Bids have closed on a major District Department of Transportation (DDOT) project which will replace 200 feet of Maryland Avenue with a half-acre public park. The new park, dubbed “Starburst Intersection,” will replace a number of scattered traffic islands and leftover bits of sidewalk that currently sit on the pavement. This project is the first step in a $20 million DDOT program which will transform the H Street corridor from 14th street to Oklahoma Avenue.
“Starburst Intersection is the complicated junction of six roadways - H Street NE, Florida Avenue NE, Bladensburg Road NE, Maryland Avenue NE, Benning Road NE, and 15th Street NE,” according to the DDOT website. Describing the junction as complicated is an understatement; the intersection doesn’t seem to be working for anybody. According to Karina Ricks, Associate Deputy Director for Transportation Policy and Planning, it has been nearly impossible for pedestrians, cars, bicyclists and transit vehicles to make efficient use out of the six-street connection.
“Our primary objective was to create a livable community and to support the local economic development,” said Ricks. In order to exemplify the blight of the current interchange, Ms. Ricks discussed the convoluted path that local senior citizens must walk to get from their senior center, located at the northwestern-most point of the intersection, to the local stores just a few blocks east. “The seniors are in a very livable place where these amenities are so close,” Ricks said in reference to the nearby CVS Pharmacy and Hechinger Mall, “but they might as well be across town.”
The current intersection requires the crossing of three extremely busy, main streets in order to get from the senior building to CVS Pharmacy – a task not unlike Frogger - a game of threading traffic without getting squished. The new design will reorganize traffic in a manageable way, re-time the traffic signals to allow more time for pedestrians to walk and will force seniors to cross only one busy street in order to purchase their necessities. “It’s not just about the seniors,” Ricks added, “but they graphically illustrate the need for this improvement.”
The park will feature an 8' high, 30' long terrazzo panel commissioned by the DC Commission of Arts and Humanities, which will be surrounded by a number of recreational areas and fixed game tables where pedestrians can unwind. Additionally, the DDOT has included provisions for a large water fountain in the overall design. Although the DDOT will be providing the capital investment for the water structure, project leaders are still seeking a neighborhood organization to take stewardship over it. Starburst Intersection will also include a multitude of Low Impact Design features, making it an eco-friendly addition to the H Street Corridor. The Starburst Intersection is projected for completion in early 2009, and should be followed by the stalled trolley plan for H Street, but more on that soon.