“I don’t know how DC can call itself a walkable city when obstacles just show up in the middle of a busy sidewalk”

by Prince Of Petworth March 10, 2016 at 2:15 pm 47 Comments

Colunbia Road Sidewalk Closing 2

Paul passes on a note he sent to the Council:

“I don’t know how DC can call itself a walkable city when obstacles like the one in the two attached photos just show up in the middle of a busy sidewalk.

Now, I am able-bodied enough just to be able to walk along the curb as these other folks did, but what about the fellow who rolls up on his wheelchair and suddenly learns he needs to go back to the previous street-corner.

My solution for him was to rip down the tapes so his wheelchair could go on through. He was grateful. But why can’t the council insist that contractors provide walkways when their construction work blocks the sidewalk?

Same problem has been the construction on the Hilton along Florida Avenue. The sidewalk on the north side of the street is completely blocked off. Pedestrians are just expected to walk along the other side of the street.

It doesn’t have to be that way….

Paul Alan Levy”

Ed. Note: Paul explains “This was the scene on my way to work both today AND yesterday – actually the wheelchair guy was yesterday, it was only this morning that I had the wit to take the photos.”

Colunbia Road Sidewalk Closing 1

  • Shar

    Yesterday over on M street between 24th and 25th they had the right side sidewalk completely blocked off and multiple construction trucks were in the way. People were not only being forced to walk on the street/bike lane, but were also having to weave between trucks that were parked in the road. Terrible.

    • MMMkay

      People weren’t forced to do anything. They could have just crossed the street.

  • By your own admission it is in fact walkable… it’s just not wheelable.

    • anon

      talk about splitting hairs… this point is that sidewalks should be accessible to all.

  • phl2dc

    That is pretty annoying, but I’d think twice before ripping the tape that’s supposed to keep people out of a construction zone. If something had fallen and injured the wheelchair man, that would have been very unfortunate and it’s not the construction folks who would have been sued…

    • Ungi

      Not necessarily true. I encountered that same situation on Columbia and they broke the law by not providing an alternative walk space, as required by DDOT permits..

      That company should have all of its permits revoked. No excuse.

      • phl2dc

        Well, it looks like that thing IS a walkway, possibly under construction, too. So…

    • TJ

      This city is full of examples where construction workers and contractors overtake public space illegally and on their own terms. Presumably, the tape was dropped after a determination was made there was no reason to avoid the area at that moment. More people should take matters into their own hands to push back against such space restrictions. DC apparently doesn’t care much.

      • phl2dc

        It looks like that thing is a walkway and it may have been under construction still. You can’t determine that something is 100% safe to walk through by just looking at it.

  • kc

    Many, many of the sidewalk and road projects show no regard for our differently abled or blind pedestrians

  • Shaw

    I’ve wondered about this for a long time. It’s like that northern-most lane of Massachusetts Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets NW that’s had concrete barricades up blocking it for months, even though the building looks finished and the sidewalks in front of it are open. I honestly think it’s pure laziness on behalf of the contractor not following up with the company to have them removed that causes them to still be there.
    What I’d like to see is two-fold:
    First, require that construction allows for safe passage for pedestrians and wheelchair users on the same side of the street, and for cyclists if you take out a bike lane.
    Second, charge the companies a fee for each day, or week, that they use such space. Base the fee off of what they are using – i.e., a sidewalk lane might be $20/day ($7,300 a year), a bike lane $15/day, a parking lane $50 per day (since the city loses meter revenue), and a traffic lane $75 per day. I bet if they were paying every day to use it, that they would both use less and use what they do take for a much shorter period. The only reason construction companies take all this space now is because there is zero disincentive not to, and it makes it easier to move around at the expense of everyone else. Plus, and this one really pisses me off, it gives them free parking all day for the higher-ups on the inside of the barrier.

    • J

      Your comment reflects a complete ignorance of public space permit fees.

      • wdc

        You don’t think the bigger companies get those fees waived? I talked to a driver for a crane company who said they don’t pay the fees because they “work with the city a lot”; his outfit had reserved an entire block for an entire day at what would have been a couple thousand dollars in public space permit fees and meter fees. They needed about a half hour to unload. But it was just easier to request the whole day, since they weren’t paying for it.

