Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge

Sunday, August 5, 2012 |

It's time to take a walk across a bridge spanning the Anacostia River in Washington D.C, the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, built in 1949 and named after the former slave who became a statesman and leader of the abolitionist movement before the Civil War--and who also lived in the DC neighborhood of Anacostia after the Civil War. Yesterday morning in DC, a Saturday, the heat (88 degrees at trek-time) and humidity (typically high) were tolerable enough for a quick walk.

The Douglass Bridge is short, about a quarter of a mile long, and is located right next to the Washington Nationals ballpark on the one side and at the edge of Anacostia on the other; it carries South Capitol Street over the river. The bridge itself is in a poor state of repair, and there are plans in the earliest stages for demolishing the bridge and replacing it as a part of the revitalization of the area surrounding the ballpark. The architects who proposed several possible replacements pretty much summed up the walking experience: "The bridge is primarily a vehicular crossing and discourages pedestrians and bicyclists."

We parked near the Stadium on P Street, in one of just a few legal parking spaces in the area (which would probably have become inaccessible once the Nats game started that evening). We walked the short distance to the bridge and found very narrow sidewalks, but nice solid rails that extend up almost to shoulder height, which we always appreciate. Strangely, there were little sections underneath the railings that were open and got a bit big at points, but there was no possible slipping through, I'm glad to report. We encountered just one other person on the bridge, a bicyclist, fortunately when we were at a little cutout in the middle (for sightseeing, I guess). Otherwise, it would be a tight fit for a bike and a person. It's also a drawbridge, though I don't think it goes up very often. Despite the unlikelihood of a bridge raising, we were ready to beat it out of the middle of the bridge at a moment's notice if necessary. At its highest, the bridge is a reported 62 feet above the mean water level, apparently not enough to avoid the need for a drawbridge.

There isn't all that much going on at either side of the bridge, unless a ballgame is going on, and the vistas off the bridge aren't exactly great, though it is always great looking at a ballpark. So, I don't know that I can recommend this walk it as a great experience-- but the bridge certainly gets the job done. Someday perhaps we'll have a more picturesque and pedestrian-friendly bridge at this location to report on. The Washington Post shows pictures of some of the alternative bridges that were proposed.

As far as scariness ratings go, we give this one a 9 , the sum of a 3 for length, a 3 for height, and a 3 for its width (low because of the high railings, though a little bit of a scary rating because of the narrowness of the sidewalk and that open area under the rails).