Where Kennedy Street meets Missouri Avenue in Northwest DC, there’s a dangerous tangle of turn lanes, cross traffic, and leftover plots of useless land. DDOT plans to remake the intersection to be safer for car traffic, but with a few simple tweaks the plan could produce something even better: A village square.

Kennedy Street at Missouri Avenue, where DDOT is considering closing a turn lane.

Image from Bing.

Kennedy Street NW is one of DC’s forgotten main streets. It’s the biggest east-west commercial street between Columbia Heights and Silver Spring, though its sparse collection of shops is a far cry from the hustle of Georgia Avenue.

One of the problems on Kennedy Street is its intersection with Missouri Avenue, where the existing road design prioritizes cars over pedestrians, and divides what otherwise might be the walkable heart of Kennedy Street’s business district.

Except the intersection isn’t safe for cars either. Dozens of collisions in recent years have resulted from drivers travelling southeast on Missouri Avenue cutting across oncoming traffic to turn left onto eastbound Kennedy Street.

DDOT’s long-delayed plan to fix this problem would close the eastbound lane of Kennedy Street between Missouri Avenue and 2nd Street. Drivers hoping to go east on Kennedy would instead turn left off Missouri onto 2nd Street, then immediately right onto Kennedy.

This change may reduce car collisions by preventing drivers from turning across traffic. But it does nothing to help pedestrians, on a street where they desperately need help.

Close one more lane to get a village square

DDOT’s plan to improve safety at the intersection leaves the westbound lane of Kennedy Street as-is. But what if that lane were closed as well?

There aren’t as many traffic safety problems on the westbound lane. Closing it would eliminate direct car access to the struggling businesses in row houses along that block. It would also eliminate a bit of on-street parking.

But removing both lanes would create a sizable triangle of public land, which then could become the central public square Kennedy Street currently lacks. The square could become the heart of the Kennedy Street community, hosting gatherings, markets, and events.

If that happened, might the increase in pedestrian traffic make up for the decrease in car traffic?

Community activists push for change

The Kennedy Street Business and Development Association launched in January in part to push the city to fully fund and implement the 2008 revitalization plan for Kennedy Street.

In that plan, the Office of Planning recommended improving this intersection and the rest of Kennedy’s streetscape, to help revive its pedestrian and commercial life.

DDOT’s plan to improve car safety is a good start, but to make Kennedy a fully healthy and vital main street it’s going to take more than tweaks to the traffic flow. We need a more pedestrian-friendly street, and hopefully a village square.