Dupont Circle could be getting a plaza over the busy Connecticut Avenue, which currently slices the area in half and makes it unfriendly to people walking. Last week at a community meeting, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) presented initial concepts for a “deck-over” project that would stretch from Dupont Circle to California Street NW. So far, feedback is generally positive.
The retained cut in the middle of Connecticut Avenue was built along with the underpass in the 1940s. The grade from the tunnel was too steep for a simple intersection at Q street, necessitating the cut up to where the underpass rejoins the roadway at R Street. GGWash has supported a deck-over project back when it was proposed in 2010, and again when funding materialized in 2014.
The original vision was to completely cover the cut, but a feasibility study determined that decking over the entire roadway would require expensive modifications for ventilation. The cost-effective solution is to keep a 45-foot opening somewhere between Dupont Circle and Q Street. While this means the park will not be as big, it provides an opportunity to be innovative.
The project team provided three options for the plaza — an “oasis”, a “promenade,” and a “piazza,” each with varying types of potential landscaping and space for activities and events.
The oasis would retain the current service lanes, including a turnaround at the south end of the Circle, and would add new crosswalks. That means people can't access the plaza from Dupont Circle because there is no way to cross the 45-foot retained cut without crossing a service lane to the existing sidewalk.
The promenade option would remove the lightly-used turnaround and remove some parking from the service lanes. This option still has an opening, but instead of a square over the retained cut it has a circle that permits people to seamlessly walk from Dupont Circle onto the plaza.
The final and most progressive option is the piazza. The deck-over and service lanes would be raised seven inches to the height of the sidewalk, most if not all parking spaces would be eliminated, and pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, and cars would all share the plaza.
For special events such as a farmers market, movie night, or Embassy Open House day, the piazza could be temporarily closed to cars to become a bike/pedestrian-only zone.
That raises the question: if the service lanes can be closed for special events, why not close it permanently in the future? Shared streets are popular internationally and exist across the region such as the Wharf, where the 60-foot-wide "woonerf" has been a success. This would be the first time DDOT would build a shared street.
There was a lot of support for the piazza option at the meeting. However, it would bring some challenges, including potentially rerouting the 42 bus that uses the service lanes. (WMATA has a survey out asking for feedback on having the 42 use the underpass rather than go through the service lanes and Dupont Circle.)
Another challenge is understanding how the “shared street” would work. One note left on the comment boards at the meeting noted that there should be “No cars!” on the piazza, even though this is not one of the options being studied by DDOT and the project team.
The current phase of the project is to get to 30% design, with the goal of another public meeting in the fall with a preferred deck-over alternative. After that, the project will further refine the design by working closely with the new Dupont Circle Business Improvement District, which will manage the plaza. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2021.
Because Dupont Circle is in the middle of four lanes of traffic, it can sometimes be hard to pull off events or draw people into the park. While Dupont Circle mostly hosts passive recreation, the deck-over project has the opportunity to be a more active space with easier access and pop-up events.
The retained cut has gashed through Connecticut Avenue for more than 70 years, and now is our opportunity to fix it. Let us know which option you prefer: the oasis, promenade, piazza/shared street, or a piazza without cars fully designated for pedestrians and cyclists. We will share your feedback with DDOT and the ANC to make sure we build it right.