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Pedestrians


This Annandale park is getting a new foot bridge, after all

In late March, a foot bridge in Annandale disappeared altogether because Fairfax County officials said they couldn't afford to fix or replace it. On Wednesday, however, the county said it will build a new one.


This bridge is gone, but a new one will replace it soon. Photo by Rick Carlstrom.

On March 23, the county removed the bridge, which crosses a tiny stream in Annandale's Broyhill Crest Park, after determining it was in danger of collapsing. At that time, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross told residents that, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority, a replacement bridge would cost $80,000 and there was no money in the budget for a new one.

But in an April 20 email to the Broyhill Crest community, Gross said she and Frank Vajda, the Mason representative on the Park Authority Board, continued to work with Park Authority staff on finding a way to replace the bridge. "Leaving the community bereft of a pedestrian crossing for a long period of time was unacceptable," she said.

"I am happy to report that the Park Authority came through, funding has been identified, and the order for a new fiberglass bridge has been placed," she continued.

A prefabricated bridge should arrive in about four weeks, and the project should be finished in about six.


The trail between Murray Lane and Lockwood Lane where a new pedestrian bridge will be installed. Photo by the author.

"In the meantime," Gross said, "Park Authority maintenance staff will be working at the site to stabilize the stream banks and prepare for installation of bridge foundations prior to the placement of the new bridge."

Gross estimated using park maintenance staff instead of contractors for some of the work will save about $20,000. She can't say what the final cost will be because "we don't know what problems they might run into." The county will still have to hire contractors to install the piers and do some of the stream restoration work, she said.

Local residents who had spoken up about the unsafe bridge for years and urged the county to fix it had been disappointed that the county would simply remove it without any plans for replacing it.

Crossposted from Annandale VA. Also, this post was updated to reflect Penny Gross' comments on costs and savings.

Public Spaces


Ten small parks that prove tiny is terrific

Georgetown Day School recently downsized its plans for a mixed-use project in Tenleytown. Aside from cutting 50 units of housing, the developers also canceled plans for a pocket park. We called that a loss, but some skeptics said it wasn't a big deal because the park would have been very small. But when it comes to parks, quality is way more important than size. These 10 "teacup parks" show that.


Paley Park in Manhattan. Photo by Mike Boucher on Flickr.

In its original proposal, GDS offered to close a slip lane between Wisconsin Avenue and 42nd Street and create a pocket park of roughly 7400 square feet. The school offered a few designs, including a splash pad, a skatepark, and a demonstration garden. With the reduction in size, GDS will still close the slip lane for safety reasons, but it will just be another grass triangle.

Opponents of the GDS deal claimed that this small park was just too small, unlike what's typical in Ward 3. Fort Reno, for example, is 33 acres, or 1.5 million square feet.

But little parks can be everything for building engaging streets, something Tenleytown does not have. Here are 10 great park and plazas less than 15,000 square feet that make their neighborhoods a lot better.

Here are 10 great park and plazas that take up less than 15,000 square feet yet still make their neighborhoods a lot better.

1. Paley Park, New York City


Paley Park. Photo by Matthew Blackburn on Flickr.

If you ask a planner for an example of a pocket park, they'll probably bring up Paley Park. At 4200 square feet, it's smaller than the Ellicott Park would have been. But a water feature, movable seating, and a few delicate trees create a beloved retreat in one of the busiest, loudest parts of Manhattan.

2. Bethesda Row Fountain


Just a slightly thicker street corner. Photo by ehpien on Flickr.

Because of the lively nearby streets, this tiny triangle of land in Bethesda has been swamped since it opened in 2000, despite being a mere 1500 square feet.

3. Columbia Heights Civic Plaza


The plaza hosts frequent events. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Designed by ZGF architects, buildings frame this 12,000 square foot plaza, which is just as lively hosting public events or a farmers market as it is demonstrations or a children's splash park.

The design screens the play area from traffic with adult benches. Photo by Bill McNeal on Flickr.

4. Parkman Triangle, Los Angeles


Parkman Triangle. Image from Google Maps

Residents turned a leftover sliver of concrete in Silver Lake into this 2000 square foot parklet, where desert plants shield seating from traffic.

5. Boyd-Jackson Park, Takoma Park


Boy-Jackson Park. Image from Google Streetview

A small neighborhood park, this fits play structures and a field into less than 8,000 square feet. It's hardly the National Mall, but it's still incredibly useful and convenient for its neighborhood.

