Greater Greater Washington

Too many construction sites close sidewalks without walkway

A DDOT policy requires construction sites to maintain a walkway for pedestrians. But at numerous sites around the city, this doesn't happen. Many construction sites inconvenience and endanger pedestrians, while site developers use former sidewalks as staging areas.


All photos by the author.

DDOT's Pedestrian Safety and Work Zone Standards Order from 2007 states: "Traffic control plans should replicate the existing pedestrian pathway as nearly as practical and that the pedestrian pathway should not be severed or moved for non-construction activities such as parking for vehicles or the storage of materials or equipment."

However, numerous construction sites are not following this policy, and DDOT could do more to enforce it.


Left: A woman and her kids walk in 9th St NW.
Right: People walk in the street at H & 11th Streets.

In the heart of downtown, the CityCenter site has been under construction for over a year. Construction has taken over the sidewalk around more than ¾ of the site, yet only the northern section has any temporary walkway.

On any given day, pedestrians walk along the construction fencing on 9th, 11th, and H Streets, in traffic because they don't want to deal with the hassle and delay of sometimes 4 additional crosswalks to get to their destinations.

Throughout the site excavation, the developer closed all the sidewalks. This happened despite DDOT's policy stating that an open or covered walkway should be provided on the sidewalk if possible, or otherwise in the roadway. Once frame construction begins, which happened recently, the preference then is a covered walkway in the roadway.

At the construction site of the Convention Center hotel a few blocks north, at 9th and Massachusetts NW, the sidewalks there have also been closed for months throughout multiple stages of construction.


On Bladensburg Rd, pedestrians walk in narrow a median because the sidewalk is closed.

The problem is not unique to Northwest. In Northeast, on Bladensburg Road near the "starburst" intersection, the sidewalk is closed for an entire block on the north side, where a new condo development is rising. In Southeast, in the Navy Yard area, sidewalks are closed at 4th Street by the upcoming Boilermaker Shops, and on various blocks around the last phase of EYA's Capitol Quarter townhome development.


Left: Next to the Boilermaker Shops on 4th St SE.
Right: Sidewalks closed for Capitol Quarter construction on L St SE.

In some cases, upon receiving complaints, DDOT has inspected sites like these and then ordered the developer to provide a walkway. This is good, but pedestrian accommodation should not be reactionary. It needs to be a priority in the traffic management and permitting process.

Where sidewalk space is tight, DDOT should show leadership and use road space to create temporary walkways. Pedestrians should not have to bear the sole inconvenience of the construction. Sometimes it means closing a lane of traffic to move the sidewalk (and bike lane where necessary) out from their original location.

Find somewhere else to put the haybales and stop signs.

Stronger policies and enforcement will encourage developers to use their available space to its maximum extent, instead of leaving tools and junk lying around like the picture to the right. If they are forced to get permits for walkways in the roadway, this will also encourage them to bring construction activities back within the parcel envelope as quickly as possible, to the benefit of everyone.

On the northeast corner of the CityCenter site, the developer has managed to preserve close to 100 public parking spaces. In light of this, saying that the sidewalks have to be closed because of space constraints is simply insulting.

Some may say that the inconvenience people on foot face by having to cross the street is minor, and doesn't merit burdening construction planners with stricter requirements and additional safety measures, or potentially inconveniencing drivers by closing a lane of traffic. Yet we impose all kinds of other, more onerous restrictions on developers for far more capricious reasons.

Closing a sidewalk on one side of the street inconveniences pedestrians in the same way that closing a two-way street to one entire direction of traffic would drivers. If I am walking 4 blocks along one side of the street, and the sidewalk is closed for one of them, I have to cross at least two additional times, assuming there are no mid-block alleys, and the intersections are all simple 4-way intersections. This means waiting at least two additional light cycles and walking out of my way.

Many pedestrians choose not to endure the inconvenience, and instead endanger themselves and others by walking in the street rather than crossing.

Only in the rarest of cases are motorists asked to endure months-long closures like this. Why, then do DC's pedestrians have to deal with this every day?

As DC's urban population grows and development activity picks up again, it may be time to revisit the pedestrian accommodation policy. In the meantime, DDOT needs to better use the policy it has in place to keep pedestrians safe.

Where else in the city have builders been allowed to close sidewalks? Post them in the comments.

