D.C. Could Break the Mold with a New Bridge-Park

In Washington, D.C., the 1,600-foot long 11 street bridge over Anacostia River is being pulled down and redesigned because it’s structurally unsound. Part of the redesigned bridge will include a new “local bridge” with bicycle lanes and 16-feet wide sidewalks, offering stops to look out over the river. While this new local bridge alone is a great improvement, D.C. planners are thinking out whether to rebuild an additional span and spend tens of millions to design a new recreation park. The new park would bring physical form to Mayor Vincent Gray’s vision of bridging the racial and cultural divisions in the city and connecting the communities on either side of the river.

The new park won’t be like the High Line. It’s not found in a dense urban neighborhood but in the middle of a river, said Harriet Tregoning, Director of Planning, Washington, D.C. at a public hearing on the idea. Still, the early park concepts definitely seem inspired by the High Line and other parks that have reused transportation infrastructure to become exciting public spaces. Tregoning seems to love the “surprises” created at every turn of the High Line, a park that is “intensely used,” and hopes D.C.’s bridge-park could offer similarly vivid experiences. Other bridge-park projects that may also be inspiring D.C.: Walkway over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie is the longest elevated walkway in the world at 1.28 miles long, while Promenade Plantee provides a beautiful respite from Paris. In Nashville, there’s the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge, while Tennessee has Walnut Bridge and Little Rock, Arkansas, has the Junction Bridge.

On the possible park, Tregoning said “think of it as a linear house with lots of rooms,” with each room offering a different type of public space to a certain type of visitor. D.C. offered a bunch of early concepts. One vision, our favorite, is of a space filled with “active recreation” opportunities, with a climbing wall, ropes course, pole vaulting, skate park, or zip lines. Given the bridge is some 1,600 feet long, 5-6 more of these active zones could be included. Amid the outdoor adventure games, there could be stores like REI or Patagonia. Other visions for the park include an ecological park with an environmental education center, a public arts space with rotating sculptures, or a public event and exhibition space, or a combination of these.

These spaces could be made even more exciting (and accessible) if the new streetcar in the works ran through. Cafes could take shape on the bridge, or D.C.’s incredibly popular Truckeroo could even find a home base there. Who wouldn’t want a lobster roll while looking out over the city?

Residents and organizations at the public hearing also weighed in. Some of the comments: Maximize the views. Make sure the bridge has lots of vegetation and shade, which is critical to ensuring the elevated park doesn’t become a “heat sink” in D.C.’s blazing summers. Add trees to block out noise from the Interstate, which will be just a few lanes over. Add telescopes for star watching. Ask students to create the art that’s projected onto the infrastructure. Community participation and involving teens in the design was deemed crucial. 

Still, the downfall of the project could be the lack of access. Residents and workers from the Navy Yards development, which are expected to grow by 30,000 over the next few years, along with those from Poplar Point and Historic Anacostia, which are also expected to grow by a few thousand, will need to be able to easily access the bridge-park if it’s going to succeed. One big sticking point is the naval base, which limits access through its boardwalk to a short window during the day. This means if the gates are closed, residents would need to go all the way around the base to find an entrance. On the other side of the Anacostia, residents will need to wade through what looks like a scary set of transportation infrastructure to find a loop that will take them up to the park. There really needs to be safe, ADA-accessible, interesting paths leading up to the park on either side, in addition to elevators at either end of the structure.

As Tregoning said, there are, in fact, many design challenges with the bridge-park so once the “set of programs,” which will be decided by local residents, is in place, a design competition will be launched, with the hope of drawing national design talent. If financing can be worked out (the city is looking to foundations for help), this would be the perfect challenge for a landscape architect. Expect to hear more about the competition here in the coming months.

Add your thoughts. Should the bridge be rebuilt and turned into a recreation park? Or should all these great ideas just be implemented somewhere else?

Image credit: D.C. Planning Office

One thought on “D.C. Could Break the Mold with a New Bridge-Park

  1. Donal 04/05/2012 / 8:16 am

    It is nice to see many of the ideas of my classmates in the Landscape Architect program at University of Maryland start to come to fruit. I can not tell you how many long nights we worked on these similar ideas for those bridges at Poplar Point. Perhaps it was this good vibrations of design ideas that was picked up by the D.C. Planning. Fingers crossed for the community of Anacostia that they can receive such a special park that could tie into their community history and culture.

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