On a recent Saturday morning, I joined a handful of residents from DC’s River Terrace and Kingman Park neighborhoods on a community walk to Kingman Island. We were brainstorming ways to improve the connection from these neighborhoods to Kingman Island, one of two beautiful island parks lying between these two neighborhoods on opposite shores of the Anacostia River.
We joined staff from the District’s Department of Energy and Environment, Department of Transportation, Living Classrooms (who coordinates programming and maintenance of the island) and other partners on our walk, which, despite the delightful company, was not entirely pleasant.
Why not? The Benning Road bridge is an eight-lane thoroughfare, and the 6’ sidewalk is far too narrow to safely accommodate its frequent use by pedestrians, cyclists and scooterists crossing the river at what is one of few foot-friendly crossing points.
We had to pause several times on the walk to either dodge out of the way of groups of passing bicyclists or two wait for the roar of the Orange Line train passing on elevated rails above us to die down long enough to hear each other.
Multiple pedestrians and cyclists don’t have enough room on the Benning Road bridge sidewalk. Even the river had traffic on this Saturday!
Luckily, DDOT is planning to revamp the bridge in ways that should accomodate all modes of transportation including planned expansion to the streetcar line from H Street into Ward 7. In the meantime, however, DOEE is working with a group of residents to brainstorm ways to temporarily alleviate the challenges of safety, comfort and wayfinding so that residents of River Terrace and surrounding neighborhoods can more easily enjoy the amazing resource of Kingman Island.
On the walk, we highlighted many of the perceived challenges and opportunities posed by the bridge and the entrance to Kingman Island off of Benning Road. Challenges included the noise, the narrow walkway, the prominent industrial infrastructure, the lack of clear wayfinding and signage, the foreboding appearance of fences and gates at the park’s entrance and other issues.
A volunteer landscape architect, Maisie Hughes, provided some of her ideas for using “tactical urbanism” — quick, cheap and temporary strategies to improve public spaces — on the walk. She proposed painting some of the Metro infrastructure bright colors instead of rusty brown, and proposed using sculptural objects to guide people to the entrance to Kingman Island, which she suggested deserved a much larger, more colorful sign visible to all passing traffic.
Lee Cain from Living Classrooms also asked for ideas for how his organization could temporarily paint the walls along the bridge with island-themed imagery, and two designers from Wayside Studio, Curry Hackett and Patrick McDonough, presented their initial ideas for the DC High Water Mark project, which will create sculptural markers for historical flood levels.
DOEE will continue to work with these community partners and with DDOT to pursue some of the ideas shared on this walk, and you can still share your own ideas with them by sending an email to Kara Pennino at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact her or myself if you are interested in general in public art, wayfinding and access issues related to the Anacostia River and would like to discuss them with other stakeholders and partners.
Erin Garnaas-Holmes is the Ambassador to the Anacostia Watershed Urban Waters Partnership.