Posts about Sidewalks
Last month, downtown Wheaton got a new Safeway, complete with 17 floors of apartments on top. While the new building gives Wheaton a skyline, it also has a lot of above-ground parking and blank walls, making the surrounding streets less inviting to pedestrians.
The Exchange, a new apartment building with a ground-level Safeway, towers over downtown Wheaton. All photos by the author.
Downtown Wheaton is having a residential boom, with 900 apartments in various stages of construction. Over half of them are in the Exchange, which is located across from the Metro station at Georgia Avenue and Reedie Drive and has a Safeway on its ground floor.
It's one of several residential projects with supermarkets being built around the region. Representatives from developer Patriot Realty says they were inspired by the Safeway with housing above at CityVista in Mount Vernon Square. There's also a Safeway with apartments above being built in Petworth, and a Giant with housing recently opened at the old O Street Market in Shaw.
Wheaton is one of the highest points in Montgomery County, and placing an 17-story building on top means it can be seen for miles in each direction. The county's plan for Wheaton calls for many more buildings like the Exchange, but for now it towers over the downtown's one- and two-story strip malls. And it fills most of a city block, meaning it faces not one, but three streets.
Seen from Veirs Mill Road and Georgia Avenue, the Exchange (left) looks like three smaller towers. The Computer Building is on the right.
Baltimore-based architecture firm Hord Coplan Macht tried to visually reduce the building's mass by making each wing look like a separate "tower." From many points in downtown Wheaton, it actually does resemble a cluster of small, thin towers.
It works well with the other buildings on Georgia Avenue that are being built or were built a few years ago. The Exchange's "towers" pair nicely with the Computer Building, an office building one block away that's being converted into a 14-story apartment tower. Together, they create an interesting rhythm with the two other mid-rise buildings on the same block, which were built in the mid-2000's, and the six-story Solaire Wheaton across the street, which will open later this month.
Of course, the Exchange also has ground-floor retail, unlike all of those other buildings. The Safeway and an attached Starbucks have lots of big windows facing Georgia Avenue and even an outdoor patio with seating, which will likely attract people and make the sidewalks active when it's warm out.
But the building's structured parking garages threaten to undermine all of the good design features it has. The "towers" sit atop a podium containing several stories of parking for residents. The Safeway sits below that, at street level, and below it is another parking garage for grocery shoppers. Together, the parking garage and Safeway are about as tall as the mid-rise MetroPointe apartments next door.
Montgomery County's zoning code requires lots of parking in new apartment buildings, even when they're literally across the street from a Metro station. Underground parking can be really expensive to build and the foundation could have impacted the Metro station, even though it's one of the world's deepest. So the developer chose to put some of it above ground, and some below.
That means if you stand in front of the Safeway and look up, you see several floors of dark "windows" meant to make the parking garage blend with the apartments above. Around the corner on Reedie Drive, people leaving the Metro pass blank walls. The building's on a steep hill, so you're walking next to the parking garage, not the Safeway. If there wasn't so much parking, there could have been some small shops here instead.
Turn the corner again to Fern Street and there's basically six stories of blank wall facing Veterans Park: loading docks and shopper parking at the street level (it's set into the hill, so you can't see it from Georgia); the double-height windows of the Safeway, all of which are papered over; and three stories of resident parking.
Urban parks should have buildings with entrances and windows and storefronts facing them, which give people a reason to visit the park and provide "eyes on the street" that make it safer. There's already a public parking garage on one side of the park, and it's disappointing that the designers and developers didn't take the opportunity to do something different, or that Montgomery County didn't make them.
It's likely that many residents won't bring cars to the Exchange given its proximity to Metro and location in a walkable neighborhood. If the developer had been able to build less parking, there may have been more opportunities to shape the building's mass to make it feel even less bulky. And there may not have been as many blank walls. There could actually be apartments and shops looking out onto Veterans Park.
Montgomery County's working on a new zoning code that would demand less parking near transit, but it's too late for this building. It's unfortunate, because the Exchange sits on a really prominent site in downtown Wheaton. It's also the first high-rise to be built there, meaning it will set the tone for decades of future development.
In some ways, the Exchange is a good precedent for the projects to come. But it may also be a cautionary tale, showing developers what not to do.
On narrow sidewalks, there's often a tension between different users and activities. But sidewalks in an urban place need to make room for people to do more than just walk through.
