Greater Greater Washington

Bring back Cleveland Park's historic wide sidewalks

DC is beginning a study of the roads, sidewalks, and travel patterns along Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park. Some neighbors hope to take this opportunity to restore the original, wide sidewalks in the commercial strip which were torn up and turned into a parking lot in 1962.


The original sidewalk, shown here in 1949, was destroyed a few years later to create the "service lane" that we still have today. Image from the Historical Society of Washington, DC.

Cleveland Park's sidewalks gave way to parking lots

Just over 50 years ago, Cleveland Park's "main street" along Connecticut Avenue had broad, graceful sidewalks on both sides lined with grocery stores, hairdressers, confectioners, and drugstores. But the whole country was redesigning its built environment to make it easier for people to get around in automobiles.

Cleveland Park, home to one of the country's earliest strip malls, the "Park and Shop," was no exception. The streetcar closed, and the neighborhood became increasingly car-dependent.

The neighborhood was more successful than some in resisting the onslaught of asphalt: In the early 1960s, citizens successfully fought off plans to run a freeway down Reno Road.

But in 1962, a local merchant on the east side of Connecticut persuaded the city to replace the sidewalk in front of his liquor store with a parking lot. It reduced the sidewalk to 4 feet and turned the rest into 20-odd parking spots and an access lane. On the Uptown Theater side, the original graceful sidewalk is still in place, but across the street, the infamous "service lane" remains one of DC's strangest traffic configurations.

Residents want their sidewalks back

There have long been calls within the neighborhood to restore the sidewalk to its original state. Neighbors point out that the service lane configuration is unsafe and unpleasant for pedestrians. The sidewalk isn't even wide enough for two wheelchairs, or two strollers, to pass each other. Families walking to the Zoo are forced into the service lane, where cars often speed through to catch the green light at the end.

This video from the Washington City Paper shows the difficulty of walking along the sidewalk:

A restored sidewalk would be just as appealing as the ones across the street, which are pleasant and accommodating, with park benches, tree boxes, bike racks, sidewalk cafés, and plenty of space for people to walk.

In 2010, volunteers formed Connecticut Avenue Pedestrian Action (CAPA) to audit pedestrian safety in the area. Councilmember Mary Cheh allocated $1.5 million for streetscape improvements, and CAPA held a community forum to gather input from citizens on their vision for the corridor. One of their recommendations was to use part of the streetscape money to study alternatives for the service lane.

Meanwhile, over 700 people signed a petition to "Restore the Connecticut Avenue Boulevard." A poll held on the Cleveland Park listserv came out 2-to-1 in favor of closing the service lane and restoring the sidewalk. But realistically, the city couldn't do anything until the proposed transportation and parking study took place.

Three years later, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has finally launched the study. Led by landscape design and urban planning firm Rhodeside & Harwell, it will create a blueprint for transportation planning along this stretch of Connecticut Avenue for years to come.

We don't know what the study will propose. In an ideal world we could have the sidewalk and the parking spaces too. While there are some potential alternatives, as a practical matter, the only realistic options are to leave the space as it is today, or to simply restore the sidewalk to the way it was originally designed and built.

We have a choice

If you were in Cleveland Park in June, you might have noticed yellow-vested workers standing around, intently watching an intersection or a sidewalk, with a high-tech counting machine in hand. Or someone with a clipboard might have approached you to ask about your transportation, shopping, and dining habits.

These researchers are collecting data on how people use Connecticut Avenue. Do they walk or bike? Take Metro? Drive? If they drive, do they park in the paid lot, in the metered spots, or in the neighborhood? How many different establishments will they visit? What would make them more likely to come?

Once the people in the fluorescent vests have finished their counting and the urban landscape designers have drawn their diagrams, we will still have to decide what kind of future we want for Cleveland Park. Do we want our "Main Street" to be the kind of place where people drive up, run an errand, and drive away? Or do we want it to be a place where people actually want to be?

There are plenty of examples of the drive-and-go model. But there are also beautiful urban spaces where people come and linger because the space is lovely and appealing and interesting and accommodating to human beings. We have an opportunity now to restore this vital piece of the Connecticut Avenue boulevard to its original state. Let's not let it slip away.

