Sunday, December 28, 2008

Who Really Stopped Washington, D.C.'s Freeways

From Zachary Schrag

Washington, D.C.: I enjoyed the article, especially the profiles of Booker and Abbott. But let's not forget who really stopped Natcher's attempt to force the city to accept the freeways.

While the ECTC was gathering a few dozen people to march on picket lines and disrupt hearings, Congressman Robert Giaimo of Connecticut was gathering votes in the House of Representatives to release subway funds from Natcher's control. Thanks to his efforts, on Dec. 2, 1971, the full House voted 195 to 174 to release the D.C. share of Metro funds without forcing the city to build the Three Sisters Bridge. Following this defeat, a very rare case of the full House overruling an appropriations subcommittee chairman, Natcher never again seriously threatened Metro. And without that threat, the D.C. government had no reason to build the freeways.

Essentially there were three challenges to the freeways: in the streets by the ECTC, in the courts by Peter Craig (and his pro bono counsel, Roberts Owen), and in Congress by Robert Giaimo. Craig and Owen bought time, and Giaimo stopped Congress's blackmail. The ECTC, however noisy, did relatively little to change the minds of people in power. Radical protest can make a difference, but in this case the real victory was won by people working within the system.

Zachary Schrag
Columbia University

Proposed I-266 Three Sisters Bridge
looking from Virginia to Washington, D.C.
with Georgetown University at upper right.

... Peter Craig, a junior lawyer at the prestigious firm of Covington & Burling. Craig had come to Washington after graduating from Yale Law School in 1953.

In September 1966, following the N.C.P.C. vote, the Committee of 100 resolved to file a law lawsuit against the D.C. government and the N.C.P.C. to block [3 Sisters] bridge construction. Peter Craig, acting for the committee, turned to his former law firm, Covington & Burling. Partner Gerhard Gesell agreed to take the case for a nominal retainer and assigned lawyers Roberts Owen and Gerald Norton to the matter. Owen, the lead counsel, had paid little attention to the highway fight, but he enjoyed suing the government to force it to obey the law.

p 41 and 125 The Great Society Subway by Zachary M. Schrag

   Proposed I-95 B&O North Central Freeway next to Catholic University of America

Covington & Burling

Read About the Committee of 100's opposition to US NCPC's Extending the Legacy

Committee of 100 Ruminations

Frederic Delano 'Family' : U.S. NCPC, Committee of 100, and Covington & Burling

Subverting the North Central Freeway

Physical Realities Undermining the North Central Freeway

A Sampling Of Attitudes Towards D.C. I-95

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Under Selling The B&O Metropolitan Branch

From Richard Layman:

UnderSelling by not mentioning the potential linear park, let alone render that corridor to be more multi-model with an underground North Central Freeway

Crazy Hard and Expensive Proposal

12. If you really want to spend money on infrastructure....

a. put the CSX Metropolitan Branch railroad underground.
b. There would have to be at least two levels of tunnel, for both the railroad -- three tracks -- and for the subway.
c. Make the subway tunnel two levels, or capable of carrying doublestack trains to double the capacity of the red line subway.

This one is so expensive that I won't put it in the priority list, but it could be done and would impact the region's and especially the city's competitive advantage for generations. See the blog entry, "Rethinking the Metropolitan branch railroad and subway tracks in northeast DC" for much more about this.
I have cut and pasted that below:
Rethinking the Metropolitan branch railroad and subway tracks in northeast DC

1. I find it interesting that last week's Current Newspapers announced in an editorial that Mayor Fenty has ordered a cessation of planning to remove the Whitehurst Freeway, something opposed by some but not all of the citizens groups in the Greater Georgetown neighborhood.

2. This is counter to the trend across the country, such as in San Francisco and Milwaukee, not to mention cities like Seoul, where this has already been done. Seattle probably will remove the Alaskan Way Viaduct as well (and there is no question that the Viaduct there cuts off the city from the water).
Seattle's 2-mile-long Alaskan Way Viaduct
AP photo: Seattle's 2-mile-long Alaskan Way Viaduct.

See "15 SECONDS THAT CHANGED SAN FRANCISCO / The sweeping makeover that transformed the city began 15 years ago today with the Loma Prieta earthquake," by John King from the San Francisco Chronicle about removal of the Embarcadero Freeway and the subsequent positive impact.

Also see "Freeway Deconstruction and Urban Regeneration in the United States," a paper from the University of California Transportation Institute and the webpage "Removing Freeways, Restoring Cities."

