Future of the Whitehurst Freeway

a Case Study in Poor Management and Oversight


Major improvements can and must be made to the impending traffic flow problems throughout the western part of DC and its surrounds. It's time to undertake a study with a creative contractor, a skilled, non-biased program manager, and with informed and concerned oversight from the executive and legislative sides of the DC Government. Our city needs to find ways to protect Georgetown's character while also protecting DC's future as a vibrant, growing, world-class capital in a model US metro area.


DC's Department of Transportation, DDoT, contracts with consultants to study various segments of the city's extensive road network, in search of ways to upgrade them. For years, there has been pressure from various aesthetes and community activists to rid the city of its far-from-attractive, but highly functional Whitehurst Freeway, which serves to by-pass cluttered, but charming Georgetown. The most recent study was initiated in late 2004, and has rekindled all the old frictions between those trying to turn the city back to its quaint old neighborhoods, and those recognizing the need for high-throughput arterials to meet the city's growing vehicular traffic demands, both local and regional. This particular study, suspect from its outset, has drawn ever- more NARPAC interest, and has now been turned into a separate web site "chapter" with several sections in chronological order:

It starts out with NARPAC's original analysis which suggested a novel approach to making the existing freeway less objectionable ;

This was followed by a more detailed critique of the draft report from DDoT's chosen consultant;

And now by a far more detailed critique of the final draft evaluation by NARPAC and others, starting with the current status and background, and then treating both the inadequacies of the alternatives evaluation model and the inadequate scope of the study itself: and

culminating in NARPAC's testimony before the DC Council Committee on Public Works

return to the top of the page EARLY ANALYSIS (May, 2005): STUDYING THE WHITEHURST FREEWAY:Fatuous or Fateful?


NARPAC generally prides itself on its objective analysis, and its ability to accept a certain level of apparent inefficiency in the conduct of DC's municipal functions, including planning for its future growth. Somehow, however, the ongoing federally-funded, half-million dollar study of the feasibility of "deconstructing" the Whitehurst Freeway seems well beyond the pale. It gives off all the symptoms of a very inadequate approach to planning the economic development of our national capital city, or even just thinking about it.

the setting

This three-quarter-mile, homely looking elevated roadway runs along the north bank of the Potomac River. It is the western terminus of Canal Road (which brings commuters from the northwest suburbs of both Virginia (via the George Washington Parkway and Chain Bridge) and Maryland (via Clara Barton Parkway and MacArthur Boulevard) and Northwest DC (via the Dale Carlia Parkway and the posh but underdeveloped Foxhall Road).

It is the northern terminus of the Francis Scott Key Bridge (with heavy two-way traffic with Arlington, VA at each rush hour). It is a major link to The Pentagon, National Airport, and Alexandria.

Its eastern end involves convoluted connections with the western end of K Street (the city's premiere high-rise, revenue-producing office venue); the southern end of Rock Creek Parkway (a major access route to the "downtown area"); the northern end of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway which runs along the river's edge past the Kennedy Center to the Lincoln Memorial and across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to Arlington, VA; the northern end of Route 66, which runs behind (east of) the Watergate complex and the Kennedy Center and turns west to cross the Teddy Roosevelt Memorial Bridge and run up Arlington's highly developed Ballston Corridor. It is of some interest that a portion of I-66 will be 'decked over' by the federal Department of Transportation to reconnect the Kennedy Center (Memorial) to the National Mall. Fortunately, no one has suggested 'deconstructing' that freeway as well.

The Whitehurst Freeway, built over sixty years ago, serves as a by-pass of M Street (which is a continuation of Canal Road). This essentially "local" road is now hopeless clogged with traffic and double-parkers day and night (shown above). The Freeway is intermingled with the traffic patterns off Key Bridge, and is built some 30 feet above the western tail ends of Water Street and K Street which serves as a ground-level entrance to several of the modern office buildings which reach up seven or eight stories. For decades, the area between K Street and the river's edge has been neglected. Once primarily the "industrial port area" for the port of Georgetown (which preceded the delineation of the District boundaries by a more than a century), this area is now relegated to providing a scruffy (but useful) surface parking lot. Complicating (and totally independent of) the current feasibility study, this sixteen acre site is now planned for redevelopment as a riverside park by the National Park Service starting in the Fall of 2005! A less than awe-inspiring photo of this depressing site was snapped by NARPAC's photographer from the sidewalk of the Key Bridge on a dull Sunday morning.

the study objective

In essence, the study question is "could we get along without this ugly 'elevated arterial street' and develop alternative routes that would maintain roughly the same traffic flow as exists today(!). The hope would be to: a) remove a barrier that separates downtown from its waterfront; b) create better continuity in Georgetown's street system; c) improve connections to Georgetown parking garages and destinations; d) capture additional land value on the Georgetown waterfront; and e) improve access to the Georgetown Waterfront Park.

the study area

The designated study area is tightly constrained to the area south of M Street to the river's edge, east of where Canal Road becomes M Street (factual?) and west of Rock Creek itself, which trickles into the Potomac west of Rock Creek Parkway. The diagram below shows the limited extent of the "field of view", and essentially ignores the larger context of both municipal and regional mobility requirements.

a study 'given'

the flow rate on this "freeway" is permanently limited by stop lights at Canal Road and K Street/26th St., (but not on the I-66 branch). This is the type of limiting ground rule that reduces the value of the study to just about nil. There are clearly other inmitiatives that can remove both of these flow constrictors.

the study managers

The study is being conducted not by the Office of Economic Development, or the Office of Planning, but by the DC Department of Transportation. The project manager has been in DC and with DDoT for less than a year. The technical alternatives, analysis and assessments are being supported by a local contractor with experience no broader than local DC traffic problems.

ignoring the need for arterial roadways

Seldom has NARPAC had such a viscerally negative reaction to what appears to be one more effort by the city's transportation bureaucracy to convert "major arterial roadways" back into scenic parks for bikers, while "dissing" the region's commuters. Such car-driving intruders are considered by many city officials and residents to be simply a source of pot holes and traffic, rather than the life blood of the metro area's core city. These detractors also seem to neglect the fact that there is no Metrorail alternative following the trace of the Potomac on either side. In fact, the Georgetown 'neighborhood' successfully fought to exclude the nation's finest subway system in order to keep out 'undesirables' from other parts of the city and region. As a result, Georgetown is the city's best example of non-transit-oriented development.

disingenuous context

To make matters worse, NARPAC does not accept the major rationales for the study:

a) the Whitehurst is not a barrier separating Georgetown from its waterfront: it is a minimum of 25 feet above the heads of any pedestrians headed from M Street to the riverbank;
b) "street continuity" (for whatever that's worth in DC's most historic area) is not inhibited by an elevated road, but by the surface-level canal that parallels M street and the Freeway, but is not even mentioned in the problem statement. It is one of DC's less known urban treasures as shown here:

c) connections to Georgetown's parking garages are generally made from M Street (and its cross streets), and with the exception of a few hundred spaces under some of the newer buildings, the major (surface parking lot) is about to be eliminated in favor of a waterside park;
d) the "land value" of the lower floors of several buildings facing the river below freeway level might be improved somewhat, but all the new ones were built with full understanding of the existence of the Freeway and are not prime habitable space. Furthermore, a better solution to increasing local land values would be to develop more commercial real estate on the river side of the freeway -- as has already been done for the Georgetown Harbor complex.
Finally, e) if the "alternative" to the elevated road is a major surface-level 'boulevard', pedestrian traffic across that major arterial road will be further inhibited and at greater risk on the way to the National Park Service property which does not suffer commercial development or revenues.

a reasonable, but hidden, agenda

Without any question, as constructed and recently modernized for over $100M, the Whitehurst Freeway is an eyesore from the river-side, primarily because of its spindly, exposed-girder construction from pre-WWII days. It is particularly objectionable from the Key bridge vantage point, and by northbound traffic on the Potomac Parkway passing the Kennedy Center and Watergate complex. DC's planners (and overabundant self-appointed aesthetes) apparently have not considered other less traumatic solutions (cost- and mobility-wise). Three come to mind: 1) since NARPAC has heard no grumbling from the disaffected about the aesthetic shortcomings of Key Bridge (which according to this study's premises presumably forms a barrier discouraging access between the upper and lower Potomac), why not continue the supporting arch motif all the way around to Georgetown Harbor where it disappears from view? 2) since it is the spindly vertical posts that look awful (even to NARPAC) why not reconfigure the posts, and/or shield them behind a series of trees and other greenery, such as ivy? Here is a very amateurish attempt to show the possible impact of cosmetic changes to the visible elevated structure:

And 3) NARPAC's favorite and years' earlier proposal, why not add a multi-level, terraced urban deck over that vast surface parking space, and build a park on top of it?. Why not belly up to the inevitability of future growth, and try to plan for it instead of pretending it can be forestalled by keeping Georgetown's head in the sand. (See ahead to "double-decking the upper river front").

ignoring topography

One additional oversight by DC's supposed planners is a topographic cross-section thru the site from central Georgetown to its riverbank. In some places, sidewalks are almost too steep for sure-footing, and stairs are used instead. NARPAC has frequently accused DC's planners of ignoring the third dimension (vertical) and its limitless potential for 'air rights' and 'dirt rights'. This is particularly applicable along the Potomac's north bank, where ground level rises over 100 feet where Canal Road and Foxhall Road converge, and to 85' at Prospect Street, paralleling M Street one block north. The less-than-professional sketch below indicates that the Whitehurst Freeway is primarily an eyesore because grade-level is too low beneath it, and could be raised using at least a two-tier urban deck (in yellow), as well as a one-level excavation below ground level, if needed.


ignoring future growth patterns

One of the most discouraging facets of DC's current planning efforts is the city's inability to project its own future growth. While the Census Bureau has just published a (foolish?) projection that would reduce DC's population by 140,000 (to 433,000) by 2030, DC's Office of Long Range Planning is expecting it to rise 150,000 to 721,000 in the same period. An "official" Housing Task Force Study for the DC Council legislates an increase in 100,000, based primarily on a misinterpreted "what if analysis" conducted by Brookings as part of their vision for the city's future, and picked up by DC's mayor as a 10-year(!) planning goal. Leaving aside that population is not the proper planning metric for urban land use (net revenue-producing households is far better), these projections do not include the more important estimates of job growth, commuter growth, and car ownership. NARPAC's comments on these growth uncertainties can be found in our posting to DC's "Themail".

