Posts about 17th Street
At this morning's oversight hearing for the bicycle and pedestrian advisory councils, Councilmember Jack Evans chastised cyclists who speed on jogging trails, and Tommy Wells expressed interest in exploring restrictions on sidewalk cycling in commercial areas of DC.
At the start of the meeting, Evans said that he jogs regularly, and cyclists have almost hit him 3 or 4 times. He also said he's seen cyclists run stop signs once a week, and travel too fast regularly.
Let's put aside the obvious point that Evans probably also sees drivers run stop signs more like once a day, and travel at excessive speed almost constantly, if he doesn't do so himself. Evans is mostly talking about walking and biking paths, like the Capital Crescent Trail near his house, and some people do travel very fast on bikes in ways that intimidates walkers and runners.
Wells said, "If I get a call from Jack around dusk, I know what it's going to be. It is an issue that we have to keep bicycles separated from pedestrians, especially around sidewalks. We do want people walking and jogging. ... In his own way, Jack is a representative for the jogging advisory council, and we do have work to do."
That work might include looking at whether to restrict cycling on sidewalks in some cases. Currently, DC law allows biking on sidewalks except in a central area. Sean Wieland of the Pedestrian Advisory Council testified that in areas like Georgia Avenue in Ward 4, sidewalks are often somewhat narrow and crowded with pedestrians, and cycling there can create problematic conflicts.
TheWashCycle blogger David C. pointed out that the Mayor already has the power to restrict sidewalk cycling in specific areas as desired. He doesn't think DC should ban it outright, as there are times it's the best move, such as climbing up hills when cars drive fast and there are few pedestrians.
People also start and end their rides on sidewalks, or use them for short distances when one-way streets would otherwise force a long detour. If I ride to U Street, my trip home involves a short segment on a one-way street to get to my alley. I ride on the sidewalk for that short stretch, which is by far the most efficient route.
If I ride on the sidewalk, I always make sure to defer to pedestrians. People on bikes must recognize that people on foot have the right of way, and that while the law might allow using sidewalks, anyone riding a bike on one has to be respectful and stay out of the way of people walking. If that means riding no faster than a slow walk, so be it.
Not everyone does this, however. For this reason, Wells expressed interest in considering restrictions on sidewalk cycling in commercial districts. This could make sense when the commercial district has two-way roads, so people can always bike in the street, and the road is not overcrowded. There seems to be little reason to ride on the sidewalk on Barracks Row, for instance, except between one corner and a bicycle rack on that block.
But what about 17th Street in Dupont? BeyondDC often bikes northbound on this street, which is one way north of Massachusetts Avenue. Going to 18th could represent a fairly long detour. 16th is harrowing. 15th is fairly far away.
A lot of people bike the wrong way in the 17th Street bike lane. Generally, they are able to do that without problems, since 17th is a low-traffic road and cars move slowly. That's illegal, however. Riding on the sidewalk is legal, but those sidewalks are very narrow.
It's too bad DDOT and the neighborhood didn't devise a legal and safe way to ride northbound when recently reconstructing the road. There's now a popular Capital Bikeshare station at 17th and Corcoran. If someone wants to ride there from, say, the station at 17th and L, there's no legal, direct way to do so. As we are seeing in practice, many people are not willing to detour to 16th or 18th for this type of trip.
DDOT and its contractors have been doing a terrific job with the reconstruction of 17th Street, NW in the Dupont Circle area. However, the bike lanes were recently painted onto the road, missing the dashed ends that signal to drivers that they should merge for right turns.
Most drivers don't know they're supposed to merge into bike lanes before reaching an intersection, if they plan to turn right. That ensures that when they turn right, they're not turning across the path of any cyclists (unless cyclists improperly squeeze even farther to the right, as some do when they don't know the correct procedure).
To provide some cue to do this, most bike lanes switch from using solid white lines to dashed ones a small distance from the corner. However, the newly striped 17th Street lanes are solid all the way to the corners.
