The intersection around Potomac Avenue Metrorail station needs to accommodate pedestrians, almost a dozen bus routes, heavy traffic, cyclists, and more. DDOT is proposing three options for redesigning this intersection and creating a usable park in the center.

The Ellipse Park design. Rendering from DDOT.

Since 2006, several proposals have emerged for modernizing the Pennsylvania and Potomac intersection, an increasingly important transit hub for Wards 6, 7 and 8. It’s a particularly tricky spot because while there’s a high demand for walking through the intersection, the current design does not prioritize pedestrians. In addition, the intersection is home to a Metrorail station and multiple bus stops, which necessitates designing for bus turning radii and transfers between buses and Metro.

Three designs for the intersection, and what they have in common

The three design options DDOT is considering are a Triangle Park, Rectangle Park, and Ellipse Park. Each shares the goals of prioritizing pedestrian safety and creating a usable park space in the median of Pennsylvania.

While pedestrians are supposed to cross at the intersection, the “desire line” through the median makes it clear that pedestrians are crossing mid-block, which is unsafe. Recognizing pedestrians’ preferred path, all three proposals include adding a signalized intersection to allow pedestrians to cross through the median.

The existing intersection Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenues. Photo from Google Maps.

Of the three designs, the Ellipse Park is the best fit for Pennsylvania and Potomac’s array of needs.

The Triangle Park design. Rendering from DDOT.

The Ellipse Park is the best of the three designs

For starters, if a park is going to be inviting it needs to have enough large space to feel distinct from the road median. The Ellipse Park would create more green space than the other two options— 34,300 square feet, to be exact. The Triangle Park would only create 25,000 square feet of space, and by wedging grassy areas between traffic lanes, it wouldn’t be much better than what’s there now. And the Rectangle Park, while more unified, would create only 500 more square feet than the Triangle Park.

The Ellipse Park is the only proposal that would reduce the number of bus stops from five to four, which would cut down on pedestrians dashing from the Metro or a different bus stop to catch a bus. The Triangle design creates a situation where people transferring from 30s buses to the Metro would need to cross more roads than in the other designs, and while the Rectangle Park wouldn’t have this problem, it doesn’t have the Ellipse’s pedestrian refuge for people walking south across Pennsylvania.

Finally, both the Ellipse and Rectangle parks would reduce the number of lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue, currently at four in each direction, down to three. The Ellipse Park, however, has curb extensions, which gives the appearance of less roadway than Rectangle Park.

The Rectangle Park design. Rendering from DDOT.

Whichever design wins out certainly won’t be without its challenges. The National Park Services, the agency that would be responsible for maintaining them, has a mixed record when it comes to caring for these kinds of small civic spaces, which is cause for concern when it comes to both the Ellipse and Rectangle parks’ proposed tree linings that would serve as buffers between park visitors and passing automobiles.

As the area around Pennsylvania and Potomac continues to grow, new and current residents alike deserve transportation design that enhances their safety and convenience. The proposed Ellipse Park is the best way to go because it will create the most park space and make bus-to-rail travel easiest in addition to reducing car lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Veronica O. Davis, PE, has experience in planning transportation, urban areas, civil infrastructure, and communities.  She co-owns Nspiregreen, LLC, an environmental consulting company in DC.  She is also the co-founder of Black Women Bike DC, which strives to increase the number of Black women and girls biking for fun, health, wellness, and transportation.

Brian McEntee writes the blog Tales From the Sharrows, where he talks about his daily bicycle commute from Capitol Hill to American University and many other subjects.