DC's transportation planners, recognizing the near-saturation levels of all DC's transportation modes, recommend greater municipal growth and far less commuter growth. But why do a study of DC's future arterial needs based on current traffic levels and patterns? In point of fact, this major route to downtown along the Potomac's banks has the greatest potential for further growth from the fastest growing segments of the city and metro area. This is because it is less developed that Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Connecticut Avenues, and better aligned to probable household growth.

ignoring the broader focus

NARPAC is regularly discouraged by the unwillingness or inability of DC's various local and federal planners to conduct their studies and analysis within a framework or context that is broad enough to include the major variables. The absurdly tight geographic limits on this study are perhaps the best clue to the study's eventual worthlessness. It is being envisioned as a simple input/output flow study constrained by two immutable sets of traffic lights less than a mile apart. Both of those constricting intersections could be substantially modified or eliminated by adjusting the cross-traffic needs and entry/exit ramp configurations. This would require that planners "re-visualize" the Canal Road/Key Bridge/Whitehurst/K Street/I-66 path as the primary through artery; relegate western access to M Street as secondary; and convert the segment of K Street under the Freeway from a city street to an underground parking access road.

The study also postulates that the solution must be found within a few hundred feet left or right of current alignments, and (we assume) zero to 30 feet lower than its current elevation above present ground level. However, no thought is being given to raising the ground level by the addition of creative urban decks.

But the larger problem is the apparent failure to consider this short stretch as a key link (a "stent", if you will) in the arterial flow between the heart of the city and its essential suburban extremities. NARPAC believes that this Whitehurst Freeway study area is at least 500 times too small to capture the importance of not only this current roadway, but also the potential of its right of way. A crude attempt to depict this provided below:

But brutal as it may seem to DC's many urban environmentalists, Canal Road between Chain Bridge and Key Bridge is one of the few DC rights of way (albeit now under Park Service control) which could readily lend itself to both widening at grade (at least one lane) and four-lane "double-decking" (because it is in defile below a 100-foot bluff), which would also make it possible, for instance, to eliminate the flow-restricting traffic lights where Canal Road and Foxhall Road merge, and possibly separate Key Bridge traffic and the M Street intersection.

ignoring growth in public transportation

To NARPAC's best knowledge none of the (dozen?) national capital planning groups, local, regional, or federal are proposing plans (or even half-million dollar studies) of the need to extend the region's Metrorail system anywhere within the city. The city's social engineers are busy devising means to generate more "affordable housing" for more "unaffiordable households" (i.e., those who cost the city more than they pay in taxes), but none of its transportation or land-use planners are looking to increase core city mobility through expansion of Metro. Instead, they are looking to surface-level buses, trolleys, and bikers(!) on current city streets to defer urban gridlock forever. It should be noted, however, that both the circulator buses and "light rail" system are envisioned as serving Georgetown. But to make matters even less realistic, not a street lane-mile, nor a subway track- or tunnel-mile has been/ proposed to improve the city's evacuation potential in the unlikely, but no-longer imaginary, event of a serious extremist attack.

NARPAC has, on several occasions, proposed significant additions to DC's subway system to improve public municipal mobility and to reduce the three downtown 'Achilles Heels' stations through which almost all trains must pass. Our favorite solution is the gradual development of an "Inner Circle Line", similar to that used in London, which would allow passengers to shift radials without penetrating the clogged downtown area. We would give it far higher priority than the currently moribund notion of a "Purple Line" which was originally conceived to connect the "spokes" of the system at its original "rim" (essentially paralleling the Beltway), rather than reinforce them nearer the "hub". The Northwest quadrant of this "Inner Circle Line" would arc clockwise from Pentagon to Rosslyn to Georgetownto Adams Morgan to New York Avenue and thence around to Stadium/Armory. We would suggest that Metrorail cross the Potomac as an above-grade architectural adjunct to the Key Bridge (shown below) with an 800' long station included within a multi-level urban deck near the west end of the Whitehurst Freeway.

double-decking the upper riverfront

NARPAC believes that the volume of space below and south of the Whitehurst Freeway could be creatively converted into a major intermodal transportation center for rail, bus, taxi, trolley, Park Service "tourmobiles", short- and long-term parking , and even water taxis, local river and canal tour boats, and a helicopter pad. And it could all be capped with a terraced urban riverfront park! Building on the clever "waterfall skylight" innovation for the underground facilities connecting The National Gallery of Art with its East Building on the Mall, small glass-bottomed ponds and fountains in the new Georgetown waterfront park could illuminate the functional decks below. The height of the freeway, particularly at its western end where it rises to take traffic directly from Key Bridge, must be well over 50 feet as shown in the photo below.

An old building is visible (lower right corner above) under the elevated structure. It is currently leased to GSA by the Whitehurst Association and used by government agencies for relatively mundane work and storage. The 19,000 sq ft. space is currently assessed for $6.7M It could readily be either replaced, or creatively remodeled to be part of a Metro station under the freeway here for a new line connecting the Rosslyn Station in Virginia to Adams Morgan and beyond via Georgetown.

NARPAC's artistically-challenged illustrator has come up with a view from Key Bridge of what this park-covered double urban decked transportation node might look like (below). It tries to disguise what's left to see of the freeway, even including (unspecified) new park adjunct buildings to break the horizontal line of the roadway. These buildings could house concessions, toilet facilities, and hide escalators to the various levels shown below, as well as providing pedestrian underpasses back towards the canal and M Street.

For those who enjoy simple puzzles, see if you can find a big "signature" Metro skylight; four "skylight fountains"; three volley ball courts; a bandstand; two greenhouses; ceremonial steps to the two lower tiers (and possible intermediate site for local activist activities); extensive solar panels to provide facility power; an innovative arbor for blooming vines; a helipad; a boat dock; a biker/jogger/segway path; and even a meditation center:

An equally fanciful not to scale cross-sectional view is shown in the next diagram. The heavy black line shows current ground level. Below that ground level is a new high-density robotic parking garage (gray) which offers perhaps four times the volumetric density of the self-parking garage above it (light yellow). Access would be by steep ramps from M Street and from the K Street/Pennsylvania Ave end. Above that self-parking garage on a second deck would be a major "intermodal transportation plaza" featuring the Metro station with transfers to buses, trolleys, tour-mobiles, taxis, helicopters, ferries, bicycles, whatever. An intermediate level roadway (not shown) would carry major public transportation vehicles east towards downtown DC and the Mall.

There are three "promenade levels" of open park. The lowest, essentially where it is now at the river's edge, would be the trail for serious bikers, et al. It would presumably connect eventually all the way around to the trail in front of the Kennedy Center (shown below, with the western end of the Whitehurst Freeway in the distance, showing as a dashed white line, center right). This base level would also provide direct (limited) vehicular access to the heliport and boat dock. The second park level, considerably wider, is conceived as a "leisure park" for strolling, contemplation, perhaps flower gardens, green houses, etc. and a trellised connection between the helipad and the intermodal plaza. The third park level (about as far above the river's surface as the Kennedy Center's tree-enhanced terrace outside its Grand Foyer) is envisioned to be more for a variety of sports and community activities. It would be connected (with little grade) by under-the-freeway pedestrian paths to the C&O canal and M Street.

The point of this further fanciful exercise is to demonstrate that there are doubtless a variety of novel solutions to modernizing the Whitehurst Freeway rather than 'deconstructing" it . Real planners, not NARPAC amateurs, should be looking for innovative, future-looking solutions that eliminate the worst of yesterday's mistakes without denying premeditated progress toward tomorrow's inevitably higher density urban requirements.

another possible Metro station for Georgetown East

Earlier NARPAC suggestions for beefing up Metrorail intown have also included building an 'infill' station between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom on the Blue/Orange Lines. There is no station currently within convenient walking distance of either the Kennedy Center or the eastern end of Georgetown near, say, the Georgetown Harbor complex.. Earlier studies of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative also called for continuing an uninterrupted water's edge bike/jogger path all the way from the National Arboretum around to Georgetown Harbor: another reason for a nearby Metro station.