The above images show Q Street approaching 17th, and the other on 17th itself. Note that the right photo shows 17th and Q where right turns are actually not possible, so the line should remain solid, but it's the same at 17th and Church, where there are right turns. I meant to get a picture of that corner but didn't get the chance.
Hopefully it's not too late for the contractor to go back and take out pieces of the striping.
DDOT will soon be bidding contracts to reconstruct 18th Street in Adams Morgan. Adams Morgan Main Street is trying to persuade them to replace the standard tree boxes with grates.
Tree boxes fence off an area for the tree's soil and roots. Meanwhile, tree grates cover that space with a surface that people can walk on, but which allow rainwater to run down to the soil beneath.
DDOT's Urban Forestry Administration generally refuses tree grates, though they already exist in some areas such as Georgetown and downtown, and are part of the new Columbia Heights public realm at 14th and Park Road.
According to a presentation on innovative stormwater techniques, grates will also be part of the reconstruction of 17th Street in Dupont Circle. The need is even more acute on 17th, where the sidewalks are extremely narrow. In many places, there isn't even the standard 10 feet between fenced-off yards or sidewalk cafes and the adjacent tree boxes.
In Adams Morgan, DDOT will be significantly widening sidewalks, creating much more pedestrian space even with boxes. At the same time, 18th gets very heavy pedestrian traffic and more space would be helpful.
This problem is most severe on U Street. Unlike in Adams Morgan, DDOT's plans for U Street don't widen the sidewalk, except in one small spot, and U Street is growing rapidly in numbers of residents, retailers, and pedestrian traffic.
Why does DDOT oppose tree grates? Here are some arguments made by UFA head John Thomas in a May email on the subject:
- DDOT's ADA compliance officer does not accept tree grates. I am not an ADA expert, but it seems that tree grates are no worse than tree boxes, which block off the entire space to all people including those with disabilities. Also, DC has a number of tree grates now.
- The grates are above the DDOT maintenance capabilities. This is a legitimate concern in most areas. DDOT does not have the ability to keep checking on tree grates. If not monitored, as the tree trunk expands, the grate can choke it unless the hole is widened. Also, roots can pop up the grate.
Many (or perhaps all) of the existing tree grates in DC are in areas such as Georgetown and downtown where a BID can handle some maintenance. DDOT could require an agreement to maintain the grates from a local business or citizen association before agreeing to install any.
- Trees will be damaged at the trunk and lower limb levels (as is the case along and M and Wisconsin) regardless of the grates. Thomas didn't elaborate on why, though I could see that people might lean against the tree or bump it as they walk if the grates facilitate getting closer. In a place like Adams Morgan or U Street, drunk people might be more likely to lean against (or perhaps urinate on) the trees if they can get close to them.
- Bikes tend to get locked to trees when tree grates are present. Fences and plants keep bikes away. Also a fair point.
- The liability would still remain with the District even with an MOU if there is a trip/fall claim. Are grates less safe than fences? It'd be helpful to have any statistics from other cities or from DC's existing grates versus its tree boxes.
- UFA has historically denied grates across the board. So? DDOT also has historically granted curb cuts willy-nilly, but fortunately, they have recently cracked down. It shouldn't ever be too late to change bad past practices.
UFA is focused entirely on maximizing tree canopy, and that's an extremely worthy goal. In some commercial areas, however, maintaining a wide enough sidewalk for pedestrians is also a worthy goal, and there needs to be a balance that weighs the inadequacy of pedestrian space with the potential harm to trees.
Plus, sometimes UFA can't put in a tree, or has to settle for a smaller tree box, because of available space. Grates could allow more trees that can collect more stormwater. There are even more innovative stormwater techniques for trees, such as grates on hills (like 18th Street) where water from one tree area drains into the next, and so on, like a natural hill. DC also has "structural soil" covered with cobblestones or pavers to provide stormwater management without sacrificing walking space around the ballpark and Barracks Row.
