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Anacostia River Corridor

Creating an equitable and resilient alternative to highway DC-295



Nando Micale
Danielle Lake


Anastasia Osorio

Riddhi Batra
Kelly Cary
Alex Charnov
Mia Cherayil
Lynn Chong
Madeline Csere
Henry Feinstein

Robby Hoffman
Nata Kovalova
Anastasia Osorio
Yuchen Wang
Marquise Williams
Shawn Li
Nell Pearson

In Fall 2022, a Studio group of a dozen students in the UPenn Masters of City & Regional Planning program focused their study on the eight-mile stretch of Anacostia River in Washington, DC from US Joint Base Andrews property at the Southeast to the District’s boundary with Maryland to the north. For the purposes of this project, the area is referred to as the Anacostia River Corridor or the River Corridor.


Running directly though the River Corridor is a 6-mile stretch of DC-295, which is D.C.’s only state highway. The highway serves as an important regional and local connector, but is also a significant barrier for nearby residents.


The premise of this studio is to look critically at the future of transit and development in the Anacostia River Corridor, with a focus on creating an equitable and resilient alternative to the highway. The materials produced for this Studio provide the D.C. Office of Planning (DCOP) and the D.C. Office of Energy and Environment (DOEE) with the preliminary materials needed to start an advocacy planning process in the Anacostia River Corridor.


The UPenn students worked closely with instructors—Nando Micale, Principal with the Philadelphia studio of LRK, and Danielle Lake, LRK architect and urban planner/designer and UPenn alumni—on developing this plan. The Studio also benefited from input from select members of the District’s Office of Planning (DCOP), Office of Energy and Environment (DOEE), and the larger Anacostia Waterfront Corridor Working Group (Working Group).

Map of the study area and the location of DC-295 in the context of Washington, DC

Study area

The geographic focus of this project is a portion of Washington D.C. that spans from U.S. Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in the south to the D.C.-Maryland border in the north. For the purposes of this project, the area is referred to as the Anacostia River Corridor or the River Corridor.


The Anacostia River Corridor contains multitudes. It includes the neighborhoods of Barry Farms, Anacostia, Fairlawn, Dupont Park, Greenway, Mayfair, Eastland Gardens, and Kenilworth. It also constitutes most but not all of Wards 7 and 8. The area interfaces with metro transit, freight rail, and numerous bus routes, and contains low-, medium-, and high-density residential areas as well as industrial and brownfield sites.


Running directly though the River Corridor is a 6-mile stretch of DC-295, which is D.C.’s only state highway. The highway serves as an important regional and local connector, but is also a significant barrier for residents.




As of 2020, there are 136,653 residents living in the River Corridor, which accounts for about one-fifth of the entire District of Columbia population (701,974). Despite being a large portion of the overall population, demographics across the Anacostia River look notably different across income and race.


The median income of households in Anacostia ($37,803) is significantly lower than DC ($82,604), as is the number of people living in poverty, with 28 percent in the study area versus the District’s 15 percent. The study area is predominantly Black and African-American, accounting for about 90 percent of the total population, compared to the District’s even share of White and Black residents (roughly 45% each).


The Corridor’s history of segregation and disinvestment highlights the importance of addressing the harm I-295 has caused this long-standing D.C. community.

Southeast residents have important cultural ties to the Anacostia River, it is high time they had ease of access as well.

Photo: Rodney Stotts with Agnes, a Harris’ Hawk, by Greg Kahn

DC-295 Highway

DC 295 is the only state route within the District of Columbia. It measures 4.9 miles total and is mainly composed two segments - 2.3 miles of Kenilworth Avenue Freeway that runs from the Maryland state line to north of East Capitol Street, which sees an annual average daily traffic count of about 100,905 vehicles, and 2.7 miles of Anacostia Freeway that connects I-295 south to Richmond up to East Capitol Street, which sees an annual average daily traffic count of about 127,762 vehicles. 295 serves as a regional connector north to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway via Kenilworth Avenue, south on I-295 towards Richmond, and provides access to downtown Washington DC for Ward 7, Ward 8, and Prince Georges’ County MD.

Currently, improving pedestrian safety and mobility throughout the I-295/DC 295 corridor and across the Anacostia River has been the focus of DC’s Department of Transportation. The new Fredrick Douglass Bridge allows for improved bike space into Anacostia Park and for a safer crossing into the Navy Yard & Buzzard Point. MoveDC, the District’s Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan, identifies a number of communities with the greatest transportation needs, based on proximity to frequent transit, access to jobs and amenities, and safety risks. Many of these areas are also home to historically under-served communities of color, low-income residents, and people with disabilities. The Anacostia River Corridor calls for a greater focus in transit equity to improve options for multimodal connectivity.


