An overhead view of Black Lives Matter Plaza and the proposal for the Plaza shown by DDOT during an ANC 2B meeting.
The bright yellow "Black Lives Matter" that was painted on a stretch of 16th Street during last summer's protests against racial injustice and police brutality is gone. But the iconic mural — now known as Black Lives Matter Plaza — isn't gone for good, but will rather return as part of a broader street redesign of the street that will allow traffic back and limit where pedestrians can roam.
Images of the streetscape sans the mural bounced around Twitter on Tuesday, drawing ire from some locals. But a spokesperson for Mayor Muriel Bowser — who originally commissioned the mural — tells DCist that Pepco is conducting construction work at the plaza which has temporarily covered the mural, but it will return as a permanent (and altered) art installation.
A proposed mockup of the new Black Lives Matter Plaza shows a single lane of traffic on either side of the street with a landscaped median strip. With the street closed to traffic over the past year, people had flocked to the plaza to see the mural and take photos. Now visitors will be relegated to a 14-foot wide pedestrian walkway in the center of the road.
The plan was presented by chief engineer for the District Department of Transportation Dawit Muluneh during a Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B joint Land Use and Mobility Committee earlier this month. City officials say the goal is to preserve the street's Black Lives Matter mural and pedestrian space while reintroducing traffic to the two-block stretch of 16th Street.
"What we're looking for is a safe way that we can have a multi-use space for everybody that meets the needs of businesses," said Naomi Klein, a special assistant to the DDOT chief of staff, during the presentation.
Each lane of traffic would be 12-feet wide and have a 5-foot buffer for passing vehicles. Removable, luminescent bollards would line the vehicle lanes closest to the pedestrian walkway as an added safety measure and in emergencies where larger vehicles need to get by.
A look at Black Lives Matter Plaza from K Street looking south toward the White House.
The pedestrian walkway stretches the entirety of the mural along 16th Street, from about H Street to K Street. Muluneh said this is to ensure pedestrians reach a safe intersection and to give the nearby hotels like the Hay-Adams additional space for idling vehicles and taxis. The hotel reportedly had access problems when the street was previously closed to traffic
The mural was an unexpected addition to the city's streetscape when Mayor Muriel Bowser commissioned a group of local artists to create the art installation last June. Muluneh said the mural altered the city's plans for the plaza. The proposal accommodates bus widths, but for now won't include the previously planned 16th Street bus lane expansion project.
DDOT also looked into adding bike lanes to the plaza, but found the bollards and extra space given to nearby hotels did not leave enough room.
Meeting attendees questioned the design of the space, asking if the pedestrian plaza could be moved to one side of the street instead of running down the middle. Officials responded that it would block vehicle access for one side of the street and have a number of other impacts that would lengthen the project and increase its cost.
"I think there's a bit of wasted space that goes into there," said Yonah Freemark, a member of ANC 2B's Land Use Committee, said during the presentation. "Because you're creating these two five-foot buffered areas around the pedestrian space. Whereas if you put it just on one side of the street, you actually would free up more space on the roadway for other uses, like potentially bike lanes."
A local transportation planner who attended the meeting, Matt Johnson, said designers should emphasize access for pedestrians.
"This is a space where the people who are driving are the guests," he said. "This plaza really should be for pedestrians. We don't need to put hard lines. We don't need to put jersey walls or a six-foot fence to keep pedestrians from stepping out. The driver is only supposed to be going 15 miles an hour. Trying to separate everyone ... is not going to get you a place that creates a space you're trying to make here."
Johnson also said he hopes DDOT will close the street to traffic as much as possible.
"I have been to Europe, I've been to other parts of the world and you just sometimes have pedestrian zones where people just don't drive," Johnson continued. "And that's OK. People can still get there (to the hotels). Maybe they can't step out of their car and get there, but they can walk a block. I would encourage you to look at experiences like that."
ANC Commissioner Will Herbig put it more bluntly: "We're not serving anyone well here."
Klein said multiple people within the mayor's office and Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto have approved the proposal. A full ANC hearing for the proposed plans is scheduled for Wednesday.
Pepco announced in April it's installing a new underground electric infrastructure on 16th Street, including a new conduit and manhole on the street. The company is coordinating with the DDOT to restore the mural once construction is complete. It estimates construction should take 4-6 weeks, finishing mid to late May.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.