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Public Spaces

Where could DC make space for pedestrians?

Since the pedestrianization of Broadway, the Times Square Alliance has found that foot traffic in Times Square is up 15%.

The BBC has a great video about counting foot traffic in New York's busiest pedestrian space:

What places in our area would be nicer as pedestrian spaces, either part or full time?

At Thursday's Cities in Focus event at EMBARQ, an audience member asked about pedestrianizing 18th Street in Adams Morgan. DDOT Director Gabe Klein said he has had discussions with Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham about closing 18th Street to cars on the weekends, and the department is continuing to pursue the idea.

Initially skeptical, Graham and 18th Street business owners have apparently shown growing interest. This is not surprising since, much like Times Square little more than 18 months ago, 18th Street has reached a point where it doesn't really work for pedestrians or motorists.

Other places where this might be beneficial, especially on weekends: M Street in Georgetown, as Georgetown Metropolitan wrote, 7th Street downtown, or King Street in Old Town Alexandria. Where else might this work?

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. 


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8th Street SE at Barracks Row could be nice on the weekends. It's usually busy enough, but a nightmare to drive anyways.

by Denny on Oct 3, 2010 12:32 pm • linkreport

We already see this to a small degree at Eastern Market on the weekends. It's only about a block or two, but it's always lively and interesting, owing in part to the vendors of the farmers/flea market. I agree with Denny that 8th Street at Barracks Row is another great opportunity to close off to street traffic. The only issue I see is the fire department located there, but it could be closed off just past the station. Being close to the existing vibrant weekend activity of Eastern Market might make it a no-brainer extension.

by Bryant on Oct 3, 2010 12:48 pm • linkreport

From a student's point of view, H NW between 21 and 22. It's a nightmare driving-wise (not enough two-way) with large student population crossing at random times with poor sight-lines.

by Phil on Oct 3, 2010 1:04 pm • linkreport

This has been mentioned here before, and I'm surprised it didn't make it into the post: 7th St NW by the Verizon Center.

Also, the service lane along Connecticut Ave in Cleveland Park should be closed. The sidewalk is barely wide enough to accommodate two-way single-file foot traffic. The topic is always subject to hot debate. Businesses along that stretch claim they'll lose out if they lose the street parking there. But when I lived in the neighborhood I avoided the businesses on that side of the street because it was such a tight squeeze - not just with the other pedestrians but with the cars passing within a couple of feet of me.

by TJ on Oct 3, 2010 2:08 pm • linkreport

Oops, I see 7th Street did make it into the original post. Well, it bears repeating. :)

by TJ on Oct 3, 2010 2:09 pm • linkreport

they should only allow buses on m street nw in georgetown on the weekends

by Matt on Oct 3, 2010 2:10 pm • linkreport

Would M st really work given that cars would be forced onto all the side streets? Or could K st handle the additional east-west traffic flow?
I strongly support the 18th st and 7th st options.

by grumpy on Oct 3, 2010 2:23 pm • linkreport

On lower King St., if they just eliminated the parking lanes and widened the sidewalks it would help. I like the outdoor cafe restaurant seating, but it doesn't really leave enough room for pedestrians to get by.

by jim on Oct 3, 2010 2:41 pm • linkreport

@ Bryant - I totally forgot about the fire station there. That certainly would make things more complex. The station is on the north end of the stretch and could probably be outside of the pedestrian area, but that certainly changes things.

Somehow combining the Eastern Market's pedestrian area with Barracks Row somehow would be fantastic.

by Denny on Oct 3, 2010 2:59 pm • linkreport

Pedestrian malls in lieu of streets have a long history of failure, at least if the closure is on a permanent basis. Please, weekends only. American cities tried pedestrian streets in the 70s & 80s, and even in dense areas (3rd St Santa Monica, in Dallas, in Houston, in Denver...) they mostly not only failed but made the urban environment worse. Here in DC between I and Mount Vernon Square (8th St NW) is an terrible urban space that could be improved by changing it (back?) to a street. Not only is that block deadly, it numbs the rest of 8th to the Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum. DC is about to compound this error at City Centre too. Odd as it seems traffic helps street life. In the late 90s Santa Monica returned cars, albeit in a gestural manner, to 3rd St. Quickly it became became a vibrant place. Now even the enclosed shopping mall at the south end has removed its roof and joined the street.

