Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sidewalks versus Cars

One of the oddest debates going on in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, DC is whether or not a service lane should be paved and turned into a sidewalk.

A few decades ago a wide, boulevard-like sidewalk on the east side of Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Ordway Streets was carved up and turned into a service lane for driving and parking.  Perhaps a good idea at the time, but in the intervening years, returning the service lane to a sidewalk has become a better idea.

There are lots of reasons why people say we continue to need a service/parking lane.  "How will I drop off my vacuum cleaner to be repaired?" is one common refrain that appears on the Cleveland Park Listserv, which recently had a hefty debate about the service lane.  How often do people have to have their vacuum cleaners repaired.? Oh, never mind.  To some people that's all the reason they need to insist that the service lane stay.

Connecticut Avenue's west side is a pleasure to walk along, and has inviting outdoor cafes. The east side of Connecticut Avenue is crowded, cramped and pedestrian-unfriendly. The service lane, especially where cars turn at Connecticut and Ordway, is dangerous. A fix is needed and that fix is to return the block to the way it was before the sidewalk was narrowed to make room for parking.

The service lane is an anomaly; there isn't another service lane along Connecticut Avenue between Calvert Street and Chevy Chase. It doesn't belong.

Here's what one Cleveland Park Listserv member, Herb Caudill, wrote:

To those who maintain that vehicular access in this space is indispensable, let me make a modest proposal.

On the west side of the avenue, in front of Byblos and the Uptown, there's a broad sidewalk, just like the east side used to have. Wouldn't it would be so much easier to get our packages to the post office if we ripped up that sidewalk and put in a service lane there as well? Twenty-five more parking spaces for the neighborhood! I'm sure the merchants would be delighted: They'd lose their sidewalk tables and patios, the flower boxes, and the wide sidewalk -- but all those silly strolling, sandwich-eating, coffee-sipping pedestrian customers would be made up for by additional car traffic that the new parking spaces would attract.

While we're at it, let's dig up the Metro/Indique/Sorriso sidewalk as well -- we could probably fit in another dozen cars there. And why stop there? There are big, broad sidewalks all up and down Connecticut, from Woodley Park to Dupont Circle to downtown, that could be turned into parking lots too.

Or if that seems too harsh, how about a nice compromise, where cars can drive and park on those sidewalks, but only during the day.

Does that sound insane to you? It does to me.

The service road is an aberration. We destroyed that sidewalk during the same years that we were razing close-knit neighborhoods to put in freeways, and tearing down graceful mansions to put in parking lots. The fact that the service road has now become the status quo shouldn't obscure the fact that it was, and remains, a very bad idea.

Fortunately, it's a bad idea that we can easily reverse.

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