A summary of NARPAC's alternative to 'deconstructing' the Whitehurst Freeway is provided on the final chart below, and our very informal written comments to DDoT can be found among our recent correspondence



NARPAC Comments on 4/7/06 Public Meeting on Whitehurst Freeway (WF) Deconstruction

We have been trying as positively as possible for some eight years through our non-profit organization to stimulate broader and more comprehensive planning for the future of our nation's capital city. Since we believe such planning must be built on a framework of long-range transportation planning,...the subject meeting was unbelievably discouraging...

Impressions of the (typical) DDoT meeting:

DC's DDoT does not appear competent to be in the big-time transportation planning business. It has repeatedly shown its inability, or fatal disinterest, in looking at either the bigger picture or the longer time frame in which long-overdue unified metro area transportation planning must be conducted. It is totally unrealistic to divorce neighborhood planning from citywide planning, or citywide planning from regional planning, transportation from land-use planning, or land-use planning from economic development. It seems highly inappropriate to be pushing secondary systems like bikes, trolleys, and gaily painted circulator buses, but not roadways, freeways, parking facilities, and major in-city Metro expansions. And it seems unwise at best to have three weaker city planning organizations competing ineffectually with other high-profile planning organizations such as NCPC,. NPS, AoC, WMATA, DoT, etc.

The briefers did not seem to understand the full role of the WF in DC's already-near-crippling transportation inadequacies...or the larger context of and necessity for major regional arteries into the core city. They clearly didn't know the origin of this study; the scope of what it should consider; or what the primary and secondary alternatives should be. They seem fixated on looking at routing alternatives that would roughly maintain current traffic capacity for some undetermined time into the future. They have apparently had no guidance on what the city's growth patterns should be...and what transportation infrastructure will be required to achieve it... and they do not appear well-informed in directly related developments such as the K-Street upgrade, or the Kennedy Center urban deck. This (analysis) is simply not a job for traffic counters and stoplight adjusters. WF is part of a hopelessly out-of-date key artery that connects perhaps 60% of the (scarce) revenue-producing parts of the city with the (limited) high-revenue-providing parts of the suburbs.

The current question which this contracted-out study seems to be addressing is: "... do you think Georgetown could get along in the near-term without the elevated WF, so the park would look better?" This is hardly worth a half-million dollar federally-funded study. The real question is: "How can we make sure that this major northwest portal to the nation's capital grows to meet the future needs for a stronger and prouder world national capital city, as the central element of the nation's greatest metro area?" This would be worth millions.

NARPAC's well-known biases:

...We are not interested in the city simply as a cluster of unfocused independent little neighborhoods, trying to imitate either the suburbs, independent fiefdoms, or small-town USA. We believe it is an honor to host the nation's capital, not an onerous burden requiring federal hand-outs. We know there is sufficient space the city to become firmly economically independent if it stops pandering to net-revenue-consuming special interests. We believe DC should stress developments which favor its unique role as the center of a thriving, cooperating metro area, and not pretend to be victimized and traumatized into inactivity by being the center of world power.

We firmly believe the city must continue to grow, and hence live and work more densely. We think it should grow at least as fast as the suburbs in "gross state product"... We believe the city's growth should be firmly founded in a future-looking transportation infrastructure that depends on private, commercial, and public transportation systems that are an integral part of the region's development. We are not interested in reshaping the public's transportation habits by inconveniencing it, but by offering the best alternatives. We are not interested in denigrating commuters who are key to the city's lifeblood, lifestyle, and net revenues. Every jurisdiction in the metro area (except DC) would rather have more commuters to pay their bills rather than more residents to raise them..

We recognize cars as a fundamental element of the American family lifestyle, and trucks as an integral part of commercial enterprise. We strongly favor regional public transportation elements extending into, across, and around the city, sufficiently redundant to discourage exploitation by special interests of any kind, including terrorists. We believe that proper, largely automated management, control, and accommodation of vehicles should be one hallmark of future American cities as well as a major source of net-revenues for them.

We are also convinced that as urban centers become more dense, their planners will have to start accepting the fact that urban growth is a three-dimensional exercise in volume use, not just a two-dimensional problem in flat land use. Surely transportation systems and closely related activities can and should become three dimensional. Current DC planners' fixation on regressing to the grand 19th century boulevards of Europe is both foolish and counterproductive. What we now need are grand esplanades and promenades that separate the strollers, tourists, and bikers from commuters, SUVs, 40-ton trucks, joy-riding teenagers, and all species of delivery vehicles.

We strongly supported the Kennedy Center urban deck and have held a design competition for an urban deck over the paved desert at the I-295/South Freeway junction just southwest of the Capitol. We are currently trying to interest both NCPC and the DDoT in a three-layer South Capitol Street with a statuary esplanade on top (with maybe a couple of lanes for tour buses and foreign dignitaries (rarely) arriving from Andrews AFB; the all-important commuter/commercial flow one deck down; and public transit and parking two/three decks down. The "Northwest Passage", of which WF is a key element, deserves equivalent consideration in at least one alternative that is consistent with, and entertains the possibility of, major urban growth.

NARPAC's Preliminary Vision for the WF Area:

We believe you must consider one alternative that favors significant additional growth in DC's better-paying business/commercial ventures, and increased upscale, empty-nester, condo- dwelling residents, mostly in DC's prosperous Northwest quadrant. They are key to paying DC's unending bills for its abnormal concentration of net-revenue-consuming near- and below-poverty level residents in the East and South sections which are destined to develop and 'gentrify' more slowly.

In this scenario, a 30-40% increase in both resident and commuter traffic could flow back and forth across the northwest quadrant of DC and the metro area within 25 years....In NARPAC's vision, your designated WF planning area should include a modern 3- or 4-level transportation complex with the freeway and terraced park on top, a major "skylighted" intermodal transfer station for a new Metro line, circulator buses, and trolleys one level down, and local access and extensive parking two (and possibly three) levels down. Instead of tearing down WF, this concept builds up the river side of it in a series of terraces. After all, the land rises steeply on the north side of Canal Road and WF anyway.

This scenario includes major transportation upgrades starting from DC's northwest corner (out to the beltway):

1) Roadways and bridges:

start from the Clara Barton and GW Parkways, add a parkway bridge somewhere above Chain Bridge connecting GW Parkway to Canal Road, add a second deck to the Canal Road : the lower deck for local traffic connecting to M St., etc.; the upper deck for thru-traffic down onto the WF, K St., I66 and RC&P Parkway.. Eliminate local access and stop lights along this upper deck artery, eliminate 26th St intersection, add access to Water St., lower K St. and local attractions from local streets.

2) Public transportation:

provide a new Metrorail river crossing from Rosslyn to Georgetown WF station, and hence up to Adams Morgan and around to Union Station (as part of a new "inner-loop metro"). Use new WF transportation complex as the NW terminus for circulator buses, downtown/waterfront trolleys (if any), tourmobiles, tour buses, water taxis, etc.

This is, of course, a notional concept,... (its) basic point is to think big, think future, think total transportation growth, and think substantial economic growth. It tries to think like a dynamic capital city, and not some second-tier American river city or 19th Century relic.

An Exercise in Deconstructing DDoT Credibility


In mid-September, 2006, the DDoT published a draft of its continuing study on the feasibility of "deconstructing" the Whitehurst Freeway (dated August, 2006). The study was instigated by then-DDoT Director Tangherlini, possibly at the urging of Ward 2's Councilman Jack Evans, and done under contract to DMJM Harris, a transportation consulting firm with close ties to DDoT .It is possibly the worst in a long series of feasibility studies (such as for New York Avenue and South Capitol Street) that seem to misunderstand the purpose of our national capital city's transportation system. NARPAC believes it is a travesty.

available critique

Before NARPAC could react, the Palisades Neighborhood of Northwest Washington, set up a web site to rebut the study, and by early November posted a remarkably thorough critique by a retired professor of economics at Pennsylvania State University, entitled "'Deconstructing the DDoT/DMJM Harris...Feasibility Study". NARPAC supports virtually every facet of this rebuttal, and will devote most of its own effort to enlarging areas not covered in Professor Robinson's conscientious effort. Where NARPAC mimics the professor's work we will mark our points with (#) rather than provide extensive quotes. For instance, this contractor "exercise" appears so slanted that its results "were never in doubt" (#). In addition, it is clear from the content and ratings that no serious consideration was given to improving future Georgetown traffic by improving the Freeway, not tearing it down.

It should be noted that Palisades residents regularly use this Whitehurst Freeway to bypass hopelessly congested Georgetown to get anywhere downtown, and tolerate a substantial level of through-traffic along their MacArthur Boulevard that feeds into the Whitehurst. But Palisades also benefits substantially from its own "bypass": Canal Road, a National Park Service "freeway" runs along the Potomac and Washington's famous old C&O Canal and its heavily used bicycle trail. Canal Road provides a non-stop link to the Capital Beltway, and its inner segment becomes one-way to accommodate morning and evening rush hours. It is, however, approaching its maximum peak-hour capacity.