6. Fowler Square, Brooklyn, New York


Fowler Square's temporary configuration. Image Courtesy NYC DOT.

New York's Department of Transportation connected a little island by transferring a single block from cars to pedestrians to create an 8,400 square foot plaza. Although drivers originally opposed it, it has become the highest-rated of New York's plazas and enough of a neighborhood amenity to make the change permanent.

POPS Skatepark, Philadelphia


Photo by Bill Benzon on Flickr.

One corner of a neighborhood park, this skate park's small, 6,000 square foot size works well for inexperienced, younger skateboarders.

8. Fox and Laurel Park and Community Garden, Los Angeles


Fox-Laurel Park. Image from Google Streetview.

In a space just twice the Ellicot Park lot (15,000), surrounded by a storage facility, the city fit two playgrounds, native plantings, and a community garden.

9. This private park at Brown University


Pocket Park at Brown. Image from Google Streetview.

This quiet space between academic buildings and houses takes up 5,500 square feet, but manages to pack in a secluded urban room.

10. Unnamed Triangle (Reservation 265)


Is this what they call Tactical Urbanism? Image from Google Streetview.

Some residents took a play set out to one of DC's many leftover grass triangles. It's not pretty, and probably not legal, but it's a lot more use than most of them get.

Small can still be great

Whether or not Ellicott Street gets a park, there many neighborhoods in DC that would benefit from a few pocket parks. Meanwhile, Tenleytown is trying to revamp its public spaces through the Main Street program. These examples show that it's foolish to get hung up on the size of a discrete strip of land. With busy nearby streets and good design, you can squeeze a lot of life into a modest space.

Of course, this is just what I could come up with from memory and asking a few people. There are tons of great public spaces of this size. Can you think of any that caught your eye?

Public Spaces


Would it be the end of the world if fewer cars could pass through Rock Creek Park? We'll find out soon.

Work to reconstruct a nearly 6.5 mile stretch of Beach Drive, from Rock Creek Parkway to the Maryland line, will start soon. That will mean closing a section of the road that the National Park Service, environmentalists, and cyclists have long wanted to close but that motorists and some neighbors have fought to keep open.


Cyclists enjoy Beach Drive without automobile traffic. Photo by Oblivious Dude on Flickr.

The work, which the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will oversee, will happen in five phases, with a section of Beach Drive closing for between four and eight months during each phase. The fourth phase will involve the section of Beach that runs from Joyce Road to Broad Branch Road, which officials have considered closing in the past but have not due to strong opposition.

The closures could be a chance for traffic engineers and Park staff to study the impacts of closing parts of Beach Drive to cars.

There was a movement to close Beach Drive in the 60s and 70s

Rock Creek Park has a long history of turning its roads over to cyclists and pedestrians. The first time Beach was limited to bike and pedestrian traffic was in 1966, on the section from Joyce Road to Broad Branch on Sunday mornings only. Over the following years, additional sections of roads eventually closed, and for more of the weekend. There was even an experiment with closing a lane of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway north of Virginia Avenue for a week.

Efforts to encourage recreation in Rock Creek Park, and to make it more of a park and less of a commuter route, continued through the 1970s. Pointing to how both Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City had seen success with limiting car traffic, NPS announced in 1983 that it would gradually close the section of Beach from Joyce to Broad Branch.

At first, one lane would be reserved for cyclists and joggers during weekday rush hours, and the lane pointed in the direction of the rush hour commute would stay open to cars. Later, once the Red Line was completed beyond Van Ness, the Park Service planned to place a gate near Boulder Bridge and permanently close the section of Beach from there to Joyce.

Political pressure has pushed against efforts for long-term closures

Three months later, however, under pressure from automobile groups, commuters, and the DC Department of Public Works and Transportation, the Park Service backed off from that plan and decided to keep Beach open. Instead they promised to build a 2.5 mile trail on that section of Beach Drive. Later, due to the constrained geography of the area and the objection of the National Parks and Conservation Association, the plans for the trail fell through altogether.

In 1988, a FHWA report concluded that Beach Drive was getting more traffic than it could handle. Since expanding the road wasn't an option, FHWA recommended adding tolls, instituting HOV requirements, or permanently closing all or part of Beach Drive.

