Wednesday, April 01, 2015

A Summer 1963 Conversation

‘Infrastructure for the family of Man’

A Summer 1963 conversation between U.S. President John F. Kennedy, 

and Speaker of the House William John McCormack

John William McCormack Drive - the former Brookland Avenue
within Washington D.C. along the western side of the B&O railroad at the eastern edge of the main campus of Catholic University of America

U.S. Speaker of the House John William McCormack

1963 Boston Inner Belt Park Covered Tunnel proposal

Washington, D.C. B&O 95 Corridor Overlook of the Capitol 
just south of Franklin Street

A Telling renaming of a local street for the man 
who warned JFK not to push his great idea for Washington  DC

Transcript of a private conversation between U.S. President John F. Kennedy and U.S. Speaker of the House John William McCormack while taking a tour between the eastern edge of Catholic University of America and the west side of the B&O railroad in Washington, D.C. on a arm and sunny day in the summer of 1963.

Found in a copy of the 1963 Boston Inner Loop Design Study Report within the library of Catholic University of America with a cryptic note:  “the re-naming of Brookland Avenue alongside CUA after the speaker, relates to his warning to JFK to not impose his grand idea”

JFK- John, I think we had a great transportation report for Washington DC. , one that will provide a better transportation system for Washington DC and the area; one which is more efficient, less impactive and more comprehensive, and which will meet with the approval of the people.

We have moved from the plan under my predecessor’s administration in 1959, one quite heavy on vehicular highways with but a skeletal rapid rail transit system, to one that is undeniably better balanced.

We greatly added to the proposed rapid rail transit system.  

And we greatly reduced the impact of the proposed freeway system, downsizing some routes and consolidating others, vastly reducing the new right of way requirements and displacement.  
Yes we went along with the idea heavily promoted in far NW to eliminate the I-70S NW Freeway, though substituting a series of reduced footprint express roads through Bethesda down to the Potomac.   

And we have eliminated the heavily impactive downtown full interstate highway Inner Loop, deleting the I-66 North Leg along U Street and the East Leg along 11th Street, replacing the former with a depressed express street, and shifting the latter to a hybrid intermediate routing along Eastern Avenue. 

Yet the plan still provides  for a robust network of express roads and interstate highways, with that latter link an interstate spec link to the Kenilworth Avenue freeway, supplemented by the consolidated route of the two remaining planned northern radial freeways – the North Central and the Northeast – into a “Y” route, with its left hand portion along the B&O railroad industrial corridor, which is long established, hence avoiding the introduction of a new local separation while employing lightly developed rail-side industrial properties hence likewise avoiding a lengthy swath of demolition, reducing that to a short stretch along New York Avenue to connect with the planned Center Leg.

So strange that they were considering two separate routes each cutting all new swaths through long established residential areas, rather than this railroad-industrial corridor conveniently located  midway between the eastern beltway  and the Potomac.  One along Georgia Avenue.  The other directly through Brookland.  And though there was consideration of using the railroad in Silver Spring, they were going to have it then divert directly south cutting down along Georgia Avenue.  Some 4,000 plus houses roughly along Georgia Avenue, while another separate path was to be cut through NE- and to think right at the time that Peter S Craig and his clientèle at Covington and Burling were  getting to cancel the NW Freeway that was only going to displace 74 houses to the west of Rock Creek Park, yet over 1,000 to the east.  So it’s a good thing that the local discussions could finally agree upon the obvious way of routing via the B&O Metropolitan Branch RR.

JWM- Well yes, that would have been more direct for the North Central, in the District along Georgia Avenue.  As well as the easterly route for the Northeastern – I-95 – considering the talk of running that East Leg straight to the 11th Street Bridge along 11th Street,  that land route subsequently nixed on Capitol Hill.  Yet that railroad corridor, given its central location and the space there to the north of New York Avenue in the rail-yards for the necessary interchange connections to the center leg and even potentially the idea of an East Leg routed towards the Anacostia River which your report did not include, does appear to be the correct choice.  Appears.   

JFK- “Appears”.  What are you getting at?

JWM- Well there are still some local concerns about that routing.

JFK—Yes, yes, I know.  That about the connecting segment from Maryland routed via the Catholic Sisters College property.  The Church objected and that’s been changed to the Fort Drive route between Gallatin and Galloway Streets.  I guess that the Church would ever want anything to happen to that, like the adjoining neighborhood being largely torn out or selling Catholic Sisters off to development …

JWM-  Yes, but no.  There are other concerns.  Not so much about I-95 from Maryland.  As you can gather, that new complex, Prince Georges Plaza, was built for that and awaits that highway link via the adjacent Northwest Branch Park corridor.  That route remains essentially unchanged by the switchover from the Catholic Sisters route to the Fort Drive route.    But rather the very concern, ahem, relating to  why you might thin, why the B&O route went so ‘overlooked’ by the earlier freeway planning.

