Thursday, June 9, 2011

Restore the Connecticut Avenue Boulevard

Service lane (to the left) photo by Bill Adler. The service lane is
is one long, ugly parking lot.
by Bill Adler

The hot issue on our companion email list, the Cleveland Park Listserv, has been whether to turn the service lane into a pedestrian-friendly sidewalk.

The service lane between Macomb and Ordway Streets should be replaced with a wide, pedestrian-friendly boulevard.

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 to return the block to the way it was originally, 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.

If the service lane is made back into a sidewalk, that part of Connecticut Avenue will lose between 25 - 30 parking spaces. With the Metro half a block away, Cleveland Park can thrive and prosper with less parking. In fact, there's often a surplus of parking during the day: Park 'n' Shop's paid lot has open spaces during the work day, and some stores on the Connecticut Avenue strip have unused parking behind them.

Some people are fearful that a wider Connecticut Avenue will encourage visitors to use the Cleveland Park Metro when going to the Zoo, turning Cleveland Park into a busier place. A boulevard style sidewalk might indeed do that, but pedestrians, Zoo visitors, and people sitting at outdoor cafes will make Cleveland Park, especially during the warmer months, into a more pleasant place. More walkers translates into more shoppers and that helps our neighborhood businesses.

In a recent survey conducted on the Cleveland Park Listserv, people want to do away with the service lane by an overwhelming two-to-one margin (65% to 31%). You can sign a petition to restore the original boulevard here.

The west, service lane-free side of Connecticut Avenue.
Photo by Bill Adler
In a post, a Cleveland Park Listserv member wrote: "I have been frustrated by the inability to walk along the strip doing errands or getting to the Metro because the sidewalk is so narrow at places....I have seen dangerous situations where people step off (or are forced off) the sidewalk -- sometimes into the path of oncoming traffic on the service lane. This is a particular problem for older or mobility-impaired persons....The aesthetics are also lacking -- all the trees are on the other side of the service lane, leaving our commercial strip bare and without shade or shelter."

The real question is this: That service lane and those parking spaces occupy some of the most valuable real estate in Washington DC and therefore on the planet. Is subsidized car storage really the very best use of that space?The answer is no. Those 25 or so parking spots are not worth sacrificing the beauty of the neighborhood. Ask yourself: If parking is so important, should we dig up the nice broad sidewalk just across the street in front of the Uptown movie theater, and replace it with a service lane and 20 more parking spots? I think we'd all agree that that would be a terrible thing to do,  so why shouldn't we correct the blunder that city planners made a few decades ago when they destroyed the sidewalk on this side?

Let's make all of Connecticut Avenue a place to walk, sit, and enjoy.


  1. Losing thirty parking spaces will kill many businesses on Connecticut Avenue. The idea that there is excess parking is ludicrous. Try finding a parking space in the evening or on weekends, and you will not find it. We live four blocks away and avoid that strip if we need to use a car (for groceries, laundry, etc.) or for a quick trip by car. Instead, we head to Wisconsin Avenue or Tenleytown where there is parking. If that parking goes, be prepared for even more vacant storefronts.

  2. That's a rather bold assumption to make: that losing the service lane would cause more vacant storefronts. What has caused vacant storefronts in the past is the zoning overlay and the opposition to restaurants.

    But that aside, whatever loss there would be in car traffic would be more than made up by pedestrians strolling by.

    Why hasn't anyone called for a service lane on the other side of Connecticut Avenue? Why aren't any ANC's proposing service lanes on other parts of Connecticut Avenue? If service lanes were such a good idea, we'd see more of them.

    This service lane is ugly, dangerous for pedestrians and totally out of place for the historic district.