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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fixing the Freeway

Last night I attended a DC United game. I'm not a big soccer fan, but that team is just so much fun to cheer. I did my usual when attending events at RFK: drive to Cheverly Metro station and train it in from there. After the game, I went back to a friend's house near Waterfront to dry off (the rain was intense!) and then the plan was to give me a ride back to Cheverly, as Metro had stopped running. My chosen route was Southeast Freeway to PA Av, over the Sousa Bridge and then 295 to 50. but halfway up 295, we hit traffic. At 1 am. Apparently, 295 was flooded so bad they closed it. Same with Canal Road and Rock Creek Parkway.

I understand that there is construction on 295, but closed for flooding? This road is a primary evacuation route in case of emergency! That bodes poorly.

Furthermore, it's bad for the argument I am about to make. I have a real problem with the freeways within the District. We don't have too many, we don't need more... we just did them very, very wrong.

A route running north-south through the city is a good idea, as long as it is relatively unobtrusive. 395 in Southwest isn't nearly as bad as freeways in other cities. There are connections relatively close to each other. It needs a lot of work between South Capitol Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, but I believe it can be an asset to the city. I don't mean as a commuter route; more for the reasons Eisenhower pushed the Interstate System in the first place.

My idea would be to boulevardize two routes in favor of building one new freeway connection:

Green: Boulevardized roads
Yellow Improved functionality of Freeways/interchanges
Red: New freeways alignment.

The upper green area is New York Avenue. Let's turn that back into a city street. Get rid of the interchange at Brentwood Parkway. Downplay the connectivity to the two freeways (50 and 295) at Fort Lincoln. Put some mixed use housing/retail along the route, bikeways, and maybe a nice median with some trees. If it is possible to engineer, I'd say its worth investing in a giant deck over the rail yards. This road leads to the Capitol Building, not an office park in Loudon County. Let's make it look and function like a grand avenue and not a traffic gutter.

The lower green is the Anacostia Freeway between the Douglass Bridge and the proposed bridge. Open it up, return the river to the residents of Anacostia. This road- I'll call it Anacostia Avenue- ought to invite people to cross it and engage the riverfront. The current Anacostia Drive could become a bike path. The new Anacostia Avenue could offer street level retail with river view condos above them.

The bottom of the yellow line is the existing Southeast Freeway. This road needs work. It cuts Near Southeast in half, which destroys much of the area's character. Could this be a cut-and-cover freeway under Virginia Avenue? I think it would help if we got rid of the connection to the 3rd Street Tunnel. If all the traffic goes up the new portion, the need for a connection to New York Avenue is greatly decreased. Take GreaterGreaterWashington's suggestion and use it as a Metro tunnel.

Now the red, the part I'm sure many would deplore. I believe it is necessary for a contiguous freeway to serve every city. A four lane bridge from Barney Circle paralleling the freight train tracks and connecting to 295 would do the trick. Remove most of New York Avenue's connectivity with the B-W Parkway and the John Hanson Highway, keeping commuters off New York and other neighborhood streets and charge congestion pricing for anyone opting to drive their commute into the city. It would shake up the status quo for driving, but it could improve life in the city quite a bit. So I'm saying build a highway connection. Cue the barrage of tomatoes.

Why don't we just get rid of all the highways?
In my opinion, we can't yet. DC is a city that probably can't ever. These roads serve as evacuation routes (when they're not flooded). They also carry some types of traffic that shouldn't be on a regular DC street, such as military vehicles and various motorcades. This isn't Pyongyang. I never want to see Hum-Vees on New York Avenue unless it's a Veteran's Day parade.

We can utilize a mostly-existing freeway infrastructure as a means to trade two routes for what will ultimately amount to just a bridge. And we can charge people to drive on a continuous highway a lot easier than three fragmented highways that basically dead-end in various places. Going from Hywattsville to Lincolnia? drive all the way around or pay a couple bucks and save time. It will encourage a third option too: transit.

What transit infrastructure would we need with this?
I always caveat that I'm not an engineer, my degree is in general geography (engineers, feel free to set me straight!) But to help this, I would start by suggesting residential-focused transit-oriented development on the Orange line from Minnesota Avenue to New Carrollton. These five stations are greatly underutilized, and my experience is that they are best reached by car if you're in the suburbs (like my trip to the United game from Cheverly). Perhaps something along the heavy rail route from Deanwood to Hyattsville and onto College Park as well, as Matt at Track Twenty-Nine suggested a while back. And TOD the heck out of that region of PG county.

Also, better MARC service. And by better, I mean more frequent, dedicated tracks better service. If our regional system is only running during rush hour and sharing tracks with freight trains and AMTRAK, driving will look like a much more palatable option. I'd even suggest another MARC line in the median of US 50 with stops in Bowie and Annapolis (and who knows? Maybe one day fulfill my dream of taking MARC to Ocean City for vacation.)

