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Champlain Street in Adams Morgan to Re-open; Neighbors Welcome Enhanced Streetscape Design

By Anthony L. Harvey

[Note: Photographs accompanying this news story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

Presentation of DC’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) long awaited final plans for the reopening of Champlain Street under the Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center in the heart of Adams Morgan drew a large contingent of community residents, city-wide

activists, ANC Commissioners, and representatives of Adams Morgan Main Street and their Business Improvement District (the BID) to the ANC’s February monthly meeting of its Planning, Zoning, and Transportation (PZT) Committee. Chaired by Commissioner Wilson Reynolds, the session was joined by Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, Adams Morgan ANC Chair Bryan Weaver, and Main Street President Lisa Duperier — all staunch supporters of the project.

DDOT officials presented a comprehensive and well received streetscape plan, complete with exhaustive drawings and an easy to follow set of illustrative slides, which they projected in a PowerPoint® presentation to all those in attendance. DDOT’s sensitivities to the remarkable set of “co-located” educational, recreational, and social service programs at the Marie Reed Center; its recognition of the traffic and safety issues of the project and attendant lighting and aesthetic concerns; and the impact of this reopening on nearby retail establishments and the recently opened Champlain Street public parking garage, were vocally commended by engaged participants — all of whom displayed an intimate knowledge of the problems being addressed, and the solutions being proposed, for this important project.

The project area incorporates Champlain Street from Kalorama Road to Florida Avenue, including Old Morgan School Way, and Florida Avenue to California to 18th Streets.

DDOT’s formal presentation followed its project scope — one that focused on roadway, traffic, and streetscape improvements; its plans call for replacing the closed underpass with new roadway resurfacing, the construction of new sidewalks with pebble aggregate concrete walking surfaces, new granite curbs, and brick gutters. Dead and dying trees will be replaced and new tree boxes will have extended, below surface root beds. Extensive new lighting is proposed to partially address streetscape safety and aesthetic issues as will the new southbound traffic lane — used only by school buses during the school day — and the northbound bicycle lane. Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance throughout the project will be strictly observed. Washington Globe lights, both pole and teardrop, will be used exclusively within this boundary; other new streetscape amenities will include landscaping, bike racks, trash receptacles, crosswalk pavers, pedestrian bulb-outs, and “light pole decorative treatments.”

The unsightly dumpsters now located beneath the Marie Reed overpass will be moved against the building on the Old Morgan School Way side of the structure, and then connected to an enclosed trash chute — all of which will be decorously painted. Blocked doors and bricked-up windows, absent signage and confusing directional signals are all planned for remedial improvements. These long sought changes should serve to spur further efforts by those with departmental level, managerial responsibilities for the astonishing number of vital community programs that presently occupy the Marie Reed building site. These include the successful school programs (which are the best known), the highly regarded public health clinic, a children’s day care center, a youth recreational center, and the full-size indoor swimming pool and gymnasium — all of which are in far better physical condition on the inside, which people rarely see, than on the deplorably maintained exterior of the large and rambling facility. The run-down – which has been characterized as “Third World” —  condition of much of the playground, playing field, and outdoor basketball courts is in plain sight from 18th Street, as well as from Florida Avenue and Champlain Street.

The project is scheduled to take no more than six months and to be completed prior to the start of the Adams Morgan business district’s 18th Street reconstruction project. Cost is estimated by DDOT to be $1,200,00, with an additional $500,000 designated for community improvements — especially art embellishments — and a $170,000 transportation enhancement grant being held by Adams Morgan Main Street on behalf of the total project. Final plans for these last two efforts, as well as the current status of the $500,000 fund, have yet to be established.

Open questions also remain on mural and decorative art work on the ADA-compliant, main elevated ramp to the building; the presence of a handrail rather than a low wall for safety reasons; and two-way traffic on Old Morgan School Way. Councilmember Graham concluded his remarks by vowing his diligence in seeing the project through to completion, fully funded, and achieving all of its project goals of increased traffic flow — cars, pedestrians, and bicycles — through well lighted, aesthetically pleasing, and physically safe urban space.