All of these techniques, including tree grates applied where pedestrian volumes warrant, can make DC's streets more usable and greener at the same time.
Just weeks after construction began on a reconstruction of 17th Street between Massachusetts and Florida Avenues, water lines have now broken four times, according to members of the Dupont Circle ANC (2B).
Today, a large water main broke, creating a large fountain of water and a river of water in the area. Based on a secondhand report, one neighborhood leader told me that a contractor working on a catchbasin for the project hit the water main.
Here's a video from reader Adam complete with various exclamations of surprise:
Aside from today's break, if indeed the contractor physically hit the line, most of the breaks are coming from a combination of the cold weather, pipes sitting exposed, and the old age of the pipes.
The ANC will be discussing the water issues stemming from the project at this Wednesday's meeting. The ANC had already expressed many concerns about contruction impacts on businesses, inculding trees and the staging of various phases, after having bad experiences with a similar streetscape project on P Street west of Dupont Circle.
The long-planned streetscape project for 17th Street between Massachusetts and New Hampshire Avenues will begin on Monday.
DDOT staffers updated residents at a community meeting last night. This project will bring ADA-compliant curb ramps, new tree boxes, street lamps and new road and sidewalk surfaces to 17th Street. When asked for a comparison project with a similar look and feel, DDOT staff offered the Park Road reconstruction between 14th Street and Mt. Pleasant as an example. While the 17th Street project, funded entirely by $4.5 million of ARRA stimulus dollars, is not as bold as it could have been, it will be an improvement to the streetscape of this neighborhood spine.
The reconfigured 17th Street will maintain two traffic lanes and parking on both sides of the street, with a new five-foot wide bike lane on the west side of the street. One resident observed that it would be safer to place the lane on the east side of the street, so cyclists are not in the door zone on the driver's side of parked cars. DDOT staff at the meeting stated that "striping is the last thing we do" and that the location of the bike lane could be subject to change, but did not make any promises.
The other bike-related news for 17th Street is that individual parking meters will be removed, to be replaced by multispace meters. To make up for lost bike parking, new U-racks are included in the plan, but DDOT staff last night were unable to say whether this change will result in a net gain or net loss of bike parking on the street.
Major resident concerns at the meeting centered on reducing the number of trees slated to be replaced by preserving a greater number of existing trees where possible, and ensuring that the sidewalk on the east side of the street extends 10 feet from the curb edge, unimpeded by outdoor restaurant seating. DDOT staff promised to follow up on these issues, including a walk of the corridor to assess individual trees with residents and consultations with restaurants that have outdoor seating on 17th Street.
The contractor for the reconstruction project is Capitol Paving of DC and the construction manager is The Temple Group. A project website with construction information and updates is scheduled to go live on Monday. Construction, which will begin at the southern end of 17th Street and work its way northward in four phases, is expected to take 240 days, with crews beginning at 7:00 AM and working every day of the week except Sunday. A few residents argued for a delayed start time of 8:00 AM. DDOT staff, noting the pressure to quickly complete stimulus projects, were very resistant to the delay since it would slow the pace of construction, which is already likely to be delayed by winter weather.
This week and next, there are several important opportunities to advocate for better streets in DC, whether for bicycles, pedestrians, streetcars, or retail along the edge.
17th also has some prime opportunities to add apartments above low, ugly parcels like the Safeway. A new mixed-use Safeway could more closely match the height of the neighboring buildings, mostly around four stories. The first meeting is Wednesday, August 5th, 6:30 pm at Cobalt, on the 3rd floor of the building at the northeast corner of 17th and R that also houses Level One and 30 Degrees.