The report, along with the limited impact of a 10-week closure of the Zoo Tunnel in 1990, emboldened both activists and the Park Service to again look at further limiting automobile traffic in the park.

The process of writing Rock Creek Park's General Management Plan (GMP), which lasted from 1996 to 2006, turned into a showdown between the People's Alliance for Rock Creek Park (PARC), a coalition of environmental and cycling advocacy organizations in support of closing Beach Drive, and a less-organized coalition of Maryland commuters, Park neighbors, and motorist organizations, like AAA.

The fight over how to use Beach Drive left it open for cars

Several possibilities for closing Beach Drive received consideration, and advocates for limiting automobile traffic finally settled on a compromise to close only the section between Joyce and Broad Branch—the same section as in 1983, where no trail exists and where Ross Drive is an alternative—in the time between rush hours.

But in 2005, the Park Service, again facing opposition from commuters, automobile advocates, and political leaders like Maryland's congressional delegation, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the majority of the DC Council (Phil Mendelson, Jack Evans and Harold Brazil, all who had supported the closures) and others, chose a different option that was close to the status quo: leave the road open during the entire weekday.

Despite a 2004 traffic study that found midday limits on Beach Drive between Broad Branch and Joyce would have "minimal impact" on travel times and on nearby streets, especially if drivers were encouraged to use Ross Drive and Glover Road, one of the main concerns of the GMP was spillover traffic.

In fact, all of the letters from members of Congress were about the closures, ignoring all other aspects about the GMP. They questioned the utility of the closures, criticized the methodology of the traffic study, expressed fear that diverting traffic onto other roads would be unsafe and inefficient, and promised to find money for a trail in this section.

DC Councilmember Carol Schwartz, for example, feared that closing any part of Beach Drive at any time during the week would have "severe" impacts on Cleveland Park, Crestwood and Mount Pleasant.

Another concern, brought up by Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen, was that closing this section to through traffic would limit access for those with disabilities. NPS pointed out that "all park facilities, such as picnic areas, parking lots, historical features, and trails, would continue to be available to visitors traveling by automobile. The only limitation would be on driving the length of Beach Drive between these facilities."

Instead of midday closures, NPS proposed a lower speed limit in this section, down to 20 mph, increased enforcement, and speed bumps or speed tables. But to date, none of those things have actually happened.

NPS also promised to improve the existing trail south of Broad Branch—a process which is, finally, nearly underway—and study expanding the trail north of Broad Branch to Joyce. The upcoming projects will not build a trail north of Broad Branch, nor are there any plans to ever do so. It's not clear that there was ever money to study the trail in that segment or if a study was performed.


Beach Drive Closure similar to 1983 and 2005 proposals

Upcoming work is a chance to test some of these hypotheses

Phase four of the Beach Drive rehabilitation project involves the closure of the very section of Beach Drive, Joyce to Broad Branch, that faced opposition in 1983 and 2005. Will the impact of such closures—during the midday, not rush hour—be "minimal," as the Park Service concluded, or will it be "severe?" Will neighborhood roads be filled with traffic? Will safety be compromised? Will travel times dramatically increase? Will those with disabilities stay away from the park? And what are the impacts during rush hours?

We'll now get a chance to study these things in a much more robust way—during a real-world experiment, which is exactly what Norton, Van Hollen, Mikulski and others asked for.

Unfortunately, since the road won't be open for non-automobile traffic, we won't be able to determine to what extent its closure would increase recreational use.

With phase four still more than a year away, now is the time for DDOT and FHWA to put a plan to study the impacts into place. There is still no trail on the section of Beach Road between Broad Branch and Joyce. Perhaps such a study will show something two reports have already shown: limiting this section to non-automobile use, for part of the day or permanently, is not that big of a deal.

Development


Tenleytown won't get 50 units of housing and a park

50-100 people won't be able to live in Tenleytown, and a major intersection won't get a pocket park and become more walkable. That's because DC's Office of Planning and some local leaders got anxious about a mixed-use building from Georgetown Day School that's shorter than another one across the street.


Rendering of the proposed residential buildings along Wisconsin Avenue. All images from Georgetown Day School / Esocoff and Associates.

GDS proposes a transformative project for Tenleytown

In June 2014, after three unsucessful attempts to redevelop a Safeway grocery store at 42nd and Davenport Streets NW, the neighboring Georgetown Day School (GDS) bought the Safeway property, a WMATA chiller plant, and a car dealership across 42nd on Wisconsin Avenue.

