Posts about Washington Circle
DDOT is on a roll changing roads from traffic sewers to multimodal neighborhood streets. It's remaking New Jersey Avenue, and now you can add New Hampshire Avenue in Foggy Bottom and the West End to the mix.
An upcoming streetscape project will add bike lanes between Washington Circle and Dupont Circle, bulb-outs at some corners, and change the one-way segment north of Washington Circle into 2-way.
The project will start in September and last until about March 2014. It includes a complete reconstruction from M Street to Dupont Circle, and just resurfacing from H Street up to M.
Washington Circle will get new crosswalks and traffic signals, which we discussed in March. Right now, Washington Circle is extremely unfriendly for pedestrians, and that will change with the project. In addition, the intersection of 22nd and K, just east of the circle, will get new pavement, crosswalks, and ADA-compliant curb ramps.
A lot of District streets were last reconstructed with a cars-only mindset. Engineers optimized all of the public space to maximize traffic, give pedestrians only the scraps left over, and make bicycles an afterthought at best. The changes, especially to Washington Circle, restore more of a balance and create a street for all users.
The sidewalks will stay brick south of Washington Circle, but the sidewalks north of Washington Circle will be concrete aggregate. Other Dupont-area streetscapes, like on 17th and 18th Streets, have chosen concrete with a brick strip along where the tree boxes are. It doesn't look like that brick strip is part of this one.
One concern I've sent to DDOT is to make sure the bulb-outs on M Street don't interfere with a future cycle track, as DDOT has promised to add. A cycle track on M would go along the curb lane. It might replace parking on one side, as it is on L, or if there is parking, the parking should go between the cycle track and the street. Either way, a bulb-out immediately adjacent to the current curb isn't right for a cycle track street. I'll update the post if I hear back.
Here is the presentation DDOT showed to community groups last night. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it; was anyone there who can relay any comments or concerns from the ANCs or other residents?
Today, the roads and traffic patterns around Washington Circle make it difficult and dangerous to get into or through it on foot. A plan from the National Park Service and DDOT will fix that by adding more crosswalks, paths, and traffic signals.
Right now, there are only 4 crosswalks in and out of the circle, each crossing at least 3 lanes of traffic. Two of them, at New Hampshire Avenue, dump pedestrians in a very tiny triangle where they then have to then cross one direction of New Hampshire to continue in any direction.
The other two, which line up with Pennsylvania Avenue on each side, also lead to triangular islands. They don't have signals, forcing pedestrians to wait for a gap in speeding traffic. From the triangles, the only crosswalk leads to yet another island, between Pennsylvania and K, forcing multiple extra crossings to reach an actual block with actual buildings.
People walking along 23rd clearly don't want to, and shouldn't have to, cross up to 6 roads just to traverse the circle. Instead, they cross where there is no light and then walk on the grass. Well-worn "desire lines," especially on the north and south sides to get to 23rd Street make this very clear.
The National Park Service and DDOT want to fix this. Fortunately, instead of using the strategy of just fencing off parks to stop pedestrians, as they wanted to do for the triangle park at Q Street and the Dupont Circle Metro, the Park Service is doing the right thing: they will add walkways and move some.
Left: Washington Circle today. Image from Google Maps.
Right: Planned park pathway layout. Image from NCPC.
DDOT will add crosswalks and new signals that line up with the new walkways. After this project, every pedestrian crossing in and out of Washington Circle will have a traffic signal. DDOT also plans more signals and crosswalks on the roads between the circle and Pennsylvania Avenue or K Street, letting pedestrians cross directly in sensible directions.
The plan also calls for a fence around the remainder of the circle. This will stop people from walking in and out at other places.
I'm not very enthusiastic about this recent NPS push for adding more fences. Down the street from Washington Circle, they're proposing another fence, also to "eliminate the creation of social paths," for the triangle between 21st, I, and Pennsylvania NW.
Instead of holding the existing layout sacrosanct, at Washington Circle, they are working to accommodate pedestrians. By placing crosswalks at the main places people want to cross, this traffic circle is about to get a lot safer.
The discussion on Friday's post about the West End has been very interesting. One major theme jumped out of many comments: the West End has no community because it has no families, and it has no families because it's all tall buildings and small condos. Is that true?
Let's put aside the debate about whether the neighborhood should comprise tall buildings. That's a settled question: it does. It's also a good idea: clearly, based on high prices for condos in the West End, there is significant demand for condos in a dense area, and DC should satisfy that demand just as it should also satisfy demand for townhouses. We've long ago made a policy decision that the West End will be a high density neighborhood; its proximity to downtown makes it an ideal place for it.
But does that have to mean no community, a place where "there's no there there"? What's different about the West End compared to other areas? We can turn around the argument from the comments into two questions: Can we have community without families? And can we make a West End families want to live in?
Community without families
Gay neighborhoods have few families, yet usually have a strong sense of community. Still, Dupont had some families even in the days when it was not as nice a neighborhood as now. Would Dupont have had as much community without the families?
Still, the West End is not as much a gay neighborhood. Can we have community if the residents are mostly young singles and couples? Adams Morgan has a large number of single younger people as well. So does the Penn Quarter. Do they have a good sense of community? Or is the community there mostly a result of the more established and older residents?
I think it's clear that families contribute to a sense of community and young, transient residents weave less community fabric per person than those who have put down roots, whether they are families or not. The built environment also contributes to the lack of community in the West End by lacking a retail corridor or good public spaces.
The neighborhood vision document suggests making Washington Circle into more of a community space, as Dupont Circle is or even Logan Circle. The library could also provide such a function, especially if its design thinks more broadly than just about books.
Families in the West End
Certainly there are places with many families and tall buildings. For example, Manhattan. However, DC is very different, and families have many nearby alternative places to live where they can get more space for less money.
Schools are certainly part of the equation. Why live in the West End in an expensive, smaller condo when the schools aren't good? At least on the Upper West Side there is decent public education. But New York families can go to the suburbs too, where the schools are often better, and many don't.
To create an environment appealing to at least some families, we need the kinds of amenities that are attractive to families. A library is certainly one, as are good parks to play in with the kids. What else?
It'd also help to have larger condos suitable for families, with two or three bedrooms and separate living and dining rooms. The market isn't providing that right now. Is it worth regulating condo size to some extent?
Right now, though, good public spaces clearly would help the neighborhood sense of community. Families would like them, and so would young people; they would build community among existing residents and attract new ones who are interested in staying longer. Good public spaces are good for everyone.
What do you think? Can the West End have families and tall buildings at the same time? Can it have community without families? Would a good library help? A better Washington Circle? Or something else?
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