[Carfreeliving] DC considers replacing elevated fwys with
jhenders at sbcglobal.net
Sun May 8 20:30:15 MDT 2005
Guy from Palisades: "if this adds 15 minutes to my commute, what does
that do to my land values?" Profound. Wasn't Metro considering a route
to Georgetown a couple of years back? I pasted the full story below in
case the link didn't work for some of you.
*District Trying to Topple the Whitehurst*
It's View vs. Convenience on the Georgetown Waterfront
By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 8, 2005; C07
There are two sides to the Whitehurst Freeway: The one above, where
drivers catch a sweeping view of the Potomac as they swing around
Georgetown on the elevated bypass. And the one below, a darkened, grimy
underbelly of urban highway, filled with exhaust and the constant
clack-clack of the cars rumbling overhead.
It is the latter view that is propelling D.C. officials to move forward
with plans to tear down the structure. They say the freeway divides
Georgetown and casts a dark shadow, literally, on a slice of waterfront
that is fast turning into a chic hot spot.
District Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini said knocking down the
three-quarter-mile freeway would make K Street NW, which runs below the
thoroughfare, "something other than the basement. There's a chance to
really capture that riverfront, have a beautiful boulevard, an enlivened
streetscape. Rather than a bunch of back doors and shadowed entryways,
that could be a real place."
Elevated freeways like the Whitehurst were built in the mid-1900s in
many cities with the goal of connecting suburbanites to their downtown
jobs. Sixty percent of the 42,000 drivers who use the Whitehurst on
weekdays come from Virginia and Maryland.
But there has been a strong effort to take those hulking highways down
as cities look to reclaim neighborhoods and skylines.
San Francisco dismantled the earthquake-damaged Embarcadero Freeway in
1991 and has replaced the waterfront property with parks and
developments. Boston sunk its elevated "central artery" as part of its
Big Dig, and green space now stands in its place. Other cities as varied
as Fort Worth, Portland, Ore., and Milwaukee have made similar changes.
Washington officials considered doing the same to the Whitehurst a
decade ago before community and construction concerns caused them to
instead spend $35 million to rebuild the freeway.
Nonetheless, the idea is back under consideration -- to the chagrin of
the communities that sit off its ends -- as part of a broader look at
dismantling the city's elevated freeways. Others that could be taken
down include parts of the Southeast Freeway, which officials say block
off the Capitol and separate neighborhoods, and a short stretch of the
Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway near the Lincoln Memorial.
"Part of the issue is turning back the clock a little bit on this
freeway plan," Tangherlini said. "We have these bits of infrastructure
that are designed to connect but that also impede. The question we're
asking more broadly is how do you make these communities more livable."
The Whitehurst was built in 1949 to link the Key Bridge to a citywide
freeway system that was never completed. In those days, the Georgetown
waterfront was not the hip destination it is today; it had a lumberyard,
cement works and a meat rendering plant.
The waterfront has changed considerably, even since 1998, when the city
finished rebuilding the freeway. A Ritz-Carlton residence, a 14-screen
movie theater and other attractions have come. Construction on a 10-acre
riverfront park is slated to start in the fall. And property values have
more than doubled in the past seven years.
The Whitehurst, some say, is all that stands in the way of creating a
"Georgetown is arguably the most historic district in the world," said
D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). "But you look at the
waterfront and it looks like Camden, New Jersey. It's horrible. It's
But what drivers see in the Whitehurst, which connects to Key Bridge and
Canal Road on its western end and 27th Street to the east, is a way
"It's just an invaluable road," said D.C. resident Will Meyer, who has
spent the past two years commuting across the Whitehurst. "All the other
streets are either clogged with traffic or stop signs or both. It would
double or triple the amount of time it would take to get a couple miles"
if it were removed.
District officials, however, say drivers such as Meyer have the illusion
of time savings because stoplights at both ends reduce the average
freeway speed to as little as 9 mph in rush hour.
The plans to take down the freeway hinge on whether there's a way to
give those people another route downtown. District officials said K
Street is wide enough to turn into a four- or six-lane road with traffic
lights that would favor cars during rush hour and walkers the rest of
the day. The trick in doing that, though, is finding a way to connect K
Street and Canal Road, which sits about 60 feet above the waterfront.
Gary Burch, the city's former chief transportation engineer who was in
charge of the Whitehurst project in the 1990s, said he could never
figure a way to do that.
"We looked at the same thing, but it's a difficult transition," Burch
said. "I wish the people there well."
Tangherlini said the city is studying ways to make it happen. "I look at
it, and I don't see what the big deal is," he said. A bigger deal, he
said, is the connection to Key Bridge: The ramp might have to be
eliminated if the freeway goes.
Tangherlini added that "if everyone gets on board and everything's
great, we could be moving forward in less than a year's time."
That seems optimistic. There is a fierce battle over the Whitehurst,
just as there was a decade ago, that pits some residents and developers
in Georgetown against their deeply suspicious neighbors.
"Over here in Foggy Bottom, we're afraid," said resident Ed Gable. "If
the Whitehurst comes down, that's bad enough, but it will lead to
development of land between Georgetown and Foggy Bottom. It'll be
exposed, and developers, I'm sure they can't wait."
A recent informational session in Palisades began with an audience
member screaming profanities at District officials. That got another
resident yelling, and security had to be called before city officials
returned to their presentation.
Palisades resident Larry Doyle summed up the sentiment of those at the
meeting. "My main concern is that there are a lot of wealthy developers
in Georgetown who understand their property values will go up
considerably if their condos didn't look over a freeway," Doyle said.
"Clearly, the key thrust of this study is the effect on land values in
Georgetown, but if this adds 15 minutes to my commute, what does that do
to my land values?"
Raymond Kukulski is one of those whose land values would probably go up.
He can see the freeway from his townhouse windows in Georgetown, and he
said it should come down because it's ugly, dangerous and inefficient.
These are the same arguments he made a decade ago to no avail, but this
time, he said, he thinks things will be different.
"I think this time there is a much fairer assessment going on," Kukulski
said. "This time, I see real intent of getting the job done."
Andrew Sullivan wrote:
> It worked here, it can work in the nation's capital:
> ANDREW SULLIVAN
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> f: 415 673 0686
> m: 415 609 8801
> e: andrew at sulli.org
> w: www.sulli.org
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jhenders at sbcglobal.net
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