On Black Friday, I went to the Apple Store in Bethesda Row to get my computer checked out. Though the area is a really popular destination for shopping and dining, the sidewalks are surprisingly narrow, and seemingly designed to make walking difficult and unpleasant.
Here's the sidewalk two doors down from the Apple Store on Bethesda Avenue. Next to the curb, there's a row of big, mature street trees in large, fenced-off planters. Where the buildings step back, there's also a little seating area with some benches.
The level of the street falls about a foot here, meaning the seating area is actually below the sidewalk. So there's a brick wall around the benches, just in case anyone falls.
That leaves about four feet for the actual sidewalk, which becomes a narrow channel between the storefronts and the brick wall. Since it's also on an incline, there's a railing to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, blocking off about a foot of sidewalk between the railing and the storefronts.
On a busy day, or frankly on any day when people are outside, you can watch folks struggle to pass each other through this slalom course: shoppers with bags, parents with strollers, or groups of friends chatting. They look down to avoid eye contact, form a single-file line, or swivel their bodies to squeeze through. The sidewalk discourages strolling or lingering here, which is part of the attraction of Bethesda Row.
Given, this is right across from Bethesda Lane, a pedestrian-only street. And Bethesda Avenue itself is a pretty narrow and slow-moving street, which is much nicer to walk along than Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring, where the sidewalks are similarly pedestrian-hostile but there's far more car traffic.
But it still shows what happens when designers and engineers don't really think about the experience of walking through a place. Bethesda Row has most of the pieces to be a great place to hang out and gather, and most of the time it works really well. But poorly-designed sidewalks make it hard to enjoy being here.
The sidewalk on the east side of Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring just got a makeover, with new brick pavers and street trees. But will it have enough room for everyone who wants to use it?
Montgomery County's Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) managed the $650,000 project, which began this summer and lasted about five months. The agency's main goal was to level and lower the sidewalk to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It replaced the existing concrete sidewalk, built in the 1980s, with sturdier and more attractive brick pavers, and created large new bumpouts at some intersections.
The new sidewalk is very attractive and will hopefully encourage visitors and shoppers to stray from the Ellsworth Drive strip and check out the businesses on Georgia. But it also reveals the tension between different users on Silver Spring's often-cramped sidewalks.
DHCA also removed all of the mature Zelkova trees along Georgia, arguing that the sidewalk reconstruction would disturb the trees and kill them. The new trees are Princeton or Lacebark Elm trees, which will apparently improve the visibility of shops and restaurants from the street.
The old sidewalks had trees in tree grates, allowing room that businesses could put out tables and chairs and leave enough sidewalk for people to walk past comfortably. But the new trees now sit in long, wide planter boxes with little gaps in between for street lights or people getting out of parked cars.
This isn't the only place in downtown Silver Spring with new planters. The county's Department of Transportation (MCDOT) also installed the same planters along Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street, except with three-foot-high hedges. Some planters, like one on Fenton Street, extend for most of a city block to discourage jaywalking.
In 2009, when planning on the Georgia Avenue sidewalk project started, county-hired arborist Steve Castrogiovanni recommended doing the same thing with the new trees to "strike a [balance] between the trees' needs and the needs of pedestrians." But officials endorsed the bigger planters, saying it would give the trees more soil and help them live longer.
Street trees have a lot of health and environmental benefits. They can provide a feeling of enclosure on a street or sidewalk, calming traffic on busy streets like Georgia Avenue, and making pedestrians feel safer.
However, these planter boxes seem to provide the wrong kind of enclosure. Crowded sidewalks can be a good thing, creating a feeling of excitement and vitality on a city street. But when you push pedestrians and outdoor dining tables into too small a space, it can feel uncomfortable, and people won't want to stick around and spend money.
That's why restaurateur Jackie Greenbaum, who owns Jackie's, Sidebar, and Quarry House Tavern, all on Georgia Avenue, didn't want trees planted on the narrow sidewalk outside her businesses. "THIS WILL ELIMINATE MUCH OF MY PATIO SEATING!" she wrote in a 2010 email to DHCA. "This is NOT an improvement and is unnecessary, even undesirable." In the end, DHCA agreed not to plant any there.
Having healthy street trees and vibrant sidewalks aren't mutually exclusive. DHCA could have still created a bigger soil pit for the trees, giving them room to grow, while putting tree grates or permeable pavers on top, ensuring that there's still enough sidewalk space.
