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Dear PoPville – Is it Legal to Close Sidewalks for Construction and provide no alternative?

by Prince Of Petworth — July 15, 2014 at 2:30 pm 42 Comments


“Dear PoPville,

Is it legal for construction sites to close the sidewalk but provide no safe way for folks to walk without being forced to walk in the street without any protection? This picture from 14th street at S St, NW”

Ed. Note: WAMU recently reported on a group called All Walks DC:

“All Walks DC is a citywide pedestrian advocacy group for the District of Columbia.”

  • Anonymous

    Uh, the alternative is the other side of the street.

    • Exactly, and the closest intersection should have signs telling pedestrians that the sidewalks are closed.

      • Anonymous

        What happens when there is construction going on across the street?

        • Good question, I’ve never had to deal with that situation. To clarify a bit more, the fee that companies have to pay it’s also based on how much time they’ll have the sidewalk or street closed. As part of one of our projects we will be replacing a sidewalk, and the plans have to be reviewed by verizon, pepco, wasa, washington gas, ddoe and 3 more agencies.

          • Caroline

            I often encounter this problem on my commute, since there have been various construction projects going on around my office for the past 8 years. Sometimes I walk in the street, sometimes I walk through the construction zone, sometimes I take a different route. Just depends on the situation and my mood. The streets that usually have this problem are very busy ones, though, so I’m generally not brave enough to walk in them.

      • JoeyDC

        Actually the street SHOULD be open. Forcing pedestrians to cross the street (or for that matter closing bikelanes without a detour is against the law here.

        Other cities seem to do fine with this. Especially ones with as many walkers as DC.

    • WestEgg

      If you actually give a rat’s a** about walkability, making people cross the street multiple times in order to walk in a straight line is not the correct answer.

      • Anonymous

        Agreed, but it’s still true. The other side of 14th is the alternative. Construction companies can close pretty much any public space – alley, traffic lane, parking spaces sidewalk, bike lane, etc. – for any amount of time. So long as they pay for it. It’s sizable form of revenue for the city and the costs go up the longer you want to keep the area closed.

      • Anonymous


      • Anonymous

        Is it THAT much of an inconvenience for you to cross the street for 1 or 2 blocks as they temporarily do some work to try to improve the well being of the city? Sheesh.

        • west_egg

          If it’s between my house and the Metro (for instance), then yes, it’s THAT much of an inconvenience for me to cross the street four times a day so that some developer can come in a few dollars under budget on their stack of marble & stainless-clad shoeboxes.

          • Anonymous

            Yes. New York City, as an example, always seems to manage to keep sidewalks open, if restricted in width.

          • Anonymous

            On the negative side, you are inconvenienced (in the eye of the beholder). On the positive side, you are getting more exercise each day. #Let’sMove!

    • anon

      When a sidewalk is closed for years (think CityCenter, Marriott Marquis, etc development) it is an inconvenience. It is not uncommon to have to cross the street a number of times when walking several blocks in one direction downtown. Not sure why the city does not require sidewalks around the sites as is commonplace in nyc.

      • anon

        dc=car based city, ny=pedestrian based city. DC does not have the density to make this kind of regulation feasible.

        • Caroline

          “dc=car based city, ny=pedestrian based city.”
          Where do you live that you think DC is car-based?

          • Anonymous

            Can you find a Home Depot with a parking lagoon in NYC? There’s at least one in DC. Stuff like that belongs in suburbs not cities.

        • WestEgg

          Stats fail. You are correct that the NYC metro area is #1 as far as households without a car. But guess who’s #2? Even more relevant: in terms of percentage of commuters who walk to work, DC is second behind Boston; followed by Pittsburgh and *then* NYC.

          • anon

            what are the stats on grocery stores with free parking? or restaurants with cheap valet?These are unheard of in Manhattan.
            i live in Chinatown, and while it is nice to walk to work during rush hour, at all other times it is faster for me to drive the halfmile to the safeway. maybe if DC gets density, things will change, but for now I can still double park on H street, or 14th street to get takeout. If i hit the flashers and crank up the rare essence, then I never get a ticket.

        • JoeyDC

          For one of the most walking cities in the country, this makes ZERO sense.

    • JoeyDC

      Duh, the alternative is buy a car! Who are all these elitists who have to prove they are better than us by WALKING places.