DC Council hearing

On November 15th, the DC Council's Committee on Public Works and the Environment, under Carol Schwartz, chair, ("The Chair") held a "public oversight hearing" on "matters regarding the DDoT Whitehurst Freeway deconstruction feasibility study (subsequently referred to as "The Hearing). Some 19 members of the public, including Professor Robinson (above) and NARPAC's president (See ahead, gave testimony roughly balanced between those favoring and those opposing tearing the freeway down. The Chair acknowledged her skepticism for the plan, her general indifference to analytical studies, and her bemusement over the "passions of the partisans". Two other committee members attended the early part of the session Councilman Barry noted that these studies has been going on for years, Councilman Evans gave his own passionate arguments for getting rid of the freeway. Throughout the opening remarks, there was evident rancor between Evans and The Chair, and an obvious display of disdain for The Chair as Barry and Evans conducted open, lively, and distracting, side conversations while the Chair was speaking. Neither stayed for the public testimony.

Following public testimony, the Director and Deputy Director of DDoT gave sworn testimony of their own, and answered (or deflected) a number of carefully crafted questions in areas of disagreement. Neither side in any way referred to the public testimony. The Chair virtually oozed respect for the DDoT leadership, and seemed primarily interested in minimizing the costs of the follow-on "environmental impact study (EIS)", of which she had no knowledge prior to its authorization (presumably by Evans).

The Chair's instincts on future traffic growth seem in large measure to parallel NARPAC's, but she glided by basic issues of transportation policy as if they did not exist. She gave no indication of linkage between this study's objectives, and overall goals of long-range transportation planning. The Chair clearly feels that a) vehicular traffic is bound to keep increasing, b) many people will not give up their cars for public transportation (particularly buses) , and c) that increased parking in the area is essential. On the other hand, she appears to have no interest at all in probing the fallacies in the feasibility study that lead to the selection of the "preferred" alternatives for the EIS, or in seeking consistency between policy/planning and specific programs.

Meanwhile, DDoT leadership is proceeding on the basis that a) there is no way the city can absorb the projected vehicular traffic growth; b) that they are trying to solve the problem with on-street busses and/or trolleys; and c) that DDoT somehow has a divine responsibility to "return public space (i.e. roadways) to communities". To NARPAC, this appears to be the still- pursued, but seldom enunciated, "Tangherlini Doctrine". No references were made to possible linkages between the freeway's future and DC's new draft "Comprehensive Plan" . There was no discussion of possible flaws in the current feasibility study, or even of in-depth knowledge of its content. Other relevant points from The Hearing are woven into the subsequent discussion.

purpose of the study

From the outset, there has been uncertainty about the purpose of this study. DDoT is accused by some (and at The Hearing) of looking too narrowly at "how can we justify getting rid of this eyesore", rather than "how do we best accommodate future traffic requirements along the "Potomac Corridor" (NARPAC's term, no one else's). In fact, the study does not look for an optimum near- or long-term solution, and the "Scope of Work" statement does not require it to:

"The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) proposes to hire a Consultant to investigate the feasibility of the removal of the Whitehurst Freeway. This freeway is a physical barrier separating Georgetown from the waterfront. It blocks vistas of the waterfront and prevents full development of the Georgetown waterfront area. The elevated freeway creates the impression of a security threat and impairs the full use of the waterfront as a park amenity .The study will examine the traffic impacts of removing the Whitehurst Freeway , the engineering requirements for connecting Canal Road with M Street and K Street, and engineering requirements for removing the freeway, if feasible. The Consultant will also be requested to prepare cost estimates for removal of the Whitehurst Freeway. This study will also examine the economic development potential and potential impact of land values on the Georgetown Waterfront if the Freeway were removed. Finally, the Consultant shall prepare several concept designs for alternative methods of providing alternative transportation connections through the Georgetown Waterfront for transit, automobiles, pedestrian and bicyclists."
responsibility for the study

Some questions have also arisen about who really conducted the study and is responsible for its technical content. The Scope of Work" statement appears to give total responsibility to "The Contractor" For whatever it's worth, the 12-page Scope of Work document (January '05), declares (or infers by bullets) the "the consultant shall/will..." some 75 times concerning: data gathering and consolidation; preparing reports, briefings, and meeting notes for DDoT and public meetings; mailing invitations, and arranging one posting in a local community newspaper; coming up with "design alternatives"; conducting traffic, engineering and financial analysis; summarizing finds, recommendations, and "visualization"; and preparing the final report and incorporation comments. The contractor is also charged with:

"Working closely with the DDoT Transportation and Planning Administration, Infrastructure Management Administration, and Traffic Services Administration; coordinating the project with the DC Office of Planning, DC State Historic Preservation Office, Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service, General Services Administration, and the Commission on Fine Arts; and coordinating the study with stakeholder community groups, and groups in the Georgetown and Foggy Bottom communities, including the appropriate Advisory Neighborhood Commissions."
(It must be noted that NO coordination is suggested with the Automobile Association, the Metro Area Council of Governments, the Washington Area Board of Trade, the Washington Chamber of Commerce, WMATA, the City of Alexandria, or the Counties of Arlington or Fairfax, VA, or Montgomery, MD. It is a typical insular, parochial mind set.)

DDoT, to be sure, is mentioned about 15 times. It establishes the work statement; receives progress briefings (6 or more); arranges and announces meeting places; invites the press and other agency attendance; contacts the COG for traffic runs; posts the consultant's report on its web site; and comments in writing to the consultant re his progress and final report.

There is no question whatsoever in NARPAC's mind, that the burden of accountability for this work belongs with DMJM Harris. NARPAC must also note the the DMJM Harris "program manager" refers all questions about study content and responsibilities back to DDoT.

some progress, but not much

Before laying into this substandard analysis, NARPAC is obliged to acknowledge that two of its own earlier recommendations were partially acknowledged The study area was expanded (marginally) to include the major roadways entering and leaving the Whitehurst. The notion of "hiding" the unattractive, leggy, structure of this elevated freeway by raising the riverside park rather than lowering (or "re-decorating") the freeway was included, albeit somewhat misrepresented. This has become "Alternative 6" and its negative evaluation will be discussed ahead.


an evaluation process: not a feasibility study; not a performance rating

In fact, this is not a "feasibility study", but rather an "alternatives evaluation" (#), but we note that the evaluation technique is not just dubious, but misleading. Some 21 different "criteria"are developed for each of the 22 different alternatives grouped into four categories, and compared to a "base case", which appears not to be evaluated at all (#). Each criterion is the product of two separate judgments, a numerical relative importance (1 to 10) weighting factor (A), multiplied by a numerical assessment of how well each alternative ranks (0 to 8) relative to the base case (a). The base case is given a "4" (Axa) for each criterion. These 21 separate products are then added to provide a total "performance score (PS)" compared to the base case of 340 points. So PS = Axa+Bxb+Cxc...... .

It is not difficult to set up a "what if" spread sheet for these calculations, and thereby explore the impact of various changes in assumptions. By using the "IF, this, then that" spreadsheet function, one can also jump back and forth between different options to check impacts of changes. A sample NARPAC spreadsheet is shown below:

wrong base case settings

Setting the base case at a middle value of "4" is in itself a mistake (#) because it assumes that each alternative could equally likely be "better" or "worse" than the best case. For many of the criteria, this is simply not possible, which unintentionally skews the range of values possible (#). For instance, an alternative costing 1.3 Zillion dollars more than the zero-dollar base case loses 20 pts (6%) relative to the 340 pt baseline. Save one more square foot of historic park (where?) than any other alternative, win 24 pts (7%). Furthermore, most of these "better" or "worse" alternatives are not quantitatively scaled (say 20% better or 30% worse), but only qualitatively ranked ( "a" is better than "b", but not as good as "c"). In essence, then, the results are not indicative of the variation in "performance" of the alternative, but only of its ranking.

wrong methodological foundation

But summing (or even averaging) these separate criteria gives them the unintended (?) characteristic of total interchangeability. For instance, an alternative that is "best" for eastbound traffic in the morning but "worst" for westbound traffic in the evening (i.e., make M Street always one-way east through Georgetown), yields the same "performance" (or ranking) as an alternative with equal flow in each direction. Even more ridiculous, an alternative that blocks all traffic to and from Maryland and Virginia would be ranked ahead of the current base case levels if it increases property values for a few properties in Georgetown 1% more than any other alternative.

Another clue that this evaluation approach is faulty lies in the small difference between the "best" and worst solutions (#). Among the 22 alternatives, they range from a maximum or 410 pts (21% higher than the base case) to a minimum of 308 pts ( 9% below). Furthermore, half of the entire variation comes from only four criteria (#). Changing those weighting factors significantly changes the results. The absence of any "sensitivity analysis" is another indication of either non- professional analysis management, or the intent to "cook the answer". The break-out for each of the 22 alternatives between cost, neighborhood, and traffic concerns is shown below:

More sophisticated performance "figure of merit" systems turn to more complex mathematical relationships. Factors that in the "real world" might be traded off for one another are placed in one set, but factors that in their own right must be made better or worse become multiplicative terms. While such greater expertise may be beyond the capacity of working level municipal "transportation" planners, it should not be beyond the capacity of either agency heads or the highly paid contractors it hires.

