Posts about CityCenterDC
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Construction of CityCenter DC, the massive mixed-use complex slated to replace the parking lot where the old convention center used to stand, will finally start construction in April, the Post reported.
When CityCenter opens it will bring about 225,000 square feet of new retail with it. For comparison, the Gallery Place development has about 250,000 square feet, including the movie theater and bowling alley. Clearly, CityCenter will be a big deal.
A key question is whether or not CityCenter and Gallery Place will compete as individual destinations, or form a single cohesive downtown shopping district. Can these two massive retail anchors be leveraged to draw shoppers onto the intervening blocks, making them equally vibrant?
The city would benefit greatly if so. Not only in the strictest sense of increased sales tax revenue, but also in a more cultural sense: People might start to think of the whole of downtown DC as a destination, as opposed to thinking that way of just a few specific places downtown.
Consider this interesting pair of maps, produced as part of the CityCenter design guidelines (pdf):
Retail visibility near Gallery Place and CityCenter. Brighter colors indicate higher levels of visibility.
The maps show the same section downtown before (left) and after (right) completion of CityCenter. Mount Vernon Square is at the top, Gallery Place is at bottom right, and CityCenter occupies the large block in the left image that's broken up into several smaller blocks in the right image. The colors indicate the number of entrances to retail establishments visible from that location on the sidewalk, with brighter colors being more. Essentially, the brighter the color, the more retail is on that street.
Unfortunately, it appears that the heaviest concentrations of retail along 7th and I Streets won't be well connected, mainly because the intersections at H and 8th and I and 7th are too sparsely retailed. There are already large, contemporary buildings at both those intersections, so it's unlikely the solution will be full redevelopment.
What might work? Complementary signage would help, but probably wouldn't be enough on its own. Outdoor sidewalk vendors might do the job, but both I and H have sidewalks that are too narrow; the city would have to rebuild the streets to accommodate booths.
One idea I'm fond of would be to take the signage idea a few steps further and install a series of matching public art displays along all the streets in the area, connecting the two nodes. If the art installation were large and visible enough (ceramic pandas probably wouldn't do the trick), shoppers would soon get the message that seeing that art display meant "shops and entertainment are here," which might be enough to persuade more people to walk between CityCenter and Gallery Place.
London's Regent Street uses this strategy to great effect. As the photos below show, anyone who sees the light installation knows exactly where they are and what to expect.
Even that may not be enough, though. There's really no substitute for providing people with a real destination between CityCenter and Gallery Place.
There's got to be an answer. Have any ideas?
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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