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An Easy Fix: Build Out New Hampshire Ave Sidewalk

Mostly I’m skeptical of small attempts to reclaim a particular patch of land from cars. I don’t generally think that the war will be won battling block by block, but rather through macro policy shifts. But sometimes there’s a site that is just too egregiously misused that you can’t but write about it.

The site is the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue with Washington Circle, just north of the Foggy Bottom metro station. So the point that this is small-scale should be further underscored; I don’t think you could reasonably claim that this area is not already pedestrian-friendly. We’re talking about gravy here. Here’s the site, from googlemaps:

Zoomed out map Zoomed in Map

Washington Circle is of course one-way, going counterclockwise. Between Washington Circle and M Street, New Hampshire Ave is also one-way, headed northeast. Oddly, there is still a traffic island separating the end of New Hampshire, though, as if the street were a two-way (which I assume it previously was). The entire area just west of the traffic, what used to be the lane taking you from New Hampshire onto the circle, is completely unused. It is still structured, however, as if it were a traffic lane. Two google street view shots make this clear:

Street View

Street View 2

If you try and cross the street there, you think that those “lanes” have traffic on them, not that you could tell where it’s coming from. There’s a crosswalk across the part of New Hampshire that actually has cars, but it just abruptly ends, just in front of the traffic island. There are these yellow lines, but they also end in front of the traffic island, leaving a big blank space that just looks like road. There’s also a white line right along the circumference of the circle that I have no idea what it means. So what you’re left with is a space that is actually completely unused but is completely visually confusing.

This seems like exactly the kind of place where there is no reason not to extend the sidewalk out to the traffic island. You don’t even have to argue that this is somewhere where we should be prioritizing pedestrians over cars or parking; this is just reclaiming unused land. It’s more than enough space to put some sort of street vendor there, or a public sculpture, or one of the 1,590 new SmartBike stations, or more of the large and beautiful trees that line Washington Circle.

If this doesn’t deserve the investment of concrete, just using a can of paint to fill in that empty middle area that makes it look like a lane that is still in use. Even that would go a long way for pedestrians.

Like I said, this isn’t going to change the way we get around Washington. But it would be a very good thing.

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