Despite initial fears that this would mean no chance to add retail, build much-needed apartments, and link Tenleytown and Friendship Heights, after 20 months of public meetings, GDS proposed a design that would consolidate the school and build two mixed-use buildings on the dealership property.


Plan of the GDS proposal at Wisconsin Avenue's elevation.

Since the low-rise school was much lower density than zoning would allow, GDS wanted to use a process called a Planned Unit Development (PUD) to shift density from the school, closer to single-family homes, and over to the dealership site on Wisconsin Avenue.

The project would have added 270-290 housing units, 22-29 of which would have been permanently affordable. Plus, it offered 38,500 square feet of retail, a pocket park at Elliott Street, a spectacular public staircase, and a 42nd Street redesigned with state-of-the-art traffic calming features.


Traffic calming on 42nd Street. The school is at the left and the mixed-use buildings at right.

The only complication: The zoning would have to be changed from a lower-density commercial zone, C-2-A, to a slightly denser one, C-2-B. The same change was successfully made across the street in 1999, for a project called Tenley Hill. That project's penthouse is actually 7'6" higher than these buildings would have been.

You can read the full PUD submission and an amendment.

The project gets positive reviews but some "height-itis"

Reactions to the project among community members were mostly positive, but two groups of neighbors expressed concern about the scale of the project, "Neighbors of GDS" and the "Wisconsin Avenue Gateway Group," whose leaders live in the Tenley Hill building. Supporting GDS's project were the longstanding smart growth group Ward 3 Vision and a new group called "Revive 3E," which formed to specifically focus on what members felt was obstruction in the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, ANC 3E.

The ANC repeatedly expressed support for upzoning of the site, but dithered over whether the package of amenities and mitigation was adequate, demanding an detailed Transportation Management Plan, including a request that no new vehicle trips arrive at the site. The ANC's chair, Jon Bender, openly questioned whether alternative arrangements could fit more residential uses onto the school site.

The big sticking point, however, was the height of the buildings. The zoning change would have let both buildings rise 80 feet from Wisconsin Avenue. Because 42nd Street is down a steep hill, one would have been 86'3" on 42nd Street and the other maxed out at 97'4" adjacent to GDS's high school building.


Height of the school (left), north residential building (center), and across Wisconsin (right).

Office of Planning blocks the project

This week, there was a new surprise: DC's Office of Planning also took issue with the height.

To do a Planned Unit Development, a property owner first applies to the Office of Planning, which then recommends, or doesn't recommend, DC's Zoning Commission "set it down" for a hearing. As GDS's head wrote in a letter to the Northwest Current, OP expressed opposition to setting down the current proposal.

Why the Office of Planning opposed the project is not public knowledge. Once a project is set down, the Zoning Commission schedules a hearing and OP, as well as other city agencies, file public reports with their comments. But because of OP's opposition, the school withdrew this version of its plans.

Some housing and the park are gone

GDS now wants to go forward with fewer floor on the southern building and two fewer on the northern one. It's not even the first height reduction. Critics of the project had asked for a 65-foot nominal height and GDS compromised from the original height, cutting two stories off last fall. Now, the building will be as short as critics requested.

Because of the loss of revenue from three floors, GDS can't afford some of the big-ticket benefits that brought in community support: the pocket park at the north end, the special public space finishes, and the traffic calming measures on 42nd Street.

It's still a fine project, but had the first submitted design been accepted, it would have made Tenleytown one of the most complete urban designs in the city, crossing the work and play of multiple generations of Washingtonians in a single space.

More importantly, this second reduction means a loss of another 50 potential apartments. On a micro-level, that's unfortunate in an area that has a large student population but few small apartments, leading many students to live in group houses that could otherwise hold families with kids. It also reduced the density that can support small businesses and restaurants. On a macro scale it's just another opportunity increase the aggregate amount of housing in the city, lost to the tastes of a vocal minority.

Sure it's only 50 here, but 50 at the next one, and so on, contributing to a deficit across the city. If the 2006 Comprehensive Plan is what's keeping this site from an appropriate level of density, then it's failing. If OP is talking of the need to build shelter for a growing city and reduce automobile use, but disqualifies GDS' modest mixed used density, then the talk of two biggest issues the city faces is just a gesture devoid of substance.

