Photo by clgregor on Flickr.
The center of Ward Circle near American University is an unused and wasted space. The road design heavily favors car traffic and features few bicycle or pedestrian facilities. Closing some traffic lanes and adding pedestrian crosswalks and bike lanes could make Ward Circle a more coherent public space.
The center of the circle, at the intersection of Massachusetts and Nebraska Avenues NW, is currently inaccessible to pedestrians and features only a statue and some shrubs in the middle. Pedestrians and cyclists are able to travel around the circle but not into or through it.
An improved park would serve many, as both American University and the Department of Homeland Security headquarters are within walking distance. Students could study or take a break from classes, and DHS employees could eat lunch in the circle, in the vein of the denizens of Dupont Circle.
In addition to sharing the two circumnavigating lanes with Massachusetts Avenue, Nebraska Avenue has two express lanes that travel through the middle of the circle. Even if pedestrians did want to travel into the middle of Ward Circle, they would have to cross both the outer travel lanes and the inner express lanes.
DDOT studied the option of closing the Nebraska Avenue through-lanes in the Rock Creek West II Livability Study. Doing so would slow automobile traffic but could help make for a better public place.
One alternative to improve traffic flow, through an expensive and logistically difficult proposition, would be to tunnel Nebraska Avenue under Ward Circle. Several other avenues tunnel under other circles in the District: Connecticut Avenue under Dupont Circle, Massachusetts under Thomas Circle, and 16th Street under Scott Circle.
Even without a tunnel, eliminating the express lanes and routing all traffic around the circle would improve the space. Crosswalks with leading pedestrian intervals would make it easier to cross only two lanes of traffic. Otherwise, DDOT will have to install crosswalks for both the outer and inner lanes.
Benches would also make the circle a more attractive place to spend time. Trees or larger shrubs along the edge could screen some of the traffic noise and provide shade. Lighting would make the circle a safe and attractive place to be at night.
DDOT redesigned Thomas Circle in a similar way in 2006. DDOT removed the middle lanes through the circle and restored the circular shape. Thomas Circle still needs additional amenities in the center to make it a more welcoming space, however, and similar improvements to Ward Circle would create a better community park.
Nebraska Avenue is also an unfriendly bike corridor along an important commuter route. Nebraska connects AU and DHS to Tenleytown, the closest Metro station. AU runs a shuttle to the Metro and DHS runs some shuttles, but biking along Nebraska can be treacherous with the traffic.
DDOT is considering widening the sidewalk on the north side of Nebraska and installing a bike path. According to Jim Sebastian, Nebraska Avenue is too narrow at 40 feet to install bike lanes on the street. The north side of Nebraska has heavier pedestrian traffic than the south side, so DDOT is only looking to expand there.
Increasing bicycle accessibility and mobility between Tenleytown and the circle should also be a goal of the redesign. A bike path along the sidewalk could encourage more bike commuting from Tenleytown to Ward Circle. DDOT should also add a second Capital Bikeshare station at the circle and expand the station at Tenleytown.
Currently, there is only one bike share station on Massachusetts Avenue to the northwest of Ward Circle. A station directly at the circle would not only accommodate more bikers, but it would also make it more of a destination. DDOT is now crowdsourcing suggestions for new stations, so residents, students, and nearby employees can suggest adding one here.
Finally, the bike lane network near AU is incomplete. Massachusetts Avenue has no lanes, and ANC3D opposed adding bike lanes to New Mexico Avenue near Nebraska. It’s good that DDOT wants to add a bike path to Nebraska, but the agency should also push for a more connected and complete bike lane network around Ward Circle.
Ward Circle is close to students, residents, and federal workers, all of whom could benefit from a large green space, and the District should include in its planning modifications that activate the space. The proposed changes will create a better community space that is welcoming to pedestrians and cyclists, while still allowing for automobile flow. What else do you think would improve the circle?