These events and more appear on the Greater Greater Washington calendar. Know of an event we should list? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The intersection of H Street, Benning Road, Bladensburg Road, Maryland Avenue, Florida Avenue, and 15th Streets, NE will become more hospitable to pedestrians with new crosswalks and the addition of a plaza at the northeast corner. The Rosedale Citizens' Alliance obtained the latest sketches of the intersection, which implement the recommendations from the H Street-Benning Road Great Streets study. The change will reroute Maryland Avenue northeast of the plaza to intersect Bladensburg Road, rather than continuing directly into the main intersection. This opens up space for a new plaza, with trees, benches, and a mural or fountain.
Frozen Tropics covered the neighborhood debates over the plaza during the design four years ago (part 1, part 2). These debates closely resemble the discussions over 17th Street in Dupont Circle, where some criticized the placemaking suggestions of the project team and pushed for a basic design devoid of ornament to keep maintenance costs down and devoid of street furniture to dissuade homeless people.
Despite the much smaller scope of the Dupont project, DDOT ended up removing features and reducing the project to low-maintanence bare concrete, while they retained this plaza in the Great Streets project. If anything, H Street is more prone to many of the problems that Dupont residents feared, but H Street will get its public space while 17th Street will retain its empty expanses of sidewalk. After the H Street plaza opens, we'll know for sure if it improves the area as most think it will, but by then it will be too late for other areas like 17th.
Do citizens' and civic associations represent the broad interests of residents, or very narrow factions within a neighborhood? Recently, growing numbers of residents have started to question the long-standing role of these groups as the voices of residents in the civic discourse. The Dupont Circle Citizens' Association (DCCA) faces a contested election next month, where a slate of candidates nominated by the current Board seeks to bring the neighborhood together and represent the broader resident interest, while competing candidates, nominated from the floor, would keep the organization on one specific, partisan side of major issues.
Citizens' and civic associations have existed in DC for a long time. When DC lacked home rule, they played an especially important role to amplify resident needs to a frequently uninterested Congress. They then had to fight for a better city during decades of a completely dysfunctional District government. Today, our government is much better, but residents still need a voice.
However, many residents have started asking whether these organizations, often tightly controlled by small groups of individuals, really represent the broader consensus. The major issues before our government have evolved, from fights for provision of basic services which unite all residents, to debates about housing and business growth whose answers are less clear. The many residents of Cleveland Park who support the Giant project on Wisconsin Avenue, for example, felt shut out when the Cleveland Park Citizens' Association met to oppose the project and provided little notice to members or the community.
Many Councilmembers, elected ANC Commissioners, and leaders of neighborhood organizations have worked hard to bridge those disagreements and build consensus on the difficult issues of the day. Moreover, many of them have also attempted to bring more residents into the conversation, to better represent all residents, whether they have lived here for thirty years or three months. Others, on the other hand, have resisted efforts to grow these organizations' membership, preferring to limit the decisionmaking to the existing activists and maintain the status quo in leadership.
This dichotomy recently bubbled to the surface in Dupont Circle, where DCCA President Joel Lawson recently resigned over disagreements with certain members of the DCCA Board. Lawson had brought a new vitality to DCCA, bringing in many new members, including myself. However, some members of the Board, though only a small minority, weren't so pleased by this evolution away from the control of those who had controlled the group and the agenda in the past.
Matters came to a head during the debate over renewing the 17th Street liquor license moratorium, which prohibits new liquor licenses and prevents alcohol-serving bars and restaurants from expanding into neighboring spaces. That moratorium has helped preserve neighborhood retail on 17th by preventing rising rents from pricing out stores that don't make high profits from alcohol, but has also comes at a cost to businesses on the corridor.
Five years ago, when the moratorium last came up for renewal, DCCA was a highly partisan force pushing for a hard-line position. Arguments between businesses and residents created deep rifts in the neighborhood. This year, Lawson and several ANC Commissioners were determined to avoid similar acrimony.
