Ivy City is dotted with parking lots for scores of government vehicles — quarter-ton snowplows, salt trucks, parking-enforcement vehicles and school buses that belch exhaust as they rumble through the streets. Recently, when Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) announced a plan to build a bus depot for 65 D.C-to-New York motorcoaches in the heart of Ivy City, residents said “enough” and filed a lawsuit to stop it.
There is a lot at stake in the showdown between one of the city’s smallest neighborhoods and the mayor. Bus travel is a major boon for the city; ridership rose from nearly 2 million in 1999 to nearly 7 million in 2009, according to the District Department of Transportation’s 2011 Motorcoach Action Plan.
Those riders and other tourists spend a pretty penny in the District — $34,200 for every 1,000 who stay for a day and $93,370 for the same number who stay overnight, according to estimates in a federal Visitor Transportation Study for the National Mall and Memorial Parks that is cited in the plan.
To city officials, Ivy City is an ideal place for a bus depot as Union Station undergoes a major renovation that could take years. Under the plan, passengers on carriers such as Boltbus and Megabus would still be picked up and dropped off at the station, but most buses would idle in Ivy City until needed.
In past years, Ivy City accepted unwanted projects with little more than a grumble. But not this time. Empower DC, an activist group that filed the D.C. Superior Court lawsuit in late July on behalf of two Ivy City residents and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said it found several missteps by the city that should persuade a judge to block construction of the depot at the shuttered Alexander Crummell School, at 1900 Gallaudet Ave. NE.
At a hearing this past week, a judge appeared to sympathize with the suit’s claim that the city failed to inform Ivy City of its agreement with the Union Station Redevelopment Corp., a nonprofit group devoted to the station’s restoration, and other partners before it was completed. The judge also expressed concern over the city’s apparent failure to conduct an environmental impact assessment, as the suit claims, in an area where people enjoy sitting on their porches and many residents suffer from respiratory problems.
The suit also claimed that the depot would threaten the health of residents.
“My family has a history of asthma,” said Andria Swanson, an Ivy City resident and a complainant in the lawsuit. “My neighbor is on a breathing machine. Their trucks and school buses already drive down our streets all the time. Here in Ivy City the air quality is so bad. I can’t explain it, but sometimes I want to choke — it’s so industrial. I’d rather not sit outside.”