The consulting team will host a series of three public workshops where they will discuss the objectives of the study and seek input from citizens. The first will be Wednesday, July 17th, 6:30 pm at the 2nd District Police Station, 3320 Idaho Avenue NW. If you want to have a voice in the future of this commercial corridor, please attend and speak up!

You can also sign this petition to ask our elected representatives to restore the sidewalk to its historic state.

Herb Caudill lives in Cleveland Park with his wife, Lynne, and two young boys. He has lived in DC since 1995; he taught math as a Peace Corps volunteer in West and Central Africa, and currently runs DevResults, a web-based mapping and data management tool for foreign aid projects.  

Comments

Add a comment »

This ones a no brainer. Start here and I'll gladly direct DDOT to several other places in the city to get started.

by drumz on Jul 16, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

I'm glad that you raised this. I immediately thought of this when I saw the article in The Current. Speaking of which, you need to write a similar piece for The Current. Talk to Chris Kain about it... (I have one or two pieces a year in their publications on average.)

by Richard Layman on Jul 16, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

Residents in many other parts of the city are waxing hysterical about an insufficiency -- current or future -- of parking for cars. The brouhaha has been such that OP is taking a dive on changes it had proposed for parking minimums in new developments.

If a majority of people in Cleveland Park have indeed concluded the quality of their lives would be improved by reducing car amenities on that part of Connecticut and greatly increasing human amenities, I fervently hope they prevail.

by Fearing Dystopia on Jul 16, 2013 2:20 pm • linkreport

Eliminate the parking spaces, but the area needs some kind of parking options.

I use transit most every day, but I live on the opposite side of Rock Creek Park, just off of Piney Branch. Transit options to get me to Cleveland Park are just not reasonable, compared to the minutes-long car ride across the Park.

I would like it if there was a lot just off that commercial strip that could accommodate a reasonable amount of traffic. The lot on Conn. just is too small for that purpose.

Maybe convert the open area next to (4Ps or whatever it is now) into a full-size garage?

by andy on Jul 16, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport

It would be interesting to see which businesses close first. That stretch is the most dynamic part of CP precisely because of the configuration, while across the street is kind of dead. Never thought it was a problem or a hazard before but I guess it is.

by Bob See on Jul 16, 2013 2:25 pm • linkreport

Thank goodness DDOT is studying this.

I lived in Cleveland Park for a few years and have lived a few blocks to the north for several. As a young adult user, I found that narrow sidewalk annoying, but generally worth it. As a parent, I find it terrifying. I used to visit the shops and restaurants on that side of the street at least twice a week even after I moved. After my young son arrived, I stopped.

I know that some shops on that stretch argue they'll lose business if they lose the parking spaces in the service lane. I wonder if they realize they lose business because of the service lane, too.

by TJ on Jul 16, 2013 2:26 pm • linkreport

I think the sidewalks should be widened but the video seems like a missed opportunity to record interviewing people who were using the sidewalk at the time on whether they think it should be widened.

by Scoot on Jul 16, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

I SUPPORT widening the sidewalks on the east side of Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park. However, there are a few points to be added:

1. The "Cleveland Park" list serv is not a reliable indicator of neighborhood sentiment because about a decade ago it stopped being a list serve for the local area and became the de facto NW DC list serv. The addresses of folks writing into the CP list serv range from Western Ave. to Palisades to Logan Circle east. Nothing wrong with having their opinions, but again, it's a stretch to ascribe them to the immediate neighborhood anymore. (Plus, list serv polls are not scientific in any way.)

2. Although I walk to stores, how to mitigate some parking loss from restoring the sidewalk needs to be considered. A couple of years ago, a Conn. Ave. restaurant was seeking a valet parking permit, despite sitting right next to the Metro, because it said a majority of its customers drive.

