Welcome to a new GGW series leading up to November’s election and beyond. I’ll be profiling various Single-Member Districts, the areas each represented by an ANC commissioner, and the commissioners or candidates running to fill that seat this November.
There’s little agreement on what to call the part of the city represented by 3F05, which spans Connecticut Avenue just south of Nebraska. To the east is Forest Hills; to the south is North Cleveland Park; to the north, Chevy Chase DC, and to the west, Tenleytown. Most of us know it as the area with Comet Ping-Pong and Politics and Prose.
As you can see from the below map, 3F05 is much smaller than many of the Single-Member Districts in ANC 3F, which spans from the eastern part of Tenleytown to Rock Creek and contains the area around Van Ness Metro. 3F05 and its southern neighor, 3F04, are small because that portion of Connecticut Avenue contains many large apartment buildings among single-family homes in most of the surrounding area.
Consequently, this part of DC is a bit of an urban-suburban tweener zone: it has a retail center, but it’s small; there is pedestrian activity, but many people also drive; it’s near Metro, but not quite that near; it’s more than a sleepy hamlet, but less than a bustling village; Connecticut is a major commuter route, but also the neighborhood’s main street. 3F05 is where a pedestrian was killed on Connecticut Avenue last week. It also played host to the recent controversy over Comet’s outdoor pong-pong table, or benches in front of the local market and Politics and Prose.
While some residents and Commissioners opposed any outdoor activity that might cause noise, the ANC voted to support Comet’s petition for outdoor seating. One of the supporters was 3F05’s commissioner, Mital Gandhi.
Gandhi wants a vibrant retail corridor for Connecticut Avenue, both in his section and down around Van Ness Metro. Gandhi said, rhetorically, “Who wouldn’t like retail? Who wouldn’t like more of a walkable city?” (There seem to be at least a few people nearby who in fact wouldn’t.) He knows upper Connecticut will never be a giant commercial district, and maybe Connecticut and Nebraska won’t ever be able to support an ice cream shop or a bagel store, but he’d like to see these kinds of shops near Van Ness, and stronger retail (in an urban rather than suburban form) all along Connecticut.
How can the neighborhood encourage retail? First, he feels the ANC should take a more welcoming stance toward business. Many businesses shy away from certain areas because of the headache of working with the ANC; 3F shouldn’t be that way. And second (Gandhi frequently answered questions by listing two or three numbered bullet points), the whole area could market itself better, such as with free Wi-Fi throughout the corridor.
I suggest branding the area as well. Right now, with no discernible name for the Connecticut-Nebraska corner, people don’t think of it as a concrete retail district. How about Comet Square?
Long term, he hopes DC can grow in numbers of people as well as in businesses, calling DC’s population “stagnant”. “The way we’re going to do that is by being more competitive,” he said, such as with competitive tax rates to those in Arlington, and by trimming the city’s bureaucracy. He’d like to see “smart development”, including in appropriate areas of Ward 3 (though he declined to give specific suggestions), dislikes large surface parking lots, and is open to market-based parking pricing downtown.
Representing 3F05 isn’t Gandhi’s only public service; he also sits on the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) board, where he tries to bring the same commitment to successful retail corridors to his decisions about liquor licenses. He’s lived in DC since attending American University in the mid-90s, in “Comet Square” for five years, and on the ANC for four. He’s unopposed for reelection this November. Gandhi now owns his own marketing communications firm, PeopleReach, which among other things is helping the Nationals sell naming rights to the stadium.
Gandhi has spent a lot of time lately thinking about the pedestrian situation on Connecticut. Slowing drivers is the top priority, but he’s skeptical of replacing the reversible lane with a median, even though it will slow traffic; “we do need to get people out” of the city, he said, “but we need to slow them down.”
He’d like to see more noticeable signs, especially on the reversible lane, warning drivers; after the recent death, DDOT put in two big LED signs in the area. Gandhi also made some handmade signs (which, by being less conventional, are more noticable) and talked to the local elementary school about having kids make some big signs with glitter to ask drivers to be careful.
After the neighborhood meeting with Councilmember Cheh, DDOT and MPD, police have been ticketing in the area; the police have been ticketing drivers speeding and talking on their cell phones as well as pedestrians crossing outside the crosswalk. Gandhi repeatedly spoke about the need for enforcement against both groups; I’m still concerned that MPD will see jaywalking as the primary cause of deaths like these, and while encouraging drivers to slow down with signs and tickets does help, there’s no substitute for making a road feel narrower, with tools like medians, to make drivers ease off on the gas pedal. A lively retail corridor with more pedestrian traffic will also increase safety by ensuring drivers expect to see and avoid pedestrians.