Last weekend, D.C. shut down three miles of Georgia Avenue (over by Petworth) to turn it into a pedestrian-only street (bikes and scooters were allowed too). It was a great success (local businesses seemed to do well too), and Georgia Avenue definitely needs that, since it’s not a pedestrian-friendly environment–I can’t see anyone going for a stroll down that road.
But while it’s a great initiative–and I hope it happens more often and on other streets–D.C. also needs to focus on making walking (and biking) safer. That general policy goal is my excuse to kvetch about Dupont Circle (the actual circle. Unrelated aside: most of the Dupont Circle neighborhood is actually northwest of the circle).
Dupont Circle is really bad for pedestrians. It takes too long to walk around the circle, since cars are prioritized over people. At several junctures where you have to cross the street (e.g., the eastern junction with Massachusetts Avenue), the moment the crosswalk comes on, the oncoming traffic gets a green light, which means pedestrians have to stare down and play chicken with drivers: I can’t remember the last time I haven’t had to do this.
The traffic patterns also are confusing for drivers. There are stop lights ‘mid-block’, where there are pedestrian crossings, but no street entrances, so drivers will often blow right through the crosswalk.
Then there’s the whole ‘inside part of the circle only goes to Massachusetts Avenue’ lane markings. Apparently, some drivers have ‘due north’ as their blind spot because they miss these arrows–and the overabundance of tiny street signs doesn’t help alleviate confusion (and, no, the solution is not bigger, ugly ass street signs). About once a week, I see someone, heading east, who doesn’t turn on to Massachusetts, but instead, continues going around the circle by blowing through the crosswalk, and, who then, to make things really dangerous, turns onto P Street while pedestrians have the right of way. Anyone heading north who isn’t looking back over their shoulder at a car dozens of yards away won’t see this driver–and that driver is usually speeding too.
Also, several of the islands offer no protection from drivers–someone could just drive completely uninhibited into a crowd of people waiting to cross.
So OpenStreetsDC was a great thing–there are many streets in DC that desperately need to be made more human-friendly, at least once in a while. But we also need to make our streets safer on a daily. That will require elected and DDOT officials getting out of their cars (don’t be afraid! You can do it!), and actually walking streets of the state they purport to govern. In other words, do some governance ‘n shit.
Because afer streets matter too, even if it’s not as sexy.