Public Spaces


Check out what’s new with NoMa’s park plans

A lot of change is on the way in NoMa. Work on two underpasses is expected to finally begin this year while designs for a new Third Street park, and the search for a designer for the NoMa Green are underway.


The NoMa parks plan, including planned public and private spaces and existing space. Image by NoMa Parks.

Over the past two years, the NoMa Parks Foundation has firmed plans to build two new parks, partner with private developers to create a mid-block meander, and brighten four underpasses so they're more inviting to use. In addition, private developers have committed to building at least three more public spaces in the neighborhood.

Now, NoMa is ready to put shovels in the ground for the lighting installations in the L Street and M Street underpasses, and it has hired design firm Lee and Associates for the Third Street park at L Street NE.

Underpasses have been delayed, but they're on the way

More attractive underpasses on L Street and M Street where they pass under the railroad tracks into Union Station were supposed to be the first public realm projects completed in the neighborhood. NoMa anticipated installing "Rain"—LED light rods hung from ceiling that reacted to movement through the space—in the M Street underpass by the fall of 2015, officials said at a neighborhood meeting that April.


Rain by Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO architects. Image by NoMa BID.

However, NoMa attempted to "value engineer" the M Street project by cutting the number of rods from the 4,000 that design team Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO architects planned, said Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID), at a community meeting on parks on March 29. This resulted in a less than satisfactory result.

"We're late because we said we didn't do it right," she said. Installation of the full 4,000 rods is expected later in 2016.

Work on "Lightweave," a series of undulating, cloud-like lights hung from the ceiling in the L Street underpass, is also expected to begin later this year.


Lightweave by Future Cities Lab. Image by NoMa BID.

Plans for the K Street and Florida Avenue NE underpasses are on hold for the time being, with NoMa waiting for the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) to move forward with its plans to redesign the Florida Avenue streetscape before beginning the latter project.

What will go in at Third Street?

Lee and Associates is early in its planning of the new 8,000 square foot park. Early site analysis has found that the lot, which is adjacent to the Loree Grand apartments, is shady most of the day and includes a roughly six-foot change in elevation.

"We love topography… these are all elements of design opportunity," said Jeff Lee, founding principal of Lee and Associates, at the meeting.


Site of the Third Street park in NoMa. Image by Google Maps.

The firm will continue its site analysis and collect resident feedback before the next public meeting on the space, when Lee said they hope to present two or three potential designs for the park.

Meeting attendees had a variety of opinions on how the space should be used. Many want a dog park while some ask for a space where children could play, to which Lee responded that the two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Others ask for passive space to be outdoors.

"We will do our very best to think outside the box," said Lee in response to the myriad of resident requests.

Lee and Associates is well placed to design an interesting park. The firm has worked on a number of parks around DC, including Stead Park near the corner of P Street and 17th Street NW and Gage-Eckington dog park in LeDroit Park.

NoMa Green could get more funds

NoMa is on track to hire a designer for the NoMa Green, the temporary name for the two acres adjacent to the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) it purchased from Pepco in December, this spring, said Stacie West, the director of parks projects at the NoMa Parks Foundation.

The design process is expected to continue through 2017 with construction beginning towards the end of the year, she added.


Site of the future NoMa Green. Image by the author.

Also, NoMa may have secured more funds for the park. The developers of the Eckington Yards project JBG and The Boundary Companies have offered $25,000 to the foundation to go towards the green, as well as install a new bikeshare dock and new public art installation in its promenade across Harry Thomas Way from the park, said Jasper.


Eckington Yards in relation to the new NoMa Green. Image by Boundary Companies + JBG.

"We knew from the beginning that $50 million was not a lot of money to buy land and build parks in a neighborhood where land is as valuable as" it is in NoMa, she said.

NoMa Parks has already spent $17.2 million of its budget on just land acquisition for the green and the Third Street park.

A meander is in the works

Construction of the first section of the NoMa Meander, a mid-block pedestrian corridor between North Capital Street and First Street NE, has begun from N Street to Patterson Street, said Jasper. The section is being built by JBG as part of its mixed-use Capitol Point development.

Skanska will build the next section of the meander on the block between M Street and Patterson Street.


Site plan for Skanska's development on the NoMa Meander. Image by Skanska.

The meander will anchor the developer's new mixed-use development for the site, including locating the entrances to its planned residential and commercial buildings as well as new retail space, on the corridor, said Kelly Nagle, a development executive for Skanska USA, at the meeting.

