DC’s response to the need to provide safer walking and biking space in light of the COVID crisis has been absolutely anemic. When other cities from Paris to Oakland have taken dramatic action to restrict automobile traffic on streets to let humans not in cars more safely use them, DC has done little. It made the weekend Beech Dr. closures permanent (for now), lowered the speed limit (with no policies that will actually increase observation of it), and rolled out a weak “slow streets” initiative.
Other than the speed limit change on most roads (it’s now 20 mph not 25 mph) none of these have even touched Georgetown. But there’s a chance the last one will. It’s better than nothing, but it’s still not great.
Backing up: the slow streets program is an effort to designate a handful (truly a handful) of streets around the city as “slow” zones. The city released the first bunch in June (here’s the map). On these streets the following changes were made:
- A barrier is put at the beginning of the block that designates it for local car traffic only (cars, of course, can just go around this barrier)
- The speed limit will be 15 mph (again no changes to the street will actually be made–such as street narrowing–to encourage cars to actually follow this)
- That’s it
DDOT made it clear that these will be “self-enforcing”, which is to say “not actually enforced”. But in fairness, some car traffic will surely be discouraged by these barriers and so the streets will likely be marginally safer.
DDOT is now circulating a proposal to add additional streets to the program, and Georgetown’s N St. and R St. (west of Wisconsin) are among them.
N St. makes a decent amount of sense. GM has been biking on it with his daughter recently, and it’s the safest cross-neighborhood route, largely due to it being the only east-west street in the heart of Georgetown that crosses Wisconsin without a zigzag. This makes getting across Wisconsin much safer. R St. is the only other east-west street that crosses Wisconsin without a zig-zag, so that probably accounts for its inclusion as well.
N St. is also the site of two of the first “streeteries” in Georgetown. These are where restaurants are allowed to stretch out into the street. Here’s Martin’s doing it:
Cafe Georgetown across Wisconsin also is doing this. (The Berliner below the Whitehurst has a substantial, and popular, streetery as well).
But N St. can be a bit narrow, and residents have for years been pushing for it to be one way (at least on the east side). Now might be the best time to explore this option! Make it westbound only, but add a two-way separate bike lane. Now is the best time to stop with the endless studies and paralyzing public input and just try it.
And speaking of ambition, why not just shut M St. down to car traffic on the weekends? Bus traffic would need to be accommodated, but out experience with the Marine Corps. Marathon shows that it is not insurmountable.
A couple slow streets is really better than nothing. But not by much.