Wider sidewalks mean ample room for walking, for dining, and for nature. Photo by Jim Malone on Flickr.
And if county officials really wanted planters, they could have at least used a more attractive design, like these low, stone planters in NoMa that provide space for trees and plants while staying out of the way. Or they could have looked at a bioswale that cleans and filters stormwater in addition to looking pretty.
The real issue isn't the planters, but that the sidewalks on Georgia Avenue aren't appreciably wider. DHCA's project was simply to make the sidewalks meet ADA regulations.
This sidewalk may not get rebuilt for another 30 years, meaning we've missed an opportunity to have a larger conversation about how Georgia Avenue works. Wider sidewalks mean we wouldn't have to decide between landscaping, walking space, and outdoor seating. They mean we could have added new features, like benches, or a "shared use trail" for cyclists similar to the Green Trail on Wayne Avenue.
Doing this would require taking space for cars, which today constitutes the vast majority of Georgia Avenue, and giving it back to people. While that would probably be bad for drivers passing through, it would ultimately be a good thing for downtown Silver Spring, whose historic main street would become a more attractive, pleasant, and safer place to walk and spend time.
The last time the sidewalk by the Van Ness Square demolition site was closed to pedestrians, it was a temporary measure. But the latest closure could last much longer.
Photo by Pat Davies.
Developer Saul Centers will tear down the shopping center and replace it with a new apartment building. At a pre-construction meeting last week, representatives from Saul told the community that the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk alongside the construction zone will be closed for two years. DDOT regulations won't allow a covered walkway because of underground construction that was too close to the street.
Instead, pedestrians would have to cross to the west side of Connecticut at Albemarle and Windom. By last Saturday, Saul had already closed off the sidewalk, and it was clear how dangerous this situation was going to be.
I saw a blind man walking north in the street and a man with a toddler on his shoulders coming toward him. Of course, the blind man could not see the large sign announcing the closed sidewalk, but the father definitely could.
ANC commissioner Sally Gresham was also out on Saturday afternoon and spent an hour monitoring "how folks were dealing with" the sidewalk closure. "The results are very scary!" she wrote. Gresham counted 102 people walking on Connecticut Avenue itself, including 6 young teenagers on skate boards, 22 strollers with 1, 2, or 3 adults, 35 people carrying bags of groceries or small children, 26 elderly people, and 13 people using canes, walkers, or leg braces.
Luckily, this was the weekend, and parked cars did provide something of a buffer between traffic and pedestrians. But I wondered about the march of pedestrians on automatic pilot during the Monday morning rush hour.
When asked if there will be a police presence to monitor the situation, Commander Reese of the 2nd Police District said the agency would pay attention to it, but did not have enough officers to have them out on the street.
On Monday morning between 8:30 and 9 a.m., I decided to take a look. Most pedestrians were crossing where they should:
All photos by the author unless noted.
But there were quite a number crossing mid-block and walking in the street.
People crossing mid-block on Connecticut Avenue.
People walking in the street.
And with no police in sight. I forgot they were only monitoring the situation.
I emailed the photos to DDOT, and Director Terry Bellamy replied, "I am alerting our Public Space Team to investigate and make recommendations." According to Saul Centers' Kimberly Miller, construction superintendent "Jason" met with DDOT inspectors, who noted that pedestrians weren't following the posted signs, but that the project still complied with DDOT requirements.
This is not a satisfactory outcome. After pondering the issue, and thinking of the places I have traveled that control pedestrian crossings a lot better than we do, the solution came to me on my afternoon walk. I went home and dashed off another email proposing that pedestrian path be controlled through fencing that allows people to enter stores but prevents pedestrians from crossing the street mid-block.
New legislation may also improve pedestrian safety around construction sites as well. The Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013, which will take effect December 20, requires anyone seeking permits from DDOT to block a sidewalk or bike lane to also provide a "safe accommodation" for pedestrians and bicyclists to use instead.
As of today, the sidewalk is open again, but it's unclear for how long. Will the council's new legislation make a difference for pedestrians on Connecticut Avenue over the next two years? We will keep you posted.
A version of this post appeared on Forest Hills Connection.
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) may decide not to remove the service lane on Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park, even as the agency takes public input on it. Could a temporary closure show how it would work for businesses and pedestrians?
The proposal to remove the service lane, which was built in the 1960's, and restore a wider sidewalk has generated much debate in Cleveland Park. Merchants are concerned about losing business if there are fewer parking spaces, but a recent survey shows that many many more people visit Cleveland Park on foot or transit and would enjoy a wider sidewalk.