3. Another key to Cleveland Park "resisting the onslaught of asphalt" was the formation of the Cleveland Park Historic District. Without it, the neighborhood would have become Van Ness South.

by James on Jul 16, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

Andy I'm not sure what you mean by off Piney Branch since there aren't really houses off that road. If you mean in the Mt. P / Columbia Heights area, that's where I live too and I would definitely suggest trying the H buses. They are pretty good schedule wise and it's a ~5 minute one seat ride to Connecticut from Park St and Mt Pleasant St.

by Alan B. on Jul 16, 2013 3:07 pm • linkreport

Another compromise option is to restore 3/4 of the sidewalk but add a parking lane along Connecticut Avenue to enable parking during rush hour.

by JimT on Jul 16, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

Jim T.'s suggestion is not bad -- unlike today's situation, the spaces on Conn. Ave. would be in a dedicated parking channel that would not vanish at rush hour. The sidewalk would still be significantly wider. Plus, there are a handful of additional parking spaces on Macomb and Ordway streets that could be added when the service lane intersections are closed. If done carefully, the net loss of parking might not be as great as it may seem.

by James on Jul 16, 2013 3:41 pm • linkreport

Transit options to get me to Cleveland Park are just not reasonable, compared to the minutes-long car ride across the Park.

Bikeshare!

by andrew on Jul 16, 2013 3:51 pm • linkreport

That photo has my support - bring back Peoples Drug. Time to break the shackles of the CVS monopoly

by Chris S. on Jul 16, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

@andrew: I live on the other side of Cleveland Park from Andy, but I drive to Petworth along Piney Branch sometimes (it's easier), and biking up the hill on Porter is the last thing I'd want to do before a nice night out on the town. I'd take the bus or deal with parking a car2go instead if I opted not to drive.

by Liz on Jul 16, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

People go out for "a nice night out on the town" in Cleveland Park? Who knew?

by Pokemehantis on Jul 16, 2013 4:27 pm • linkreport

Cleveland Park After Dark
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LYXubqo8jU

by Vas on Jul 16, 2013 4:30 pm • linkreport

Another compromise option is to restore 3/4 of the sidewalk but add a parking lane along Connecticut Avenue to enable parking during rush hour.

That's one of the options. The problem is the existing median has utilities, including vents for Metro. It would be quite a cost to relocate these. The existing trees are probably too big to rip up and move as well, so you lose the mature trees on that section of the street.

by Ron on Jul 16, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

Unfortunately, there aren't any mature tress on the east side of Conn. Ave.. So replanting is not an issue when it comes to reconfiguring the sidewalk and parking.

by James on Jul 16, 2013 4:41 pm • linkreport

Unfortunately, there aren't any mature tress on the east side of Conn. Ave.. So replanting is not an issue when it comes to reconfiguring the sidewalk and parking.

Haha, okay, so I'm not crazy (or as crazy as I thought). When I read this:

The existing trees are probably too big to rip up and move as well, so you lose the mature trees on that section of the street.

... I was worried I'd lost my mind. Was I so grumpy about the sidewalk situation that I've never noticed the trees? In nearly 20 years?

by TJ on Jul 16, 2013 4:48 pm • linkreport

I am with TJ. I used to go to Cleveland Park all the time for routine shopping and decent meals. As a parent of young kids, I too find the service lane dangerous and hard to navigate. Restore the sidewalk, and I will go back to Wake Up Little Suzie, Vace, and Spices.

by William on Jul 16, 2013 4:48 pm • linkreport

"It would be quite a cost ....bThe existing trees are probably too big to rip up and move as well, so you lose the mature trees on that section of the street."

That's not really a concern, when you consider that on the west side of Cleveland Park where they are building Cathedral Commons, a number of very large, mature oak trees are being felled so that they can widen Idaho Ave. by something like 2 feet. It seems that Giant and DDOT screwed up when they thought (and testified) that Idaho would be wide enough for Giant's big rigs and two way traffic. Oops! Not sure who is paying for this costly mistake, but beautiful tree canopy is being lost.

So, in comparison, it shouldn't be a big deal on CP's east side to replace some small, scrub trees on Connecticut Ave. and maybe move some infrastructure, to actually enhance the pedestrian experience.

by Lloyd on Jul 16, 2013 4:49 pm • linkreport

Admittedly, I haven't been up that way in a while. One of the links mentions the trees, as well as some other infrastructure that would have to be relocated.

by Ron on Jul 16, 2013 4:59 pm • linkreport

thanks for the H bus reference. I live off Piney Branch where it drops off onto Arkansas. Getting to H bus isn't that bad, it would seem. Bikeshare - coming up Porter there is punishment and I have a little kid (who loves the bus and train but can't ride a bike yet).

I can't see how the businesses on Conn. could need the parking spaces where the sidewalk would be. They're just so few, frankly, for the amount of businesses there. And that sidewalk really IS too narrow right now.

