Dupont Circle is considered to be a fully-developed neighborhood, and certainly during the District’s tough years it was ahead of other areas. Yet there are still parts that are ripe for improvements.
Dupont Circle is surrounded by shops, cafes, and hotels, but the park itself is difficult to get in and out of. Its four lanes of counter-clockwise traffic are divided into two parts, with the inner part serving as Massachusetts Ave, and the outer part working as a typical traffic circle for the other four streets intersecting the park.
Pedestrians can connect from the three avenues (Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire) but not the two streets (19th and P). At the Connecticut and New Hampshire crossings, pedestrians have to wade through two levels of traffic signals, waiting for the second on a narrow concrete median, not wide enough for bikes, and without room for more than a single wheelchair.
In 2006 the Project for Public Spaces put Dupont Circle in its Hall of Shame, saying “the road around the Circle is two lanes too wide, and the connections from the interior park to the edges could be dramatically improved.”
To make the park more accessible, Massachusetts Ave’s inner roadway should be removed, with Massachusetts Ave traffic merging in a simpler two-lane circle.
This blog has already suggested we put a lid on Connecticut Avenue. The block of the underpass north of Dupont Circle and south of Q St should be decked over to give us a new park.
The new park would connect the two distant halves of Connecticut Ave, expand the circle’s green space, and might even provide a better home for the farmers market.
The biggest missed opportunity is under our noses. Where planters fill the Connecticut Ave medians, we once had trolleys that dipped below the surface, and came to rest in two semi-circular (and unconnected) platforms. That underground space should be given a use that opens it to the public.
The space became vacant when the streetcars stopped running in 1962. In 1995 the western half was turned into a food court called Dupont Down Under, which soon failed, and tied up the space with lawsuits.
Last year a group called The Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground (ACDU) presented the only submission for the city’s call for proposals. The underground space is so vast, their art space would use up only part of the tunnels, so their proposal included a restaurant and a winery.
It is a shame the city can’t take the initiative to clean the space up, so it can at least be used for temporary events while ACDU gathers funding.
Nearby, another vacant government space is showing how commercial and artistic organizations can team up to revitalize a dormant space: a building at 14th & Florida is being used by BYT and Art Whino to host Vitaminwater® Uuncapped Live. Dupont’s tunnels could foster similar events. Residents have proposed many other alternatives, but without investors this is wishful thinking. Ideas have included a dance club, a gym, a storage facility, and a pool hall. And even a sex club has been given serious consideration.
A clean, empty space will give rise to many creative temporary uses.
I Wish This Were… is a series where contributors imagine a better use for vacant properties and poorly-conceived public spaces in the DC area.