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Rosslyn’s new mini Target fills an urban retail niche

A miniature Target is now open in Rosslyn, occupying the ground floor of an office tower. At less than a sixth the size of a typical suburban Target, it shows how retailers are adapting to America’s increasingly urban reality.

Inside Rosslyn’s Target.

The store had a soft opening last week, and an official opening Sunday. At 23,000 square feet, it’s about the size of a large Trader Joe’s, or a small Safeway. It’s minuscule compared to normal Target stores, which often top 150,000 square feet.

And yet, it’s got a little of everything, just like a normal Target.

Inside Rosslyn’s Target.

A few years ago, when I lived in a Ballston high rise, I’d have killed to have a Target on the Orange Line. The only department stores I had easy access to were the Macy’s in Ballston and downtown DC. And, for a recent college grad spending way too much on housing, Macy’s wasn’t in my budget for housewares.

Now urban department stores are sprouting everywhere.

Rosslyn’s Target, from Wilson Boulevard.

This is, by my count, at least the Washington region’s fourth fifth urban-format Target. The first opened in the 1990s in Gaithersburg. Then came Columbia Heights in 2008 and Merrifield in 2012, then our first mini Target earlier this year in College Park.

Walmart joined the game beginning in late 2013, with urban stores downtown and on Georgia Avenue.

Smaller stores may be the new normal

It’s not just Target and Walmart looking to get in on this game. Other chains are launching a new breed of mid-size stores, like this mini Target, in a race to fill the urban retail niche.

In 2013, Walgreens opened a new “flagship” store in Chinatown. At 23,000 square feet, it’s almost exactly the same size as the new Rosslyn Target, and twice a normal Walgreens.

The flagship Walgreens. Photo from Google.

And although their merchandise selections are a little different (the Target has more clothes and housewares, while the Walgreens has more beauty & health products), the Rosslyn Target and the Chinatown Walgreens are clearly evolving towards becoming a similar category of store: The not-quite-department-store, or the 21st Century general store.

Whatever you call it, it’s a growing retail niche.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

October 12th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: development, economy, The New America

Five bus lines everyone in DC should know, love, and use

Metrorail’s six lines are so easy to remember that most Washingtonians have memorized them. Here are five convenient bus lines that everyone in town should know just as well.

Simple map of 5 main DC bus lines. Original base map from Google.

These five lines are among Metro’s most convenient and popular. Buses on them come every few minutes, and follow easy-to-remember routes along major streets.

For the sort of Washingtonian who’s comfortable with Metrorail but hasn’t taken the leap to the bus, these five lines are a great place to start. Unlike some minor buses that only come once every half hour, you can treat these five lines the way you’d treat a rail line, or a DC Circulator: They’re always there, and it’s never a long wait before the next bus.

If you can memorize Metrorail’s Red and Orange Lines, you can memorize these streets:

Wisconsin / Pennsylvania (30 series): If you want a bus on Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, just remember to catch anything with a number in the 30s. Nine bus routes cover this line, each of them with slightly different details, but a similar overall path: The 30N, 30S, 31, 33, 32, 34, 36, and the express 37 and 39. Collectively they’re called the “30 series.”

The other four lines are similar. Each has multiple routes with slightly different details combining to form a family, or series. Within each series some individual routes may come at different times of day, or continue farther beyond the lines this map shows. But the key is to remember the series name.

16th Street (S series): Four routes, each beginning with the letter S: The S1, S2, S4, and the express S9.

14th Street (50 series): Three routes, each in the 50s: The 52, 53, and 54.

Georgia Avenue (70 series): Two routes, in the 70s: The local 70 and the express 79.

H Street (X series): Two routes, starting with X: The local X2 and the express X9. When it eventually opens (knock on wood), the DC Streetcar will beef up this same corridor.