Transit along New York Avenue would help redevelop the stretch as well. Perhaps a line connecting Union Station to College Park or New Carrollton along the existing freight/MARC rail with a few stops along the way (versus the existing MARC line). Of course, most of these suggestions would be a good idea anyway, and virtually nothing I've proposed for the trains is a wildly original idea. But these changes in particular would be a good compliment to the freeway realignment.

Eisenhower's original plan for freeways was for national security, not for commuting. I say keep one freeway and use it as a reason to get rid of the rest of them. Make sense to anyone else?


Douglas A. Willinger said...

"A route running north-south through the city is a good idea, as long as it is relatively unobtrusive."

RX new design B&O North Central Freeway and South Capitol Street Tunnel.

Covering the railroad corridor is my suggestion for the NCF and for a parallel to NY Avenue freeway.

Converting any existing freeway to a boulevard would further divide the area with the traffic; the RX would be to depress and cover it.

Also see:

Douglas A. Willinger said...

For the SW Freeway, NCPC has adopted a plan very close to mine, with the tunnelization of that highway's western portion.

Dave Murphy said...


As brilliant as those plans are, it seems like an awful lot of investment and I don't believe it would serve the purpose of getting cars off city streets. The freeways would be rather unobtrusive, but the cost would be overbearing, as it would be creating an entire new freeway (and a tunnel at that) whereas I'm proposing just a simple bridge.

I also fail to see how boulevardizing highways divides the area. If that stretch of the Anacostia Freeway were boulevardized, it would open up Anacostia to the River. The north-south route would still be present, only now it would cross the river twice.

As for New York Avenue, the goal here is to discourage cars from using that route as much as possible. It strikes me as redundant to have another freeway connecting 395 to 50/295 via New York Avenue, and would only induce driving demand in the city.

As for the second comment, I like the framework's proposal but I think the worst part of that freeway is the portion in Southeast. Considering that right now much of it is functionally useless, it takes up an awful lot of space. I I would like to see a revival it's intended function with the bridge over the river while at the same time reducing the size of its footprint.

Douglas A. Willinger said...

Boulevardizing a freeway would increase the vehicular - pedestrian conflict, especially if lined with new development. Better is dropping it down and covering it, with a linear park with -- yes - boulevard[s] for the local traffic.

The north-south route that I propose would provide the added benefit of a new north south Mall to connect NE.

We both agree on keeping the SE Freeway; please note that it -- to the east of the 11th Street Bridges -- can be tunnelized at relatively little cost via building a deck over the *existing* roadbed. Think about Barney Circle and simply extending that deck east and west.

Doing that for the SW Freeway is a lot more work- yet even NCPC has a quite workable basic plan with ots 2008 proposal.

Even my full plan would be a tiny fraction of what the Feds blow on their various wars.

As for NY Avenue, the answer is a parallel to NY Avenue facility in a box built into the hill alongside the railroad- this tunnel box could then be covered with a promenade and new development's that could pay towards its costs.

Dave Murphy said...

It seems redundant to me to have a freeway on both sides of the river, particularly as vehicular usage continues to decline and the District continues to adopt transit friendly/ driver unfriendly policies.

In particular, if your proposals were to be built, what purpose would the Kenilworth Av/Anacostia Freeway serve, other than paralleling the tunneled 395 on the opposite shore. The net loss would be one interchange (PA Avenue), an intersection that could still easily be served from the freeways by the new boulevard. That section of the Anacostia Freeway wouldn't serve Anacostia at all even if it were buried under decks. It would only induce traffic demand into the District.

I believe it is inappropriate to design freeways in DC for the purpose of commuting, which is what I presume this additional highway would facilitate. I believe that freeways should move people THROUGH the city, and in the event of an emergency be converted to one-way outbound evacuation routes. I am assuming this ideal is where we part ways, correct?

Douglas A. Willinger said...

DC needs at least one north south and one east west freeway, built of course primarily via existing corridors.

A Barney Circle Bridge, or SE Freeway continuation to the East Caitol Street Bridge would accomplish the latter with an improved Anacostia Freeway.

The north south route already exists with I-295 and the Center Leg (I-395 3rd Street Tunnel), which needs to be better connected with a South Capitol Street Tunnel, and a continuation north (the latter I elaborate upon at "A Trip Within the Beltway" with a superior option for the immediate I-395 continuation (now to be blocked by the Washington Gateway Chock) and the Grand Arc which would have a tunnel split at NHA connecting to the PEPCO corridor.

Current planning is bent upon chocking our options, while much of the 1960s planning seems to me a deliberate political undermining: aka the ridiculous 1963-64 North Central Freeway study- all recounted at A Trip Within The Beltway.


I call it the new medievalism.