3. At the Congress for the New Urbanism meeting in Philadelphia there was a session on removing freeways along riverfronts. Michael Lewyn has some notes about the session in his blog. From the entry:

Jeff Tumlin asserted that freeways export real estate value from cities to suburbs; their absence maximizes cities' property value. He used Vancouver as an example of life without freeways: while downtown vehicle trips increased in every other Canadian city since 1995, such trips decreased in Vancouver- even while total trips (including walking/transit/bike trips) increased by 22%!

4. Plus, the City is removing part of the Frederick Douglass Bridge on South Capitol Street, putting more of the roadway at grade, and restoring the street grid in that area. See "Dead End at the Anacostia," subtitled "Two-Month Project Will Complicate Life for 77,000 Douglass Bridge Commuters" from the Washington Post, and ignore the focus on the very short term inconvenience to commuters. Instead focus on how the area will be improved by the reduction of the amount of aerial freeway span and the restoration of the grid.

From the article:

The bridge repairs are being done to extend the life of the span until a new bridge is built. The $27 million project also will allow the new bridge to be built and connected to the street grid without major interruptions, officials said.

About 400 feet of bridge will be eliminated on the northern side of the crossing and 200 feet will be lowered about 10 feet so the span touches down at Potomac Avenue. As part of the project, the stretch of South Capitol Street just north of the bridge will become a tree-lined boulevard.

Click here for the complete Washington Post graphic about the South Capitol Bridge project.

MARC train and subway at Rhode Island Avenue Station

MARC train and subway at Rhode Island Avenue Station

5. In the context of the current underway Brookland Small Area Plan, some of the residents have come up with an alternative suggesting that the railroad and subway tracks and subway station be "depressed" or decked, and the street grid be restored in the area between the two railroad bridge overpasses at Monroe and Michigan Avenues.

(In a conversation last night with a colleague he mentioned that it is not possible from an engineering to depress the railroad tracks for that depth for such a short distance. Railroad locomotive engines like even grades.)
MARC train north of Rhode Island Avenue Station
MARC train north of the Rhode Island Avenue Subway Station

But after reading the piece about the re-configuring of the South Capitol Street bridge, to remove one span and put the street back in and on the grid, I have been thinking that it doesn't reach far enough. The Brookland "alternative proposal" doesn't suggest extending this idea and removing the bridges.
Looking at the Michigan Avenue Bridge, Brookland
Looking at the Michigan Avenue Bridge, Brookland

Monroe Street bridge, Brookland
Monroe Street bridge, Brookland

Monroe Street bridge and the streetcar
Monroe Street bridge and the streetcar, Joe Testagrose Collection.

6. Extending this idea further, like the Reno Retrac project or the creation of the Alameda Transportation Corridor to connect the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, how about putting the railroad tracks and subway tracks and subway stations below grade, from the Rhode Island Metro Station to perhaps as far as the Silver Spring Metro Station? Definitely to Takoma.
Reno Retrac project
Reno Retrack project. Image by JBR Environmental Consultants.

Alameda Transportation Corridor
Mid-corridor tunnel, Alameda Transportation Corridor.

Both the Reno and Alameda Corridor projects created ditches. (See "The Train Line" for more about the LA project, and the City of Reno website on the Retrac project, including a section on the history of the project.) Instead, I suggest creating the ditch and covering it over, and restoring the street grid.

At Rhode Island Station, the subway tracks are high high above the street, but starting somewhat south, around the big Post Office Complex off Brentwood Road, the tracks could begin to go underground, instead of climbing up very very high. (The tracks start rising just south of the equivalent of T Street NE, around the WMATA maintenance facility.)
Subway bridges over Rhode Island Avenue NE, looking west
Subway bridges over Rhode Island Avenue NE, looking west

Corner of T and 5th Streets NE, adjacent to Sanitary Grocery, near the beginning of the rise of the subway track bridge
Corner of T and 5th Streets NE, adjacent to Sanitary Grocery, near the beginning of the rise of the subway track bridge

Around Franklin Street NE, the tracks go back to grade and a little further they even go underground a bit, where one of the railroad tracks cuts over to the east, and from that point going north for a ways, the railroad tracks bracket the red line subway tracks. Metro tunnel heading north to Brookland around Girard Street at 9th Street NE
Metro tunnel heading north to Brookland around Girard Street at 9th Street NE.

At the very least, it could be done in Brookland, say from Franklin Street up to Ft. Totten. By Franklin the tracks come down to grade or below anyway, from very high up at Rhode Island Station.
Lawrence Street stub at 9th Street NE

Lawrence Street stub at 9th Street NE

7. Another example would be the proposal for a Tysons Corner tunnel, which proposed a two level tunnel, using Spanish technology.
Tysons Tunnel diagram
This idea could be further extended, and a two tunnel system could be created to separate the railroad from the subway.

See this blog's articles on the Grand Arc Mall Tunnel