildings even if that "recreation" right now is just empty parking space for a stadium.

At the MoveDC kickoff forum, Meg Maguire of the Committee of 100 made the sensible suggestion that DDOT plan locations for other car barns early, so that other communities have more chances to participate in designing them, and so that there's time to work more thoroughly to pursue the most appropriate sites.

26th Street elevation. Top: "Vertical/Civic" option. Bottom: "Horizontal/Podium" option.

HPRB members will be tempted to block the building because they wish it could be elsewhere, but that's not their standard. This building is compatible with the adjacent historic ones and should go forward, though if HPRB members have suggestions to improve the design, it's certainly worth getting the best example of a civic building that's practical to build here.

DDOT is holding a public meeting Tuesday to update the community on the streetcar's progress. It's 6:30-8 pm at Miner Elementary, 601 15th Street, NE.


New ANC 5D selects meeting location that avoids residents

The new ANC 5D, which includes the neighborhoods of Ivy City, Trinidad, Carver Langston, and Gallaudet University, will hold its second monthly meeting next Tuesday at a location outside the ANC's boundaries. Why would the level of DC government closest to the people purposely meet at a place that makes it difficult for residents to attend?

Boundaries of ANC 5D. Image from Office of ANCs, annotated by the author.

When the ANCs were redrawn last year, I was part of the team that created the map for Ward 5 which the DC Council adopted.

We made a serious effort to push for geographically-smaller ANCs than the 3 large ones the ward had previously. One significant reason was to help residents reach meetings without driving long distances. We purposely drew what ultimately became ANC 5D to unite dense, urban, rowhouse neighborhoods in the southeastern part of the ward into a compact commission.

There are multiple community spaces that could house meetings within the ANC: Gallaudet University, churches, two recreation centers, multiple schools, and other locations open to the public. It would be easy to find a place where residents could walk a couple blocks to interact with their elected representatives.

Last month, the newly-seated ANC met for the first time at the Metropolitan Police Department's Fifth District headquarters, on Bladensburg Road in the Arboretum neighborhood. While located outside of the new ANC, this location is within the boundaries of the former ANC 5B, which included all of the new ANC 5D as well as more area to the north (Arboretum, Gateway, Brentwood, Langdon, and part of Brookland).

It made sense to hold the meeting at a familiar location, and I assumed this would be a temporary location until the commission chose a regular meeting space inside the new ANC's boundaries.

Unfortunately, at this meeting, the commission announced they would continue to meet regularly at the police station. They gave spurious reasons:

  • Meetings would be held at the police station because people's emotions run high at these ANC events and it would be good to have the police nearby in case things get out of hand. If this were the case, why don't other ANCs all hold meetings in police stations?
  • There is nowhere in the ANC that could hold the thousands of people who live in the ANC all at once. I have attended ANC meetings for years now, and I've never seen attendance higher than a couple dozen people. As noted above, there are many places in the neighborhoods that could hold ANC meetings.
  • Everyone drives to these meetings anyway, so it doesn't matter if it's far from the homes in the constituent neighborhoods. This is the most facetious reasoning of all. It's a chicken-and-egg situationpeople drive to the meetings now because there's no easier way to get to the meetings. Biking is difficult because the most direct route (Bladensburg Road) is a dangerous six-lane arterial with speeding commuters and a long, steep hill.

    Only one bus route (the B2) runs up to the police station from where most of the population lives, and it doesn't run frequently in the evenings when meetings are held. The end result is that those without cars have multiple reasons to not attend ANC meetings.

    According to the latest Census estimates, approximately 51% of the households in ANC 5D have a car. By holding the meetings in a place where driving an automobile is the most logical way to attend, the ANC is selecting for a certain type of resident, and not receiving the input of at least half of the community.

The ANC did announce that they would hold some meetings inside the commission boundaries at some point, but there's no reason not to hold them all there. They should rescind as soon as possible the decision to hold meetings at the police station. It's the smart, sensible, democratic thing to do.

Rob Pitingolo, NeighborhoodInfo DC, assisted with data for this post.


Amid change, affordable housing revitalizes parts of Ward 5

As development along Rhode Island Avenue and New York Avenue take shape over the next few years, much of DC's Ward 5 will see major changes. But can these changes draw new residents without displacing existing ones? A key element will be to preserve and expand the availability of affordable housing.

In recent weeks there have been new stories about development along Rhode Island Avenue, the warehouses by Union Market, and of course, Joe Biden's trip to Costco.

Last week, the Housing For All Campaign hosted a town hall meeting on housing in Ward 5. The meeting focused on how to keep existing residents and draw new ones as the housing landscape changes dramatically.

Fortunately, many organizations have had success developing affordable housing in Ward 5. One of the smallest is Open Arms Housing, which provides permanent housing and wrap-around services to 11 chronically homeless and mentally ill women.

Marilyn Kresky-Wolff is the Director of Open Arms, and she spoke at the Housing Town Hall about the success her program has had in the lives of these women: none of their residents have returned to homelessness. Two of the residents spoke about getting back on their feet and rebuilding their lives.

Open Arms Housing, like many other projects in Ward 5, have succeeded by paying attention to the needs of the community they serve. This was particularly important when they rehabilitated the 258 units at Edgewood Terrace VI, an extensive complex just across Rhode Island Avenue on 4th Street NE.

In the early 1990s, Edgewood Terrace served as one of the largest drug markets in Washington. Today it is a mixed income apartment community with on site services for residents including adult education, computer training, and day care programs for children. The key ingredient in the outstanding change was the commitment of the developers, Community Preservation and Development Corporation, to tenant engagement in every step of the revitalization process.