For the Metrobus veterans among you, this is old news. About 80,000 people per day ride these five lines, so they’re hardly secrets. But if you’re not a frequent bus rider, give these a try.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

October 6th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bus, transportation

The Silver Spring Transit Center, now open, in photos

All photos by BeyondDC.

More photos at GGW and via Flickr/BeyondDC and Flickr/TheCourtyard.

September 21st, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bus, galleries, transportation

The biggest winners and losers in WMATA’s Metrobus overhaul

Last month, WMATA planners proposed changes to almost 100 bus lines. Some riders will love them. Others won’t. Here are the biggest winners and losers.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Change is hard, but not necessarily bad

In a perfect world, every major street in the region would have a bus line running every 5 minutes. In the world of constrained budgets, every dollar a transit agency spends on low-ridership or redundant bus routes eats into what it can run on high-demand main lines.

Sometimes it still makes sense to run low-ridership routes. But figuring out where to draw that line, who wins and who loses, is incredibly hard. And since every decision a transit agency makes will create some losers, they can only hope to create more winners overall.

Thus, making changes to bus lines is always a difficult business. Changes that benefit one person will often make another person upset. And since existing bus lines have existing customers, changing them can lead to an outcry.

Let’s see how Metro did.

WINNER: MetroExtra

WMATA’s popular MetroExtra buses perfectly illustrate how making some existing riders unhappy can yield big wins.

By skipping over half the bus stops on a line, MetroExtra buses make some riders unhappy, since they have to walk further to get a stop. But the trade-off is buses move a lot faster, making everyone else on the bus happier, and offering more people a reason to start riding.

MetroExtra bus. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Since Metro began experimenting with MetroExtra eight or nine years ago, it’s been very successful, and very popular with riders. So it’s no surprise that just about every time WMATA tweaks its bus routes, they add service to more and more MetroExtra lines.

This round, Metro will add a new MetroExtra line on Veirs Mill Road, to be named the Q9. Veirs Mill connects the two branches of the Metrorail Red Line, from Rockville to Wheaton, and is already one of the busiest bus corridors in Maryland.

WMATA will also add more MetroExtra trips to three of the highest-ridership bus corridors in the entire region: The S9 on 16th Street, the 79 on Georgia Avenue, and the 16X on Columbia Pike in Arlington.

One MetroExtra line will see significant cuts: The 28X along Route 7 in Virginia. There, Metro is offering a choice of either cutting service from every 15 minutes to every 30, or ending the line at East Falls Church, eliminating service west to Tysons.

Route 7 is a natural transit corridor, one that planners envision for light rail or BRT. It’s historically suburban, but is rapidly becoming more walkable. Cuts there are a blow.

LOSER: Early morning trips to Dulles Airport

Metro plans to eliminate its 5A bus to Dulles Airport.

That’s an unpopular proposal. The 5A has been the main bus to Dulles for years, and for riders near its stops in L’Enfant Plaza, Rosslyn, and Herndon, it offers an express trip that’s often the fastest option.

But it’s redundant. The Silver Line Express bus from Wiehle station to Dulles is less expensive to operate since it’s a shorter route, and offers much more frequent service. And since many 5A riders have to ride Metro (or another bus) to get to Rosslyn or L’Enfant anyway, the Whiele bus is a better option than some assume.

While it’s nice to have an express bus from downtown to Dulles, a reasonable alternate exists, and so letting WMATA spend its resources somewhere else will probably help more riders, more often.

Except early in the morning.

The 5A makes a couple of early morning runs to Dulles before Metrorail opens. These are crucial runs, since the 5A is the only transit service to Dulles at those times. Even if early morning ridership is low, that’s an important cog in the regional transit network that ought to be there for people when they need it.

WINNER: Greenbelt Sundays

Buses will begin running on Sundays in Greenbelt on the C2, G12, and G14. This is a big win for a part of the region that’s had absolutely woeful weekend transit for a long time.

Yellow lines are bus routes with new Sunday service. Base map from WMATA.

