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The 11th Street Bridge is in the process of being replaced, but if the District’s Office of Planning has its way, it may be in for an arty future. In a call for design proposals, the agency suggests the overpass could see new life as a “Community Connector, Adventure Recreation, Environmental Education, Arts Bridge, or Performance/Public Space.” Here, four thoughts on that topic:
1. It is a cool idea! It is so cool that we must immediately summon comparisons to New York’s High Line—you know, old, outmoded transit corridor retrofitted into a leafy, lovely, visually stunning public space that attracts gobs of people from all over. ANC 8A Commissioner Charles Wilson notes that in this, D.C.’s got a decent shot at replicating what will arguably go down as the decade’s most loved adaptive reuse project. That’s probably true. And, seriously, that would be cool!
2. But consider the High Line. It’s in Chelsea, surrounded by dozens of shops and restaurants, and benefits from the neighborhood being a hotbed of foot traffic. Walking onto the High Line feels entirely natural: You don’t have to go out of your way, plan a special trip, or hear about an event happening there in order to stumble upon it. Right now, the space on M Street between 8th and 11th streets SE is a dead zone. No one really walks there, because there’s no reason to. The High Line is successful not just because it’s beautiful—it’s successful because encountering it can be effortless and incidental.
3. Thus, will this really be the link between the eastern and western sides of the Anacostia River that the city so desperately needs? This thing seems like it could be pretty awesome even if no one sees it, but to make a real cultural impact, people should engage with it on a day-to-day basis, not just when new art has been installed or during a special event. It’s not far-fetched to think that commerce will migrate southeast of Barracks Row, but that won’t happen immediately. And while there are things to see and do along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, on the bridge’s eastern end, there isn’t so much at this point that the path between it and M Street is highly trafficked. The District Department of Transportation and the Office of Planning are going to have to go hard on wayfinding and marketing to guide pedestrians to the bridge.
4. The Office of Planning’s page on the project says, “This ongoing effort is intended to explore design ‘concepts.’ The actual decision to reuse the bridge has not been made nor committed to at this point. A project this ambitious, once determined feasible, could take several years to be fully realized.” Sounds like the agency is treading very, very lightly and doing its best to remain transparent on this one. Since (see No. 1) this is a cool idea, let’s hope this doesn’t sit in policy purgatory for too long.
The Office of Planning will host an “Informational Meeting for Potential Recreation Reuse of 11th Street Bridge” Wednesday night from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the D.C. Office of Planning, 1100 4th St. SW in the 2nd Floor Hearing Room, E200.
Image via D.C. Office of Planning