Yesterday, Fox 5 reporter Beth Parker tweeted that, according to DDOT spokesperson Reggie Sanders, the agency has ruled out changing the service lane. However, in emails, both DDOT Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe and staff for Councilmember Mary Cheh say that the agency hasn't actually made a final decision, It seems as though someone at the agency spoke out of turn, but Sanders' comment suggests that they are likely to indeed decide to do nothing.
This would be a perfect place for DDOT to experiment with a temporary pedestrian space. Cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have done this to give new public spaces a test run before making them permanent.
DDOT could simply rope off the service lane at each end, preventing drivers from entering, and make small, reversible changes, like paint or movable potted plants, to make it more welcoming. Businesses along the street could use the space for tables and chairs and sidewalk sales. Merchants, residents, and DC officials would be able to see how closing the service lane could make Cleveland Park more exciting and vibrant without any risks.
It is not too late to ask DDOT to try this out. The public comment period on DDOT's study is open until November 13, and tonight's public meeting is still on. The agency will finish the study at the end of the month.
If you would like to share your opinion about the future of the Cleveland Park service lane, you can write to email@example.com and let them know which of the 4 proposed options for changing the service lane you prefer.
You may also attend the final community meeting tonight from 5 to 8:30 pm at the Cleveland Park Library, located at 3310 Connecticut Avenue NW.
Cleveland Park businesses say they need a service lane on Connecticut Avenue. But a new study says that most people walk, bike, or take transit to their shops, suggesting they need a bigger sidewalk instead.
The District Department of Transportation recently outlined four options for reconfiguring the service lane along Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Ordway streets, built in 1962. The service lane has just 25 parking spots, but takes up most of the 24.5-foot wide space between the curb and the buildings, leaving just a narrow sliver of sidewalk.
The agency has now released a 330-page study of how people use this block, which found that 80% of Cleveland Park residents walk or bike to shops there, while 61% of all visitors arrive on foot, bike, or transit. The lane's awkward five-way intersections at Macomb and Ordway are unsafe too; a driver crossing there is 6 times as likely to have a collision than one at the bigger intersection of Connecticut and Porter one block away.
Let's talk about merchants, parking, and rush hour
The debate over the service lane is often seen as a conflict between local businesses and the neighborhood. Neighbors say they want more pleasant public spaces, pedestrian amenities, and gathering places, while the merchants say they can't survive without the service lane, ugly and hostile as it is.
But at the end of the day, we all want this commercial strip to thrive. Most days, I personally eat lunch somewhere on this stretch of Connecticut Avenue. My family depends on Brookville Supermarket for groceries and on CVS and Walgreens for convenience goods. We buy gifts at Wake Up Little Suzy and Transcendence, bread at Firehook, and beer and wine at CP Liquors. And we visit the Uptown Theater as well.
How can we deliver the most customers to our beloved neighborhood stores to make sure we continue to enjoy a vibrant commercial strip?
Just 12% of Cleveland Park residents and 31% of all visitors come by car. And the service lane doesn't bring that many customers overall. According to the study, average turnover for parking spaces ranges from 75 minutes on weekends to 87 minutes on weekdays. Assuming these spaces are full all the time (and they often aren't), the spaces serve a maximum of around 250 customers each day. Meanwhile, between 200 and 700 pedestrians pass through each hour.
Number of people arriving in Cleveland Park during a weekday evening rush hour.
Graphic by author using DDOT data.
And during an average weekday rush hour (from 4:30 to 7:30pm), the service lane delivers an estimated maximum of 85 people to the neighborhood. During the same three hours, 2,273 people exit the Cleveland Park Metro station and 215 people arrive by bus.
There are better ways to manage parking demand
Cleveland Park's commercial area has about 545 parking spots. Without the service lane, it would have 520. We could destroy the remaining sidewalks in the neighborhood to create parking lots, and then maybe we'd have 570 spaces. Either way, we can't make significant changes to overall parking inventory.
The service lane makes up a small fraction of Cleveland Park's supply of parking spaces.
Image from DDOT.
So it doesn't make sense to focus on the supply of parking, but rather demand management: encouraging turnover and improving the overall parking experience.
DC is one of many cities experimenting with performance parking, which uses variable pricing to ensure that on every block no more than 85% of parking capacity is used at any time. This means that when you need to park somewhere, there's always a spot for you. It also increases turnover, so that any given parking spot delivers more customers per hour.
