Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Where the Streets Have No Name

Photo: Truxton Circle from Truxtoncircle.org. More historic photographs here.

I was out walking the dog tonight and found myself staring up again at the banners that appeared along the 200 Block of N Street NW promoting the area as Truxton Circle. Truxton Circle? Where is Truxton Circle? There is no Truxton Circle. There was once a revolutionary war hero named Thomas Truxtun (with a "un" not an "on") and the area did once have a misspelled Truxton Circle located at the intersection of Florida Avenue (then known as Boundary Street) and North Capital Street, which was wiped off the map in the 1940s. I'm not sure when Truxton Circle first came about, but it's not shown on my 1867 map of the District, and it is not part of the L'Enfant plan of the city. According to the great research by In Shaw (part 1 and part 2), it was considered more of a landmark than a neighborhood. The primary civic associations in the area are the Bates Area Civic Association and the Hanover Civic Association, and the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association takes in a little piece of its southwest corner. No Truxton Circle civic association, although Truxton Circle does have an informative website.

Ok, so there's no Truxton Circle. Well, how about Mount Vernon Triangle? Where's the triangle? There's a Mount Vernon Square that goes back to the original L'Enfant Plan. There's a Mount Vernon Square Historic District. There are numerous little triangle parks known as reservations throughout the area, but none of them is called Mount Vernon. Truth be told... there is no triangle. The name refers to the triangular piece of land, formerly (and still to a degree) filled with surface parking lots, between Massachusetts and New York Avenues NW and New Jersey Avenue and 7th Street NW (at Mt. Vernon Square). The name was a little marketing genius to promote the area as a new and upcoming neighborhood.

Map: Mt. Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District. Click above for interactive map.

So, what will stick? Will Truxton Circle gain more widespread usage, despite the lack of an actual circle? Might DDOT actually reconstruct a Truxton Circle at some point? I've seen speculation online (I bet that will happen rights after they implement the decade-old New York Avenue Corridor Study). Any interest in spelling the 'ol Commodore's name correctly this time? - I think he'd appreciate it. Will the Mt. Vernon Triangle name survive after all the condos are built and sold? Or will the area generally become known as Mt. Vernon, Mt. Vernon Square, north Penn Quarter, or simply referred to by its condo name - i.e. CityVista? I guess only time will tell.

Until then, take a left at Mt. Vernon Triangle, then go around Truxton Circle onto North Capital Street.


Anonymous said...

TimSloanDC@gmail.com 11.17.08

I have researched the 2005 DC DDOT study to rebuild Truxton Circle. In my opinion, it was flawed. It was conducted in a way where the only conclusion could be to NOT recommend building a new circle.

My case starts with the 11th Street bridge project in SE over the Anacostia River. That project begins construction next spring. When completed in 2015, the new 8 lane highway speed bridge will take thousands of cars off of New York Avenue. These cars will bypass NY Avenue and the 395 tunnel in NW for the faster, direct connection to the SE/SW freeway along 295.

Currently, DC DDOT is doing a feasibility study to close the entrance to 395 at New York Avenue NW. This closure cannot happen until the bridges over the river are open in my opinion. The hope is to return NY Avenue into a “grand boulevard” with green median strip.

All these traffic flow changes will affect North Capitol, as well, making the 2005 Truxton Circle study data obsolete.

Traffic heading south on North Capitol Street at R Street in the morning rush is about 2500 vehicles an hour. By the time you get to H Street, that number has dropped to 1250 vehicles an hour. Where are the 1250 cars going that turned off North Capitol? I suspect they are headed to the 395 tunnel entrance on NY Avenue, NW.

The other flaw in the Truxton Circle study is they focused on building a traffic circle that ONLY allowed 2 lanes of North/South traffic to enter the circle. North Capitol has three travel lanes in each direction crossing Florida Avenue currently. So, of course, the wait queues would be enormous due to merging traffic entering a two lane circle.

Chevy Chase Circle in NW has 3 traffic lanes entering and exiting the circle along Connecticut Avenue. It has no problems and higher traffic numbers than those of North Capitol Street.

DC DDOT still has the mind set that New York Avenue, Florida Avenue and North Capitol streets’ sole mission in our neighborhood is to feed the 395 highway beast. This is why cars on North Capitol wiz by at over 50 mph in our neighborhoods. They have no interest in stopping, shopping or slowing down. They are just cutting through, many on the way to Virginia via the 395 tunnel.

The right-of-way for North Capitol Street at Rhode Island Avenue is 110 feet wide, including the very narrow sidewalks. Some are only 4 feet wide. By comparison, the grand section of Pennsylvania between the White House and the US Capitol averages a 100 foot wide roadway width and 20 to 40 foot wide sidewalks on each side. On Pennsylvania Avenue, the 100 foot wide road way provides 4 travel lanes in each direction with a 16 foot wide median.

What do we get for our 110 foot wide road way? Two high speed lanes in each direction with a median barely wide enough to stand on and all buried 25 feet below grade (street level). At grade, we have 1 local lane in each direction, 1 parking lane and narrow sidewalks. Pedestrian deaths and high speed accidents are common on this section of roadway.

The highway designers of the 50’s and 60’s tunneled North Capitol to serve the unfinished 395 freeway, making a bad transportation plan even worse. We lost a walkable and connected neighborhood.

North Capitol Street will never be a thriving retail district and majestic northern gateway” to the “old city” until there are significant transportation changes in this area:

1. Complete the 11th Street bridges in SE connecting 395 to 295. (completion 2015)
2. Closing the 395 tunnel entrance at New York Avenue NW (entry to the Tunnel will be from Massachusetts Avenue NW).
3. Building a modern three lane Truxton Circle at North Capitol and Florida Avenue.
4. Return the intersection of North Capitol and New York Avenue to a grade intersection.
5. Eliminate the long below grade section of North Capitol Street (W Street to Randolph Street), thus returning Rhode Island Avenue to a grade intersection with North Capitol Street and in the process creating a grand vista L’Enfant would be proud of.

"We must invest in our neighborhood commercial corridors so that they can thrive and flourish." - Councilmember Thomas while talking about the burying of utilities on 12th street NE.

Now imagine cars traveling 25 mph along a tree lined North Capitol with pedestrian friendly intersections and wide medians with trees. Walk along wide brick sidewalks once the underpasses are removed and the street correctly proportioned. Only then can you begin to imagine cafes, shops, restaurants and new housing along North Capitol Street.

The success of a thriving North Capitol Street business district will depend on new infrastructure and transportation projects, not just street light flower baskets and banners. Now, let’s get to work.

Anonymous said...


I'm not convinced by your argument that the 2005 DC DDOT study was flawed. It simply sounds to me like another study is warranted in 5 years after the 11 Street Bridge is completed and after they determine if I-395 will be truncated. Five years from now they may reach the conclusions you have reached. But you're pulling the cart before the horse right now. The I-395 decision is bigger and must be studied first. They could not have presumed in the 2005 Truxton circle study that 395 would fall into line with a utopian vision for Truxton.