Housing Complex

Don’t Worry, Grandma, D.C.’s Not Taking 10th Street Away

Chill out, downtowners: The District Department of Transportation had contemplated trying to block off 10th Street between E and F Streets to vehicular traffic, but howls of protest put the proposal back on ice.

The city didn't even want to do it because of the urbanist value of creating a pedestrian space where people could spread out on tables and chairs on a narrow, tourist-clogged street anchored by Ford's Theater. Rather, they wanted to do it as a way of keeping tour buses in control—right now, police issue scads of tickets for illegal parking every day, and the problem continues. The idea, says DDOT's Eulois Cleckley, would be to create an orderly system where buses would line up and drop off before going right back down 9th Street to their parking lot on Buzzard Point.

Cleckley says the idea came from the Downtown Business Improvement District, but not all businesses on the block were in favor of it. And one big business in the area, Douglas Development, is adamantly opposed: The developer's head of construction Paul Millstein showed up to last nights Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting to protest that it would totally screw up traffic for their tenants, like Forever 21 and Anthropologie.

"We think the plan is ridiculous. We think it's ill-conceived," he said. "It's a train wreck."

Downtown Neighborhood Association president Nanette Paris and the ANC agreed, fretting that there would be no way for someone to drop off their frail grandmother right in front of the one restaurant on that block. In addition, ANC Chairman Alex Padro recalled the prior precedent of blocks being closed to traffic, which hadn't been a success (the experiment in front of the MLK Library ended in 1999).

"All of those 'streets for people' projects ended up killing all of the retail activity, all of the arts activity, all around that area," Padro said. "So from past experience, we have to believe that closing a street that has so many things going on around it right now is a recipe for disaster."

Instead, Padro and Millstein recommended that the city step up enforcement on the tour buses, putting someone on the block from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. With the exception of Old Town Trolley, which has a contract to use one particular space, the rest of them pay nothing for the privilege of dropping off there—but they could generate some revenue by paying tickets for their infractions.

So that's what DDOT's doing, for now. Cleckley still thinks the idea could've worked, but understands that in a still-improving downtown, people cling to vehicle traffic as if more people walking and biking couldn't more than make up for it. "I think that people, when they hear 'closure,' they get a little skittish," Cleckley told me after his presentation. "The general thought is if you close a street, you could potentially threaten any economic development on the block."

Come on: Downtown has vastly changed since the failed pedestrian plazas of the late 1990s. There are lots more people living there, eating there, shopping there—and most of them don't arrive in cars. Many would be more attracted to Ford's Theater and other businesses by a plaza with seating out front than by a road going past it. Sure, you might not be able to drop grandma off curbside at Bistro D'Oc, but if she can't walk a couple blocks, she should probably be in a wheelchair anyways.

  • seeseehpounder

    Wow, what a snobbish way of putting it. So, you think entire blocks should be blocked off for tour busses that don't pay to park in the area? Pretty closed minded to think that only Grandma have trouble walking.

  • Tom M.

    Lydia -- I'm trying to parse the difference between strong point of view and blinders. I suspect that the difference is marked by a marked inability to envision anyone else's point of view as valid. Rather you seem to consistently treat disagreement -- albeit mild -- from your mind set as at best ill conceived, usually as selfish, and often as so foolish that it deserves derision -- "frail grandmas?" Again, how about some editorial oversight to smooth out some of these excesses??

  • http://Www.DCLikeaLocal.com Tim Krepp

    What tour bus parking at Buzzards Point? The one that ha a handful of spots that are grabbed by commuter buses by ten each morning. Buses would gladly go elsewhere if they had somewhere to go. And yes, most would happily pay for the privledge.

  • jimbo

    Does anyone remember when the middle of F St NW had a median strip put down the middle of it and DC Transit ran little striped busses on it? What a disaster!

  • JM

    The record of pedestrian malls in US cities is pretty mixed, at best. Many cities that have great urban "vibes" (San Francisco, New York) have no pedestrian malls (that I can think of anyway). Santa Monica's has worked; the Ithaca Commons was a disaster. The record is sufficiently underwhelming that concerns about the old F Street plaza are entirely valid and should not be dismissed.

    (BTW - I agree about the wording in this piece. Lydia you really seem to think that cities are primarily places for the young and mobile. I guess those of us past 40 or with disabilities should just get out of the way?)

  • NativeSon

    Maybe the street closing plan would have garnered more support if the intention were to actually close the street, but in fact is sounds like it would have created a large bus-loading area. Buses pulling in and out, or standing with their motors running (gotta keep the AC on) and the exhaust fumes blowing doesn't hand the street over to cafes and pedestrians, and is hardly likely to result in the idyllic image you paint. So in this case I can understand the local merchants' distaste for this plan.
    [Not to pile on, but I have to agree with earlier posts regarding the author's combative attitude toward those who opposed this plan, and to the poor old ladies who just want to eat at Bistro d'Oc.]

  • http://Www.dclikealocal.com Tim Krepp

    JM, New York has closed large stretches of Broadway, especially around Herald and Times Square and made them into excellent pedestrian malls. I don't think the idea should be dismissed out of hand, but this one was poorly conceived and communicated. It fails both the tourism industry AND local residents.

  • http://www.justupthepike.com dan reed!

    Pedestrian malls are difficult to pull off, though if there's anywhere in DC that can do it, it would be downtown. Perhaps a compromise could be closing it off on weekends (like on Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring) or a trial closure, similar to what New York did on Times Square, just to see if it's worth doing. It might make residents and business owners more comfortable to know the changes are only temporary, and that their feedback will be used in deciding whether it's made permanent.

  • tom veil

    Right on! If you're on that block an in a vehicle, there's no way that you're trying to get from Point A to Point B -- it's already a one-way street that terminates a block later. You're on that block because you're cruising for parking. Whether it's shutting the block down to automobiles or installing a permanent traffic cop, the city needs to do something to make this block safer for all the people who aren't in cars and buses.

  • Mike Madden

    @ Tom M. -- That was apparently the way the issue came up at the meeting, it wasn't Lydia's idea to bring grandmothers into this.

  • theodore walker

    Please read comments

  • Progentrification

    Seemingly every decision in this town centers around preserving the God-given right to easily park wherever you want,whenever you want, for a fraction of what it costs to build and maintain the space.

    And as far as language, at least she didn't say anything about Asian business or white urban pioneers.

  • DC Tax Payer

    I've always thought Lydia was a self absorbed fool. Nowshe has confirmed it. With a non operable heart condition I am one of those people who try to live on my own and still go out onoccasion. Walking any distance is now a major problem. I hope dear Lydia that you never reach the age where you have a medical problem which hinders your mobility. With luck maybe you will never reach that age.

  • Jane

    As far as I know, nobody pays for the "privilege of dropping off", and the people on tour buses are probably either buying tickets for Ford's theater, shopping nearby, or eating at the Hard Rock Cafe or other restaurants in the area. Punitive ticketing will end up with less revenue for local businesses. A friendly official directing the dropping off and picking up of passengers would probably be much more effective at addressing all concerns.