Image from DDOT; annotations by the author.
We can also better manage the supply of parking by ending rush hour restrictions. This would reduce the number of northbound lanes on Connecticut Avenue at rush hour from three lanes to two, but it would give merchants the parking they say they want and help justify restoring the historic sidewalk. It would also improve safety; according to the study, 25% of collisions occur just during the two hours when there are reversible lanes on Connecticut Avenue.
Other major commuter routes in Northwest DC, like Massachusetts Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, and 16th Street, function just fine with two lanes. "Road diets" of this sort are shown to have a negligible effect on throughput and drive times while vastly improving the pedestrian experience.
A question of neighborhood character
A few years back, when DDOT suggested eliminating 150 curbside spots on 18th Street to make room for wider sidewalks, local business owners were initially taken aback. But they eventually got behind the project, realizing that they had much more to gain by making space for pedestrians. The neighborhood is now much more pleasant as a result, and the commercial corridor is as lively and diverse as ever.
Ultimately this comes down to the kind of neighborhood Cleveland Park wants to be. To some, Cleveland Park is a strip mall where people stop, run an errand or two, and then keep driving. An alternative vision of Cleveland Park's future is one where people come and linger because it's a nice place to be.
Will some customers choose to go where parking is abundant? Perhaps. But Cleveland Park's competitive edge is never going to be that it's easy to park here. It's never been easy to park here, and it never will be. If we're going to talk about competing with other neighborhoods for customers, we should be thinking not of areas where it's easy to drive, but areas like Woodley Park or Dupont Circle, which are more welcoming to pedestrians and have more vibrant public spaces.
How to get involved
To express your support for restoring the historic sidewalk in Cleveland Park, write to ideas@CPtransportationstudy.com. You can also sign this petition and participate in this informal survey. DDOT will hold its third and final open house on this study Wednesday, November 6 from 5:30 to 8pm at the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, located at 3310 Connecticut Avenue NW.
Railvolution conference. While there, they'll offer a series of short posts about their experiences.
Seattle residents were sick of speeding cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets. In response, the city is creating a network of "neighborhood greenways" designed to slow drivers and make it safer to get around by foot or bike.
A cyclist and a driver navigate a roundabout on a "neighborhood greenway" in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood. All photos by the author.
Neighborhood greenways are sort of a carrot and stick approach: speed bumps, physical diverters and small roundabouts at each intersection slow drivers down, discouraging them from cutting through the neighborhood, or at least encouraging them to drive more carefully.
Meanwhile, improved sidewalks and marked crosswalks make it easier and safer to walk. Bike lanes and sharrows, or shared lanes, give cyclists a safer ride as well. And all of those roundabouts and bumpouts are great places for landscaping, putting the "green" in "neighborhood greenway."
Seattle first got the idea from Portland, which pioneered the neighborhood greenway a few years ago. The city has completed neighborhood greenways in two communities, including Wallingford, where I'm staying this week.
There are nine additional greenways elsewhere in the city in various stages of planning and construction. Residents are big fans of the project, and have even started a citywide advocacy group to identify potential greenways and push for them.
Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring is closed to through traffic, but lacks amenities for walkers and cyclists.
If the neighborhood greenway is a carrot and stick, traffic calming in the DC area is often just the stick. Hearing complaints from neighborhoods abutting commercial districts, local departments of transportation often respond by closing streets off entirely. This creates "fake cul-de-sacs" that not only push through traffic to main streets, but sometimes local trips as well.
But unlike neighborhood greenways, these treatments don't always come with pedestrian and bicycle improvements. In Bethesda, where Montgomery County's department of transportation limits access to several streets around downtown, parents say they can't safely walk their kids to school because of too-narrow sidewalks, poorly-timed stoplights, and a lack of crosswalks.
Speeding drivers and cut-through traffic can be a safety hazard, especially on narrow residential streets. But the answer isn't simply to keep them out, as some neighborhoods seek to do. By making it easier to get around without a car, neighborhood greenways create more transportation choices and make the street a more welcoming place for all.
After years of asking for change, Cleveland Park residents could finally see a wider sidewalk along the east side of Connecticut Avenue, which became a service lane and parking lot 50 years ago.
In 1962, a liquor merchant on this stretch of Connecticut Avenue used his political influence to replace the wide sidewalk in front of his store with a "service lane" that effectively serves as a parking lot for 27 cars.