River culture


Southeast residents have important cultural ties to the Anacostia River, it is high time they had ease of access as well. We’re so inspired by personal stories like that of Rodney Stotts, whose recently published memoir, Bird Brother, chronicles how when he got involved with the Anacostia River cleanup efforts at the Earth Conservation Corps, his encounters with wildlife and nature on the river completely transformed his life, moving him to reflect that “the Anacostia River still weaves its way into my dreams”. [1] We think this opportunity to enjoy interacting with nature and communicating with wildlife is a fundamental human need that some communities have been cut off from. This project can serve as a vehicle to address that issue.

Why now?

After reviewing the story of highways, we have seen their historic and present harms, as well as how highways-to-boulevards projects can serve as powerful tools for revitalization. However, the other question to address is “why should we redevelop the DC-295 now?”

Photos, left to right: The DC-295 and neighborhood buildings in Wards 7 & 8, by students of the ARC Studio

1. Health impacts are happening now.


Despite significant environmental restoration gains and advocacy efforts made in the past 40 years, today, Anacostia River Corridor residents are still disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards including air pollution, as well as the impacts of climate change, especially flood risk and extreme heat. Although air pollution levels in DC are considered within safety standards, around 20% of residents in Ward 8 (which is partially included in the Anacostia River Corridor), suffer from asthma compared to 12% in DC as a whole. [2] This difference can be tied closely to the presence of the highway.

2. Environmental risks are increasing.


This plan focuses on creating sustainable and flood-resistant infrastructure, which will be critical as DC prepares for worsening flooding over the next 15 to 30 years. Due to global warming, sea levels are projected to rise substantially over the coming decades. Since the Anacostia is part of the greater Chesapeake water system, as sea level rises and storms worsen, existing issues of  stormwater overflow into the Anacostia River stand to be exacerbated, and have detrimental impacts on aging and overburdened infrastructure.

3. Development pressures threaten housing security.


A project at this scale presents a remarkable opportunity to address DC’s housing crisis. As covered later in this plan, a lot of land can be opened up for new development with the removal of DC-295. The implications of this could increase affordable housing supply within the corridor if managed appropriately, and reduce the cost-burden of rent and homeownership for residents of Wards 7 and 8.



Rate of asthma among Ward 8 residents



Predicted number of flooding events per year by 2045 in DC



Avg. gross rent increase from 2010-2022

Three frameworks

Bringing down the highway offers opportunities to largely reshape the river corridor in several ways. In the course of our research, we identified three frameworks which capture the range of opportunities presented by a project of this size.

They are Connectivity, Ecology, and Development. In this section, we will discuss how these frameworks served as a guide to ensure our proposal meets the corridor’s most pressing challenges.


Despite its regional and local significance, there are connectivity challenges that the highway presents. The highway encourages a heavy reliance on driving, however, transit and other modes of travel are important for residents of the Anacostia River Corridor. Only 40% of households have access to a vehicle. [6] As a result, 2 out of every 5 corridor residents rely on transit to get to work7.

  • To create safe and welcoming ways to access the riverfront park—for residents of all ages and abilities

  • To improve connections between neighborhoods East of the River, and ensure more equitable access to goods and services

  • To enhance access to and from jobs, opportunities, and attractions in the Greater DC area.

The Pedestrian Friendliness Index accounts for the physical state of sidewalk infrastructure (Source: MoveDC, mapping by the ARC Studio)


The River Corridor has enormous potential. The area boasts over 1,800 acres of parkland along the Anacostia River. By comparison, New York’s Central Park offers only 843 acres. [8] Boston’s Emerald Necklace sweeps in six linear miles around the city, compared to the Anacostia River Park’s nine-and-a-half mile circuit around both sides of the river. This waterfront includes more than 700 acres of water and wetlands, including the stunning Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

  • Use new roadway infrastructure as a vehicle for capturing water.

  • Bake-in resilience strategies to any development that is triggered by the highway- to-boulevard intervention.

  • Connect more people to nature through better park and recreation access.


