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“It is literally impossible to walk a straight line down the block without running into a sign or pole, or falling into a cellar”

by Prince Of Petworth March 2, 2016 at 1:05 pm 42 Comments

sidewalk of shame

“Dear PoPville,

Was hoping some readers might know what to do about the obstacle course of a sidewalk on 9th Street NW, across from the Convention Center (particularly between L and P). It is literally impossible to walk a straight line down the block without running into a sign or pole, or falling into a cellar. It’s baffled me for a while, but it was only last night, when seeing a man in a wheelchair seriously struggle to wheel himself around the myriad obstacles (one example pictured below) that I realized it wasn’t just absurd, but actually immoral. There are six lanes of traffic on ninth, which the sidewalk could certainly extend out to. Does anyone know if this sidewalk runs afoul of any city zoning or accessibility ordinances? Whom would one contact to do something about this?”

  • hiitanino

    Sounds like Warder St!

  • anon

    man, if i could count the amount of times i’ve fallen into a cellar on this stretch…

  • John M

    9th up by U St is perilous like that too. Doesn’t help that it’s zoned for both residential and commercial, which means that there’s sidewalk signs, open cellars, and construction every 2 feet. Seems that 9th St needs to be put on a road diet so that the sidewalk can be widened in some parts.

    • Truxton Thomas

      I was going to say the same thing. From about R to U.

    • Duponter

      There are a also few spots on U Street that aren’t treacherous as much as just too narrow for the foot traffic.

  • Anonymous

    9th St is four lanes of traffic, not six. Plus two parking lanes. The bike lane on 6th or 9th is already going to take away a lane of traffic in that area, so I doubt they’d be eager to take away another.

    • Mike M.

      The bike lane is almost certainly going to be on 6th. I would think most car traffic diverted from 6th would just go to 7th. Seems like a little bit of a lame excuse not to extend the sidewalk on 9th.

      • Shawnnnnnn

        A bike line on 6th sounds just as much like a disaster. 6th Street as your approach New York Ave southbound already backs up for several blocks. I think there’s actually less traffic on 7th these days, though that I’m sure has a lot to do with the construction.

        Also, you’re very likely to get your bike jacked when you get to 6th and N-O streets.

        • Anonymous

          Yeah, because I get my bike jacked every day when I ride by on my daily commute. It’s a real problem having to buy a new bike every day. I know the hundreds of other people who ride by there think the same way.

    • Anon

      I think the OP’s statement is still valid, regardless of whether or not there are two parking lanes or not. That’s an awful lot of real estate just for cars. There are a lot of streets like (M St in Georgetown is a great example too) where the peds have to crowd onto very narrow sidewalks while cars get an incredible amount of space. Take away a lane for the peds (half a parking lane on each side) add a bike lane. Keep parking on one side. Let the traffic fight it out for the remaining space.

      • Duponter

        Yes, but both M Street in G-town and 9th Street are arteries that take people out of DC and into Virginia, hence the boatload of traffic. You take away a lane of traffic on 9th and you’re going to have congestion all the way up through Shaw, which will just push those vehicles onto 7th, 6th, 10th, 11th.

        I’m not sure there’s really enough foot traffic on this one stretch of 9th to warrant disrupting traffic that much. Cross the street.

        • Mamasan

          Well, since the majority of the people using the sidewalk are likely paying DC taxes and, as you so astutely point out, the majority of people using the traffic lanes, are, you know, NOT, I vote for the sidewalks.

          • pru

            +1 to Mamasan.

          • Duponter

            Well, except for the people who live in DC and work in Virginia, of course. That does happen of course. And it isn’t like snarled rush hour traffic is GOOD for DC residents either. I live near a different major artery heading out of the city and it’s a damned nightmare every day. I’m happy to make the commute easier for them so they get the hell off my street more quickly each day.

          • elbeech

            +1 also to Anon and Mamasan. Duponter, if it’s worse getting in and out, maybe eventually it would discourage people.

          • Anon

            Of course, this will also have a widespread effect on public transportation routes, which provide the primary method of trasportation for TONS of people who also pay DC taxes…

            I’m not saying that the sidewalk shouldn’t be widened, I’m jsut saying that I have literally no clue as to the effects widening the sidewalk would have, nor do I know how much work has been done to determine the best ratio of sidewalk to street real estate.

            Makes me laugh how matter-of-factly you threw your opinion which is based (presumably) on zero research onto the commenter.

      • Anonymous

        I hate to break it to you, but DDOT really does have to consider the impact on service (service being the amount of traffic flow through these areas) when it makes its decisions. A lot of people who work in DC drive into the city.