LOSER: Low-ridership routes

WMATA is completely eliminating more than 20 low-ridership bus routes.

In most cases, they’re eliminating spurs and converting those trips to main line trips. For example, the 1Z will go away, but its trips will simply become 1B trips.

That will inconvenience a few riders who used the spur part of the 1Z, but the majority of 1-series riders would rather use the 1B, and they’ll get more buses.

WINNER: Colesville Road

The Z-series, which runs along Route 29 northeast from Silver Spring towards White Oak and Burtonsville, will have buses every 15 minutes on Saturdays, instead of every 30 minutes.

That’s the kind of frequent service that riders can use without worrying about consulting a schedule. Jumping up to that level is a huge win for eastern Montgomery County.

TOO SOON TO TELL: The Georgia Avenue leg of the Veirs Mill line

WMATA’s Q-series on Veirs Mill Road is one of the most important bus lines in Maryland. That’s why it’s getting MetroExtra service.

But one of the biggest cuts in Metro’s proposal will truncate the Q-series buses, ending them at Wheaton where Veirs Mill Road terminates, rather than having them continue south on Georgia Avenue to Silver Spring.

Q-series buses will stop at Wheaton. Base image from WMATA.

On the one hand, this is a major loss. The Wheaton-to-Silver Spring leg of Georgia Avenue is packed with bus riders. Cutting service there hurts one of the most productive parts of the Metrobus network.

But on other hand, there’s a lot of transit service on Georgia Avenue even without the Q-series. The Y-series runs every 10 minutes on Georgia Avenue, and the Metrorail Red Line runs directly below in a subway. Y-series buses are packed, which may be why WMATA is offering a rail fare discount between Silver Spring and Wheaton.

And there are benefits to a shorter Q-series. Buses come more often on a shorter route, and are more likely to stay on schedule. Ending the Q-series at Veirs Mill will likely improve the reliability of buses, and possibly reduce how long riders have to wait at stops.

Losing Q buses on Georgia Avenue is clearly concerning, but if it helps the rest of the line, if the new Q9 is a hit, and if other transit on Georgia can pick up the slack, things may end up better overall. It’s going to be an experiment, and it might fail. But it’s worth a shot.

Public hearing tonight

WMATA is hosting a public hearing on these proposals tonight, at 6:00 pm, at 600 5th Street NW.

If you have an opinion, attend and let them know.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

September 17th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bus, transportation

Copenhagen proves bikes can work in the suburbs

One common criticism of bicycling is that it’s all well and good for dense core cities, but isn’t a serious transportation option in suburban areas. Suburbs in other countries prove that’s wrong.

Bike parking at Friheden Street transit stop in suburban Copenhagen. Photo from Google.

The photo above is from Friheden Street station, in suburban Copenhagen. And look at all those beautiful bike racks. How did they get there?

One of the most important uses for bicycles is as a last mile tool, to get from one’s home to a transit station, or from a transit station to one’s final destination.

Anywhere you have a transit station with a lot of other buildings a mile or two away, bikes can help connect one to the other. That includes suburbs.

If you provide the necessary infrastructure, and treat bicycling like a serious option, people will use it.

Yes, that’s a suburb

Unlike central Copenhagen, which is dense and difficult to drive a car through, the area around Friheden Street is suburban and relatively low density. Actually it looks a lot communities around the Washington Beltway.

Residential Friheden. Photo from Google.

Compare these two aerial photos, taken at about the same scale. The first image shows the area around Friheden Street station. The second shows Kensington, in suburban Washington.

Suburban Copenhagen. Photo from Google.

Suburban Washington. Photo from Google.

They look pretty analogous. Not exactly the same, to be sure; Friheden has a few apartment buildings sprinkled in, and its S-train station offers better service than Kensington’s MARC station. But they’re not so dissimilar as to be completely alien. They’re siblings, if not quite twins.

