Last month, we—and many others—expressed concerns about DDOT’s plans for the South Capitol Bridge after the agency released a video rendering of the project. In response to our concerns, the DDOT Anacostia Watershed Initiative team asked to meet to go over some of the details that were not included in the rendering and to hear our concerns. The team’s message was clear: Designs are still in the early stage and can be improved.
Last night, at a joint meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Council and Pedestrian Advisory Council (with Councilmember and Transportation Committee Chair Mary Cheh in attendance), DDOT’s bike/ped team and the project’s consultants, from CH2M Hill, presented and sought feedback on their lastest ideas, many of which have been developed or improved since WABA met with DDOT on this project in January.
Most notable, given the project’s scale, is the changed alignment of the bridge from the version included in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. That alignment was offset from the current bridge to allow space for the current bridge to open during construction in order to allow tall ships. But the lack of any actual tall ship traffic in recent years means there’s really no need for the bridge to open during construction. So the alignment currently under consideration is parallel to the existing bridge on the downstream side. While this alignment change has little impact on bicyclists on the bridge itself, it does allow for an altered configuration to existing roadways and changes connections, especially on the bridge’s eastern end.
Unfortunately, the connections at each end are similar to what we have seen before: They appear to provide space for monuments rather than to efficiently move urban traffic. There are still large ovals surrounded by more lanes than are probably necessary, even for the anticipated traffic volumes. However, the connections to the ovals have been reimagined, and DDOT has indicated that some sort of bicyclist and pedestrian facilities and connections will be included in the ovals.
We don’t believe that these ovals are the best options, but DDOT seems unwilling to undertake changes that would require a new EIS–especially given that the federal planning and aesthetic interests that pushed the ovals would be present in a repeat process. (The already-completed FEIS is not yet finalized, but should be soon.)
The DDOT team has made great strides with bike facilities and connectivity since our meeting in January. On the bridge, DDOT is planning 16-foot bike/ped pathways on both sides, with horizontal separation of markings or signage to show that one portion is primarily for pedestrians and one is primarily for bicyclists. There is not a change of elevation from the walking portion to the biking portion, allowing for flexible space to handle peak traffic of either bike or pedestrian during busy periods, like ballpark events or morning commutes.
Most importantly, that 16-foot bike/ped pathway will be present around the western oval, with eight feet marked for bicycle use. This commitment from DDOT to ensuring safe space for bicyclists to get around the oval is a significant step, and we look forward to seeing detailed designs and better understanding the signal interactions that will allow cyclists to safely reach either side of the bridge and all connections to the oval.And for those who would prefer to avoid the oval, the new configuration leaves a relatively easy connection along Half Street SW to the bridge.
We’re awaiting further clarification that the connections on the east side of the Anacostia will have similar upgrades, and we look forward to seeing these broad ideas for bicycle safety and access fully designed. In the meantime, we want to commend DDOT for progressing on issues of bicycle connectivity and design in a relatively short time. What we were shown last night, while not perfect, is far better for bicyclists.
See a PDF of the slideshow from last night’s meeting below: