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A Facelift — and Perhaps a New Plaza –- Await Connecticut Avenue North to California Street

Accompanying images can be viewed on page 1 of the June issue 2017 issue pdf

By William G. Schulz*

Plans for an improved streetscape along Connecticut Avenue, beginning just north of Dupont Circle and extending all the way up to California Street, were unveiled by the District’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) at a well-attended happy-hour reception and public meeting held on April 26th at the WeWork Dupont offices and conferencing space.

Probably the most dramatic aspect of the plan is a proposed, block-long pedestrian plaza to begin where Connecticut Avenue resumes on the north side of the Circle up to the Q Street intersection. As most Dupont Circle residents know, that block is currently divided by a gaping underpass, an eyesore that would be completely covered to create a small park by construing what is referred to as a “deck-over.”

“This is one of the most exciting projects to happen in Dupont Circle in many, many years,” Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans told the public meeting crowd.

“We’re going to do a full-scale analysis and get this done,” Evans said of city efforts to both hold listening tours and invite public input through questionnaires and other survey methods.

Both Evans and DDOT representatives noted that a pedestrian plaza to cover the underpass has been proposed several times before — the earliest known dating back to the 1960s. Because this same portion of Connecticut Avenue, along with the blocks up to California Street, has just this year been officially granted status as a Business Improvement District by the city, the likelihood that, this time, it will actually be built seems to have increased.

Total project costs will be a shared expense with the city and members of the BID, whose membership fees become part of their commercial property tax bills and thus cannot be avoided.

“The BID will make it all happen and ensure maintenance,” Evans said.

Although disruption to the businesses between the Circle and Q Street probably cannot be avoided, the BID — which garnered widespread support from local business along Connecticut Avenue and elsewhere in Dupont Circle — has included plans for the streetscape improvement all along the avenue; existing businesses knew what they have signed up for, and did so with enthusiasm, but DDOT has also emphasized that construction will be designed to take place as rapidly as possible and in a manner that will minimize disruption to the businesses.

Streetscape improvements, DDOT says, will include access for pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit and automobiles. There will be upgrades to sidewalks, streetlights, drainage and traffic signals. Tree cover will be enhanced the entire length of the project, as will safety at crosswalks — long an issue on the broad thoroughfare that is one of DC’s main traffic arteries.

Many of the details have yet to be worked out and the April public meeting was just the first of many to be held by DDOT to keep the public informed and engaged with project development and decision-making.

A 2016 DDOT study of the streetscape project yielded some early points of emphasis from stakeholders, including:

  • Preservation of views to and from the Dupont Circle memorial fountain;
  • Maintenance of the shape and building edge around the Circle, which was designed as a focal point, and ensure that the plaza remains secondary and modest;
  • Separate the plaza from the Circle to help differentiate the two public spaces;
  • Minimize the level that the deck of the plaza needs to be raised;
  • Maintain visibility of the historic infrastructure that defines the depressed roadway and tunnel;
  • Consider improvements to Dupont Triangle Park (also known as Reservation 149), the small pocket park that is across from Metro’s Dupont Circle station Q Street entry;
  • Maximize the amount of continuous plaza space;
  • Maintain and enhance access to the businesses.

The ultimate design of the deck-over plaza, in particular, will need refinement and more public and BID stakeholder input. Points to be considered include height of the deck to accommodate either tree planting or planters, whether to keep open the existing U turnaround and the resulting impact on traffic flow, as well as whether perhaps to include a fabricated canopy over the plaza (otherwise, it might be way too hot for use during summer especially.

Because of the complexity of the project, design demands, and need for public input, DDOT says construction will not likely begin before autumn of 2021. Meantime, a description of the overall project, including various design proposals can be found on DDOT’s “Streetscape and Deck-Over Project” website which features extensive informational resources and schematics as well as place for submitting public comments.

Copyright © 2018 InTowner Publishing Corp. & William G. Schulz. All rights reserved.