A reader reports seeing the sidewalk back in business by around 11:30 a.m. today. We’re working on an update.
by Marlene Berlin
At Saul Center’s November 13th pre-construction meeting, the developer told the community that the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk alongside the construction zone will be closed for two years. In response to questions about a covered walkway, Saul responded that DDOT regulations would not allow this because of underground construction that was too close to the street. Pedestrians would have to cross to the west side of Connecticut at Albemarle and Windom.
By Saturday, November 16th, Saul had already closed off the sidewalk. That day I got a sense of 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 after the ANC daffodil planting event and she spent an hour monitoring “how folks were dealing with the Park Van Ness sidewalk closure and the results are very scary! 102 people walked in the Connecticut Ave eastern lane – 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 with disabilities (cane, walker, braces, etc.).”
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.
I emailed Commander Reese of the 2nd District and asked him if it were at all possible to have police officers on foot managing this potentially dangerous situation. He told me that the police would monitor this situation, but he did not have enough officers to have them out on the street. He also said he would forward the information to the appropriate agency. From that response I gather the police are not the appropriate agency. I did scratch my head at trying to understand the parameters of their responsibility for public safety.
Council member Mary Cheh and folks at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), which regulates pedestrian access at construction sites, got looped into the email conversation. Since Councilmember Cheh chairs the committee that has oversight responsibility and budget authority over DDOT, they do have an interest in looking into a situation that comes to her attention. Mark Marcous, head of public space regulations, communicated that inspectors would be going out to survey the situation.
On Monday morning between 8:30 and 9 a.m., I decided to take a look. Most pedestrians were crossing where they should:
But there were quite a number crossing mid-block and walking in the street.
And with no police in sight. I forgot they were only monitoring the situation.
I sent the photos to DDOT, and Director Terry Bellamy emailed, “I am alerting our Public Space Team to investigate and make recommendations.” And I did get another message from both Mark Marcous and James McFadden, head of an inspection team, telling me they were on it.
And the results of the inspection? According to Saul Center’s Kimberly Miller, “Clark’s Superintendent, Jason met with the DDOT inspector this morning as he is also concerned that pedestrians are not following the signs identifying the sidewalk as closed. It was determined the project is in compliance with DDOT’s requirements. However, the inspector did note that pedestrians are not following the posted signs.
“We welcome your help and assistance in getting the word out and requesting that our neighbors and members of the community are aware of the posted DDOT-approved Site Utilization Plan and the recommended route for pedestrians.”
DDOT, 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 -fencing that allows entrance to store fronts but prevents pedestrians from crossing the street mid-block.
Plus, a D.C. Council law set to take effect on December 20th, the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013, requires those seeking DDOT permits to block a sidewalk, bike lane, “or other
pedestrian or bicycle path to provide a safe accommodation for pedestrians and bicyclists.” So we will keep you posted.