It might also be noted that this methodology for rating alternatives, frequently uses up the spectrum between "best" and/or "worst" and the baseline. Adding new alternatives at either end of the spectrum can require re-valuing all the options in between. Some difficulties in this area may have already arisen as the methodology has evolved. Changes in scope and values between early versions and this version already show strange inconsistencies (#) which can also reduce the credibility of the emerging product. This even appears to show itself with "double counting" of certain traffic factors (#).

unrealistic weighting proportions

Furthermore, the division of weighting between cost, traffic relief, and "neighborhood character" seems irrationally skewed (and never highlighted!). Should a decision on the future of the existing Georgetown by-pass be based 6% on the costs of any chosen alternative, 38% on "improving" traffic flow, and 56% on the "neighborhood character? Does this make simple common sense, and does it correctly reflect major functions of DDoT? NARPAC's alternative would raise costs to 18%; traffic improvements to 55%, and lower neighborhood character to 27%, and, more important, would change the mechanisms for trading off between the three. The chart below, admittedly difficult to read, indicates how NARPAC would change these basic weighting factors, with particular emphasis on the proportions between cost, traffic, and neighborhood concerns:

inappropriate cost treatment

We are particularly concerned by the rather cavalier treatment of costs. Not only is the base weighting too low (5 out of 85), but it is further reduced by the assumptions that costs are as likely to be lower than the no-change baseline (negative costs?) as higher. In addition, there appear to be no costs involved in removing the freeway, rebuilding a wider "boulevardized" K Street, or adding the park (at grade level). There are "minor" costs (lose 1 pt out of 4) associated with adding "connections" near the east and west ends of the study area, or "depressing" K Street. There are "moderate" costs for building a "short" tunnel or "elevating the park" (dubious), and a "very high" cost for building a 30% longer tunnel (!). These higher "ballpark" costs of $100 to $150M, (which DDoT officials would not certify in any fashion), are in the same range as adding Metrorail access from Virginia to downtown via Georgetown. Surely a six-lane tunnel is no less costly that a two-track subway tunnel. This adds to the criticism below that neither DDoT or its contractor were seeking "optimum" solutions to DC's West side traffic problems.

The chart below shows how the relative "scores" change as one moves from the DDoT Evaluation Model (lefthand set of bars) to others that are at least equally valid. DDoT's five "best cases" (apparently singled out for further study) are compared to the "Base Case". The center set of bars shifts to the NARPAC preferred set of weightings, with increased emphasis on traffic and cost. The righthand set converts the "Base Case" from its "neutral" settings of half-way between best and worst excursions. Hence the "Base Case", which is essentially cost-free receives and '8'rather than a '4', and the other alternatives are scaled down from there. Similarly, since no alternative is likely to be uglier than the current Freeway, the Base Case gets a '0', and the other cases improve from there. Such "sensitivity analysis" is fundamental to any "reality check" on analytical models:

dubious origins of the "criteria" and "weighting factors"

The weighting factor values themselves are surely subject to question (#). Not only are there probably too many in some areas (#) (like impacts on tourism and construction inconvenience), there are probably too few in others (#). On the criteria side, there is no penalty or reward for eliminating or adding off-street parking capacity, for instance, and no consideration of the impact of scrambling up the northern terminus of "I-66" at the Whitehurst (this is the continuing "freeway" on the east side of the Kennedy Center).

Even more egregious, there appears to be no consideration of the impact of a surface-level K Street intersection with the major north/south arterial Rock Creek Parkway, which carries four lanes south in the morning rush, and four lanes north in the afternoon rush. While the "tunnel options" may eliminate this problem, the "no tunnel" options appear further degraded. This shown on the clumsy marked-up aerial photo below. The magenta line is the Rock Creek Parkway, a major arterial to and from downtown DC. It runs under M Street (pink), Pennsylvania Ave (green), K Street Orange), just before it ducks under the Whitehurst Freeway (yellow). The light blue feeder ramps are the northern end of I-66, running behind the Kennedy Center (to the south). The black dotted line is the "missing link" between M Street (one- way west) and the Whitehurst. The jumble of parkways and major streets was first addressed by NARPAC in its (generally favorable) critique of the "urban deck" over I-66, proposed some time ago to re-connect downtown and the Kennedy Center.

It is not easy for NARPAC to reconstruct the basis for the relative weighting factors. There appear to have been two different potential sources of rankings, although they are quite obfuscated in the consultant's report. The first is a summary of the 163 verbal and written questions on 17 topics stemming from the three April public meetings. The second is apparently some later polls (including April 30th and May 7th inputs) in which a maximum of 112 respondents (probably closer to 40) indicated which of 17 (quite different) proposed "evaluation criteria" were of some level of importance. Both the criteria and the scoring are significantly different for the two: the former topics being picked by the comments from local community meetings, the latter responding to study-picked topics.

The former set is of marginal value because almost half of the comments were neutral ("did you consider 'x'?"). Among the rest, there was a 3:1 bias towards leaving the freeway as it is ("why ever would you do 'y'?"). (At The Hearing, DDoT officials asserted they had never taken a simple yes/no poll of whether to take down the freeway!) The latter set adds new items, leaves out some from the original group, and asked participants to add "dots" to a large chart indicating which criteria were of "high", "medium" or "low" importance. These were subsequently converted to numerical sums, with 3 points for "high", 2 for "Medium" and 1 for "Low" priorities or weightings. This approach is dubious at best. First, there was no attempt to poll for relative importance on the larger number of earlier comments.. In the April (7/26/27) comments, 37 of the 163 comments dealt with the impact of traffic, and 10 dealt with walker/bikers. In the April/May summary polls 40 respondents said traffic impact was of some importance (high, medium or low), while 35 also said that improving walker/biker access to Georgetown shops and the waterfront was important. These differences are very real, and neither one represents a valid basis for choosing deconstruction alternatives.

To obscure things even further, the "dots poll" gave respondents only three options: that a specific criterion was of either high, medium, or low importance. But this leaves room for misinterpreting what is meant by "low" priority. The consultants indicated that if a criterion got no dot at all, it should be considered of "no", but that is important information lost in this analysis. One could reasonably (though not exclusively) rationalize that any criterion receiving less positive ("medium" or "high") dots than negative ("low" or "no") dots should be ignored as insignificant. The chart below shows what happens if you use the consultants' evaluation (left set), or NARPAC's optional evaluation (right set).. In the DDoT version, some criterion get most of their positive points from "low" importance and all inputs have positive importance. In NARPAC's approach, only those with a positive ratio would, and that eliminates all but the top seven criteria. This eliminates from further concern such items as: cost, impact on public transit, property values, access to parkland, and inconvenience to out-of-DC commuters. This does not so much cast doubt on NARPAC's analysis, as on the myopic views of the local respondents!

fuzzy factors

The prospects of "increasing property values" seem limited at best (#). Buildings constructed after the Freeway have been designed for functional, non view-dependent uses, at and below the Freeway. There is no apparent reduction in property assessments for residential housing above and behind the Freeway compared to those above and behind the "grade level" roads at either end of the Freeway. The consultant's report, though initially charged with estimating this, does not appear to address the subject.

Several criteria are also inherently qualitative rather than quantitative. Hence while "intersection delays" are specified to tenths of a second, "bicycle access to the park" is little more than a yes/no judgment (and very relative. Giving each one the potential for a rating between zero and eight seems starkly inappropriate. For instance, there is no access to the Canal bike path from the crowded intersection of Canal Road and the Freeway (shown above) and the intersection of Canal Road and Reservoir Road (shown below at Fletcher's Boat House), over two miles to the west. By comparison, there is almost continuous bike access now to the river's edge east one mile to where Rock Creek joins the Potomac, south of the Whitehurst..

There is moreover, considerable question about what is meant by "visual environments". It appears to mean obstructing views to the south from behind and above the freeway. To NARPAC, a better argument can be made for the freeway's homely appearance from down or across the river. But the solutions to relieving this eyesore can be very different, since physical obstructions of view are not involved. Furthermore, we note that for every ramp or connecting road added there is some reduction is "visual environment". However, the much larger transportation facilitator, Key Bridge itself, appears to be completely ignored. (NARPAC suggesting making the Whitehurst look more like the bridge!). Problem solutions are not made easier when the neighborhood objections are wooly, or fuzzy at best. Moreover, as NARPAC has raised in many other studies, why isn't hustle, bustle, and movement part of the vibrancy and visual stimulation of the city? If residents are looking for peace, quiet, unobstructed views of the sky and horizon, they should move to rural areas which have nothing else to offer!

inadequate model transparency, inaccurate presentations

From the standpoint of accountability, the traffic analysis model, widely used by the Federal Highway Administration or not, is simply not transparent. In fact, NARPAC gave up trying to understand how "CORSIM" is put together, whether it is applicable in this case, or whether it exhibits proper "sensitivity" as important variables are changed. To provide a single case in point, characteristic delay times at any key intersection (at either AM or PM peak) is the average of the values in each of (generally) four directions, even if the flow is far greater in only one or two directions. The result often obfuscates the change in delay in the most crucial direction. This peculiarity is partially rectified by a short table of total critical trip times along critical routes at worst traffic times, but these alternatives still have unexpected explanations deep in the text.

