Saturday, July 24, 2004

CITYSCAPE: K Street's Remake

The Washington Post explores plans to transform K Street from a clogged traffic artery into Washington's "Main Street." The reconstruction and streetscaping scheme is similar to one the District introduced two years ago to reconfigure K Street's traffic patterns to incorporate bus-only lanes. While this is still in the plans, a new team of Chicago planners have something else in mind: sidewalk cafes and trees, essentially a grand urban boulevard that K Street was 50 years ago.

(Hmmm ... 50 years ago, like when my great uncle and aunt had a townhouse on K Street between 21st and 22nd streets. Today, the townhouse is gone, replaced by an ugly office building housing Mr. K's Chinese restaurant and an employee drug-testing facility.)

From The Washington Post:
The planners envisioned a transit- and pedestrian-friendly boulevard with a "green" theme that would link it to the three parks that line its sides so that they would be integrated into the road, rather than serving as a refuge from it.

The design would rid the street of its four service and parking lanes, which the team described as a "disaster" because they fail to serve retailers and contribute to traffic tie-ups.

In the late '60s and early '70s, K Street was slated to be converted into the North Leg crosstown freeway, an extension of Interstate 66. But that plan never went through for many reasons.

But the traffic never went away. K Street serves both a local crosstown connector between Washington Circle and Mount Vernon Square and an important gateway corridor for Virginia commuters from the Whitehurst Freeway and Key Bridge.

Of course, as in all things D.C., it could be better.

From the Post:
But the planning team said that its cachet lies more in "name, perhaps, than reality" and that a redesign is needed to turn it into the centerpiece boulevard it ought to be. "What we see today is a space squandered," said Theodore Wolff, a principal with Wolff Clements and Associates in Chicago. "We see something with a lot of unrealized potential."

K Street today is an architectural reflection of the businesses, institutions and law firms it serves: busy, impersonal, and overall imposing. It is a grand avenue right now, but lacks well-rounded street activity, lacking soul. Can trees and fancy sidewalk pavers cure K Street's ills? Perhaps, perhaps not.

"A Radical Makeover for K Street" [The Washington Post]


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