New York Avenue Streetscape Project Meeting Shows Draft Concepts and A Lot of Potential

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) held a public meeting on Thursday, June 29, 2017, 6 pm through 8 pm to discuss the New York Avenue Streetscape and Trail Project draft final concepts. The ideas that DDOT proposes could be the catalyst need to create not only a transportation link to Ivy City and the Arboretum but, potentially a linear park in an area that has few public amenities.

The purpose of the meeting in the atrium of REI was to solicit public feedback regarding the development of design solutions for the proposed revitalization of New York Avenue and to comply with Vision Zero elements of safety enhancement and improved the aesthetic character along the corridor. The meeting was an open house format with a brief presentation given by DDOT staff or project contractors.

The presentation boards covered a lot of material, most of which is used only to illustrate what amenities and structures under consideration by DDOT. To be clear, not everything displayed on the boards will happen initially (or at all)  but show what could be built if funding and community support materialize. When viewing this post, also view the recent post regarding the VRE Midday Train Storage Facility. To build its facility, VRE will acquire at least three properties along the New York Avenue Trail route and work with DDOT and its partners to create a trail and a barrier.

DDOT displayed about 10 presentation boards, with a couple over 10 feet long, showing the project's length along New York Avenue from Florida to 16th Street NE. While I tried to get good photos of every board, I didn't. DDOT stated that meeting documents, including the presentation boards, will be available the week of July 4 on the project website. Once they are, I may revisit some proposals not discussed in this post. As such, let's discuss some of the major changes from prior meetings, of which there are quite a few.

Routing Highlights
While the previous public meeting held April 25, 2017 showed generalized conceptual drawings, the presentation boards at this meeting provided more detail regarding the proposed route along New York Avenue, streets that connect to it, and how DDOT envisions its aesthetics. Where the prior plans showed directions, the most recent meeting contain designations for bike trails, streetscape elements, some pedestrian elements, or shared use paths. The meeting was billed as a final design but the presentation boards were illustrative and not necessarily how the it will appear. Nevertheless, the illustrations provided a fair amount of detail regarding planting, lighting, and potential facilities.

The current trail travels from its east end at Bladensburg Road, NE; crosses the complicated West Virginia, Montana, and New York Avenue Circle; and turns in a southerly direction on West Virginia Avenue to 16th Street NE. The trail travels a couple block up 16th Street, reconnecting to New York Avenue where it crosses to the north side of the street until it reaches the Florida Avenue NE. Unless otherwise noted, all images are courtesy of DDOT.

In the segment above near the project's endpoint at Bladensburg Avenue, NE, the proposal calls for the rebuilding of the sidewalks along both the north and south sides of the street. The northern side contains a typical sidewalk while the southern side contains a shared use trail. DDOT has stated that the southern side of the street will be a trail constructed as part of NewCityDC, a 1.5 million-square-foot mixed-use project. In the lower right corner, 17th Street NW would have a bi-directional protected bike lane that connects Montana Avenue and a reconstructed T Place NE with West Virginia Avenue, perhaps to avoid the intersection below.

DDOT has provided more detail regarding how pedestrians and bicyclists will cross this complex circle at Montana, West Virginia, and New York Avenues. The image above shows that a bike path and sidewalk are on the southern side of the circle, which also contains trees, bushes, and other streetscape elements. Instead of using the 1600 block of New York Avenue as a trail, the design instead places a shared use path along West Virginia Avenue for about two blocks. The path then turns onto 16th Street NE, passing Okie Street and the shops along it, returning back to New York.

The image above shows a straightforward connection to the 9th Street NE bridge in the form of a ramp and stair. This would replace the communal paths made by users attempting to reach New York Avenue without walking a extra half of a mile along the sidewalk on the street that connects the two.  What the proposed improvements apparently do not do is widen the sidewalk on the south side of New York Avenue below 9th Street, which is only around three feet wide.

The presentation also made connections from the trail to the Arboretum. The plan calls for shared lanes from the rebuilt T Place NE, along 24th Street, and then to the R Street entrance.

Potential Future Connections
The plan proposes several connections to the trail that were not articulated in prior meetings. These additions should be considered alternatives and will not necessarily appear in the final design.

The most intriguing potential future addition listed in the proposal is the construction of a separate bike and pedestrian tunnel below New York Avenue near 4th Street NE. This would be a brand new tunnel, separate for the currently abandoned tunnel integral to the Virginia Railway Express' (VRE) Midday Storage Yard plan. This new connection with the Union Market area would extend the trail along Penn and 4th Street NE to connect with the current 6th Street trail near Gallaudet University and proposed improvements on Florida Avenue, NE.

The tunnel would likely use the "cut and cover" method, which would dig a trench across New York Avenue, roughly parallel with the existing VRE tunnel. While costs were not included in the presentation, planners estimated that the total cost of the tunnel alone would exceed $13 million.

At the New York Avenue Bridge, which runs over the southern sections of the Ivy City Yard and Metro's Red Line, the proposal calls for the widening of the sidewalks on the north side of the bridge. After narrowing some of the travel lanes, unidirectional protected bike lanes would be added in north and south of the bridge to include a protected bike lane in each direction and vantage point to see the tracks and potentially, once built, NoMa Green below.

On the north side of the bridge, a proposed ramp connection allows users to reach the Metropolitan Branch Trail. On the south side, there is a stair connection to the trail, different than the current stairs the lead to the Elevation apartments or the Washington Gateway project's bike lobby proposal. The stairs would contain a bike ramp to help users carry their bikes.

What it's missing
DDOT look is working to create a new trail that connects a long neglected area with the rest of the city. What's missing is something for those who currently live their. This isn't necessarily the new arrivals in the Hecht District but the people who have lived in Ivy City for decades and for the families in ad hoc homeless shelters in New York Avenue hotels.  While the underused Arboretum and an adjacent recreation center are nearby, the trail should include something to draw area residents and visitors to it, not just through it.

This could include artwork similar to what was shown in the VRE Midday Trail Storage facility as well as exercise stations and children play areas. Bio-retention, solar arrays, and small shelter for events could be added, as well as the customary benches and bike parking. This would require coordination with other District agencies like the Department of Energy and the Environment and the Department of Parks and Recreation, and potentially an area business Improvement District to help maintain and produce programming for it, but it could be accomplished with not much more effort.

What do you think should be added? Post your thoughts in the comments section below or send a message at @BikeSpecific.

Below are additional images taken at the meeting.