I admit I’ve never been to Friheden Street. I’ve never even been to Denmark. Frankly I have no idea if it’s a pleasant community, or what the less desirable things about it may be. I’m sure there are trade-offs to it, compared to an American suburb.

But I happened to be on Google Earth looking at Copenhagen, which is famously a bike paradise, and wondered what its suburbs look like. I turned on Google’s transit layer and started looking at the areas around suburban stations. Friheden Street just happens to be one I zoomed in on.

And look at all those beautiful bike racks.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

August 31st, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bike, transportation

If car commercials were honest, this is what they’d look like

A sporty coupe glides joyfully along a seaside highway, all by itself. It’s heaven for the anonymous driver. That’s the standard, ridiculous car commercial.

This video shows what car commercials would look like if they were actually honest.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

August 25th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: fun, roads/cars, transportation

Huge Metrobus overhaul will change nearly 100 bus routes

Metrobus planners are proposing to change bus service on almost 100 routes, all over the Washington region. If the changes happen, many routes will see better service, others will face cuts, and some will go away completely, including the popular 5A bus to Dulles Airport.

Every WMATA bus route. Thick blue lines are route families that will change. Thin blue lines are families that will not. Sketch map from the author.

WMATA’s proposal generally aims to increase service on routes with a lot of riders, and decrease it on ones with fewer riders. According to WMATA, the changes will “improve overall on-time performance and customer satisfaction, increase ridership, and improve cost recovery.”

To get feedback on the idea, Metro has an online survey and will run a series of public meetings. If the WMATA board approves the changes this October, they’ll take effect in stages beginning in December 2015 and rolling out through mid 2016.

Greater Greater Washington hopes to analyze these changes and report back in a future post. For now here’s a list of every proposed change. For more details, including route maps and more detailed descriptions of changes, see Metro’s page for the project.

Changes to routes in DC:

  • 5A: Eliminate all service.
  • 34: Eliminate route 34 on evenings and weekends.
  • 54: Shorten route by eliminating segment between McPherson Square and L’Enfant Plaza. Improve frequency between 14th & Colorado and Takoma Station.
  • 63: Add one AM peak trip.
  • 64: Add one AM peak trip and one PM peak trip, and increase scheduled running time.
  • 79: Add four AM peak trips and four PM peak trips.
  • 80: Shorten route by eliminating service between McPherson Square and Kennedy Center. See D4 below for replacement service.
  • 81, 83: Eliminate route 81 and convert its trips to route 83 (contingent upon adding Sunday service on the revised C2 line).
  • 82: Eliminate two AM and three PM trips.
  • 90, 92, 93, 94: Eliminate route 93. Add trips on routes 90, 92 and 94 to compensate.
  • 97: Add one AM peak trip
  • A2, A6, A8, A42, A46, A48, P6: Eliminate routes A42, A46, A48. Replace with additional trips on routes A2, A6, A8, and P6.
  • B8, B9: Eliminate routes.
  • D1: Shorten route by eliminating segment between Franklin Square and Federal Triangle. Reduce service hours.
  • D3: Eliminate entire D3 route.
  • D4: Extend route D4 from Franklin Square to the Kennedy Center to replace cut segment of route 80.
  • E2: Increase scheduled running time.
  • E4: Increase scheduled running time.
  • G8: Shorten some AM peak trips to start at Brookland Station. Add three AM peak trips. Add some PM peak trips between Brookland Station and Avondale. Increase scheduled running time.
  • H6: Reroute in Fort Lincoln via Costco.
  • N3: Eliminate entire N3 route.
  • S9: Add two AM peak trips and one PM peak trip.
  • U8, W4: Extend some peak U8 trips to Congress Heights. Reduce peak trips on the W4 route. Improve combined U8/W4 frequency between East Capitol & Benning and Congress Heights from 10 minutes to 7.5 minutes. Increase scheduled running time for the W4.
  • X1, X3: Shorten X3 route to end at Duke Ellington Bridge. Increase scheduled running time.
  • X8: Add one AM and PM weekday round trip; add one PM Saturday and one PM Sunday round trip.
  • X9: Add two AM peak trips and two PM peak trips. Increase scheduled running time.