      • Anonymous

        As with basically every development related issue in the city, the DC government has no inclination to enforce it’s own rules and regulations. Construction companies get away with appropriating public space for months on end and not adhering to the very clear rules. Even if they pay the public space fee (many don’t), those that do often do not provide accommodations and most are clearly running afoul of ADA mandates.
        Again, good ol’ DeeCee looks the other way.

    • AnonJOhn

      Since J felt some bizarre need to chime in with an ad hominem attack … I feel obliged to say – great idea!

      • J

        No it’s just silly to hear people complain about things they truly don’t understand!

  • Stanley

    It is an inconvenience, but it doesn’t mean the city is not walkable. Construction and repairs need to be made from time to time. From your pictures, it is obvious that the construction site is building a walkway so that pedestrians can continue to walk unimpeded while work is done nearby. Instead of closing down the block completely for the entire construction period, it is closed for a few days to install a walkway. Seems perfectly reasonable.

    • Duponter

      It does, but since when is reason something anyone in DC cares about? As if a person having to turn around and go back the corner and cross the street to get across is suffering anything more than an inconvenience. Then again the OP thought it was perfectly sane to rip down caution tape and encourage a handicapped person to enter a construction zone, so I’m not sure reason is on the table.

    • But the walkway has been consistently closed off with police tape during the day. I agree that the concept of the walkway is a good one.

  • west_egg

    “why can’t the council insist that contractors provide walkways when their construction work blocks the sidewalk?”
    It’s pretty obvious that they’re in the process of constructing just such a walkway. So unless you put a call in to Xzibit you’ll at least need to allow for the sidewalk to be closed while the walkway is put up.
    Now the situation outside the Hilton is another matter–it’s a rare case where closing the sidewalk is truly the only option during months-long construction projects.
    Sidewalks are occasionally closed for emergency situations as well (structural stabilization, emergency utility work, etc.).

    • nevermindtheend

      Well, they’ve been building it at least since this past weekend…you’d think they’d have it finished and open by now. That’s a pretty busy sidewalk, so it would make sense to me to build parts of it off-site and assemble it as quickly as possible during a low-traffic time.

    • wdc

      I wouldn’t call it rare, though. Right now the east side of 17th is closed between Mass and P, and has been for close to a year. All of last year, the intersection around 18th and N and Connecticut was a giant charlie-foxtrot involving ALL the sidewalks being closed at once on a couple memorable occasions. And many more.
      The city seems happy to let the construction companies take over pedestrian spaces; I just hope they’re paying for the privilege.

      • west_egg

        Oh, I’m not saying it’s a rare occurrence that sidewalks are closed — quite the contrary, unfortunately. My point is that it’s usually done for convenience or to save the contractor money, not because it’s the only viable option. Put another way: It’s rare that site conditions prevent a contractor from providing safe accommodation. Whether they choose to do so is another matter altogether, and you’re right — the city is responsible for enforcing this.

      • Duponter

        They are.

        • wdc

          Not always. See my comment upthread.

  • anon

    i dunno, looks like to me that they’re building the tunnels for people to go through so that in the future it will remain walkable while construction is underway. i get that it’s an inconvenience right now, but i wouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill.

  • aed228

    Con’s of living in a freaking City people, if you don’t like it, move to the suburbs.

    • wdc

      Yeah! Like New York City, where construction companies are required to maintain a pedestrian walkway!

      • atlascesar


    • Ungi

      Stop that. Nothing wrong with making our city more livable rather than bailing on it altogether.

    • Truxton Thomas

      The criticisms may change, but this vapid response never does.

  • Anon

    It’s already a law:
    DC 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.”

  • stacksp

    Appears the sidewalk is temporarily closed while they build the pedestrian walkway.

    • Ungi

      Right but it was like that for a while. They still have to provide passage while they block the entire sidewalk.

      • stacksp

        Eh… I dont know. Looks like room for the pedestrians to actually pass while still on the sidewalk outside of the “sidewalk closed” sign and I think that if someone did actually wheel down the street in a wheelchair, the construction workers would probably remove the yellow tape to allow for safe passage.

        • Ungi

          You would know, having looked at a picture and all. Don’t mind me who walked through the space.