I still think the commercial strip in Cleveland Park needs to have some significant parking availability. Right now, the area has clearly outstripped it. There have been lines to get into that tiny lot with the CPK/froyo/running store, and once in, no spots on more than one occasion I can recall myself.

Build a garage, charge for it, and get people to factor it in as a cost of getting over there. It would also relieve some parking issues on immediately neighboring residential streets, where visitors often look to park.

by andy on Jul 16, 2013 5:22 pm • linkreport

No problem. Admittedly it would be more of a hike for you but it might work sometimes. I agree that structured parking around those areas makes sense as well at the right scale. At least it is preferable to the current configuration to me.

by Alan B. on Jul 16, 2013 6:07 pm • linkreport

I just rode by there on the bus and as trees go.... I've just confirmed that grumpiness does make one blind.

There are at least half a dozen trees between the service lane and the street. They're rather scrawny until you reach Macomb. The tree boxes get progressively larger too. Surely giving the trees more breathing room would help them thrive and give us more shade.

by TJ on Jul 16, 2013 7:18 pm • linkreport

You could build a large parking structure behind this row and build up with residences another 4-5 stories. Keeping the facades like the Jaleo 5&10 store front did with the apartment building above. Then the new larger sidewalk would have a gracious backdrop.

by Thayer-D on Jul 17, 2013 8:34 am • linkreport

The historic district designation would make it very difficult to add multiple stories on top of the existing storefronts. Behind them is an alley, so there is no room to expand to the back.

by Lloyd on Jul 17, 2013 8:54 am • linkreport

This seems like a no brainer. There's hardly any sidewalk at all there now (and I doubt they're ADA compliant...all for the sake of what, 20 spots?

Remove that lot and you'll also fix the timing issue with the Ordway/CT traffic signal.

Perfect world: The Broadmoor (Condo at NE corner of CT/Porter) sells off a chunk of their lawn for a mixed use development with public parking (like City Vista, et al). Parking fixed. Traffic fixed.

by Michael on Jul 17, 2013 8:55 am • linkreport

@ Lloyd

The trees on Idaho are being felled because those against the project complained about increased traffic, so DDOT agreed to widen the street to create additional traffic lanes.

Not surprisingly, those same folks are now lamenting the loss of those trees.

Welcome to Cleveland Park

by Steve Seelig on Jul 17, 2013 10:19 am • linkreport

@ James

You are correct about the Cleveland Park listserv being as broad as it is. I believe it is the largest in the City.

I suspect if you ask the businesses along that stretch, they would say they could care less where their customers come from. So if the measure is to be the economic viability of those businesses, and those who subscribe to the listserv are more likely to go to Cleveland Park to shop/dine, that really makes the "what the immediate neighbors think" issue moot.

BTW: we live in Chevy Chase and our favorite shop there is the Artisan lamp shop. I am just a customer but would urge readers to visit them for electrical needs. They are one of the few local electrical/lighting stores still left.

by Steve Seelig on Jul 17, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

The trees on the east side of that stretch of Conn Ave are some of the scraggliest, most sorry looking trees I have ever seen. No surprise, given that they are wedged in a concrete berm between the parking an driving lanes.

Look at this especially sorry oak tree:

http://goo.gl/maps/VE9t7

Using trees to argue for the status quo on the east side of Conn Ave is a losing proposition.

by rg on Jul 17, 2013 10:52 am • linkreport

Sad little trees. We need Bob Ross more than ever.

by TJ on Jul 17, 2013 10:56 am • linkreport

In response to the person who mentioned Bikeshare - not everyone has the ability to ride a bike. I think widening the sidwalk on the east side is important for customers as well as businesses. A garage on the corner near 4P is a great idea. In FL, they have 2-3 story garages and they are hidden from view because of a trellis design that has ivy or another vine growing on the street sides - green and attractive.

We don't want a bike lane on CT.

by CD on Jul 17, 2013 11:15 am • linkreport

Since Mr. Seelig lives in Chevy Chase and is therefore perhaps not as familiar with the situation, let me explain. Idaho is not being widened because neighbors complained about the traffic. Motorists and traffic engineers may think the obvious solution to "traffic complaints" is to widen city streets, but that creates induced demand. However, traffic issues raised by those near a large development tend not to focus on LOS, but rather on safety, noise, fumes, quality of life issues.

