Descriptions and Routes for Traveling to the House and Senate Buildings
from Garfield and Peace Circles by the Capitol Building
written in 2006 for advocates who would be dropped off at special stops by shuttle buses to go to the Senate and House buildings
General layout of the area:
The bus will drop you off at one of two stops on First Street. First Street runs north-south, with the grounds of the Capitol Building along the east side of the street. The bus will be going north and will drop you off on the same side as the Capitol Building grounds.
General directions to Senate buildings from Peace Circle bus stop:
The bus stops are between two streets that run east-west: Constitution and Independence avenues. Constitution Avenue runs along the northern border of the Capital Building grounds, and Independence Avenue runs along the southern border of the Capital Building grounds.
The Senate buildings (Russell, then Dirkson and finally Hart) are along Constitution Avenue, across the street from the Capital Building grounds. The House buildings (Rayburn, then Longworth and finally Cannon) are along Independence Avenue, across the street from the Capital Building grounds.
Between Independence and Constitution Avenues, First Street has two circles where the sidewalk and street go around monuments, and these are where the two bus stops are. Peace Circle is about a half block south of Constitution Avenue, and Garfield Circle is about a half block north of Independence Avenue. The sidewalk along First Street going north from Independence Avenue is straight for about a half block when it crosses a very wide driveway into the Capitol grounds. After crossing the driveway, First Street's sidewalk makes a semi-circle at Garfield Circle, then continues north for a block and makes another semi-circle at Peace Circle. First Street then crosses another very wide driveway which goes into the Capitol grounds. After crossing that driveway, the First Street sidewalk continues straight for about a half block to Constitution Avenue. The bus will drop you off somewhere in one of those two semicircles.
General directions to House buildings from Garfield Circle bus stop:
- Get off the bus and turn left (north), and walk a half block to Constitution Avenue
- Cross Constitution Avenue and turn right (east).
- Walk east along Constitution Avenue two blocks to Delaware Avenue and cross it.
- The Russell Building fills the entire block on your left, with two entrances along Constitution Avenue.
- The Dirkson and Hart Buildings are on the next block, on the left. They appear to be one building with two entrances along Constitution Avenue. The first entrance is the Dirkson Building and the second is the Hart Building.
Cautions, alerts, and general tips:
- Get off the bus and turn right (south), and walk a half block to Independence Avenue.
- Cross Independence Avenue and turn left.
- The House buildings are now all on your right, along Independence Avenue. The Rayburn Building fills the entire first block, the Longworth Building fills the second block, and the Cannon Building fills the third block.
The stairs at the entrances of many of the buildings are tiered, shaped like a pyramid. That is, the bottom stair is wider than the second stair, which is wider than the third, etc. and the edges of the stairs each wrap around the sides. There should be no problem when descending these stairs, but be aware that if you ascend near the ends of the stairway, you might take several steps up and walk into a wall and/or think you've reached the top but then stumble on the edge of the next stair because it doesn't extend for the same width as the previous stair. To avoid this situation, ascend near the middle of the stairway. Stairways with this design will be indicated in the detailed descriptions as "tiered."
Be aware that out of 18 potential crossings along these routes (going to and from the Senate and House buildings), only 1 has a curb ramp that is aligned to cross the street straight. Many corners have only one curb ramp for both crosswalks, aimed diagonally into the middle of the intersection.
Every crossing except the driveways into the Capitol Building grounds has a traffic signal. These are all simple, straightforward signals -- none of them require pushing any button to get enough time to cross, and none have any complex phases such as allowing for turning cars.
The pedestrian signals in Washington DC are the only ones in the country that flash during the WALK signal. The flashing indicates that traffic potentially might turn into the crosswalk (the WALK signal is steady at one-way streets where there is no turning traffic permitted).
In addition, most pedestrian signals in DC have count-down numbers visible below the walk signals, which are confusing to some visually impaired people because the numbers appear to be flashing orange/red signals (the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices requires the count-down to start only after the flashing "don't-walk" signal, but DC engineers do their own thing!).
Constitution and Independence Avenues are main thoroughfares with lots of traffic, but all the side streets along Constitution and Independence are small (3-4 lanes). All the side streets adjacent to Senate or House buildings are blocked from normal traffic, and some have large round concrete planters in the middle of the street (sometimes blocking part of the crosswalk).
Bus stop location:
The bus will let you off and pick you up somewhere in the Garfield Circle (for House buildings) or Peace Circle (for Senate buildings). When you alight from the bus, take note of where it will pick you up so you can find where to wait when you return.
Police cars are routinely posted at many corners with the engines running -- some of these vehicles partially block the curb ramps or crosswalks. The officers are friendly and helpful, so if a vehicle is causing confusion or difficulties, feel free to approach them.
