The team of architects and business leaders behind the recent, unsuccessful, and until-now-secret bid for an Olympics in DC revealed some of their ideas last week to Jonathan O’Connell of the Washington Post. The plan has a number of good ideas for DC which are worth implementing even now — and a few that really aren’t.
The renderings show new pedestrian bridges over the Anacostia river, including at Massachusetts Avenue. Such pedestrian bridges would reduce the river’s role as a barrier and better connect neighborhoods on either side.
While the plan shows a new stadium on the site of RFK instead of housing or parkland, it does depict recreational facilities where now parking lots stand around RFK. That is a terrific idea, though the article doesn’t specify what would have happened after the Olympics when the Washington football team would have supposedly started using the new stadium, which was part of the plan.
Is Dan Snyder okay with having very little surface parking around his team’s stadium long-term? If so, some people who oppose a new DC football stadium today might actually support a deal to move his team back to RFK if the parking lots don’t have to remain.
The transit ideas in the plan have more uncertain value. The plan shows a new Oklahoma Avenue infill Metro station on the Orange Line. Metro’s initial plans had a station there which would have been a 1,000-car park-and-ride, but neighbors fought the plan and the station was canceled.
It’s not clear a new station now would bring much benefit, since it would spur little to no development and is very near the existing Stadium-Armory station. The Olympic plan suggests using the construction to add a third track to turn trains, which would indeed be useful.
Organizers also suggested a dedicated bus lane in place of parking on Independence Avenue to run shuttles. Dedicated bus lanes are a fantastic idea, but Independence is not a heavy bus route today, and so that would not have left much lasting benefit and probably would have only been temporary.
Another great idea from the plan is to use East Potomac Park as something other than a golf course. For expansive land right near the National Mall, golf is not the best use. (That would be a good place for an infill Metro station and some actual activity.)
DC doesn’t need sports to thrive
The diagrams, which are indeed stunning, show various sports facilities on virtually any piece of open land in the vicinity — a second large stadium at Poplar Point, new buildings on Anacostia Park, and more. Certainly one can see how to people who run sports programs in DC, the idea of putting more sports on all nearby open space has appeal.
It also fits perfectly with a certain 1980s-era view of DC, as a place desperate for any investment and with plenty of empty land. That is no longer the case. Instead, DC has people clamoring to build on nearly any spot west of the river, and it’s not going to be long before the same happens east.
Olympic bid chairman Russ Ramsey talked to O’Connell about the need to rebrand DC as a place that’s not just House of Cards. But inside DC’s neighborhoods, the city is already rapidly shedding that image, and certainly is not hurting for people, restaurants, and other businesses eager to move in.
At RFK and Hill East, for instance, the obstacle to development is not lack of a vision; rather, there’s a stadium there and federal restrictions on using the land, plus the fact that there are public services already on that land. As O’Connell notes, “The 2024 planners did not solve difficult problems such as where to put an existing methadone clinic or what to do with the DC Jail.”
Answer that question and relieve restrictions on RFK, and it would not be difficult to make a new eastern gateway sprout as the organizers hope, Olympics or no.