HSEMA rule prevents K Street Feet in the Street
DDOT will not be holding a Feet in the Street walking and cycling event on K Street because DC's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency won't allow a special event with any cross traffic.
Cities around the world, from Bogotá to Paris, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Baltimore, Miami, Portland, Chicago, Kansas City and Las Cruces, New Mexico, have held similar events, variously called Ciclovia, Summer Streets, Sunday Streets, Sunday Parkways, and more.
All involve closing a lengthy segment of a street to traffic, except at major intersections, for walkers, runners, rollerbladers, cyclists and more to enjoy the outdoors, get exercise, and have fun in a way that's often not possible in cities where most public space is dedicated to motor vehicles most of the time. Often "stations" along the way provide exercise classes, bicycle seminars, health information, and more.
Last year, DDOT tried one in Fort Dupont Park to great acclaim from surrounding neighborhoods, but the true spirit of the event involves closing a street through numerous neighborhoods as opposed to using a park drive. In April, DDOT decided to try hosting the event on K Street from 7th Street to Georgetown and the Capital Crescent Trail. 7th, 14th and 17th Streets would have remained open so that cars, trucks and buses could travel between the areas north and south of the route, and the route would have run under Washington Circle allowing traffic to cross there as well.
Unfortunately, they ran into a virtual concrete bollard in the form of DC's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA). According to DDOT's Anna McLaughlin, HSEMA does not allow any areas open to traffic inside an area closed off for a special event, and DDOT did not want to create an enormous barrier across the entire city. MPD and FEMS, which participate in planning for special events through a special task force, were unwilling to budge. It's not clear if this is an official written policy or just general practice at the agency.
This policy makes no sense. This has been done in exactly this way in cities everywhere. Even Arlington allowed cross traffic at some signalized intersections for Bike DC. We have trails which act as roads closed to motor vehicles, but which periodically cross regular streets with (or sometimes without) traffic signals.
Pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles interact all the time at intersections every day. We even have special electrical light-based devices at the corners to guide the orderly interaction of traffic in the various directions. If it were really dangerous for cars to take turns with pedestrians, then every intersection in the city would require concrete barriers walling off the sidewalks from the roads and skybridges or tunnels to cross. It's crazy.
Sure, complete separation greatly reduces the possibility of anything happening. Some have speculated that this rule stems from an incident a few years ago where a driver on drugs drove through a barrier into a special event and killed people. However, it's not possible to completely reduce every risk. Bicycling down a street with no cars and only two signalized intersections with cross traffic is surely safer than bicycling down a regular street with cars and cross traffic at every intersection, and people do that every day, almost always safely.Park(ing) Day, which turns parking spaces into temporary parks for a few hours. In other cities, organizers have done this simply by placing some temporary turf and a bench on a parking space, often with permission. Here, DDOT public space officials wanted concrete barriers on all three sides, barrels and flags at the corners, 2-foot empty spaces inside the barriers, 22-foot clear zones on either side along the curbs.
In other words, to separate people sitting in the park from cars, they required enormous barricades and empty spaces, even though people come far nearer cars every day when sitting at a bus stop and have no such protections. But these security decisions aren't about reason, they're about the approving official eliminating every possible risk no matter how ridiculous and regardless of everyday practice.
If HSEMA, MPD, and FEMS hold firm to this rule, there can't ever be a Summer Streets outside a park. They should try visiting another city to see how workable this really is, or perhaps just try visiting a street corner to see that those work as well. Meanwhile, DDOT will again hold this year's Summer Streets in Fort Dupont.
- Community stories show the shift to a walkable lifestyle
- Young kids try to assault me while biking
- Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?
- Some are pushing to limit sidewalk cycling
- Metro bag searches aren't always optional
- Endless zoning update delay hurts homeowners
- Where is downtown Prince George's County?