To make matters worse in this particular area, a summary chart is provided of the delay times at eleven key intersections for the four "best" alternatives compared to the most basic "No Build" option (Table 5.1, DDoT Draft Report, August 2006).. Shorter delay times are shaded green for "good", and longer delay times are colored tan for "bad". Trouble is, out of the 88 individual cases rated, 17 of the 66 green boxes should have been tan, whereas none of the tan boxes should have been green. The net result is that only one of the four "best" alternatives shows any significant advantage.

Further obfuscation, intentional or not, is provided by two other seemingly suppressed conditions. One of the four "best" alternatives in the morning rush hour substantially reduces incoming commuter traffic on the Key bridge because no connection is provided for that traffic to turn east onto Whitehurst, or K Street. This allows reductions in congestion coming downtown on Canal and Foxhall Roads. In the afternoon rush hour, the "best alternatives" result in large measure from the ability to divert the one-way west traffic on M Street to K Street, whereas such diversion is not provided under the "No Build" base case.

return to the top of the pageAN INADEQUATE STUDY SCOPE OF WORK

wrong people setting citywide/regional transportation priorities

But the procedure used in setting these weighting factors is inappropriate (#). NARPAC would say totally unacceptable. We conclude that this failing is not accidental, but a sign of a far deeper malaise within DC's supposed Department of Transportation. Why on earth would DDoT accept 100-200-odd local residents to set the parameters for the long-term modifications of the high-density end of several regional arterials?

Of the 100-odd attendees at the April30/May 7 public meetings, only 24 bothered to fill out the DDoT survey form, eight were from Georgetown, seven were from Palisades, 8 were from Foggy Bottom/West end (the other end of the Whitehurst), and 1 was from Arlington, VA (!). Nineteen did not commute using the Freeway, and fifteen used it three or less times per week: hardly a quorum for those for whom the Freeway was intended. If that is representative of those who also participated in the "dots poll", the results are chronically biased against those who use the Freeway.

According to "license plate counts"provided for last year's status report, between 80% and 90% of rush hour traffic is commuter influx in, and the rest DC residents who work outside town. The popular notion that these commuters are some sort of terrible free-loading drag on DC taxpayers is one of the great myths perpetuated by neighborhood activists. In the first place, DC-funding road-repairs/maintenance are a trivial part of DC's budget, while the revenues collected by DC in property and sales taxes on the businesses employing these commuters is substantial. The constant insinuation that DC could "make it" without commuters is borne of ignorance and wishful thinking.

Clearly, for all its complexities and claims of professionalism, this study is little more than an attempt to answer a trivial question: "would the neighborhoods within sight of the Whitehurst Freeway get along without it?" Clearly it takes neither a $550,000 consultant study, nor a million- dollar follow-on environmental study to answer that question. The question of importance is "how will our capital continue to develop its Potomac Corridor regional arterial?" Anything less that that is a waste of time.

no quest for "optimum" solution

This analysis seems to have other first order failings as well. The options that provide the greatest supposed advantages are not unique to these alternatives. At least some of them are transferrable to lower scoring options. Perhaps most important (see ahead), providing traffic options to divert traffic from M Street does not require eliminating the freeway. But even more important, if these weighting factors reflect the valid desires of the local Georgetown residents, then wouldn't other options within realistic neighborhood purview arise? For instance, no mention is made of revising parking (and double-parking!) on M Street itself, or of changing the traffic patterns at each end of M St. in Georgetown. (NARPAC underplayed this possibility in its proposed solution.)

For instance, M Street approaches Georgetown a full six paved lanes wide one way west from Connecticut Avenue downtown (right photo below). It crosses over the Rock Creek Parkway arterial four lanes wide (bridge shown in center photo below), and plunges into Georgetown three lanes wide (left photo below). The problem is, there is no easy connection to either Rock Creek Parkway or to Whitehurst/K Street only two blocks south.

In the same vein, these transportation planners seem to find half-mile (or longer) tunnels worthy alternatives, but ignore shorter under/overpasses at cluttered intersections. In addition, they do not consider "double-deck" road segments, which may be the best way to increase the capacity of Canal Road and its extension, the Clara Barton Expressway, out to the Beltway. And there appears to be no thought of reversing lane directions to accommodate the large variations in AM/PM flow.

ignoring topography

The study report reads as though the (slightly expanded) area of interest is completely flat, whereas there is a steep (for DC) slope up from the Potomac River which offers several significant opportunities. First, M Street is considerably higher than the Freeway, and the banks of the Canal itself are somewhat higher than the Freeway. Canal Road, K Street, and the Rock Creek/Potomac Parkway are at much lower levels. Most of the valuable buildings in Georgetown are atop the "bluff" and look across the river without being conscious of any of the roadways along the river's edge. Second, that bluff also offers opportunities to absorb overpasses, "fly-overs", and "double-deck" road segments without using up otherwise useful land, or creating visual obstacles. This is shown on the photo below of Canal Road heading west from its merge with the Whitehurst:

Third, the roads and sidewalks leading from M Street to K Street are, in fact quite steep, and not easily walked, biked, or driven. Building up the river bank actually eases the slope substantially, and offers win-win opportunities to minimize at-grade intersections. Fourth, this steep incline essentially eliminates any viable "by-passes" north of M Street, virtually guaranteeing a growing tangle of roads (and canal) near the river's edge. Almost any long-term solution is bound to require a redesign of the west end of the Whitehurst to ease connections to Key Bridge and Canal Road. The photo below shows the existing tangle from the east edge of the Freeway right where it splits from Canal Road. The current dead-end of K street is barely visible some 50 feet below(far right center) below those spindly Freeway legs. But it also shows the vertical displacement available to accommodate that tangle.

And fifth, several of those testifying at the November Council hearing noted that lower K street often floods when the Potomac River rises. It is, according to DC documentation, well within the worst "flood plain". There is no indication that the study group was even aware of this problem, though it would provide a powerful argument for raising the level of whatever riverbank park is developed.

giving public transit short shrift

One of the very low-weighted criteria, improving public transportation is apparently less than 12% as important (3 vs 27) as the combined importance of protecting visuals, water resources, the environment, and historic landmarks (which ones?). How on earth does DDoT pretend to support these relative priorities? And why would improving transportation be limited to buses only? Is there no interest in bringing Metro to Georgetown? And why wouldn't such improvements involve public transit access directly on M Street, not 60 feet downhill on K Street? If the so-called "best alternatives" include spending at least $200M on the Freeway, shouldn't someone be asking how else might that money (undoubtedly mostly Federal)be used. One of the most disappointing realities of The Hearing is that both the Council and DDoT seem to dismiss out of hand any possibility of adding Metrorail anywhere in Northwest DC for any purpose. Truth is, neither has sought such expansion from WMATA or the Federal Government.

no acknowledgment of current traffic snarls

It seems extraordinary that a study whose first key objective is to "accommodate future traffic volumes without significant deterioration in peak period traffic operations" fails to discuss a) how bad congestion already is at key junctions within this tiny study area, or how much worse it is likely to get by the year 2030. Both residents and commuters who regularly use these routes and suffer extensive delays and frustrations simply cannot relate to the base case,"No Build", statistics provided in the analytical models (#). Not surprisingly this kind of basic "disconnect" with reality casts further doubt on the study's credibility. At The Hearing, The Chair commented on the horrendous traffic in Georgetown, and wondered if the recent upgrades to M Street had had any impact on that congestion. The waffled answer from DDoT was that the costly and protracted disruption of M Street was not intended to produce better traffic flow!

There is something very counter-intuitive about a highly complex, supposedly erudite analysis of traffic needs 25 years hence that concludes that the current 12 lanes of potentially moving traffic through and around cluttered Georgetown should be reduced to 9 or ten.

confusing traffic counts over latent roadway capacities

NARPAC is no expert on traffic analysis, but has trouble believing the study contractor is either (#). The current emphasis appears to be almost entirely on rush hour peaks. While a necessary consideration, it is surely not sufficient. As the Robinson assessment points out, some of these routes also serve vital functions at off-peak times and on weekends (#) (viz., access to the Kennedy Center). Equally worrying is the lack of consideration of roadway capacity rather than current traffic counts. A simple diagram of the available lanes leading in and out of Georgetown is illuminating in itself and seems closer to common sense as a starting point. Finally, the impact of major one-way streets (like M Street east of Georgetown), and switch-direction road lanes (like Canal Road east of its intersection with Foxhall Road) need further recognition. For instance, this view of the Canal Road intersection with Foxhall Road, which has just merged with MacArthur Boulevard funnels four morning lanes of heavy traffic into two lanes for the trip east to choose between the Whitehurst (two lanes), Key Bridge (two lanes) or M Street (one lane).

It might also be noted again here, that the relatively steep rise up Foxhall (to the right) lends opportunity for a two-level, no stoplight intersection here.