In terms of development, the River Corridor has already seen a lot of construction activity in recent years. In the Historical Anacostia area alone, 2,600 new units of housing are in the pipeline, which outpaces the number of new units slated for many other parts of D.C. [9] Relatedly, median home values and average rents have continued to rise over the past decade. At the same time, the study area has a low homeownership rate and an aging housing stock. A fifth of the River Corridor has lived in their homes for 20 or more years and more than half of residents are considered cost burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on rent. [10]

  • Increase housing stock while maintaining affordability and alleviating cost burden.

  • Ensure new development is climate resilient and zoned for responsible land use.

  • Ensure new development expands upon neighborhood character and amplifies existing assets.

Over 600 buildings in the ARC lie in flood-risk areas, expected to double by 2030 (mapping by the ARC Studio)

Imagine a boulevard

Highway removal precedents around the world reflect three main ways to remove a highway: reroute the highway into an underground tunnel, convert the highway into a boulevard, and replace the highway entirely with a new or restored street grid. This section lays out benefits and challenges of each approach.

Tunnel Benefits

  • Traffic going north and south through the corridor remains continuous

  • Improve health equity through removing pollutants, mitigating heat, and reducing flood risk

  • Restore open space that increases biodiversity gains and improves climate resilience

  • Increase access to public amenities, recreation, and active transportation

Tunnel Challenges

  • Highest cost and longest time to implement

  • Does not shift travel behavior away from polluting, private vehicles

  • Likely requires high-end/ luxury development to recoup project costs which does not fit in with goals of equitable development or the existing neighborhood fabric.

Boulevard Benefits

  • Maintain a high level of travel capacity throughout the corridor

  • Create smoother connections to the riverfront recreation spaces

  • Shape development along the boulevard, contributing to place- making and re-knitting efforts for the community

  • Increase opportunities for resilience through the use of blue-green infrastructure assets lining boulevard and a depressed median

Boulevard Challenges

  • Will require some former users of DC-295, especially those who use it for through travel, to shift away from driving motorized vehicles or take new routes

  • Non-motorists could still face issues safely crossing at busier stretches of the boulevard

Removal Benefits

  • Eliminate infrastructure barriers to open and recreational space for 
    the community

  • Expansive multimodal transit corridor investments would create new high- capacity connections north-south between existing neighborhood transit nodes, routes, and trails

  • More green space and storm water interventions to address flood risks, air quality, and urban heat effects

  • Catalyze development that amplifies existing assets and preserves neighborhood character

Removal Challenges

  • Will require some former users of DC-295, especially those who use it for through travel, to shift away from driving motorized vehicles or take new routes

  • Non-motorists could still face issues safely crossing at busier stretches of the boulevard

Exploring the PEPCO site

How can a boulevard conversion catalyze development — specifically, equitable development?

Boulevards can take many forms from pedestrian-oriented main streets to higher capacity downtown thoroughfares. Some, like State Street in Madison, WI function as pedestrian-oriented main streets with bicycles, transit, and vehicles sharing lanes and traveling at low speeds. Downtown boulevards like the Bonaventure Expressway in Montreal have a dedicated right-of-way for transit and wide medians that host parks and bike share stations. Regardless of their context, boulevards have a few important things in common that prioritize people over cars:

  • Multimodal travel lanes

  • Wide range of vehicle capacity

  • Frequent crossings to maximize connections

  • Traffic calming measures like crossing islands and curb extensions

  • Mixed commercial and residential development on one or both sides


While this project is mainly about the highway conversion, it is useful to imagine how a lot of these ideas could play out at a smaller scale through one specific site. example, namely, the PEPCO site at the north, where Benning Road and DC-295 intersect. Within this, we wanted to achieve certain outcomes that align with the connectivity, ecology, and development frameworks, including creating new river connections, increasing accessibility to amenities, and increasing the corridor’s housing supply through a mixed-income neighborhood model.

Existing conditions at the PEPCO site

Proposed development at the PEPCO site

Why this site? 

Interfacing directly with the boulevard, the site allows us to explore how the boulevard could affect future development.
Hosting non-renewable energy production and a trash-processing facility without proper environmental controls, the site has a history of environmental injustice and is a brownfield, which can be transformed into a community asset.

The PEPCO site is a good location to explore how highway removal and equitable development can improve access to the river and river trail.

The site is adjacent to varying residential and commercial typologies, providing an opportunity to develop with existing neighborhood characters.

How does this address the plan’s goals?

Connectivity: Plans for a multi-modal future of mobility, increases access to existing amenities, and strengthens connectivity between existing land uses.

Ecology: Forefronts the river as a community asset, initiates environmental reparations, and creates a constellation of green networks.

