Washington Circle to be revamped

Two city agencies have proposed major renovations to Washington Circle in order to make the area safer and more accessible for pedestrians.

The National Parks Service and the District Department of Transportation presented a plan at a public meeting last month that will include more crosswalks and handicap ramps, chain link fencing to line the circle and new concrete walkways within the circle’s interior.

“The primary purpose of this project is improved pedestrian safety,” said Alexa Viets, transportation planner for the National Parks Service. “The redesign provides an important opportunity to also raise the level of the aesthetic appearance of this important historic circle by eliminating unsightly social trails and by providing protection for trees, shrubs and turf.”

Representatives from both agencies presented the plans at an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting last month. The ANC is an community group that makes recommendations to the city government about local issues.

Due to a current lack of pathways, people walking through the circle often cut through hedges and grass pathways, leaving mud trails and damaged foliage behind, Viets said. A lack of crosswalks from the street to the circle leads to accidents and traffic delays because frustrated pedestrians cross without signals in non-designated locations.

“Over the years, I have seen a number of accidents occur because the park does not prevent people from jaywalking,” said Carl Vacketta, who lives next to the circle, at the ANC meeting. “I have seen someone hit on a bike. I once saw a woman in a wheelchair who couldn’t get around the circle,”

Neither the DDOT nor the NPS said they have plans to accommodate the numerous homeless people who often camp out in the park.

“The NPS looks forward to assisting the community in any plans to provide homeless outreach, but these proposed plans are focused on physical landscape and pedestrian safety improvements,” Viets said.

Renovations to Washington Circle are one phase of a larger plan that includes resurfacing New Hampshire Avenue. The full project aims to promote the safer flow of traffic in the area, representatives said. The NPS and DDOT have been collaborating on traffic and pedestrian studies as well as concept designs over the last year and half.

Both agencies hope to receive funding for the project by the fiscal year 2010, and said construction could potentially begin in October 2009.

Before any renovations can begin, the NPS must consult with the D.C. State Historic Preservation Officer, who will assess the impact renovation will have on the historic resources. Washington Circle is one of the oldest circles in the District of Columbia, and was listed as a component of the original L’Enfant Plan for the federal city, according to the National Register of Historic Places.

Many Foggy Bottom residents at last week’s meeting were highly optimistic about the proposed renovations.

“Wherever there is a chain link fence on the circle there is no jaywalking or mud paths, but on the other side they jaywalk and cut a path and that’s where they get hit,” Vacketta said.

Arthur Frank, a Foggy Bottom resident and director of the GW Hospital Weight Management Program, said the current situation needs to be resolved.

“Right now there are only two crossing lights around ten streets,” Frank said. “People are getting hurt and destroying the foliage.”

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