Photo by Pat Davies.
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.
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.