When fully built out, the meander will stretch from New York Avenue to Pierce Street in NoMa.

Pedestrians


Annandale residents just wanted a pedestrian bridge fixed or replaced. Now it's gone.

Residents in Annandale's Broyhill Crest neighborhood have been complaining for years about a dilapidated pedestrian bridge over a small creek, urging Fairfax County officials to fix or replace it. As of March 23rd, the bridge is gone, but there's no money for a new one.


This is where the bridge used to be. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

The bridge connects is in Broyhill Crest Park, a neglected bit of green space with a former ball field that Fairfax County no longer maintains. The bridge is used mostly by dog walkers and people using the nearby community garden plots, and provides a shortcut to children walking to Mason Crest Elementary School.


Image from Google Maps.

People attempting to cross the creek between Murray Lane and Lockwood Lane are now confronted with plywood boards and ropes blocking access to the creek, a sign stating "the damaged bridge has been removed for safety reasons," and an explanatory note from Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross.


The old bridge needed repairs. Photo by Rick Carlstrom.

Gross sent an email to residents March 25th saying that she and Frank Vajda, the Mason District representative on Fairfax's Park Authority Board, had asked the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) to repair or replace the bridge and were told "the bridge could not meet today's standards and could not be repaired."

Replacement cost would be $80,000, she estimates. "No source of funding has yet been identified but we are continuing the search."

"While we had hoped that the old bridge could be shored up and used until replaced, the old bridge simply was unsafe, and collapsing, due to embankment erosion," the email from Gross continues. It was removed "in an abundance of caution and concern for the safety of Broyhill Crest [residents]."


The Park Authority posted this notice for pedestrians.

Members of the Broyhill Crest Community Association (BCCA) met with Gross and Mark Plourde, FCPA Area 2 manager, in December 2015 to discuss the bridge. Their goal was to have it fixed, not torn down.

The BCCA members were told if the bridge had to be replaced there were two options. The bridge could be replaced with a similar structure that would be cheaper but more expensive in the long run, as it would be subject to the same erosion problems. The other option, preferred by the FCPA, would be a more expensive bridge with a longer span, which would be less costly to install as it wouldn't require as much work on the bank.

The BCCA has requested another meeting with Gross to discuss alternative funding solutions.

Broyhill Crest resident Rick Carlstrom has spoken to county officials several times about the bridge over the years. In 2005, county officials told him they agreed the bridge was in "bad shape" but said it would be at least five years before it could be replaced. He got the same answer from FCPA in 2014, and that time was told a replacement bridge would cost $20,000.


The old bridge was deemed unsafe and in danger of collapse. Photo by Rick Carlstrom.

Last May, Carlstrom contacted Gross about the bridge and she came to take a look. At that time, she told Carlstrom in an email that "all of the 2012 parks bond money has been spent and we do not have the $40,000 needed to replace the bridge."

When he again complained to Gross and the FCPA in February 2016, he was told the schedule to replace he bridge had changed from at least five years to "a very long time" and that the cost was now $80,000 for a 40 x 6-foot fiberglass pedestrian bridge. (That estimate might include installation and work on the stream banks to stem erosion.)

Carlstrom then contacted a bridge company on his own, E.T. Techtonics, and received a written estimate of $24,800 for a 40 x 6-foot fiberglass pedestrian bridge, including delivery. These bridges come in pieces and can easily be assembled by two people, he says.

According to Carlstrom, the bridge was severely damaged when a tree-trimming crew hired by the county dropped a tree on it a year ago. He suggested the tree company's insurance policy could pay for the repairs.

"That is not a viable option in this case," because the felled tree didn't cause the problem, Plourde responded in an email to Carlstrom. Plourde conntinued by saying the bridge has been collapsing for years due to severe erosion of the stream banks, causing the concrete abutments to fail.

"I realize that this decision will have a negative impact on your community and I apologize for that, but the safety of park users must be our first priority," Plourde wrote to Carlstrom. "While I understand that schoolchildren use this bridge daily as a shortcut to and from Mason Crest Elementary, please recognize that cutting through a trail in the park is not considered an approved school walking route. Approved routes are public sidewalks and easements."


Debris from the old bridge.

"I have lived in Broyhill Crest for over 20 years and have witnessed a shocking downward spiral in the maintenance of the parks in our older established neighborhoods," Carlstrom wrote in an email to Gross March 14th. He cited the neglect of a large field in Broyhill Crest Park that has become overgrown and unusable, as well as the poor state of the pedestrian bridge nearby.