. obscure projections of future traffic demand

Equally disturbing is the strong suspicion that the projected peak traffic flow levels for 2030 are flat out wrong (#). There is no discussion of the values used, other than a reference to the COG (Council of Governments) regional projections. To NARPAC's knowledge, these broad forecasts are not dis-aggregated to specific routes such as Chain Bridge, Key Bridge, Canal Road, Foxhall Road, or the Whitehurst Freeway. Population increases in the "regional core" (DC, Arlington and Alexandria) of some 28% are expected, with employment increasing about 25%. If the projections are expanded to the "inner suburbs" (all jurisdictions abutting DC) population growth remains at 28%, but employment growth rises to 46% over 2002 levels. Throughout the area, "transit trips" are estimated by COG to grow by 42% and vehicle trips by 48%. The new "Comprehensive Plan" assumes somewhat lower growth. DDoT's own "Transportation Vision" had claimed that DC simply could not handle the projected growth. NARPAC finds it hard to imagine traffic flow in and out of the city will grow any less than, say 30%, unless it has ground to a stop before then.

No connection is provided between these growth estimates and potential traffic flow. And no conversion factors are provided between total two-way traffic flow on a typical weekday, and the peak-hour flow rate in either direction. By rummaging back through data provided NARPAC by the DC Traffic Administration on commuter traffic flows in and out of DC, one can develop a "ballpark" estimate that peak rush hour one-way will amount to somewhere between 5% and 7% of the two-way 24-hour ("2/24") total. By pulling down the DDoT Traffic flow map last updated for 2002, the 2/24 values for the roads and bridges listed above can be found. Six percent of these 2002 flow rates are very close to exactly the peaks "projected" by this report for 2030, except for Key Bridge, where the study numbers seem oddly low, even for 2002. There is considerable circumstantial evidence of shoddy analysis by DDoT. It was of interest to note that at The Hearing, The Chair asked the DDoT officials whether the accepted future projections (from COG, et al) were used in assessing the alternatives. Neither could answer this obvious question.

One of the popular refrains from the 'deconstructionists" and The Hearing was the supposed fact that the Whitehurst Freeway would have to be replaced in 15-20 years anyway, so why not do it not. There are two fallacies in this argument. The simple fact is that no study has been done to see how best to reconstruct the Freeway to make it last another 50 years. Embedding the steel framework in a reinforced concrete shell is clearly less expensive than either tearing it down, or building a new ground level boulevard. The more subtle fallacy lies in the fact that any replacement for the Whitehurst should be designed to accommodate traffic fifty years hence. NARPAC sees no capability whatsoever for DDoT, or any other part of the DC government, surely including the Council and WMATA, to take the long view.

report presentation

Lastly, there is the presentation of the study results themselves. Much of the study material posted on the web is virtually illegible. Tables have vast areas of blank space with small clusters of tiny print and numbers. The text, and even the weighting values indicate significant inconsistencies (#), and the practice of showing segment/intersection delay times in seconds carried to five decimal places, is simply not professional.


Altogether, and trying to disregard the unduly negative rating of NARPAC's own favored option, (see below) this study report seems to lack professionalism, both in its sponsorship, content and presentation. As noted earlier, it appears to be rationalizing preconceived judgments, and has apparently not been subject to anything approaching a "peer review" by the contractor or by DDoT. Far beyond that, however, it suggests there is no "accountability" for properly or consistently planning the city's transportation future. The accountable agency has its head in the sand, the Mayor-elect's 'transition team' has yet to even mumble the word "transportation", and the DC Council appears more anxious to cut study costs than preside over the city's long-term future.

no "reality check" on the evaluation model adequacy by "outside experts"

DDoT sometimes uses a "Technical Advisory Committee" which would presumably bear some responsibility for the techincal credibility of the study effort. In this case, they chose instead to involve only a "Stakeholder" Advisory Committee" and the definition of "stakeholders"is, of course, giveaway. Of the 24 members listed on the DDoT web site, 15 were local residents, agencies, or universities. Beyond that, there were government representatives from the Office of Planning, the National Park Service, the Federal Highway Administration, the Kennedy Center, and the Fine Arts Commission (all presumably non-voting!). Lastly, the Washington Area Bicycle Association, was included. As noted early, no regional economic, transportation, or growth organizations, and no spokespersons for the business and commuter constituencies were included.

If Mayor-elect Fenty is successful in adopting "accountability", this effort would make a fine test case. Not only is it unprofessional, it is presented anonymously. Neither the DDoT nor the contractor program manager are identified, nor are their immediate superiors, and there are no signatures on any documents. The contractor is not identified, the cost of the effort is not revealed, and no contact numbers are provided. (This missing information may have been provided at the neighborhood meetings, but is not available on the web.). But anyone trying to assess whether or not "accountability" will take hold in the DC government should recognize that the leading instigator for this failing study effort (the ex-Director of DDoT), will now be the City Administrator, and accountable for accountability city government wide. It does not bode well.

PS: "Dissing" the NARPAC alternative

In the interest of thoroughness, it may be worth running through one of the options to understand the judgments underlying the ratings. With an obvious nod to our own self-interest, let's take a look at how the rating score is derived for Alternative 6. This is NARPAC's suggestion that instead of "deconstructing" the freeway to hide its ugliness, it would make sense to elevate the park to disguise the freeway, and use the volume generated under it for public transit facilities such as parking, a bus station, and a new Metro Station (obviously not chargeable to this roadway project!). K Street stays as it is, but is now essentially part of an underground complex.

To summarize, this study presents 22 alternatives, all of them variations on the basic "theme", the Whitehurst Freeway as it currently exists as an elevated "by-pass" to Georgetown, straddling on long steel girder legs the run-down western end of K street running underneath it, and a tangle of streets and arterials heavily traveled by commuters, shoppers, residents enjoying the most urbane parts of the city. Twenty-one separate criteria are used to determine the relative acceptability of each alternative compared to the baseline of "4" on a scale from zero to eight. Each criterion has its own weighting factor ranging from 1 to 10. The baseline's "score" is 340, and the alternatives all fit in a spectrum from 304 to 410. Remarkably enough, the NARPAC alternative receives the lowest of the 22 cases. Here's why:

Alt 6 has no impact whatsoever on the "traffic capacities within the study area" and so it keeps 108 base points (towards the baseline total of 340):

Criterion 2.1, comprised of four averaged sub-criteria keeps its baseline value of 4, multiplied by its weighting factor of 10: Keep 40 base points.

Likewise, there is no "change in M Street traffic" (40 pts) , no improvement in "public transit operations" (12 pts), no "help or hindrance to Maryland and Virginia drivers"(12 pts,) and no more or "less traffic stops "(4 pts). NARPAC finds it somewhat odd that no credit is given for adding many hundreds of off-street, off-surface parking spaces and other transit facilities under its raised park, even though it is burdened with the costs of making them available. In "appeals court", we might argue to be awarded at least 64 additional points. Keep 68 base points for Criteria 2.1 - 2.5..

Alt 6 really falls down because of its net negative "impact on the Georgetown neighborhood character":

Alt 6 provides elevated , un-conflicted, "improved pedestrian/bike access" paths ("gang planks") from the Canal over K Street, but just under the Freeway to the elevated park beyond. It therefore ranks one notch higher than the baseline of '4', and carries a whopping high weight of 7. Award +7 points to Alt 6.

Alt 6 is assessed not to change "vehicular access to Georgetown businesses", even though the huge volume below the elevated park is intended for transportation-oriented facilities. (keep 8 base points)

But the building of a structure south of K Street to elevate the park (above where the park is currently intended to be developed by the National Park Service) is judged to "reduce the visual environment" from K Street. Of course it does, there is now a solid 2-3 story structure between K Street and the River. Conversely, however, there was no loss in visual environment by eliminating the magnificent views from the freeway. An appealable verdict: reduce the "visual environment" by two notches (from '4' to '2') multiplied by 7. Nick Alt 6 14 pts.

Alt 6 takes no hit for "impacting on water resources" (keep 28 base points), but is penalized in Criterion 3.5 because the new raised "gang planks" would "adversely effect existing properties or land uses", even though they would simply raise the existing pathways to reach the raised park. Lose 3x1 = 3 pts.

Oddly enough, the NARPAC design is awarded no penalty for "impacting the natural environment" (such as rivers and open spaces) and thus keeps 28 base points, but it is roundly criticized for "impacting on the park adjacent to K Street". No credit is given for building a new landscaped, terraced, park 20 feet further above sealevel. And the schematic cross section of Alt 6 bears little relationship to what NARPAC proposed, which quite intentionally stepped down towards the river's edge. Very reluctantly, drop three notches and multiply by 6. Lose 18 pts.

The raised park also apparently "impacts on existing utilities and infrastructure" to a modest degree, (as does tearing down the Freeway and rebuilding K Street as an avenue in other alternatives). Alt 6 is penalized 5x1 = 5 pts.

. Counteracting the "utilities loss"immediately above, Criterion 3.9 deals with "impacting on nearby property values", which NARPAC considers a fuzzy judgment at best with little proof that current values have been adversely effected. The base score is '20', since the weighting is '5'. However, none of the alternatives lower property values, and all the fifteen 'deconstruct' options make only modest improvements for a bonus of 10 points. In this context, NARPAC is pleased to be awarded a small improvement for providing a raised park, rather than a removed freeway. Add 5 pts.

Alt 6 does not change the "access for emergency services" (fire, ambulance, etc.) so it keeps 12 base points. However, according to this assessment it will require closing K Street during construction, and cause greater inconvenience than some of the alternatives that "deconstruct" the freeway. Take away 3 pts.