JFK- You mean there is some perceived conflict with the idea of that corridor being used for the freeway along with the rapid rail line?  How?  Something similar to that has already been approved in Chicago.

JWM- John.  Do you think that Catholic Sisters is the only property of concern in NE?

JFK- Well, who or what along the B&O railroad within Washington, D.C. opposes the freeway routing there?

JWM- Well…

JFK- What?  

JWM- Well, what’s the largest single property there along the B&O railroad?

JFK- Are you trying to tell me that the Holy See opposes running I-95 along the B&O railroad because that also runs by Catholic University of America?  That is the largest single property along this corridor.  And it just happens to be perhaps the largest Catholic Church property within Washington, D.C.

JWM- Well…

JFK- Well, what?

JWM- Well…

JFK- Well like what?  The planning has to place the highway there.  It’s the sole established grade separated transportation corridor within Washington, D.C. and conveniently located midway between the now under construction Beltway in Maryland and the Potomac River.  And it has a good amount of lightly developed rail side industrial properties.  So it makes perfect sense operation ability wise and in achieving a freeway route with the least impact to residential neighborhoods.  And besides anyway, the planning places the highway along the railroad’s eastern side, away from CUA to the west.

JWM- Yes.  The option of placing the highway to the railroad’s western side was briefly considered by the 1960 Northeastern Freeway study report.  It appeared there as a preliminary idea that was dropped with little apparent discussion.

JFK- Well, that’s understandable, given the basic conventional wisdom given in that report, as it is so in so many freeway study engineering reports.

But I’ve been thinking.  Why defer to conventional wisdom?

Have not you seen what’s being considered in our hometown area of Boston?  With the proposed Inner Loop?

People there were up in arms over that idea, of an Inner Loop Freeway in near downtown Boston.  I mean just think of the standard designs that we have seen for freeways, freeways in urban areas in particular.  Either on the surface.  Or up in the air on a viaduct or an earthen or concrete berm.  Or in a trench open to the sky.  And especially upon a right of way either involving clearing out substantial numbers of houses other buildings and or displacing cherished park-lands.  And with right of way requirements that cannot be satisfied with something like DuPont Circle of a trenchway-cut and cover tunnel combination within existing right of way.

So a bunch of us have been taking a more comprehensive look at the matter to see about better ways of integrating freeways into the urban fabric.  Given the right of way requirements e will want to maximize the use of existing relatively clear areas, and given the traffic noise issues etc, we are going to want to go with enclosed tunnel-way highways.

So we have come up with some interesting new designs for the Boston Inner Loop, with berm-ways replaced with below grade designs, and with open to the air designs replaced with enclosed tunnel-ways within box tunnel segments and covered with park-lands to build upon and expand that restively rare commodity within the urban fabric.   Just take a look at the preliminary report introduced just now in 1963 for the Inner Loop, with a more detailed report due shortly afterwards.  Just look at this concept as applied to the Fenway.

JWM-  Well that does look nice.   

JFK-  Yes it does. 

Now imagine that here, right alongside Catholic University of America.

And note this, as we meander southward alongside Catholic University along Brookland Avenue along the railroad’s western side.  Note what happens as we travel further south, past Michigan Avenue along this industrial strip along 8th Street NE which begins widening as we continue to Franklin Street, and then walk up onto the Franklin Street overpass and look south.   See how the topography descends, revealing what would be the best through the windshield view along the Maine to Florida I-95 or indeed perhaps anywhere along the U.S. interstate highway system.  See how the Capitol rotunda and the Washington Monument all come into view.

JWM-  You mean placing the I-95 North Central Freeway along the western side of the railroad?!

JFK-  Yes.  For the southbound lanes, given both the space issues and that panoramic view through the windshield of the U.S. Capitol greeting inbound travelers.  None of the studies even mention this major benefit with such a routing.

JWM- Of course they don’t.  It would be rather costly to have the southbound lanes burrow beneath the railroad from the east to west sides to the south of CUA.  And running I-95 directly along CUA would ruin it with the traffic noise.

JFK-  Yes by conventional means.  

But this will not be a conventional highway.  

Just think about the new proposals for the Inner Belt Fenway segment. 