Neighbors have been asking for their sidewalk back ever since. Over the last few years, the issue flared up every few months on the Cleveland Park listserv. Polls on that list have consistently shown a two-to-one majority in favor of removing the service lane. Hundreds of neighbors have signed a petition to restore the sidewalk.
Representatives from the District Department of Transportation met with residents September 12 and presented four design options for reconfiguring the space. They range from keeping the service lane exactly as is to completely restoring the original historic sidewalk. Let's take a look at each of the options:
Option 1: Keep the current service lane
The first possibility is to keep the current arrangement.
While the service lane may have seemed like a good idea in the 1960s, when streetcar service had just ended, it's completely inappropriate for what is today a vibrant urban neighborhood with a Metro station.
For starters, the lane is unsafe. I have two young children, and I can't walk down the service lane's narrow sidewalk without gripping their hands. Pedestrians often step off (or are forced off) the sidewalk, sometimes into the path of oncoming traffic. This is a particular problem for older or mobility-impaired persons. The anomalous traffic pattern created by the service lane, with five-way intersections at each end, is disorienting.
It's also unappealing. The strip is drab and ugly; it feels crowded and unwelcoming. The only shade trees are on the median on the other side of the service lane, so there's no shade or shelter.
There's no room for pedestrian amenities. This study is part of a larger streetscape project that DDOT is working on with Cleveland Park citizens, which has provided park benches, bike racks, and other amenities along other parts of Connecticut Avenue. There's no room for any of this along the service lane, nor is there room for sidewalk seating for any of the 14 restaurants and cafés along the strip.
Option 2: Flex space
In this option, the current service lane would rise to the level of the adjoining sidewalk with ramps to allow cars to drive on and off the sidewalk. Parked cars and moving cars would then share this sidewalk with pedestrians.
The only advantage to this arrangement that I can see is that it would eliminate the complex intersection geometries we have today where Connecticut Avenue crosses Ordway Street and Macomb Street. But the entry and exit ramps would still create confusion and create pedestrian-vehicle conflicts. Southbound drivers, no longer able to legally turn into the service lane, would be tempted to do a dangerous U-turn up onto the sidewalk just before the intersection.
And it's hard to imagine how the "shared space" would work in practice, with cars driving on the sidewalk alongside pedestrians. There's no other sidewalk in the District that cars are allowed to park on.
Drivers might be more careful while driving on a sidewalk than they are now in the service lane, but I still wouldn't relax the grip on my children's hands as I move through the area. Nor would the flex space make room for any new fixed amenities like sidewalk cafés, bicycle racks, or park benches. And we would still lose 7 or 8 parking spaces to make room for the curb cuts.
Advocates of this option compare it to the narrow streets in the old city centers of Europe, where cars, pedestrians, and sidewalk cafés sometimes share the road out of necessity. Blurring the line between pedestrian space and roads can sometimes work as a traffic-calming device.
But cars already occupy two thirds of the total right-of-way on this stretch of Connecticut Avenue. And even those old European city centers are increasingly becoming car-free or restricting vehicle access to residents only.
Option 3: Partial sidewalk extension
A third option restores most of the original sidewalk, but cuts two parking bays into it, to create a full-time parking lane alongside Connecticut Avenue that would accommodate 24 cars.
This would restore the sidewalk while preserving roughly the current the number of parking spaces available during rush hour. The evening northbound rush hour is when parking is at its most scarce in the neighborhood, so this would preserve parking when it's most needed.
However, this approach would require relocating or replanting several mature trees. It would destroy the symmetry of the avenue's original design.
What this option brings to the forefront is that providing rush-hour parking is the most important role that the service lane provides. But perhaps there's a better way to ensure parking availability during peak periods.
Option 4: Restore the sidewalk
The final option presented by DDOT's team of consultants requires the least explanation. It would restore this space to its original condition: A wide sidewalk like the one on the west side of Connecticut Avenue, where I can let go of my kids' hands and let them explore. On that side of the street, there are pleasant cafés, park benches, and lovingly maintained tree boxes full of flowers.
Of all of the options (other than doing nothing) this would clearly be the least expensive. It wouldn't require relocating any trees or infrastructure. It would restore the Connecticut Avenue boulevard's original grace, symmetry, and human scale, and make valuable public space available for gathering places and amenities.