NIce video. It brings to mind the William Whyte study of NY street life in the 80s:

by Stan Burgess on Oct 3, 2010 3:47 pm • linkreport

Has anyone taken into account bus routes, police stations, fire stations, one way streets and other obstacles that would work against closing some streets ?

by kk on Oct 3, 2010 3:57 pm • linkreport

@Denny - I think you could probably make 8th a oneway on the weekends. Allowing northbound only would probably solve the fire station problem, plus given that most of that stretch has the barracks on that side it wouldn't be that much of a loss compared to shutting the whole thing down. Still given the parking situation in that area i'm not sure store owners would be excited about it if it meant losing half the parking spots.

by Thaps on Oct 3, 2010 4:03 pm • linkreport

In my neighborhood, Cleveland Park, there's increasing momentum behind the idea of re-pedestrianizing the service lane that runs along the west side of Connecticut between Macomb and Ordway. This space used to be a broad, graceful sidewalk, like the one across the street (in front of Byblos Deli, the Uptown Theater, and the Post Office). At some point most of this space was turned into 25 parking spaces plus a lane for cars to drive on, with a long and narrow (and unwalkable) island separating service lane from Connecticut Avenue. The sidewalk itself was reduced to a harrowing little strip that is often impossibly congested with pedestrians and strollers.

Yesterday for Cleveland Park Day, this space was closed to traffic, and it was lovely. Some in the neighborhood have argued that the merchants along that strip will shrivel up and die for lack of customers without the service lane. The illogic of this argument was on public display yesterday: Without cars, you can fit hundreds of pedestrians into that space. With the metro right there, it doesn't make sense to focus on driving automobile traffic to those merchants, when we could be optimizing the space for pedestrians. And all of the great restaurants on that strip (Bardeo/Ardeo, Fresh Med, Vace, Nanny O'Briens, Lavandou, Spices, Firehook, Ripple, Nam Viet, CP Bar and Grill, Dino) would benefit greatly from sidewalk tables.

by Herb Caudill on Oct 3, 2010 4:04 pm • linkreport

Stan Burgess, 3rd street in santa monica is a huge success. So much that a nearby mall was shut down, due to lack of traffic, and has been redone without a roof, thus making it an extension of the pedestrian street.

Dont try to brand all pedestrian malls as one. Many in the 60s were last gasp attempts to save a dead street. Problem is, adding cars or removing cars has nothing to do with the business on the street. Take an extremely successful block and close it to cars, and it will stay successful.

by JJJ on Oct 3, 2010 4:12 pm • linkreport

Definitely King Street in Alexandria should be considered.

by Fred on Oct 3, 2010 4:16 pm • linkreport

Wasn't there a post here a few weeks ago about shutting down K Street from Mt. Vernon Square to Washington Circle?

by Shipsa01 on Oct 3, 2010 4:21 pm • linkreport

The downtown DC streets that were pedestrianized back when I first moved here were colossal failures that only recovered their vibrancy after they were opened back up to cars. But that could have had more to do with overall development trends in DC than with the absence or presence of cars, and downtown F Street is probably not an ideal candidate for this treatment. I'd be curious to see if this would work any better now. It certainly works great on Ste. Catherine Street in Montreal.

A half-hearted attempt was made to close the first couple blocks of King Street to cars on weekend evenings. It was pretty funny to see how reluctant pedestrians were to venture out into the street.

by jimble on Oct 3, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

The example of Broadway in New York at Times Square always brings up examples of pedestrian malls. Except there's one problem:

Broadway is not a pedestrian mall

What NYC did in Times Square is basically widen all the sidewalks - and they did so at the expense of through-traffic on Broadway. There is no point within the broader space of Times Square where traffic is completely gone - 7th Avenue still cuts through the entire square. All of the cross-streets still cut through.

This image shows the difference - it's not like New York eliminated cars from Times Square:

In DC, this would be like closing just one block of one of the State-named avenues to auto traffic at a key intersection in order to help car traffic flow (by eliminating a 6-way intersection) and add pedestrian space. There are some examples in DC already - the 10th Street exit to the U Street metro station is one case where a block of 10th Street was closed to add the station entrance and create a plaza instead of an awkward intersection for car traffic.