An ANC Committee chaired by Commissioner Jack Jacobson, who represents part of 17th, convened several neighborhood "listening sessions". Many residents lined up on both sides of the issue, and those opposed to the moratorium prepared to criticize DCCA's partisanship. One speaker at the first listening session blasted DCCA for representing only the interests of a small subset of residents.
However, these opponents soon found themselves surprised, as DCCA voted to support a compromise the committee hammered out. The compromise extends the moratorium, but reexamines it in three years instead of five. It allows two businesses to expand laterally, so that some establishments, perhaps Hank's Oyster Bar or the Komi restaurant, can grow beyond their narrow townhouses. And it encourages "summer gardens," but only in the rear of buildings facing Stead Park and away from residents on 17th. Fundamentally, though, the agreement preserves the moratorium. People on both sides wished for more, but ultimately I believe this is an excellent agreement that will maintain the special qualities of 17th while also allowing for some positive growth.
At the same time, the long-simmering conflict within DCCA also reached a boil, especially between Lawson and Second Vice President Phyllis Klein. I will not go into specifics, but I, too, have had disagreements with Klein over neighborhood issues. When the DCCA Board could not resolve the situation, Lawson chose to resign. In the aftermath, however, the Board decided not to renominate Klein for a seat on the Board.
The Nominating Committee chose John Hockensmith and Susan Dunn as Vice Presidents. Hockensmith was a Vice President during the past year, and Dunn the year before. They also renominated Judith Neibrief and Nancy Hartsock as Secretary and Treasurer, respectively. When I have interacted with these individuals, I have found them to all be thoughtful, responsible, and very interested in building a better and inclusive neighborhood.
These individuals aren't extreme partisans when it comes to major neighborhood issues, and they are certainly not necessarily on "my side." In fact, some of these candidates are close friends with frequent Greater Greater Washington commenter and fellow neighborhood activist Lance. As anyone who reads the comments knows, Lance disagrees with me on many issues. However, he has always dealt with the Greater Greater Washington community and with myself honestly, forthrightly, and with a genuine desire to improve the neighborhood. I believe that, whether I agree with them or not on specific policy issues, Hockensmith, Dunn, Neibrief and Hartsock will do the same.
The Board also nominated several new individuals who hadn't previously served on the DCCA Board: Ron Clayton, Marisa Uchin, James Dudney, Haru Shimura, and Maureen McLellan. Uchin ran last year for an ANC seat, and while I supported the ultimate winner, Jack Jacobson, I was also impressed by Uchin. I don't know the rest of these individuals, but believe they will bring more residents into DCCA and reach out to constituencies who currently feel alienated by past factionalism. Dudney is a board member of Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, while Shimura and McClellan have actively helped organize recent DCCA events. The Chair of the Nominating Committee, Ellen Mercer, explained the Board's selection of these individuals by saying, "For years, I have heard many active DCCA members talk about how much we (DCCA) need new members, new blood, and new focuses to complement the ongoing work."
The Nominating Committee originally planned to nominate Robin Diener as President, but the day before the slate was announced, she suddenly pulled her name from contention. Therefore, they chose Clayton as the nominee for President. Clayton's professional background is in marketing, and his resume includes a long list of civic activism work, including as a career counselor at gay and lesbian centers, a volunteer for the Whitman-Walker Clinic, at the Kennedy Center, and in DCCA.
After the Board nominated its slate at the official nominating meeting, a group of members nominated alternatives from the floor. They nominated Diener for President, Klein for Second Vice-President, Carol Mitten for Secretary, and Dave Mallof and Lex Reiffel for Board seats. Mallof and Reiffel have been staunch advocates for extending the moratorium indefinitely and without any change. They were active in DCCA during the previous moratorium fight, when DCCA took a fiercely partisan position. According to Mercer, the Nominating Committee had also considered Mitten, but was told she lived outside the neighborhood and was thus officially ineligible.
