In exchange for support to build retail and housing in Eckington, developer JBG has offered to fund a study of what it’d take to build a bridge that connects the Metropolitan Branch Trail and Union Market. That’d be a big step in joining Eckington and NoMa.

Map of potential MBT-Union Market aerial connection. Image from Google Maps.

JBG would fund a “viability and design study for an aerial pedestrian and bicycle connection between R Street NE and 4th Street/Penn Street at Union Market,” a draft community benefits agreement with the Eckington Civic Association states. The developer would pay for the study in exchange for the civic association’s support of the proposed three-acre Eckington Yards development.

The potential MBT-Union Market connection could use a unused tunnel under New York Avenue to link it with Union Market and connect to a future multi-use trail to Ivy City.

Union Market, an increasingly popular shopping spot, is separated from much of the District’s cycling network and many of its booming neighborhoods by two main physical barriers: New York Avenue NE and the throat tracks into Union Station.

The NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) identified the area as needing a better connection in the MBT Safety and Access Study that the NoMa Parks Foundation this month.

NoMa identified a potential MBT-Union Market connection in its MBT Safety and Access Study. Image by NoMa BID.

A new footbridge might not be the way to go

However, according to Robin-Eve Jasper, president of NoMa BID, Nelson\\Nygaard advised the parks foundation that an aerial connection similar to the one JBG describes in the benefits agreement as unlikely to be feasible. The distance across the railroad tracks at R Street NE and the need for Amtrak approval of an aerial structure are limiting factors, she says.

One possible option to improve the connection could be new ramps on both sides of the tracks to the New York Avenue bridge and a better sidewalk along the actual road. This would likely require fewer approvals and be more cost effective than a new multi-use bridge.

Improvements are coming to Florida Avenue

Right now, the easiest way to walk to Union Market from any neighborhood west of the trail and tracks is via the narrow sidewalks along Florida Avenue NE.

The narrow sidewalks along the underpass on Florida Avenue NE in NoMa. Image by the author.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is in the process of redesigning this section of Florida Avenue with pedestrian and streetscape improvements, says Sam Zimbabwe, the agency’s associate director of policy, planning and sustainability administration. DDOT is pursuing a revised version of the proposed second alternative, which includes a wider sidewalk, some bike lanes, and a road diet to two lanes in each direction from three.

DDOT’s initial alternative two concept for Florida Avenue NE from 2014. Image from DDOT.

While he does not provide a timeline, Zimbabwe says DDOT is seeking preliminary engineering services for the project.

A coming park could lead to more JBG and NoMa partnerships

JBG has a vested interest in improving pedestrian and bike access to its new development. The walk to the NoMa-Gallaudet U Metro station from Eckington Yards, which will be built on the site of the Washington Flower Center between Eckington Place and Harry Thomas Way NE, takes more than 10 minutes due to the detour north to R Street NE to access the MBT.

This walk could go down to about five minutes with a Q Street NE connection to the MBT, something that the NoMa Parks Foundation plans to build as part of its new two-acre park across Harry Thomas Way from Eckington Yards.

Eckington Yards in relation to the planned NoMa park. Image by JBG.

"We would be willing to contribute to making that park as great as it can be,” says Bryan Moll, a principal art JBG, on a possible contribution to the park at an Eckington Civic Association Meeting earlier in February.

NoMa has only asked JBG for a cash contribution to the planned park, he adds, referring to meetings the developer has had with the parks foundation.

"We would love to consider a variety of ways we could partner,” says Jasper. “The reason we haven’t asked them for anything in particular is because we haven’t started the design process.”

The park will go through public comment process before the final design is selected, she adds.

The NoMa Parks Foundation has a $50 million budget to parks, with more than $17 million already spent on just acquiring the land for the two-acre park from Pepco and buying a much smaller plot at the corner of L Street and 3rd Street NE.

By comparison, Navy Yard’s 2.5-acre Canal Park cost $26.5 million to build.