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Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 

Comments

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Agreed agreed, a thousand times over! The City Center site is most galling to me, right in the heart of downtown.

by MrTinDC on Apr 12, 2012 11:54 am • linkreport

I believe the NE corner of the old convention center site is actually owned by someone else and is not part of the City Center development. The city exchanged that parcel with one that they needed for the Marriott Hotel construction a few blocks north.

by inlogan on Apr 12, 2012 11:59 am • linkreport

The north side of East Capitol NE between 1st and 2nd. Pedestrians, joggers, tour groups, etc. use the bike lane as a de-facto sidewalk, which causes another whole set of issues.

by Rob P on Apr 12, 2012 12:04 pm • linkreport

This is not really a pedestrian vs driver issue, in fact, this has been going on for as long as I can remember in DC and it was just as unacceptable then as it is now. In fact, this actually interferes with driving as well as it often forces pedestrians onto the street.

For whatever reason, there are certain types of enforcement that the DC govt simply does not do very well. This is one. Cabs are another, commercial vehicles another. We could all probably add a few more to the list (fishing licenses my father always reminds me when he visits).

by dcdriver on Apr 12, 2012 12:04 pm • linkreport

I walked on H street near the City Center site and had to cross 5, yes 5, additional crosswalks (involving waiting at a street corner for a light to change) when a simple walkway on the north side of H street would have avoided that.

by hwywhiz on Apr 12, 2012 12:14 pm • linkreport

Though it is a different regulatory ageny of course, the Wisconsin Ave office buildings under construction just north of the Bethesda Metro also have been blocking the sidewalk for forever.

by Cassidy on Apr 12, 2012 12:23 pm • linkreport

This is a huge problem at RI Ave and 17th St.

by EN on Apr 12, 2012 12:24 pm • linkreport

Fully agreed.

I don't like closing traffic lanes either; does anyone know if DDOT asks for a "Traffic Impact statement" or other mitigation? I am dealing with this on 20th (former Verizon building).

On a related note, who pays for repairing streets aftter 5000 trucks have gone over it?

by charlie on Apr 12, 2012 12:24 pm • linkreport

The only pedestrian-friendly crossing going north from Olde Galleria to Nouveau Galleria in Tysons was shut down earlier this year due to construction:

http://g.co/maps/7pbn8

Now pedestrians are forced to walk on an exit ramp, against traffic, on a blind curb.

A few weeks ago, I stopped by a couple of foreman looking guys, and asked them when they thought the crossing would be back up, and they both laughed and said, "Hey buddy! Your guess is as good as mine! Not any time soon, though!"

by oboe on Apr 12, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

This is not a question of new regulation, or stricter regulation. This is a simple matter of enforcement of existing rules. Train three cops in the rules, give them a map of construction sites and a ticket book and of we go.

by Jasper on Apr 12, 2012 12:33 pm • linkreport

There is a God if Oboe is being forced to work out in Tysons. I just hope he bikes out there.

by charlie on Apr 12, 2012 12:40 pm • linkreport

Only in the rarest of cases are motorists asked to endure months-long closures like this. Why, then do DC's pedestrians have to deal with this every day?

That's a bit of hyperbole. Motorists are forced every day to deal with road closures, detours, obstructions, traffic from construction, etc. I don't own a car and even I know that.

Reality is that these projects you mentioned are all progressive, mixed-use sites that will ultimately provide huge benefit for pedestrians and other non-motorists in ways this city hasn't seen in many decades. Better enforcement would be optimal, but in most cases, pedestrians are giving up relatively little (an extra few seconds or minutes to their journey) in order to get a lot in return. And the city has to strike that balance of responsible enforcement and accomodation versus overburdening private businesses.

Re: photos. They can be pretty easily deconstructed.

On Bladensburg Rd, did the photographer stop and ask these people why they were walking in a median? Who's to say these people would not normally walk on medians regardless of whether construction is present? And why could they not simply walk an extra 25 feet to the other side of the street?

On 14th street NW, the woman is walking through former parking converted to a no-parking tow zone (an inconvenience to motorists, which the author conveniently ommitted) which is very unlikely to be a path for motorists. She is also buffered from the traffic on 14th street by the bike lane. At a glance, the risk to her personal safety seems very minor...and she doesn't appear too concerned, what with her iPod earbuds still in as she walks into the road. I wasn't there to ask her whether she felt safe... But the photographer was.

by Scoot on Apr 12, 2012 12:57 pm • linkreport

That's a bit of hyperbole. Motorists are forced every day to deal with road closures, detours, obstructions, traffic from construction, etc. I don't own a car and even I know that.

