September 22, 2023
by Cheryl Cort, Policy Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth
Please accept this testimony on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the leading organization advocating for walkable, bikeable, inclusive, transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way for the Washington, DC region to grow and provide opportunities for all.
The suburban-style Brookland Metro station has long been in need of a makeover. At the same time, DC needs more housing and affordable housing, especially around transit hubs. Offering more housing opportunities in this highly accessible location will benefit the many families and individuals who would like to live in a walkable, bike-friendly, transit-accessible neighborhood.
While the proposed changes offer a much better station area than today, given the severe constraints on the development parcels and continued dominance of bus bays, we ask that WMATA further reconsider the site layout to achieve the full potential of this redevelopment.
Currently, much of the east side of the station area is covered in expansive bus bays and a short-term parking lot. The proposed changes can help recreate a more urban, pedestrian-scaled layout and knit the station back into the fabric of the community.
We see the following as positive outcomes of the proposed transit facilities changes:
- Reducing the impervious surface area
- Reconfiguring bus bays into transit streets along an extended Newton Street and 9th Streets
- Creating a more walk-friendly environment with a new street grid
- Reducing the number of Kiss and Ride spaces and relocating the remaining spaces to curbside spaces under the Michigan Avenue bridge, which is already informally used for drop off/pick up due to its proximity to the station entrance
- Maintaining the nine bus bays, and adding new layover space
- Freeing up space for new apartments and retail
Below, we discuss several issues that can help improve the station area as a part of this process.
Rethinking bus bays, transit streets, & bus terminus: The illustration of the reconfigured bus bays shows the sawtooth curb design. We request consideration of a straight curb line, parallel bus bay/stop design for off-street or possibly on-street bus stops. We recognize the major improvement from the vast bus bay island and driveway configuration of today, but we ask that further consideration be given to street and bus facility designs that provide a more comfortable pedestrian environment for people walking and waiting for buses, and how these facilities are integrated into the fabric of the street network.
Given the modest number of bus transfers at the station, we recommend WMATA consider several changes to bus service terminating at Brookland station. We ask that bus routes discharge and pick up passengers near the station entrance, but layover somewhere else. Or instead of terminating at the station, run service on reconfigured streets close to the station entrance. These changes could shrink the amount of space dedicated to bus layovers, and improve the pedestrian environment.
Buildable parcels: We are concerned that the three sites proposed for mixed use development are severely constrained and offer inefficient building layouts that would generate high construction costs, and limited accessibility for loading, deliveries and drop off. We ask WMATA to reconsider the street design, bus facilities and plaza to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment and one that provides more efficient and feasible building footprints.
Public spaces and plazas: We recommend that the project require the inclusion of vibrant, interactive public spaces around the Metro station entrance. The public space should be welcoming for transit riders and offer places for sitting, shade, public art, improved wayfinding, room for vendor kiosks or other close connections between people at the station and convenience retail.
Park amenities and connection to Brooks Mansion (DC owned, occupied by DCTV): The RFP for future development can ask for park amenities for both the preserved greenspace next to the Metro parking lot and the Brooks Mansion grounds (such as benches and climbable art) to be provided and maintained as a part of a larger mixed use development. We ask that WMATA work with the District government to revise the current (underutilized) use of the Brooks Mansion property. The Brooks Mansion should be repurposed as a civic building and accessible public garden, and the fencing removed or modified, and surface parking lots removed. Members of the public have called for preserving and increasing green space at the Metro station. Opening up these large grounds are an ideal use of this open space to meet the desire for additional usable greenspace.
Housing and affordable housing: The site should be reconfigured to maximize the potential for mixed income housing. We know that the joint development needs to pay for the new transit facilities, and then pay for important amenities like affordable housing, public spaces, park furniture, and maintenance. We ask that affordable housing be a top priority. Affordable housing is a critical need and the Inclusionary Zoning set aside is automatically 20% for the parcels zoned PDR, an industrial zone. We think this is a good baseline for the RFP but also support the use of city incentives such as tax abatements to help the project pay for affordable housing, along with other costs.
Bicycle access and facilities: The redevelopment of the station should incorporate enhanced bicycle facilities, including secure bicycle storage, station access, and connections to the Metropolitan Branch Trail.
Bunker Hill Road & 10th intersection: We ask that the Bunker Hill and 10th Street intersection be redesigned to reduce crossing distances for pedestrians and improve safety. We note that no buses appear to be routed to turn right exiting the station on Bunker Hill Road, so reduced crossing distances should not be a conflict with major transit vehicle movements.
A competitive RFP: We encourage WMATA to set up a competitive RFP that leverages the value of the site so that redevelopment can pay for priorities like affordable housing, dynamic public spaces, better bike and walk facilities, and park amenities. To realize these opportunities, we urge WMATA to do further assessment of how to replace bus bays, and bus service at the station, and create feasible development parcels for housing or mixed use development.
These priorities, which meet regional, citywide and local community goals should be incorporated into the RFP process. Affordable housing is especially expensive and desperately needed. Therefore, we urge WMATA, in cooperation with the District, to ensure that we maximize affordable housing opportunities at the site as a part of an overall project that creates great public spaces and increased bus, walk, and bicycle access.
We look forward to working with the community, local officials, and WMATA to shape future development plans to add new mixed income homes, shops, public spaces, improved walk and bicycle access, and better bus connections.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.