Over a decade ago, the federal government closed Virginia Avenue between South Capitol Street* and 1st Street SE, and then seemingly forgot about it. Could the street become a bicycle and pedestrian path instead?
In 2003, in order to provide a construction staging area to expand and improve the Capitol Power Plant, the federal government closed a block and a half of Virginia Avenue SE. Those projects wrapped up in 2012, but two years later Virginia Avenue is still closed.
According to a statement from the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) office, the government “continues to have major infrastructure construction projects that require the use of Virginia Avenue.” So for now at least, the AOC will continue to use Virginia Avenue as a staging area.
Will it ever reopen? Maybe not. In 2006, as part of the Capitol Complex Master Plan, the AOC said one way to improve security at the power plant would be “permanent closure of Virginia Avenue to vehicular traffic.”
But Virginia Avenue is four blocks from the Capitol dome. It’s a waste to leave it completely unused. Whether security really demands the AOC permanently close Virginia Avenue to vehicles is a debate the community should engage in. But even if the answer is yes, there are other options besides simply closing it completely.
How about a bike path?
Conveniently, planning is already underway on the parallel Virginia Avenue Tunnel Project. That provides a nice opportunity to bring up the closed blocks of Virginia Avenue.
The tunnel project stretches from 2nd to 12th and includes a side trail. The DC Safe Rail group suggests extending the trail along Virginia Avenue’s closed right-of-way as a bicycle/pedestrian path only.
Combined with the Southeast Boulevard project, which will also have a multi-use trail, this could create a continues bicycle/pedestrian path from Barney Circle and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail all the way to South Capitol Street.
A trail is only one possible use of the space. Another option is to expand Garfield Park, with trees, grass, and bioswales. Or the road could reopen fully and return as part of the street grid. Or maybe something else.
For now, and into the foreseeable future, it appears the government will keep Virginia Avenue closed. But now is a good time to ask if that need always be the case.
* The original version of this post mistakenly referred to East Capitol Street instead of South Capitol Street.