If you’ve ever been to Washington, D.C. on a random weekday and been down to Pennsylvania Avenue, it can feel strange how empty a street in the center of the federal government can be. You don’t even have to be there in person. You can just pull up a traffic cam. Yes, D.C. has rush hour traffic like any other major American city. Though, outside a few relatively brief periods of the day, Pennsylvania Avenue is basically empty. There are even very few pedestrians on the sidewalk. The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) is planning on changing that.
Since Washington D.C.’s construction, The most iconic stretch of the thoroughfare has been the 1.2 miles between the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building. Today, many important buildings line the sparsely traveled street. The National Archives, the Department of Justice, the Treasury, the FBI headquarters at the J. Edgar Hoover Building, and the Canadian Embassy are all on the avenue. And every four years, on January 20th, the newly inaugurated President of the United States travels from the Capitol to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. One of the few days when the sidewalks are overcrowded.
For almost a century, the National Capital Planning Commission has been the federal capital’s central planning agency. Its ambitions for Pennsylvania Avenue are probably its most transformative plans ever for the District. Three concepts were presented at an online NCPC meeting, titled “Urban Capital,” “Linear Green” and “Civil Stage.”
“Urban Capital” reduces Pennsylvania Avenue down to four lanes while adding two bus lanes and expanding the sidewalks. “Linear Green” pedestrianizes Pennsylvania Avenue with a two-lane busway, protected bike lanes and a park on both sides for the entire length. “Civil Stage” splits Pennsylvania Avenue with a vast median pedestrian strip, leaving a single lane for each traffic, buses and bicycles on each side.
The goal is to create a place designed for events and be an inviting everyday space for D.C. residents. The concepts aren’t direct options for the renovation, but will be used in part for the final proposal. The NCPC is also focused on maintaining at least two lanes of roadway and ensuring enough space in the street’s center for inauguration parades.