On the other hand, Alt 6 is judged to have some slightly greater "tourist appeal" than the current "No Build" base case, and gains 3 pts.

Finally, as Criterion 4.1, the "relative costs" assessed. The "do-nothing alternatives" receive their baseline score of '4', and costs are given a weight of '5' out of '84'. Hence all cost increases are squeezed into integer ratings lower than four, and the maximum penalty for sky-high costs is the loss of 20 points by being rated a '0'. As nearly as NARPAC can reconstruct the rating methodology, there is no rating loss for costs up to $40M, one point loss for $40-80M, two point loss from $80-120M and a wipe-out above that. Alternatives that eliminate the freeway and aggrandize K "Avenue", but make no other structural changes, take no cost penalty at all. It is also worth noting that the estimated "deconstruct" costs of the freeway, and the "reconstruct" costs of turning K street into a DDoT "avenue" are never provided. By inference, however, they must be equal or less than the least costs of any options including those tasks, and hence under $20M.

The estimated costs are wisely considered to be at best "order of magnitude capital costs", even though they are estimated to one decimal point. The only alternative considered more expensive than raising the park ($99.3M) is deconstructing the freeway and rebuilding K Street as an avenue (cost unspecified), plus adding a longer-than-half-mile tunnel under K Street all the way to Washington Circle. ($154.7M). For Alt 6, take away 10 pts.

NARPAC, somewhat on the defensive here, finds it unreasonable to assign all the costs of raising the park an average of two stories simply to decreasing the visual assault of the spindly-leg freeway. After all, the volume enclosed is intended for commercial or city use for parking and other transportation related facilities, with a potential floor area of 500-750,000 sqft. Much of the capital construction cost should be allocable to other productive functions.

In summary, then, Alt 6 is found to be "no worse" than the baseline in any of its traffic-related functions (reasonable, since no changes were proposed), but is considered least acceptable from its impacts on "neighborhood character", and second worst from the standpoint of costs.

On the other hand, no attempt was made herein to gain points in the traffic flow arena. Had NARPAC known how the scoring would be applied, it could easily set out to "beat the system". For instance, "No Build Plus" Alternative 2 builds direct access from Key Bridge to K Street under the freeway at no noticeable cost (apparently) but significantly improves most traffic-related scores. "Alt6+2" could add 37 points by making it possible to make greater use of the now almost traffic-empty K Street.

If the unrealistic judgment about lost visual environment by adding a new elevated park in overturned, add back 14 points. If the very questionable judgment is reversed about seriously impacting the "natural environment" by elevating the park, another 18 points can be gained. And finally, at least 5 points lost due to high costs are probably undeserved and could be reinstated by different assessors. That adds another 37 points.

Finally, if it is determined that the study fails to take into account real-world increases in traffic demand 25 years hence, it is probable that even this flawed methodology would further reduce the marginal trafficability of all the deconstruct options by perhaps 20 points. These changes would take NARPAC's sub-basement score of 304 up to 378, and the average of the "five best alternatives" down to from 402 to 382. That might be judged a "statistical dead heat".


The Future of the Whitehurst Freeway:
Getting the Horses Back Before the Carts

Comments for the Committee on Public Works & the Environment
Public Oversight Roundtable, February 27, 2007, by Len Sullivan, president

NARPAC is disappointed to see the newly constituted DC Council perpetuating the same peculiar priorities and issues as its predecessor. Attached unchanged are our comments for the November 15th, 2006, hearing on this subject. Our analysis of the Whitehurst Freeway issues can be found on our web site. At this time, we would add only the following admonitions:

The Whitehurst Freeway is not some local Georgetown alley whose fate can be decided by local residents, small businesses, special interest activists, and disingenuous analyses. Its future is not a separate "public works" project like pothole-filling or garbage collection. The Freeway is a short but key transportation link in DC's regional arterial roadway system. This well-traveled "Potomac Corridor" influences access to, and economic growth of, DC's core downtown area. Improving the freeway's appearance and adding attractive public space are trivial exercises. Improving the corridor's long-term capacity is the primary task.

The prior administration did not come to grips with the vital evolving demands for a robust, complex, multi-faceted, modern transportation infrastructure for the DC metro area. If DC continues its fragmented long-range planning; its peculiarly isolated, small- town-minded "DDoT"; its bevy of self-serving consultants; and its platitudinous "Comprehensive Plan", the future of our capital city will be jeopardized. Similar concerns arise for plans to upgrade the South Capitol Street, Upper Wisconsin, Georgia, and New York Avenue corridors; for ignoring Metrorail expansion (and parking) within DC; and for not undertaking an adequate transportation infrastructure for essential growth East of the Anacostia.

As currently constituted, we frankly doubt the capacity of this Committee, or of DDoT, to resolve DC's basic urban transportation infrastructure issues. The underlying issues are large and multi-dimensional: modally, temporally, spatially, functionally, fiscally, analytically and aesthetically. This administration is starting afresh and has time to do things right. It's high time to get the horses back in front of the carts!

We urge you to avoid making piecemeal, idiosyncratic decisions before there is some unified, comprehensive foundation on which to base them. We continue to recommend the formation of some kind of nationally-recognized study group or commission to look at the overall long-range (50-yr) transportation needs of this metro area, with special emphasis on its core city, our national capital.

A Textbook Case in Poor Government: Making the Question Fit the Answer
Testimony before the DC Committee on Public Works and the Environment re
The Future of the Whitehurst Freeway,
the Credibility of DDoT and Its Whitehurst Freeway Deconstruction Feasibility Study
November 15th, 2006 by Len Sullivan, president of the
National Association to Restore Pride in America's Capital (NARPAC, Inc.)

Good afternoon, Madame Chair. My name is Len Sullivan. I am the president and chief spokesman for NARPAC, Inc. We try to represent "Ward 10", the 300-odd million Americans who want the world's best national capital city. We are strong advocates for: defining the city's unique responsibilities; refining its sluggish bureaucracy; and improving its long-range planning. We are concerned both for DC's physical infrastructure without which the city cannot grow, and for its human infrastructure, which causes DC's embarrassing socio-economic reputation.

This Whitehurst Freeway exercise embodies almost everything a local government can do wrong. Apologies, but at my age, I can no longer do the pussy-foot. Much of my professional career was spent challenging faulty initial project "requirements", faulty studies justifying pre-conceived outcomes, and faulty judgments being made by the wrong people. We have lived along the "Potomac Corridor" for years. We tire of growing traffic tangles made worse by pandering traffic officials who intend our future metropolis to ride on bicycles and street-clogging trolleys.

Should DC Keep a Georgetown by-pass with substantial growth potential? Of course...

UNLESS you, the DC government, collectively:

o are happy with current traffic levels and don't expect them to keep growing;

o don't want DC to remain the central core of a burgeoning world-class metro area;

o think you can wish away our national car- and truck-based American lifestyle;

o have a secret plan for very substantial growth in off-street public transit;

o have another secret plan for massive revenue-producing off-street parking;

and UNLESS, collectively, you also:

o want local neighborhood activists to control capital growth and arterial traffic;

o intend to turn DC's major arterials back into 19th century grade-level "boulevards";

o knowingly underestimate DC growth to avoid paying transportation infrastructure costs;

o think DDoT should be allowed to foist off amateurish contractor studies on the city;

o simply lack the analytical skills to find the fallacies buried in technical reports.

Let me shift from these ever-ignored basic issues in DC planning to some of the major problems in this "feasibility" study. Whatever DC decides to do about the spindly-legged Whitehurst Freeway, it will have zero credibility if it is based on this pseudo-analysis.

Here are the draft subheadings for the critique we will post on our web site in December:
(In the interests of full disclosure, we must admit we put a pony in this race, and it finished last.)

  • o "study area" still too limited
  • o a faulty evaluation process: not a feasibility study; not a performance rating
  • o mixes qualitative judgements with quantitative minutia
  • o obscures projections of future traffic demand
  • o wrong methodological foundation: trades off non-fungible fundamentals
  • o wrong "base case" settings, worst case limits
  • o dubious "weighting factors", set by the wrong people
  • o very inappropriate cost treatment
  • o inadequate "model transparency"
  • o no quest for "optimum" solution
  • o ignores topography
  • o gives public transit short shrift
  • o confuses traffic counts with latent roadway capacities
  • o inaccurate report presentation
  • o no apparent accountability within or beyond DDoT
  • o and.........PS: it "dissed" NARPAC's pony

This evaluation technique is at best a poor attempt to rank-by-score various options. It does not measure performance. It has nothing to do with the "feasibility"of destroying an elevated structure. If it can give nonsensical answers it must be suspect. Look how ridiculous this one is (text replaced by graphic for web site):

Should an intelligent evaluation methodology reward closing main streets, allowing only outgoing traffic, and spending huge a mounts of money?


Major improvements can and must be made to the impending traffic flow problems throughout the western part of DC and its surrounds. It's time to undertake a study with a creative contractor, and a skilled, non-biased program manager.. Find ways to protect Georgetown's character while also protecting DC's future as a vibrant, growing, world- class city in a model US metro area.

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This page was updated on March 15, 2007



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