DCCA members will meet on Monday, May 4th to choose their officers. I plan to vote for the Board slate, and hope other residents of the neighborhood will do the same. Whatever your position on issues, it's important that the neighborhood associations try hard to include as many residents as possible, and to represent a broad resident point of view. The position of individual candidates on the moratorium is now moot; ABRA has already held its hearing on the issue. DCCA could potentially try to bring legal action, but that would create even more division and push it quickly on a path to irrelevance and extinction.
The question for DCCA members next month is whether they want the leadership to comprise individuals who've divided the organization, driven off an inclusive President, and pushed the group toward hardline positions that are not shared by large numbers of neighbors. Or, they could choose leaders who will reach out to wider groups of residents, building bridges and forging constructive solutions that might not please everybody, but might be the best consensus we can reach together.
Whatever happens at DCCA, more neighborhood organizations will face similar questions if they aren't already. Neighborhood consensus on some issues will shift over time, and many residents won't want to keep re-fighting the same battles of the past. These community groups can try to broaden their appeal and continue to fill an important role as the voices of residents, or they can marginalize themselves as the bullhorns of a dwindling group stuck in the past while new methods of organizing, like blogs, speak to and activate residents. There's plenty of room for traditional organizations and new media to work together constructively, and as one who prefers a vibrant civic sphere, I hope the organizations will choose the inclusive route.
17th Street in Dupont Circle, like a number of other commercial streets in DC, has a moratorium on liquor licenses. In March, the moratorium will expire, and the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) board, which regulates bars and restaurants, must decide whether to extend it, modify it, or let it lapse. Neighborhood leaders, residents, and business owners are debating whether the moratorium is a boon or a hindrance. They are also considering other tools, including performance parking, to achieve a balance in 17th Street's retail mix.
The moratorium limits the total number of liquor licenses on 17th from P to S, and surrounding side streets. The ABC board last renewed the moratorium three years ago. A moratorium is "not immortal," pointed out Dupont Circle Citizens' Association President Joel Lawson, and must be reexamined and renewed every few years. Last night, citizens and business owners met for a community meeting to discuss the issue. People expressed some strong feelings on both sides of the issue, but Commissioner Jack Jacobson, whose district includes a large portion of the 17th Street commercial area and who chaired the meeting, expressed his pleasure (and some amount of surprise) at the discussion's civil tone, compared to heated debates of prior years.
New ANC Chair Mike Silverstein worries about a "perfect storm" hurting businesses on 17th. When P Street was redone recently, the project drove away nearly 60% of some restaurants' business, and several shops closed. Now, the upcoming 17th Street streetscape could hurt business there as well, at a time when the poor economy is already keeping many potential patrons at home.
Nearly everyone who spoke at the meeting agreed with the goals of helping 17th Street's businesses thrive while retaining a mix of retail. 17th has a grocery store, hardware store, two pharmacies, and five dry cleaners. It's numerous restaurants and bars include Komi, "maybe the best" restaurant in DC according to Washingtonian, Sushi Taro, maybe the best sushi in DC, Hank's Oyster Bar, and more. Amid these jewels are a few mediocre to poor restaurants as well.
Would lifting the moratorium encourage better restaurants? Or would it gradually push out all of the neighborhood-serving shops in favor of bars and nightclubs? After all, Hank's was only able to open with an exception to the moratorium, after an acrimonious neighborhood fight. On the other hand, selling liquor is much more profitable than serving food or selling paper towels or grommets, and bars can afford to pay higher rents. Everyone agreed that they didn't want 17th to become another Adams Morgan, with its high levels of noise and periodic fights in the street.
Supporters of the moratorium feel that it has kept 17th diverse and useful to residents. "I see the moratorium as the only way of ensuring a balance," said resident Donald Jones of Q Street. "Without it, the creep is aways in the direction of bars and restaurants." Advocates for overturning it, on the other hand, argue that 14th and U Streets have attracted new and innovative retail stores of all types even without such restrictions. "The moratorium has given us a Subway and a Dunkin Donuts," said resident John Caley, who lives near 17th and S and who feels the street has declined under the moratorium. Moratorium opponents have created a petition advocating for its abolition.
