Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bridging the Gap to Roosevelt Island

A plan to physically connect Roosevelt Island to the District by means of a pedestrian and bicycle bridge is gaining momentum. The 90-acre federal island park, dedicated to our nation's 26th President back in 1967, is currently accessible solely by way of the George Washington Parkway, and only via northbound, at that. At least for now. The proposal, heard before the DC Council's Committee on Public Works and the Environment in November, requests that the city work out a relationship with the District Department of Transportation and come up with nearly $35 million to pay for the span.

Dupont Circle resident David J. Mallof proposed the idea back in November, and has now sought the requisite sanctioning by the federal government. Mallof went to the Feds in early April and got a sit-down with James Oberstar, chair of the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - apparently the Feds are not opposed to the bridge (no Ted Stevens jokes here, please), but won't do anything 'official' until the DC Council and Mayor Fenty support it. The Council won't approve without some show of public support for the project, so the next step is for a public hearing. If supported, the Council would only need to earmark 20% of the overall cost, with the feds potentially picking up a generous 80%. This puts the timing of the bill at least into next year, because it will be nearly impossible to get the financing inked into the new budget by budget deadline of June 3rd.

If it gets that far, it will still have to go to the Washington Council of Government, which is chartered to oversee multi-jurisdictional issues. In this case, WCG would be mediating between the federal government, the DC government and the Virginia government, because a second bridge would then connect the island to Rosslyn, Virginia.

The proposal is to connect the land in front of the Watergate Hotel to Roosevelt Island, then across to Virginia. Mallof chose the Virginia location to connect the bike paths that nearly converge in the area, and proposes that the bridge could not only provide recreational use, but also serve as a main thoroughfare for sweaty commuters biking in from Virginia, who currently have a more complicated route after crossing Key Bridge, which involves either descending stairs or threading Georgetown's traffic, though even at this location bikers would still have to face a series of frogger-like challenges to get to the Mall. Still, some are concerned about the visual obstruction down the river, which has few open vistas thanks to the series of vehicular bridges.

Aside from the practical uses, Mallof stresses that the park falls within DC's perimeters, not Virginia's, forcing DC residents to cross the Potomac and park their cars on Virginia soil in order to take advantage of their park. Roosevelt Island remains so lightly trafficked, thanks in part to its inaccessibility, that it still boasts a mature white-tailed deer population.


DG-rad on Apr 16, 2008, 9:27:00 AM said...

what a good idea.. but instead of connecting it to the Watergate area, it should connect closer to Washington Harbor.

Anonymous said...

What about a metrorail station instead?

John on Apr 16, 2008, 10:31:00 AM said...

I'm all for helping bicycle commuters get to the District in a safer fashion, but there have to be cheaper ways. If the Key and I-66 bridges were just better integrated into the bike route system, and if the plan to connect the Mall to the shoreline comes to fruition, there will be no need for this bridge. Then Roosevelt Island can remain the tranquil spot it is.

Anonymous said...

Why in the world did they put the monument on the island in the first place; instead of somewhere else.

Why in the world wasn't a bridge from DC included when the memorial was built. How did they expect you to get there by boat.

I'm all with putting it there but really how does this help DC traffic instead of give Virginia another way to DC at least put a toll on the VA side so it would let people going to the memorial go their free since most would be coming from DC and the mall while commuters would be using it to go to DC and not the memorial.

Chris L on Apr 16, 2008, 2:20:00 PM said...

This is the best idea I've heard all week.

It would greatly increase pedestrian and bicycle connectivity between the District and VA, especially if combined with a proposal like this:


Beyond the improved connectivity, it would also give DC a chance to showcase a signature bridge. Maybe something like Norman Foster's Millennium Bridge in London?


I don't really buy the obstructed view argument. The Roosevelt and Memorial Bridges are just downstream which already obstruct the view, and are much more massive than any ped bridge would be.

John on Apr 17, 2008, 3:16:00 PM said...

$35 MILLION DOLLARS? Come on, people. Is that supposed to just appear out of thin air (or some Congressional earmark)? Fix bike connections, by all means, but if you want to visit the island by bike, it ain't hard.

tig said...

Starting the bridge near the Watergate/Virginia Ave actually makes sense - it's easy enough right now to take Key Bridge for Georgetown or West End folks, but Foggy Bottom is less accessible. This would be a step toward the larger need to knit the Kennedy Center & Watergate's waterfront into the larger city.

Anonymous said...

currently bikes are not allowed on the island. i run there every other day and the island is very busy any time of day and week with family with kids on a picnic, runners, tourists and dog walkers. the island is beautiful and full of wildlife. is the goal to make it bike friendly or bring more people to it?! maybe a more economical and environmental way would be to improve/expand/connect DC waterfront in front of the kennedy center to the pedestrian sidewalk of Roosevelt bridge (currently never in use since it ends at the bridge ...)An exit could be created to the island. it can be easily done - there are areas "at grade" with the bridge. This can be done quicker, with less money and with minimal environmental and visual impact on the river.

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