Professor plans redesign of Washington Circle

A local professor wants people to walk through Washington Circle, not around it, by turning the unkempt park into a visual icon.

Iris Miller, a professor of architecture and urban planning at Catholic University, will present a plan to the National Park Service after the academic year ends next week, offering ideas to spruce up the circle’s green space to make it “more visible as a gateway on Pennsylvania Avenue.”

The circle’s lawn, benches and George Washington statue are roped off by a chain fence, which deters people from walking through, she said. Her plans include bike paths and walkways to encourage traffic.

Miller, who is also the director of the Urban Institute Studio, worked with three Catholic University students to plan renovations, which could be implemented within a year.

Her proposal calls for adding a bike path and benches around the circle, planting cherry blossom trees and installing chess tables to the park. Miller said she would also like to see a stand permanently fashioned in the circle to potentially host games so pedestrians “can set up ping pong tables in the outer ring like they do in Bryant Park.”

Any renovations to the historic circle – which became the District’s first traffic circle in 1856 – must receive a green light from the Commission of Fine Arts, the Historic Preservation Review Board, the D.C. Zoning Commission and the D.C. Council.

Miller brought her plans before the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission – a local government body that considers the impact of community issues like safety and construction on residential life – at its April 18 meeting.

Rebecca Coder, vice chair for the ANC, said the commission supports the proposal and believes it would make the circle “a center of life for the neighborhood.”

Coder added she would like to see the District Department of Transportation and the National Park Service work together to fuse elements of Miller’s plans into a project already scheduled to improve pedestrian walkways at Washington Circle.

National Capital Planning Commission Executive Director Marcel Acosta gave the project a seal of approval March 29 and is awaiting approval from the D.C. Council to begin construction.

Monica Hernandez, a spokeswoman for DDOT, said work will begin within two weeks of council approval of the $10 million contract. It is expected to take about 18 months.

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