The 17th Street corridor in Dupont is a disappointment wrapped in an enigma. It’s a major retail corridor in a neighborhood that’s hugely successful. The Safeway draws shoppers from all around. It has some fancy restaurants like Komi and Sushi Taro.

Yet it’s also the least successful of the area’s corridors. Many of the restaurants are not very good and not so attractive. Some retail spaces stay empty. Long-time stores like Universal Gear decamped to 14th Street last year. And there are frequent problems between residents and businesses about late-night noise.

Meanwhile, U Street and 14th Street are both booming. 18th Street is full of good, small restaurants. Connecticut Avenue has a great mix of healthy retail. What’s wrong with 17th?

Here are a few possibilities:

  • Gay migration. The InTowner blames this factor most of all. As the neighborhood has gentrified, the gay population that once patronized the restaurants and apparel shops have mostly shifted to 14th.
  • Aging population. With the gays moving east, the remaining people are generally older, and shop and go out less.
  • Horrendous architecture. 17th Street was harder hit by the mid-20th century’s aesthetics than the rest of the neighborhood. Instead of historic row houses and apartment buildings, there are squat, rectangular brick structures. This doesn’t create an environment that’s pleasant for shopping and doesn’t fit with the decor of a contemporary upscale restaurant.
  • Narrow sidewalks. The sidewalks on 17th Street are narrow, except for the occasional huge empty space like in front of the Safeway or the hardware store. Tree boxes frequently narrow it even further. This makes it less enjoyable to walk along.
  • One-way traffic. Unlike all of the other corridors, 17th is one-way. That draws through traffic instead of local traffic, and it’s hard to get to it from the south, deterring drivers from passing by the stores. Instead, they take 18th or Connecticut and see those stores.
  • Lack of alley loading. 17th Street lacks alleys behind the stores that are found in the other areas. This means more loading takes place on the street, creating more noise and traffic and pedestrian disruption.
  • Angry neighbors. There have been years of fights between the residents living in the area and the businesses on 17th Street. This bad blood may make it more difficult for residents and businesses to reach voluntary agreements that keep the peace in other corridors.
  • Too many residential-only blocks. Many blocks on 17th have no stores, only residential buildings. This limits the number of businesses and thus the draw of the area. At the same time, it means more residents who would be bothered by noise, making it less appealing for a restaurant to locate there compared to other corridors with fewer residents right on the street.

Which of these do you think is the biggest obstacle to a better 17th Street? What other reasons do you think are involved?

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.