Development: Knits together existing land uses through compact, mixed-use development, increases mixed-income housing supply with zoning overlays to protect affordability, and creates a hub of transit-oriented development.

Frequently asked questions

1. Won’t removing the highway make traffic in neighborhoods worse?

It is true that this project will substantially alter the flow of transportation generally in this area. However, congestion is by no means inevitable. Traffic is ultimately a question not only of road capacity, but the decision-making of travelers and the alternatives available to them. In Providence, Rhode Island, the relocation of I-195 out of the city center actually improved travel times in the region by 20%. [11] Although this project differs rom the conversion of DC-295 into a boulevard in that it retained the presence of a high-capacity road, this dramatic reduction shows how much the right design choices can impact outcomes positively. 

2. What is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)? Why chose this over other options?

Because of cost, time, and performance, a BRT system would be a significant upgrade from the existing conventional buses servicing Wards 7 and 8 that could bring connectivity, air quality, and congestion improvements to the surrounding communities. a BRT system offers the benefits of high-capacity transit for a fraction of the cost and construction time. [12] Compared to a regular bus, a Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, system is considered high-capacity transit in that it has more frequent service, fewer stops, and faster travel speeds. Other characteristics of BRT often include dedicated lanes, stations with shelter and seating, and off-board fare collection which makes quick, all-door boarding possible. 

The conversion of DC-295 into a boulevard is a great opportunity to advocate for city-wide policies and transit improvements to encourage a mode shift away from cars over the lifespan of this project.

3. How will this plan be inclusive of existing community?

There are several interventions that can be undertaken to ensure that the interests of residents and small businesses are represented in the development process. There are already a wealth of resources in DC including government initiatives and nonprofit organizations addressing community development and housing equity. 

Some potential partnerships and models that the River Corridor might consider in the future include a Business Incubator and Ghost Kitchen, and partnerships with CDFIs to support businesses in economically-disadvantaged communities. Residential neighborhoods could benefit from a Special Zoning Overlay to ensure affordability and preserve neighborhood characteristics through the development of the PEPCO site, establish a Community Land Trust to build inter-generational wealth, and subsidize neighborhood developments through a Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF).


4. Won’t the whole demolition and construction process be disruptive?

Remediation efforts such as streamlining design–construction phasing, advancing envrionmental remediation best practices, managing traffic through project phasing and rerouting, and keeping neighborhood fabric remediations net-affirmative could help reduce impacts of the construction process on surrounding neighborhoods. 

Community-driven process

The materials prepared over the course of this studio can be used to begin a community-led advocacy campaign around the future of DC-295, which would:


  • Engage with River Corridor residents unlikely to participate in planning processes.

  • Collaborate with existing advocacy networks and NGOs.

  • Center community expertise to ensure meaningful community representation in discussions surrounding the future of DC-295.


In order to build and sustain the momentum of this effort, we believe that an advisory council should be formed. Advisory council members should live, work, worship, or play within the Anacostia River Corridor and be interested in seeing improvements in the area. This group could legitimize advocacy efforts, persuade local and citywide officials, and further educate area residents on the possibilities that arise with removing DC-295.


  1. Stotts, Rodney, and Kate Pipkin. Bird Brother: A Falconer’s Journey and the Healing Power of Wildlife. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2022.

  2. District of Columbia Department of Health. “Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA).” Vol. 2, March 5, 2013.

  3. ARUP. “Future of Highways.” Arup Foresight + Research + Innovation, November 2014.

  4. U.S. Department of Transportation. “Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program – Planning Grants and Capital Construction Grants,” October 14, 2022.

  5. Wang, Claire. “Federal Highway Removal Program Raises Hopes in California.” The American Prospect, May 16, 2022.

  6. U.S. Census Bureau; 2020 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Retrieved from (October 2022).

  7. U.S. Census Bureau; 2020 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Retrieved from (October 2022).

  8. District of Columbia, Office of Planning. “Anacostia Waterfront Framework Plan,” November 2003.

  9. Perry-Brown, Nena. “The 17 Developments in the Works Between Anacostia and Buena Vista.” Urban Turf, May 12, 2022.

  10. U.S. Census Bureau; 2020 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Prepared by Social Explorer (October 2022).

  11. Sommer, Mark, “Is tearing down an elevated highway a good idea? Just ask Providence.” The Buffalo News, September 20, 2020,

  12. Cervero, Robert. “Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): An Efficient and Competitive Mode of Public Transport.” Berkeley Institute of Urban Development, August 2013.

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