In 1995, when the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC) bought the first section of Edgewood Terrace from HUD, CPDC immediately sat down with tenant association leaders. The relationship between CPDC and the tenants resulted in renovated apartments, as well as common areas for youth programs, job training, computer classes, and community events.

With more people drawn to public spaces and a partnership between CPDC, the tenants, and the Metropolitan Police Department they were able to break up the drug trade. Residents who had once been afraid to venture outside after dark now had reclaimed their community.

Affordable housing developers continue to find solutions to meet the diverse housing needs of the community. Ward 5 residents can look forward to the opening of Metropolitan Overlook, a mixed income condominium on 2nd Street NE, just blocks off of Rhode Island Ave. Rehabbing a property that has sat vacant for 20 years, Metropolitan Overlook will be a 37-unit condominium with 11 permanently affordable units.

Ward 5 will continue to benefit from the investments in affordable housing that build vibrant spaces for current and future District residents.


Ward 5 needs a vision beyond "no bus/streetcar parking"

Will the Spingarn streetcar barn harm the Benning Road corridor? Would a bus garage on North Capitol damage surrounding neighborhoods? Will mixed use development destroy Brookland? Discussions in DC's Ward 5 often center around what residents oppose, but what's really needed is a plan for what they do want.

Photo by james4765 on Flickr.

Ward 5, mostly in Northeast DC, has the most industrial land, surface railroads and suburban big box stores of any part of the District. In short, it's the farthest away from the kind of walkable mixed-use patterns in highest demand today.

Its new councilmember, Kenyan McDuffie, is trying to figure out the future of Ward 5. He's got a tough uphill climb to bring fractious neighborhood activists together in a vision that could fundamentally reshape the ward, while dealing with old infrastructure and new infrastructure proposals that might or might not fit into a vision.

Ward 5 has a famously-bitter political culture, with ward-wide and neighborhood listservs that draw more nasty, personal backbiting than perhaps any others in the city. In that toxic environment is a very loud chorus of voices shouting down almost any ideAFRHa.

The critics point to a lot of transportation storage facilities being planned or proposed for Ward 5:

  • Ivy City is getting a parking lot for 65 charter buses displaced from Union Station. Ivy City already has very poor residents with many health problems, and don't need the added pollution. But Mayor Gray says it's also one of the most logical places to locate the buses, because it's along New York Avenue and there's ample city-owned vacant land there today.
  • After long insisting the streetcar facility could be under the H Street overpass, DDOT suddenly moved it to the Spingarn campus. They said they had no alternative to Spingarn, because it was too late to try to work something out for the RFK parking lots or some other spot, any of which would be more complex and time-consuming.
  • WMATA is now looking at relocating the Northern Bus Garage on 14th Street to a part of the Armed Forces Retirement Home property on North Capitol Street. WMATA sorely needs a more up-to-date facility, residents of 14th Street want to get rid of the bus garage, and AFRH wants to sell some of its land.

    However, WMATA initially wanted to build its garage at Walter Reed, where there was plenty of room to keep it away from surrounding houses. Councilmember Muriel Bowser staunchly opposed the plan, as did Mayor Gray. Was Ward 4 able to wield a lot of clout because it's a wealthier part of the city?

    According to sources familiar with the discussions, WMATA officials now think AFRH might work even better, as it's closer to the center of the city and North Capitol and Irving are now configured as high-speed near-freeways. It's not right next to any residential neighborhood, let alone inside one. Still, it will bring more deadheading bus traffic to some streets which don't have the buses now.

McDuffie has taken a firm stance against all of these facilities. He's responding to his constituents, and the fact that all 3 are going to Ward 5 does seem unfair.

But if all or some of them will go there anyway, are there opportunities to design them to be assets to the area?

The buses in Ivy City are pretty hard to make into a plus, but a streetcar barn is really not such a bad thing. If designed well, it could even contribute to the neighborhood.

AFRH might be the best spot for a bus garage that nobody really wants to live near (except people in Friendship Heights, like some who want to landmark the Western Bus Garage on the belief that a mid-rise building would be far worse).

It's hard to be very surprised that the District ends up suggesting locating transportation facilities in a ward that already has many transportation facilities, relatively low densities of residents, and many places without immediate opportunities for other types of development. In places far from Metro or high-frequency bus lines, large-scale residential or office development would be hard to attract and would bring lots of its own new traffic, likely stirring up vociferous opposition on the listservs as well.

That's why it's great that McDuffie is also moving beyond simply saying "hell, no" and trying to jump-start some planning for his ward. He is proposing an industrial land use task force to look at how to plan for the ward's many acres of industrial spaces.

At Wednesday's hearing on the bill, McDuffie suggested a MARC station at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road. As Dan Malouff discussed, it's not a bad idea. McDuffie also wants to look into the potential for residential development, urban agriculture, and hubs for small businesses and nonprofits in Ward 5, he said.

If McDuffie can shepherd a vision for the future of Ward 5, and more importantly get something his loud neighborhood activists can say yes to, it will do a lot more to improve the quality of life than just blocking a few locally-undesirable transportation facilities. It will also create more reasons to spread those facilities out to other parts of the city as well.

Still, as long as Ward 5 is the most industrial of the wards, it'll attract things that tend to go in industrial places. A vision would also give residents something to ask for in exchange for these proposals.

Maybe, rather than stopping a bus garage on North Capitol, they can insist on money for other priorities for spots that are closer to more residents. Likewise, If a training facility at Spingarn doesn't mitigate the cost of having the car barn, what would residents like instead?

Ward 5 can ask for the city to really invest in what they want, when it also invests in what the rest of the city needs.

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