Now, closing streets to cars on a temporary basis is a different thing entirely.

by Alex B. on Oct 3, 2010 4:41 pm • linkreport

The failed pedestrian malls of decades past were an attempt to revive dead spaces. In contrast, closing Eighteenth Street and Barracks Row on weekends would enhance streets that are already lively.

In fact, I suspect businesses might be more supportive if the city allowed them to set up tables on the street, too. I'd be much more likely to visit Adams Morgan if I could sit outside. The bars are just too packed inside.

by Eric Fidler on Oct 3, 2010 4:55 pm • linkreport

Hi JJJ, I agree that if you can begin with a vibrant urban space, closing the street to cars may not kill it. But can you cite examples of successful permanent closures where that has happened?

It is puzzling why cars help the life of a street considering their many downsides. I believe, though without conviction, that car traffic acts a bit like a security blanket. An open question. A street cut off from traffic is somewhat analogous to the sunken plazas Whyte studied in NY. Don't the New Urbanists put some volume of cars on every street?

by Stan on Oct 3, 2010 5:02 pm • linkreport

I like the way Boulder, CO has their pedestrian-only streets and I'm intrigued by the idea of doing the same for King St. but how far would it go? From the waterfront to Washington St.? Patrick/Henry? One thing in its favor is that Prince and Cameron are already well positioned to handle additional traffic (unlike for example M St NW), although they are two-way east of Washington St. Maybe they could be switched to one-way like they are west of Washington St.

by movement on Oct 3, 2010 6:03 pm • linkreport

@Stan: Don't forget about Ithaca, N.Y. Their pedestrian mall is quite successful, though every few years a mayor thinks about returning cars to it (never happens). The businesses are quite successful and the negative impact on traffic is minimal.

As for M Street in Georgetown, I can't imagine that working well, since the street is so wide. I may be wrong.

And count me among the Cleveland Park residents in favor of closing the access road on Connecticut Avenue. That sidewalk is a nightmare. Plus, savvy tourist families have figured out that if you go to the zoo via the CP Metro, you don't have to walk uphill with your stroller (and it's always on the east side of Connecticut).

by Tim on Oct 3, 2010 6:33 pm • linkreport

These plans need to accomodate the displaced traffic and parking these closures would generate. Many of the areas proposed are crowded because they attract traffic from elsewhere, much of it which arrives by car.
I think the long term solution is to eliminate on-street parking in the commercial sectors and reuse this valuable space with walking and bike space. Consolidate parking into facilities and build new ones where parking facilities don't exist. Replace revenue from on-street parking with taxes from the parking facilities. Furthermore this greatly reduces the need for enforcement mechanisms and associated costs (personnel, processing, courts, etc...). These resources could then be re-purposed for more pressing safety and law-enforcement priorities.

by Smoke_Jaguar4 on Oct 3, 2010 7:01 pm • linkreport

While more pedestrian only spaces would be great, I'd be happy if they protected the present pedestrian spaces, like sidewalks and cross-walks.

by SJE on Oct 3, 2010 8:46 pm • linkreport

I don't understand. Aren't these areas mentioned already very lively? How do they need to be further pedestrianized?

I would not want to impede buses, taxis, and bicycle traffic from going through 18th Street, and cars already move through the street very slowly on weekends, testament to the fact that pedestrians rule. They can cross the road wherever and whenever they please. Maybe some streetscaping like cobbling the road or something would further enshrine the pedestrian-centric nature, but I would not close that street off to vehicular traffic. Champlain St., which runs parallel would never be able to handle the overflow.

7th Street near the Verizon Center is in a similar situation. They could _enforce_ the bus/bike lane for a change. That might improve things. It's already a slow route for cars and should continue that way. Cars should take 6th if they are not stopping on 7th in Penn Qtr/Chinatown. But closing it off to vehicles just doesn't seem necessary.

by Ward 1 Guy on Oct 3, 2010 9:30 pm • linkreport

I think CP needs the parking to get to the businesses like dry cleaning, grocery, liquor etc. where you have a lot to carry home and are going to use your car. On a normal day the sidewalk is not that crowded. Pedestrian malls are scary places when they are empty or mostly empty, you feel vulnerable to crime walking through them. Zoo days fill the CP sidewalks and the Zoo was suppose to run small buses to help families get to the Zoo from the metro stations. The Zoo has yet to make that a working option and needs to spend some time and money on this transportation plan.