The current service lane would never be approved if it were proposed today. It's no longer even legal to build a strip mall in the District of Columbia: Zoning now forbids parking spaces between storefronts and the sidewalk on private property, let alone in public space.
This was originally a sidewalk. It should be a sidewalk again. And sidewalks are for people, not for cars. This study is our best chance in many years to finally make this commercial strip more walkable and pedestrian-friendly.
To express your support for one or more of the options, you can send a quick email to the study team at ideas@CPtransportationstudy.com. And if you'd like to restore the sidewalk to its historic state, you can also sign this petition to our elected representatives.
DDOT will hold a third and final public meeting on this study Wednesday, November 6 at the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, located at 3310 Connecticut Avenue NW. In the meantime, you can also learn more about the Cleveland Park Transportation Study and read more about the history of this issue.
Reader Nacim B. sent along his frustrating experience trying to visit UPS' Landover warehouse as a car-free resident.
I came home one day to find a final delivery notice from UPS (I swear I never saw the other two!) and then was instructed by their website that my only option is to pick it up from their Landover warehouse.
I checked Google Maps, and while I saw that it was a ways out from where I live in Columbia Heights, I also noticed that it was pretty close to the New Carrollton Metro (I don't have a car) and I don't mind walking. I didn't find out until I got there that portions of the walk have no sidewalks, and one portion in particular is literally only passable if you run through car lanes.
The entire trip one-way took me about an hour and a half, and Google tells me it takes about 25 minutes by car.
The intersection of Ardwick Ardmore Road and Pennsy Drive is the real problem. There is no sidewalk on the approach from the east, just a desire path. There's also no crosswalk despite the slip lane.
The northern southbound lane of Pennsy Drive. is now widened so the western shoulder is now nowhere near the intersection. The eastern shoulder narrows down into nothingness and faces a very dangerous blind corner behind a tree from motorists turning from Ardwick.
There is literally no way to cross this intersection either legally or safely. I had to run across the northern portion and tried to be as visible as possible to turning traffic.
This is what the intersection looks like coming in from Pennsy Drive:
Photos by the author.
And here's what that blind corner looks like:
Looking more closely on Google Maps afterward, I could've improved my walk a bit by going on the sidewalk on Garden City Drive, but that would've only avoided me the shoulder on Pennsy Drive. The real issue is how impassable the above intersection is to pedestrians.
I'm not sure what UPS expects from people without a vehicle. FedEx's warehouse is at the intersection of Florida and New York Avenues in DC, a destination that's very transit-accessible and easily bikeable and walkable. Given how remote the UPS warehouse is, a reasonable solution would allow package recipients the option of picking up their missed packages from their nearby UPS location. That would've saved me about 3 hours today along with some serious risk from automotive traffic.
The last picture isn't as bad in the scheme of things, but it's illustrative. It's the entrance to the UPS warehouse that has the sidewalk completely fenced off.
At first glance, the tree at the northeast corner of 8th and K Streets, NE appears to be buried in asphalt. The truth is much more interesting.
To comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, DDOT rebuilt the intersection of West Virginia Avenue NE, 8th Street and K Street in the H Street neighborood. This intersection is a busy transfer point between the 90 and D Metrobus lines and has a lot of foot traffic.
DDOT has installed modern curb ramps at all pedestrian crossings, and they've repaired the concrete in order to smooth out some potentially dangerous bumps. The elderly and disabled now have a smoother path to get from bus to bus as they travel across town.
(It would be nice if DDOT would restripe the crosswalks with higher-visibility zebra/piano striping, but perhaps that's a subject for another blog post.)
Within the project limits, there were two trees whose roots were lifting the sidewalk. This created dangerous tripping hazards and the narrowed sidewalks made it difficult for those in wheelchairs to use the sidewalk.
Instead of concrete, construction workers have used porous pavement in these areas that extend all the way around each tree. This makes the sidewalks a bit wider, eliminates the need to trim weeds around the base of the trees, and allows more water to filter through the ground to the trees' roots.
It will be interesting to see how well this pavement works, and if we'll be seeing it used more widely around town in the near future.
- It's fine to not build parking at Tysons Metro stations
- Arlington considers using fees to reduce parking
- Rural Virginia leads eastern US in cars per household
- Downtown & Georgia Avenue Walmarts open for business
- Sexist Metro ad asks "Can't we just talk about shoes?"
- Good design, lots of parking at Wheaton's tallest building
- DC mulls new affordable housing rules in public land deals