  • WestEgg

    Exceptions are occasionally granted but generally speaking, the law requires contractors to provide “safe accommodation” for pedestrians. So, no, it is not legal to close sidewalks for construction and provide no alternative, unless you get a special dispensation.

    Further discussion here: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/23470/construction-companies-are-illegally-blocking-sidewalks-lets-do-something-about-it/

  • Identified

    I don’t know about laws… but DDoT has a policy that says they are not supposed to block sidewalks and must provide alternate pathways unless excused.

    Not that that matters in DC “Developers Country”.

    • Except when you need to replace the sidewalk because it has been demolished in order to provide utilities to the building 🙂

      • JoeyDC

        Except that’s NOT what the law says.

        We get that you don’t care, but that’s not all that important.

  • AtlasCesar

    D.C. Official Code § 10-1141.03(f): The Mayor shall require permittees blocking a sidewalk, bicycle lane, or other pedestrian or bicycle path to provide a safe accommodation for pedestrians and bicyclists.

    The difficulty seems to stem from the ambiguity of “safe accommodation”. I would argue that signage instructing peds and cyclists to take an alternate route does not satisfy the term. But that’s just my interpretation.

    • pattycakes

      If only the construction crews maintained the bike lanes on 14th. I hate commuting through that unending construction zone.

      • Anonymous

        I think we’ll have to wait for the next recession in order to safely travel the 14th Street bike lanes.

    • anon

      just anecdotally, I noticed this new legislation was more enforced under Fenty… w/ Gray, it became ok 2/3 of the time to go back to the old way.

      • WestEgg

        “w/ Gray, it became ok 2/3 of the time to go back to the old way”
        This is true for pretty much everything since Gray took over. (Prepare for 4/5 under Bowser.)

      • Walker

        I assume the enforcement was thanks to the DDOT director Gabe Klien? He actually made a few minor speeches about this and ensured pedestrians had safe ways to continue on the sidewalks. My guess is that as soon as Fenty was out the construction companies were lined up with bribes to have these regs ignored/unenforced.

  • J

    It is absolutely not legal unless they’ve received a special dispensation from the city to do so.

  • MK

    A bigger concern is that the developer actually fixes the street after they’ve destroyed it instead of doing some quickie patch job that collapses at the first sign of frost resulting in numerous potholes.

    • JoeyDC

      That is a smaller concern for me, actually.

  • bruno

    Not sure if it’s illegal, but boy is shunting peds off the sidewalk a characteristic of D.C. I don’t recall this happening in other cities.

  • Those who cite the Safe Accomodation language are entirely correct. My ANC worked with the Council to get that language passed last year as part of the Bicycle Safety Amendments Act of 2013. Now we’re working with DDOT, WABA, and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Councils to define that vague term in regulation.

    Our goal is to provide the same level of accomodation (whether that be sidewalk, bike lane, sharrow, etc.) as was available prior to the construction. Construction shouldn’t make biking or walking any less safe.

  • Sidewalk

    The ironic part of this post is the photo at the front that shows them actually pouring a brand new sidewalk. So you are complaining that they closed the sidewalk to give you a new one.

    • WestEgg

      The illustrative example above may in fact show a new sidewalk being installed, but nobody here is “complaining that they closed the sidewalk to give you a new one.” Troll harder.

    • JoeyDC

      Alternate safe accommodation is still required by law, and other cities seem to do fine with it.

      I guess they don’t have as keen a sense of irony and pedestrian safety as you do!

  • annonny

    I’ve walked this part of 14th recently and the photo’s misleading. Where the construction workers are standing is actually space for pedestrians to walk, as well. The bigger issue is when developers block a sidewalk, lane of a street, and put signs up telling pedestrians to cross – in the middle of the block?!? Often there’s no warning of the need to cross until you’ve walked half a block to discover the route has no pedestrian alternative.

    • Anonymous

      I suspect this is a generic “blocked sidewalk” photo that PoP grabbed from flickr rather than one sent in by the OP.
      Seems like there’s been a fair amount of confusion lately when people assume the photo for the post was sent in along with the text rather than just something vaguely relevant. Maybe PoP needs some sort of editorial label on pics to avoid some of that confusion?

      • This is the photo from OP. Whenever a photo from flickr is used it says directly underneath “Photo by PoPville flickr user…” This has been the case since 2008. But in the future I’ll add photo by OP underneath their submitted photos. I apologize for the confusion.


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