"Fairfax spends 0.7 percent of its budget on parks, Carlstrom says. "The largest portion of that goes to golf courses and the installation of artificial turf fields. I find it extremely unfortunate that the county makes the installation of artificial turf fields, which cost millions, a higher priority than maintaining our existing park infrastructure."

A version of this post originally appeared on Annandale VA.

Bicycling


A bridge from Eckington to Union Market? It could happen.

In exchange for support to build retail and housing in Eckington, developer JBG has offered to fund a study of what it'd take to build a bridge that connects the Metropolitan Branch Trail and Union Market. That'd be a big step in joining Eckington and NoMa.


Map of potential MBT-Union Market aerial connection. Image from Google Maps.

JBG would fund a "viability and design study for an aerial pedestrian and bicycle connection between R Street NE and 4th Street/Penn Street at Union Market," a draft community benefits agreement with the Eckington Civic Association states. The developer would pay for the study in exchange for the civic association's support of the proposed three-acre Eckington Yards development.

The potential MBT-Union Market connection could use a unused tunnel under New York Avenue to link it with Union Market and connect to a future multi-use trail to Ivy City.

Union Market, an increasingly popular shopping spot, is separated from much of the District's cycling network and many of its booming neighborhoods by two main physical barriers: New York Avenue NE and the throat tracks into Union Station.

The NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) identified the area as needing a better connection in the MBT Safety and Access Study that the NoMa Parks Foundation this month.


NoMa identified a potential MBT-Union Market connection in its MBT Safety and Access Study. Image by NoMa BID.

A new footbridge might not be the way to go

However, according to Robin-Eve Jasper, president of NoMa BID, Nelson\Nygaard advised the parks foundation that an aerial connection similar to the one JBG describes in the benefits agreement as unlikely to be feasible. The distance across the railroad tracks at R Street NE and the need for Amtrak approval of an aerial structure are limiting factors, she says.

One possible option to improve the connection could be new ramps on both sides of the tracks to the New York Avenue bridge and a better sidewalk along the actual road. This would likely require fewer approvals and be more cost effective than a new multi-use bridge.

Improvements are coming to Florida Avenue

Right now, the easiest way to walk to Union Market from any neighborhood west of the trail and tracks is via the narrow sidewalks along Florida Avenue NE.


The narrow sidewalks along the underpass on Florida Avenue NE in NoMa. Image by the author.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is in the process of redesigning this section of Florida Avenue with pedestrian and streetscape improvements, says Sam Zimbabwe, the agency's associate director of policy, planning and sustainability administration. DDOT is pursuing a revised version of the proposed second alternative, which includes a wider sidewalk, some bike lanes, and a road diet to two lanes in each direction from three.


DDOT's initial alternative two concept for Florida Avenue NE from 2014. Image from DDOT.

While he does not provide a timeline, Zimbabwe says DDOT is seeking preliminary engineering services for the project.

A coming park could lead to more JBG and NoMa partnerships

JBG has a vested interest in improving pedestrian and bike access to its new development. The walk to the NoMa-Gallaudet U Metro station from Eckington Yards, which will be built on the site of the Washington Flower Center between Eckington Place and Harry Thomas Way NE, takes more than 10 minutes due to the detour north to R Street NE to access the MBT.

This walk could go down to about five minutes with a Q Street NE connection to the MBT, something that the NoMa Parks Foundation plans to build as part of its new two-acre park across Harry Thomas Way from Eckington Yards.


Eckington Yards in relation to the planned NoMa park. Image by JBG.

"We would be willing to contribute to making that park as great as it can be," says Bryan Moll, a principal art JBG, on a possible contribution to the park at an Eckington Civic Association Meeting earlier in February.

NoMa has only asked JBG for a cash contribution to the planned park, he adds, referring to meetings the developer has had with the parks foundation.

"We would love to consider a variety of ways we could partner," says Jasper. "The reason we haven't asked them for anything in particular is because we haven't started the design process."

The park will go through public comment process before the final design is selected, she adds.

The NoMa Parks Foundation has a $50 million budget to parks, with more than $17 million already spent on just acquiring the land for the two-acre park from Pepco and buying a much smaller plot at the corner of L Street and 3rd Street NE.