Not to mention that in many cases the sidewalk detour is built into the roadway, taking away either parking or a driving lane (or both).

I'm not saying that's wrong, and I agree with the problem identified in the article and that better enforcement should occur, but both drivers and pedestrians are impacted by construction and the goal should be to minimize the burdens on both and improve the safety for both.

by ah on Apr 12, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

@charlie,

There is a God if Oboe is being forced to work out in Tysons. I just hope he bikes out there.

It keeps me focused on what's important.

And the biking's gotten a lot easier now that it's not pitch black and about 30 degrees when I roll out.

by oboe on Apr 12, 2012 1:04 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

"Traffic control plans should replicate the existing pedestrian pathway as nearly as practical"

The language is right there. It isn't a hard rule. When the situation allows and it makes the most sense in terms of coordination and safety, DDOT will do what they can, but they can exercise judgement in the case.

I am not a very big DDOT fan, but this just screams "first world problem.

For example, at City Center, you have a sheer 70 foot drop at the public space line. To have kept that sidewalk supported so that it didn't fall into the hole and used by the public would have required increased shoring, and pinning costing in the million dollar range, all for a 24 month barely used sidewalk.

"Oh, then they should definitely be closing streets to cars and putting sidewalks in the street then!!"

Yeah, cause it makes sense to take lanes out of a congested street in the heart of downtown that carries ~16000 cars a day.

I mean, jeez...the City Center project is literally the poster child for all the urbanist ideals this blog is built around, literally turning a massive parking lot into a 800 million dollar urbanist paradise, and all it requires is the relative handful of people who used that sidewalk on a daily basis to spend an extra 30 seconds to walk on the other side of the street for 18-24 months.

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by reg on Apr 12, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

aflutter about something they clearly have zero knowledge or experience with... spend an extra 30 seconds to walk on the other side of the street

The writer has "zero knowledge or experience" with crossing the street at a traffic signal in this area. Waiting through two light cycles, plus two crossings of the street, adds several minutes to your trip.

by Ben Ross on Apr 12, 2012 1:23 pm • linkreport

They just closed the sidewalk on 14th St. NW just south of U St. NW, as part of demo/construction of the "Louis at 14th" development. They have the parking lanes blocked off, but as far as I can tell they aren't even using that space for anything. So it really ought to be a pedestrian walkway, just like the construction site a block to the south.

by Tom on Apr 12, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by selxic on Apr 12, 2012 1:44 pm • linkreport

So, does anybody know who at DDOT or elsewhere we can report these various sites to and request enforcement of existing regulations?

by MrTinDC on Apr 12, 2012 1:53 pm • linkreport

Though I generally agree with the thrust of your post, I wonder about City Center being a somewhat special case because of all the cement truck traffic. Most construction sites don't have a giant pit 5 feet from the sidewalk, so cement trucks, and giant cranes, can operate on the land itself. But because of the pit at City Center, and the constant number of cement deliveries on all sides, it may not be practical or safe to have pedestrians on that side of the street. Just a consideration to make before we go indicting DDOT for failing to enforce the rules.

by D on Apr 12, 2012 1:55 pm • linkreport

Quincy Street in Ballston - for quite a while one side has been closed down for Founders' Square construction. And then a couple of weeks ago the other side was ALSO closed down during removal of the slip lane to turn from Quincy onto Wilson. BOTH SIDES shut down, each with signs directing pedestrians to the other side. Paradox.

by JG on Apr 12, 2012 2:02 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] We all agree that ideally DDOT should enforce this more and that pedestrian pathways should be replaced, but the disagreements are over if DDOT is enforcing policy or not. They simply may not take issue with some of these locations because alternatives aren't deemed practical. Instead of solely arguing sides, we, the collective GGW (posters and commenters included), could have an open discussion to attempt to come to some sort of consensus that can be acted upon and applied within DC to make navigating streets and sidewalks during construction easier.

by selxic on Apr 12, 2012 2:23 pm • linkreport

The whole of adams morgan was blocked on one side or the other during the construction there. And if you are disabled in any way or have children in a stroller or luggage or any thing like that, the closure is that much more onerous. During the Adams Morgan closures, they would often close the sidewalk mid block and not provide for a safe crossing. So while out with my children in a stroller, I'd have to walk back the half block or more, then cross the street. Often times since the construction was in the street the crosswalks weren't very passable with a stroller and little children in tow. And often times we'd have to cross back and forth several times since construction would block one or both sides at the same or alternating times. Why can't all construction sites have covered walkways like they do in New York?

by John on Apr 12, 2012 3:16 pm • linkreport

The whole of adams morgan was blocked on one side or the other during the construction there....Why can't all construction sites have covered walkways like they do in New York?