Posts and barriers:
You may encounter barriers and posts in unusual places as you travel through this area - they are meant to block vehicles, and allow plenty of room for pedestrians including people in wheelchairs to pass through. Many sidewalks are lined on one side or the other with concrete barriers or short posts, and large round concrete planters are in the middle of some sidewalks and at the top of some stairs as well as in the middle of a few streets and crosswalks. For example there are posts and planters along the curbs in front of most of the buildings, and on Constitution Avenue between New Jersey and Delaware avenues there are concrete barriers between the sidewalk and the park.
DETAILED DIRECTIONS to Senate buildings from Peace Circle bus stop:
(See notes above about the stairs, intersections, curb ramps and alignment, and traffic signals)
DETAILED DIRECTIONS to House buildings from Garfield Circle bus stop:
- Get off the bus and turn left to walk north along the circle on First Street, NW.
- When you reach the corner of the wide driveway into the Capital grounds, cross the driveway to continue walking along First Street. This may be tricky because there is only one curb ramp and it faces directly across First Street, not across the driveway. If you're aligned down the slope of the curb ramp, the crosswalk for the driveway is about 70 degrees toward your right.
The driveway is extremely wide since it is not perpendicular (it angles about 45 degrees forward to the right) -- it's the equivalent of about 5 lanes wide. It is blocked off with limited access to vehicles.
- After crossing the driveway, walk about a half block to Constitution Avenue, which is a busy street a little more than 6 lanes lanes wide with a traffic signal. There will probably be enough parallel traffic since First Street is a two-way, through street there.
- On the other side of Constitution, turn right to walk east along Constitution Avenue. There is a very narrow sidewalk at the curb of Constitution Avenue but pedestrians are supposed to use the wide sidewalk about 10-15 feet from the curb. To find this wide sidewalk, after you cross Constitution Avenue keep walking straight while following the two barriers on the right -- at the end of the second barrier is the sidewalk. There is a large round concrete planter in the middle of the sidewalk to prevent vehicles from getting through. Immediately after you turn right into the sidewalk, you'll pass on your left a portable booth where a U.S. Capital Police officer is posted -- the officer there said they would provide help if needed.
- The next two blocks along Constitution Avenue have parks on the left. Walk the first block to New Jersey Avenue and cross. New Jersey Avenue is 4 lanes wide but the two far lanes have been blocked for several years, so the traffic is currently one way coming from the left into Constitution Avenue.
- Walk another block along another park to Delaware Avenue and cross. Delaware Avenue is 3 lanes wide, with a large round concrete planter filling the middle lane near the crosswalk, and the traffic in and out of Delaware Avenue is blockaded with limited access. You may hear a flag on top of the building directly across Delaware Avenue which might be useful for alignment (you should be walking straight towards the flag).
- After crossing Delaware Avenue, the Russell Building is on your left along the entire block, with the accessible entrance being on Delaware Avenue. To enter from Constitution Avenue, pass the long, complicated tiered stairway at the corner of the building and the two large round concrete planters that partially block the sidewalk and look along the wall on the left for the next stairway. This stairway is tiered, and at the top there are several large planters which you must go between to continue walking straight across the short patio toward the building. There is another set of tiered stairs in front of the door.
The second entrance to Russell is near the end of the building. It also has a set of tiered stairs going up to a patio, where you walk straight ahead and find another set of tiered stairs going up to the door.
- To go to the Dirkson and Hart buildings, pass the Russell Building and cross First Street NE (this is not the same street where you got off the bus -- that was First Street, NW). First Street NE is 4 lanes wide and is blocked for limited access to traffic. The curb ramp is between two large round concrete planters and faces diagonally into the intersection. The flag you may hear on the other side of First Street should be very slightly to your left, or you can walk toward it.
- After you cross First Street, NW, you must pass through several large, round concrete planters. The Dirkson entrance is the first entrance on the left. It is deeply recessed and has no steps.
- The Hart Building entrance is the next opening in the wall, near the end of the building. There are 4 steps going down from the sidewalk to the patio; the door is straight ahead when you reach the bottom of the stairs. From the sidewalk, about 10 feet to the left and to the right of the stairs, are entrances to ramps going down into the patio.
(See notes above about the stairs, intersections, curb ramps and alignment, and traffic signals)
- Get off the bus and turn right to walk along the circle going south on First Street, SW.
- When you reach the corner of the wide driveway into the Capital grounds, cross the driveway to continue walking along First Street. Alignment may be tricky since there is only one curb ramp and it faces directly across First Street (you must align parallel to First Street to cross the driveway). If you are facing down the slope of the ramp, your crosswalk is about 70 degrees to your left.