    • OP

      Parking lanes are traffic; it’s just traffic that doesn’t move.

      • Anonymous

        Good luck convincing the traffic engineers at DDOT of that one.

  • Jobu

    Immoral seems a bit strong for poor urban design.

  • sproc

    There are several houses on Swann St NW and Caroline St NW that are particularly bad for this. The lack of a strait path doesn’t bother me nearly as much as basement entryways without guardrails, just stairwell entrances flush with the sidewalk that you can easily step into if you’re not paying attention.

    • sproc

      * straight

  • To answer the OP’s original question, I believe every state/jurisdiction has an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator. The challenge with a place like DC, however, is that a lot of pre-existing structures were grandfathered in when the ADA was implemented, and don’t have to make accommodations…I don’t know if it applies to the streetscapes here, but it very well might.

  • OffTheAvenue

    If the OP actually is concerned about disability access on this sidewalk (I mean as a legal issue, not a moral one) s/he can contact DC’s Office of Disability Rights.


  • Anon

    Narrow but not straight.

  • Is this real???

    Sometimes you can’t walk a straight line down the sidewalk. Sometimes life is ‘tough’. It’s amazing the things that people complain about. Yes… you might have to pay attention while walking down the street. Oh the humanity.

    • j

      did you even read the post? the poster’s motivation in asking was on behalf of people with disabilities in wheelchairs. you’re right. it’s amazing the things some people will complain about. and i mean you, complaining about this.

      • Duponter

        Not trying to defend Is this real?? at all or say someone in a wheelchair should not be accommodated, but across 9th Street, the sidewalk is amazingly wide and new and flat and nice. We’re talking about a two or three block stretch of 9th Street. It seems a bit excessive to say let’s remove a lane of traffic on a major artery in the city to solve a three block problem when the solution is the sidewalk right across the street.

        • textdoc

          What if the wheelchair-bound person needs to reach one of the homes/businesses on the side with all the obstructions?

        • Anonynouse

          It seems a bit excessive to have 9th street even open to car traffic at all given that motorists can just use 10th or 7th street instead. Those are perfectly fine streets to drive on and are only 1 block over.

    • Did you read the whole letter? The part where the OP observed a person in a wheelchair having a difficult time navigating this street? I’ve seen disabled individuals ride in the street in some areas where such obstacles exist, so this is far more than a minor “look where you walk” but an actual safety issue. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have strong eyesight and an able body.

    • Philippe Lecheval

      Especially if you happen to be blind or in a wheelchair.

    • phl2dc


  • anon

    Makes it tough with strollers too – there are certain sidewalks that are so narrow, when a street sign or lamp post or whatnot is in the way you have to go up on two side wheels to veer around it. I always think how difficult that would be in a wheel chair or if you’re using a walker or something.

    • dat

      This. I didn’t realize how difficult DC sidewalks must be for disabled persons until we had a kid and started pushing a stroller around.

      • OP

        Interestingly, I spoke to someone at DDOT the other day about this. I was told that in order for a sidewalk to be accessible, it ONLY needs to have a curb. That is, as long as a wheelchair can get from the street onto the very edge of the sidewalk, it doesn’t matter if the sidewalk is totally and indisputably obstructed from one side of the block to the next (as long as there’s a curb on the other side of the block too). I’d be amazed if that were true. I left a message at the Office of Disability Rights (as another commenter suggested), but haven’t heard back about how accessible DC sidewalks are required to be.

        • textdoc

          You mean a curb cut? Or just a curb?

          • OP

            Sorry, a curb cut.

  • Anonymouse

    DDOT did do a streetscape study on this corridor recently, although, the document I found was not dated (surprise, surprise). If you google “9th street convention center streetscape” it should be the 3rd or 4th result.
    The problem with these streetscape plans is that they so often fail to move out of the design phase. I know DDOT has been talking about improving the streetscape on U St between 17th St and 18th St for years now. That is an abysmal place to walk. At some points the sidewalk is only wide enough to let 1 person through.

  • Why not start by moving the sign posts, parking meters, and trees into the parking lane to keep the sidewalks clear? See photo below:


  • BostonToShaw

    Agree that it is terrible and given the recent construction, it would have a been a good time to remedy some of those obstacles. It’s only going to get worse since the new restaurant at 9th and N St NW is approved for sidewalk tables.

  • Lb

    I would push my daughter in her stroller down this stretch on average 3 times a day. It’s really not that bad. But I’ve noticed the street lanes on 9th Street in this area seem to be reconfigured. Maybe they changed the footprint of this street at one point and that has something to do with it? The sidewalks are super narrow in this particular area.


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