By comparison, Navy Yard's 2.5-acre Canal Park cost $26.5 million to build.

Parking


Roll Call recently made a great point about the Capitol's parking problem

In a recent post about cleaning up after Snowzilla, Roll Call, a blog newspaper that covers Congress, published a graphic showing that if you combined all the parking lots on the Capitol Grounds in need of plowing, they'd cover the National Mall. That's a crazy amount of parking.


Imagine if some of Washington's best locations for parks or buildings were parking lots! You don't have to! It's like that today. Image by Roll Call's Sean McMinn and Jia You.

Acres of surface parking lots surround the Capitol and its accessory buildings, and the question of whether they should even be there has long been a sore spot for those paying attention to land use in the District.

That amount of parking is particularly disheartening when you consider that all of these lots used to be blocks of apartments and offices that were very welcoming to people. The McMillan Commission imagined monumental office buildings surrounding the Capitol. In the 1920s, Congress expanded that vision dramatically, adding the open spaces to the north and buying up the lots to the south for future office buildings.

Now, they're parking lots, or parks on top of parking lots. Here's a map of all the surface parking on the Capitol Grounds:


The Capitol Grounds and the surface parking lots. Graphic by the author, with a map from DC GIS.

Congress gets a lot more parking than the rest of the government

The branch of the government that manages the land, the Architect of the Capitol is holding onto the land for now. It likes providing ample parking spaces for legislators, staff, and employees. The AOC won't say exactly how much parking, but a 2005 master plan allotted 5,800 spaces to the House of Representatives alone. Depending on how much the Senate, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and support staff get, the number is probably far higher.


There are federal rules about how much parking there can be for federal employees. Image from NCPC.

Because Congress writes the rules, they've never been subject to review by the National Capital Planning Commission, which sets the parking regulations. The AOC's independence and access to funding has led to a bad reputation, from architecture critics to Congress itself.

To be fair, the AOC does plan to eventually spruce up their properties. Their 2011 Master Plan aims to eliminate all surface parking lots by 2026. But that master plan is short on details for how they'd do that, and it's not clear whether they'd bring the amount of parking in line with the rest of the Federal Government's limits on parking.

Given the sheer volume of parking at the Capitol complex, along with the possibilities for how we could otherwise use the land, the matter of how to scale it back deserves more thought.

Correction: This post originally referred to Roll Call as 'a blog that covers Congress.' While the article at hand was filed on Roll Call's blog, it's more accurate to call the publication a newspaper. Also, it has been clarified to note that the 5,800 figure for parking spaces is only for people who work at the House of Representatives.

Public Spaces


The National Park Service turns 100 this year

2016 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, which oversees lots of outdoor space in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. All year, there will be special events throughout our region to celebrate.


The Korean War Memorial. All images from the NPS.

The NPS is celebrating its milestone birthday with events and fee-free days all across the country. During National Park Week, which is April 16th-24th, admission to all NPS sites will be free.

In May, an exhibit celebrating biodiversity in the US will come to the DC, with an accompanying festival on the National Mall. There are battlefield and garden tours scheduled in Virginia throughout the spring, and a few chances to learn about Maryland's roads and trails are coming up soon.

Since its establishment in 1916, 44 years after Congress designated Yellowstone National Park as the country's first national park, the NPS has come to oversee 400 unique places, ranging from national parks and monuments to battlefields and parkways.

The DC region has a unique relationship with the NPS. In the city alone, NPS manages 23 places, notably Rock Creek Park, National Mall, and its surrounding monuments. These parks represent a significant portion of our green space, generating more than $600 million in economic activity, supporting physical and mental health, and providing cultural resources.


The National Mall and its monuments are among the most popular places in the NPS system.

Of course, the NPS' involvement in local land use decisions does have its downsides. NPS controls the open space within DC's L'Enfant City, subjecting urban parks to the same planning and permitting process as Yosemite National Park. In 2014, its representative to the DC Zoning Commission successfully led the push to keep the 1910 Height Act intact.

Maryland and Virginia have an additional 37 sites combined, including the George Washington Parkway, Mt. Vernon Trail, or Great Falls Park.


Great Falls Park on the Potomac River in both Maryland and Virginia

NPS sites generate nearly $250 million and $1 billion in economic activity in Maryland and Virginia, respectively.


Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, a Civil War battlefield.

What are your favorite NPS parks in the region, and why? Tell us in the comments!

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