          The point here is there is no room for a wheelchair or the like. I slipped through by weaving around a lot of tight infrastructure and a person doing the same coming the other way.

      • dcd

        “They still have to provide passage while they block the entire sidewalk.”
        This seems like a little too high a standard. If they’re building the walkway, it’s going to block off the sidewalk for a bit – these things don’t just magically appear. Now, if it’s been blocked off for 2 weeks or so, that’s one thing, but I’m guessing that this is blocked off after walkway construction because the city has to inspect it, and hasn’t yet.
        There are numerous instances of sideway blocking that are abusive and improper, but this doesn’t appear to be one of them.

  • ExWalbridgeGuy

    eh, honestly, if you’re not staring at your iPhone the whole time you’re walking you can pretty much always spot when the sidewalk is going to be closed. So maybe there’s some curve or something somewhere and in that single location people have to double back, but the vast majority of roads in DC are straight. If you see a blind person walking toward a sidewalk closure just politely let them know.

  • anon

    This is similar to the incredibly frustrating construction headache that is the 15th St/Florida/V intersection. Every single day, different parts of different sidewalks and roads are closed, and often there is no pedestrian pathway set up. This is annoying enough, but I can usually get around it by walking in the road for a bit (although sometimes I do have to turn around and backtrack), but there is a blind resident on that block of V Street. I can’t imagine that resident navigating through this mess.

  • SK

    It looks like they’re installing a walkway to keep pedestrians safe during the construction period.

    And don’t rip on my city please. DC is an incredible city and is very walkable. There are quiet suburbs for those who can’t handle a minor “city life” inconvenience.

    • reality


  • Steph

    See also: the 9th Street side of the City Market at O. The corner of 9th & P NW was totally blocked off during the first long stage of construction, despite there being an enormously wide sidewalk. Then for a while it was open — but they had installed a long bed of plants that extended all the way to the curb, without continuing the sidewalk!
    The sidewalk was open for a short while, but now the entire 9th Street side is blocked off again with no accommodation for pedestrians – yet NO work happening yet. They miraculously managed to install scaffolding over the parking garage driveway to enable cars to enter/exit, however…………

  • anonymous

    Oh, I noticed this as soon as I moved here from NYC. There either isn’t a sufficient law, or if there is, it isn’t enforced. In NYC, there is always a place to walk. I think because there are more pedestrians there, so they are taken into consideration more. I don’t remember construction there leaving completely no place to walk (except down by Water St. in the early 80s). So, it is doable. DC just doesn’t care – they want to put more money in the developers hands – because fixing the problem costs money. It all comes down to money, and whether you want to make the developers spend it for pedestrian safety. DC clearly doesn’t want to. Other cities do.

  • reality

    For the love of cherryblossoms… you live in a city! Sometimes you have to use a different sidewalk.

  • crin

    City grid. Use another street. He says it himself. Not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the street. Jesus.

  • Safety First

    As a developer, i can tell you that DDOT does not “wave” public space fees and instead charges a lot of money for utilizing public space. Think tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life a project. They also charge for parking meters on a daily basis that contractors use. DDOT approvals also require significant traffic control plans and pedestrian access guarantees before they will permit the use of public space. Many project sites do not have significant lay down or work areas in a built up/dense city to actually do the necessary work, and portions of the public space are the only areas that will allow this work to take place. Covered walkways don’t go up in a few hours, and assembling them offsite is a challenge, as each street location has unique quirks (light poles, signs, bike racks, sloping sidewalks) that require custom builds. City building is not easy. One last thought, every inhabitant of the city lives or works in a building, and those buildings you live and work in were once a nuisance to the neighbors/pedestrians as they were built in that area as well.

    • Krissy

      +1 Also being in construction, DC is not an easy city to build in. As most buildings downtown have zero lot lines to maximize building size so construction has to protrude into public space. Covered pedestrian walkways required a lot of inspection prior to opening so you can’t throw one up in a matter of a couple of days. It has to be confirmed that there is no way a pedestrian can hurt themselves on one. For example, a pedestrian walkway once snagged a person, a bar was sticking out or something. That person sued the construction company and WON thousands of dollars for a snag… Construction firms need time. Remember, it is only temporary. Also, think of the nice, new, level sidewalk you’ll receive when they’re done.


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