Changes to routes in Maryland:

  • 81, 83: Eliminate route 81 and convert its trips to route 83 (contingent upon adding Sunday service on the revised C2 line).
  • B29, B31: Eliminate route B31. Convert existing B31 trips to B29 short trips between New Carrollton Station and Bowie Park and Ride.
  • C2, C4: Restructure service. Turn around half of C4 trips at Wheaton rather than running all trips to Twinbrook. Operate C2 at reduced frequency between Greenbelt station and Takoma Langley. Add additional C4 trips. Add Sunday service on route C2 between Greenbelt and Takoma Langley.
  • F4: Improve Saturday schedule reliability.
  • G12, G13, G14, G16: Eliminate routes G13 and G16, and convert their trips to G14. Shorten G14 to eliminate service on Aerospace Road. Add Sunday service to G12 and G14.
  • K11, K12: Eliminate route K11, and convert its trips to run as K12.
  • J12, J13: Eliminate route J13, and convert its trips to run as J12.
  • Q1, Q2, Q4: Discontinue route segment between Wheaton and Silver Spring stations during Metrorail operating hours. Add special rail fare discount between Wheaton, Forest Glen and Silver Spring Stations to reduce the number of bus trips needed on this segment.
  • Q9: Add new route: Limited‐stop Metro Extra on Veirs Mill Road between Rockville and Wheaton stations. Service would operate on weekdays only, every 15 minutes between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.
  • R3: Eliminate entire line.
  • V14, V15: Eliminate route V15 and convert its trips to run as V14. Improve Sunday service by running the full V14 route and expanding service hours to match Saturday service.
  • W19: Transfer route operations to MTA Commuter bus. Eliminate service south of Bryans Road. Reduce service frequency to every 30 minutes. Reduce hours to being later in the morning and/or end earlier in the evening.
  • Z6, Z8: Add Z6 Saturday service between Silver Spring Station and Castle Blvd. Reduce Z8 Saturday frequency to coordinate with new Saturday Z6.
  • Z9, Z11, Z13, Z29: Restructure service to combine routes.

Changes to routes in Virginia:

    1A, 1B, 1E, 1Z: Eliminate 1E and replace with ART service in Dominion Hills. Eliminate route 1Z and convert its trips to 1B. Restructure route 1B to bypass Seven Corners Shopping Center and eliminate 1B service on certain holidays.
  • 1C: Improve schedule reliability.
  • 2B: Add hourly Sunday service.
  • 3T: Shorten route by eliminating service between West Falls Church Station and East Falls Church Station. Eliminate
    supplemental trips on certain holidays.
  • 4A, 4B: Eliminate all Saturday service on route 4A. Eliminate supplemental trips operated on route 4B on certain holidays.
  • 5A: Eliminate all service.
  • 7A: Eliminate all trips after 1 AM on Friday and Saturday nights
  • 7H, 7X: Eliminate route 7H. Shorten route 7X by eliminating service between Lincolnia Road and Arbor Park.
  • 7Y: Terminate alternating trips in the District, bypassing the Pentagon. Terminate remaining trips at the Pentagon without service into the District. For trips entering the District, re‐route using 14th Street Bridge to access the District, and eliminate service between 18th and I Streets NW and the Convention Center.
  • 9A: Eliminate entire line. See 10A restructure to replace missing coverage.
  • 9A, 10A, 10R, 10S: Eliminate 9A, 10R, and 10S completely. Convert some trips to 10A to compensate. Restructure 10A service to provide coverage to Powhatan Street and Huntington Station lost by eliminating the 9A line. Would eliminate service connecting Alexandria and Crystal City to Rosslyn.
  • 10B: Improve weekday peak frequency from every 30 minutes to every 15 minutes, and Sunday frequency from every 60 minutes to every 30 minutes.
  • 15K, 15L: Improve weekday schedule reliability.
  • 15M: Eliminate entire line.
  • 16H: Shorten 16H route by eliminating segment between Crystal City and Pentagon City.
  • 16X: Extend 1 AM and 3 PM weekday peak‐period trips to Culmore.
  • 18E, 18F, 21A, 21D: Eliminate entire 18E and 18F line. Restructure 21A and 21D to cover Bren Mar Park, and transfer route operation to Alexandria DASH.
  • 23A, 23B, 23T: Split off‐peak and weekend service to match weekday peak‐period route pattern, to improve frequency between Shirlington and Ballston.
  • 26A: Improve weekday peak frequency from every 60 minutes to every 30 minutes.
  • 28X: Reduce frequency from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, OR reroute to terminate at East Falls Church, thereby not serving West Falls Church or Tysons.
  • 29N: Improve weekend service frequency from every 60 minutes to every 30 minutes.
  • 38B: Eliminate supplemental trips on certain holidays.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