The driveway is extremely wide since it is not perpendicular (it angles about 45 degrees forward to the left) -- it's the equivalent of about 5 lanes wide. It is blocked off with limited access to vehicles. The sidewalk on the other side of the driveway is lined with short poles, and there is no curb ramp near the corner (it's inside the driveway, almost at the blockade).
- After crossing the driveway, walk about a half block to Independence Avenue, a busy 4-lane street with a traffic signal. There will probably be no parallel traffic along First Street during the green signal because the traffic beside you is one way coming from Independence Avenue and on the other side of Independence, the traffic on First Street is blocked.
- After crossing Independence Avenue, turn left and walk east along Independence Avenue, going uphill. The Rayburn Building is on the right, with the entrance in the middle of the block (go up the stairs to a patio, then walk straight ahead to more stairs going up to the doors). Since the sidewalk goes uphill, there are more stairs when you first reach the steps than at the far end (that is, the first stair is only a few feet across, the second stair extends longer before the sidewalk rises to meet it, etc.). The accessible entrance is on South Capitol Street (on the other side of Rayburn).
- To reach the other House buildings, walk past the Rayburn Building and cross South Capitol Street. South Capital Street is 3 lanes wide and has a traffic signal. It is blocked off with limited access and the middle lane is filled with a large round concrete planter near the crosswalk.
- After you cross South Capitol Street, you continue walking uphill along the front of the Longworth Building. The entrance is near the far end of the building, with stairs going up to a patio. When you reach the patio, you want to walk straight ahead to the second set of stairs, but you may have to walk around the railing of a ramp that leads up to the top of the stairs. The doors are at the top of the second set of stairs. The accessible entrance is around the corner, on New Jersey Avenue.
- To reach the Cannon Building, walk past Longworth to New Jersey Avenue and cross it.
New Jersey is the same as South Capitol Street - it has a signal, it's blocked to most traffic, and it's 3 lanes wide with a planter in the middle
(NOTE: be aware that the corners are not directly opposite each other - when returning, you'll have to align facing slightly away from Independence Avenue).
- After crossing New Jersey, the Cannon Building is on the right. There are 3 entrances along Independence Avenue -- one at the corner of the building at New Jersey, the second is a short distance further on Independence Avenue, and the third is on Independence near the end of the building. All three entrances have tiered stairs leading up to a patio. When you reach the patio, walk straight ahead to another set of tiered stairs leading up to the door. The accessible entrance is on New Jersey Avenue.
From the bus stops:
First Street runs along the Capitol Building grounds, which consists of large, grassy lawns. Where the bus stops, the sidewalk is in the shape of a semicircle bordered by a stone wall; you can enter the Capitol grounds through an opening in that wall which is in the middle of semicircle. The opening has a row of short posts that you must walk between, then go up 4 steps up to a sidewalk flanked by short walls -- look on the right or left for an opening where the sidewalk extends into the grass.
From the House buildings:
From the Senate buildings:
- The entire front of the Rayburn Building has large areas of grass, trees and bushes between the sidewalk and the building. If you move about 20 feet in either direction from the bottom of the stairs, you'll find large areas of grass with no bushes or trees.
- The front of the Longworth Building has a narrow area of bushes and mulched areas between the sidewalk and the building, with no grass.
- The Cannon Building has no grass at the sidewalk level - rather, it has a wall which is as high as 5 feet in places, with a large grassy area on top. That grassy area can be reached from the patios, as explained below.
The Cannon Building has a stairway diagonally at the corner of Independence and New Jersey avenues, and two stairways facing Independence Avenue. If you go up any staircase, you'll find yourself on a patio. The corner stairway and the first stairway facing Independence Avenue share one patio, and the second stairway facing Independence has another patio. The grassy area is between the two patios. Once you're on one of the patios, turn 90 degrees toward the other patio and find the opening to enter the large, wide grassy area that extends from the building to the stone wall overlooking the sidewalk. The wall is about 18 inches wide - if you step off the grass onto a stone surface, be aware it might be the top of the wall, with a 3-5-foot drop onto the sidewalk.
Return to Resume
- The two blocks along Constitution Avenue between First Street, NW and Delaware Avenue each have a park, with lots of grass to the right and left of the sidewalk.
- On both blocks which have the Senate buildings, the sidewalk has a row of 5 small trees each planted in an area about 6 feet by 8 feet covered with short decorative grasses (these are actually short plants that bloom in the spring, with thick clusters of grass-like leaves that are still green and about 6 inches high). These rows of trees are near the street, between entrances (that is, they are between the two entrances into the Russell Building, and on the next block they are between the Dirkson entrance and the Hart entrance). To find them, walk out one of the entrances to the street, turn and walk toward the other entrance.
- In the Dirkson / Hart block, there is a narrow strip of mulched area along the front of the building, with flowers, bushes and trees. There is no grass and not much space that isn't covered with plants of some kind.
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