CFA 17/MAR/22-3


Pennsylvania Avenue from 3rd to 15th Streets, NW
Washington, DC
United States

National Capital Planning Commission
Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative
Vision and concepts
Review Type
Information presentation
Previous Review


Dear Mr. Acosta:

In its public meeting of 17 March conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts was pleased to hear an information presentation by the National Capital Planning Commission staff on the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative, intended to provide planning guidance for the area of Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, between the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Expressing appreciation for the three visionary and imaginative planning scenarios that were presented, the Commission provided the following comments to assist in the development of the initiative.

The Commission members emphasized the importance of Pennsylvania Avenue’s identity as an urban street in contrast to the large open space of the nearby National Mall. They encouraged envisioning Pennsylvania Avenue as a “complete street” that accommodates a wide range of uses and transportation modes, including ordinary traffic, transit, and parking; they observed that efforts in past decades to remove traffic from major urban streets have often been unsuccessful. Noting that the presentation drawings focus on how each scenario would accommodate special events, they recommended developing a comparable focus on how the avenue would contribute to the urban experience in its ordinary daily use. They emphasized the importance of primary view corridors along and across the avenue, which should remain as open as possible.

In their general support for the vision to enliven the avenue with special event programming, the Commission members cautioned that the sanctity of special nodes and places of commemoration along the avenue, such as the Navy Memorial plaza and the World War I Memorial, should not be compromised. They noted that other areas may have more flexibility, such as Freedom Plaza, where a reconfiguration as shown in some scenarios could restore the avenue’s historic diagonal alignment. At the eastern end of the avenue, they recommended further study of the relationship between Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues, whose convergence is currently configured in an unusual, counterintuitive sequence of intersections; they suggested defining a new civic space in this area that could include the Mellon Fountain, John Marshall Park, and the public spaces associated with the National Gallery of Art buildings. They strongly objected to the concept of tunneling Constitution Avenue in this area, citing the disruptive impact of extensive ramped trenches on the quality of the urban space and the continuity of the street grid.

In consideration of achieving the initiative’s goals, the Commission members commented that a single entity dedicated to the long-term governance of a reinvigorated Pennsylvania Avenue will be critical in shaping its appearance, programming, and public meaning. They advised that the allocation of the public space through programming decisions, particularly for major events and the addition of commemorative features, would also best be managed by a single entity. In addition, this planning effort should envision an imaginative approach to managing and coordinating practical needs—such as perimeter security, temporary sidewalk uses, deliveries, and traffic patterns—in order to create a well-functioning, humane, and pedestrian-oriented public space.

The Commission looks forward to further consultation as the Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative progresses, commending the visioning process as a welcome improvement to the existing underused streetscape. Please continue to coordinate with the staff in the preparation of future submissions and throughout the planning process.


/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA

Marcel Acosta, Executive Director
National Capital Planning Commission
401 9th Street, NW, Suite 500-N
Washington, DC 20004

cc: Otto Condon, ZGF Architects
Peter May, National Park Service
Mina Wright, General Services Administration
Anita Cozart, D.C. Office of Planning
Everett Lott, D.C. Department of Transportation