Friday, May 31, 2013

A South Capitol Circle?


Greater Greater Washington (GGW) decries the proposed South Capitol Commons (oval), but fails to provide any alternatives. 
The "racetrack" looks like an ugly compromise between a motivation to create a Washingtonian boulevard look and the practical needs to move a lot of cars. L'Enfant designed circles in an era with far less traffic. This project is merging the geometric form of L'Enfant's circles with the traffic demands of today and ending up with a "camel is a horse designed by a committee" design, with some of the worst of both elements. We end up with places that don't move cars particularly well, and a place that's not especially pleasant to walk or bike around. It would make a great spot for some memorials, though. As the terminus of a L'Enfant street, the National Capital Planning Commission is going to want to site some commemorative works there. Maybe a really great memorial design could successfully create some kind of public space. Perhaps this is the perfect spot for the Eisenhower Memorial and its large metal tapestries. Here, you'll need to block out the surroundings, and for a President with road-building as one of his most notable achievements, being in what feels like a sort of highway median could be perfect.
Me thinks the GGW article's title 'Forced Geometry Forces Awkward South Capitol Design' best describes what happened - namely the intervention of Nationals Stadium planning (and the politics behind not relocating the St Vincent DePaul Roman Catholic Church) - and thus the effective cancellation of the preceding never yet officially named 'South Capitol Mall' concept of South Capitol Street widened with a new linear park.

1996 US NCPC un-named 'South Capitol Mall' at upper left

2001 US NCPC Memorials and Museums

The South Capitol Commons traffic circle is simply a means of salvaging the South Mall concept by giving it a vertical shape to somewhat emulate it.

Is it truly ugly, or rather inadequate?

Yes one has to cross 5 lanes, as one must cross 7 to access the National Mall.

Yet whereas the National Mall is quite wide, this proposed South Capitol Commons is only about 100 ft wide

Can't we do better?

GGW can be a better source ideas when they come from the article's comments:
Extend the underpass to the start of the bridge and have the underpass lead directly to the left lanes of the bridge in both directions. Deck over underpass with parks and cross streets. - kk  
As long as there is good pedestrian access (tunnels, bridges, etc.) to the green space in the oval and there is a good buffer to traffic it should not be an issue. It could be the "square" of SW (i.e., Lincoln Park and Marion Park). It can be a win for reclaimed parkland in the city. - Sivad
Both ideas make the new parkland more accessible.  But I say - in addition - make it a circle of the diameter of the Lincoln Memorial traffic circle, lined up with the axis of Carrolsburg Place SW and Van Street SE, with a landscaped southern extension to the waterfront - and that as a basis.