Rendering of 11th Street recreation bridge
When DC’s new 11th Street Bridge opens, its old spans will no longer be necessary to maintain as transportation infrastructure. The DC Office of Planning is proposing that one of the old spans be converted into a park, filled with recreation amenities such as rock climbing walls, zip lines, and skate parks.
The idea is interesting and is definitely worth exploring, but it’s also going to be difficult to pull off successfully. If the city simply plops a couple of rock climbing walls on the old asphalt, the new park will be a failure.
The problem is that there is no built-in user base. The bridge is difficult to access from nearby neighborhoods, so it won’t likely get many casual walk-through users. Instead, it will rely on people who specifically go to the park as their final destination. That means it will have to provide specific reasons for people to visit. If there aren’t enough reasons, the park will be mostly empty.
So the park will need an anchor, or several anchors. And it will need transportation facilities to accommodate users, since there won’t be enough walkers to populate it fully.
If the city wants to fill the long span of 11th Street Bridge with enough people for it to feel lively and safe, this is what will have to be done:
- Program it heavily. The more stuff there is in the park, the more reason people will have to visit. So fill the thing up with activities. Attach a boat house, put in a mini golf course, whatever. Give people a reason to travel across the city and come to this place.
- Make it mixed use. Putting large office or residential buildings on the bridge is probably not realistic, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t include some small shops and food stands. And for goodness sake, keep them open. That perpetually closed pavilion at Pershing Park isn’t doing anyone any favors.
- Be inclusive. Provide space for food trucks, sidewalk vendors, street artists, performers, anybody. Let them in, and let them sell.
- Don’t cheap out on landscaping. Nobody wants to visit a concrete expanse. Obviously the range of plantings available on a hard surface with no soil is somewhat limited, but go to the expense and trouble of doing as much as you can.
- Provide transportation. People will need a means of getting to this park. There must be parking for cars and bikes (on-street is fine), bikesharing, and the streetcar should actually stop in the center of the bridge.
With enough planning and strong management, this idea could be a winner. Without, it will fail, and will ultimately be abandoned.