Wow, hard to believe what I am reading here? The construction in Adams Morgan was to replace the sidewalks! And when finished, the project will result in much wider, smoother, prettier, safer sidewalks.

If anything, motorists bore the brunt of this Adams Morgan project because almost all the construction equipment and barriers were in the road.

by Scoot on Apr 12, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

Want to know why these issues aren't enforced? Because money talks and bs walks - literally in this case in the middle of the street.

DCRA is a corrupt cesspool. The developers are simply paying off the inspectors and any ciations magically disappear. DCRA has no problem citing small-fry consignment stores for not having proper "pawn shop" licensing, but it will never go after big developers, particularly when they're in bed with the city like the City Center project.

It's a major hassle, safety hazard, and an injustice for the people who pay for and use the sidewalks - DC residents. NYC handles much bigger and much more complex construction with very little sidewalk disruption, so there's really no excuse.

by Annonny on Apr 12, 2012 3:56 pm • linkreport

Here's a suggestion: Give the Parking Enforcement guys the ability to ticket and fine contractors for illegaly blocking a sidewalk, just like they'd ticket a car for parking in a travel lane.

They're already walking and driving around in the same areas, aren't distracted by solving "real" crimes, and it stands to reason that a blocked sidewalk deserves as much attention as a blocked road.

by andrew on Apr 12, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

The 300 block of 3rd St SW, which has a ton of pedestrian traffic between the Federal Center SW Metrorail station and the surrounding office buildings and the Mall / Botanic Garden / museums has been closed on the west side for months and months.

What worse is that the latest construction there and in the next block has basically reduced it to a 2 lane road with no parking on either side, yet they still haven't extended a walkway on the west side of the street, despite there being plenty of space to do so now. (Sorry for the bad explanation, someone else who knows the area should try to describe it better!)

by Kelly on Apr 12, 2012 6:06 pm • linkreport

The new Buzzuto / Abdo project "Monroe Street Market" at Michigan Ave and 7th Street NE blocks off tons of pedestrian sidewalks, and destroyed two bike lanes; the areas where the sidewalks have been cut off are not being used for ANYTHING, just empty space.

Because of this construction / sidewalk removal, they moved a bus stop from well-lit 7th Street NE to industrial, not-as-well-lit 8th Street, which is inconvenient.

To whom should we speak about having DDOE come around and address this?

by Stella on Apr 13, 2012 8:53 am • linkreport

While the old convention center site is a PITA on my daily walk, it's not the worst thing in the world. The sidewalk is open on the north side of the construction site, and to be honest crossing over to south side of H Street really isn't so bad because the lights are still set to their old "convention center pedestrian" patterns.

I think the situation overall has improved in the past 10-15 years. Remember 15 years ago when EVERY street and sidewalk was torn up by the telco's to run fiber optics? Remember 8 or 10 years ago when both sides of Mass Ave were unavailable to pedestrians on nearly each and every block? Remember 4-8 years ago when every world bank or presidential inauguration pretty much shut down every sidewalk in downtown and forced pedestrians to walk in the street without ANY protective barriers? We're doing pretty much OK today.

by BO on Apr 13, 2012 8:58 am • linkreport

The comment about DCRA inspectors is very true. They have enough money to hire multiple bag fee violaters inspectors, but can't find a way to check for sidewalks.

Arlington is just as bad. The nightmare that is the Rosslyn Metro bus stop continues another year.

by charlie on Apr 13, 2012 9:33 am • linkreport

The construction site for the National Museum of American American History and Culuture on 14th & Constiution Ave, NW took away the west sidewalk (where a slug line use to form). I'm thinking that construction site does not count, because it on federal property? Should or can the Feds be held to the DDOT's Pedestrian Safety and Work Zone Standards?