We’ll place the southbound DC I-95 lanes alongside CUA and the western side of the railroad encased within a box tunnel directly beneath Brookland Avenue and then further south beneath 8t Street NE, with Brookland Avenue and 8th Street reconfigured to be continuous alongside our new grand, gently arcing pedestrian promenade.  Just as I-695 in Boston shall pass beneath a pedestrian promenade at the Fenway, I-95 shall pass beneath a new pedestrian promenade alongside CUA in Washington D.C. It shall be great!.

JWM-  Oh really?

JFK- Oh yes!  And not simply I-95 or combined I-95/I-70S, but also the adjacent railroad.  Cover that as well with our new covered highway!

JWM-  Are you sure that you want to do that?

JFK- Why not?  It would not be like being next to a conventional freeway or railroad.  Rather it would be being next to a new linear park.  A new northern extension of the National Mall, conceivably, with it being brought even southward of where the freeway would turn to join the Center Leg, addressing the rail corridor all the way down to Union Station.  Just looking at that with how its outer walls mar out a set of service road extensions of Delaware Avenue, and with that half traffic circle in front it looks like something the McMillan Commission would have come up with if they had only extended their vision a bit further.

JWM-  Well…

JFK- John.  This is a splendid opportunity to address how major road projects ought to be designed to better fit within urban environments.

Many have questioned carving new freeways through cities due to the right of way requirements of displacement/demolition; hence they have called for avoiding such types of routings.
But there are also issues of the noise from such concentrated traffic.

And as we already know from the recent planning, wealthier areas are getting away with avoiding their fair share of the traffic burden.   Our 1962 report went along with canceling the NW Freeway.  But look at downtown Bethesda and Friendship Heights.  Those areas are envisioned to be massively redeveloped.  That means massively demolished to accommodate the new redevelopment.  And look at those in NW that opposed the NW Freeway with the opposition primarily from far NW where the freeway would have displaced 74 houses, while supporting the North Central Freeway along Georgia Avenue displacing an upwards of 4,000+ houses.  WTF?

So to better accommodate the urban freeways build them as tunnels.  Not so much tunnels drilled deep underground.  But rather simple box tunnel construction of what would have been built anyway a s an open trenched freeway.

And do it comprehensively.

It would include reconstructing our railroads as well, not only providing a comprehensive highway network but a comprehensive road network wit he reconstruction of our urban railways with improved capacity and geometry.  It’s a win win.  Let’s make the I-95 B&O freeway the model for America!

JWM- Well…

JFK- Are you trying to tell me that the Holy See would oppose that? 

People have already opposed overly destructive urban freeways.

The Holy See opposed the Catholic Sisters route openly.  

Yet I have not heard anything about them opposing the B&O route North Central Freeway.  Are you telling me to expect reading about them opposing a project for a freeway that is tunneled, and via a project that also tunnels the railroad?  What are to expect to see in the papers that the Papacy opposes a freeway that takes but a fraction of the houses taken by other freeways that they did not object, and that they not only oppose a freeway that is tunneled but likewise oppose a project that would likewise tunnelize the railroad.  Are people to expect to see the Roman Catholic Church champion getting over upon the public merely to maintain their splendid isolation behind a surface railroad?


JWM- John, well…  Why do you think the planning was going for separate freeways along Georgia Avenue and further east, displacing 1000s of houses rather than use the lightly developed industrial properties along this centrally located railroad right next to the largest Catholic property in Washington DC.

JFK- John, well what?  

So they were going to try to get away with bulldozing 1000s of peoples homes to avoid routing the freeway through a lightly developed railroad industrial corridor simply to placate some neurotics in control of CUA!

I as elected to be President of the United States, not to be the errand boy for Rome.  Hence, I have recently reconsidered our 1962 report’s abandonment for the 3 Sisters Bridge.  Lets look to a better design for the approach roadways, particularly the connecting freeway along the Georgetown waterfront, putting that into a park covered tunnel.   And let’s take another look at what we did with the Inner Loop.  It is good that we deleted the U Street trench-way and berm-way for crosstown I-66.  But our ‘express street’ plans still displace a significant number of townhouses while providing only 2 lanes in each direction- a lack of capacity likely to lead to another such project needed to parallel that in a few years still displacing more homes.  And is not relocation of the East Leg to Eastern Avenue more than a bit disjointed, particularly without the remaining western portion of the previously proposed intermediate beltway?   For something more workable, let’s build a 3 Sisters Bridge connected to a fully tunneled I-66 across downtown fully beneath existing street right of way with at least 3 lanes in each direction.  And have it connect to an Inner Loop East Leg along the western bank of the Anacostia River, right to the site of East Capital Street were they are planning that new stadium.  There is plenty of underutilized land along the Anacostia’s western bank that could better accommodate a freeway with a tunnel box built right into the side of the hill, with a new pedestrian promenade there- way better than that monstrosity on the eastern side of the river that cuts everything off from the waterfront.  How can we tolerate that when they have not built tunneled freeways elsewhere in Washington, D.C.