In any event, Giant wanted to change Idaho from one- to two-way to provide a dedicated route to get their large trucks to the site. When questions were raised at the zoning board about whether the street was wide enough for such increased use, both Giant and DDOT said it was. Much later, they realized it wasn't. Hopefully it is the developer and not us taxpayers who are paying for the mistake and the reconstruction of the road. However, the unhappy result is the unnecessary loss of a mature oak canopy.

by Lloyd on Jul 17, 2013 11:19 am • linkreport

Lloyd,
"The historic district designation would make it very difficult to add multiple stories on top of the existing storefronts. Behind them is an alley, so there is no room to expand to the back." There are many instances where they've added to historic fabric. If one couldn't DC's historic neighborhoods would truly be a museum piece. As for the alley, I was thinking more of going below ground. More to the point, there are so many ways to move forward with a little imagination. This might not work here, but one ought to think outside the box if people want the seemingly irreconcilable elements like density and character.

by Thayer-D on Jul 17, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

We don't want a bike lane on CT.

Unless you're referring to the royal "we," you are incorrect. I've lived on the avenue for 15 years. I'm all about a bike lane.

But since most decisions about CT Avenue are driven by Maryland commuters and not DC commuters, I'm not holding my breath.

by TJ on Jul 17, 2013 2:18 pm • linkreport

Speaking of bringing back the historic wide sidewalks, they should get rid of that incongruous Metro entrance in front of the Park and Shop.

by Chris S. on Jul 17, 2013 7:44 pm • linkreport

Here's the link to DDOT's study of the neighborhood: http://cptransportationstudy.com/

Looks like the city is taking this change very seriously. Next meeting to be held on 9/12 at 6:30 in the Cleveland Park Library. DDOT to reveal re-design concepts. If last night's meeting is any indication, vocal opponents of the change will no doubt be there.

If you want this change to happen, you have to go show your support on 9/12.

by Jimmy on Jul 18, 2013 8:56 am • linkreport

Close the service lane.
Cease the reversible lanes during peak periods.
Add bike lanes.
Add BRT and eventually a streetcar.

by Andrew on Jul 18, 2013 10:36 pm • linkreport

it would be great if we could have Cleveland Park's sidewalks back! really hope so!

by joe on Jul 19, 2013 7:18 am • linkreport

The business community in Cleveland Park need the parking as most arrive at those businesses by car. There are no commercial parking lots in that neighborhood that offer a substitue to the street parking. Planning should be done with every mode of transportation in mind not just pedestrians. Mistakes like those in Glover Park should not be repeated.

by Mary on Jul 20, 2013 7:39 am • linkreport

Remove the service lane and replace with sidewalk and trees. Replace parking with spaces nearby but off of Connecticut.

by DaveG on Jul 23, 2013 9:03 pm • linkreport

@Mary

I don't think so. The businesses in Cleveland Park have parking behind their shops. The metered parking is not intended to house employee vehicles all day. There is plenty of unzoned parking within walking distance of the commercial strip that commuters and employees use every day.

The businesses claim they need the parking for their customer base. Others suggest that the Business Association ought to examine the competitive advantages of the neighborhood to determine the cost-benefit of losing the 25 or whatever spots to sidewalk.

I personally feel that they benefits far outweigh the costs, as others have already noted on this thread.

by William on Jul 23, 2013 9:40 pm • linkreport

@William,

I don't think so. Unlike in Chevy Chase DC, the businesses in Cleveland Park generally do not have much parking behind their shops. The exception is Walgreen's, which has a handful of spaces. There is a small surface lot at the Park n Shop and an even smaller lot across Connecticut by the former 4-Ps. As for unzoned parking, virtually all of the side streets are zoned for RPP, which limits parking to two hours. While commuters from elsewhere in Ward 3 are exempt from RPP (and tie up spaces), any business-related parking on streets has to respect the RPP limitations. And these limitations are likely to become tighter over time, as there are proposals to make the RPP zones smaller, establish some blocks as residents only 24/7 (as in other parts of the city) and extend RPP hours at night and on Saturdays.

I see some benefits to widening the Conn. Ave. sidewalks. But the parking situation shouldn't be ignored and is likely to become more challenging.

by Sarah on Jul 25, 2013 6:05 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or