On Tuesday night the much anticipated proposals for the redevelopment of the Eastern Market Metro plaza were unveiled to neighbors at a community meeting in the basement of St. Peter’s Church. The three proposals, designed by a team lead by architect Amy Weinstein, were met with much criticism from the community for their impact on traffic, neighboring businesses and residences, and on the feel of the neighborhood.
Over the last couple of years, the design team has worked with a task force representing groups from the community to come up with a number of designs. Options have been narrowed to three, all of which are still in early concept stages and do not yet have cost estimates attached to them. The designs strive to create a more defined “town square” for Capitol Hill by tying together Barracks Row and Market Row, creating a space that can be used and enjoyed by the community, and creating a safer environment for pedestrians. Also, because the Metro escalator and elevators cannot easily be moved, all plans worked in the existing entrances and ventilation areas associated with Metro tunnels that run underneath Pennsylvania Avenue.
The full presentation for the three proposals will be posted online sometime next week, and we will post them as soon as they are available. In the meantime I have some low-quality pictures from my iPhone.
The first, and least criticized, plan is the “Improved Existing” proposal. This calls for the least amount of reconfigurations to the street and focuses mostly on beautifying the existing park space. I don’t think anyone in the room, or neighborhood, would argue against cleaning up the Metro Plaza and surrounding park space to create an area that could be more enjoyed by the community. The plan also called for “bump out” curbs to allow for safer pedestrian crossings and retiming the lights through the square. Additionally, the design team believes it can fit in three additional parking spaces with this plan.
The aspects of this plan that were met with criticism focused on traffic. The design team is proposing narrowing Pennsylvania Avenue to only 2 lanes between Seventh Street SE and Ninth Street SE. As cars would enter those two blocks, the third and furthest right lane would be a right-turn-only lane. Residents on 9th and 7th expressed concern that this will drive more traffic onto their blocks. Others questioned the idea of narrowing a street that is already bumper to bumper traffic during rush hour. While the design team said that their traffic studies showed that this would not delay travel times through Eastern Market by much, community members were skeptical.
The second proposal, called Triptych, is a traffic circle that is oval shaped flanked by two parks. Traffic would flow around the circle counter-clockwise, so if you were traveling west on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast and wanted to go south on 8th Street Southeast, you would drive three-fourths of the way around the circle to turn onto 8th. As with the other plans, Pennsylvania Avenue would only be two lanes and there would be lights at each entrance to the circle.
The drawing and the concept were beautiful, and I think it is the most aesthetically pleasing of the group. However, the thought of turning that intersection into a traffic circle did not sit well with anyone in the room. Additionally, this proposal will also mean losing 9 parking spaces and the bus stops will need to be moved from their current locations on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The third proposal, “Central Park,” is for a large rectangular park that would stretch from 7th to 9th, with a cobblestone street at 8th Street that would be for buses and emergency vehicles only. All Pennsylvania Avenue traffic would be pushed around the square the way East Capitol Street flows around Lincoln Park.
Residents and businesses on D Street Southeast were most unhappy with this plan as it means that they will now have their houses and store fronts on a very busy street with buses, trucks, and a lot more noise.
Overall, the landscaping proposals seemed to be well received, although there were some questions about the need for fountains and sculptures. A focus was put on a space where children can plan and explore – not a playground as such, but a kid-friendly area. Parents in the audience laughed off the idea of taking their kids to Pennsylvania Avenue to play and said they would stick with the parks that they already have. That sentiment became a bit of a trend. People indicated that they wanted the plaza to be more inviting but do not see a need for another park when the Hill already has so many great parks. One person said that he just wants to be able to come through to run his errands quickly and efficiently.
One good point that was raised, which seemed to get the attention of Councilmember Tommy Wells, was regarding the Hine School development. When plans to redesign the plaza were started, Hine was still a school and no one thought about that space becoming anything new. Now that we have such a large new development coming in, the feel of the Metro plaza is going to change, as will the needs of the community for the space. All three landscaping plans call for a fountain and amphitheater. But so do some of the plans for Hine. Do we really need two? Do we really need the plaza to be a community gathering space if there will be a piazza on C Street Southeast? Wells acknowledged that it would be wise to coordinate plans once a developer for the Hine site is selected.
Additionally, some of the Hine development plans mention cleaning up and developing park of the Metro plaza and parks, which would mean that private funds could pay for the work as opposed to tax payer money. Or, at the very least, the Hine developers could potentially pay for part of the project.
The task force and design team reiterated several times that these designs are still in the very early stages. They want to work off of these three concepts, with continued community input, but several more steps are still coming. Considerations for current and future traffic flow, community needs, parking, and budget will all be taken into account before final decisions are made. And once a Hine developer is chosen, several more changes could happen.
The full presentation should be posted next week on CapitolHillTownSquare.org, as well as information on future meetings and deadlines. We will do our best to keep you informed of any updates here at The Hill is Home.