Buzzard Point: It’s Complicated…

Baseball traffic stalled at the intersection of Fourth and I Streets SW. Photo: Andrew Lightman

Taking a trip to Buzzard Point these days is an exercise in driving or walking through an enormous construction zone with active projects at Audi Field (DC United soccer stadium) and the Pepco waterfront electrical substation. These and other projects are changing the cityscape of Buzzard Point and will stimulate private construction activity:

  • 1900 Half Street SE – a renovation by Douglas Development of a former office building into 414 apartment units with ground-floor retail.
  • Riverpoint – a renovation of the former Coast Guard building by Western Development and Akridge as 110 condo units and 425 units of apartments and ground-floor retail.
  • Peninsula 88 – the construction of 110 new condominium units by Capital City Real Estate.

By 2020 Buzzard Point will have gained a 19,000-seat soccer stadium, a new Pepco substation, 1,059 units of housing, and 125,000 square feet of retail.

These public and private investments are accelerating the development on Buzzard Point and causing its transition from an industrial area to a high-density, mixed-use neighborhood, quicker than anyone had envisioned. And in many ways this is a good thing, for the following reasons:

  • Buzzard Point begins to connect, or bridge the gap, between SE and SW.
  • It accelerates the design and construction of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, thereby providing additional connectivity.
  • It provides additional access to the water through the riverwalk trail and the development of National Park Service (NPS) lands as open space and new trail connections.
  • It can reestablish at least one east/west street connection.
  • It improves the quality of the public realm through the construction of sidewalks for pedestrian access and the reconstruction of several streets that accommodate vehicular and bike traffic but also serve as linear green spaces and stormwater control corridors.

However, the rapid transformation and densification of Buzzard Point – an actual peninsula that is populated by industrial uses – can also come with growing pains. The soccer stadium and residential development alone will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors and up to 6,000 new residential units (with the possibility of approximately 8,000 new residents). The construction of the South Capitol Street Bridge system and the Memorial Ellipse will also add to the construction pressures for the next four years.

Probably the biggest issue that needs to be addressed is one of transit accessibility to Buzzard Point, especially on soccer game days.

Audi Field is approximately 0.8 miles from either proximate Metro Station – Waterfront or Navy Yard/Ballpark – so there is no direct Metro connectivity. It will be important to have accurate and well-located directional signage to guide soccer patrons who arrive by Metro. Connectivity via the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail needs to be enhanced by improving or constructing the missing components in each neighborhood.

But the bigger remaining challenge is some form of surface transit connection, as there will be very little parking for soccer patrons on Buzzard Point. Several groups have been meeting with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to discuss this issue and possible solutions. The following ideas have been raised as viable options:

  • Extending the WMATA Bus 74 line south down into Buzzard Point.
  • Extending Circulator service to the neighborhood on game days, with another route north from the SW Waterfront neighborhood.
  • Operating a shuttle system between the two stations and the soccer stadium on game days.
  • Evaluating a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route from Buzzard Point northeast on Potomac Avenue, up First Street SE or New Jersey Avenue SE to Union Station, thereby connecting the Green Line to the Blue/Orange/Silver lines at Capitol South and the Red Line at Union Station.
  • Upon the opening of the South Capitol Street bridge, promoting the Anacostia Metro station as commuter parking and using the new bridge as the pedestrian connection.

Parking solutions must be discussed as well, including the aforementioned garage at the Anacostia Metro station, the use of Nationals Park’s two parking garages on non-baseball game days, and the identification of other parking lots outside of Buzzard Point.

DDOT and DC United will have to heavily publicize the lack of parking and promote Metro as the best way to arrive for games. DDOT is also working with the team and other neighborhood stakeholders, such as Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 6B and 6D, the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District (BID) and the Southwest BID, to develop a transportation operations and parking plan for the new stadium.

Another ongoing concern is the coordination of all public and private construction activity in and adjacent to Buzzard Point over the next four to five years. The South Capitol Street Bridge construction will take approximately four years to complete and must be timed to connect with the opening of the new memorial ellipse. Potomac Avenue SW has to be rebuilt to coincide with the opening of the soccer stadium in late 2018. DDOT will need to work with all construction projects to ensure appropriate routing of trucks along with access for residents and emergency vehicles.

A few simple traffic-flow recommendations may help the area. Making Second Street SW into a two-way street will enhance north/south circulation, while reopening T Street between Half and First streets SW can add to east/west circulation.

There are no apparent, simple solutions to the traffic generated by locating two sports stadiums, thousands of housing units, entertainment venues, and dozens of restaurants in the SW Waterfront and Capitol Riverfront neighborhoods. It was envisioned that engaging our waterfronts in meaningful ways would lead to the creation of mixed-use neighborhoods and entertainment options, as well as access to the water. But we must recognize the pressure that will be exerted on these neighborhoods on game days and at future build-out.

The neighborhoods south of the SE/SW Expressway between the Fish Market and the 11th Street bridges are becoming one continuous waterfront destination, on both sides of South Capitol Street. While we benefit from the amenities and housing opportunities these developments create, we also have to acknowledge the accessibility issues that will be created and plan for them. Planning should be guided by the following principles:

  • A thorough transportation analysis of the area based on future build-out and the impacts on the existing transportation network.
  • A redesign of M Street as a bus transit corridor with dedicated lanes and a high-quality pedestrian environment.
  • Identifying new north/south transit connections to the downtown core and Union Station from SE and SW.
  • Identifying transit connections to the soccer stadium and residential neighborhood that will develop on Buzzard Point.
  • Identifying I Street in SE and SW as the major east/west bicycle corridor for the area, and planning for more bike lanes.
  • Expanding Circulator service to these neighborhoods.
  • Ensuring meaningful and safe pedestrian crossings across South Capitol Street intersections and the memorial ellipse.
  • More directional signage and intersection striping that clearly define the pedestrian rights-of-way.
  • Planning for emergency vehicle access to the rapidly densifying area.
  • Finishing the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail connections on both sides of the South Capitol Street Bridge.
  • Developing shared parking strategies between office buildings, sports stadiums, churches, and other institutional uses.

Now is the time to plan for the next transit and transportation enhancements for the SE and SW neighborhoods. Without new connectivity it will be difficult to get from here to there … and this is a burden none of these neighborhoods should have to bear.