by Jennifer on Oct 4, 2010 10:23 am • linkreport

The Cleveland Park service road on the east side of Connecticut Avenue should be restored to sidewalk use, for several reasons. The first is safety. Currenly the sidewalk is barely wide enough in places for pedestrians to pass each other. (Can the vending machines which obstruct sidewalk space be removed in the near term?!) I have seen baby strollers diverted into the service lane because the sidewalks are not wide enough. Also, eliminating the service lane would improve the unsafe pedestrian crossing where the lane ends at Ordway and Connecticut. Second, the service road is not a great parking solution today. There is no room to pass, so vehicles back up, while one vehicle waits for another to pull out of a parking space. The third is that a wider sidwalk would enhance the pedestrian experience and the neighorhood streetscape.

Now, the parking concern should not just be dismissed, and there is a way to eliminate the service lane but preserve some parking. First, a handful of spaces can be added where the service lane currently intersects Macomb and Ordway. Second, consider carving out a dedicated channel of parking on the east side of Connecticut Avenue between the street and the present service road, with some spaces reserved for very short periods to facilitate quick errands. Unlike today's street parking, which goes away at rush hour, the dedicated parking channel would be unaffected by rush hour restrictions. There could be even more parking spaces if back-in diagonal parking were used. (Back-in diagonal parking is much safer on busy streets than front-in parking.) With a dedicated parking channel, the east sidewalk would be slightly narrower than the west, but still wide enough for pedestrians and even a sidewalk table or two. Enhance the area with new trees, benches and better lighting than today's highway-style "double-cobra" lights. The net result would be an east sidewalk that is much safer and more pleasant for pedestrians, with a relatively small reduction of parking spaces.

by Rick on Oct 4, 2010 12:25 pm • linkreport

8th St SE has a firestation, a popular bus route, and serves as access to the SE freeway just south of the underpass. Traffic would move to adjacent neighborhood streets. It seems like a bad idea for so many reasons. I do wish they could do something to ease the sidewalk congestion especially where there is outdoor restaurant seating leaving a 3 foot wide walkway for pedestrians.

The street closing in front of Eastern Market is great on weekends, but relatively quiet during the week, so there doesn't appear to be a need to make it permanent.

I would definitely be in favor of tipping the balance more toward pedestrians. Pennsyvania Avenue between 2nd and 4th, on the south side is also tight. It would be great if a lane of traffic were eliminated in favor of sidewalk expansion. But, PA ave is an evacuation route, which might make things more complicated.

by SE on Oct 4, 2010 12:34 pm • linkreport

First- Agree with eliminating the service lane in CP. I would think all the food establishments would be on board. How great would it be if Vaces had an outdoor seating section?! Not to mention the other restaurants and bars.
Second-Always wondered why on earth they didn't close 18th street to traffic on Weekends. It is such a cluster it just seems like a no-brainer. As for displaced parking... lets be honest. People going to Adams Morgan on Friday and Saturdays have no business driving... We have a recent tragedy to highlight this fact. If the road is closed it sends the message to the suburban folk coming here to drink. RIDE THE METRO.
Third- I think it's been discussed here before but I think a viable street to be made into a permanent pedestrian mall would be MTP street. Traffic on MTP is minimal already and the buses could be easily rerouted to 16th street. So long as the street isn't just closed but enlivened into a park like setting. Tree's. Kiosks. Playgrounds. Stage for outdoor movies and Music, fountains etc. It would be quite a draw and a great amenity for DC which unlike most city's has no pedestrian malls. For all the poorly thought out pedestrian malls that failed there are great ones in Burlington, Charlottesville, Boulder. It just takes some planing to make them inviting useful places.

by John on Oct 4, 2010 1:27 pm • linkreport

Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach - pedestrian mall, quite successful, although not always...when SoBe and Ocean Drive were dangerous places to be, the Mall was empty.

by Erin M on Oct 4, 2010 5:15 pm • linkreport

Actually, the Columbia Heights Public Realm was specifically designed to enable such a pedestrian friendly environment including street closures and etc..

by W Jordan on Oct 5, 2010 8:33 am • linkreport

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