The service lane today. Photo from Google Street View.
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.