Panelists provide insights and expert opinions based on existing conditions and DDOT’s planned reconfiguration of the intersection.
August 13, 2019, Washington, D.C. — This week, the Washington district council of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) released a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) report on the “virtual circle,” a primary intersection in northeast D.C. where New York Avenue, Florida Avenue, and First Street NE come together. Entitled Transforming the Virtual Circle to Reconnect the Neighborhoods, the report documents existing challenges at the intersection and provides recommendations for its future reconfiguration. The TAP was sponsored by the NoMa Business Improvement District (NoMa BID) and the NoMa Parks Foundation as a complement to current work by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to redesign this intersection.
Known colloquially as “Dave Thomas Circle” because of the Wendy’s restaurant that sits at its center, the “virtual circle” is a combination of unusual road geometry, vehicle turning movements, closely spaced intersections, and high traffic volumes. Together, these elements have created serious safety, operational, and connectivity problems, especially for pedestrians and cyclists, whose numbers have increased in recent years as the NoMa and Eckington neighborhoods have grown denser. DDOT is pursuing a new “virtual circle” design — Concept 6, one of six designs the agency developed in 2013 — that will make numerous changes, including improved traffic flow, better pedestrian connections, additional green space, and new bike facilities. The changes will be achieved by eliminating two intersections and reconfiguring the space currently occupied by Wendy’s. The District’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget allocates $35 million toward the project, which DDOT anticipates will be completed in 2022.
“The NoMa and Eckington communities are very excited about working with DDOT to make this a safe and welcoming place of connection for neighbors and a terrific gateway to downtown D.C.,” says Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa BID and the Parks Foundation. “The BID reached out to ULI Washington about a TAP as a way to bring fresh, independent eyes and ideas to what the improved ‘virtual circle’ could offer.”
The TAP convened at the BID’s office for two days in June. During this time the group reviewed documents about the “virtual circle” and surrounding areas; made a site visit to experience the intersection firsthand; interviewed neighborhood stakeholders; and workshopped concepts. The TAP used seven framing principles and values to guide its process:
- Safety first
- Connectivity to and through
- Three open spaces, but seen as whole
- High-impact efforts in the short-term, but think long-term
- As NoMa continues to grow, resources will grow
- Design for all
- Balancing things that move with things that hold still
At the end of the panel’s deliberations, the group presented a more-detailing reimagining of the area based on Concept 6 to DDOT staff and other stakeholders, which was well-received.
“The panel was really encouraged by the spirit of collaboration between the BID, DDOT, and the community,” says Patrick Phillips, former Global Chief Executive Officer of the ULI, who chaired the TAP. “We also appreciated the latitude we were given to suggest ways to improve the public spaces created by the new intersection design, and even opportunities to further emphasize pedestrian and bicycle circulation through it. It’s a tricky balancing act, but with the public and private sectors working together like this, I’m confident that what was once a barrier can become a bridge.”
The objective of ULI Washington’s TAP program is to provide expert, multidisciplinary advice on land use and real estate issues facing public agencies and nonprofits in the metropolitan Washington area. The “virtual circle” TAP comprised 10 ULI Washington members:
- Patrick L Phillips, Former Global Chief Executive Officer, ULI — Panel Chair
- Suzie Battista, Fairfax County Department of Planning & Development
- Jon Eisen, The Eisen Group
- Sukirti Ghosh, Rhodeside & Harwell
- Dan Hardy, Renaissance Planning Group
- Rob Mandle, Crystal City Business Improvement District
- Paola Moya, Moya Design Partners
- Kaushambi Shah, Urban Designer
- Tanya Stern, Montgomery County Planning Department
- Dawn Volz, Dewberry
Transforming the Virtual Circle to Reconnect the Neighborhoods is available for download at the NoMa BID website’s Maps + Studies page. An online summary of the report and PDF are also available at the ULI Washington website.