If mid-century traffic planners had their way, Northwest DC would have been the land of the freeway.
In a 1946 book, an influential architect predicted that upper Connecticut Avenue would be a freeway within 20 years. Greater Greater Washington reports Louis Justement believed that the avenue’s apartment high-rises would be demolished and replaced with towers farther from the unrelenting traffic. And crossing Connecticut to access shops on the other side? Too much of a hazard. Justement advocated for replacing the existing retail with a shopping center where Tilden Gardens now stands.
A 1950 city plan (see above) envisioned a future Tenleytown, Forest Hills and Chevy Chase crisscrossed by “express highways” and “express parkways.” Connecticut Avenue through Van Ness would be a “dominant thoroughfare,” mirrored by another only a couple of blocks to the east.
The highway planning never went anywhere. And neither did these projects:
A TV tower that would have stood at what is now Park Connecticut at 4411 Connecticut Avenue. Evening Star Broadcasting said in 1969 that the tower would be handsome, dignified, and an asset to the community.
In the early 2000s, community opposition to the increased traffic a new school would bring saved the 120-year-old Owl’s Nest on Gates Road from possible demolition. Another developer has since made it his home.
In 2016, DC rejected Chick-fil-A’s plan for a drive-thru location at 4422 Connecticut Avenue. This was also about traffic. (In 2023, the neighborhood is getting a Chick-fil-A at another location.)
Not all discarded plans wither under public scrutiny. Some must contend with the realities of geography and spending priorities. So, Albemarle Street does not tie this neighborhood to Mount Pleasant despite the efforts of one well-connected resident well over a century ago.
This reminds us of an idea worth further consideration. The District still owns the right-of-way between that dead-end and Broad Branch.
Nine years ago, former ANC 3F Commissioner Bob Summersgill proposed a trail connecting the two – and “bike staircase” for the steep grade that confounded city planners a century ago.
“If we could put stairs there,” Summersgill wrote, “with adjacent ramps to walk bicycles up and down, Forest Hills could be connected safely to Broad Branch Road for cyclists. There is a similar staircase at the end of the Metropolitan Branch Trail on L street.”
This is an updated Forest Hills Connection rerun. Here’s the December 2017 original.