The moment a pedestrian gets killed circumventing a closed sidewalk by walking in the street, maybe then the powers that be will take notice. Until then one is taking their life in their hands.

Curious, because there is a sign that reads "Sidewalk closed, use other side of street" Is the sign there because DDOT gave permission for the sign" or the contractor did it because of lack enforcement?

by dcdotcom on Apr 13, 2012 11:10 am • linkreport

Agree that City Center is a pain, but there's not a lot they can do based on the need to have concrete trucks delivering on the perimeter of the site. They have fixed a couple of issues like the huge Clark Construction sign that was put up right in front of a pedestrian signal. I would like to know if they're paying a fee for the use of public space though. It seems like a robust fee structure could bring in some revenue and put an incentive on contractors to be more accommodating.

by Maryland Ave on Apr 13, 2012 11:15 am • linkreport

@Maryland Ave ; exactly. This is a classic externality problem.

by charlie on Apr 13, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

@Scoot

Better enforcement would be optimal, but in most cases, pedestrians are giving up relatively little (an extra few seconds or minutes to their journey) in order to get a lot in return. And the city has to strike that balance of responsible enforcement and accomodation versus overburdening private businesses.

As Ben points out it can be a couple of minutes. Most people are willing to walk about 20 minutes to get someplace before they go for another method. So this cuts that distance by 10%. And if one is elderly or disabled it gets even worse. A driving delay of two minutes is not the same as being made to walk for two extra minutes - especially if you're old or it's raining or it's hot or it's cold...

Who's to say these people would not normally walk on medians regardless of whether construction is present?

I bike this road every day, and before construction I saw people almost exclusively on the sidewalk.

And why could they not simply walk an extra 25 feet to the other side of the street?

They could, but it's an inconvenience. Just as you could pay higher taxes, but you'd rather not.

If anything, motorists bore the brunt of this Adams Morgan project because almost all the construction equipment and barriers were in the road.

No, not really.

by David C on Apr 13, 2012 3:49 pm • linkreport

You should watch to see what happens if CSX is successful in tearing up Virginia Ave. to widen and deepen the Va. Ave. Tunnel. Traffic, pedestrian walkways, safety and security of the fastest growing area of the city are threatened by this proposed activity. Follow the story - there may be a great story for you here.

by Anne on Apr 15, 2012 5:22 pm • linkreport

@oboe "And the biking's gotten a lot easier now that it's not pitch black and about 30 degrees when I roll out."

wimp.

by Jack Love on Apr 16, 2012 10:08 am • linkreport

The situation on 14th Street could get much worse, as the Louis is built on the west side (as shown) and the new building at 14th & Wallach begins demolition & construction on the east side. Depending on how the east side is handled, there could be no accommodation of pedestrians. (There is a good example of how it can be done at the Studio Theater building on 14th - a well-built covered walkway.)

by Anon20009 on Apr 16, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

There is another construction site blocking the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk at Kalorama, between Dupont Circle and Woodley park. Pedestrians walking north are forced to cross Connecticut at a crosswalk without a light, across four lanes of traffic with cars going well over the speed limit of 30. No one is willing to stop for pedestrians at this crosswalk but the construction makes it the only option!

by FDS on Apr 20, 2012 11:28 am • linkreport

It's really a shame that DDOT never replied to this here in the comments. The outreach would have been worthwhile.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Apr 22, 2012 7:56 pm • linkreport

Huzzah! Was just about to post this. It's an insult to the citizens and visitors to the District of Columbia that the city can't even enforce their anemic legislation on one of the largest, most high profile, and most lucrative building projects in the history of the city.

CityCenterDC is an $850 million development. The developers can damn well figure out a way to accommodate pedestrian access if they're actually required to do so. If they can build an 80-story skyscraper in New York City while keeping the sidewalk open, they can figure out a way to build in DC.

A real embarrassment to the city.

by Adam F on May 2, 2012 7:55 pm • linkreport

In Van Ness, the east side of Connecticut has been closed by BF Saul construction between Yuma and Windom for 6 months. AND the metro entrance on the east side has been closed. Pedestrians headed to the metro from the east side of Connecticut must cross at Albemarle, where rush hour drivers are turning left or right from either side of Albemarle heading downtown, and drivers are speeding into the Burger King, or blocking the sidewalk for the car wash. It's a huge safety problem and the city and our elected reps are doing absolutely nothing.

by Marchesa on Mar 17, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

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