August 18th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: bus, transportation

MD & VA commuter rail look great together on one map

Maryland’s MARC train and Virginia’s VRE are very similar regional rail systems. This map shows what they might look like as a single integrated regional network.

Map from Peter Dovak at Transit Oriented.

Although MARC and VRE are so similar, they operate totally independently of each other. Riders on one may not even be aware the other exists. This map would help solve that.

The two agencies will probably never merge, but it might someday be possible to integrate their operations to work more like a single system. MARC trains might run across the Potomac into Virginia, and VRE trains might one day continue north into Maryland. It would be difficult but possible.

In the meantime, this map from Peter Dovak at Transit Oriented is a nice unofficial first step. And it’s easier on the eyes than the current official MARC or VRE maps.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

August 12th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: commuterrail, maps, transportation

DC can save the Olympics, if Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles all help

Boston has backed out of its bid to host the 2024 Olympics, and officials are begging DC and other cities to try and host the games. But fewer and fewer cities want to. What if, instead of picking one host city, the entire country pitched in, with venues spread out in several cities coast to coast.

Don’t pick one. Pick them all. And add 10 more. Image by the USOC.

The Olympics have a big problem. Virtually no democratic cities anywhere in the world want to host them anymore. The combination of sky-high costs for new facilities, and the inconveniences put upon the populace by way of construction and tourist traffic, have made the Olympics too much for one city to bear.

But why should one city have to?

To save the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup offers a compelling alternate in which countries host instead of cities.

Brazilian host cities for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Image from Wikipedia.

Different events would take place in different locations, hundreds or even thousands of miles apart. No single city would have to shoulder the burdens of more than one or two events.

With a whole country to choose from, organizers could find existing facilities for virtually every event. Much less new construction would be necessary. Many fewer one-time-use buildings would become abandoned after the games end.

And with fewer athletes and visitors in any one location, existing infrastructure and hotels could accommodate more of the influx of guests, with less disruption to residents. Hosting a single Olympic event would be more like hosting a college football bowl game, or the baseball All Star game.

In short, everything would become easier.

And although it’s true that some World Cups suffer from overspending too, certainly the problem is less acute when it’s spread over an entire nation.

The downside

This would admittedly be a drastic change to the culture of the games. It would be difficult for anyone to attend more than one event in person. Athletes would no longer live and socialize in a single Olympic Village. Something about the in-person experience of being in a city dedicated completely to the Olympics would be lost.

Without that complete dedication, it’s unlikely urban politicians would find the will to use the Olympics to upgrade infrastructure.

But that overwhelming experience is part of why so many cities don’t want to host the Olympics anymore. For residents whose lives are put on hold, it’s a bug, not a feature.

