The proposed trail lobby passageway through Washington Gateway that would connect the MBT to Florida Avenue NE. Image by MRP Realty.

Back in the summer, the company behind the Washington Gateway development just off the Metropolitan Branch Trail updated plans for a "bike lobby" in the bottom of one of its new buildings. At that point, the plan was to enclose the it with glass walls but, thanks to community input, the space will no longer be enclosed, and it will be open for longer hours. 

The lobby, which will connect the trail to Florida Avenue NE, will be in the planned South Tower that, along with the North Tower, developer MRP Realty plans to build in the second phase of Washington Gateway that could have up to 1,022 residential units when complete. The first tower, the Elevation, opened in 2014.

The development sits on the triangle between New York Avenue NE, Florida Avenue, and the MBT.

The planned Washington Gateway development fronts the MBT from New York Avenue to Florida Avenue NE. Image by MRP Realty.

The passageway will be the only direct path from the trail to Florida Avenue, and in the future it could connect to NoMa's proposed street-level connection to Union Market and trail to Ivy City.

“When the glass comes off it feels more public,” said Matt Robinson, a principal at MRP on the planned lobby at a recent meeting with the Eckington Civic Association (ECA). He added that the firm wants to develop a public space.

MRP has also extended the hours of the passageway, or "trail connection lobby" as it now puts it, by three hours, to 6 am to midnight seven days a week. A grate similar to those at Metro station entrances, would close the entrance during the middle of the night.

The lobby will also feature benches, bike racks, a grand staircase with bike troughs down to the plaza at the center of the development, a call box, free wi-fi, trail maps and possibly a bike repair station.

The updated plan for the trail lobby has removed glass walls from the entrance on the MBT and Washington Gateway plaza. Image by MRP Realty.

Construction of the North and South towers in Washington Gateway is not expected to begin before the middle of 2018 and take up to two years, or through 2020.

The changes to the lobby come in response to community feedback

The trail lobby changes come in response to community feedback. Area residents raised concerns last fall that the glass walls would give the appearance of private space and discourage use, and emphasized the need for a round-the-clock connection, especially as the neighborhoods along the MBT and Florida Avenue NE grow.

"If I can’t just walk through there it’s a visual barrier that the space is not open — people are not going to use it," said Sterling Stone, executive director of Gearin' Up Bicycles in Eckington, on the planned lobby at a September ECA meeting. "When you’re putting up access for the community you need that space open.”

Area residents are happy with most aspects of the changes proposed by MRP, especially the removal of the glass walls. However, the proposed midnight closure, while acknowledged as an improvement over the previous 6am-9pm hours, continues to raise concerns.

Hannah Powell, the representative for ANC 5E03 that includes the Washington Gateway development, points to people attending late movies at the cinema at Union Market, and diners and employees at restaurants in the area that are open past midnight as among potential MBT users who would use the connection late at night.

"We just want to get as many people out on the trail at all hours," she says at the ECA meeting with Robinson.

The reason for the midnight closure is to balance access and safety, says Robinson.

"I’d love for it to be open 24 hours but I can’t man it 24 hours," he says. "We’re going to put cameras in there but I can’t guarantee that the concierge will be watching the cameras at 3 in the morning."

Minimized MBT construction closure

MRP wants to minimize any impact to the MBT during construction of the final two towers in Washington Gateway. Disruptions will occur when a temporary-construction shelter is erected at the beginning of construction, likely around late 2018, and then again for about a week or so when the developer repaves the trail towards the end of the project, says Robinson.

A shelter over the MBT between S Street and T Street NE similar to the one proposed by MRP for Washington Gateway. Image by the author.

Trail users will be notified of the closures and any detours beforehand, including with signage at trail entrances at least 30 days before any closure, he says.

Previous comments by the DC Department of Transportation and MRP were vague on the length of the closure.

The MBT itself will maintain its current alignment and width along Washington Gateway, says Robinson. However, the developer will install new lights on the trail along the southern tower and create a "green buffer" between trail-level units and the trail itself along the northern tower.

The planned green buffer between Washington Gateway's northern tower and the MBT. Image by MRP Realty.

"The trail is a huge amenity to us," says Robinson. "We want to utilise and celebrate it." 

MRP will present its modified plans for Washington Gateway to the DC Zoning Commission on January 19.