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How Union Market And Ivy City Could Merge Into A Cohesive Corridor

Union Market and Ivy City, two of D.C.'s hottest growing neighborhoods, sit just one mile apart, but the New York Avenue roadway that connects them does not have the pedestrian or cycling accessibility to make it feel like a cohesive corridor. Developers in both neighborhoods hope that will soon change. 

GCS | Sigal's Michael Sigal, Trammell Crow's Campbell Smith, MRP Realty's Matt Robinson, Edens' Steve Boyle and Toll Brothers' Bryan Oos
GCS | Sigal's Michael Sigal, Trammell Crow's Campbell Smith, MRP Realty's Matt Robinson, Edens' Steve Boyle and Toll Brothers' Bryan Oos

Edens, the developer behind the Union Market food hall, has partnered on projects throughout the neighborhood and is now planning a major archway-style project that will create a gateway to Union Market for those coming in from New York Avenue.

Edens Chief Development Officer Steve Boyle, speaking Thursday at Bisnow's Welcome to New York Avenue event, said he hopes the neighborhood can become more connected with the surrounding area.  

"If we can find a way to knit Union Market to Ivy City, I think you can see it, it might take a fair bit of time, but the potential to do it is there," Boyle said. "I think the focus on connectivity is big. There’s an experiential connectivity that feels like it’s the piece that is missing."

Douglas Development founder Douglas Jemal and Bisnow's Mike Ponticelli
Douglas Development founder Douglas Jemal and Bisnow Vice President Mike Ponticelli

Douglas Development founder and President Douglas Jemal also said he foresees the neighborhoods becoming more connected in the future. Jemal, who this week was inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame, has spearheaded the development in Ivy City and is now preparing to break ground on the 16-acre New City DC project to the east. 

"We’re an untapped city; the potential is unlimited," Jemal said. "I think that New York Avenue corridor, I see that as unlimited, the connectivity between Union Market and the New York Ave. corridor and New City DC, it's not an outskirts site any longer. It's an infill site."

To improve that connectivity, Jemal said the city should look at adding new buses, bike lanes and pedestrian improvements on New York Avenue. 

"It is a gateway into the capital of the greatest nation in the world," Jemal said. "It really needs streetscapes, it needs some love, it needs trees, it needs flowers, it needs sidewalk improvements. You can make this gateway look great, you’ve just got to spend a few dollars to do that. If we start taking baby steps, we can get there."

D.C. Director of Planning Andrew Trueblood, Antunovich Associates' Julian Looney, Republic Restoratives' Sarah Mosbacher, EXP's Faisal Hameed, Foulger-Pratt's Brigg Bunker and Carr Properties' Austen Holderness
D.C. Director of Planning Andrew Trueblood, Antunovich Associates' Julian Looney, Republic Restoratives' Sarah Mosbacher, EXP's Faisal Hameed, Foulger-Pratt's Brigg Bunker and Carr Properties' Austen Holderness

Foulger-Pratt Managing Partner Brigg Bunker, whose firm is developing projects in NoMa and Eckington, said he also wants to see pedestrian and bicycle improvements on New York Avenue. 

"The destinations that are created along New York Ave. is what is changing the fabric of the corridor and the neighborhoods," Bunker said. "Getting people to be able to connect between the neighborhoods, I think, should be a high priority."

MRP Realty principal Matt Robinson, whose firm is developing the second phase of its Washington Gateway project on New York Avenue, said the level of traffic coming into the city on the avenue makes it difficult to improve its walkability.

"New York Avenue is a pretty hostile pedestrian environment, just the volume of traffic that arterial carries makes it inherently hostile to pedestrians," Robinson said. "I think you have to recognize what it is and how much traffic it's taking on, because it’s almost like walking along the Beltway, but just in traffic. We’ve widened sidewalks and put bigger planting zones to make it feel the best it can be, but it is always going to be a challenged pedestrian environment just because of the volume [of cars]."

D.C. Director of Planning Andrew Trueblood, Antunovich Associates' Julian Looney and Republic Restoratives' Sarah Mosbacher
D.C. Director of Planning Andrew Trueblood, Antunovich Associates' Julian Looney and Republic Restoratives' Sarah Mosbacher

Antunovich Associates principal Julian Looney, whose firm designed the Hecht Warehouse redevelopment and several of Douglas Development Corp.'s other projects, said when he used to bike from his Eckington home to Ivy City, the fastest route required him to "go right up New York Avenue and just pray." And even if he took the longer route, when he turned onto West Virginia Avenue on the southern edge of Ivy City, he said "the prayers started again."

"There needs to be a way to get from the western portion of New York Avenue as far east as the arboretum," Looney said. "There should be a logical way, whether a streetcar or bike path ... the challenge to get from west to east has to be addressed."

EXP Vice President and Director of Infrastructure Faisal Hameed said the New York Avenue corridor is lacking high-capacity transit such as a Metro line, streetcar or circulator bus. He said the city should think big when coming up with solutions for the corridor's connectivity problem.

"We are city of innovation; we are innovation’s capital," Hameed said. "I’m pretty sure we can try new ideas. We put a man on [the] moon in the '60s. I don’t know why we don’t try new things anymore. There are a lot of things we can do to make the transit work and the east-west connection work that way."  

D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie
D.C. Council Member Kenyan McDuffie

D.C. Council Member Kenyan McDuffie, who represents Ward 5, also said he thinks the corridor needs improved transit, and he said public-private partnerships can help the city achieve that goal. 

"New York Avenue is so well-traveled, yet it continues to lack the high-quality and varied transit that can help further connect residents to all the wonderful businesses and neighborhoods that make the corridor special," McDuffie said. "It is apparent that New York Avenue requires a bold vision, a long-term investment horizon and additional, further and deeper collaboration."

Northeast Maglev's Ian Rainey
Northeast Maglev's Ian Rainey

In addition to connectivity between the New York Avenue neighborhoods, projects are being planned that would better connect the corridor with other cities.

Northeast Maglev is planning a high-speed train project that would provide trips from D.C. to Baltimore in 15 minutes and D.C. to New York in one hour. Northeast Maglev Senior Vice President Ian Rainey said a D.C. station is being considered beneath New York Avenue near the I-395 intersection. 

Northeast Maglev is first focusing on the D.C.-Baltimore corridor, Rainey said, and he estimated it could cost over $10B. He said about $100M has been invested thus far.

The next step in the process, he said, will be the Federal Railroad Administration releasing its draft Environmental Impact Statement, followed by a public comment period before the final version. The chambers of commerce for four Maryland counties this week came out in support of the high-speed rail project, the Baltimore Business Journal reported

"We're working now with the federal government, the state of Maryland, the District of Columbia and a number of other stakeholders to make it a reality," Rainey said. "The momentum behind this project is building."

Jemal said he believes the Northeast Maglev system will get built, saying that it will add to the continued transformation of the city.  

"They’re talking about this rail system, that’s a reality, were going to see that," Jemal said. "I don’t think I'll be here to see that, but a lot of young people in here are going to see that, and you’re going to be able to get to Baltimore in 15 minutes and New York in an hour. That’s f***ing amazing.”