Meanwhile, the opening and closing ceremonies would still provide glimpses of that invigorating everyone’s-here feeling. It would be a trade-off, but perhaps a worthwhile one.

What role would DC play?

If Olympic officials spread the wealth/burden, what events might DC be fit to host?

A look at the possible venues for DC’s 2014 bid shows what facilities already exist, and therefore might be a good fit.

We probably wouldn’t get the opening ceremony. That needs an NFL-sized stadium, and our only options are either too old or too isolated. They’d work in a pinch, but some other US city can probably offer something more appealing.

Weightlifting could occur at Constitution Hall. The convention center could host table tennis, handball, or badminton.

The marathon could follow the path of the Marine Corps marathon. Rowers could set off from Georgetown.

And of course, the Verizon Center would be a killer spot for basketball. Or really any gym sport. How about gymnastics?

How would this change your opinion of the games? Would readers who oppose a DC Olympiad support a US games, with only one or two venues in DC?

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

August 10th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: events, in general, proposal

The secret park by the White House could be great, if people knew about it

Pershing Park is one of DC’s most unique and potentially pleasant public spaces. Unfortunately, few people have ever enjoyed it, because the park’s best elements are hidden from view behind an uninviting raised embankment.

Pershing Park as seen from Pennsylvania Avenue. Photo by Google.

It’s nice on the inside

I like Pershing Park, at Pennsylvania and 15th Street NW. I wish it worked better.

The inside of the park is a terraced wetland garden that, when it’s in good condition, is absolutely lovely.

The pleasant interior. Photo by pcouture on Flickr.

There are ample shady seats, a duck pond to dip your feet in, and climbable concrete terraces that make the park feel like an adult-size jungle gym.

It’s fun, and pretty, and unlike anything else in DC.

Or at least, it was fun and pretty a few years ago. The park has fallen into disrepair lately. The pond is dry. Orange cones litter the open plaza. It’s abandoned and depressing.

Part of Pershing Park’s problems are simply neglect. Better maintenance could fix the pond and the concrete.

But there’s one big problem, and it may well be unfixable.

People can’t see it

Most people don’t know the park is there. You can’t see it from the street. From three sides, the only thing visible is a grassy embankment straight out of a suburban McDonalds parking lot. The fourth side is literally a parking lot.

Pershing Park from above. Image from Google.

Good urban parks draw pedestrians in from the surrounding sidewalk. When you’re standing outside Dupont Circle, you can see and hear interesting things happening inside the park there. The activity and people inside Dupont make you want to enter it yourself.

Pershing Park is the absolute opposite. It’s plain and boring from the sidewalk. There are interesting things there, but you can’t see them so they don’t draw you in.

Most people just ignore it; the park blends into the background and they don’t give it a second thought.

Those who do look closely see a bunker, a hostile sloping hill with few entry points. From busy Pennsylvania Avenue, Pershing Park more closely resembles an 18th Century military stockade than an inviting civic space.

Until that problem is solved, Pershing will never be a good park, no matter how pleasant it is on the inside. Until that’s solved, Pershing will always be an afterthought.

Let’s fix it

What to do with Pershing Park is increasingly becoming a hot-button issue. One group wants to redevelop it as a national World War I memorial. Kriston Capps at CityLab takes a preservationist bent and says we should restore it.

Either way, the park is falling apart and needs work.

Would it be possible to save the pleasant interior and radically change the bunker exterior? Maybe, maybe not. The park occupies sloping terrain that any design will have to work around. Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid a retaining wall somewhere. At least not if we want to keep the terraces.

But retaining walls don’t have to be so plain or uninviting. There are better examples elsewhere in the city.

It would be a shame to lose such a unique space. If designers can find a way to restore Pershing Park’s terraces and pond while altering the park’s exterior to be more inviting, that would be an ideal solution.

But if not, tear the sucker out. A downtown park that nobody uses isn’t a useful downtown park.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

August 5th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: parks, urbandesign



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