Right now, we don't have a way to predict the effect of keeping the moratorium or of ending it. How can we tell? Ed Grandis, leader of business group Dupont Circle Merchants and Professionals (DCMAP), recently sat down with a commercial lease agent who advises business owners on where to locate their shops. Jacobson and the other Commissioners plan to interview business owners and study the approaches that have worked or failed in other neighborhoods and other cities.
The ANC and neighborhood leaders are also exploring other tools besides the moratorium. Rob Halligan, past President of DCCA, called the moratorium a "blunt instrument." He and others tried, unsuccessfully, to find another solution three years ago, when the moratorium last came up for renewal. Jacobson and Silverstein both suggested some form of performance parking for 17th and the surrounding area. By encouraging turnover, as the meters on Barracks Row do, our parking policy could aid the daytime businesses that serve customers for brief periods of time.
Restaurant patrons, too, stay for shorter periods of time than bar and nightclub customers, according to former ABC Chairman Charles Burger. Evening performance parking could help restaurants thrive. For example, customers of top-rated regional restaurants like Komi and Hank's, many of whom come from other parts of the region, could be confident they could find a space at some price. Right now, parking is nearly impossible on evenings and weekends, dissuading some drivers from trying to visit the area.
The ANC hopes to consult with DC's Office of Planning to explore other tools as well. Both supporters and opponents of the moratorium want the same end goal: a healthy commercial street with a mix of neighborhood-serving retail and innovative restaurants. Only the tough question remains: how much, and what, regulation will give the best chance of achieving it.
At the beginning of 2007, Mary Cheh introduced a bill (cosponsored by Barry, Brown, Wells and even, yes, Schwartz) to require sidewalks be installed on at least one side of a street when it's being reconstructed or resurfaced.
11th and M, SE. Photo by David Alpert.
Yes, there are streets in DC without sidewalks, and sometimes it's even controversial. For example, Ordway Street in Cleveland Park lacked a sidewalk on one side, a particularly glaring omission given that the NCRC nursery school is on the sidewalk-free side. When, recently, the school fought with neighbors over plans to increase enrollment, some opposed adding that sidewalk in the hope that by keeping the area unsafe for kids, it would make it easier to oppose more kids.
Fortunately for the kids, DDOT believes in sidewalks, and put the second one in on Ordway. That might be an argument why we don't really need the Sidewalk Assurance Act of 2007. (Besides, since Ordway already had one sidewalk, this bill wouldn't have applied.) The bill would be really useful, however, if it required not just sidewalks, but pedestrian-friendly ones.
Remember the 17th Street reconstruction, where the intersections with Q and R Streets widen (and the sidewalks narrow) near the corner? If we want a real sidewalk law, it could require DDOT to remove any of those anti-bulb-outs (bulb-ins?) when redoing a street, or provide a written explanation as to why that's impractical. Likewise, we could even require bulb-outs on any corner where the curb lane is used for parking 24-7, or a written explanation why not.
We could have a minimum sidewalk width, with justification needed to build or keep anything narrower. We could require a minimum number of street tree boxes. Really, what we need is a comprehensive set of road standards that contain pedestrian improvements by default, instead of having to push each time to add suitable pedestrian facilities after engineering designs are already partially complete.
Ideally, DDOT would develop a good set of standards themselves, and follow transparent decisionmaking practices to give communities clear explanations when they're not feasible (if the turning radius might have to be larger for emergency vehicles, for example). But we don't have that, and unless we get a visionary leader to run DDOT, perhaps legislation is the only way to fix what ails our street designs.
If you're interested in bringing up this or other sidewalk issues at the hearing, it would be great for Jim Graham to hear from residents. (I'll be in Charleston, South Carolina.) It's at 10 am tomorrow (October 31) in the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Ave NW), Room 500.
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