Please.  That status quo is just so inequitable on the surface that I doubt that the American people would ever stand for that.

JWM-  You think that you can get away with that?  Have you forgotten what you are dealing with?  Remember what happened to Charles L’Enfant?  He wanted to interfere with the Carol family’s Tobacco loading dock area by not letting them have their mansion just a little closer to the canal, and was subsequently fired by George Washington himself.

JFK-  Do you really think that Rome could get away with stopping this vital project?  I-95 is only like America’s Main Street along the East Coast from Maine to Florida.  Do you really think that I-95 could be scuttled and stubbed at the Beltway, with 10s of thousands of people driving there daily seeing the highway so stopped at the Beltway?  And particularly with that enormous paralleling power line right of way that continues within the Beltway, even though the planning fails to use that, owing to the desire to instead route the freeway directly to that new development- Prince Georges Plaza.  Come on now.  Whether routed via the power line right of way or via the stream valley, it takes very few dwellings.  Likewise within the District along the railroad a mere fraction of that which 95 would require in southwestern Boston, or for its Inner Belt connection.  The DC 95 B&O plan was the result of 2 years of negotiations amongst numerous parties within the District.
Now let’s stop this nonsense.  We are hardly Rome’s vessel.  Once it is built, they will see the folly of their ways;  indeed that Farnese family that created the Jesuit Order and runs much of the show along with the other ancient Roman Catholic Church families, can always adopt the park covered cut and cover freeway concept to their urban freeways.  Think about those that were built along waterfronts.  Those could be rebuilt underground beneath new park-lands, and they could even do so while doubling the capacity of the freeway, as it would be enclosed.

JWM-  Jack, you are really pushing the envelope.  Do you really want to risk it?

JFK-  Look the planning is already coming along nicely.  We have an engineering report being worked on, including by some of those working on the Boston Inner Loop Fenway park covered freeway tunnel.  They are taking that idea and applying it to this very corridor right alongside Catholic University.

And 95 itself is practically completed in northern Maryland.  I’ll be delivering a speech there in the next few months at its upcoming dedication ceremony.  Some important people shall be there, including New York’s Robert Moses.  Hopefully I’ll have a conversation with him about my ideas for radically more considerate urban freeway design, that he could take back to his home state, and perhaps introduce some plans to bury say Manhattan’s ring road freeways, you know the FDR and particularly that antiquated West Side Highway that dates back from the 1920s.  Now THAT could be a useful upcoming project to reconstruct that updated and improved beneath new parkland to serve a broader swath of humanity rather than say more and more prison construction, like that I was being prodded by that fruitcake Harry Anslinger.  New York's liberal progressive community would go strongly in support of updating and improving these freeways underground- I don't see how they could ever oppose that- or let alone go along with  sending the money instead transferred to unaudited bureaucracies or building more prisons.

JWM- Jack.  

You think that?  

All I can say is that there are some powerful political roadblocks to what you want to do.  They really know how to get what they want by manipulating public opinion.  They are masters at getting the public to subvert its own best interest.  And you have no idea how you underestimate their ability to achieve that!

JFK- What?  That they could get people to prefer urban freeways that are not tunneled?

Well yes, I already know about the incentive regarding that- aka the air pollution issue.  And I recall that newspaper campaign by that drunkard, Cissy Patterson against the DuPont Circle traffic tunnel, once one of her crocked son in law's fraternity brothers who got him to malign the Tucker automobile got her to start that because of some petro exec's fears of the pollution hot spots at the road tunnel portals.

Well, once the road tunnels are built than people can really get a good whiff at how our petrochemical mercantilism is poisoning the atmosphere so we can then move towards an open fuel standard.

On that note, Chrysler has this turbine engine automobile project going that can burn just about any combustible liquid fuel, except leaded gasoline and is set to begin delivery of a run of 50 or so of these new T-Bird like coups starting sometime this fall.  As with our X-20 space plane, we are a nation destined to move ahead!

JWM- Jeszz.  Are you trying to get yourself assassinated?

FK-  John, please.  Did you forget my inauguration speech?  Why do you think that my best known phrase was ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.

Why do you think that is my most often cited quote?

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